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Arms Control Today

Syria Declares More Chemical Facilities

Syria has declared four additional chemical weapons facilities, according to UN diplomats and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

November 2014

By Daniel Horner

Syria has declared four additional chemical weapons facilities, UN diplomats and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last month.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations to oversee the removal and destruction of Syrian chemical weapons materials, speaks at Georgetown University on September 30 in this video image. (C-SPAN)After a UN Security Council briefing Oct. 7 on the status of Syria’s chemical weapons program, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a tweet, “UN’s @SigridKaag said 4 facilities identified that regime failed to declare.” Sigrid Kaag is the Dutch diplomat who has been overseeing the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program.

Media reports citing anonymous UN diplomats’ accounts of the closed briefing said the declaration comprised three research facilities and one production facility. In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability for Green Cross International, said the production facility and one of the research facilities were for ricin. The other two research facilities were for more general research on chemical weapons, said Walker, a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee and current member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors.

OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan confirmed that Syria had made the declaration, but declined to provide details beyond the number of facilities. In an Oct. 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he noted that the OPCW in April had established a “declarations assessment team” (DAT) to "clarify anomalies and discrepancies that have arisen with Syria’s initial declaration” of its chemical weapons program. The Syrian government declared the additional facilities “after reaching agreement with the DAT on their declarable status,” he said.

The OPCW is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Syria joined a little more than a year ago.

In response to an August 2013 chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the United States, other countries, and most independent analysts attributed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration appeared poised to launch punitive military strikes against Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov negotiated a deal under which Syria, which has close ties to Russia, agreed to join the CWC and destroy its chemical arsenal under an accelerated schedule.

According to specialists on the CWC, it is not unusual for countries to make minor revisions to their initial declarations as their chemical destruction progresses. But reports have circulated for months that the Syrian discrepancies went beyond that category.

On Sept. 21, Kerry expressed “deep concerns regarding the accuracy and completeness” of Syria’s initial declaration. Power, in her Oct. 7 tweet, said, “Must keep pressure on regime so it doesn’t hide [chemical weapons] capability.”

At an Oct. 7 roundtable discussion with reporters, Andrew Weber, outgoing assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, said that “[t]he strategic threat of Syria’s chemical weapons has been eliminated” but that there may be “some tactical, small things that were not declared by the Syrian regime.” There is “a system in place to deal with that,” led by the OPCW, he said.

Another ongoing part of Syria’s chemical disarmament is the destruction of 12 production facilities—five underground structures, which are part of a system of tunnels, and seven aboveground hangars. After extended negotiations with Syria, the OPCW on July 24 announced an agreement on a plan for destroying the facilities. (See ACT, September 2014.) Under that plan, destruction was to begin in late September. By late October, however, the work had not started. In his Oct. 27 e-mail, the OPCW’s Luhan said it “has been delayed by contract issues.”

In Sept. 30 remarks at Georgetown University, Kaag said the destruction of the facilities “hopefully” would be completed by April. Kaag was speaking on the last day before the official expiration of the OPCW-UN joint mission that she headed.

The OPCW has responsibility for pursuing the remaining issues related to Syria’s chemical weapons program. Kaag will continue to have a role in this effort as an adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In September 2013, the Security Council adopted Resolution 2118, which approved a plan formulated by the OPCW Executive Council for destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal. (See ACT, October 2013.)

When it joined the CWC last year, Syria declared about 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons agents. About 10 percent of the stockpile was destroyed in Syria; the rest was shipped out of the country for destruction elsewhere. About 600 metric tons were neutralized aboard the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. ship, in July and August. The remainder, along with the effluent from the Cape Ray operation, went to facilities in the United States and Europe to be processed.

As of October 20, about 98 percent of the declared arsenal, including all the high-priority chemicals, had been destroyed, according to the OPCW.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Iran, P5+1 Press for Deal in November

Negotiators for Iran and six world powers are focused on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal by Nov. 24 and are not discussing extending the talks, officials said

November 2014

By Kelsey Davenport

Negotiators for Iran and six world powers are focused on reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal by Nov. 24 and are not discussing extending the talks, officials representing the two sides said last month after three days of meetings in Vienna.

After little progress was made during talks in September to narrow the remaining gaps between the positions of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1, some officials and analysts said a deal may not be possible by the Nov. 24 deadline. (See ACT, October 2014.)

But that sentiment seemed to shift after talks in October. In an Oct. 15 press briefing, a senior U.S. official said that negotiators “have not discussed an extension” and remain focused on a “full agreement” by Nov. 24.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Oct. 16 that there are “tough decisions” that must be made before the deadline but that there is “no need to even think about” an extension. In August, Zarif had said a deal by the deadline was unlikely.

In July, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal through Nov. 24. An interim deal reached by Iran and the P5+1 in November 2013 originally set a target date of July 20 for reaching a final agreement.

In remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Oct. 23, Wendy Sherman, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that “this is the time to finish the job.”

Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator, said that Iran “will have no better time” than between now and Nov. 24 if Iran “truly wants to resolve its differences with the international community” and bring about a lifting of sanctions.

Since July, members of the Iranian and P5+1 delegations have met in a variety of formats, including bilateral talks between the United States and Iran in August. The P5+1 and Iran also met for more than a week in New York in September.

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna on October 15. Ashton and Zarif are the lead negotiators in the talks between six world powers and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear program. (U.S. Department of State)Most recently, on Oct. 15, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the P5+1. A meeting of representatives from all seven countries took place the following day.
Shift in Iran

According to an Iranian analyst following the talks, there is a “change in tone” and an “increased optimism” in Iran that a deal will be reached by the November deadline.

In Iranian media coverage and political commentary, there are positive signs regarding the prospects for reaching an agreement that were not present after the September round of talks, the Iran-based analyst said in an Oct. 20 interview. Now, he said, it appears that political leaders in Iran are laying the groundwork to prepare the public for an announcement of an agreement.

But he cautioned that an agreement would be reached only if it “respects the rights of Iran and its nuclear vision.” The analyst was referring to Iran’s plans to build additional nuclear power plants.

Throughout the talks, the size and scope of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program has been the most significant issue.

Iran says it needs to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity to provide fuel for nuclear power reactors it plans to build. Under a contract that runs through 2021, Russia is supplying the fuel for Iran’s only currently operating power reactor, at Bushehr.

The P5+1 wants to reduce Iran’s enrichment capacity and put limits on other elements of its nuclear program, including the stockpiles of enriched material that Iran maintains and the types of new centrifuges that Tehran is developing. These limits would increase the amount of time it would take for Iran to enrich uranium to provide enough weapons-grade material for one bomb. In such material, more than 90 percent of the material is uranium-235. Iran currently is enriching uranium to less than 5 percent U-235, an enrichment level that would make the material usable in power reactors.

In his Oct. 16 comments, Zarif said progress is being made on “all the issues.”

Sherman said in her Oct. 23 remarks that the United States is ready to reach an agreement and that the P5+1 has put forward a “number of ideas that are equitable, enforceable, and consistent with Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program and that take into account that country’s scientific know-how and economic needs.”

Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs and the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks on Iran’s nuclear program, speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on October 23 in this video image. (U.S. Department of State)She said that the United States hopes that “leaders in Tehran will agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that this program will be exclusively peaceful” and thus end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation. If an agreement is not reached, “the responsibility will be seen by all to rest with Iran,” she said.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Uranium Proposals

Citing diplomatic sources, the Associated Press reported on Oct. 17 on a U.S. proposal that would allow Iran to retain a larger number of operating centrifuges than the P5+1 originally proposed if Tehran shipped out a significant portion of its stockpile of reactor-grade uranium for storage in Russia.

Iran currently has about 10,200 operating first-generation centrifuges and an additional 9,000 installed machines that are not enriching uranium. The country has a stockpile of about 7,500 kilograms of uranium gas enriched to reactor grade.

A spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Oct. 22 that options for defining the dimensions of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program are being discussed, including the numbers of centrifuges and the transfer of the stockpile out of Iran.

An official based in Vienna said on Oct. 17 that a number of options are being “considered and tweaked” to find a solution. He said there is no “single proposal” on the table for uranium enrichment. An agreement that “everyone can sell” domestically on this issue is possible, the official said. He declined to elaborate on the description of the U.S. proposal in the press.

In an Oct. 23 interview with Bloomberg, Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, said that Iran’s last proposal on uranium enrichment was to “keep what they have right now” and have an option to scale up when its nuclear power program expands.

That position is not acceptable to the international community, Araud said. Araud, who served as the French negotiator for nuclear talks with Iran between 2006 and 2009, said that if Iran does not change its position on the centrifuges, it is difficult to see how a deal can be reached by Nov. 24.

In that case, Araud said that the “preferred scenario” would be prolonging the interim agreement reached last November. (See ACT, December 2013.)

The Iranian analyst, however, said that gathering support for extending the talks will be difficult in Iran. Some political factions do not want Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to succeed in reaching a deal because it could increase his popularity, he said.

In addition, Iran is concerned that the upcoming U.S. elections could result in Republican control of both chambers of Congress, he said. The Republicans currently control the House of Representatives and are seen as having a good chance of gaining a majority in the Senate. This will make some in Iran “less sure that the United States will follow through” on sanctions relief in a deal, he said.

Posted: December 31, 1969

U.S. Mulls Attending Nuclear Meeting

The United States is deciding whether to attend a December conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use.

November 2014

By Kingston Reif

The United States has not decided whether to attend a December conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use, according to a senior U.S. official.

In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, did not provide a specific timetable for a U.S. decision on attending the conference, which is scheduled for Dec. 8-9.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide delivers opening remarks in Oslo on March 4, 2013, at the first conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use. (Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs)The Vienna gathering will be the third conference in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference held in Nayarit, Mexico.

India and Pakistan attended the Oslo and Nayarit conferences, but the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) did not.

Gottemoeller said the United States does not “have a straightforward or a clear view” of “what the conferences are about.” She expressed concern that some conference organizers believe the meetings are intended to lead toward talks on a convention on the elimination of nuclear weapons.

In remarks delivered Oct. 20 at the UN General Assembly First Committee, which deals with disarmament and other issues, Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said that “any call to move nuclear disarmament into international humanitarian law circles can only distract from the practical agenda set forth” at the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

The Austrian government has said it does not intend the Vienna conference to be the start of a diplomatic process for a ban on possession of nuclear weapons. In an Aug. 30 interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Alexander Kmentt, director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, said the Vienna conference “will focus on the consequences and on the risks” of nuclear weapons, including the consequences of nuclear weapons tests and the range of human and technical factors that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.

The draft conference agenda posted on the Austrian ministry’s website lists possible scenarios of nuclear weapons use, plans for response to such use, and the implications of nuclear weapons use under different areas of international law as topics to be addressed at the meeting.

Gottemoeller said in the Oct. 9 interview that the United States is “very supportive of the notion that…we need to be enhancing people’s understanding of the human impacts of nuclear weapons use.”

