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Arms Control Today

China Seen Nearing Sea-Based Deterrent

A Pentagon report released last month says that China will soon have its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent.

Brianna Starosciak and Kelsey Davenport

China will soon have its first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent, according to a U.S. Defense Department report released last month.

The report said Beijing is placing a “high priority” on updating and developing its submarine force and will soon deploy the Julang-2 (JL-2) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on its Jin-class submarine.

The Defense Department is required by law to submit an annual report to Congress on China’s military capabilities and force modernization.

The new Pentagon report estimates that China will begin patrols by Jin-class submarines armed with JL-2 missiles sometime this year. China has three operational Jin-class submarines.

At a June 25 event discussing the Pentagon report, Oriana Mastro, an assistant professor at Georgetown University who specializes in Chinese military and security policy, said China’s current focus is on “defensive nuclear weapons.” But Mastro expressed concern that the Chinese could “start using their weapons the way the Pakistanis do” by “trying to deter conventionally superior countries” with their nuclear weapons.

The JL-2 has an estimated range of 7,400 kilometers, which would allow Beijing to hit Alaska from Chinese waters. The missile was originally anticipated to enter service in 2010, but the program was delayed several times. China conducted two successful tests of the missile in 2012. Last year’s Pentagon report said the JL-2 would reach “initial operating capability in 2013.” (See ACT, June 2013.)

The new report says that China is likely to add as many as five ballistic missile submarines to its fleet over the next decade and then move toward developing a second-generation nuclear-powered submarine.

The Jin-class submarine is designed to carry 12 JL-2 SLBMs. Analysts believe that the predecessor to the Jin class of submarines, called the Xia class, was never deployed outside Chinese waters. The 2011 edition of the Pentagon report characterized the operational status of the Xia-class submarines as “questionable,” a description the report also applied to the JL-1 SLBM, the predecessor of the JL-2. The JL-1 had an estimated range of only 1,700 kilometers. The JL-2, which is the sea-based version of China’s Dong Feng-31 (DF-31) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), has a much longer range and will increase China’s ability to deter threats from greater distances.

China has emphasized creating a more survivable nuclear force by adding more mobile missiles to its arsenal, the recent Pentagon report said.

Independent estimates put China’s total nuclear force at about 250 warheads of all types; 180 are thought to be nondeployed, or in reserve. In last year’s report, the Pentagon estimated that China has 50 to 75 ICBMs and a large number of shorter-range systems able to deliver nuclear weapons.

One of the mobile missiles that China has deployed is the DF-31A. It is an ICBM with an estimated range of 11,200 kilometers, meaning it can reach most of the continental United States.

China also is developing its road-mobile DF-41 ICBM. The Pentagon report said that the DF-41 is “possibly capable” of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). This is the only missile in the Chinese arsenal currently declared by the government to have a MIRV capability, according to the report. The Pentagon report said China probably would equip future missiles with MIRVs.

It is not clear when the DF-41 missile will be deployed. It was most recently tested last December.

According to the Pentagon report, increases in the number of mobile ICBMs and the beginning of deterrence patrols with Jin-class submarines will force China to “implement more sophisticated command and control systems and processes” in order to “safeguard the integrity” of the launch authority for a “larger, more dispersed force.”

Mark Stokes, former senior country director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense of International Security Affairs, said at the June 25 event that “the most significant aspect of this development” is who will have “custodianship” over the warheads when they are deployed at sea. Currently, China’s North Sea and South Sea fleets do not have peacetime custodianship of nuclear weapons, said Stokes, who is executive director of the Project 2049 Institute. Control now remains centralized, which is a “very effective way of ensuring peace and stability,” he said.

The Pentagon report states that China has more than 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles in its arsenal and is adding conventionally armed medium-range ballistic missiles.

China has also developed an anti-ship missile called the CSS-5 Mod 5 (DF-21D) with a range of 1,500 kilometers and a maneuverable warhead.

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Scottish Bid Imperils UK Nuclear Force

On Sept. 18, Scotland is to vote on whether to become an independent country. The results could force costly changes in the United Kingdom’s nuclear-armed submarine fleet.

Jefferson Morley

The future of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal is in the hands of 4.1 million Scottish voters who go to the polls Sept. 18 to decide whether to end the country’s 307-year union with England and become an independent country.

If the ballot proposal is approved, the ruling pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) has pledged to evict the UK fleet of four nuclear-armed submarines from the naval base at Faslane on Scotland’s west coast by 2020. Having no comparable submarine base, the UK government would then face expensive choices about how to maintain its exclusively sea-based nuclear force.

“It would be an enormous exercise to reproduce the facilities elsewhere,” the UK Ministry of Defence said in an October 2013 analysis of Scottish independence. “It would cost billions of pounds and take many years.”

Although issues of jobs and social welfare programs have dominated the referendum debate, the nuclear defense issue has energized anti-nuclear activists and alarmed UK leaders. Prime Minister David Cameron has taken a strong public stance against Scottish independence, as have his predecessors Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, and John Major.

The Faslane base and the nearby naval armaments depot at Coulport, where the UK’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles are stored, are key to UK defense policy. The UK navy keeps at least one submarine somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean at all times, a posture called continuous at-sea deterrence. Each of the submarines is equipped with as many as 40 highly accurate thermonuclear warheads on U.S.-designed and -built Trident II (D-5) missiles.

The SNP seeks to outlaw such weapons on Scottish territory.

“Trident is an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power,” the Scottish government declared in a November 2013 brief for independence. “Billions of pounds have been wasted to date on weapons that must never be used and, unless we act now, we risk wasting a further [100 billion pounds], over its lifetime, on a new nuclear weapons system.” The name “Trident” technically refers to the missile, but the term is used in the UK to mean the entire system.

The UK Ministry of Defence, which plans to replace the Trident fleet in the next decade, contends that continuous at-sea deterrence is critically important to the country and its allies. (See ACT, October 2013.) “The UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent plays an essential part in the UK’s and NATO’s overall strategy and provides the ultimate assurance against current and future threats,” according to the ministry’s October 2013 analysis.

If voters approve independence, Scotland and the UK will have to negotiate a host of other issues, from currency to membership in the European Union, that will affect resolution of the nuclear question.

“The 2020 date is, in my view, an initial bargaining position,” Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute in London said in a June 19 e-mail. “The UK would find it very hard to relocate safely and securely over this time frame. I think a more credible scenario is basing in Scotland for a much longer period, perhaps until new submarines come into service (needing infrastructure) around 2030.”

The Scottish government says it seeks “the speediest safe removal” of the weapons “within the first term” of an independent Scottish parliament, which will serve until 2020.

“The most likely option would be submarine basing at Devonport [in southwest England] and a new warhead/missile storage facility in [nearby] Falmouth,” said Chalmers, an opponent of independence. “But the latter, in particular, would take some considerable time—no one knows how long—to build.”

The resulting financial burden could imperil the UK’s status as a nuclear power, said Frances Burwell, director of transatlantic relations at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“I do think that having to leave Faslane (if that is indeed the result) would add an enormous cost in terms of relocation that would make it difficult for the UK to continue with the nuclear deterrent,” Burwell wrote in a June 19 e-mail.

Chalmers, who advises Parliament on defense issues, said London would not willingly surrender its nuclear weapons.

“The UK—already bruised and humiliated by the loss of Scotland—would be determined to cling on to this symbol of its major power status,” wrote Chalmers.

The UK would be better off without nuclear weapons, argues John MacDonald, director of the Scottish Global Forum and a supporter of independence.

“Surrendering its nuclear capability would showcase the UK as a progressive example to follow and London might well find itself projecting a more authoritative global voice in areas where weapons proliferation threatens to destabilise regional and international security,” MacDonald wrote in European Security in March.

President Barack Obama made the U.S. government’s preference clear at a June 5 news conference in Brussels with Cameron. While emphasizing that the decision whether to leave the UK is “up to the people of Scotland,” Obama said, “[W]e obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united, and effective partner.”

Two polls taken in June found a slight majority in favor of staying in the UK, according to Reuters, citing the pollsters’ “near consensus that the race is getting ever-tighter ahead of the September referendum.”

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U.S. Formally Ends Landmine Production

Renouncing the production of landmines, the White House said the United States would seek approaches that eventually would allow it to join the global treaty banning such weapons.

Jefferson Morley

The U.S. government announced on June 27 that it will not produce or acquire anti-personnel landmines and that it intends to join the global Mine Ban Treaty at some point in the future, a stance that did not satisfy activists and officials pressing to rid the world of landmines.

The U.S. government is “diligently pursuing…solutions that would be compliant” with the treaty and “that would ultimately allow us to accede” to it, Douglas Griffiths, the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique, said in a statement delivered at a review conference for the treaty being held in Maputo. The parties to the treaty, which entered into force in 1999, hold these conferences every five years.

The week-long meeting was attended by more than 1,000 people from the treaty’s 161 parties and from international and nongovernmental organizations.

Supporters of the treaty voiced disappointment throughout the conference that the United States has yet to join the treaty, which President Barack Obama endorsed as a U.S. senator in 2007. Although U.S. officials told reporters that their review of U.S. landmine policy, which began five years ago, is not completed, the announced changes fell short of proponents’ hopes for U.S. accession to the treaty.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most vocal proponent of the mine ban in Congress, called the policy changes “incremental but…significant.”

“The White House once and for all has put the United States on a path to join the treaty,” Leahy said in a June 27 statement. “An obvious next step is for the Pentagon to destroy its remaining stockpile of mines, which do not belong in the arsenal of civilized nations.”

Handicap International, which assists landmine victims in 33 countries, welcomed the change in U.S. policy in a June 27 statement, but said that, “without clear or immediate action deadlines, there is room for concern.”

The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines (ICBL) called the changes “a positive step,” but said the step “falls short of what is needed to ensure the weapons are never used again.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the United States and other holdouts in a June 24 statement that was delivered to the conference by Angela Kane, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs.

The goal of a world free of anti-personnel mines “has become an attainable reality,” Ban said in the statement. “But we cannot rest as long as anti-personnel mines continue to kill and maim. Some of the world’s largest countries with considerable stocks of anti-personnel landmines remain outside” the Mine Ban Treaty.

The office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said in a June 27 statement that Dempsey still considers landmines “a valuable tool in the arsenal of the United States” but that he supports the policy shift.

“The chairman believes this decision on anti-personnel land mines, given our current stockpiles, protects current capabilities while we work towards a reliable and effective substitute,” the statement said.

