On October 3 last the Russian Federation suspended the agreement reached in 2000 with the United States to downblend the bilateral surplus plutonium for nuclear weapons. The two powers had 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium each, at least according to the agreement signed in June 2000, at the time of the famous Reset between Russia and the United States.
The above stated agreement was reconfirmed in 2010, .but President Obama’s 2017 budget submission proposes a “dilution and disposal” approach as enabling the plutonium to be disposed of sooner, at lower cost and with lower technical risk than conversion to mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Incidentally, some technological considerations are appropriate in this regard.
Mixed-oxide fuel, which accounts for 5% of the nuclear fuel currently used, consists of plutonium recovered from nuclear reactors mixed with depleted uranium, which can also produce electricity.
Hence, for budgetary and strategic reasons, President Obama has proposed halting the construction of a facility in South Carolina to downblend the plutonium into MOX fuel for use in commercial reactors.
However, regardless of the plutonium downblending technology, the MOX use had been defined in the 2010 agreement between Russia and the United States.
Hence, in essence, as early as last April, Vladimir Putin has been accusing the United States of not keeping their word, as they have failed to destroy military plutonium by instead permitting a reprocessing method that allows plutonium to be extracted and used again in nuclear warheads.
The bill Putin submitted to the State Duma sets out pre-conditions for the 2000 agreement to be resumed, including the reduction of US military infrastructure and troops in the countries that joined NATO after September 1, 2000, namely Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Putin also requires the lifting of all US sanctions against Russia and “compensation for the damage they have caused to the country.”
Furthermore, in May 2015, President Obama drew a line under the completed “Megatons to Megawatts” program by terminating a state of national emergency that had been declared in 2000 to help to ensure payments to Russia under the 1993 agreement.
The agreement regarded the US downblending of surplus military highly-enriched uranium that could not be assigned otherwise.
President Obama told Congress that “the conversion of 500 tons of highly-enriched uranium extracted from Russian nuclear weapons was over”.
In fact, in 1993, the US and Russian governments signed an agreement to purchase, over a 20-year period, 500 tons of Russian “surplus” highly-enriched uranium from nuclear disarmament and military stockpiles.
The material was bought by the United States for use as fuel in civil nuclear reactors.
Under the deal, the United States had to transfer to Russia a similar quantity of natural uranium to that used to downblend the highly-enriched uranium.
The deal was signed and complied with by Russia until last year.
The agreements suspended by Putin also include the Research & Development one signed in 2003 and again related to the nuclear sector.
We must consider, however, the complex strategic logic behind these seemingly quick Russian decisions.
The main shock was Ukraine.
During the Russian operations in the country, Putin and his aides launched many nuclear signals to NATO.
In March 2015 Putin said that he “could put the nuclear system on alert during Crimea’s annexation”.
Hence Russia still wants to “escalate to terminate” a possible nuclear attack on the EU and NATO, while continuing to perfect the sub-nuclear weapons and focusing on an increasing role of the nuclear strategy in its military posture towards the West.
A case in point was the simulated nuclear attack on Sweden in August 2015.
What is missing, in fact, is the implementation of the New Start Treaty signed in 2015 by Obama and Medvedev, which reduces to 1,550 the nuclear warheads available to each of the two countries.
The Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and the strategic bombers have been both reduced to 700 units.
The United States, however, have 741 launchers with 1,481 nuclear warheads, while Russia has 521 launchers with 1,735 warheads.
From this viewpoint, apart from the other military nuclear technologies, the United States and Russia have an equivalent potential. The difference is that the Russian weapons seem to be better and more effective than the American ones, from the technological and operational viewpoints.
Nevertheless the United States have not honoured the deal with Russia, thus instilling the legitimate doubt that much of the plutonium and uranium assigned by Russia is used by the United States for military purposes.
Putin, however, is right in substance and has probably not studied the US arguments and reasons well.
Let us go back in time: in the 1990s, the United States reported to have a surplus of 61.5 metric tons of plutonium out of a total equal to 90 metric tons, all intended for military use.
Russia had a stock of 180 metric tons of plutonium, 128 of which already adapted for military use, while also reporting to have a surplus of 50 metric tons of fissile material.
Plutonium is always hard to be downblended: either it is used to produce MOX, which is suitable for civil nuclear power plants, or it is “immobilized”, which means it is mixed with highly radioactive material, so that these substances can cover and prevent the radiation of plutonium itself.
However, with a with to making the radioactive material safe, a long and complex industrial process is needed.