In the Asahi interview, Kmentt said, “[T]here is a broad range of views” among countries on the need for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. What unites the states that participate in the conferences, he said, is “the belief that we need to do something different” to work toward nuclear disarmament “compared to how we have done it in the past.”

The Vienna conference and the two conferences that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress on the 22-point action plan on disarmament laid out in the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Emphasizing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use “has the potential to refocus the international community on the urgency of nuclear disarmament,” said Kmentt.

Kmentt said Austria hopes to pull together the key findings of the Vienna, Nayarit, and Oslo meetings and take them to next year’s NPT review conference to push for concrete progress toward nuclear disarmament.

He expressed hope that more countries will attend the Vienna conference than attended the Mexico gathering, including some of the nuclear-weapon states. He said the discussion with the United States about participating in the conference “has been very positive” and that he believes the Obama administration “is exploring ways to participate.”

The issue of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use also was raised at the United Nations. On Oct. 20, New Zealand delivered a statement on behalf of 155 countries at the First Committee, declaring, “It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances.”

Posted: December 31, 1969

Future of Some U.S.-Russia Work in Doubt

Although Russia and the United States are continuing to work together on global nuclear threat reduction, the future of their collaborative efforts after the end of this year remains uncertain.

November 2014

By Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport

Russia and the United States are continuing to cooperate on key elements of global nuclear threat reduction, but the future of collaborative efforts between the two countries remains uncertain.

In comments last month, current and former U.S. officials said cooperation in some key areas is in doubt after the end of this year.

Containers of highly enriched uranium fuel are prepared for transport to Russia from Almaty, Kazakhstan, on September 29. (Sandor Miklos Tozser/IAEA)In one of the areas of ongoing cooperation, Russia and the United States worked together in late September to assist with the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Poland and Kazakhstan. The Russian-origin HEU was shipped back to that country for secure storage and elimination.

Janusz Wlodarski, president of Poland’s National Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September that Poland’s remaining HEU will be shipped back to Russia in 2016. The Polish research reactors that previously ran on HEU now use only low-enriched uranium (LEU), he said.

Operators of the cargo ship that transported the HEU to Russia reported on Sept. 29 that the material reached Russia and was transferred to railroad cars for transport to a reprocessing plant. Poland did not disclose the amount of HEU in the shipment.

More than 10 kilograms of HEU from a research reactor near Almaty, Kazakhstan, were also returned to Russia for secure storage on Sept. 29, the IAEA said Oct. 2. The agency, which assisted in the removal, said that the reactor is being converted to run on LEU.

According to the IAEA, since 2002, Russia and the United States have worked in cooperation with the agency to transfer more than 2,100 kilograms of Soviet-origin HEU from 14 countries back to Russia, where it is secured or down-blended into LEU.

In an Oct. 9 interview with Arms Control Today, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, cited examples of “very solid” nuclear security cooperation with Russia, but expressed concern that because of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russia does not seem to be “thinking beyond the end of 2014 about continuing expansive threat reduction cooperation.”

At an Oct. 29 briefing for reporters, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, head of the Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, said nuclear security cooperation between Russia and the United States beyond the end of the year depends largely on the results of an ongoing internal Russian review.

Matthew Bunn, a former adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy who is now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, cited the recent HEU removals as part of “a long-standing effort to reduce the security risks posed by Russian-supplied HEU around the world that would not be possible without Russian cooperation.” Moscow and Washington have so far been saying that this cooperation should continue despite the tensions over Ukraine, but “[c]ooperation within Russia faces more uncertainty at present,” Bunn said in an Oct. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States have cooperated on an array of nuclear weapons dismantlement, material security, and nonproliferation activities inside Russia. These efforts have been pursued primarily under the auspices of the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program and the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs.

In June 2013, Russia and the United States agreed to a pared-down replacement for the old CTR agreement. The new pact allows nuclear security activities in Russia to continue, but discontinues activities involving the Russian Ministry of Defense. (See ACT, July/August 2013.)

Bunn, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, warned that nuclear security cooperation beyond 2014 is now in doubt, as all the work specified in current contracts finishes at the end of the year. “What kind of cooperation will continue after that is very much up in the air,” he said.

For Russian and U.S. security, “[t]he worst outcome…would be no cooperation,” he said.

Funding for U.S. nuclear security work with and inside Russia has been a contentious issue on Capitol Hill this year. The House-passed appropriations bill that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear material security programs “provides no funds to enter into new contracts or agreements in the Russian Federation in fiscal year 2015” until the secretary of energy “reassess[es]” the Energy Department’s “engagement” with Russia and certifies that cooperative work with Russia is “in the national security interest of the United States.” Also, the bill redirects unspent fiscal year 2014 funds for nonproliferation projects in Russia to nonproliferation work elsewhere.

In addition, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions prohibiting the Defense Department from engaging in “cooperative threat reduction activities” with Russia and bars the Energy Department from funding “any contact, cooperation, or transfer of technology” between Russia and the United States on nuclear security. The provisions include waivers that would allow the executive branch to continue cooperation after certifying that the work is in the U.S. national interest.

The Obama administration strongly opposes House efforts to curtail cooperation with Russia. In statements on the appropriations and defense authorization bills, the administration stated that “[c]ooperation with Russia remains an essential element to the global effort to address the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. Critical bilateral nuclear nonproliferation activities are continuing in a number of key areas, and nuclear security is of paramount importance.”

In contrast to the House, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs provided about $50 million above the fiscal year 2015 budget request of $305 million for the materials protection account.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the defense authorization bill does not impose restrictions on U.S. nuclear security cooperation with Russia. The bill includes a provision restricting all bilateral security cooperation with Russia funded by the Pentagon, but according to a Senate staffer, the provision exempts the department’s CTR work in Russia from this restriction.

The full Senate has yet to pass either bill.

The vast majority of U.S. nuclear security work in Russia is led by the Energy Department. Its cooperative activities with Russia include returning Russian-origin HEU to Russia from third countries and improving security at Russian nuclear material sites. The Pentagon’s nuclear cooperative work with Russia has diminished in recent years, but still includes technical exchanges on nuclear weapons security topics and dismantling retired Russian nuclear submarines.

Congress left Washington in September without reconciling the differences between the House and Senate bills. It is unclear whether and, if so, when Congress will pass final authorization and appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2015.

Posted: December 31, 1969

A Good Deal in the Making

After extending talks on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the original July 20 target date, Iran and six world powers are closing in on a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive deal.

November 2014

By Daryl G. Kimball

After extending talks on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the original July 20 target date, Iran and six world powers are closing in on a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive deal. Such an agreement would block Iran’s potential uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weapons, removing a major threat to international security for many years to come.

Iran and the six-country group—known as the P5+1 because it comprises the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—have worked out solutions on several key issues, including some that appeared to be intractable just a year ago. They agree in principle that the design of Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium and that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility to separate that material from spent reactor fuel.

Iran is amenable to implementing and ratifying measures that would strengthen International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection authority. With the option of short-notice inspections of undeclared sites under the terms of an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and with regular inspections of Iranian centrifuge workshops, the international community would have the capabilities necessary to promptly detect and disrupt an effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program.

Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that key sanctions, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, will not be removed until and unless the investigation is resolved.

The members of the P5+1 agree that the goal is not to extract an admission from Iranian officials that their country engaged in nuclear weapons-related work in the past, but to ensure that the IAEA has sufficient information to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or in the future.

On uranium enrichment, the two sides agree that Iran should limit its enrichment of uranium to normal reactor-grade levels: 5 percent or less of fissionable uranium-235. They agree that Iran’s underground Fordow enrichment plant need not be closed, as the P5+1 originally demanded, but shall be limited to a research-only role.

But as the negotiators have stressed, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” With less than a month before their current Nov. 24 deadline, the two sides still need to hammer out technical understandings and make important decisions on at least two major issues in order to get to “yes.”

Until recently, Iran has sought to maintain its current number of operating centrifuges—approximately 10,200—with the option to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity over time to provide fuel for potential new power reactors. The United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners want Iran to cut the current number of operating centrifuges for several years and to disable machines that are installed but not yet operating.
Given Iran’s past actions, suspicion over its nuclear intentions is justified, particularly when its uranium-enrichment capacity exceeds its needs on the ground. Iran should be willing to accept a reduction in its enrichment capacity for a period of several years. This capacity could be allowed to expand in the future if Iran’s needs for enriched uranium increase.

Reducing Iran’s current enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of the country’s enriched-uranium stocks or removal of those stocks to a third country, would increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon to nine to 12 months or more. That is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to develop nuclear weapons.

In exchange for a significant reduction in Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity, the P5+1 will likely need to agree to allow limited research and development on more-advanced centrifuges. It is unrealistic to expect Iran to agree to a deal that limits it to using only first-generation centrifuges, which are inefficient and unreliable. The agreement can and should put in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement.

Iran’s current practical needs for enrichment are limited, but to assure Tehran that its needs can be met for the duration of an agreement, the P5+1 may also offer nuclear fuel-supply guarantees, including the shipment of several years’ worth of fuel for Iran’s one operating light-water power reactor, at Bushehr.
To enhance Iran’s incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under the agreement, the two sides agree that the P5+1 will phase out and later lift nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations and the IAEA investigation of Iran’s nuclear program is concluded.

Policymakers in Washington and Tehran need to recognize a good deal when they see one. An effective, verifiable, comprehensive P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran is within reach. Such a deal is critical to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and an escalation of tensions in the Middle East, and it is the only way Iran can obtain relief from further international isolation and sanctions.

Posted: December 31, 1969

The Enduring Power of Bad Ideas: ‘Cold Start’ and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia

Pakistan does not need to pursue development of the Nasr, a battlefield nuclear missile conceived in response to India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine.

November 2014

By Jaganath Sankaran

In April 2011, Pakistan declared that it had tested a short-range battlefield nuclear missile, the Nasr.1 Since then, prominent purveyors of Pakistani nuclear doctrine, including Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai and former diplomat Maleeha Lodhi, have portrayed the Nasr missile as a counter to India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine.2

That doctrine supposedly aims at rapid but limited retaliatory incursions into Pakistan by the Indian army to seize and hold narrow slices of territory in response to a terrorism event in India involving Pakistanis. The rationale is that the seized territory would be returned in exchange for Pakistani extradition of extremists inflicting terrorism onto India. The doctrine is based on the assumption that Pakistan would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons in response to a limited Indian incursion, thereby offering space for conventional conflict even in a nuclearized environment.

