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Missile Proliferation

India’s Bid to Join Missile Regime Fails

November 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

India’s bid to join a multilateral regime designed to stem the spread of certain types of missiles and drones failed last month when its application was blocked by Italy, an official who attended the meeting said.

The official said in an Oct. 19 e-mail that Italy’s objection to India’s membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was likely motivated by a bilateral dispute between Rome and New Delhi unrelated to the regime.

He and other sources cited a 2012 incident in which two Italian marines guarding an Italian cargo ship killed an Indian fisherman. Indian officials arrested the marines, who claimed that they fired warning shots and were attempting to guard the ship. India and Italy are involved in a dispute over the trial.

India said in June that it applied for membership in the MTCR, an initiative designed to prevent the spread of missiles and unmanned systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

India’s application for membership was considered at the annual plenary, which was held Oct. 5-9 in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. Membership is determined by consensus of the group, which currently has 34 members.

Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said on Oct. 9 that the application was well received but “remains under consideration.”

The regime, which was formed in 1987, defines WMD-capable delivery systems as missiles or drones capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of 300 kilometers. India already possesses a number of missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

MTCR members agree to abide by export policy guidelines designed to limit the spread of technologies applicable to the development of WMD-capable missiles and drones.

Swarup said that India’s membership would “strengthen global nonproliferation objectives.”

From left to right, Indian Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman, Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker speak to reporters after a meeting in Washington on September 22. In a joint statement with India issued that day, the United States expressed its support for India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime at the group’s meeting in October. [Photo credit: Prakash Singh /AFP/Getty Images]The United States backed India’s bid for membership and affirmed its support prior to the plenary in a Sept. 22 statement on U.S.-Indian relations. The Obama administration voiced support for Indian membership five years ago (see ACT, December 2010) and has consistently supported it since then.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on India’s unsuccessful membership bid.

When India applied to join the regime, it said that its space program had suffered because it was not a member of the regime. Membership would not ensure that India would be able to purchase restricted items because MTCR guidelines “do not distinguish between exports to Partners and exports to non-Partners,” according to a summary on the MTCR website. But India has argued that membership would raise its profile as a responsible state committed to nonproliferation.

Technology applicable to missile development is also used in space programs. The statement issued by MTCR members after the plenary meeting noted that the regime is not designed to “impede technological advancement and development, including space programmes,” as long as it does not contribute to WMD-capable delivery systems.

India is not the only country to have applied for membership. Nine additional countries are seeking to join the regime, none of which were accepted, said the official who attended the meeting.

 The official said that Russia objected to allowing several eastern European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, to join the regime.

The Oct. 9 statement said that individual applications for membership were “thoroughly discussed” and the issue of expanding the membership will remain on the agenda. The last country admitted to the MTCR was Bulgaria in 2004.

States that are not members of the regime can voluntarily adhere to the export guidelines. The statement noted that, since last year’s plenary, Estonia and Latvia pledged to use the regime guidelines as the basis for their export controls of missile-related technologies, and the statement encouraged other countries to do the same.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile


In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear...


Volume 7, Issue 13, October 19, 2015

In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, call on President Obama to cancel current plans to build a new fleet of approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Nuclear-armed cruise missiles “are a uniquely destabilizing type of nuclear weapon,” they write, and foregoing the development of a new version “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least" and "could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

The op-ed marks a significant development in the debate about whether to build a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, as Perry was one of the fathers of the current version of the ALCM when it was first conceived in the 1970s.

The ongoing development of a new ALCM is part of the Defense and Energy Department’s plans to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure at a cost of $348 billion over the next decade, according to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. An August 2015 report by the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the sustainment and modernization of nuclear forces could consume almost $1 trillion over roughly the next 30 years.

The projected growth in the nuclear weapons budget comes at a time when other big national security bills are also coming due and Congress has mandated reductions in military spending through the end of the current decade relative to current plans. In addition, despite the fact the president and his military advisors have determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

Given that current U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans are excessive and unsustainable, it behooves the administration and Congress to more closely evaluate options that would both be more cost-effective and promote the reduction of nuclear risks around the world. As the Arms Control Association detailed in a report last year, tens of billions can be saved over the next decade and beyond by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans.

As it prepares its budget submission for fiscal year 2017, the president should heed the advice of Perry and Weber and not request funds to advance the development of a new nuclear ALCM.


Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at long distances. The United States also deployed large numbers of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) during the Cold War, but ceased deployment of these weapons in 1992.

The original military rationale for developing the ALCM emphasized the cruise missile’s value as a standoff weapon that could overwhelm Soviet air defenses. The B-52’s ability to penetrate Soviet airspace was under pressure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standoff capability allowed a B-52 to hold strategic targets at risk in relative safety despite its large radar cross section and subsonic speed.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030. 

The Air Force currently retains 572 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Fore Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty limited strategic bombers.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (or LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned Long-Range Strike bomber. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026.

The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the LRSO and the modified W80-4 warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years.

The total cost to build the LRSO and refurbish the associated warhead could reach $25 billion (in then-year dollars). CSBA estimates the development cost of the LRSO at nearly $15 billion. The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $7 billion and $9.5 billion. 

Dubious Rationale

The two main arguments the Pentagon has made in support of building a new ALCM do not withstand close scrutiny.

First, supporters of the LRSO cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. However, as Perry and Weber note, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad.

The service is planning to spend over $100 billion to build 80-100 new stealthy penetrating strategic bombers. One of the top rationales for building a new bomber is to extend America’s air dominance in advanced air defense environments. In addition to carrying the LRSO, the new long-range strike bomber (or B-3) will be armed with refurbished B61 mod 12 nuclear gravity bombs. Upgrading the B61 is expected to cost roughly $10 billion. The B-3 is scheduled to remain in service for 50 years while the B61 mod 12 is expected to last for 20-30 years.

The United States already has redundancy built into its strategic forces posture with three independent modes of delivery. The requirement that the air-leg of the triad have two means to assure penetration against the most advanced air-defenses constitutes excessive redundancy. Other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, can penetrate air defenses with high confidence.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is significantly increasing the lethality of its conventionally armed cruise missiles.

For example, the service is purchasing an extended-range precision air-to-surface standoff cruise missile known as the JASSM-ER. This missile will have a range of over 1,100 kilometers and be integrated onto the B-1, B-52, B-2, F-15E, and F-16 aircraft – and likely on the F-35 and long-range strike bomber as well. The Air Force is planning to arm the JASSM-ER with a new computer-killing electronic attack payload. The technology is designed to have an effect similar to an electromagnetic pulse.