The United States had started to build their own ad hoc facility along the Savannah River banks in South Carolina but, for various organizational and technical reasons, the cost of the project agreed with Russia proved to be not affordable for the federal government.
There is speculation that today the completion of the project agreed by the United States with Russia would cost over 30 billion dollars.
Hence President Obama stopped the construction of the facility in the Savannah River site.
At that juncture, the above stated dilute and dispose approach was developed.
It consisted in mixing plutonium with inert material and burying it underground in New Mexico.
As already noted, this is the reason why President Obama halted the construction of the facility in the Savannah River site and started the dilute and dispose project.
In the agreements with Russia, however, the only way to manage excess plutonium is the production of MOX – the dilute and dispose approach is not contemplated at all.
In fact, as underlined by Russia, this technique leaves the plutonium isotopic composition intact.
Hence there is the not remote possibility that plutonium can be extracted from the ground and used again for military purposes.
Therefore, at technical and political levels, Putin is right and, as also US scientists maintain, nothing prevents the buried plutonium from being really reused for military purposes.
However, both for technical and scientific reasons and for a cost analysis, the United States cannot really afford to convert all military plutonium into MOX.
Hence what can be done?
The US plutonium can be transferred to IAEA, which could downblend it in “third party” facilities, also under the Russian Federation’s control, or deal with a European nuclear country to downblend the US plutonium, again under Russian control.
Nevertheless, we must once again note the growing US military and technological backwardness, which seems ever more suited to an Iraq or Syria-style war rather than to a fair confrontation on an equal footing.
If the EU begins to think wisely on these issues, time will come to envisage a small pan-European nuclear military unit, particularly capable of seriously controlling its own borders.
But we already know that this is an impossible dream.
Negating Nuclear Bluff
The war of words between India and Pakistan’s militaries prove that both South Asian nuclear states are intertwined in a traditional security competition. Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, while delivering the annual Army dinner, stated:”We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.” Such statements of calling the ‘nuclear bluff’, ‘increased cross- border firing by Indian forces, which coupled with the proclamation of surgical strikes can lead to crisis instability in the region.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor responded to the Indian army chief’s ‘nuclear bluff’ assertion by saying that such statements are unbecoming from a person of a responsible stature. He further stated that “Well, it’s their choice. Should they wish to test our resolve they may try and see it for them..…Pakistan’s credible nuclear deterrence is the only thing stopping India from a war.” Such statements by the Indian military officials, and a quick calculated response from Pakistan, have raised the concerns of security analysts regarding the regional security and strategic dynamics.
It could be an appropriate tactic of General Bipin for securing finances for the modernization of the Army, but an absurd and destabilizing statement for the strategic stability in South Asia. According to the analysts, such statements by Indian military officials can lead to crisis instability and force the Pakistan to hasten its evolution towards war fighting nuclear doctrine. Another alarming reality is that General Bipin has failed to realize the repercussions of misreading Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability and too much confidence in India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of the ‘submarine-launched cruise missile Babur (SLCM Babur)’ can be viewed as a befitting response to India.
According to Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Babur is submarine-launched cruise missile with range of 450 km. It was fired “from an underwater dynamic platform” and “successfully engaged its target with precise accuracy; meeting all … flight parameters”. The development of Babur (SLCM) is a significant component of a “credible second-strike capability” and a step towards reinforcing Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence through self-reliance and indigenization.
Previously, on January 9, 2017, Pakistan conducted its first successful test of indigenously developed submarine launched cruise missile Babur-III. Babur-III is also advanced, mature and indigenously developed series of cruise missiles. The First test of Babur-III was considered by Pakistan’ security planners as a major milestone and a right step in right direction towards reliable second strike capability. After the successful test of Babur-III, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, while congratulating the nation and the military on the first successful test-fire of the Submarine Launched Cruise Missile stated: “The successful test of Babur-3 is a manifestation of Pakistan’s technological progress and self-reliance.” He added: “Pakistan always maintains policy of peaceful co-existence but this test is a step towards reinforcing policy of credible minimum deterrence.” Therefore successful test of Babur-III, submarine launched cruise missile finalized the triad of Pakistan’s nuclear forces and second test of Babar on March 9, 2018 has enhanced Pakistan’s deterrence based on Second Strike Capability.