Pointing to this Indian war doctrine, Pakistani decision-makers now argue that the deterrent value of their current arsenal operates only at the strategic level. According to this line of reasoning, the gap at the tactical level gives India the freedom to successfully engage in limited Cold Start-style military operations without fear of nuclear escalation. Development of the low-yield, tactical battlefield nuclear weapon, the Nasr missile, is seen as the solution providing “flexible deterrence options”3 for an appropriate response to Cold Start, rather than massive nuclear retaliation against India. Nasr proponents argue that by maintaining “a credible linkage between limited conventional war and nuclear escalation,” the missile will deter India from carrying out its plan.4

This approach might appear to be sensible, but it suffers from two important flaws. First, the Cold Start doctrine has not been actively implemented and therefore does not seem to represent a genuine threat to Pakistan. Second, battlefield nuclear weapons are a key part of the proposed solution, but it may be extremely difficult to establish a command and control system that would effectively preclude the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch.

Is Cold Start Real?

The genesis of the Cold Start doctrine goes back to a conference of Indian army commanders held in April 2004. The media claimed at the time that a new Indian war doctrine was presented at that conference. These sources added that although the full details of the doctrine remained classified and many issues were still being fine-tuned, a briefing by a senior officer had mentioned the concept of eight integrated battle groups being employed in place of the existing three large strike formations. Yet, there is no evidence of an unveiling at the conference of the Cold Start doctrine as it stands now with its various operational details. In fact, the Indian army doctrine document released in October 2004 following the conference makes no mention of the Cold Start doctrine.5

How did the purported Cold Start doctrine gain so much currency? One of the two prime sources to which all writings on the Cold Start doctrine refer is an op-ed piece by Firdaus Ahmed, a writer on security affairs.6 Writing in May 2004, without citing any evidence, he claims that the doctrine comprises two important elements. The integrated battle groups, being smaller than the current strike corps, could be deployed more quickly, and these groups would be able to undercut Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine of first use by striking at narrow pieces of territory along the Indian-Pakistani border that do not necessarily compel Pakistan to cross its nuclear threshold. Ahmed points out that there was no indication that the idea had originated in the Integrated Defence Staff—the joint body serving as India’s unified armed services headquarters—suggesting that the idea did not have the endorsement of the three services. The other prime source to which all later discussions of the Cold Start doctrine refer is an article by Subhash Kapila, a strategic affairs analyst.7 In his piece, Kapila suggests that, in the absence of more details, some aspects of the strategic conceptual underpinnings of India’s new war doctrine can be assumed. One key assumption that he makes is that three of the army’s existing strike corps may be reconstituted and reinforced into eight or so integrated battle groups to launch multiple strikes into Pakistan. Another assumption is that India’s strike corps elements will have to be moved well forward from existing garrisons usually situated deeper inside India. Here again, the author makes assumptions about what he believes to be the elements of an as-yet-undeclared doctrine.

In trying to outline what Cold Start could be, these two sources were at best providing opinion rather than facts. Yet, these pieces have endured and have ended up propagating an idea that apparently does not have support from the armed forces or the political class in India. Recently, the Indian government and military have been striving to deny that Cold Start is an approved doctrine.8 Timothy Roemer, U.S. ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, noted in a leaked assessment that “several very high level officials [including the former Indian national security adviser M.K. Narayanan] have firmly stated, when asked directly about their support for Cold Start, that they have never endorsed, supported or advocated for this doctrine.”9 The Obama administration apparently raised the issue of Cold Start in November 2009 when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington. In a subsequent comment, Indian Defense Secretary Pradeep Kumar said, “We don’t know what Cold Start is. Our prime minister has said that Pakistan has nothing to fear.”10 Similarly, General V.K. Singh, who retired in May 2012 as Indian’s chief of army staff, said in 2010, “There is nothing called ‘Cold Start.’ As part of our overall strategy we have a number of contingencies and options, depending on what the aggressor does. In the recent years, we have been improving our systems with respect to mobilization, but our basic military posture is defensive.” He has further said, “I think that ‘Cold Start’ is just a term bandied about by think tanks and media. It is neither a doctrine nor a military term in our glossary.”11

The origins of the Cold Start doctrine therefore are highly suspect. More importantly, there have not been any subsequent observable Indian efforts to operationalize the doctrine. In fact, elements of the Indian army and the Indian air force substantially disagree on how to do this and on whether the doctrine needs to be operationalized at all. The presumed Cold Start doctrine, by design, ties down Indian air force units to missions of close air support in a spatially limited theater of operations in which the army operates rather than allowing the air force to exploit the quantitative and qualitative advantages it possesses against its Pakistani counterpart and launch a wider campaign of strategic attrition and air supremacy.12

The doctrine also underplays strategic bombing, which is a preferred mission for the air force. The Indian air force has balked at this idea, suggesting that its role in the supposed Cold Start is an artificial and gross underutilization of air power. Making this point, Kapil Kak, a retired air vice-marshal who is deputy director of the air force’s Center for Air Power Studies, has said that “there is no question of the air force fitting into a doctrine propounded by the army. That is a concept dead at inception.”13 Furthermore, Kak has argued that there is little necessity for the air force to divert its frontline fighter aircraft to augment the army’s firepower. That task, he says, can be achieved by the army’s own attack helicopters and multiple rocket launchers that now have a 100-kilometer range. Yet, the army’s airborne assets are inferior to those of the air force. In particular, if the Pakistani air force brings its top assets into action in response to a Cold Start-style incursion, the Indian army’s airborne assets will not be able to provide cover for the invading army. Will Cold Start then be implementable?

In addition, Indian military forces have not undertaken any of the changes needed to execute an operation along the lines of Cold Start. The Indian army still maintains its three large offensive corps stationed in the middle of the country, whereas the Cold Start doctrine advocates breaking them into smaller integrated battle groups deployed at the Indian-Pakistani border.

Furthermore, the Indian army has not equipped its forces in a manner that would enable them to mount rapid and aggressive campaigns against Pakistan. For example, main battle tanks—a good indicator of progress—increased in number only slightly between 2003 and 2014 from an estimated 3,898 to approximately 4,000 tanks in working condition. Similarly, in 2003, the army had 320 armored personnel carriers. In 2014, there are approximately 336 active armored personnel carriers. The number of armored infantry fighting vehicles was estimated at 1,600 in 2003 and 1,445 in 2014.14 Although equipment numbers do not always represent military intent, the constancy in equipment inventory again points to a lack of concerted effort to actualize Cold Start.

This lack of effort to re-engineer the Indian military along the lines envisioned in the Cold Start doctrine reflects to some measure the limits of coercive military power. For example, after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, Prime Minister Singh had apparently decided against military action. It is believed that Singh had worried that if India were to launch selective strikes, they would likely only deepen Pakistan’s internal turmoil and probably escalate into a war that could include nuclear deployments, which may be precisely what the terrorists hope to provoke. That is a significant problem to which the Cold Start doctrine has no remedy.

Additionally, India possibly recognizes, given the recent spate of terrorist attacks within Pakistan, that Pakistan is now able to exert much less control over the jihadi elements operating inside its territory. Speaking on the limits of military action after the Mumbai attack, Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador in Washington, said that “there is no military option here. India had to ‘isolate the terrorist elements’ in Pakistan not rally the nation around them.”15

The absence of official approval, the divergent interests of the various branches of the armed services, and the lack of observable military progress toward implementation of the Cold Start doctrine in India should give Pakistani leaders pause with regard to further developing and deploying the Nasr missile. These issues, however, are only part of the reason that battlefield nuclear weapons are a poor choice for Pakistan. The difficulties in managing battlefield nuclear weapons are an equally important aspect.

Pakistani Command and Control

The possession of short-range battlefield nuclear weapons poses one major challenge to Pakistan: effective command and control. The Nasr, which has a short range of about 60 kilometers, is a quick-dispersal system that can be forward deployed near the Indian-Pakistani border, thereby providing ready access to the field commander when he needs it. Although a forward-deployed system could give field commanders quick access and obviate the risk of a communication failure with the political leadership in the midst of combat, ensuring such operational readiness might also require the devolution of command and control to the local field commander and possibly even a prior authorization to use nuclear weapons. That poses the risk of unauthorized or unnecessary use.

A field commander has no way to forecast the outcome of a battle; there is a constant risk of being overrun. He has no way to be absolutely sure that all conventional options have been exhausted and that he is using nuclear weapons only as a last resort. Lacking the overall picture, a regiment or a battalion commander could always be tempted to utilize all his available weapons. While at Harvard University, Henry Kissinger argued that when a commander is hard pressed and facing the prospect of eventual defeat, he would need “superhuman discipline to refrain from using a weapon that he believes may tilt the outcome of the battle in his favor.”16

President Barack Obama (left) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participate in an arrival ceremony at the White House on November 24, 2009. During Singh’s visit, the U.S. side reportedly raised the issue of India’s “Cold Start” war doctrine. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)Even when a local commander has correctly evaluated that he is about to lose, his defeat would not necessarily imply that Pakistan would lose the war. Winning all the battles is not a requirement for winning the war. For example, in the last major Indian-Pakistan war, in 1965, Pakistan suffered a major defeat in Kasur near Lahore. Yet, the next day it won an important battle in Sialkot, thereby bringing the war to a standstill. If the same situation were to unfold in the future, would a Pakistani commander decide to use battlefield nuclear weapons? If so, would India escalate with nuclear retaliation? How would that affect the outcome of the war? Pakistani military decision-makers should explore these questions and determine how they affect the command and control arrangements of the Nasr.

Pakistan’s political and military leaders also should worry about the validity and integrity of any distress signal they would receive in an emerging military crisis or during a war. To illustrate, two days after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack began, someone pretending to be India’s foreign minister telephoned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and threatened war unless Pakistan acted immediately against the perpetrators of the attack. Zardari immediately contacted the country’s military leadership, and the country’s army and air force went to their highest alert status.

In subsequent comments to the Dawn newspaper, a senior Pakistani official defended the high-alert status during the incident, saying that “war may not have been imminent, but it was not possible to take any chances.” Zardari also initiated a diplomatic campaign with the United States to put pressure on India to withdraw the apparent threat. Pakistani leaders warned the United States that if the Pakistani government felt threatened, it would move troops engaged in anti-terrorism operations in the Afghanistan border region to its eastern border with India. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to intervene. Rice called Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the middle of the night to ask him about the call and inquire about the threatening message. Mukherjee reassured Rice that he had not spoken to Zardari.17

A year later, a report in Dawn revealed that an investigation in Pakistan concluded that the call to Zardari was made by Omar Saeed Sheikh, the terrorist held for the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl at the Hyderabad prison in Pakistan. Sheikh also seems to have reached General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of army staff.

