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Jan. 25, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Ukraine war scuttles Biden arms control agenda

By Bill Gertz
The State Department is preparing its annual report on compliance with arms treaties and is expected to denounce Moscow for failing to comply with the terms of the New START nuclear arms accord, complicating U.S. hopes for more weapons deals to come.

The U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament stated on Twitter that the Biden administration is assessing Russian compliance with the New START treaty in its annual report to Congress.

“I urge the Russian Federation to fully implement its New START Treaty obligations,” the delegation’s leader, Bruce Turner, said in a tweet.

Mr. Turner added: “The New START treaty continues to make the United States, U.S. allies and partners and the world safer. However, Russia’s continued suspension of New START inspections undermines the treaty’s verification regime.”

The most recent compliance report issued in April said that the U.S. believed that Russia as of the end of 2021 — before Russian invaded Ukraine — was still complying with the New START pact’s provisions. That assessment is expected to change.

In August, the Kremlin announced it had suspended U.S. inspections of nuclear weapons sites in retaliation for a U.S. ban on flights from Russia to the United States and allied nations, as well as for visa restrictions imposed following the Ukraine invasion in February.

Under the pact, the United States is allowed to conduct 18 on-site inspections of Russian nuclear forces a year. The inspections permit checking on the number of warheads deployed on missiles.

The two sides are also supposed to meet twice a year in the “Bilateral Consultative Commission” (BCC) to discuss compliance and new weapons.

President Biden in 2021 extended the soon-to-expire New START treaty for five years in the hope of holding a new round of strategic arms talks. The treaty limits each nation to 1,550 deployed warheads.

Russia has carried out a buildup of new nuclear weapons not covered by the treaty, including a high-speed underwater drone submarine that can carry a megaton-class warhead and a new nuclear-powered cruise missile.

China, which is not a party to the agreement, is also engaged in a rapid buildup of its nuclear forces, one that is expected to vastly increase the number of missiles and warheads in its arsenal.

Nuclear arms observers say Moscow is violating New START by blocking inspections and failing to hold commission meetings.

“This [is] clear noncompliance; suspension of inspection and blocking BCC meetings effectively defeats the object and purpose of START,” said Tom Moore, a former Senate arms control expert, in a tweet.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, also said in a tweet that blocking commission meetings and inspections potentially could be violations of Russia’s treaty obligations.

Marshall S. Billingslea, special envoy for arms control during the Trump administration, said the Biden White House erred in extending the New START accord.

“Russia wouldn’t be flagrantly violating the New START Treaty if the Biden administration had followed our recommendation to extend the treaty in yearly increments,” he said. “Instead they extended the treaty for the full five years without any conditions, and in so doing, lost all leverage.”

China testing military spacecraft
A secret Chinese technology verification satellite launched this month has deployed a second satellite during its orbit, according to U.S. Space Force officials.

The Chinese military launched the Shijian 23 satellite on Jan. 8. The satellite will orbit Earth from 22,236 miles up in space, or geosynchronous orbit.

The Space Force’s 18th Space Defense Squadron, which conducts space surveillance, identified a separate satellite released from the Chinese spacecraft on Jan. 16. The Space Force identified the object as an apogee kick motor that is used during some satellite launches to assist in getting a satellite to reach a destination in higher orbit.

The satellite launches were first reported by the website, which noted that “it is possible that the object is a subsatellite, possibly to be used together with the parent satellite for on-orbit testing.”

China’s plans for the Shijian 23 were not fully disclosed. State media referred to the launch as mainly for “scientific experiments and technical verification.”

Initial Chinese reports after the Jan. 8 launch said two more satellites, Shiyan 22A and 22B, were part of the payload. But a report from the official news wire Xinhua a day after the launch omitted any reference to the two other satellites.

The Pentagon believes China’s Shijian satellites are part of Beijing’s growing space warfare capabilities.

In October 2021, China launched the Shijian-21, ostensibly as part of a program to clean “space debris,” the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, Beijing’s state-run space company, reported. That satellite also released a small satellite during its mission.

Army Gen. James Dickinson, U.S. Space Command leader, told Congress in April 2021 that spacecraft like the Shijian-21 are part of an effort by China to seek “space superiority through space and space-attack systems.”

The Shijian-17’s robotic arm, Gen. Dickinson said, “could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”

Australian sub deal advances
The Australian government is nearly finished with its plan to acquire a force of nuclear-powered submarines under the new U.S., Australian and British arrangement known as AUKUS.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles told the Sydney Morning Herald that the plan to start replacing Canberra’s aging Collins-class submarines with new nuclear-powered attack submarines is weeks from complication.

“I think this is a huge moment in Australian defense history,” Mr. Marles said. “What I can say is that the body of work for both exercises is on track and therefore near completion.”

Mr. Marles said the submarine model to be adopted by the government will be announced. The new submarines could cost up to $71 billion, and it will be years before the first is expected to be deployed by Australian forces.

“We know this is a very significant procurement,” Mr. Marles said. “It’s a very big step the country is taking. We get a huge capability which is transformative in terms of our strategic posture, in terms of being able to be taken seriously.”

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has suggested the Australian submarines could be a new attack submarine model that could be used by all three navies.

To make the submarines domestically, however, Australia still has to develop a nuclear infrastructure.

CRS on China nuclear, missile proliferation
A new U.S. government report said there is evidence that Chinese state-run companies continue to sell nuclear and missile goods to North Korea and Iran in defiance of international sanctions.

The Congressional Research Service stated in a report made public Monday that direct government transfers from Beijing appear to have ended, but not sales from Chinese companies.

“Official U.S. government reports indicate that the Chinese government has apparently ended its direct involvement in the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related items, but Chinese-based companies and individuals continue to export goods relevant to those items, particularly to Iran and North Korea,” the report said.

In addition, U.S. government officials have raised concerns that Chinese entities are providing other forms of support for “proliferation-sensitive activities, such as illicit finance and money laundering,” the report said.

China’s record on the export of dangerous nuclear and missile goods has been a subject of growing U.S. government concern.

The State Department’s annual arms compliance report in 2019 stated that Chinese companies continued sales of export-controlled missile items to Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria.

Despite U.S. government requests to Beijing to investigate and halt the transfers, China did nothing to limit the exports, the CRS report said.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Chinese companies for selling sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program and North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen told CRS researchers that even if the transfers were not directly state-sponsored, “China hasn’t devoted the priority, effort, or resources to thwart” the exports, noting “when that continues to be the case over 20 years, even when they have been criticized, over time it becomes a choice, and you have to wonder what’s going on.”

Chinese companies also engage in money laundering, the provision of illicit financial services and illegitimate procurement operations in China for North Korea and Iran, according to the Treasury Department.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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