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Arms Control Today

Congress Questions Policy on N. Korea

At a July 30 hearing, members of Congress questioned the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program.

Kelsey Davenport

Members of Congress questioned the Obama administration’s policy toward negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program at a July 30 hearing and expressed concern about Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, said the administration’s “so-called strategic patience policy is crumbling to pieces” and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “continues unfettered.”

As described by U.S. officials, the strategic patience policy seeks to hobble North Korean nuclear and missile programs through U.S. and international efforts to prevent the import and export of proliferation-sensitive materials and restart negotiations after Pyongyang demonstrates its commitment to dismantling its nuclear weapons program. For more than a decade, North Korea has had intermittent talks with the United States and its four negotiating partners—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—in the so-called six-party talks.

Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korea policy at the State Department, defended the administration’s approach at the hearing, saying that because North Korea “increasingly rejects meaningful negotiations,” the United States is looking for meaningful actions by North Korea before restarting talks. Davies said these actions could include steps by North Korea such as freezing its nuclear program and inviting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back into the country.

Davies said it might take continued diplomatic overtures combined with “the patient application of increasing amounts of pressure” to make North Korea realize its current path is “leading [it] nowhere.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that “both carrots and sticks” are necessary to change North Korea’s behavior. He said the United States should discuss a nonaggression pact with North Korea and work with China to stem the “enormous subsidies” that Beijing sends to Pyongyang.

Davies said that negotiations with North Korea are a “multilateral task” and the United States is making progress working with countries in the region, including China, to push North Korea to take steps toward denuclearization in order to resume negotiations. Washington is also unilaterally tightening sanctions that “increase the cost” of North Korea’s illicit activities, he said.

North Korea committed to denuclearization in a 2005 joint statement with the other members of the six-party talks, but more recently, Pyongyang has said that it wants negotiations on its nuclear program to resume without any preconditions. (See ACT, November 2013.)

Those talks began in 2003 with the goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The multilateral negotiations were held intermittently until North Korea announced in April 2009 that it would no longer participate.

Washington has also negotiated bilaterally with North Korea in the past.

Pyongyang is believed to possess the nuclear material for approximately four to eight nuclear weapons and is working to increase its stockpile of weapons-usable nuclear material. (See ACT, January/February 2014.)

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Iran, P5+1 Extend Nuclear Talks

Iran and six world powers agreed to a four-month extension for negotiations on a comprehensive deal addressing Iran’s nuclear program.

Kelsey Davenport

Iran and six-country group known as the P5+1 agreed in July to extend negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program through Nov. 24, a step officials said they hope will give the parties enough time to find solutions to the remaining gaps and reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

The negotiators originally aimed to conclude a comprehensive agreement by July 20, which marked the end of the implementation of a six-month interim agreement. But the interim accord, which the parties reached last Nov. 24, allows for the initial six-month time period to be extended if all parties agree. (See ACT, December 2013.)

In a joint statement announcing the extension in Vienna on July 19, Iranian Foreign Minister and lead nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), said they had made “tangible progress” in some areas but that “significant gaps on core issues” will require “more time and effort” to reach an agreement.

The statement did not give an exact date for the resumption of negotiations, but said that the parties would reconvene “in the coming weeks in different formats.”

On Aug. 7, U.S. officials, led by Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. negotiator and undersecretary of state for political affairs, met with Iranian officials in Geneva to discuss the nuclear negotiations.

A European diplomat familiar with the talks told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 14 e-mail that negotiators would likely meet before the UN General Assembly convenes Sept. 16. A ministerial-level meeting during the General Assembly is probable, he said.

He said both sides “remained entrenched” on the issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. A comprehensive agreement is unlikely unless both sides are willing to move away from “extreme positions” on what uranium-enrichment capacity Iran needs in the years to come, he said.

Iranian officials have opposed any cuts to the current capacity, which is about 10,200 operating first-generation centrifuges, and want to build up a program that will allow them to provide enriched-uranium fuel for domestic nuclear power reactors Tehran says it plans to build. Iran currently has one nuclear power reactor, Bushehr, and has a contract with Russia for the reactor’s fuel through 2021.

The P5+1 wants to cut Iran’s current capacity and maintain strict limits on uranium enrichment for a number of years.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who joined negotiators July 13-15 in Vienna, said in a statement after the extension announcement that, despite the gaps, there is a “path forward.”

Both sides committed to continue implementation of the measures from the six-month interim agreement and agreed to take several additional steps before Nov. 24. For example, Iran agreed to convert 25 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium powder into fuel assemblies for its Tehran Research Reactor.

During the term of the interim agreement, Iran neutralized its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium gas by diluting half to reactor-grade enrichment levels of less than 5 percent and converting the other half to powder form for fuel assemblies. Kerry said that implementation of the interim agreement was a “clear success” and rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in a decade.

The stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium in gas form was a particular concern to the P5+1 because uranium enriched to this level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade.