Apparently, Sheikh was using a cellphone with a SIM registered in the United Kingdom.18 It is still unknown if powerful elements within Pakistan were involved in planning the hoax call. How did the call get through without due diplomatic checks?19 Was it just an oversight, or was there internal involvement? Suggestions were made in India that Zardari was “suckered” into taking the call, hinting at the involvement of “elements” in Pakistan that wanted the situation to escalate.20 Tempting as it may be to characterize this incident as an isolated occurrence, it is not. A number of similar incidents have occurred.21 Given these miscommunications, how can a Pakistani decision-maker be sure that a request to approve use of battlefield nuclear weapons is valid and necessary? Pakistan’s discordant military-civilian relationship also poses challenges to the sensible and safe command and control of forward-deployed battlefield nuclear weapons.22

An Alternative for Pakistan
Two factors should compel Pakistan to reassess its plans for further development and deployment of the Nasr. First, the validity and viability of Cold Start—the primary reason for Pakistan’s development of the Nasr—has been highly overrated. There is no evidence to suggest that it is an official doctrine drawing broad political support or generating interservice enthusiasm. Second, operating a battlefield nuclear weapon such as the Nasr in the absence of a real and current Cold Start threat imposes unnecessary additional stresses on the management of Pakistan’s nuclear command and control.

Click image to enlarge.If Pakistan nevertheless intends to possess a limited battlefield nuclear weapons capability, its current nuclear arsenal can perform that function. There is no particular need to develop new missiles or warheads. Pakistan’s current missile inventory and nuclear arsenal in combination can perform all the intended functions of a battlefield nuclear weapon. Its current long-range missiles can be launched on a lofted trajectory23 to reach locations near the Indian-Pakistani border where the Nasr is meant to be employed. For example, the Abdali missile, which has an optimal range of 180 kilometers, can travel 60 kilometers, the range of the Nasr missile, when launched at a lofted angle of approximately 80 degrees (fig. 1). Similarly, the Ghaznavi missile, which has an optimal range of 290 kilometers, can be launched at a lofted angle of 84 degrees to travel the same distance as the Nasr.24 Another option would be to launch the Babar cruise missile and shut off its booster earlier in the flight to achieve a 60-kilometer range.

Similarly, Pakistan’s current nuclear warheads could be used to produce explosive effects that are similar to those of low-yield nuclear weapons. A typical five-kiloton low-yield weapon, for example, produces an air blast with an overpressure of 20 pounds per square inch (psi)25 felt to a distance of approximately 480 meters when detonated at an altitude of 310 meters. Weapons with higher yields can be made to produce the same overpressure effect by increasing the altitude at which they are detonated.

For example, a 15-kiloton nuclear device can be made to produce the same 20 psi overpressure felt to a distance of approximately 480 meters by exploding it at an altitude of 523 meters. Usually, the maximum distance on the ground to which 20 psi overpressure is felt for a 15-kiloton nuclear device is 690 meters when exploded at an altitude of 450 meters. Therefore, by increasing the explosion altitude, a 15-kiloton weapon is made to function like a five-kiloton weapon. Similarly, a 30-kiloton or even a 50-kiloton weapon could be detonated at a particular altitude—725 meters and 1,200 meters, respectively—to replicate the air blast radius of a five-kiloton device.

The options described above show that Pakistan’s current arsenal already intrinsically possesses the capability to perform the functions of battlefield nuclear weapons. If Pakistani military and government officials decide that the country should have such a capability to offset a sudden invasion by India, they therefore have no need to pursue the development of the Nasr missile.

The larger point of the above analysis, however, is that there is no evidence of a requirement for such a capability. The main impetus for the development of the Nasr was India’s Cold Start doctrine, but it does not appear that this doctrine was fully formed. Perhaps more importantly, India has not taken the key steps for its force posture that would be necessary to implement the doctrine. Pakistan therefore should desist from further pursuit of the Nasr program. Such an action would not only save Pakistan money, but also would help avoid spurring a new nuclear arms race in tactical nuclear weapons in South Asia.

Jaganath Sankaran is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the National Security Education Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He previously was a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. All research and writing for this article was done during the author’s fellowship at the Belfer Center. The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s own and do not represent those of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy, or any other U.S. government agency.


1. Inter Services Public Relations, No. PR94/2011-ISPR, April 19, 2011 (press release). Since then, the Nasr missile has been tested three times.

2. Ibid.; Maleeha Lodhi, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Compulsions,” The News, November 6, 2012; Adil Sultan, “Pakistan’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Impact of Drivers and Technology on Nuclear Doctrine,” Institute for Strategic Studies Islamabad, http://www.issi.org.pk/publication-files/1340000409_86108059.pdf; Zahir Kazmi, “Nothing Tactical About Nuclear Weapons,” The Express Tribune, May 17, 2014.

3. “Flexible deterrence options” is a reference to a NATO term. For more on the comparison between the stances of NATO and Pakistan on battlefield nuclear weapons, see Jaganath Sankaran, “Pakistan’s Battlefield Nuclear Weapons and the Limits of the NATO Analogy,” International Relations and Security Network, August 15, 2014, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/Detail/?lng=en&id=182664.

4. Feroz H. Khan and Nick M. Masellis, “U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Partnership: A Track II Dialogue,” PASCC Report, No. 2012 002, January 2012, p. 26.

5. “Indian Army Doctrine,” Headquarters Army Training Command, Shimla, India, October 2004, ids.nic.in/Indian%20Army%20Doctrine/indianarmydoctrine_1.doc.

6. Firdaus Ahmed, “The Calculus of ‘Cold Start,’” India Together, May 1, 2004, http://indiatogether.org/coldstart-op-ed.

7. Subhash Kapila, “India’s New ‘Cold Start’ War Doctrine Strategically Reviewed,” South Asia Analysis Group Paper, No. 991 (May 4, 2004).

8. The one exception that this author could find is a statement by General Deepak Kapoor, the Indian army chief of staff who served from September 2007 to August 2009. During an army war exercise, he is reported to have said, “A major leap in our approach to conduct of operations has been the successful firming-up of the Cold Start strategy.” For details, see Rajat Pandit, “Army Reworks War Doctrine for Pakistan, China,” The Times of India, December 30, 2009.

9. “Cold Start—A Mixture of Myth and Reality,” February 16, 2010, http://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10NEWDELHI295_a.html.

10. Lydia Polgreen and Mark Landler, “Obama Is Not Likely to Push India Hard on Pakistan,” The New York Times, November 5, 2010.

11. “India Has No ‘Cold Start’ Doctrine: Army Chief,” NDTV, December 2, 2010, http://www.ndtv.com/article/wikileaks-revelations/india-has-no-cold-start-doctrine-army-chief-70159.

12. Y.I. Patel, “Dig Vijay to Divya Astra: A Paradigm Shift in the Indian Army’s Doctrine,” Bharat Rakshak, n.d., http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/History/Millenium/324-A-Paradigm-Shift.html.

13. Pinaki Bhattacharya, “Army and IAF Face Off Over New War Plan,” India Today, December 14, 2009.

14. All data were obtained from the Military Balance database published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

15. Sheikh Mushtaq, “India-Pakistan ‘Secret Pact’ – Was Kashmir Accord Just a Signature Away?” Reuters, April 28, 2010.

16. Henry A. Kissinger, “Limited War: Conventional or Nuclear? A Reappraisal,” Daedalus, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Fall 1960): 812.

17. Nirupama Subramaniam, “Hoax Call Fuels Anxiety About Nuclear War,” The Hindu, December 7, 2008.

18. “Jailed Militant’s Hoax Calls Drove India, Pakistan to Brink of War,” Dawn, November 26, 2009.

19. According to a Dawn report, the staff of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had bypassed standard diplomatic verification protocols in allowing the call because of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over the Mumbai attack. For details, see “A Hoax Call That Could Have Triggered War,” Dawn, December 6, 2008. Immediately after the incident, however, the Pakistani government claimed that Zardari had received the call only after it had been appropriately vetted. Pakistani Information Minister Sherry Rehman said in a statement that “it is not possible for any call to come through to the President without multiple caller identity verifications. In fact the identity of this particular call, as evident from the CLI (caller’s line identification) device, showed that the call was placed from a verified official phone number of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.” See Simon Cameron-Moore, “Hoax Call to Zardari ‘Put Pakistan on War Alert,’” December 6, 2008.

20. Interestingly enough, a mistake had also occurred on the Indian side. When U.S. diplomats initiated calls with their counterparts in India, before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had spoken directly with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, they were alarmed when Indian Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar mistakenly confirmed that Mukherjee had indeed made that call. Later, however, M.K. Narayan, India’s national security adviser, insisted that no such call had been placed. In a later cable, U.S. Ambassador to India Donald Mulford said he “suspects that [Kumar] incorrectly inferred that a Mukherjee-Zardari call took place from the fact that Mukherjee’s office had, as a precaution, prepared points for him to use if Zardari were to phone [Indian] Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh when he was unavailable, leaving Mukherjee to receive the call.” This incident shows how, in a tense situation, one mistake could provoke another. For details, see Dean Nelson, “WikiLeaks: Hoax Phone Call Brought India and Pakistan to Brink of War,” The Telegraph, March 23, 2011.

21. For a sampling of such incidents, see Zafar Iqbal Cheema, “How to Respond?” The News, May 21, 1998, p. 6; Bruce Riedel, “American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit at Blair House,” Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, 2002; Steve Coll, “The Back Channel: India and Pakistan’s Secret Talks,” The New Yorker, March 2, 2009; Raj Chengappa and Saurabh Shukla, “Reining in the Rogue,” India Today, December 4, 2008; “COAS Was Unaware of Hoax Call From Mukherjee,” Dawn, May 19, 2011; Owen Bennett Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 209-210; Timothy D. Hoyt, “Pakistani Nuclear Doctrine and the Dangers of Strategic Myopia,” Asian Survey, Vol. 41, No. 6 (November-December 2001): 961; Carlotta Gall, “What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden,” The New York Times, March 23, 2014.

22. In the case of the 1999 Indian-Pakistani Kargil war, for example, there is ample evidence to suggest that the Pakistani military leadership acted without political approval. Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister during the Kargil war, claimed that he had no advance knowledge of what the army was planning to do in Kargil. He argued that the “ill-planned and ill-conceived operation was kept so secret that the Prime Minister, some corps commanders and the Chief of Navy and the Air Force were kept in the dark.” In 2010 the chief of Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the Kargil war, retired General Ziauddin Butt, accused General Pervez Musharraf, the chief of army staff, of bluffing Sharif into starting the Kargil war. Similarly, as recently as 2013, Lieutenant General Shahid Aziz, who served as director-general of the analysis wing of ISI during the Kargil war, said that the entire operation was a four-man show, with details known initially only to Musharraf, Chief of General Staff Muhammed Aziz, Force Command Northern Areas commander Lieutenant General Javed Hassan, and 10-Corps commander Mahmud Ahmad. For details, see Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, p. 101; Sartaj Aziz, Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 249-276; “Musharraf Responsible for Kargil Conflict: Ex-ISI Chief,” The Siasat Daily, October 31, 2010; Khaleeq Kiani, “Kargil Adventure Was Four-Man Show: General,” Dawn, January 28, 2013.

23. For a given missile, the maximum ground range is achieved when it is launched at a 45-degree angle. When the launch occurs at a higher, or “lofted,” angle, the missile flies higher into the atmosphere and therefore has a reduced ground range, compared to a 45-degree launch angle.

