Sorting by


US refusing to reveal size of nuclear stockpile over Russia fears, scientists complain

The US government is facing a backlash from scientists after abandoning a commitment to transparency over its nuclear weapons stockpile, a move arms control specialists say may be linked to Russia.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said the step risked encouraging other nuclear powers to adopt more aggressive postures in response.

The FAS, which has a longstanding role as a nuclear watchdog, published letters from the White House dismissing two requests to declassify nuclear weapons data, in a departure from previous policy.

Jon Wolfstahl, an international security advisor to the US State Department, said the decision was probably taken to deny information to Russia but disputed the rationale for it.

“What blocking release does is give Russia and China cover to behave irresponsibly,” he told i. “How can we push for more transparency when we are the ones moving backwards?”

nuclear data
US nuclear weapons data (Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration)

The US began releasing details of the stockpile in 1994 and continued until the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The Biden administration restored the practice, revealing that the US possessed 3,750 nuclear warheads as of September 2020. 

The National Nuclear Security Administration said at the time: “Increasing the transparency of states’ nuclear stockpiles is important to nonproliferation and disarmament efforts, including commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

However, the Biden administration refused to release figures this year, without explanation. The US Department of Energy said it did “not believe that it is in the best interest of the US to declassify the size of the nuclear stockpile”, without expanding on the reason.

Arms control specialists suggest this is a reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although it is unclear how Russia could benefit from the information.

ANKARA, TURKIYE - JUNE 30: An infographic titled "Nuclear weapons investment surges beyond $82 Billion in 2022" created in Ankara, Turkiye on June 30, 2023. As the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) marks its 55th anniversary, disagreements over nuclear armament continue, magnified by $82 billion channeled into this sphere of investment just last year. (Photo by Y????lmaz Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Nuclear weapons investment around the world (Photo: Anadolu/Getty)

The US had been the most transparent nuclear power, with other states refusing to release figures. The UK announced that it would stop releasing data in 2021. 

Russia is estimated to possess the largest stockpile of almost 6,000 nuclear warheads. The US and Russia are believed to account for about 90 per cent of the global total.

The FAS expressed concerns that the refusal to release data undermines diplomatic efforts, and risked altering the calculations of other powers, warning: “Lack of and decreasing nuclear transparency increase uncertainty and suspicion and can cause other countries to increase reliance on worst-case scenarios and even make mistakes about the intentions and plans of other nuclear-armed countries.”

US diplomats are currently in Geneva for a UN session on the non-proliferation treaty, in which they are expected to encourage representatives of the other eight nuclear states to improve transparency standards. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren is among the US lawmakers to have argued for maintaining transparency.

“Disclosing this information helps US diplomats make the case to countries around the world that the US is continuing its efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals, and it enhances our credibility in calling for other nuclear powers to be equally transparent,” she told a Congressional hearing last year.

Mr Wolfstahl said the refusal to declassify the data was a mistake.

“This is counterproductive to US policies and an own goal for US efforts to contrast its behaviour with that of China and other nuclear states,” the nonproliferation specialist said. “The US has previously released this information. The arguments that these numbers will reveal classified information do not hold up to close scrutiny.”

The FAS has urged the White House to review the policy change. “Extensive declassifications… in previous years clearly demonstrate that such information is not secret, and that the government has no legitimate reason to withhold it from the public,” the group said.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button