Another significant factor which forced Pakistan to acquire Second Strike Capability is India’s doctrinal transformation as it is clearly transforming its Nuclear Doctrine. New trends are emerging in India’s nuclear strategy as it is moving towards a ‘first-use’ or even a ‘first-strike nuclear strategy’. India’s nuclear doctrine is based on the ‘strategic ambiguity’, therefore it has been anticipated that India is shifting its nuclear strategy towards ‘counterforce targets’ rather than ‘counter value targets’. The second emerging trend is that India is moving towards the strategy of “First Use” or “Preemptive strike” from the “No-First Use strategy”. The abandoning of no first-use, development of missiles defense shield, fake claims of surgical strikes and calling the nuclear bluff are developments that are perilous for the regional security. Indeed, such events have forced Pakistan to maintain deterrence through qualitative and quantitative developments in nuclear forces. In the strategic landscape of South Asia, the presence of Pakistan’s credible second-strike capability is imperative for the continuity of the strategic stability between/among strategic competitors: India and Pakistan.
Subsequently, harsh statements by Indian military, its shifting nuclear doctrines and maturing sea based/ballistic missile defense developments capabilities are threatening for Pakistan. Such developments by India have been countered by Pakistan by carrying out two tests of nuclear-capable missiles, ‘Babur-3’ submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and ‘Babar’. Pakistan’s tests of SLCM has further reinforced the debate on South Asian maritime security, second-strike capability and missile defense technologies in the regional landscape. To conclude, it’s impossible for the Indians to alter the strategic equilibrium between India and Pakistan. Though Islamabad is not matching the Indian conventional military buildup, yet it is gradually advancing its nuclear arsenal. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of indigenous Submarine Launched Cruise (SLC) Missile ‘Babur’ has negated India’s desire to call Pakistan’s ‘nuclear bluff’ and has augmented the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence strategy. Addition of ‘Babur’ in Pakistan’s military inventory confirms that Pakistan armed forces are prepared to thwart any kind of Indian armed forces military adventurism.
A Likely Path to Nuclear Annihilation
U.S. President Donald Trump asserted on the morning of April 12th, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” This statement from him is interpreted here as constituting a public promise from him to start the overt phase of America’s invasion of sovereign Syrian territory, no longer just continue the prior phase, which has relied instead upon America’s proxy forces, which originally were the ones that were led by (U.S.-Saudi-Qatari-UAE supplied and armed) Al Qaeda in Syria, but increasingly now are Syria’s Kurds, which have taken control over a third of Syrian territory, in Syria’s northeast. This area includes the oil-producing region, from Deir Ezzor northward, and the conquest would cripple Syria’s economic future, so that U.S-Saudi control of the entire country would be only a matter of time.
On April 4th, Emily Burchfield, a program assistant at the Atlantic Council — NATO’s leading PR agency — headlined the following, in order to explain the U.S. military’s (i.e., NATO’s) objectives in Syria (and the whole headline-bloc is quoted here, because it succinctly states the article itself): Analysis: Washington Still Has Work to Do in Former ISIS Territories
Before the U.S. pulls out of Syria, Washington needs to address a governance gap left in some former ISIS territories. Otherwise, marginalized Arab communities will likely ally with the Syrian government or extremist forces, writes Emily Burchfield of the Atlantic Council.
The U.S. military, in other words, cannot accept that “marginalized Arab communities” will “ally with the Syrian government.” Analogous within the United States itself would be if some foreign power refused to accept that “marginalized White communities” will “ally with the U.S. government.” In other words: this is clearly a military demand (a demand that came to be expressed here by a paid employee of NATO’s top PR agency, the Atlantic Council) to break up the country.
Whereas the prior U.S. President, Barack Obama, had tried everything short of all-out direct military invasion — as contrasted to indirect invasion by U.S. proxy armies of jihadist mercenaries — in order to conquer or at least to break up Syria, the current U.S. President, Trump, is resorting now to the direct military invasion route: he’s taking the path that Obama had declined to take.
Syria’s allies are Iran and Russia. These allies have enabled Syria to survive this long, and they all would be capitulating to the U.S. if they accepted the U.S. military invasion of Syria. For them to do that, would be for them to display, to the entire world, that the United States is their master. The U.S. Empire would, in effect, be official, no longer merely aspirational.
In the case of Russia, since it is the other nuclear super-power, this would be not just a surrender to the other nuclear super-power, but also Russia’s doing that without even waging a conventional-forces war against the U.S. Empire. That is extremely unlikely.
Consequently, Russia is probably now (on April 12th) coordinating with Iran, and with its allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, a conventional-forces war against the invaders.
If that conventional-forces war inflicts more damage to U.S.-and-allied forces than they inflict against Syria, that would, in military terms, constitute a “military defeat” for the U.S.