This raises the question of what is so unique about the penetrating mission of a nuclear ALCM that can’t be addressed by other U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities?

Second, proponents of the nuclear ALCM mission say that the missile, by virtue of the lower yield of the nuclear warhead it carries, provides the president with flexible options in the event of a crisis and the ability to control escalation. In other words, the missiles would come in handy for nuclear war-fighting.

Yet, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb.

More importantly, the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to carefully control escalation is dangerous thinking. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work noted at a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

In fact, instead of controlling escalation, nuclear-armed cruise missiles could entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended nuclear escalation.

Former British Minister of Defense Philip Hammond drew attention to this problem in explaining the United Kingdom’s decision to reject a sea-launched cruise missile alternative to its current force of sea-launched ballistic missiles.

“At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead,” he wrote in 2013. “Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Instead of investing billions in a new fleet of nuclear ALCMs, the Air Force should prioritize continued investments in longer-range conventional cruise missiles. Further investment in conventional standoff weapons would provide the Air Force with a more readily useable capability without the unintended escalation risks associated with the possession of nuclear and conventional ALCMs. It would also help set the stage for an eventual global phase-out of nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Excessive Cost

In light of the modernization needs of other defense systems and congressionally-mandated reductions in planned military expenses required by the Budget Control Act, military leaders continue to warn that the United States is facing an affordability problem in the near future when it comes to sustaining and modernizing nuclear forces.

“[W]e do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of [nuclear weapons] systems,” said Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, in April. “It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] — the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it.”

Funding for the LRSO program over the next 10-15 years will come at the expense of other costly Air Force priorities such as the acquisition of the long-range strike bomber, KC-46A tanker, the F-35, and a replacement for the existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Though no one knows for sure what the military budget will look like after the expiration of the Budget Control Act, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money to fund all of the military’s nuclear and conventional modernization plans, especially during the decade of the 2020s when costs are expected to be at their highest. Tradeoffs will have to be made.

Given the nuclear ALCM’s redundant mission and inherently destabilizing dual-use nature, its replacement is not necessary.

A Global Ban

The United States, Russia and France are the only nations that currently acknowledge deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. However, countries such as China and Pakistan are believed to be working on them. U.S. security would benefit if they do not deploy such weapons.

Chinese nuclear-armed cruise missiles would add to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s capabilities and would be able to more easily circumvent U.S. missile defenses, which are mainly oriented against ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s program would add to tensions in South Asia and could motivate India to follow suit.

As part of its strategy to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty the United States should express its willingness to engage in technical discussions and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns if Russia is willing to engage with U.S. concerns. Moving forward the United States should promote a global dialogue on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems.

Verifying limits and later a ban on all types of nuclear-armed cruise missiles would no doubt be a significant challenge, though not an insurmountable one. One early preparatory step toward building a transparency and monitoring regime is for the United States to pressure Russia to resume the exchange of data on nuclear-armed SLCMs that occurred under START I.

Rather than spend billions on a nuclear weapon that is not needed to deter potential adversaries, the United States should cancel its new cruise missile program. This would be a win-win for the military budget and U.S. security.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

Posted: December 31, 1969

North Korea’s Nuclear ICBM?

With the 70 th anniversary of the founding of the Worker’s Party of Korea approaching on Oct. 10, the director of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) lauded his country’s “shining achievements” in space development in an interview with the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 14 and raised the possibility of another satellite launch in the near future. The unnamed director reported that North Korea is at a “final phase” in the development of a new earth observation satellite, a “peaceful project” pursuant to improving the people of North Korea’s...

Iran Nuclear Deal Creates Opportunity for Adapting Missile Defenses

Although there are many challenges ahead for successful implementation of the Iran nuclear deal reached on July 14, it is not too soon to contemplate some of the wider effects of that agreement. At the top of the list should be the opportunity it affords to make adjustments to the shape of U.S. ballistic missile defense programs, adapting program content to the evolving threat. For more than a decade, U.S. missile defense efforts have been driven by the threats from existing and future North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles. Now, the July 14 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and...

Understanding the North Korean Nuclear Threat


As the 2015 NPT Review Conference continues in New York, the international community’s failure to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to North Korea looms large.


May 12, 2015 

As the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference continues in New York, the international community's failure to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to North Korea looms large. Unlike the four of the world's nine nuclear-weapon states that have shown some progress in reducing their nuclear arsenals, North Korea is working hard to expand its arsenal and make it more credible. Unlike six of the nine, which have either ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or maintained a testing moratorium since the treaty was concluded, North Korea has conducted three underground nuclear tests, the only state to do so during the last 17 years. 

Unlike the three nuclear-weapon states that never became parties to the NPT, North Korea signed the treaty, declared it was withdrawing, later pledged to denuclearize, and then reneged on its commitment. 

The North's nuclear program today is out of control and accelerating, damaging both the NPT and international stability. Addressing this grim reality begins with an objective assessment of North Korea's actual nuclear capabilities and an acknowledgment that the Obama administration's "strategic patience" approach is not working. 

Washington and Beijing must step up their efforts to revive the six-party process with the near-term goal of freezing Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs, taking care to manage potential spoilers, Russia and the U.S. Congress.

The full text of the brief, "Understanding the North Korean Nuclear Threat" is available online.   

# # #    

The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to addressing the challenges posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Updated: Iran’s Overdue ICBM

Updated on February 2, 2015 Iran’s launch of a Fajr (Dawn) observation satellite into orbit on February 2 will undoubtedly confuse the debate over whether or not Iran will soon have an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). It should not; this was not an ICBM-related event. The space launch vehicle (SLV) used in this launch appears to have been a modified Safir, which is based on the Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile with an operational range of around 2,000 kilometers. The Simorgh SLV mockup displayed five years ago would, if built, be able to carry a payload 2-3 times heavier than...

India Tests Ballistic Missile for Subs

Kelsey Davenport

India successfully tested a new, longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on March 24, Indian news outlets reported last month.

The test of the missile, known as the K-4, took place off the southeastern coast in the Bay of Bengal using a submerged pontoon. The two-stage, nuclear-capable missile traveled approximately 3,000 kilometers, the news accounts said.

India did not immediately publicize the missile test. But The Hindu on May 8 quoted officials who were present at the test as calling it “excellent” and saying that they would conduct “many more missions” like it to increase the reliability of the missile.