The U.S. military has an active stockpile of slightly more than 3 million anti-personnel mines, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a June 27 briefing. The utility of the landmines will start to decline in about 10 years, and the mines will be “completely unusable” after 20 years, he said.

In his remarks in Maputo, Griffiths said the United States is “conducting a high[-]fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss” of anti-personnel mines.

The United States and 35 other countries are not party to the treaty, but most of them abide by its key provisions, according to the ICBL. The Geneva-based group said only five countries have used anti-personnel mines since 2009: Israel, Libya, Myanmar, Russia, and Syria.

The United States, which has not produced new landmines since 1997, is the world’s largest donor to efforts to reduce the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, with $2.3 billion spent on mine action in the last two decades.

Declining Casualties

The treaty has dramatically reduced the number of people killed or maimed by landmines and explosive remnants of war, according to report released at the conference by the global watchdog Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. In the first five years after the treaty and its provisions for clearing minefields entered into force, 31 countries reported 27,674 people were killed or wounded by landmines. Between 2009 and 2013, those countries reported 13,224 casualties, or less than half of the first five-year period.

In the past five years, Afghanistan had the most landmine casualties, followed by Cambodia and Colombia, according to the Monitor.

The study found that, since 1999, 48 percent of the victims of mines and explosive remnants of war have been children.


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Fate of Space Code Remains Unclear

Despite revisions made during a series of meetings, it is unclear whether a proposed code of conduct for activities in outer space will attract the support of key countries.

Timothy Farnsworth

A new draft of the European Union’s proposed international code of conduct for activities in outer space was released during a May 27-28 meeting in Luxembourg, but despite the revisions, it is unclear which countries will support the code.

“We are fully aware that [the current draft] does not meet the concerns and expectations of all,” Jacek Bylica of the EU, chairman of the meeting, said in his closing remarks.

The meeting was the last of a series of three consultations that began in Kiev in May 2013 and continued in Bangkok in November 2013. The meetings represented an effort to expand the group of negotiating states beyond the established spacefaring countries. (See ACT, May 2013.) During the three meetings, officials from more than 80 countries met to discuss elements of a code, with many disagreements remaining throughout the process.

The EU began the process for establishing a code of conduct in outer space in 2008 by presenting an initial draft at the UN General Assembly as part of a call for proposals for transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities. The goal of the code is to establish guidelines for responsible behavior in space that would reduce the risk of debris-generating events and increase transparency in space operations in order to avoid collisions between space assets and debris.

Most of the changes to the current draft are minor, but there are two notable additions in the preamble. The first notes “the importance of preventing an arms race in outer space” as one reason a code of conduct is necessary.

In an e-mail exchange last month, Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center, said the additional language “could be a nod to reluctant parties, but it clearly wasn’t enough to bring Moscow and Beijing on board.”

According to a recent analysis of the consultation process by Reaching Critical Will, which is part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, some countries, including Brazil, China, and Mexico, say references to self-defense within the draft code encourage an arms race in outer space. They argue that many weapons used for defense of assets can also be used as offensive weapons and that the language on self-defense should be removed.

In contrast, Canada, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom and other EU members say the language is consistent with the UN Charter and that the dual-use nature of many space assets and activities warrants references to security issues in any code of conduct, the analysis said.

Another point of debate during the meetings was how a code of conduct would relate to current international law and UN initiatives under way, such as the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and the thematic debate to prevent an arms race in outer space within the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.

The second addition to the preamble is language that endorses initiatives that are politically but not legally binding, citing a July 2013 report by the experts group on space. That report attracted consensus support from a wide range of countries, including China, Russia, and the United States. In a June 10 statement to the CD, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, said the experts group’s report, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly last December, “demonstrates the importance and priority of working on these voluntary and pragmatic measures.”

Early in the process for developing the draft code, countries such as Brazil, India, and many Latin American states said there was a lack of transparency in the process and expressed “disappointment over not being sufficiently consulted,” according to the report from Reaching Critical Will.

Next Steps for the Code

According to many analysts, it is still unclear what the next steps are for finalizing a code of conduct, despite Bylica’s hopes to conclude the process by the end of 2014.

According to Bylica’s statement, the draft released during the Luxembourg meeting is not expected to be the final version, and the EU expects to produce a sixth version. But a diplomatic conference to negotiate a final text has not been announced despite calls for one by several countries, the Reaching Critical Will analysis said.

One option could be bringing the final draft of the code to the UN General Assembly for a vote. Many countries, such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Russia, have argued that the UN is the appropriate place to debate a code of conduct. Many other countries, including the United States and EU members, have been against negotiating a code within the UN fold.

But Krepon said in his e-mail that he is “in favor of bringing the concept, if not the language” of the draft code to a vote this fall in the General Assembly. “States that vote against [it] or abstain will clarify their outsider status,” he said.

Alternative to a Code

China and Russia argue that the draft code does not go far enough in preventing an arms race in space and have been pushing within the CD for a treaty that does that.

In June 10 remarks to the CD, Chinese ambassador Wu Haitao said that “the existing legal framework of outer space is not able to prevent weaponization of outer space or effectively prevent the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

During the June 10 meeting of the CD, Russia and China introduced a new version of their draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). According to Wu, the new PPWT draft takes into account the recommendations from the July 2013 experts group report and the views of different countries.

Although the new draft makes extensive changes to the text and structure of the prior draft, it does not appear to have any new elements, such as language on prohibiting the testing of anti-satellite weapons.

The United States has been critical of the draft treaty since China and Russia introduced the original text in 2008. During his June 10 remarks, Rose reiterated the U.S. position supporting initiatives for arms control in space that are “equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of international partners.”

Rose said the new draft PPWT fails to “address significant flaws” in the original version, citing its lack of an effective verification and monitoring regime and its failure to prohibit terrestrially based anti-satellite systems. Responding to the Chinese and Russian argument that the existing legal framework for operating in space needs to be revised, Rose said the current framework established by principles 50 years ago “provides a solid basis for operating in space today.”

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Last Chemical Arms Materials Leave Syria

All the chemical weapons materials declared by Syria have been destroyed domestically or shipped out of the country for destruction elsewhere.

Daniel Horner

The last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons materials have left that country, Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), announced June 23.

Officials from the countries and organizations involved in the operation hailed the “major landmark,” as Üzümcü called it, in the effort to remove the chemical weapons materials from Syria and destroy them outside the country. But the officials also pointed to a list of remaining questions about Syria’s chemical weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in his June 23 statement, “We remain deeply concerned by the reports of systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas; the Syrian regime has dragged [its] feet on destroying production facilities; [and] the international community has questions with regard to Syria’s declaration [of its chemical stockpile] that must be adequately answered.”

Nevertheless, Kerry said, “this is also an important moment to take stock of what has been achieved,” citing not only the removal of the materials, but also the destruction of chemical weapons delivery systems and equipment to prepare chemical agents for use in such systems.

The process that led to the removal of the chemicals started with Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons last August in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. In response, U.S. President Barack Obama threatened air strikes against Syria. Soon after, the United States and Russia, Syria’s ally, negotiated a framework agreement for Syria’s chemical disarmament, and Syria formally joined the Chemical Weapons Convention as the 190th state-party.

In late September, the OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council approved a plan based on the U.S.-Russian agreement, calling for destruction of the Syrian stockpile in the first half of 2014. A subsequent Executive Council decision set intermediate deadlines of Dec. 31 for removal of the highest-priority chemicals and Feb. 5 for the remaining chemicals that were to be destroyed outside the country. (See ACT, December 2013.)

Syria’s declared chemical stockpile of about 1,300 metric tons included about 120 metric tons of isopropanol, which was destroyed domestically. A joint mission of the OPCW and the United Nations has been overseeing the removal and destruction process, but Syria was responsible for collecting the chemicals from sites around the country and bringing them to its Mediterranean port of Latakia for removal by an international convoy.

Syria missed the original deadlines for shipping out the chemicals, as well as a renegotiated deadline of April 27. Syrian and Russian officials blamed the delays on the uncertain security situation resulting from the civil war that has been ongoing in Syria since early 2011.

In the months since the Dec. 31 deadline, officials from the United States and other countries have generally dismissed that explanation. A State Department spokesman said June 24 that the security situation had deteriorated in recent weeks along the route to Latakia from the site near Damascus where the last cache of chemicals had been stored. But the transportation problems created by the worsened security arose because “the Syrian regime did not empty the final site when the environment was more secure than it is today,” the spokesman said.

He said it was “not shocking” that the Syrians moved the chemicals shortly after a June 17 OPCW Executive Council meeting in which the delay drew criticism from many countries.

At the June 23 press conference in The Hague where he made his announcement, Üzümcü described the last shipment to Latakia by saying that “the security situation has changed and the Syrian government decided to move.” In a June 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian diplomat said Syria had taken a “calculated risk” by moving the materials even though “the area around the last remaining storage site was infested with militants, making transportation especially dangerous.”

Üzümcü said that although there were “delays in the process,” Syrian cooperation “has been commensurate with the requirements of the decisions” by the Executive Council.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasized the missed deadlines, beginning his June 23 statement by saying, “It may have been significantly delayed, but it is nonetheless complete: nearly six months later than planned, Syria has now had the last of its declared chemical weapons removed from its territory.”

The most recent previous shipment was on April 24. The June shipment involved the last 8 percent of Syria’s declared stockpile, or about 100 metric tons, according to the OPCW.

The high-priority chemicals, including the June delivery to Latakia, have been loaded onto a Danish cargo ship, the Ark Futura. From Latakia, it is traveling to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where it will transfer the chemicals to the MV Cape Ray, a U.S. vessel that has been waiting at the Spanish port of Rota. A U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman said June 26 that the handoff was expected to take place in early July and last less than two days.

Once it has the chemicals on board, the Cape Ray is to move to international waters, where it will neutralize the chemicals using mobile hydrolysis units it is carrying. The neutralization is expected to take about 60 days, factoring in time for sea trials, ramp-up to full capacity, and maintenance, the spokeswoman said.

Once the neutralization is complete, the Cape Ray will deliver the resulting waste material to Finland and Germany for further processing, she said. Germany will take the effluent resulting from the neutralization of mustard agent, while Finland will take the effluent from neutralizing the sarin precursor known as DF, as well as solid waste, she said. Syria declared about 20 metric tons of mustard agent, which will be a small fraction of the 500 to 600 metric tons of chemicals that are to be neutralized on the Cape Ray.

