The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assesses Russia “probably is not adhering” fully to a nuclear testing moratorium, the agency’s director said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a Hudson Institute event, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., director of the DIA, argued Russia’s development of new nuclear warhead designs and overall stockpile management is enhanced by nuclear testing.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Photo: DoD)
Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, Jr., Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. (Photo: DoD)

“The United States believes that Russia probably is not adhering to the nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the zero-yield standard. Our understanding of nuclear weapon development leads us the believe Russia’s testing activities would help it improve its nuclear weapon capabilities. The United States, by contrast, has foregone such benefits by upholding a zero-yield standard.,” Ashley said.

Ashley suggested as Russia is developing new nuclear-capable weapons, like those unveiled by Russian president Vladamir Putin in March 2018, “makes clear that Russia is continuing to prioritize investment in its nuclear forces, even at a time of domestic budgetary constraints.”

Putin unveiled systems including an intercontinental-range nuclear-powered nuclear-capabable underwater drone, nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed intercontinental range cruise missile, and air-launched ballistic missile.

In contrast, Ashley said the U.S. has “foregone such benefits by upholding a zero-yield standard.”

Russia has signed and ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which aims to ban all nuclear explosions. The treaty will enter into force only 190 days after 44 countries listed in Annex 2 have ratified it. Twelve countries in the world have not signed on and 28 have not ratified it. Notably, the United States, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, Pakistan, and China have not ratified the CTBT.

When pressed on whether Russia has the capability to test or actually has tested at a sub-critical testing facility at Novaya Zemlya, Ashley said “we believe they have the capability to do it the way they are set up.”

When pressed again if they are actually testing Ashley said “I believe they have the capability to do that.”

Ashley was unwilling to characterize the kinds of low-yield tests Russia may be conducting.

“I can’t really quantify it, I just think from a strategic level it goes into the issue of adhering to the zero-yield compliance. I think that really is the strategic part of it”

Ashley said it makes sense for them to test while also upgrading nuclear warheads. “If you go beyond zero-yield, that gives you more of a sense that your designs are viable,” he said.

When asked if Russia shares the U.S. definition of a zero-yield standard in the treaty, he said “my understanding is they have not affirmed the language of zero-yield so there’s not an agreement to what that means.”