The K-4 eventually is to be deployed on Indian submarines, the first of which is currently undergoing testing.

Avinash Chander, director-general of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), said May 13 that India would be conducting a test launch of the K-4 from the INS Arihant “within the next few months.”

The DRDO is the main Indian government entity responsible for developing new, advanced military technologies.

India announced the successful development of a shorter-range SLBM, the K-15, in July 2012 and indicated at that time that the longer-range K-4 was under development. (See ACT, September 2012.)

According to the DRDO, the K-15 has a maximum range of 700 kilometers for a 700-kilogram payload.

Only four other countries—China, France, Russia, and the United States—have the capability to produce SLBMs. Although the United Kingdom deploys such missiles, they are produced in the United States.

India is planning to develop four nuclear submarines in total, and the boats are designed to carry four K-4 missiles or 12 K-15 missiles. New Delhi is planning to deploy the submarines by 2023.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Saudi Arabia Displays Missiles

In an April 29 parade, Saudi Arabia publicly displayed two ballistic missiles that it purchased from China in the 1980s.

Kelsey Davenport

In an April 29 parade, Saudi Arabia publicly displayed two ballistic missiles that it purchased from China in the 1980s.

This display is Saudi Arabia’s first public acknowledgement of the purchase of Dong Feng-3 (DF-3) missiles.

It remains unclear how many missiles were part of the sale. Estimates range from 30 to 50.

The DF-3 was developed by the Chinese in the 1960s and first deployed in 1971. Saudi Arabia is not known to have tested a DF-3.

It is a liquid-fueled, single-stage missile with a range of about 3,000 kilometers for a 1,000-kilogram payload. It can carry nuclear weapons, but the missiles sold to the Saudis have conventional warheads. China reportedly provided guarantees to the United States that the missiles were modified to prevent them from ever being used to carry nuclear warheads.

The range of the DF-3 allows Saudi Arabia to target Iran. Some experts believe that Saudi Arabia may have displayed the DF-3 as a show of strength, given the hostile relationship between the two countries and Riyadh’s concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia reportedly purchased more-modern missiles from China, including the DF-21, a medium-range ballistic missile. No DF-21 missiles were displayed in the April parade. Reports of the sale first emerged in 2010.

The DF-21 is a two-stage, solid-fueled missile with a 2,000-kilometer range. China first deployed the DF-21 in 1991. It is considered a more reliable system than the DF-3, and its solid fuel makes it more mobile.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

South Korea Extends Missile Range

South Korea and the United States reached an agreement allowing Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles. Both countries say the increase is necessary to counter the threat posed by North Korea’s missile capabilities.

Kelsey Davenport

South Korea announced on Oct. 7 it had reached an agreement with the United States that will allow Seoul to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload, an increase the governments of both countries say is necessary to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

Under a 2001 agreement with the United States, South Korea was limited to developing ballistic missiles with ranges of no more than 300 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload. (See ACT, March 2001.) That agreement increased South Korea’s ballistic missile range from the 180-kilometer restriction that the two parties had negotiated in 1979.

Under the new guidelines, South Korea will be able to target any site in North Korea from anywhere in its own territory.

In an Oct. 7 press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney described the extension as a “prudent, proportional, and specific response” that is designed to improve South Korea’s “ability to defend” against North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

In an Oct. 12 interview, however, Leon Sigal, a Korea expert at the Social Science Research Council, said that the increased range is “exceedingly dangerous given the state of the military balance” on the Korean peninsula and that South Korea and the United States need to clarify whether the U.S. commander in South Korea will be consulted about any use of these weapons. If the decision on use rests solely with the South Koreans, there is a greater concern for escalation in the event of an incident, Sigal said.

North Korea is believed to have several varieties of operationally deployed ballistic missiles, including the Nodong, which has a range of approximately 1,300 kilometers. North Korea also is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, although it has yet to conduct a successful test of a missile in that category. The last of these tests, which North Korea maintains was a satellite launch on an Unha-3 rocket, took place in April. (See ACT, May 2012.)

Michael Elleman, who was a missile expert for the UN team conducting weapons inspections in Iraq, said in an Oct. 15 e-mail that although Seoul’s “symbolic and psychological need to ‘mirror’” North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities is understandable, it could be done using space launchers and that theater missile defenses “to defeat or blunt” North Korean threats would have “greater utility.” Space launchers use technology applicable to longer-range ballistic missile development.

If striking targets throughout North Korea is Seoul’s priority, developing cruise missiles is a better option because they are “more accurate, militarily effective and less vulnerable to pre-emption,” said Elleman, who now is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 18 e-mail that, under the new guidelines, South Korea also will be able to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with “greater range and payload capabilities” for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The official did not provide a figure, but South Korean media reported that the new agreement raises the UAV payload limit from 500 kilograms to 2,500 kilograms with an unlimited range. There was no change from the existing guidelines for cruise missiles, the official said.

Impact on the MTCR

With the 2001 ballistic missile restrictions in place, the United States then supported South Korea’s admission to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The 34 member countries of the MTCR follow export control guidelines designed to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 300 kilometers carrying payloads larger than 500 kilograms.

Although the MTCR guidelines are voluntary and do not restrict countries from indigenously developing their own longer-range systems, it has been the U.S. practice to request that non-nuclear-weapon states joining after 1993 adhere to those guidelines for their own missile programs as well as their exports.

Elleman said that the damage done to the MTCR by the South Korean exception is “troublesome” but “should not be overestimated.”

In the Oct. 18 e-mail, the State Department official dismissed the possibility that the new South Korean missile guidelines would have an adverse effect on the MTCR, saying that the extension will have “no implications for other countries’ missile-related export behavior” and that it does “not impact the export control commitments” to which South Korea agreed when it joined the MTCR.­­­­


North Korean Response

The North Korean Foreign Ministry responded to Seoul’s announcement in an Oct. 10 statement saying that the United States “discarded its mask of deterring” missile proliferation by supporting South Korea’s increased missile ranges and killed efforts to restrain the development of long-range missile launches on the Korean peninsula.

The statement alluded to future North Korean launches of long-range missiles for “military purposes.” Sigal said the wording of the statement was significant because North Korea’s statements on its most recent test launches have not acknowledged a military purpose, claiming that they were for satellites.

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Posted: December 31, 1969

Missile Control: An Interview With Deputy Assistant Secretary Of State Vann Van Diepen

Vann Van Diepen has been principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation since June 2009. He has worked for 30 years on issues relating to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their delivery systems. For more than 14 years, he directed the Department of State’s Office of Chemical, Biological and Missile Nonproliferation.