24. Launching missiles at lofted angles forces them to travel to higher altitudes and re-enter the atmosphere at a steeper angle and a faster rate. This, in turn, might impose additional stresses on the missile warhead. In the case of a lofted Ghaznavi missile, which reaches an altitude of approximately 150 kilometers, handling any additional stresses should be within the technological capability of Pakistan’s missile designers. Pakistan’s Ghauri and Shaheen missiles, when launched on their optimal trajectories, already reach altitudes greater than 150 kilometers.

25. Overpressure, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), is one of the standard metrics used to define the destructive potential of nuclear weapons. At 20 psi, most heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished. That overpressure also can cause significant damage to military vehicles.

Posted: December 31, 1969

Preventing Proliferation and Advancing Nuclear Disarmament

In his remarks to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting, the former UK defense minister offers a set of recommendations for bolstering and reinvigorating the disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

November 2014

By Des Browne

In his remarks to the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on October 20, Des Browne, vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former UK defense minister, surveyed the international landscape and offered a set of recommendations for bolstering and reinvigorating the disarmament and nonproliferation regime. A lightly edited excerpt from his remarks is presented below. The full text of Browne’s remarks is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/events/annual-meeting-2014/rsvp. ACT

As the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT] Review Conference approaches, one question many of us have considered for a number of years is how to revitalize the process itself. Transparency is the key. I believe that we need to open it up and make it more accountable.

Des Browne, vice chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and former UK defense minister, speaks at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting in Washington on October 20. (Jackie Barrientes/Arms Control Association)One way to do that may be to hold a session at the review conference, for example, during which nuclear-weapon states collectively are quizzed by non-nuclear-weapon states on their progress on disarmament and the challenges that they face. There is broad agreement that all states need to reduce the salience attached to nuclear weapons and that it might be useful to have more discussions within formal NPT settings about what this actually means. These discussions could lead to proposals about what both nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states could do to facilitate it.

A successful 2015 NPT Review Conference also would require countries to take a series of steps before the conference convened, but we are running out of time to do that. Among them, as proposed by the European Leadership Network in a recent statement,1 is that Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, as the three NPT depositary states, should issue a statement jointly with the UN secretary-general confirming that they will work towards setting up a conference on the weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East.

Nuclear-weapon states should agree to be more transparent and demonstrate greater commitment to the goal of disarmament. The United States and Russia should reiterate their willingness to maintain a nuclear arms control and disarmament dialogue despite current tensions in their relationship. Somebody has to make the first move in relation to this.

The prompt-launch posture of the U.S. and Russian nuclear forces may be an area ripe for progress too. A quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, each country still deploys hundreds of long-range ballistic missiles—land and sea based—with roughly 2,000 nuclear warheads promptly set to destroy each other. Each maintains large nuclear forces on day-to-day alert, ready for launch and capable of hitting their targets in less than 30 minutes. This launch-on-warning posture is set to ensure that there can be no advantage from a first strike.

But inherent in this posture is the risk of an accidental or unauthorized launch by either side, as well as the risk that a deliberate decision to use ballistic missiles will be made in haste on the basis of faulty or incomplete data. What’s more, the risks posed by these force postures are increasing as cyber threats and nuclear missile capabilities proliferate in other countries.

So, what can be done? Ultimately, the United States and Russia could agree to mutual, reciprocal steps to reduce dangers by changing the nature of their force postures. These steps could be taken as part of a future process to repair the breach opened between the West and Russia over Ukraine. In the meantime, I strongly believe that other governments and nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] must work to increase awareness of this threat and keep the issue visible with governments and publics.

We need to make it possible for Moscow and Washington to see the political and diplomatic benefits, in addition to the security benefits, of acting on this issue, and we need to underscore to the countries that might be considering adopting such force postures in the future that they would decrease their security and have no support in the international community.

There is another interesting idea in conjunction with the third conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, which will be held in Vienna in December, and the review conference next year. First, I’ll [say] that it is important for the [five nuclear-weapon states] to attend [the Vienna] conference, which they have not yet agreed to do. In fact, I tell you, from the point of view of the United Kingdom, if the United States agrees to go, we will go. It is no coincidence that we have not made up our mind for each of the last two conferences until immediately after the United States made the decision.

I am optimistic and hopeful that strong voices within the U.S. executive branch are making the argument for [U.S. participation], that this needs to be a cooperative effort. If you want to have nuclear weapons, you have to live with the responsibility of the consequences of them and explain to others how you will deal with that challenge. Both of these conferences [on humanitarian impacts] concluded that no country in the world can deal with the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and no country is capable of building the capability to do that.

Now, either we agree with that or we disagree with it, those of us who hold nuclear weapons. If we agree with it, we have to explain then to the rest of the world who does not have these weapons why that is a morally consistent position to be in and why we are not building the capability to do it. If we do not agree with it, then we need to explain why it is wrong. But we are not uninterested in this. We have a responsibility, if we depend for our strategic security on these weapons, to engage with this challenge. Either that is true or it is not, and if it is true, we have to live with the consequence, and we need to be there.

[Second,] the United States and others at the conference should press states not yet engaged in the nuclear disarmament process to freeze the size of their arsenals and their fissile material stockpiles as a first step toward multilateral, verifiable reductions. [There is] a compelling case that a freeze could lead to further disarmament.2
As for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT], we are a long way away from 1996, when its adoption represented a high-water mark for multilateralism. There’s no question we have made progress since then and the treaty has established a de facto global moratorium on testing, but we need to get the job done. I’m confident that we can do it with a concerted, coordinated effort by governments, civil society, and the international scientific community.

Today, there is a group of eminent persons—senior statesmen, politicians, and experts—who [are] engaging with leaders in capitals of states that haven’t ratified to press the case [for the CTBT]. All of us, though, can do more to answer arguments against ratification, and we can do it with answers based on not just critical thinking, but also on science. Among the arguments against the CTBT is that verification and monitoring will not work, but now we have a state-of-the-art system in place, and important improvements are still being made. So, let me remind everyone here that we have a very solid answer to the CTBT critics, and we must dedicate ourselves to persuading them and demanding action from them.

So, these are just a few ideas for how to move forward. Let me also briefly describe one of the projects that the Nuclear Threat Initiative has been working on recently. I believe it offers a good example of the kind of innovative and groundbreaking work the NGO community can do, often cooperatively with governments, to make progress on reducing the risks posed by nuclear materials and nuclear weapons. I am referring to a two-year project entitled “Innovating Verification: New Tools and New Actors to Reduce Nuclear Risks.”

The project has involved more than 40 technical and policy experts from a dozen countries collaborating to produce innovative new concepts and confidence-building and transparency measures. In a series of reports issued earlier this year,3 the project calls for the international community fundamentally to rethink the design, development, and implementation of arms control verification. Participants made recommendations on verifying baseline declarations on nuclear warheads and materials, on how to define and take advantage of societal verification methods, and how to build global capacity.

It was important that the project was undertaken with experts from around the world because although it may be a truism, it cannot be said enough: When it comes to nuclear security, global challenges require global solutions, not to mention elevated thinking.    

I look forward now to answering questions and hearing any ideas that you may have for us to make progress on these very complex and challenging issues. My own work in this field would not have been possible without steady optimism about the possibility for progress, and the dedication of those of you here today gives me more cause for optimism. Thank you very much.


1. European Leadership Network, “Necessary Steps for a Successful 2015 Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” May 1, 2014, http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/group-statement-on-necessary-steps-for-a-successful-2015-review-conference-of-the-non-proliferation-treaty-_1414.html.

2. Daryl G. Kimball, “A Global Nuclear Weapons Freeze,” Arms Control Today, October 2014.

3. For the series of reports outlining the recommendations from the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Verification Pilot Project, see http://www.nti.org/analysis/reports/innovating-verification-verifying-baseline-declarations-nuclear-warheads-and-materials/.

Posted: December 31, 1969

GETTING TO KNOW Bonnie Jenkins

The veteran arms control diplomat tells how she found her profession—by accident.

“Getting to Know” is an occasional series that introduces Arms Control Today readers to interesting people active in the world of arms control.

Bonnie Jenkins, coordinator of threat reduction programs at the U.S. Department of State, hosts an event in Geneva on December 17, 2012, on global health security and biological threats. (U.S. Mission-Geneva) Bonnie Jenkins is coordinator of threat reduction programs at the U.S. Department of State, which gives her one of the most diverse portfolios in the arms control field. She works on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats on a daily basis. 

Arms Control Today spoke with her in her office in Washington on September 17.

The interview, conducted by Jefferson Morley, has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did you grow up?
The Bronx, New York. I went to the Spence School in New York City. Then I went to Amherst College. I have two master’s degrees. One is in public administration, and one is in law, and I have a Ph.D. in international relations. I guess you could say I really liked school.

What propelled you into arms control?
An interest in government. I’ve always wanted to do government work, whether it was New York City or New York state, which is where I went to law school [at Albany Law School], and then to go into the federal government. I always wanted to be in Washington.

But I really got into [arms control] totally by accident. I was a Presidential Management Intern. I was at one of my rotations at the Pentagon in their legal office. I went to a meeting with one of the lawyers, a backstopping meeting. The interagency [group of staffers] gets together and prepares talking points and detailed directions for those overseas who are actually negotiating the treaty [in question]. I was so fascinated. It just opened up a whole new world to me.

I was in the reserves at the time. I was in the Air Force and switching to the Navy. [The work] was high level. I wanted to do things to help people and to improve life. It couldn’t get any higher than that in terms of being strategic, in terms of helping not just the United States, but also the global community.

What’s the thing that you’ve been part of that you’re most proud of?
I think the nuclear [security] summit [of 2012]. The process of having a vision and implementing it through the process of the interagency [discussions] and then being able to work internationally. For example, we had an agreement with Japan that moved a lot of the nuclear material out of the country.

Are you by instinct and nature a scholar or a policymaker?
I’m more of a scholar actually. My work is not as much policy as programs. I like to see action. I like to see results. When you do programs, you talk to countries. You talk about what they need, and you provide the funding. You see the results, and you really feel like you’re making a difference. That’s what gives me drive.

Arms control is not an area where African-Americans are overrepresented. How do you think about that?
When I see young African-Americans who are in this field, outside of the military side, then I try to encourage them to stay in it. It’s a challenge because [arms control] is not something that comes to mind as a natural thing [to do].

What do you say to young people thinking about a career in arms control?
It really can be what you want to make of it. There’s a lot of different actors in this area, so you won’t get bored too fast. And, if you are lucky, you have a president who cares about it. If not, it’s not as much fun.

Posted: December 31, 1969

The Art of the Possible: The Future of the P5 Process On Nuclear Weapons

The “P5 process,” created by the five nuclear-weapon states to improve transparency and build confidence, is caught between internal tensions that stymie progress and pressure from non-nuclear-weapon states that demand it.