In a June 25 report to the Executive Council, Üzümcü said that the Taiko, the Norwegian cargo ship that is carrying the lower-priority chemicals, had arrived in Finland and unloaded the chemicals destined for destruction there. It is carrying the remaining chemicals to Port Arthur, Texas, where it is expected to arrive in early July, the report said.

An OPCW spokesman said some of the lower-priority chemicals that originally had been slated for the Taiko now are on the Ark Futura because of the “premature departure of the Taiko from the maritime removal operation.” Under the original plans, the convoy was to wait until all the chemicals were out of Syria before delivering any of them for destruction. The Taiko left on June 8 “in accordance with [its] schedule…, which was notified to the OPCW at an earlier stage,” the OPCW said in a press release that day.

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Troubled Missile System Hits Target

In a June test, the troubled U.S. missile defense system designed to thwart potential attacks from North Korea and Iran scored its first hit since 2008. The Obama administration now plans to expand the system.

Tom Z. Collina

The problem-plagued missile defense system designed to protect the United States from potential attacks from North Korea and Iran successfully intercepted a target missile last month, clearing the way for the Obama administration to move ahead with its plans to expand the system.

In the June 22 test, a ground-based interceptor (GBI) missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California collided with an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from the Army’s Kwajalein Test Site in the Marshall Islands, according to a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) press release.

This was the first successful intercept test since 2008 and the first using the Capability Enhancement-II (CE-II) kill vehicle, which sits atop the booster rocket and is intended to collide with a target in outer space.

The CE-II failed its two previous tests in 2010, after which the MDA told the manufacturer, Raytheon, to stop delivery. By that time, 10 CE-II kill vehicles were already deployed, along with 20 copies of the CE-I, an older kill vehicle, at Fort Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg. The CE-I also failed its most recent test in July 2013.

Efforts to correct these problems and retrofit the fielded interceptors will cost more than $1.3 billion, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in April. Each intercept test costs about $200 million.

Acknowledging the system’s past problems, Navy Vice Adm. James D. Syring, director of the MDA, said in the June 22 press release that the test that day was “a very important step in our continuing efforts to improve and increase the reliability of our homeland ballistic missile defense system.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, said in a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the test was “a critical success to rebuild the reliability of the only system currently deployed to defend our country from the threat of ballistic missile attack.”

Obama to Expand System

The Obama administration announced in March 2013 that, after a successful CE-II test, it would expand the number of interceptors from 30 to 44 by the end of 2017 in response to previous North Korean missile and nuclear tests. Buying 14 additional GBI missiles, each of which costs about $75 million, would cost more than $1 billion. (See ACT, April 2013.)

MDA spokesman Richard Lehner said in a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “there has been no change to this plan” to field the additional GBI missiles.

The June test “certainly paves the way,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told Reuters on June 24. “If we had had continued failures, we would have had to rethink. But I think our plan now remains to buy the original 14 interceptors.”

But Hale said the MDA needed to conduct more tests before U.S. officials could have full confidence in the system. “It’s got to work several times. We’ve got to demonstrate it under various conditions before we’d have…full confidence in the system,” Hale said. “That is the ultimate accountability.”

‘Good Money After Bad’

Some observers have urged the Obama administration to halt plans to field 14 more interceptors to allow for additional tests.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said she does not see the justification for expanding the GBI system, according to a June 22 report in the Los Angeles Times.

“They don’t work right now,” Sanchez said, referring to the 30 fielded interceptors. “I would prefer to put something out that works.”

Philip Coyle, former director of weapons testing for the Defense Department, noted in a June 23 interview that the GBI system overall has one success in four tries since 2008. The CE-II kill vehicle has one success in three attempts.

“The idea of deploying 14 more of the existing flawed interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska as proposed by the Obama administration would be throwing good money after bad,” Coyle said. “We need to make sure we have a system that works, not expand a system we know to be deeply flawed.”

Rather than deploying additional copies of the current kill vehicle by 2017, Coyle said the administration should redesign the kill vehicle to make it more reliable and effective. The MDA plans to make major changes to the kill vehicle, but not until 2020 or later.

Redesign Planned

There have been serious concerns about the missile interceptor system since it was hustled into service by the Bush administration in 2004. At a June 11 Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the “design, engineering, and reliability problems…were largely caused by the rush to field this system without properly testing [it]. We are now paying dearly for some of those decisions.”

“We recognize the problems we have had with all the currently fielded interceptors,” Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said in February. “The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and really cheaply.”

In response to these concerns, the MDA announced in March that it would make significant changes to the kill vehicle and plans to spend $740 million over the next five years to do so.

Syring testified at the June 11 hearing that the new kill vehicle will be “more producible, testable, reliable, and cost effective and eventually will replace the [kill vehicle] on our current GBI fleet.” The new kill vehicle could be fielded around 2020, Syring said.

However, the MDA does not plan to wait for the redesigned kill vehicle to expand the system, according to congressional staffers, and intends to use the modified CE-II on the 14 additional GBI missiles to be fielded by 2017.

Despite the administration’s plans to resume production, the CE-II is still in development. Cristina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO, said at a June 4 Brookings Institution event that “[t]here’s a whole series of tests to fully prove out the [CE-II] capability that go into the early 2020s as planned. So, we’re still just in the early stages of proving this thing out.”

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Books of Note

Deterrence Stability and Escalation Control in South Asia

Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson, eds., The Stimson Center, 2013, 211 pp.

Stability resulting from nuclear deterrence in South Asia “is far from assured” and “is likely to deteriorate if current trend lines continue,” Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson write in their introduction to this volume of 10 essays. Experts in South Asian politics and nuclear weapons programs identify root causes of instability in nuclear deterrence between India and Pakistan and suggest U.S. policies that could help address them. One of these root causes, according to Krepon and Thompson, is the expansion of missile and nuclear capabilities, which has “far outpaced nuclear risk reduction diplomacy in the 15 years since India and Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998.” Dinshaw Mistry’s essay reviews the Indian and Pakistani missile programs in detail and argues that the pursuit of short-range and very-short-range ballistic missiles, sea-based missiles, and new types of cruise missiles has “weakened deterrence stability” by introducing missiles that are “more vulnerable to attack, by weakening command and control arrangements, by raising nuclear ambiguity issues, and by making escalation control more difficult.” In another chapter, George Perkovich says that violent extremist groups in Pakistan could provoke crises leading to conventional and perhaps nuclear war and argues that the safest way to reinforce deterrence stability is for the Pakistani government “to make unambiguous efforts to restore the monopoly on the legitimate use of force that is central to modern statehood.” Perkovich concludes that the United States should frame its objectives in terms of stabilizing Indian-Pakistani deterrence instead of countering nuclear terrorism or strengthening the nonproliferation regime.—LANCE GARRISON

Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know

P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, Oxford University Press, 2014, 306 pp.

This book attempts to fill what the authors describe as the large knowledge gap on cybersecurity issues that exists between the older generation of policymakers that did not grow up with personal computers and the younger generation of users currently growing up in the digital age. P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, fellows at the Brookings Institution, cover topics ranging from basic issues of how networks and the Internet function to complex issues of cyberwar and cyberweapons. They argue that such weapons, which are capable of destroying pieces of physical infrastructure, will be major elements of future wars. One noteworthy aspect of the book is its historical perspective, which includes frequent references to nuclear weapons and the Cold War. One example is Singer and Friedman’s analysis of the perceived arms race in cyberspace apparently taking place among states. When it comes to developing sophisticated cyberweapons, the authors say the world is at the same point in time as it was in the 1940s with regard to the development of the atomic bomb. A key difference, however, is that instead of two states having the technology, more and more actors are able to develop it. As a result, countries are continually searching for new, more-sophisticated cyberweapons. Singer and Friedman say countries have a choice: either continue to build up their arsenals of cyberweapons and be a “slave to fear” or “recognize the mutual risks that all participants in cyberspace face from this new arms race and explore how we can be responsible stakeholders.”—TIMOTHY FARNSWORTH

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Agreeing on Limits for Iran’s Centrifuge Program: A Two-Stage Strategy

An early version of this article appeared online June 9 because of the high interest in the ongoing negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The version below, which also appears in the print edition of the July/August issue of Arms Control Today, was updated to reflect minor editorial changes to the previously posted version.

Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, Hossein Mousavian, and Frank von Hippel

Iran is negotiating with a group of six states over the future of its nuclear program. In November 2013, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to a Joint Plan of Action that seeks to reach a “comprehensive solution” by July 20, 2014.

The goal is an agreement on a set of measures that can provide reasonable assurance that Iran’s nuclear program will be used only for peaceful purposes and enable the lifting of international sanctions imposed on Iran over the past decade because of proliferation concerns.

A key challenge is to reach agreement on limiting Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, which is based on gas centrifuges, in a way that would enable Iran to meet what it sees as its future needs for low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for nuclear research and power reactors while forestalling the possibility that this program could be adapted to quickly produce highly enriched uranium at levels and in amounts suitable for use in nuclear weapons.[1]

This article proposes a compromise based on a two-stage approach that involves Iran maintaining a capacity for enriching a small amount of uranium annually for research reactor fuel in the short term and developing a potential enrichment capacity in the longer term that would be appropriate to fuel power reactors. Iranian supply needs for its power reactors will develop in 2021 if Tehran decides to fuel the existing Bushehr power reactor domestically, in whole or in part, rather than renewing its fuel supply contract with Russia or buying fuel from another foreign supplier.

The proposed compromise also reflects Tehran’s plan to shift from its current low-power, first-generation centrifuges to high-capacity machines that are still under development.

This article therefore suggests that, during the next five years, Iran should modernize its enrichment facilities and in doing so, keep its operating capacity at about the current level rather than begin to operate the many thousands of first-generation machines that it already has installed and continue setting up more. During this period, Iran could phase out its first-generation machines in favor of the second-generation centrifuges it already has installed but has not yet operated. At the same time, it could develop, produce, and store components for a future generation of centrifuges that would be suitable for commercial-scale deployment. These later-generation centrifuges would not need to be assembled, except for test machines, until at least 2019.

To maintain the confidence of the international community that there will be no diversion of centrifuge components to a secret enrichment plant, the current transparency measures that Iran has undertaken for its centrifuge program would continue. These transparency measures should become the standard for transparency for centrifuge production worldwide.

Finally, the article suggests that the five-year period created by this proposal be used as an opportunity by Iran, the P5+1, and other interested states to explore in a second stage of the negotiations a multinational uranium-enrichment arrangement that would see Iran deploy its advanced centrifuges in a new regional, multinational facility rather than a national enrichment plant. By committing to working on such multinational arrangements for the Middle East and, ultimately, around the world, Iran and the P5+1 could chart a path to greatly reduce the proliferation risks that stem from national control of enrichment plants, regardless of location.