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Vann Van Diepen has been principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation since June 2009. He has worked for 30 years on issues relating to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their delivery systems. For more than 14 years, he directed the Department of State’s Office of Chemical, Biological and Missile Nonproliferation.

Arms Control Today spoke with Van Diepen in his office on June 18. The interview covered missile programs in countries such as Iran, North Korea, India, and Pakistan, as well as the impact and future of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

The interview was transcribed by Lauren Weiss. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: Thank you for doing this. We really appreciate it.

Estimates of the threat to the United States from ballistic missiles fluctuate over time, as new evidence emerges on different countries’ programs. How would you describe the current trends, and in particular, is the threat to the United States growing or shrinking?

Van Diepen: Strictly speaking, these threat assessments are really the job of the intelligence community [IC] rather than the policy community. But certainly what we’ve seen over time is that, for those countries that continue to be in the ballistic missile business and who are potential adversaries to the United States, they are working to expand their missile programs both quantitatively and qualitatively. And so you’ve seen, increases over time in the range capability of, say, Iranian missiles from 300-kilometer Scuds to 500-kilometer Scuds to 1,300-kilometer-range Nodongs, and now obviously they’re working on longer-range systems. You see the same kind of thing with North Korea. So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, over the past 20 years, we’ve gotten a number of countries out of the business of [pursuing] missile programs capable of delivering WMD [weapons of mass destruction], and we’ve gotten yet other countries out of the business of supplying missile proliferation programs. So overall, there have been pluses and minuses on the historical track record, I would say.

ACT: Iran, which you mentioned, possesses the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East, and ballistic missiles are considered to be a likely delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons that Iran might acquire. Estimates vary as to when Iran may deploy a long-range ballistic missile. Currently, Iran’s longest-range ballistic missile under developmental testing seems to be the Sajjil medium-range ballistic missile, with a range of about 2,200 kilometers. And they have a large space launch vehicle that contains technology that could be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM], but it hasn’t been flight-tested. So what’s the current U.S. government assessment for the most likely time frame for the appearance of an Iranian ICBM threat to the United States?

Van Diepen: Again, those types of questions really are intelligence community questions rather than policy community questions, so I think I’d really have to refer you to whatever the latest public IC assessment may be on that question. [1]

ACT: But could you just summarize what the basic assessment is from the IC, that we have, the policy assessment?

Van Diepen: No, only because I don’t know what it is. I know what the classified assessments are, but I’m not in a position to provide those.

ACT: A similar question with North Korea but maybe we could ask it a little bit differently: Has the most recent North Korean missile flight-test failure altered the U.S. government’s assessment of North Korea’s ability to deliver a weapon of mass destruction on a long-range ballistic missile?

Van Diepen: Not that I’m aware of. Remember, for example, in roughly the same time frame that that failed test occurred, the North Koreans rolled out, literally, a road-mobile ICBM. So one can’t simply look at that one program and its checkered flight-test history to draw conclusions about the overall North Korean missile threat.

ACT: You mentioned the road-mobile ICBM. Is there anything you can say about that in terms of how you’re viewing that?

Van Diepen: Well obviously, that’s very serious. That portends the ability to have a usable, militarily effective, survivable system that can reach the United States with a significant payload. So that’s obviously a very serious and significant development.

ACT: Are you referring to the missiles that a number of nongovernmental experts have said were mock-ups?

Van Diepen: I am referring to the mobile ICBM program, of which the paraded mobile launchers and missiles are a part. [2]

ACT: If I can just follow up on Iran and North Korea: When Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates spoke about these issues back in 2009, he mentioned in testimony to the Hill that the threat of potential Iranian ICBM capabilities has been slower to develop than anticipated in 2006. The same might be said for North Korea, which has had these long-range flight tests, most of which have been considered to be failures. What are the factors that you see as being essential to further slowing the ability of both these countries to successfully test and field these systems in the years ahead? What kinds of barriers can we be putting in the way and the international community be putting in the way?

Van Diepen: First of all, we need to continue to find ways to make it politically uncomfortable for them to engage in this type of activity. I think it’s pretty clear that the North Koreans certainly don’t seem to be conducting their test activity on a technically driven schedule. It clearly appears to be a politically driven schedule. So the extent to which we the international community can continue to make it clear to them that that kind of behavior is unacceptable and there are consequences for that—hopefully, that will slow the pace of at least the flight-test portion of those programs. Likewise, we’ve got to continue our efforts to ensure robust implementation of UN Security Council sanctions, of restrictions like those of the Missile Technology Control Regime, and do what we can to try to make it harder for [the countries] to get better technology, force them to have to settle for less effective and less reliable technology, interdict shipments, et cetera, et cetera. So continue the ongoing efforts that we’ve been doing for really the past several decades to impede these programs, to make them take longer, cost more, be less reliable, less effective than would otherwise be the case.

ACT: Moving on to India and Pakistan: In April, India flight-tested the Agni-5 ballistic missile, which the Indian government claims has a range of some 5,000 kilometers. In reference to that test, the U.S. government “urged all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding their nuclear and missile capabilities” while recognizing India’s “solid nonproliferation record.” So, in the view of the U.S. government, why is such restraint important, particularly with respect to the Agni-5 program?

Van Diepen: Well, I’m not sure I’d single out any particular program, but obviously you know South Asia is one area where one could actually conceive of the unfortunate possibility of a nuclear war occurring between neighboring states. So for a long time, we have been counseling restraint both on the nuclear side and the missile side of both countries, to try to do whatever we can from the outside to encourage behaviors and practices that would make things more stable and make it less likely you could have such a war.

ACT: We’ll get back to that point about the arms race dynamic in a minute, but I also wanted to ask, what is the U.S. government’s assessment of India’s interest in acquiring long-range ballistic missile capabilities that would extend the range of its nuclear arsenal beyond the border of its two nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan?

Van Diepen: I’m really not in a position to comment on what we might be assessing for the future.

ACT: Then going back to the point about the reaction to the Indian missile test, is there concern in the administration that Pakistan may take the U.S. response to the India test as a green light to go ahead with testing on its own longer-range ballistic missiles?

Van Diepen: Other people may have their own assessment, but I don’t see this being a sort of action-reaction phenomenon. I think that these two countries’ programs respond to different kinds of dynamics. You know there are substantial internal dynamics on both sides that aren’t directly dependent on the other, certainly for longer-range systems. I’m sure Indian strategists would be pointing to China rather than Pakistan, so I don’t see it as literally that kind of a tit-for-tat dynamic.