October 2014

By Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers

In 2007 the five recognized nuclear-weapon states convened for the first time to examine what nuclear transparency and confidence-building measures they could jointly pursue. The P5 process,[1] as it came to be known, was born in a nuclear policy environment vastly different from the one that prevails today.

It was established as a result of an initiative from the United Kingdom, which was eager to reverse the stagnation it sensed in the nuclear-weapon states’ progress toward meeting their disarmament commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In June 2007, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett argued for the need to “engage with other members of the P5 on transparency and confidence-building measures,” as well as to involve them in the testing of future verification regimes.[2] 

The French submarine Le Terrible is seen during its inauguration in Cherbourg on March 21, 2008. In his speech at the ceremony, French President Nicolas Sarkozy highlighted France’s efforts to increase transparency with regard to its nuclear weapons program and dismantle its facilities for producing nuclear weapons material. (Mychele Daniau/AFP/Getty Images)This initiative aligned with renewed interest in arms control and nuclear transparency measures in other nuclear-weapon states. French President Nicolas Sarkozy used his 2008 speech at Cherbourg to reveal new transparency measures for the French nuclear force.[3] Shortly after entering office in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama set out his commitment to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. He promised to reach an agreement with Russia on a further round of strategic arms reductions by the end of 2009 and argued that this would “set the stage for further cuts” and that the United States would seek to include all the nuclear-weapon states in this effort.[4] 

The P5 process was launched at approximately the same time, and its first high-level conference took place in London in September 2009. Its value in the broader strategic context was clear, that a forum for multilateral confidence-building measures among the nuclear-weapon states in relation to their nuclear forces could support other bilateral and multilateral nuclear initiatives, in which there was fresh interest. Proponents of the process hoped that nuclear-weapon-state cooperation could gradually generate sustainable momentum toward further disarmament. 

These encouraging developments breathed new life into the 2010 NPT Review Conference, at which the participating countries unanimously agreed on a 64-point action plan covering all three of the treaty’s pillars—disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Of particular relevance to this discussion, the action plan called on the nuclear-weapon states to act together to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and to enhance transparency and mutual confidence. With this validation, the P5 process accelerated its efforts to undertake collaborative projects in time for the 2015 review conference. 

The P5 process is now nearing that milestone. Over the course of its life, it has taken small but potentially important collective steps. The modesty of these steps, however, has made a number of non-nuclear-weapon states concerned that earlier promises, namely, that the P5 process would someday help facilitate new disarmament measures, may never come to pass. Instead of gradual progress, those states see only opacity and potentially insurmountable stagnation. 

This impression is reinforced by the changes in relations among the nuclear-weapon states that have taken place over the past five years. These changes, such as those arising from the recent conflict over the future of Ukraine, have occurred outside of NPT meeting rooms. Antagonism of the type generated by the crisis in Ukraine is something the P5 process never had the power to counter. At the moment, the process is in a difficult position, caught between strategic realities and NPT pressures. 

It might still be possible for the P5 process to continue to undertake new initiatives, even if they are small and lack buy-in from all five members of the group. By doing so, the process could help lay the groundwork for more-ambitious disarmament endeavors that might become palatable if security relations among the nuclear-weapon states begin to improve. At the 2015 NPT Review Conference, these states should demonstrate the P5 process’ continued relevance by setting out a work plan detailing the initiatives they will pursue in the next NPT review cycle. Even this objective might be a challenge, given the reluctance of some nuclear-weapon states to support forward movement. Yet, without such a plan, doubts about the purpose of the process are likely to grow further, expanding the pressures that the five countries are likely to face from non-nuclear-weapon states in the NPT environment. 

The First Frost

As the 2015 review conference approaches, the broad international context is likely to be very different from that of 2010. Strategic relations between Russia and the Western powers have worsened to a level not seen since the late 1980s. Prospects for further strategic force reductions, through a successor to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), have long since receded. Even existing treaties, notably the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, are coming under pressure. 

Prospects for progress on other disarmament elements of the NPT action plan also have dwindled. The initial hope of the Obama administration that it might be able to resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the Senate for approval, still a real prospect in 2010, has been dashed by the intransigence of Senate Republicans. The agreement to convene a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East by 2012, a key element of the 2010 review conference consensus, may go unrealized even by mid-2015. 

With almost every other disarmament track from the action plan in disarray or stasis, the P5 process has been left as one of the few remaining, albeit not untroubled, vestiges of the high hopes with which the participants in the 2010 review conference agreed to its final document. As a result, the process is now at risk of carrying a weight of expectations that exceeds the important but essentially supportive role it was intended to play. In the context of discussions among NPT-focused diplomats, it can sometimes appear as if the main obstacle to further progress on the P5 process or on disarmament more widely is the tension between forward-pushing non-nuclear-weapon states and resistant nuclear-weapon states. Although these tensions are undoubtedly present, the main obstacles to progress on the process, as on most other elements of the disarmament agenda, lie between the nuclear-weapon states themselves. The common interest in developing cooperative arms control measures is increasingly being outweighed by calculation of competitive military and political advantage, thereby narrowing the opportunities for progress to be made.

With the bilateral and multilateral disarmament and arms control tracks having now stalled, the P5 process, embedded in the NPT context but composed of states that developed and maintain nuclear weapons partly in reaction to insecurity created by the other members of the group, finds itself in a difficult position. In one respect at least, the five nuclear-weapon states remain united. They all share legal obligations within the NPT and the agreements reached at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference and subsequent review conferences to act together. The 2010 action plan, to which the five nuclear-weapon states agreed, reinforces this. 

At present, the nuclear-weapon states still share an interest in being seen to be taking this obligation seriously, not least to distinguish themselves from the “unrecognized” nuclear-armed states outside the NPT. As a result, none of the five has yet thought it in its interest to abandon the P5 process unilaterally despite their differences. Regardless of growing strategic tensions among some nuclear-weapon states, the P5 process must therefore also remain attentive to the concerns of non-nuclear-weapon states and continue to search for new forms of disarmament-relevant cooperation. Yet, with the process having only produced small fruit, NPT discussions in the run-up to the 2015 review conference are rife with discontent. 

Progress So Far

Efforts in the P5 process over the past five years have been focused on three areas: development of a glossary of nuclear terms, improvements in verification and monitoring, and the development of transparency and common reporting measures. 

Glossary. The initiative to produce a common glossary of nuclear terms is the most substantive element in the group’s work plan. At the beginning of the process, the participants realized that further discussions on transparency and arms control could be hampered unless there was a common understanding of terminology. At the first meeting, therefore, the five states agreed to develop a glossary of nuclear terms. China later agreed to lead this initiative.

By early 2013, the group had agreed on a short list of around 200 to 300 terms in English. It then proceeded with the more challenging task of negotiating common definitions for them. Recently, however, the glossary process appears to have fallen behind schedule as a result of unspecified substantive disputes. It is hoped that forthcoming meetings of the experts working group can resolve any outstanding issues and the process of translation into Chinese, French, and Russian can begin.[5] Fortunately, China continues to express its intention to submit a first draft of a glossary to the 2015 review conference. It is highly likely that a glossary, perhaps minus any divisive terms, will be presented at that event. 

One key factor in assessing the initial success on the glossary strand of the process will be whether it has produced common definitions of terms on which there is not already agreement in other multilateral glossaries, such as that maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency. A second important factor will be whether it is able to produce terms that are relevant for future transparency and disarmament processes, such as “nuclear warhead” or “strategic missile.” If the glossary produces nothing new in these areas after five years of work, skepticism as to the value of the process could grow. Inevitably, there will be some areas in which consensus will not be possible and more work will be needed. In order to gain support for the further development of the process, however, negotiators need to show some concrete results from their first round of work. 

Verification and monitoring. The development of approaches to verifying and monitoring compliance with existing and future arms control treaties is already an important element in U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation regimes. It is likely to be of even greater importance if the numbers of weapons are reduced further or more states take on obligations to limit the size or shape of their arsenals. 

As a result of this logic, ever since its 1998 “Strategic Defence Review,” the UK has devoted some resources to exploring the technical requirements for verifying nuclear disarmament, with a particular focus on warhead dismantlement. To the irritation of some other nuclear-weapon states who wish to avoid involving their non-nuclear-weapon counterparts in verification initiatives, the UK has been cooperating with Norway on joint warhead dismantlement verification research since 2007. In October 2013, the UK and the United States revealed for the first time that they had been conducting similar research for more than a decade.[6] The UK has publicly declared its interest in exploring opportunities for collaboration with China on verification, and the two sides reportedly are now discussing the possibility. Beyond these largely bilateral initiatives, however, the five nuclear-weapon states have done little work together on the subject. 

Multilaterally, technical experts from the five states convened in London in 2012 for a meeting on verification issues and again in Vienna in March 2013 with respect to CTBT support. The group also has announced its intention to provide assistance to the field exercise that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is scheduled to hold in Jordan in November and December. 

Transparency and common reporting. Although verification of current data is off the agenda of the P5 process, there has been some progress on nuclear transparency, defined in this context as the publication of unverified information for the purposes of building confidence among the nuclear-weapon states and demonstrating NPT compliance to non-nuclear-weapon states. Progress on nuclear transparency was one of the priorities laid out in the 2010 action plan. Various items of the action plan call on the nuclear-weapon states to work toward qualitatively and quantitatively reducing their arsenals and report on their progress to the 2014 Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2015 NPT conference (Action 5), report regularly on action plan implementation (Action 20), and produce a standard reporting template into which transparency data could be entered, facilitating comparison among national declarations (Action 21). 

Pang Sen, director-general of the Arms Control and Disarmament Department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry,  speaks during a press conference at the UN Office at Geneva on April 19, 2013, following a two-day meeting of the five nuclear-weapon states.The nuclear-weapon states reached agreement on such a framework and presented their results to the NPT preparatory meeting earlier this year. They asserted that this submission fulfilled their obligations under Actions 5, 20, and 21. Yet, the common headings agreed by the five for the reporting framework were so general as to have been of little value in building confidence.[7] This reflects different national approaches to nuclear transparency among the five nuclear-weapon states and an overarching unwillingness at present to modify them substantially. Since 2010, France, the UK, and the United States have been willing to publish some aggregate information on their holdings of nuclear weapons and strategic delivery vehicles. By contrast, China and Russia have not been willing to do so. 

The five documents did have some common substantive characteristics. Each provided some useful insight into the nuclear doctrine and arms control policy of the country that submitted it. Indeed, China concentrated almost exclusively on this subject in its disarmament section and excluded any details on the shape or size of its arsenal. On the whole, the five reports provide little new data, for example, on warhead or delivery vehicle numbers.[8] 

Some disarmament-oriented non-nuclear-weapon states said the reporting exercise, despite the well-worn content and flaws in delivery, was a good start. It was apparent that many of these states believe that this start had taken place only because of the inclusion of a deadline in the action plan. It is now widely expected that the nuclear-weapon states will repeat this exercise, at a minimum once every review cycle. One can expect the need for this commitment and what specifically it would mean to be a point of debate at the 2015 review conference. Should future iterations of the common reporting exercise take place, the nuclear-weapon states will be expected to provide new data as evidence of forward movement. Yet, the five countries are still some way from reaching consensus on a reporting framework that would replicate, even on an unverified and partial basis, the publicly available information exchange already taking place between Russia and the United States under New START. 