The dispute over Iran’s enrichment activities is more than a decade old. In 2003, Iran offered to cooperate with France, Germany, and the UK to resolve international concerns, agreeing to suspend key parts of its enrichment program temporarily and make it more transparent to help build global confidence that Tehran was not developing nuclear weapons. In the United States, however, the George W. Bush administration adopted the view that Iran should not be allowed to operate even a single centrifuge. When diplomacy failed, Iran resumed its enrichment program and has built and installed large numbers of centrifuges—the first-generation IR-1 and the second-generation IR-2m—at its Natanz facility, developed designs and prototypes for more-powerful machines, and constructed a second, deeply buried enrichment plant at Fordow. The international community imposed sanctions on Iran to pressure it to suspend its nuclear program again and to bring it back to the negotiating table.

As part of the current talks on a comprehensive solution to proliferation concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, as set out in the Joint Plan of Action, Iran and the P5+1 seek to agree on “a mutually defined enrichment programme with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.”[2]

Western negotiators are concerned that the total of about 19,000 centrifuges that Iran has installed at its enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow is sufficient for producing, should it decide to do so, highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons purposes (typically enriched to 90 percent uranium-235) in a time frame that may be too short for the international community to detect the effort and respond to it effectively. The negotiators currently appear to be discussing limits on Iran’s centrifuge program that would translate into a potential “breakout” time of about six to 12 months to make enough material for a first bomb rather than the estimated two months that Iran probably would require today.[3] Additional time would be required to fabricate a nuclear explosive device that could be tested or a nuclear warhead that could be integrated with a delivery system such as a ballistic missile, turning Iran into a nuclear-armed state.

Estimates of Iran’s breakout time are linked to the numbers of centrifuges that it has installed at its two plants. Put simply, the larger the available enrichment capacity, the more quickly it can enrich sufficient uranium for a first nuclear weapon. This has led to a debate over the number of centrifuges Iran should be able to operate as part of a deal on the future of its nuclear program. The West demands that Iran scrap many of its already installed centrifuges, and Iran responds by pointing out that such a requirement goes beyond the requirements of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, Iran cites its anticipated need for a large increase in the number of centrifuges to allow it to supply the Bushehr reactor after the present contract for Russian fuel ends in 2021.

The Current Situation

Under the Joint Plan of Action, during the six-month period of talks on a comprehensive settlement, Iran committed to:

  • limit the number and type of operating centrifuges to those operating as of  January 20;
  • not enrich uranium to a level above 5 percent U-235; and
  • convert the stockpile of uranium that it has enriched to almost 20 percent into oxide, which would have to be converted back to uranium hexafluoride to be further enriched, or blend it down to uranium enriched to less than 5 percent.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its May 23, 2014, report that its inspectors had found that as of mid-May, Iran had about 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges operating at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants.[4] These machines are linked together in 60 cascades of 164 or 174 machines each by an intricate network of pipes that carry the uranium hexafluoride gas in three streams: feed, enriched uranium product, and depleted uranium. Each cascade has machines linked together in parallel as stages, and the stages are linked together in series. The gas is enriched by a small amount in each centrifuge in each stage and then piped to a higher stage for further enrichment or collection while depleted uranium is returned to a lower stage for re-enrichment or discharge as waste.

Along with 10,000 operating machines, about another 8,000 IR-1 machines (48 cascades) are installed but not operating at Natanz and Fordow.[5] In addition, Iran had installed at Natanz but was not operating about 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges in six cascades. Finally, in the pilot plant at Natanz devoted to research and development, relatively small numbers of IR-1, IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges were operating, and a single IR-5 was installed but not operating.

Based on the number of IR-1 centrifuges that Iran has had operating and the rate and levels of enrichment of the LEU that it has produced, the IR-1 centrifuge appears to have a very low enrichment capacity, between 0.7 and 1 separative work units (SWU) per year.[6] Therefore, the estimated combined capacity of Iran’s operating IR-1 centrifuges is 7,000 to 10,000 SWU per year.

The IR-2m centrifuge probably has an enrichment capacity about five times larger than that of the IR-1.[7] If so, the collective capacity of the IR-2m centrifuges that are installed but not operating is about half that of the operating IR-1 centrifuges. There appears to be no published information about the enrichment capacities of the IR-4, IR-5, or IR-6 centrifuges, which presumably all have higher capacities than the IR-2m.

The May 23 IAEA report confirmed that Iran is observing the agreed enrichment limit of 5 percent and that the uranium is in fact enriched to about 3.4 percent U-235.[8] It would take about 1,500 SWU to produce a weapon-equivalent of 90 percent-enriched uranium from this enriched uranium.[9] The length of time that would be required do this with the currently operating 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges, with their combined capacity of 7,000 to 10,000 SWU per year, is three to four months.[10] By using the rest of its installed IR-1 centrifuges, Iran could reduce this time to about two months.

Iran’s Enrichment Needs

Iran’s primary use of the 3.4 percent-enriched uranium that it has been producing has been as feed material to make 19 percent-enriched uranium fuel for the five-megawatt thermal (MWt) Tehran Research Reactor. A small amount has been converted to uranium dioxide for irradiation tests in that reactor of fuel rods and assemblies of the type used in the 915-megawatt electric (MWe) Bushehr power reactor.[11]

Iran’s near-term practical needs for enriched uranium and, therefore, for operational enrichment capacity are relatively modest. Iran has already stockpiled enough uranium dioxide enriched to almost 20 percent to fuel the Tehran reactor for at least a decade.

Iran has announced a plan to build a 10-MWt light-water research reactor near Shiraz for which it would need LEU fuel.[12] This reactor is still in the design stage.[13] It may be part of a reported plan for perhaps four or five research reactors that, like the Tehran reactor, would probably all use 20 percent-enriched uranium fuel.[14] If Iran went ahead with these ambitious plans, it would have more high-power research reactors than any other non-nuclear-weapon state.[15] Iran would need about 1,500 SWU per year for each 10-MWt light-water research reactor that it brought into service.[16]

Iran may be interested in converting its 40-MWt Arak heavy-water reactor to use 5 percent-enriched fuel instead of natural uranium and reducing its power to 10 or 20 MWt as a way to reduce the amount of plutonium the reactor would produce in its fuel, thereby lessening proliferation concerns, while retaining the reactor’s utility for making radioisotopes for medical use and carrying out scientific experiments.[17] The enrichment capacity required to fuel a 10-, 20-, or 40-MWt heavy-water research reactor with 5 percent-enriched uranium would be about 750 SWU; 1,500 SWU; or 3,000 SWU per year, respectively.[18]

Another goal, however, for Iran’s enrichment program is to provide domestic enriched-uranium fuel for the Bushehr reactor after Russia’s existing 10-year fuel supply contract expires in 2021.[19] To produce the 27 metric tons per year of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium to fuel that reactor,[20] Iran’s enrichment capacity would have to grow to about 100,000 SWU per year, increasing its currently operating enrichment capacity more than tenfold. Looking even further ahead, Iran has been negotiating with Russia over the purchase of two more 1,000-MWe reactors.[21] In 2005, Iran’s parliament passed a nonbinding resolution setting a goal of a fuel production capacity sufficient to support 20,000 MWe of nuclear power.[22]

In principle, Iran could extend its fuel supply contract with Russia in whole or in part or could buy LEU from another foreign supplier and fabricate the enriched uranium into fuel assemblies in Iran. Domestic political constraints appear to weigh against such options.[23] Iranian policymakers believe Iran has paid a huge price for its right to enrichment—in direct costs, in the lives of some of its centrifuge experts,[24] and indirectly through the economic impact of sanctions, estimated at more than $100 billion.[25]

Phasing Out the IR-1

Using IR-1 centrifuges to attain the enrichment capacity of 100,000 SWU per year needed to fuel the Bushehr reactor would be neither efficient nor economical. The IR-1 design is based on Pakistan’s P-1 centrifuge, which was itself based on a design that was used in a small Dutch pilot plant but not used commercially.[26] Pakistan used the P-1 briefly before abandoning it in the mid-1980s, about the same time that Abdul Qadeer Khan’s network sold it to Iran.[27] The IR-1’s separative capacity of about one SWU per year is much smaller than that of centrifuges deployed in modern commercial enrichment plants, which typically use machines with an enrichment capacity of at least 10 SWU per year. The most modern centrifuge deployed by the European enrichment consortium Urenco, the TC-21, has a capacity of about 100 SWU per year.[28]

In addition, the performance of the IR-1 does not fit well with Iran’s enrichment infrastructure. Iran would require at least 100,000 IR-1 centrifuges to provide sufficient enrichment capacity to meet the fuel needs of the Bushehr reactor, whereas the two Natanz centrifuge halls can hold a total of only 50,000 machines. Continuing to rely on the IR-1 would require building a second Natanz-size facility. Making use of an advanced machine, for example, a centrifuge with a capacity to produce 10 SWU per year, would allow fuel production for the Bushehr reactor with only about 10,000 machines.

Iran has recognized the logic of replacing the IR-1 with more-advanced designs. It is developing more-powerful centrifuges, but expects the process to take at least a few years to complete the R&D on the designs and begin serial production. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, explained in an interview in February,

We have a number of advanced centrifuges, which are under the IAEA supervision where they are being tested.... Once you test the first centrifuge you will have two centrifuges; test them together and then you will have 10, 20; then you can go up to 50 and then 164. And those centrifuges will have to be working together in a cascade for a while—for probably two years to make sure that those centrifuges that have been developed are performing well enough to then be able to produce them in mass production.[29]

Iran could satisfy the needs of its current and planned research reactors by phasing out use of the operating IR-1 centrifuges and replacing them with a smaller number of IR-2m centrifuges. Assuming that each IR-2m is equal to five IR-1 machines, bringing into operation the roughly 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges already installed would be more than sufficient to supply 5 percent-enriched LEU for fueling the Arak reactor after it had been converted to run on fuel of that enrichment level. Even if Iran were able to complete construction of its planned four 10-MWt light-water research reactors before 2019, it would not need to install more than an additional 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges to meet their fuel needs. Also, Iran should extend indefinitely its current commitment under the Joint Plan of Action to convert to oxide any newly enriched uranium hexafluoride product and commit to convert all its enriched uranium hexafluoride within two or three months of production.