ACT: But I think some people saw the U.S. reaction to the Indian test as very muted, so would other countries use that as sort of a justification or sort of a signal that there wouldn’t be a strong U.S. response if they went ahead?

Van Diepen: Again I think that overstates the impact we as an outsider could have and understates the impact of these internal factors that drive these programs.

ACT: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the MTCR, which was created to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks. How is the MTCR still relevant to U.S. efforts to curb the spread of ballistic missile technology?

Van Diepen: The main reason it’s relevant is that it’s really the only multilateral institution we have, with 34 members, that comprehensively combats the proliferation not just of ballistic missiles but of cruise missiles capable of delivering WMD. We relatively recently evolved the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, but that’s very much focused on ballistic missiles and is more of a sort of mild, normative institution rather than something that has the teeth that the MTCR has in terms of export control requirements, in terms of information sharing, policy coordination, cooperation. So the MTCR has much more of an active ability to really have a bite on the proliferation problem.

ACT: So how does the United States believe the MTCR needs to evolve or can evolve over time to address future missile proliferation challenges?

Van Diepen: Well, we have to move simultaneously on a number of different fronts, which in fact is what we’ve been doing. First of all, we’ve got to continue to try and update the regime’s technology controls to take account of evolutions in technology, take account of what we see in proliferant procurement activity.

ACT: So updating the list—

Van Diepen: Updating the list, but also augmenting that sort of export control focus with other counterproliferation tools, with cooperation in interdiction, in work on intangible technology transfers, brokering, transit, transshipment, looking at all the ways that proliferators try to evade standard export-from-country-A-to-country-B export controls and add on things that can help deal with that. Then also to do what we can to get cooperation from countries that are not members of the regime, and there the regime has been very successful in establishing itself as the global standard for missile-related export behavior. Most of the major repositories of missile technology in the world now are either members of the MTCR or are avowed adherents to the MTCR or adopt practices that are very, very close to those in the MTCR.

ACT: As you mentioned, since the MTCR was established in 1987 it has had some notable successes, but some countries, such as India, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan, continue to advance their missile programs. And all four have deployed medium-range ballistic missiles and are exploring missiles with greater ranges. So how can the MTCR affect further missile development in these and other countries that developed indigenous capabilities or formed networks for importing the necessary technology from supplier countries that are not part of the MTCR?

Van Diepen: Again, I think fundamentally what we end up doing in those cases is impeding those programs and making them take longer, be less effective and less reliable than what would otherwise be the case, and making them cost more. That does inhibit the missile proliferation problem, but the fact is that it is very difficult to prevent someone from pursuing a missile program if they’re bound and determined to do so.

ACT: But you think the MTCR still can have an effect in the cases of the countries I mentioned in slowing the growth of programs that already exist, as opposed to just preventing the starting-up of countries that are aspiring to it but don’t have the capability yet?

Van Diepen: We’re doing both of those things simultaneously, and in fact if you look at who are the countries of proliferation interest, you’re talking roughly a dozen countries. Everybody’s list might be a little bit different, but it’s roughly that magnitude. Compared to what that list could look like, I think that’s a way of gauging the impact. Doing what we can to keep it that way is important, so not only impeding the programs that we have but doing what we can to discourage countries from getting into the business is an ongoing thing. That is an area where this mild norm of the Hague Code of Conduct is helpful. It establishes a predisposition that missile proliferation is bad, missile nonproliferation is good. This is also an area where the different nonproliferation tools kind of start to meld together, where we’re discouraging countries from having chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, and we also help discourage them from having missiles capable of WMD delivery and vice versa.

ACT: You mentioned the relationship between the MTCR and interdiction efforts. To what extent is there an active integration of ideas and work between the Proliferation Security Initiative [PSI], for instance, and UN Security Council Resolution 1540 work and the MTCR? What is being done on the ground to try to affect what you’re talking about in terms of putting these efforts together to be more powerful?

Van Diepen: For 1540, I think its main contribution is this requirement that all UN member states have proliferation-related controls including on missile proliferation, and there the MTCR really provides the de facto standard. Its list was implicitly endorsed in the footnotes to UN Security Council Resolution 1540. A lot of the work that is going on in our export controls assistance programs in terms of helping other countries set up systems is setting up systems that are consistent with the lists of these different regimes. We have a lot of countries that even though they have not formally said that they adhere to the MTCR guidelines, their export control system has lists that draw from the MTCR annex, for example. [3]

For PSI, I think its fundamental contribution has been to raise the political profile of interdiction where people understand that it’s important, it’s something that needs to be done. When the call comes to cooperate in an interdiction, people understand that that’s not just a routine working-level activity, this is something that has a presidential imprimatur. A lot of work also has gone on in PSI in terms of exercises and other things to help people be able to conduct an interdiction when and if it’s their turn to do so.

And in MTCR, what we’ve done is build a lot of awareness of how missile proliferation works, who the proliferators are, their front companies, the techniques they engage in, so that people are in a better position to recognize activities that need to be interdicted. We’ve done a lot to build partnerships between the actual people who do this in the real world so that when the time comes, people know who to call; they’re used to cooperating with these people. And we do a lot of sharing of experiences so that people can learn from what happened to the other guy so that when it’s their turn, they can do it better the next time.

ACT: You also mentioned the Hague Code of Conduct. Do you want to talk about how that intersects with the MTCR and how the two work together, in your view?

Van Diepen: I think the major contribution of the Hague Code of Conduct is that you’ve got a widely subscribed, 134-country, quasi-norm. It’s not legally binding; it’s politically binding, but it has this normative effect that underlines the idea that the proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering WMD is a bad thing and that promoting the nonproliferation of such missiles is a good thing. So in effect, it helps build an awareness of the importance of the missile nonproliferation issue and a receptivity in a wide swath of countries to the importance of this issue.

A lot of missile proliferation-related activity can occur in some of these countries that aren’t members of the MTCR but are subscribing states to the [Hague Code of Conduct]. So it helps build this awareness and receptivity to working with us on this issue and bolster the more directly pointy-end-of-the-spear kind of contributions that the MTCR and its members can make, by giving us this broader support, this broader coverage that this wider membership provides.

ACT: You mentioned earlier that the MTCR covers cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles, but compared to ballistic missiles, it seems the MTCR has had less success in stemming the proliferation of cruise missiles apparently because of a rise in the dual uses for cruise missile technology and the simplification of the technological requirements for cruise missiles. So do you see a need to strengthen the MTCR to address this issue?