Creating a Road Map 

Limited movement in the P5 process over the past year has followed predictable but positive trajectories. The five nuclear-weapon states continued to brief one another on bilateral verification efforts, highlighting the possibility that bilateral projects and activities could fill gaps where multilateralism proves impossible. They forged ahead with their collective work to create a common glossary of terms. Finally, as they had committed to do in the 2010 action plan, they submitted national reports with a common framework. Although the reports contained only sparse instances of novel information, the exercise serves as a solid foundation for future reporting iterations. 

Between now and the 2015 review conference, two outputs of the P5 process are on the horizon: coordinated national contributions to the CTBTO field exercise in Jordan and a first version of the glossary. Beyond those, the group’s agenda looks blank.

Because of the modest rate of progress, a growing number of non-nuclear-weapon states doubt whether the promised long-term value of the P5 process will ever be realized. A majority of the nuclear-weapon states do not feel compelled to pursue new, substantially more ambitious confidence-building exercises, especially in an age of mounting Russian aggression in Europe. Yet, without an effort by the nuclear-weapon states to continue taking gradual steps and laying the foundation for future arms control agreements, the voices in the NPT community that assert that the P5 process is a hindrance or an irrelevance could grow louder. 

In this context, a robust strategy that spells out a forward-looking plan for activity by the nuclear-weapon states would demonstrate that they genuinely intend for the P5 process to continue to support NPT implementation, albeit primarily in the long term. They might therefore want to consider formulating a general post-2015 working plan that they would be able to discuss next year in New York. In doing so, it might be helpful for them to consider how the projects they have recently undertaken or can feasibly undertake in the near term could serve as stepping-stones to progressively more ambitious trust-building activities. Having such stepping-stones in place would be of particular value if relations among nuclear-weapon states improve in future. 

A Move to Minilateralism?

Admittedly, identifying new projects that all five nuclear-weapon states would find palatable is difficult. As mentioned above, although the P5 process remains active, it has not been able to isolate itself from the wider cooling of relations among the nuclear-weapon states. One project, however, seems immediately agreeable to the group: a second iteration of the glossary. 

In 2013, approximately 200 of the more than 2,000 terms submitted made the short list for definition, leaving much more work to be done. It is difficult to assess what the value of another phase of the project would be without knowing which terms made that list. If numerous terms that are relevant to arms control and disarmament did not make the first cut, for instance, revisiting them to produce common definitions could be a worthwhile exercise. Regardless, the nuclear-weapon states have implied that a second iteration of the project could appear on their post-2015 work plan. According to the joint statement from the group’s 2014 Beijing conference, the five countries are aiming to complete only the “first phase” of the glossary project by the start of the 2015 review conference.[9] 

Beyond an expanded glossary, the group could amend its common reporting framework to include some quantitative aspects of the five states’ nuclear policies. This would be highly unlikely to cover data on national nuclear arsenals, at least in the medium term, as Beijing and others remain entirely uninterested in increasing transparency in that realm. Yet, the reports submitted to the 2014 Preparatory Committee meeting indicated that commonly articulated quantitative declarations might be possible in some areas. Financial contributions to the CTBTO or other relevant international agencies or transparency visits to nuclear-weapon states by experts of those institutions, for instance, are not as sensitive. A move toward regular provision of information under these categories could encourage continued and further multilateral cooperation by nuclear-weapon states. Moreover, it could familiarize states with a process of regularized quantitative declarations that could later be expanded if security dynamics permit. 

Because some projects would not be supported by all five states, one way to make progress in increasing the number of projects that can be used to demonstrate achievement during the next review cycle would be to look for opportunities for bilateral or multilateral projects that do not have buy-in from all five nuclear-weapon states, using the P5 process to coordinate such projects. In fact, the P5 process may already be on this trajectory. Nuclear weapons laboratories in the UK and United States will most probably continue their long-standing but only recently announced program of warhead dismantlement verification research. As noted above, the UK and China are reportedly in discussions about starting their own joint research on verification. 

France, although apparently uninterested in warhead-focused work, might be open to a partnership with the UK, the United States, or both that would focus on the dismantlement of a nuclear facility. In particular, cooperation that looks at the practicalities of dismantling or disabling facilities capable of producing fissile material would have relevance for a future fissile material treaty. Since Sarkozy’s Cherbourg speech in 2008, France has sought to emphasize its decision to close nuclear facilities as a central component of its disarmament record. France boasts that it was “the first State to decide to shut down and dismantle its facilities for the production of fissile materials for explosive purposes…[and] the only State to have transparently dismantled its nuclear testing facility in the Pacific.”[10] Proposals for technical cooperation that build on France’s record in facility dismantlement, with which other nuclear-weapon states also have experience, could gain traction with a majority of these states and could catalyze a discussion that would be useful for future arms control. 

Non-nuclear-weapon states may be understandably skeptical as to whether these bilateral initiatives can properly be classified as accomplishments of a process whose main purported value is that it brings together all five recognized nuclear-weapon states. Yet, the terrain on which all members of the P5 process can find agreement is small and shrinking. In the next NPT review cycle, the most likely package of work might include only one or two multilateral projects involving all five nuclear-weapon states, but a number of other initiatives involving fewer than five. 

A shift toward this type of agenda could admittedly lead to the temptation to artificially badge activity as part of the P5 process in order to undercut any assertions that the process has stagnated. This need not be the case. Novel bilateral or minilateral[11] projects could arise that would enhance NPT implementation. For example, joint UK-Chinese activity on warhead dismantlement verification would engage traditionally reticent Beijing in cooperative, disarmament-focused work, which would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction. Participants in the P5 process could use that process to brief their fellow nuclear-weapon states on progress on these types of projects and to coordinate and expand them. To an extent, the five-country meetings already have been used in this way. For instance, they provided a forum in which Russia and the United States delivered briefings to the smaller nuclear-weapon states on New START implementation. 


The P5 process has been a useful addition to the broader system of interrelated international nuclear arrangements. It continues to provide an important mechanism through which the nuclear-weapon states are expected to demonstrate their shared commitments to fulfilling their NPT obligations. It already has yielded some modest results. More are in the pipeline for the period leading up to and including the 2015 NPT Review Conference, not least the common glossary of nuclear terms. Yet, the ability of the these five states to go beyond their current rate and depth of activity depends in large part on the improvement of broader security relations among them. 

The difficult security situation, however, does not mean that the P5 process is condemned to irrelevance until that improvement transpires. To prove this, the group should articulate a work plan for the next NPT review cycle that includes activities and accomplishments that could help facilitate future disarmament and arms control measures. New bilateral verification research partnerships, a more ambitious version of the glossary, and agreement on some common quantitative elements for national transparency declarations, for example, could be worthwhile in this respect. Undertaking and coordinating such projects in the context of the P5 process would demonstrate the value of the process as a tool that can be readily strengthened if wider strategic relations between the major nuclear powers create an opportunity for greater disarmament progress. 

When that day comes, there is likely to be strong support for an effective mechanism to coordinate and facilitate the disarmament efforts of the nuclear-weapon states. It would be better if the P5 process were at the ready, with nuclear-weapon-state officials having already worked together in a forum mindful of the NPT and the commitments that flow from it. Despite the recent deterioration of security relations among nuclear-weapon states and, as a result, in the prospects for disarmament, the P5 process is something nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states should work to keep alive. 

Andrea Berger is a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, where Malcolm Chalmers is research director. Some of the research for this article draws on conversations conducted on a not-for-attribution basis with officials of various governments. The authors are grateful to all their interlocutors for sharing their insights.


1. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

2. Margaret Beckett, Remarks at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, June 25, 2007, http://carnegieendowment.org/2007/06/25/keynote-address-world-free-of-nuclear-weapons/kc0.

3. France2010TNP, “Speech by Nicholas Sarkozy, President of the French Republic: Presentation of ‘Le Terrible’ Submarine in Cherbourg,” March 21, 2008, http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/IMG/pdf/Speech_by_Nicolas_Sarkozy__presentation_of_Le_Terrible_submarine.pdf (hereinafter Sarkozy speech).

4. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama—Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic,” April, 5, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-By-President-Barack-Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered

5. See Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers, “Great Expectations: The P5 Process and the Nonproliferation Treaty,” Whitehall Report, No. 3-13 (August 2013), pp. 21-26.

6. UN Web TV, “Technical Challenges in Verifying Nuclear Dismantlement,” October 25, 2013, http://webtv.un.org/watch/technical-challenges-in-verifying-nuclear-disarmament/2769294424001/

7. For further discussion, see Andrea Berger, “The P5 Nuclear Dialogue: Five Years On,” RUSI Occasional Paper, July 2014, annex 1. 

8. The main exception to this was the U.S. announcement of an updated total for its nuclear weapons stockpile, which fell from 5,113 in September 2009 to 4,804 in September 2013. U.S. Department of State, “Report of the United States of America Pursuant to Actions 5, 20, and 21 of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document,” April 29, 2014, p. 7. 

9. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Joint Statement on the P5 Beijing Conference: Enhancing Strategic Confidence and Working Together to Implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Review Outcomes,” April 15, 2014, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/04/224867.htm.

10. Sarkozy speech.

11. Moisés Naím defines “minilateralism” as an approach that involves “gathering the smallest number of countries necessary to make a major change to the way the world addresses a particular issue.” Moisés Naím, “The G20 Is a Sad Sign of Our Uncooperative World,” The A-List (blog), Financial Times, February 15, 2013, http://blogs.ft.com/the-a-list/2013/02/15/the-g20-is-a-sad-sign-of-our-uncooperative-world/. In the present article, the term is used to mean an approach involving some but not all of the five nuclear-weapon states.

Posted: December 31, 1969

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran: What Role?

The AEOI is a powerful bureaucratic actor that has not only undertaken controversial nuclear activities, but also influenced Tehran’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

By Paul Kerr

Iran’s persistent expansion of its uranium-enrichment program and its covert construction of an underground gas-centrifuge enrichment facility at Fordow have contributed to concerns that Tehran harbors nuclear weapons ambitions. Arrangements for constraining Iran’s ability to use its declared enrichment facilities for nuclear weapons programs are a particularly controversial element in the ongoing multilateral negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. 

Much of the discussion about Iran’s potential production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use in nuclear weapons has focused on its three previously secret enrichment facilities that now are under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The concern is that Iran could use these facilities to produce HEU, perhaps after withdrawing them from safeguards. 