Store Centrifuges as Parts

To meet the goal of having an enrichment capacity sufficient to fuel the Bushehr reactor by 2021, when the current fuel-supply contract with Russia ends, Iran could continue to develop and test next-generation centrifuges such as the IR-4, IR-5, or IR-6 in an R&D facility. As Salehi explained, it could take years to test a reasonable number of machines of the chosen design to ensure that the individual components and overall machine design and operation are reliable and that the centrifuge performance is well understood.

After selecting one or more advanced centrifuge models that meet the standards for commercial-scale operation in terms of separative performance and long-term reliability, Iran could begin to manufacture the required number of centrifuge components for the targeted SWU capacity and store them under IAEA supervision at a central location. The key components requiring monitoring would include centrifuge rotors and casings.

Iran could agree to refrain from making preparations for the installation of these centrifuges. This would include not assembling and balancing more centrifuges than required for testing and not making preparations for hanging cascade piping. The IAEA could verify these steps.

An inventory in Iran of components sufficient for perhaps 10,000 next-generation centrifuges need not be of great international concern. Because they would be under IAEA monitoring, removal of components from storage would be quickly detected. A reasonable estimate is that it would take at least six months thereafter to assemble and balance a thousand of these centrifuges and to make and hang the cascade piping required to operate them. Even a large number of machine components in Iran would not significantly shorten the time to a first nuclear weapon below the breakout time determined by the machines already operating at Natanz.

To build international confidence in this arrangement, Iran should ratify an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as envisioned in the Joint Plan of Action. This would elevate its safeguards system to the highest current standard under the international NPT safeguards regime.[30] Iran could commit to continue indefinitely with the transparency measures it has accepted under the Joint Plan of Action. These measures include managed access for the IAEA “to centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities.”[31] Iran accepted similar monitoring arrangements under Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from November 2003 until February 2006 when the IAEA Board of Governors referred Iran’s case to the UN Security Council.[32] These transparency measures could become an international standard for centrifuge production worldwide.

Toward a Long-Term Solution

An approach that involves transparently phasing out the IR-1 centrifuges and replacing them with IR-2m centrifuges while conducting R&D on more-advanced, next-generation centrifuge designs and manufacturing them as needed could provide an interim solution for the negotiations on Iran’s enrichment capacity. The United States and some of Iran’s neighbors may remain concerned, however, that Iran’s program to develop advanced centrifuges could exacerbate the proliferation risk in the longer run.

If Iran succeeds in developing advanced centrifuges and deploys them in numbers required to support a significant nuclear power program, then its breakout time would become very short. If Iran decided to produce weapons-grade uranium, even a plant with an enrichment capacity of 100,000 SWU per year, which is very small by commercial uranium-enrichment industry standards, could churn out tens of bomb equivalents per year after the centrifuge cascades had been reconnected for this purpose. In addition, the more efficient a centrifuge, the fewer that would be required to equip a clandestine facility that could produce weapons-grade uranium at a significant rate.

These problems are not specific to Iran. They represent the general challenge that national gas-centrifuge enrichment programs all over the world pose to the current international nonproliferation and disarmament regime.[33] At the same time that a solution to the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program is being developed, it would be wise to begin dealing with the underlying problem rather than continue to face crisis after crisis.

One option would be for the P5+1 and Iran to agree as part of the final comprehensive solution to embark immediately on designing a new, permanent transparency regime for centrifuge manufacturing and operation and a regime that includes a ban on reprocessing and effective multinational arrangements for enrichment in the Middle East, reducing the risk of future Middle Eastern nuclear crises.[34] Assuming that Iran and the P5+1 can sign the final deal to be operationalized by early 2015, they could immediately establish a working committee on multilateralization of enrichment in the Middle East. One requirement for such an arrangement could be that the same country cannot manufacture the centrifuges and host the centrifuge facility.

The idea that a multinational arrangement for uranium enrichment could be part of the resolution of the dispute with Iran is well established. In 2004, during the first cycle of negotiations over the future of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei invited a group of experts, including one from Iran, to consider multinational alternatives to national enrichment and reprocessing programs. The expert group’s report was published in February 2005.[35] In September 2005, at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran was willing to participate in such an arrangement.[36]

Multilateralizing Iran’s enrichment program would establish a new standard for managing the risks from uranium-enrichment plants worldwide. Such a step would be consistent with a larger international trend away from national enrichment plants. Today, only three non-nuclear-weapon states (Brazil, Iran, and Japan) operate autonomous enrichment plants. In 1971, Germany and the Netherlands folded their national plants into Urenco, the multinational European consortium that also includes the UK.

Among the nuclear-weapon states, France, the UK, and the United States no longer have fully national enrichment programs.[37] All have ended their enrichment of uranium for military purposes and have commercial plants equipped with centrifuge technology delivered on a “black box” basis—that is, without access to the technology. The centrifuges are produced by the Enrichment Technology Company, which is jointly owned by Urenco and France’s Areva.

Devising arrangements for black-box multinational enrichment in the Middle East and globally would be challenging technically, legally, and politically. Yet, one lesson from the decade-long dispute over Iran’s enrichment program is that national enrichment programs in Middle Eastern countries would be at least as challenging.

A strategy for matching Iran’s separative capacity with its needs over the next five years while Tehran develops more-advanced centrifuges but does not deploy them until needed would not shorten Iran’s breakout time, but would enable Iran to prepare in a timely way to meet its possible needs for enriched-uranium fuel for its nuclear research and power reactors. Such a strategy could create a window of time to devise a multinational arrangement that could provide a long-term solution to the proliferation concerns raised by national enrichment plants in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, Hossein Mousavian, and Frank von Hippel are members of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University.


1. Steven Erlanger, “Nuclear Talks With Iran Fail to Yield Pact, Officials Say,” The New York Times, May 16, 2014.

2. See International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Communication Dated 27 November 2013 Received From the EU High Representative to the Agency Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/855, November 27, 2013 (contains the Joint Plan of Action as an attachment) (hereinafter Joint Plan of Action).

3. Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman, “Obama Administration Shows Optimism on Iran Nuclear Talks,” The Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2014.

4. IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2014/28, May 23, 2014 (hereinafter May 2014 IAEA report on Iran).

5. Ibid.

6. Between November 5, 2013, and February 9, 2014 (96 days), Iran fed 8,345 kilograms of unenriched uranium hexafluoride into 9,400 IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz and produced 754 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (510 kilograms uranium) enriched to less than 5 percent uranium-235. The ratio of input to output (11.1) is consistent with a product enrichment of 3.4 percent and a depleted uranium assay of 0.45 percent. Based on those assumptions, the amount of embedded enrichment would be 2,511 separative work units (SWU) or 0.267 SWU per centrifuge. For 365 days, that would be about 0.7 SWU per IR-1 centrifuge. Researchers at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) calculated 0.74 SWU per year for the same reporting period based on the assumption that the assay of Iran’s depleted uranium is 0.4 percent. The IR-1’s range of performance for the production of almost 20 percent-enriched uranium is somewhat higher: 0.8-1.0 SWU per year. See David Albright, Christina Walrond, and Andrea Stricker, “ISIS Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report,” ISIS, February 20, 2014, http://www.isisnucleariran.org/assets/pdf/ISIS_Analysis_IAEA_Safeguards_Report_20February2014-Final.pdf.

7. This assumes that the IR-2m centrifuge is based on Pakistan’s P-2 centrifuge. See Alexander Glaser, “Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation (corrected),” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, Nos. 1-2 (2008): table 1. See also David Albright and Christina Walrond, “Iran’s Advanced Centrifuges,” ISIS, October 18, 2011, http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/irans-advanced-centrifuges.

8. The IAEA’s discussions of Iran’s uses of Iranian uranium enriched to less than 5 percent as a reactor fuel or as a feed to produce uranium enriched to almost 20 percent specify it as enriched to 3.4 or 3.5 percent. See, for example, IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2012/23, May 25, 2012, para. 24; IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2013/40, August 28, 2013, para. 64; May 2014 IAEA report on Iran, tables 2, 4.

9. As a weapon-equivalent—the amount of material required to make one nuclear weapon—this calculation uses the IAEA’s “significant quantity”: a quantity of uranium enriched to 20 percent or more (90 percent in this case) in U-235 containing 25 kilograms of chain-reacting U-235. The calculation assumes that the depleted uranium from the process of raising the enrichment level from 3.4 percent to 90 percent would contain 0.7 percent U-235.

10. This calculation assumes that two weeks would be required to connect the cascades to produce the highly enriched uranium. For a detailed discussion of various possible breakout scenarios, see Patrick Migliorini et al., “Iranian Breakout Estimates: Updated September 2013,” ISIS, October 24, 2013, http://www.isisnucleariran.org/assets/pdf/Breakout_Study_24October2013.pdf. The calculations for the present article assume that no significant amount of 19 percent-enriched uranium would be available for this breakout scenario.

11.As of May 23, 2014, Iran had produced 11,870 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride enriched to less than 5 percent. See May 2014 IAEA report on Iran, table 1. Of this amount, 3,437 kilograms had been used to produce uranium enriched up to 20 percent, and 24 kilograms had been converted to uranium dioxide for test fuel. Ibid., tables 1, 3.

12. Ibid., fn. 12.

13. “Iran Designing 10MW Nuclear Research Reactor,” Fars News Agency, May 3, 2014.

14. IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2011/29, May 24, 2011 (citing “Iran Will Not Stop Producing 20% Enriched Uranium,” Tehran Times, April 11, 2011).

15. See IAEA Research Reactor database, http://nucleus.iaea.org/RRDB/RR/ReactorSearch.aspx?rf=1. “High power” is defined as reactors with power of 10 megawatts thermal (MWt) or more.

16. Ten MWt of light-water research-reactor capacity with 40 percent U-235 consumption (“burn-up”) would require about 45 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which would require about 1,500 SWU per year to produce, assuming 0.4 percent depleted uranium. The residence time of the fuel in the core would be about 1.2 years. Alexander Glaser, “On the Proliferation Potential of Uranium Fuel for Research Reactors at Various Enrichment Levels,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 14, No. 1 (2006): table 4.

17. Ali Ahmad et al., “A Win-Win Solution for Iran’s Arak Reactor,” Arms Control Today, April 2014.

18. Assuming 300 days per year of operation, the Arak heavy-water reactor operated at 20 MWt would require about 200 kilograms of 5 percent-enriched uranium per year (about 1,500 SWU per year). The amounts for operation at 10 MWt and 40 MWt would be about half as much and twice as much, respectively. One-third of the core would be refueled each year. Ibid.