Van Diepen: Well first of all, I’m not sure I’d necessarily agree with that characterization. If you think about MTCR Category I cruise missiles, cruise missiles that were in this category of [being] inherently capable of delivering WMD, that’s still a very small set of the total population of cruise missiles out there. Most of the cruise missiles out there are medium-range, anti-ship cruise missiles that are MTCR Category II systems. Now we are starting to see relatively large land-attack cruise missiles beginning to bubble up in countries like India and Pakistan, not just countries in the traditional West, and in China. But that’s happened a lot later than a lot of people expected, so I think this is another example of the impedance function that the MTCR provides.

But because the basic technologies are very similar to aircraft technologies, and manned aircraft are specifically exempted from the reach of the MTCR, it’s not surprising that over time that technology is going to be able to move. So we need to continue looking for areas where we can have a purchase on the cruise-missile dimension of the problem that doesn’t get too far into the manned aircraft side of the problem. We continue to look for areas that we need to tighten controls up on to help us stay on that cruise missile problem, but it is a very difficult thing just because aircraft technology has become more widespread over the years.

ACT: So overall, you would say the MTCR has been largely successful in regard to cruise missiles?

Van Diepen: Well, I’d say it’s been more effective than the initial comment gave it credit for. But if someone is determined to get into this business, over time they’re going to be able to do it. If we can delay that, force them to settle for guidance, propulsion, and other technologies that are not as good as they could otherwise get, we’re still having an impact on the problem.

ACT: Are there efforts underway to rein in cruise missile proliferation to address this problem that you characterized as now, later than you expected, starting to emerge?

Van Diepen: I think we talked about this a little before. Basically it’s part of our overall effort to try and keep the regime’s controls current with technology and with the activities of missile proliferation programs. That’s not a ballistic missile-specific thing; that covers the waterfront.

ACT: With regard to another area of possible adjustments, some observers have suggested that some of the MTCR’s restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] could be loosened because UAVs are not part of the problem the MTCR was designed to address, but other people argue that they should continue to be subject to such export controls because they are able to disperse chemical or biological agents over a wide area. What is the U.S. view on this issue?

Van Diepen: The general approach the MTCR has is to restrict systems based on their inherent capability. So if a system is capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kilograms to a range of at least 300 kilometers, it’s inherently capable of delivering WMD and therefore is subject to the greatest restraint. It doesn’t matter what you call it, whether it’s a ballistic missile or space-launch vehicle, whether it’s a UAV or a cruise missile; if it’s got that level of capability, it’s inherently capable of delivering WMD and should be treated accordingly.

Now the MTCR restrictions, even the strong presumption of denial for Category I exports, are not an absolute ban, and that can be overcome on what the MTCR guidelines calls “rare occasions” that are extremely well justified in terms of the nonproliferation factors that are listed in the MTCR guidelines. So there is an ability to make certain sales under certain good circumstances, and the United States has in fact sold Category I UAV systems to some of its allies. I think there is a way of striking the appropriate balance that’s laid out there.

ACT: And what is that? You said that you have certain criteria that have to be met? How do you go about that so it doesn’t look like some people favoring friends or making special political exceptions? How do you go about striking that balance?

Van Diepen: Fundamentally, it’s applying the factors that are written out in the guidelines themselves. The whole thrust of the guidelines for these Category I systems [is that] the first answer is no and then there has to be a really good reason to be able, on what you can justify as a rare occasion, to overcome that strong presumption of denial. We’ve been doing this long enough that we’ve got sort of internal understandings and rules of the road that help us apply that on a reasonably consistent basis.

ACT: Just to follow up on one of the things you were saying, you seem to suggest that one of the keys to dealing with the cruise missile issue and the UAV issue is to maintain updated control lists. So are there ongoing plans at work within the MTCR countries to do that? Is there a schedule, are there some benchmarks that the member states are seeking to meet in order to update those lists, especially with the UAV and the cruise missile issues?

Van Diepen: No, basically this is an ongoing process, and at every annual MTCR plenary, part of what happens is debating the various proposals that various member countries make for changes to the control list. And to help drive that, there’s been a concerted effort over the past couple of years to provide information and analysis on emerging technologies and on proliferant procurement activities so that we can look for reasons to modify our list based both on how technology moves and on what the proliferators are doing, what they’re seeking, and how they’re doing it.

ACT: And to round out our questions on UAVs, is the MTCR a suitable mechanism to deal with the UAV technology, or should it be covered by some sort of separate mechanism?

Van Diepen: Right now, we’ve got two different regimes that deal with UAV technology. One is the MTCR, which of course looks at them from a WMD-driven, WMD delivery prism, and then the Wassenaar Arrangement, which looks at them through the prism of trying to prevent destabilizing accumulations of conventional weapons. UAVs with a certain performance level are controlled by the MTCR, either in Category II or Category I, and we have to look at them through that WMD prism, but then basically all military UAVs of any sort would be covered by the Wassenaar Arrangement and looked at through that prism as well.

ACT: Going to some specific countries and their interactions with the MTCR: Under a 1979 agreement with the United States, South Korea restricted its ballistic missile range to 180 kilometers. In 2001, when South Korea joined the MTCR, the United States agreed to a South Korean request to extend the capability to 300 kilometers [with a payload of 500 kilograms] for its ballistic missiles. South Korea reportedly has been in discussions with the United States about the range limit. Has the United States agreed to grant South Korea an exemption to develop longer-range missiles?

Van Diepen: South Korea joined the MTCR in 2001, based in part on understandings of the range/payload capability of its missile systems—not just range. There is an interactivity, ability to trade off range and payload, so it’s not just range in the picture. I think it’s pretty clear that we are in discussions with the South Koreans about their interest in being able to have more-capable missile systems. Basically all I can say is that we are in those discussions, and in those discussions we have to take account of both the legitimate defense requirements of our treaty ally, who is under very substantial threat, as well as our interest in upholding global nonproliferation standards. That’s kind of what’s going on right now.

ACT: So how are you weighing those? In particular, if there are exceptions made, how do you make sure that the exception doesn’t become a precedent for weakening the regime?

Van Diepen: Again, I really can’t get into the dynamics of this issue, but clearly South Korea has some distinguishing features in terms of the threat it faces from North Korea that clearly would have to be taken into account.

ACT: And on that point, what effect might an exception have on North Korea’s missile activities?