Such concerns are understandable, but it is worth examining evidence from official and authoritative, unofficial Iranian and U.S. sources about the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), the entity that controls Iran’s enrichment program, including the Fordow facility and two other centrifuge facilities—a commercial plant and a pilot plant—located at the Natanz nuclear site. This evidence suggests that the AEOI is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to demonstrate its technical prowess via the enrichment program. Moreover, according to the evidence, AEOI nuclear activities appear to be exclusively peaceful, an observation consistent with U.S. intelligence assessments in 2007 and afterward that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in late 2003. If accurate, the evidence described in this article indicates that Iran’s declared facilities are not part of a plan to produce nuclear weapons. It is considerably more likely that Iran would attempt to develop nuclear weapons using covert undeclared facilities. 

Nevertheless, although observers understandably suspect that Iran may possess undeclared nuclear sites, there is no public official evidence that Iran has enrichment-related facilities other than those operated by the AEOI. Furthermore, clandestine facilities could not easily substitute for Iran’s declared nuclear program as a source of material for a potential nuclear arsenal. It would be no simple feat for Iran to conceal an entire covert nuclear weapons program—a fact demonstrated by Tehran’s past failure to keep its secret nuclear activities hidden.[1] For these reasons, a discussion of the AEOI’s role is germane to the larger debate over Iran’s nuclear program.


The AEOI is a powerful bureaucratic actor that has not only undertaken controversial nuclear activities, but also influenced Tehran’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. 

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has applied safeguards on the Iranian nuclear program since 1974, began investigating the program in 2002. The IAEA subsequently reported on various nuclear activities, some of which were related to uranium enrichment, that Tehran had failed to disclose to the agency. Pursuant to agreements with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (known collectively as the EU3), Iran suspended its enrichment program from the fall of 2003 to the summer of 2005.[2] Starting in 2007, the UN Security Council adopted a series of resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran’s persistent efforts to continue and expand the program continue to generate fears that Iran is trying at least to develop the ability to produce a nuclear weapon.[3] The unresolved IAEA investigation, some of which concerns Iranian activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, has contributed to such fears.

Established in 1974, the AEOI initiated a number of activities related to nuclear power over a short period of time.[4] After the 1979 revolution, Iran’s nuclear program was controlled by the Ministry of Energy, but the AEOI was split off from that ministry soon thereafter.[5] The AEOI currently operates Iran’s declared enrichment program and has a variety of peaceful programs in areas such as agriculture, medicine, and basic nuclear research and development.[6] 

A Powerful Bureaucratic Actor

The AEOI has played a crucial role in Iran’s past diplomatic efforts concerning its nuclear program. The AEOI was in charge of such efforts until after an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2003,[7] during which the board first expressed “concern” about Iran’s past undeclared nuclear activities and urged Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA investigation.[8]

Subsequently, Iran formed a committee within its Supreme National Security Council to coordinate the government’s nuclear diplomacy.[9] This committee included various ministers, including the head of the AEOI. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s recently elected president who formerly headed the negotiations concerning the nuclear program, stated during a July 2005 interview that the committee played a role in Tehran’s refusal to end its enrichment program. The committee decided that “the nuclear fuel cycle was our red line and under no circumstances would we waive it,” he explained.[10] Rouhani later revealed in a May 2012 interview that the AEOI had “wanted to end the suspension” of Iran’s enrichment program.[11] 

The AEOI remains an important bureaucratic player, apparently leading Iran’s interactions with the IAEA regarding the agency’s investigation.[12] In addition, AEOI experts participate in multilateral negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program.[13]

A Peaceful Entity

The AEOI has understandably been the subject of suspicions regarding its possible role in an Iranian nuclear weapons program. The organization undertook some of the nuclear activities revealed by the IAEA investigation, such as secret enrichment experiments. The AEOI is subject to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, the U.S. government, and the European Union that are designed to restrict Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapons capability and induce the government to comply with the Security Council resolutions.

Nevertheless, there are several indications that AEOI activities are not part of a nuclear weapons program. First, a 2011 IAEA description of the management structure of Iran’s suspected past nuclear weapons program does not include the AEOI.[14] Second, the U.S. intelligence community appears to believe that AEOI nuclear activities are peaceful. For example, a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which judged that Iran had had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in late 2003, appeared to exclude the AEOI-run enrichment program. The NIE defined the weapons activities as “nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work.”[15]

Moreover, the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran’s underground enrichment facility at Fordow, the existence of which was made public by France, the UK, and the United States in September 2009, appears to illustrate the AEOI’s peaceful role. The covert nature of that facility and its location on a military base have fed suspicions that the facility was part of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. U.S. intelligence community talking points from September 2009 indicated otherwise, stating that the facility’s existence did “not contradict” conclusions of the 2007 NIE regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.[16] Part of the reason for this judgment, the talking points suggest, was that the Fordow facility was developed by the AEOI, its presence on a military base notwithstanding. 

A Forceful Advocate 

Iran’s expansion of its enrichment program could be a product of bureaucratic aggrandizement rather than an effort to develop a nuclear weapon. The AEOI appears to have been a persistent and effective advocate of expanding the program. In his 2012 book, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who was Iran’s spokesman during the government’s 2003-2005 negotiations with the EU3, portrayed the AEOI as an entity focused on its technical progress. According to his account, some Iranian Foreign Ministry officials “had been worried” that AEOI officials who “had previously taken the lead in handling” Tehran’s nuclear discussions with the IAEA had been “overly optimistic and failed to predict the emergence of the nuclear crisis because of their focus on straightforward technical matters.”[17] Mousavian is not a neutral observer, but Rouhani appeared to reinforce this point in the May 2012 interview, revealing that the AEOI advocated terminating Iran’s suspension of its enrichment program in order to silence skeptics within the government of the organization’s ability to execute the plans for the program.[18] 

Perhaps significantly, the AEOI appears to have had considerable freedom of action. Rouhani, who then was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, explained in a 2004 speech that the government had granted the AEOI additional autonomy sometime between 1999 and 2000. That move allowed it “to become more active, without being forced to go through bureaucratic and regulatory labyrinths,” Rouhani said.[19] He appeared to suggest that, as a consequence of these changes, the AEOI undertook the pre-2003 secret enrichment activities on its own initiative.[20] For obvious reasons, the secret nature of these activities caused concern, but they may have been the result of AEOI freelancing rather than a nuclear weapons program. 


Iran’s declared, AEOI-run enrichment facilities have an inherent nuclear weapons-related potential. Concerns about those facilities are likely to persist; determining the best way to address these concerns is beyond the scope of this article. There is legitimate trepidation regarding Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions.

Yet, some observers’ concerns about Iran’s declared nuclear facilities may be overblown. “Who runs what” matters in Iran, and the current bureaucratic structure of the country’s nuclear program supports the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapons program. The evidence described above indicates that the AEOI is an influential organization pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. Concerns about possible Iranian activities related to nuclear weapons are understandable, but those activities appear to have been halted and were not pursued by the AEOI. Although a great deal of public discussion about Iran concerns Tehran’s potential to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium using its AEOI-controlled facilities, Iran would likely use covert facilities to produce a nuclear weapon. 

The AEOI is not above reproach. The organization was involved in undeclared nuclear activities of concern and could be connected with Tehran’s past nuclear weapons program. Nevertheless, Tehran’s determination to maintain at least part of its enrichment program may not indicate an intention to develop nuclear weapons. Observers and policymakers concerned about a future Iranian nuclear weapons program would do well to focus on Iranian entities other than the AEOI. 

Paul Kerr has been a nonproliferation analyst at the Congressional Research Service since 2007. He previously was a research analyst for five years at the Arms Control Association. Some of the research for this article was conducted while he was a visiting fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Congressional Research Service. 


1. International Institute for Strategic Studies, Iran’s Strategic Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment (Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2005).

2. Iran concluded these agreements in October 2003 and November 2004.

3. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Communication Dated 27 November 2013 Received From the EU High Representative Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/855, November 27, 2013. 

4. For a description of these activities, see U.S. Embassy Tehran, “The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, AEOI,” A-69, May 11, 1977, http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb268/doc14b.pdf

5. “If We Want Nuclear Energy, We Should Not Make a Fuss,” Sharq, September 7, 2013 (interview with Reza Amrollahi, former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran [AEOI]). 

6. For details, see AEOI, “Nuclear Industry in Iran: An Overview on Iran’s Activities and Achievements in Nuclear Technology,” 2012.

7. In a 2004 speech, Hassan Rouhani identified the AEOI as “the authority that was basically handling all political and technical issues concerning this case” until after the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2003. The AEOI “used to appoint the Islamic Republic of Iranʹs representative to Vienna to deal with the IAEA,” he explained. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier,” Rahbord, September 30, 2005, pp. 7-38.

8. In a 2005 interview, Rouhani described the IAEA board’s action as “the first time that the issue took on widespread international dimensions.” Mehdi Mohammadi, “Nuclear Case From Beginning to End in Interview With Dr. Hasan Rouhani (Part 1): We Are Testing Europe,” Keyhan, July 26, 2005. 

9. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier”; Hamid Baeidi-Nejad, “Khatami’s Nuclear Policy,” Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 2005): 61. The author of the latter article is apparently a current Iranian Foreign Ministry official and a participant in Iran’s negotiations regarding its nuclear program.

10. Mohammadi, “Nuclear Case From Beginning to End in Interview With Dr. Hasan Rouhani (Part 1).”

11. Muhammad Sahimi, “Q &A: Former Iran Nuclear Negotiator: Bush Negotiation Bid Was Rebuffed,” PBS, May 12, 2012, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2012/05/qa-former-iran-nuclear-negotiator-bush-negotiation-bid-was-rebuffed.html.

12. Iran signed a joint statement with the IAEA on November 11, 2013, describing a Framework for Cooperation to resolve the outstanding issues in the IAEA investigation of Iran’s nuclear activities.

13. For example, Ali Akbar Salehi, who was Iran’s foreign minister during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and currently is head of the AEOI, concluded a November 2013 agreement with the IAEA concerning this issue. See “Salehi: Technical Experts to Participate in Talks Between Iran, G5+1,” Fars News Agency, January 5, 2014.

14. IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2011/65, November 8, 2011.The report states that an entity thought to be part of the program assisted procurement for the AEOI. 

15. U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” November 2007. 

16. “Q&A on the Qom Enrichment Facility,” September 25, 2009, http://www.politico.com/static/PPM41_qom_-_q-as.html.

17. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2012), pp. 70-71.

18. Sahimi, “Q &A: Former Iran Nuclear Negotiator.” 

19. “Beyond the Challenges Facing Iran and the IAEA Concerning the Nuclear Dossier.” 

20. The AEOI also had considerable freedom of action in the past. The 1977 U.S. diplomatic cable describes the AEOI as possessing “unusual authority to hire staff and to initiate a ‘high priority program.’” U.S. Embassy Tehran, “Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, AEOI.”

Posted: December 31, 1969


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