19. Bushehr-1 was first connected to the grid on September 3, 2011. Commercial operations did not begin until September 23, 2013. IAEA, Power Reactor Information System, June 14, 2014, http://www.iaea.org/PRIS/CountryStatistics/CountryDetails.aspx?current=IR.

20. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, “Bushehr Power Plant Fuel Reserve Was Replaced,” March 11, 2014.

21. “Tehran, Moscow Work Out Deal for Building 2 More N. Power Plants in Iran,” Fars News Agency, March 12, 2014.

22. Neil MacFarquhar, “Iran Parliament Calls for Resuming Nuclear Fuel Development,” The New York Times, May 16, 2005.

23. “A senior Iranian official asked: ‘After all our investment in blood and treasure, the West now expects us to rely on them for our fuel needs?’” “Iran and the P5+1: Solving the Nuclear Rubik’s Cube,” International Crisis Group Middle East Report, No. 152 (May 9, 2014), n. 93.

24. On the assassination of Iranian scientists, see Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, “Iran Reports Killing of Nuclear Scientist in ‘Terrorist’ Blast,” The New York Times, January 11, 2012.

25. Ali Vaez and Karim Sadjadpour, “Iran’s Nuclear Odyssey: Costs and Risks,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/iran_nuclear_odyssey.pdf.

26. Glaser, “Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation (corrected).”

27. On Iran’s acquisition of the drawings and components for its first IR-1 centrifuges, see IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2006/63, August 26, 2003, paras. 30, 31.

28. Glaser, “Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation (corrected),” table 1.

29. “Iran Has Scored Major Achievements in Peaceful Nuclear Development: Dr. Salehi (Part 1),” Press TV, February 5, 2014 (interview with Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran).

30. By ratifying an additional protocol, a country commits to report nuclear-related activities and sites even if they do not involve nuclear material. The production of centrifuges for uranium enrichment is a key example. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol was developed after the discovery of Iraq’s clandestine uranium-enrichment program in 1991.

31. May 2014 IAEA report on Iran, para. 32.

32. See, for example, IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2004/11, February 24, 2004, para. 68 (“Between November 2003 and mid-January, Iran continued to assemble centrifuges. During that time, Iran assembled some 120 centrifuges [in addition to the 800 centrifuges which had been produced prior to November 2003], which have been counted by the Agency. These, and any centrifuges assembled since mid-January 2004, will now be placed under Agency seal”); IAEA, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2005/67, September 2, 2005, para. 54 (“Prior to 22 November 2004, the Agency had already established a baseline inventory of all UF6, essential centrifuge components, key raw materials and equipment, and the assembled centrifuge rotors at declared workshops said by Iran to have been involved in the manufacturing of centrifuge components, and had applied containment and surveillance measures to these items”).

33. Glaser, “Characteristics of the Gas Centrifuge for Uranium Enrichment and Their Relevance for Nuclear Weapon Proliferation (corrected).”

34. Frank N. von Hippel et al., “Fissile Material Controls in the Middle East: Steps Toward a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and All Other Weapons of Mass Destruction,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, October 2013, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr11.pdf.

35. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report Submitted to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” INFCIRC/640, February 22, 2005.

36. Islamic Republic of Iran Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “Address by H.E. Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Before the Sixtieth Session of the United Nations General Assembly,” September 17, 2005, http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/60/statements/iran050917eng.pdf.

37. Two U.S. companies, USEC and General Electric, however, have been conducting research and development on centrifuge and laser enrichment, respectively.

Book Review: Bringing Pakistan In From the Cold

In his new book, Mark Fitzpatrick rightly focuses on the accelerating arms race in South Asia as a larger threat than nuclear terrorism, but he goes astray in proposing an unrealistic nuclear normalization deal with Pakistan, reviewer Joshua T. White says

Review by Joshua T. White

Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers
By Mark Fitzpatrick
Routledge, 2014, 171 pp.

Since the earliest days following the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998, policymakers in the United States and Europe have struggled to envision a realistic path by which Pakistan might achieve some measure of nuclear normalization. Perhaps unexpectedly, the turbulent U.S.-Pakistani relationship of the last several years and Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal have revived rather than dampened interest in a normalization deal. The logic of such a deal hinges on the argument that bringing Pakistan into line with global nonproliferation norms could be a valuable inducement to shaping its behavior in the region.

Mark Fitzpatrick’s Overcoming Pakistan’s Nuclear Dangers is the latest serious attempt to grapple with the question of how the international community might deal with one of the most problematic nuclear-armed states. The majority of the book is dedicated to a carefully drawn analysis of the various risks of Pakistan’s nuclear enterprise. Only in the last dozen pages does Fitzpatrick connect these risks—in particular, the growing arsenals in India and Pakistan and the potential for an arms race on the subcontinent—to the larger argument that, despite the evident challenges, Pakistan should be offered a path to nuclear normalization. Ten years after Abdul Qadeer Khan’s proliferation network was shut down, he writes, “it is fair to ask how long Pakistan must pay the price for that failure.” This conclusion, which Fitzpatrick admits represents a revision of his own views on the subject, has drawn the most critical attention.

In making his argument, Fitzpatrick, a former acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation who now is with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, sensibly begins with a well-prioritized assessment of the actual risks of Pakistan’s nuclear program. He concludes that media assessments probably have overblown the likelihood of nuclear terrorism and that advances in Pakistan’s nuclear security and safety infrastructures have received far too little attention. Appropriately, he worries more about the developing arms race on the subcontinent, evidenced by Pakistan’s rapidly growing stockpiles of fissile material and India’s “inherent advantage” in facilities for uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, which can be used in civilian or military nuclear programs; by India’s robust ballistic and cruise missile programs; by Pakistan’s introduction of tactical nuclear weapons; and by the development of sea-based nuclear deterrents.

Fitzpatrick’s chapter on Indian-Pakistani nuclear competition highlights the growing risks of misperception and command-and-control failures in an environment with new delivery mechanisms and intentionally ambiguous nuclear doctrines. His analysis suggests at a minimum that the next crisis on the subcontinent may escalate more quickly and unpredictably than those of the past.

Fitzpatrick concludes that, in order to deal with these growing dangers, Pakistan and the international community should “make mutually reinforcing adjustments” by which Islamabad adopts global nuclear norms in exchange for recognition as a “normal nuclear country.” Entirely apart from the details of terms and implementation, there is considerable value to rekindling debate about such a deal. Pakistanis in government, academia, and think tanks spend an enormous amount of time calculating the conditions under which their country might gain global legitimacy as a responsible nuclear state. A generation of nuclear strategists is coming of age in Pakistan convinced that the United States is committed to maintaining a discriminatory regime or, worse, rolling back Pakistan’s nuclear capability altogether.

That alone is reason enough for credible voices in the United States and Europe to signal that the international community seeks a path for bringing Pakistan in from the cold. At the very least, talking about normalization reinforces to Pakistan the major benchmarks that any deal would likely require in order to win international approval, namely, binding limitations on fissile material production and nuclear testing. Further, holding out the future prospect of full normalization provides incentives for Pakistan’s continued responsible participation in other areas of the global nuclear order, such as its acceptance of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on its civilian nuclear facilities and its contributions to the nuclear security summits.

Scholars who have previously considered the contours of a possible deal for Pakistan have shared two basic and mutually reinforcing assumptions. First, Pakistan’s proliferation record and history of using proxies against Afghanistan and India necessitate that any agreement include conditions more robust than the ones contained in the 2005 U.S.-Indian nuclear deal.[1] Second, any deal would face daunting if not insurmountable challenges on account of the deep mistrust between Islamabad and Western capitals and the still-evolving strategic competition between Pakistan and India.

On the first point, Fitzpatrick does not stray far from conventional wisdom. He sets a high bar for a nuclear normalization deal, requiring Pakistan to agree to end fissile material production, drop its veto over initiating fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) negotiations in Geneva, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and cease its support for groups that conduct terrorism. Tellingly, he does not discuss how this latter condition would be evaluated or verified.

On the second point—the political and strategic challenges of a deal—Fitzpatrick is frustratingly vague. Fundamental questions about the incentives for Pakistan and the United States and other nuclear-armed states are addressed casually or not at all. Ultimately, this reflects the book’s signature weakness: it fails to seriously acknowledge or address the reality that the incentives for Pakistan and the international community to pursue a nuclear normalization agreement are exceptionally weak.

With regard to Pakistan, there is no question that its political and military elites seek international recognition as stewards of a responsible nuclear state. It is less clear that those elites believe that the path to such recognition must involve effective restrictions on the size of Pakistan’s arsenal. India, operating under very different geopolitical conditions, negotiated an exceptionally favorable deal with the United States and members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that neither restricted its fissile material production nor bound it by treaty to a cessation of nuclear testing. Pakistan may well wager that it can hold out for a more lenient deal, even if that takes 10 years or more.

Indeed, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that Pakistan is ready to foreclose fissile material production in the short term, even if it withdraws its objection to the start of FMCT negotiations. Fitzpatrick suggests that Pakistan may expect that it can attain fissile material sufficiency by 2020—that is, stockpile enough material to generate a “minimum, credible deterrent” in perpetuity. Members of the Pakistani nuclear establishment, however, have been exceptionally careful not to signal a sufficiency threshold, and the competition that the book describes is unpredictable enough to make Pakistani planners nervous about making that assessment prematurely.

Pakistan may not yet have determined how many low-yield, plutonium-based tactical nuclear weapons it needs to assure its desired deterrence effects against Indian conventional force incursions or if those numbers may need to increase in the future. Alternately, if India moves forward aggressively in developing ballistic missile defense technologies, Pakistan may wish to build up an arsenal of low-yield nuclear cruise missiles and would want to have on hand the requisite plutonium stocks to do so.

Fitzpatrick argues that agreeing to an FMCT might appeal to Pakistan if the treaty locks in a level of relative parity between it and India in the size of their fissile material stockpiles. This seems unlikely. Particularly after the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, Pakistan has articulated its concern that even under FMCT strictures, India would be able to utilize unsafeguarded power-reactor plutonium for military purposes.[2] It has also insisted repeatedly in talks in the Conference on Disarmament that an FMCT must address existing stockpiles, not simply future production. Although many outside observers believe that Pakistan already has exceeded the capabilities necessary to establish a credible deterrent against India, officials within the Pakistani nuclear establishment see few incentives to agree to a fissile material cutoff at this time and may believe that even stockpile parity with India would leave Pakistan at a disadvantage.