Van Diepen: North Korea’s already testing ICBM-class systems. I’m sure it can use as an excuse whatever the South Koreans do, but they’re already the world’s biggest missile proliferator. They have very extensive missile deployments of their own. They are already flight-testing ICBM-class systems. So I’m sure they could use for rhetorical purposes whatever they want, but realistically, whatever the South Koreans are doing is unlikely to be an actual driver.

ACT: The United States has launched an effort within the MTCR to accept India as a member. Given that India has already pledged to conform with the MTCR as part of the deal to exempt it from certain Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] restrictions, [4] what benefits to missile nonproliferation would Indian membership provide?

Van Diepen: I’m not sure about this [connection to the] NSG and whether that’s actually accurate or not—

ACT: The week before the NSG exemption was made, on September 6, 2008, the Indian government made a statement outlining the nonproliferation commitments it was making in conjunction with that, and MTCR guideline conformance was part of that. So that’s what we’re referring to.

Van Diepen: All right. Again, I’m not sure there was, strictly speaking, a linkage between those two, but basically India is a country that’s a major repository of missile technology. They’ve tested and demonstrated systems across the entire spectrum, including cruise missile systems. So bringing that repository of technology under control and taking steps to make sure it doesn’t go elsewhere is a major contribution to the missile proliferation picture. The Indians, you know, have a lot of information that could be of use to the regime. So basically, our belief is that the regime and missile nonproliferation would be better off having them in the regime rather than out of the regime.

ACT: But the question is, basically, if India has already committed to conform with MTCR guidelines, how does membership alter its behavior? How does it improve its behavior?

Van Diepen: Well, I think, from our standpoint, it’s not a question of improving their behavior. I think, from our standpoint, their behavior is such that they warrant membership in the regime. You don’t bring somebody in and hope that because they become a member, they behave better; you only bring into the regime countries whose behavior is such that it’s supportive of the objectives of the regime and thereby strengthens the regime. And we think India falls into that category.

ACT: How would you handle the issue of the range limits that countries normally have to abide by when they come into the MTCR, that is, they agree to restrictions on their own systems comparable to what the MTCR range limits are for export?

Van Diepen: Well, none of that is a regime restriction. Oftentimes, [the United States] in particular, as a condition of our agreeing to permit a certain country to enter the MTCR, will require that that country forgo Category I systems. But sort of apropos of our attitude on their membership in the NSG—it would certainly be nice if they signed up to the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], but realistically that’s not going to happen any time soon—in recognition of that, we believe we’re better off having them in than having them out. It’s sort of the same thing with the delivery systems.

ACT: Given that India already has ballistic missile systems that are beyond the 300-kilometer range and the payloads outlined in the MTCR guidelines, would Indian membership in the NSG in any way affect the behavior of MTCR member states in denying transfers to India that could aid its missile program in missiles beyond those ranges? That’s one of the things we’re getting at here because that is a concern among some about Indian membership in the MTCR.

Van Diepen: The regime is very clear in including on its website that membership in the regime does not confer an entitlement to receive technology from another member or confer a responsibility to provide technology to another member. And the MTCR guidelines are not denominated in terms of members and nonmembers. So just as we currently control MTCR annex items to essentially all countries, we would continue doing that for India just as we have continued to deny exports to a variety of programs that we don’t support in member countries. We would apply that exact same policy to India.

ACT: Moving on to China: China applied for membership in the MTCR in 2004 after pledging that it would voluntarily follow the export control guidelines laid out by the regime. Its membership, however, was rejected by the United States due to concerns that China’s participation would weaken the regime, as certain Chinese companies were believed to be supplying sensitive technology to countries such as North Korea. Would accepting Chinese membership now put more pressure on that country’s government to rein in violators?

Van Diepen: Well first of all, “rejected by the United States” sounds like we were the only country that felt that China did not currently meet the MTCR membership criteria, and I can assure you that’s not the case.

Now, China’s the kind of country where if they were following the rules, their membership would strengthen the regime, just as I laid out in the discussion on India—sort of the same thing. Unfortunately, as is manifestly clear, including in numerous U.S. sanctions impositions, right now there’s a substantial problem of Chinese entities providing missile technology to programs in places like Iran and North Korea, and until that problem is substantially addressed—right now China does not meet the membership criteria. We expect them to meet the same criteria that everyone else has met to become a member, and we would very much like them to be able to meet those criteria because that would also then mean there would be few if any missile proliferation problems emanating from China, which unfortunately is not the case right now.

ACT: With respect to these various membership issues, is there a timeline or a schedule that the United States or the other MTCR member states have in mind with respect to Indian membership consideration or a future Chinese membership consideration?

Van Diepen: No. Part of this is that any decision on anything in any of these regimes requires a consensus of all the current members, and that will develop on its own dynamic. And if you had enough agreement to have a timetable, then you’d have enough agreement to let them in. We’re working with our partners, and our objective is to try to get that consensus in the case of India as quickly as we can, but with 34 countries of a diverse composition, that may take some time.

ACT: So those discussions have begun on a formal basis, or are they still on an informal level about possible Indian membership in the MTCR?

Van Diepen: Indian membership has been under discussion in a serious way ever since we took our public position that we supported their membership [in November 2010].

ACT: On China, you mentioned the ongoing problems with regard to exports to Iran and North Korea. Do you see progress the United States and other countries are making in modifying that behavior, or how would you characterize the discussions and efforts on that topic?

Van Diepen: I think if you look at this issue on kind of a Chinese time scale, over the past 20 or 30 years, I think you can say there’s been progress on the issue in the sense that we no longer see China selling complete MTCR-class missile systems like we did in the ’80s and ’90s.

We don’t see China selling complete production capabilities for MTCR-class missile systems like we did in the ’80s and ’90s. I think most observers would say that the issue is no longer one of China, the country, the government, deliberately supporting programs of proliferation concern.

Where we continue to have problems is the ability of Chinese entities to be approached by proliferators and to provide them with equipment and technology that they need for their programs, a lot of which is dual use, a lot of which is not even necessarily listed on the MTCR annex but nonetheless is of value to these programs. From our perspective, we don’t see sufficient priority, resources, and effort being put by the Chinese authorities in bringing that under control.

ACT: But so in your view, it’s an inability of the Chinese government to control things that they’re not necessarily supporting, as opposed to these companies doing these activities with the support or complicity of the Chinese government?

Van Diepen: Right. I think most observers would say that these are not activities that are being done at the behest of the Chinese government. That said, the Chinese government has the ability to decide to devote more resources, efforts, and priority to crack down on these activities; and for whatever reason, thus far they have not chosen to do that.