This would leave the U.S. only two options:
Either accept that Russia is another nuclear super-power (which the U.S. Deep State has refused to accept), and end the previously subterranian war to conquer it that was started by George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990, or else blitz-attack Russia itself in order to eliminate enough of Russia’s retaliatory weapons so as to ‘win’ the nuclear war — i.e., inflict even more destruction upon Russia than Russia would still possess and control the surviving weaponry to inflict against America in response.
Optical Missile Tracking Systems and Minimum Credible Deterrence
There was a time in human history when nuclear technology was the “it” technology; no one could imagine anything beyond it. The destruction and wrath it brought was not only terrifying but mesmerizing. It was fascinating for ordinary people, leaders, scientists and states that the smallest particle of matter upon breaking can release energy which could burn down a whole city in seconds. Thus, invention of nuclear weapons changed the way of thinking of nations, states and leaders. Mastering the fission of radioactive atom to enable it to release energy is not a child’s play; states invest billions in currency to make nuclear weapons.
At the operational level, a nuclear weapon requires delivery systems. In this regard, strategic bombers, ships, submarines and missiles are commonly used delivery vehicles by the states. But, one of the most significant and reliable delivery systems is missiles, With missiles, states can launch nuclear pay load from their own territory or from any other place without risking its human resource, in case of sending bombers. Missile technology all around the world is growing by leaps and bounds. After nuclearization, both Indian and Pakistan pursued missile technologies including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missile defences, Multiple Independently re-entry targetable vehicles and inter-continental ballistic missiles as well. States invest in nuclear weapons because it helps them achieve deterrence which stops states from using nuclear option due to fear of unacceptable damages to one’s vital interests. However, to endorse credibility of nuclear weapons, states invest in military modernization.
The main objective behind nuclearization of Pakistan was to create deterrence against India but without indulging into arms race. Thus, policy of minimum credible deterrence was developed by Pakistan. Later on, after India’s attempt to exploit the levels beneath nuclear threshold, Pakistan resorted to the policy of full spectrum deterrence without going for arms race. So, to create credible but minimum deterrence at the start of year 2017, Pakistan tested multiple independently reentry targetable vehicle (MIRV), which can deliver multiple nuclear war heads in one go.
Development of MIRV by Pakistan is neither consequence of ambitious national objectives nor is it meant to initiate an arms race in the region. But, it is to make nuclear deterrence viable against India’s BMDs which can intercept incoming ballistic missiles through interceptors and destruct them in the air.
Pakistan, due to its economic restraints could not go for BMD in response to India; as it is an expensive technology that has yet to achieve 100% success rate. So, considering its options, MIRVs came out as the most rational choice. However, MIRVs are one of the most complex technologies in which missile can carry more than one warhead in a single launch and with the capability to hit multiple individual targets. They require technological sophistication in not only sending so many vehicles in one launch but also in yield and most importantly in accuracy. With enough yield and accuracy MIRVs provide states the capability to go for pre-emptive strikes. Thus, MIRV have the capability to overwhelm the BMD system and resultantly eliminate the false sense of security under which India could go for first strike.
To increase the accuracy of MIRV missiles, Pakistan bought highly sophisticated, large scale optical tracking and measurement system from China. According to national news agency, Pakistan has deployed this sophisticated technology in battlefield. Before Chinese system, Pakistan was utilizing indigenous systems. Nonetheless, it will help Pakistan record high-resolution images of a missile’s departure from its launcher, stage separation, tail flame and, after the missile re-enters atmosphere, the trajectory of the warheads it releases. These functions will be possible because the system bought by Pakistan comes with a pair of high-performance telescopes equipped with a laser ranger, high-speed camera, infrared detector and a centralised computer system that automatically captures and follows moving targets. However, what makes this system unique is its ability to detect missile up to range of several hundred kilometers through the help of its telescopes. The timing of these telescopes are precisely synchronized with the atomic clock. Thus, now Pakistan can track different warheads going in different directions simultaneously. Moreover, through visual imagery, the missile developers can improve the accuracy and design of missile in much better way.
So, with this technological uplift, Pakistan will soon add Ababeel (MIRV) into its operational missile inventory. But, these actions by Pakistan are not to give rise to arms race rather they are the reactions to the actions taken by India. BMDs by India never strengthened nuclear deterrence or stability rather they eliminated the deterrence by nulling the credibility of ballistic missiles. As a result, to maintain credibility of its deterrence though minimum means, Pakistan opted for MIRV, as missile tracking systems are essential in improving the accuracy and designs of missiles. If anything indicates arms race in the region, it is India’s ICBMs, naval nuclear fleets and space weaponization.
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