The second key reason that Pakistan faces weak incentives for a nuclear normalization deal with the international community is that, while remaining outside the bounds of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Islamabad already has gained the benefits of civilian nuclear cooperation through deals with China. Notably, China, with which Pakistan also has long-standing economic and military ties, has pledged to construct two large nuclear power plants in Karachi, and deals for additional plants may well follow. China joined the NSG in 2004 and has justified its provision of nuclear equipment to Pakistan by claiming that it was “grandfathered” by earlier Chinese-Pakistani agreements. This is a tendentious reading of NSG guidelines, but neither China nor Pakistan has faced significant diplomatic or economic consequences for the growing civilian energy partnership. Pakistan quite rightly assumes that, as a practical matter, it does not need an NSG exception to realize the fruits of civilian nuclear cooperation and is unlikely to give up much to the United States to attain what it has already secured from China.

As for the United States, there are a number of reasons to believe that the moment is not right for nuclear normalization with Pakistan. Over the last decade, two developments have colored the politics of such a decision. First, there is not a clear consensus about the value of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Nonproliferation advocates continue to worry that the deal diluted the global nuclear order and the utility of the NPT. For their part, some advocates of the U.S.-Indian bilateral relationship are disappointed that the deal did not do more to bolster trade or widen security cooperation. In truth, it may be too soon to assess the long-term impact of the agreement. Nevertheless, the short-term political impact seems obvious: there is little appetite to expend the political capital necessary for another deal with a non-NPT state anytime soon.

Second, the years since 2005 have been tumultuous for the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. As a result, the prevailing mood in the U.S. policy community is that inducements offered to Pakistan are fundamentally ineffective in shaping Pakistan’s behavior except in highly specific circumstances. The kinds of conditions that the U.S. Congress would likely want to see as part of a nuclear normalization deal—for example, long-overdue and targeted actions against extremist groups operating inside and outside of Pakistan—have proven over the last decade to be politically toxic to the bilateral relationship, difficult to verify, and easily evaded. Most U.S. policymakers have come to believe that if Pakistan wants to be recognized as a “normal” country, it must ultimately deal with its internal threats under its own initiative and in response to its own incentives, not under inducements tied to nuclear cooperation or conditional financial assistance.

Where does all of this leave the prospects for a normalization deal? If Fitzpatrick is right and the greatest risks of Pakistan’s nuclear program are related to its growing arsenal and its arms race with India, then an agreement on a fissile material cutoff should be the minimum baseline condition required by the international community. At least in the near term, Pakistan is unlikely to agree even to this minimal condition, as evidenced by the hardening of its stance on FMCT negotiations. A deal might be viable if the United States had something compelling to offer, but it does not. China is already providing nuclear cooperation outside the scope of the NPT, and the nonmaterial benefits of international recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear status are too vague and fleeting to affect its strategic calculations at this time.

Add India’s incentives to the mix, and the prospects for a deal of the kind Fitzpatrick proposes wane even further. Pakistan has made it clear that it will not agree to a fissile material cutoff or sign the CTBT without agreement by India to do the same. New Delhi has shown little enthusiasm for furthering Pakistan’s quest for nuclear legitimacy and must consider its strategic competition with China in any decision to permanently halt fissile material production or testing. Having already received an NSG exception, India is not inclined to support any carve-outs for Pakistan in the international nuclear regime.

In short, Fitzpatrick’s proposal of a nuclear normalization deal for Pakistan is disappointingly unrealistic. Although his analysis is provocative, a more rigorous examination of the policy incentives—and the politics—would have pointed to the conclusion that a deal that could provide tangible benefits to Pakistan and the West almost certainly is unworkable, at least for now. Where Fitzpatrick gets it right is in highlighting the risks that continue to accrue from the strategic competition on the subcontinent.

His book stands as a careful corrective to those who have focused on nuclear terrorism in Pakistan while downplaying the troubling implications of an accelerating arms race in South Asia. Until Pakistan is satisfied with the credibility of its deterrent against India—something that will happen only when it begins to re-evaluate its assumptions about internal and external threats—deals that offer little more than a generalized promise of nuclear recognition will continue to fall short.

Joshua T. White is deputy director for the South Asia program at the Stimson Center. He served as senior adviser for Asian and Pacific security affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2012 to 2013.


1. The Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006 conditioned India’s exemption from the requirements of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act on, among other conditions, India making progress toward concluding an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, India creating a plan to separate its civilian nuclear facilities from military ones, India’s support for a fissile material cutoff treaty and efforts to halt the spread of sensitive nuclear technology, and consensus approval of the final agreement by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India and the United States reached an agreement on the final text of the civilian nuclear deal in July 2007, and it was approved by Congress in the fall of 2008. See Paul K. Kerr, “U.S. Nuclear Cooperation With India: Issues for Congress,” CRS Report for Congress, RL33016, June 26, 2012.

2. See Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar, “Playing the Nuclear Game: Pakistan and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty,” Arms Control Today, April 2010.

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Stopping Illicit Procurement: Lessons From Global Finance

Results from the financial sector show that secure information sharing is possible and can help stop crimes. Officials working to thwart proliferation procurement should take a page from this playbook.

Andrew Kurzrok and Gretchen Hund

A Hollywood, Florida, conference of specialists in preventing, detecting, and responding to money laundering might not seem to be the most likely spot for the next innovation in nuclear nonproliferation policymaking. Yet, a March speech by Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), suggested an approach that regulators charged with stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons would do well to study.

Shasky Calvery stated that “FinCEN needs to find ways for more dynamic, real-time information sharing, both by and between financial institutions, and with FinCEN and law enforcement.”[1] The information to which she was referring is transaction data related to money laundering that currently reside within banks, casinos, credit card processing companies, and many other types of financial businesses.

Export control regulators could apply Shasky Calvery’s approach to their own mission. In the nonproliferation context, FinCEN’s anti-money laundering data would be analogous to the inquiries that potential buyers of dual-use commodities place over the phone or on commercial websites. Dual-use commodities have legitimate civilian applications, but can also be used to support nuclear weapons development. If a request appears suspicious, most firms will decline the request.

Unlike their counterparts in the financial sector, however, export control regulators and private business have few tools with which to gather and disseminate this critical information about the networks illicitly seeking strategic commodities. Taking a page from the anti-money laundering playbook may help stop proliferation procurement.

Information Sharing Today

To evade detection, proliferators rarely seek sensitive technologies with obvious nuclear weapons applications, such as centrifuges for enriching uranium. Instead, they hunt for readily available raw materials, industrial tools, and laboratory instruments that they can assemble into the elements of a potential nuclear weapons program. This places the commercial marketplace, from metal distributors to oil and gas supply companies, squarely in proliferators’ crosshairs. Although export control laws exist to prevent such transfers, bad actors will go to great lengths to dupe well-meaning firms by hiding their true identities and motives.[2]

Like money launderers, proliferators must interact with legitimate finance and trade systems and divulge to their commercial partners some relevant information about themselves or who they claim to be. In an effort to capitalize on this exchange of information, the Department of Commerce encourages firms to remain vigilant against weak cover stories such as a bakery requesting high-performance computers or a buyer seeking semiconductor manufacturing equipment when the destination country does not have an electronics industry.[3] The Commerce Department encourages suppliers to apply extra scrutiny if the buyer exhibits unusual behaviors, such as refusing a servicing plan (perhaps because the item will be resold) or paying cash for an item that typically requires financing.

These warnings matter because proliferators regularly target the private sector. One alleged proliferator, in conversations with an undercover federal agent described in an indictment, purportedly sought at least 21 separate sensitive items from U.S. companies over a two-year span.[4] A major European parts manufacturer has reported instances of its many sales offices worldwide receiving identical quotation requests from a prospective buyer, presumably hoping that at least one office would fail to conduct the necessary due diligence.[5]

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Although the private sector plays a central role in stopping proliferation, there is no requirement under U.S. law for firms that see suspicious behavior to report it to U.S. regulators or law enforcement. The Commerce Department invites but does not require information sharing, stating in its regulations that “[i]f a person learns that an export control violation of the [Export Administration Regulations] has occurred or may occur, that person may notify” the Office of Export Enforcement, which is in the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security.[6]

To assist industry in reporting potential violations, the Commerce Department maintains a telephone tip line and an online submission capability. In addition, field agents from the Commerce Department conduct outreach visits to companies to introduce themselves as points of contact for questions and tips.[7] The bureau states that the information it gleans from industry is often the most helpful in pursuing cases.[8]

Despite the government’s efforts to encourage information sharing, it does not always occur. In interviews, numerous industry officials said that they avoid cooperating proactively with the government. The officials take this position for business reasons. Today, there are no protections for a firm that files a tip, so alerting the government to suspicious activity may serve only to draw unwanted attention to the fact that the company has a potential proliferation supply risk. For many firms, simply ignoring an order rather than reporting it is an effective compromise that protects the company’s interests while providing some national security benefit.

Unfortunately, discarded data are lost intelligence for government and corporate export control officials from other firms. Proliferators are rarely choosy; to succeed, they need just one supplier to fill an order. Nonproliferators, on the other hand, must defend successfully each time. Sometimes, it is only when the orders come together that a motive becomes clear. Although the purchase of any one item alone is likely ambiguous, a series of orders taken as a whole can suggest the motivation for procurement activities. Today, the lack of information sharing can make it difficult for industry or government to see the wider story.

The Anti-Fraud Approach

Efforts to stop financial fraud may offer a model for nonproliferation. Criminals such as narcotics traffickers and terrorism financiers need to move their funds without arousing suspicion.

Money laundering refers to financial transactions that criminals conduct in an “attempt to disguise the proceeds, sources or nature of their illicit activities.”[9] According to FinCEN, money laundering “involves three steps: placement, layering and integration. First, the illegitimate funds are furtively introduced into the legitimate financial system. Then, the money is moved around to create confusion, sometimes by wiring or transferring through numerous accounts. Finally, it is integrated into the financial system through additional transactions until the ‘dirty money’ appears ‘clean.’”[10]

Because money laundering requires at least the unwitting participation of financial institutions, the private sector often has the best perspective to identify illicit activity as it occurs. For example, internal transaction data enable banks to recognize indicators of potential money laundering, such as repeated transfers of large, round-number currency amounts or trade financing transactions that appear to have unnecessarily complex structures.[11]

In the United States, the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) is the primary piece of legislation to control money laundering. Despite its name, the BSA is relevant to a range of institutions that could be misused for illicit finance, including casinos, money-changing businesses, insurers, and dealers of precious metals and jewelry. A primary requirement of the BSA is that depository institutions must inform FinCEN about unusual transactions through suspicious activity reports (SARs). A report contains information about the institution filing the claim, biographical information about the suspect entity, and a narrative about why the transaction was suspicious. Submitters can include attachments with additional information about the transaction.