ACT: By the end of the year, there is supposed to be a meeting on the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, and ballistic missiles are within the scope of the meeting. In October 2008, Russia and the United States issued a statement declaring U.S. and Russian intentions to “work with all interested countries” and “discuss the possibility of imparting a global character” to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty, which bans intermediate-range missiles. Some outside analysts have suggested that states in the Middle East should consider a ban on the development and possession of ballistic missiles capable of flying more than 3,000 kilometers, in part because it could help build momentum toward a WMD-free Middle East. Is the United States discussing a similar concept with its partners in the region or in the context of the consultations on the WMD-free zone?

Van Diepen: I’m really not in a position to get too far into the Middle East WMD-free zone issue, but I think at this point, I think it’s fair to say that we’re still looking at this in a very broad, general kind of way, looking to try to get the buy-in of all the states in the region to the general idea of having a meeting to discuss the zone. So I don’t think we’ve really gotten into the sort of 200- or 300-level [course] questions at this point.

ACT: Going back to the 2008 statement that was made at the United Nations by the United States and Russia on multilateralizing the INF Treaty, what discussions has the United States had with Russia or other countries about this concept? Is this a concept that might be applicable to certain regions like the Middle East where we have ballistic missile proliferation problems, in terms of going from the short- to medium-range level to the longer-range level?

Van Diepen: I think there are just a lot of problems in trying to transpose something that was done in a bilateral Cold War context to a multilateral post-Cold War context. From a verification standpoint, there are a lot of shortcomings in the INF Treaty that were okay in the context of everybody having lots of missiles and lots of nuclear weapons above and below the 500- to 5,500-kilometer-range prohibited zone. So the impact of cheating or inability to really nail down compliance was a lot less in that setting. For example, the definition of range in the INF Treaty is the range that’s demonstrated in a flight test, so it would be relatively straightforward to flight-test a missile to range X but know that it has the capability to go well beyond X. In the U.S.-Soviet context, that was a perfectly survivable way of doing business; but outside of that context, that could lead to lots of problems and circumvention avenues, [as could] the way that space-launch vehicles were treated in the INF Treaty and the fact that [the treaty] deliberately only dealt with land-based missile systems. So there are lots of circumvention avenues, which again were entirely understandable and appropriate in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War context, that could be very problematic in a wider context. That’s aside from all the political problems of, could you even get the buy-in from all the counties that one would have to get that buy-in from in order to be able to have such a treaty, given that some of these countries already have systems deployed well within that range band? How realistic is it to expect that they would actually be prepared to give those up where they’re not in the situation of having lots of things above and lots of things below that range band that we were in with the Soviets back in the day? So I think it’s something that, on one level, sounds good but when you really start parsing it and applying it outside of that historical context, has some shortcomings that you’ve got to think about.




1. The most recent U.S. unclassified intelligence estimate assessing Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities does not indicate a time frame in which Tehran is likely to develop an ICBM. It says that Iran continues to “move toward self-sufficiency” in its production of ballistic missiles but “certainly remains dependent on foreign suppliers” for components that are “key” to missile production. See Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, Covering 1 January to 31 December 2011,” 2012, pp. 3-4, www.odni.gov/reports/2011_report_to_congress_wmd.pdf.

2. This question was asked and answered in writing as a follow-up to the interview.

3. The Equipment, Software and Technology Annex lists the items that are subject to MTCR guidelines. The annex divides the items into two categories. Category I includes complete missiles and rockets, major subsystems, and production facilities. Category II includes specialized materials, technologies, propellants, and subcomponents for missiles and rockets. MTCR restrictions for Category II exports are less stringent, largely because many items in the category also have civilian uses.

4. In the July 18, 2005, "Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh" outlining the terms of their joint civil nuclear cooperation initiative, Singh pledged that India would be ready to assume a number of "responsibilities and practices" that "other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology" had. Among the practices Singh said India would follow was "ensuring that the necessary steps have been taken to secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization and adherence to Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines."

On September 5, 2008, in the run-up to the NSG decision on the proposed exemption for India from certain NSG guidelines, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee issued a statement on the "Civil Nuclear Initiative" in which he said that "India has taken the necessary steps to secure nuclear materials and technology through comprehensive export control legislation and through harmonization and committing to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime and Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines."


Selected Export Control and Nonproliferation Regimes

•   Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Established in 1987, the MTCR is a voluntary association of countries that coordinate national export control licensing to prevent the proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Member countries are asked to adhere to common export policy guidelines on lists of controlled items, including completed missile systems and dual-use technologies, that would enable countries to produce systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The MTCR specifically aims to prevent the proliferation of missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. The MTCR now has 34 member countries.

•   Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. The Hague Code of Conduct is a voluntary association of countries that formed in 2002 as a supplement to the MTCR and existing disarmament and nonproliferation mechanisms. It provides a means for promoting the nonproliferation of ballistic missiles. Member countries are asked to make annual declarations of their policies on ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles and to provide notifications prior to launches or test flights. The regime has 134 member countries.

•   Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG was founded in 1974 as a group of countries seeking to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by implementing shared guidelines on the export of nuclear and nuclear-related technologies. The aim of the guidelines is to allow trade in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes without contributing to weapons proliferation. In determining export applications, each participating government applies the guidelines in accordance with its national laws. Currently, the NSG has 46 member countries.

•   Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Launched in 2003, the PSI is a nonbinding effort by member countries to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials to and from countries and nonstate actors that pose proliferation concerns. Countries that are a part of the PSI are asked to endorse the “Statement of Interdiction Principles,” which commits them to establish more-coordinated efforts to impede and stop the transfers of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems based on existing national and international laws. It currently has 99 participating countries.

•   UN Security Council Resolution 1540. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1540 in April 2004. It designates the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their means of delivery as a threat to international peace and security and obligates countries to enforce domestic controls over such items and related materials. Under the resolution, countries also are prohibited from providing any form of support to nonstate actors seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and are required to criminalize the possession or attempts to finance the purchase of such items by nonstate actors.

Wassenaar Arrangement. The Wassenaar Arrangement grew out of a Cold War export control regime called the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls. It was formally established in 1995. Participating states pledge to use national policies to promote transparency and the responsible use of conventional arms and dual-use technologies transferred to other countries. The group decides on the scope of the export controls, but implementation is determined by each country’s national procedures. Forty-one countries currently participate.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: December 31, 1969


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