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13:48 27 October 2016

OPINION: Future of nuclear-armed cruise missiles

By Christine Parthemore
WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, Kyodo

On Oct. 13, the governments of Switzerland and Sweden hosted a panel discussion in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. First Committee sessions on nuclear disarmament. The question for the panelists was how the international community might pursue an eventual end to a specific type of nuclear weapon: nuclear-armed cruise missiles, which can be launched from air, land, or sea.

This event built on a proposal both governments submitted to the Open-Ended Working Group in May, which recommended that states collaborate to "initiate or engage in a process to reduce risks associated with nuclear-armed cruise missiles," potentially including ways to limit or end these weapons globally.

Cruise missiles can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads, which introduces ambiguity and may increase the risk of miscalculation. Many experts believe lower-yield nuclear-armed cruise missiles may increase the likelihood of their use out of a misguided belief that their more limited impact reduces the likelihood of escalation.

Today, just three countries have known programs to possess these nuclear weapons: Russia, France, and the United States. A global approach to ending nuclear-armed cruise missiles would therefore entail just a few countries disarming existing weapons. For other countries with nuclear weapons, they would need only to pledge not to develop them. This includes China, India, and Pakistan, all of which have the technical capability of building arsenals of nuclear-armed cruise missiles. The United Kingdom has already actively decided not to build them.

In the United States, we have done away with these weapons as launched from sea and land. We now have growing debate regarding our last remaining type of nuclear-armed cruise missiles: those launched by aircraft. The country just began work to replace the current air-launched cruise missile with a modernized version called the long-range standoff cruise missile, or LRSO.

Ten U.S. Senators wrote to President Barack Obama in 2015 requesting he cancel the program, noting that it does not address current national security needs. In June 2016, Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Congresswoman and Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher wrote in The New York Times of their concerns regarding the LRSO's costs, and questioning the need for the weapon.

These U.S. leaders and many more believe we already have conventional weapons that can do everything the future LRSO would do -- including deterring potential adversaries from harming the United States and our allies.

Leading Japanese experts have already contributed to the dialogue as well. The chairman's report of the 2016 Hiroshima Round Table proposed "that there be international negotiations on the prohibition of the development and acquisition of long-range cruise missiles with nuclear warheads to bridge the gap between nuclear states and non-nuclear states and open a new round of negotiations to reduce the risk of nuclear war."

For the United States, it is critical that we consult with Japan and other allies before making decisions regarding the future of our nuclear cruise missile programs. I strongly believe ending these weapons globally would enhance regional stability in Northeast Asia and reduce security risks for Japan. However, we should allow time to ensure we understand and address any concerns Japanese officials would have, and coordinate ways to reassure the public that this action would represent unity and strength among the United States and our partners around the world.

(Christine Parthemore has been an adjunct professor in the Global Security Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University since 2010)




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