FinCEN uses SARs and other reports required under the BSA to cue enforcement actions and analyze broad trends. Approximately every six months, FinCEN publishes a SAR Activity Review based on the aggregation of individual SAR submissions to highlight recent issues.

One essential feature of the BSA is that financial institutions submitting SARs are immune from liability arising from the shared information. Because the reports, by definition, need only report on “suspicious” activity, it is nearly certain that some filings will discuss behavior that, although appearing to be illegal, is entirely benign. If the customer were to learn of the SAR, it could sue the filer for defamation or other injuries. The “safe harbor” provision, as the liability clause is commonly known, protects industry and ensures that firms are not punished for fulfilling their legal requirements.

Although the combination of mandatory reporting with a safe harbor is powerful, it represents only one type of information sharing between industry and government. The 2001 PATRIOT Act added two new dimensions to the financial sector’s information-sharing tool kit. One provision of the act, section 314(a), enables law enforcement officers, through a secure online bulletin board maintained by FinCEN, to ask 22,000 financial institutions whether they have accounts or transactions related to suspects of terrorism and money laundering. This powerful querying capability simplifies what would otherwise be a nearly impossible task of engaging each institution individually. Also, a unified process simplifies responses for respondents. Rather than managing requests from many organizations, financial institutions receive a batch of requests from a single contact every two weeks.

This cooperation appears to pay dividends. Forty percent of requests from law enforcement organizations receive at least one response from financial institutions. Of those requests with at least one response, law enforcement learns about an average of 8.4 bank accounts and 16.2 financial transactions related to the suspect.[12]

The second information-sharing aspect authorized by the PATRIOT Act, Section 314(b), is perhaps more radical. The provision permits financial entities assisting in the preparation of SARs to share information related to suspicious activities. Any financial transaction has at least two parties, so sharing information helps the financial entities involved untangle the sometimes complex structures that money launderers use to hide their activities.

For example, a money launderer might gamble at one casino with the winnings from another casino. “Cleaning” illicit funds through multiple locations makes following the money extremely difficult. If the two casinos work together to match the transactions, however, they may be able to unravel the laundering scheme. As with information shared with the government, a safe harbor provision protects firms that share information.[13]

The combination of obligations and protections under the BSA and the PATRIOT Act gives financial regulators and institutions powerful tools to combat money laundering. Information can move legally and securely among all interested parties to ensure that all parties with a need to know are aware of suspicious activities and trends.

Lessons for Nonproliferation

The anti-money laundering model is a useful precedent for export control regulators and enforcement agents. Through a combination of law, regulation, and policy, financial companies can work together and with the government to identify suspicious activity.[14]

A safe harbor from prosecution or civil liability may encourage commodity suppliers to be more forthcoming with tips. Although a safe harbor may reduce the number of opportunities for export enforcement agencies to pursue prosecutions, the value of the additional information for U.S. nonproliferation policy will likely outweigh that drawback.

A rapid-response mechanism for law enforcement could also help the U.S. government quickly assess the scale of a proliferator’s procurement efforts. An efficient request-for-information process, particularly under circumstances in which a safe harbor encourages enhanced reporting of tips, could help law enforcement organizations. Because nonproliferation cases can take years to build, there is a risk that proliferators will continue their activities in ways that authorities cannot track.[15] By polling suppliers, the government would reduce the chances that additional exports would take place without being noticed.

Better information analysis products could help this process. Some of the officials interviewed said they provide information to law enforcement, but expressed frustration that they did not know whether their tips were useful. Others struggled to understand the top proliferation challenges and how they could help.

Although limited by the restrictions imposed by classification requirements and the confidentiality of ongoing investigations, government-published trend analysis would provide industry with valuable feedback about its support and ensure that it remains vigilant against the latest threats. FinCEN’s SAR Activity Reviews are a useful precedent of a regular, unclassified analytic product to help inform industry. Appropriate authors of this analysis might include the Commerce Department, the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations unit, or the interagency Export Enforcement Coordination Center.

It is unclear whether the equivalent of a mandatory SAR is appropriate for suppliers of dual-use commodities. Generally, U.S. law does not obligate citizens to report crimes; alerting the police is considered a civic duty, not a legal one. In this light, the financial industry’s requirement to report suspicious activity is unusual. Although money laundering and proliferation both are crimes with significant impacts, some differences between them raise questions as to whether suspicious dual-use commodity requests should require similar reporting requirements.

For example, financial institutions generally report on money laundering crimes potentially in progress, rather than the future crimes that could take place if a suspicious order were to be filled. Furthermore, unlike money laundering, proliferation procurement is a relatively specialized criminal enterprise that is prosecuted relatively infrequently. Congress, executive agencies, and industry would need to determine whether the nonproliferation benefits of increased information, particularly when coupled with limited liability, would outweigh the financial and civil liberty implications associated with mandatory reporting.

Rules to govern how and under what circumstances businesses could share nonproliferation information among themselves might be valuable, although the principles from section 314(b) would likely need to be modified for the nonproliferation context. Because banking transactions are usually between two institutions on behalf of their clients, it is natural for the institutions to cooperate. In this way, both financial entities benefit from the pooled client information and thus better protect their own businesses from money laundering. Because vendors of dual-use commodities exist in a more complex supply chain, information sharing between two firms may not materially improve either firm’s understanding of the proliferation network. Proliferation requires many items; therefore, integrating information from many firms is most likely to help identify suspicious behaviors. A single point of contact, known as a third party, may enable firms to coordinate this information while managing antitrust risks.[16]

Improving information sharing among U.S. law enforcement organizations and industry is an important first step. Because proliferators target suppliers from many countries, it will be important to consider whether companies and governments can securely share information internationally. Without the legislative safe-harbor protections that could be afforded as part of domestic sharing, companies may fear the liability implications of participating. Further, although law enforcement could handle any domestic misuse of shared information through prosecutions, the international recourses for data misuse are limited. If these challenges prove manageable, however, the resulting globally sourced information would have significant nonproliferation benefits.


Stopping the illicit spread of nuclear weapons technologies requires global cooperation among governments and industry, particularly on information sharing. Currently, U.S. export regulations do not give suppliers an incentive to cooperate. Instead, doing the right thing and sharing suspicions can create perceived if not actual legal exposure for a company.

With these dynamics, identifying models that can illuminate new approaches is beneficial. Because money laundering supports narcotics trafficking and terrorism, financial regulators and enforcement agents have developed strong tools to work with industry productively.

More-effective information sharing will not cure all ills; procurement agents will continue to develop new approaches to circumvent or undermine nonproliferation efforts. Similarly, any proposal should not copy anti-money laundering rules directly into export control regulations. The dual-use commodity supply chain has unique considerations that must be taken into account.

Implementing a new information-sharing approach will require champions within government and industry. Regulators could execute some elements of improved information sharing administratively, but a safe harbor would likely require congressional action. For any new activity, industry will need to provide input to ensure that any information-sharing proposal is feasible and provides benefits to the private sector.

Results from the financial sector show that secure information sharing is possible and can help stop crimes. With the lessons from the banking sector in mind, it is worth thinking anew about how government and industry could better share information to stop nuclear crimes. A failure to do so would have consequences that go far beyond the financial ones.

Andrew Kurzrok is a research scientist and Gretchen Hund is a senior scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the laboratory or the U.S. Department of Energy.



1. Jennifer Shasky Calvery, Remarks to the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, March 18, 2014, http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/speech/pdf/20140318.pdf.

2. See U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, “Belgian Man Charged With Attempting to Illegally Export Aluminum Tubes to Malaysian Front for Individual in Iran,” October 30, 2013, http://www.justice.gov/usao/iln/pr/chicago/2013/pr1030_01.html; Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, “Iranian National Charged With Illegally Exporting Specialized Metals From the United States to Iran,” February 1, 2011, http://www.fbi.gov/charlotte/press-releases/2011/ce020111.htm; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “3 Charged With Smuggling Technology to Iran,” January 13, 2010, http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1001/100113losangeles.htm.

3. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), U.S. Department of Commerce, “Red Flag Indicators,” n.d., http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/enforcement/oee/compliance/23-compliance-a-training/51-red-flag-indicators.

4. United States of America v. Parviz Khaki and Zongcheng Yi, No. 12-cr-00061 (RWR), July 12, 2012, http://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USDHSICE/2012/07/13/file_attachments/141298/Khaki%2B_Yi_Superseding_Indictment.pdf.

5. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “2011 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference: Atoms for Peace; Transcript,” March 28, 2011, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Atoms_for_Peace.pdf (remarks of Andreas Widl).

6. Enforcement and Protective Measures, 15 C.F.R. 764 (2005).

7. BIS, U.S. Department of Commerce, “Annual Report to the Congress for the Fiscal Year 2012,” n.d., p. 13, http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/forms-documents/doc_view/683-bis-annual-report-fy-2012.

8. BIS, U.S. Department of Commerce, “Reporting Violations Form,” n.d., http://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/component/rsform/form/14?task=forms.edit.

9. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Money Laundering,” n.d., http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Pages/Money-Laundering.aspx.

10. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), U.S. Department of the Treasury, “History of Anti-Money Laundering Laws,” n.d., http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/aml_history.html.

11. For a list of money laundering “red flag” indicators, see Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, “Bank Secrecy Act Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual; Appendix F: Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing ‘Red Flags,’” n.d., http://www.ffiec.gov/bsa_aml_infobase/pages_manual/OLM_106.htm. See also Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, “Banking on Nonproliferation: Improving the Implementation of Financial Sanctions,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (July 2012): 241-265.

12. FinCEN, U.S. Department of the Treasury, “FinCEN’s 314(a) Fact Sheet” April 1, 2014, http://www.fincen.gov/statutes_regs/patriot/pdf/314afactsheet.pdf.

13. FinCEN, U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Section 314(b) Fact Sheet,” October 2013, http://www.fincen.gov/statutes_regs/patriot/pdf/314bfactsheet.pdf.

14. FinCEN provisions may encourage financial institutions to share more information than required based on the logic that it is preferable to let the government sift through too much data rather than face a penalty for failing to disclose suspicious activity.

15. During Khaki, for example, communications with an undercover agent spanned two years.

16. A 2012 study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory considered the legal issues associated with information sharing and found them manageable. See A.M. Seward, F.A. Morris, and A.J. Kurzrok, “A Nonproliferation Third Party for Dual-Use Industries—Legal Issues for Consideration,” PNNL-21908, October 2012.

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