The P5+1 committed to allow Iran to transfer $2.8 billion of its funds locked up in overseas accounts back into the country over the course of the four-month extension. U.S. sanctions have prohibited foreign banks from transferring payments for Iranian exports such as oil to Iranian banks. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

IAEA-Iran Cooperation

Meanwhile, Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), visited Tehran on Aug. 17 to discuss how to “strengthen cooperation and dialogue” between the agency and Iran, according to an Aug. 15 IAEA press release.

During his one-day visit, Amano met with President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif, and Ali Akbar Salehi, chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

In comments to the press during his visit, Amano said he discussed with Iranian officials how to “move ahead with existing practical measures.”

He was referring to a May 21 joint announcement in which Tehran pledged to provide the agency with information in five areas of concern to the IAEA by Aug. 25. (See ACT, June 2014.) Amano said implementation of these measures had begun and he expected further progress to be made over the next week.

These actions are part of a November agreement, the Framework for Cooperation, in which Iran and the IAEA committed to “resolve all present and past issues.” (See ACT, December 2013.) The IAEA laid out its concerns, including allegations of activities with possible relevance for developing nuclear weapons, in detail in its November 2011 report to the agency’s Board of Governors. (See ACT, December 2011.)

As one of the May actions, Tehran was to provide the IAEA with information addressing allegations that Iran conducted experiments with certain kinds of high explosives that could be relevant to nuclear weapons. Iran also said it would provide information on studies “in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials,” another area with direct connections to nuclear weapons development.


Under one provision of the November framework agreement, Iran provided the IAEA with information by May on its past work on exploding bridge wire detonators, which is one of the activities relevant to developing nuclear weapons. Iran maintained in its communications to the agency that the detonators were developed for use in the oil and gas industry. (See ACT, June 2014.)

Amano said the IAEA “followed up” on issues related to the information Iran provided on the exploding bridge wire detonators during his visit. Salehi told reporters on Aug. 17 that Iran “responded to all of the questions” Amano asked about the detonators and said he hoped Amano would “wrap up” this topic. Salehi said future steps would be easier if the topic were closed.

Amano, however, said that to assess Iran’s need for the detonators, the agency will need to consider “all past outstanding issues” and assess them as an entire system.

Amano said he and Iranian officials also discussed new measures that Iran is to take “in the near future” to address the agency’s unresolved concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, who was in Tehran during Amano’s visit, said on Aug. 18 that Iran is trying to resolve its problems with the agency while protecting Iran’s “principles, interests, and national security.” He said he hoped this cooperation would continue but that some IAEA requests are “irrational” and unacceptable to Iran.

Iran has provided the IAEA with information to address 13 areas of concern since the November agreement. After the August talks, Amano said he was glad to hear “from the highest levels [of the Iranian government] a firm commitment to implementation” of the November agreement.

Amano said that the IAEA remains committed to “resolve all past and present issues.”

Kelsey Davenport’s reporting from Vienna was supported by a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America.
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Russia Breaches INF Treaty, U.S. Says

The State Department has accused Russia of testing a new medium-range, ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Moscow denies the charge.

Tom Z. Collina

After months of speculation, the U.S. State Department announced in July that it had found Russia to be in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over Moscow’s testing of a new medium-range, ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). The accusation comes at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions over Moscow’s support for separatist forces in Ukraine.

“We have been attempting to address this very serious matter with Russia for some time, as the United States is wholly committed to the continued viability of the INF Treaty,” Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said Aug. 14. In remarks to a symposium at U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, she said the Obama administration was “asking Russia to return to compliance with the treaty in a verifiable manner.”

Gottemoeller said that the two countries previously “have been down the road of needless, costly, and destabilizing arms races.” She added, “We know where that road leads and we are fortunate that our past leaders had the wisdom and strength to turn us in a new direction.”

The INF Treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, marked the first time the two superpowers agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification. The treaty, which is still in force, eliminated almost 2,700 intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles, most of them Russia’s.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone about the INF Treaty on Aug. 1, according to the White House.

According to a July 28 New York Times report, Obama sent Putin a letter that day in which Obama asked for a high-level dialogue with Moscow to discuss ways to preserve the treaty and bring Russia back into compliance.

In an interview in early August, a diplomatic source familiar with the treaty controversy said senior Russian and U.S. officials are expected to meet in September to discuss the issue.

U.S. Allegation Unspecified

The Obama administration alleges that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligation “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles,” as a State Department report sent to Congress in July summarized it.

At a meeting in early July, the Principals Committee, which includes the national security adviser, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state, and the CIA director, “unanimously agreed” that the cruise missile flight test was a “serious violation,” the Times said. A senior administration official told Arms Control Today on July 29 that the intelligence community has “high confidence” in the assessment.

The State Department report, which surveys compliance with arms control agreements by the United States and other countries, did not specify the type of cruise missile in question or say how many tests have been conducted or when they occurred. The senior administration official said that the testing took place at the Kapustin Yar test site in western Russia. According to the Times story, Russia began testing the cruise missile as early as 2008, and the administration concluded that it was a compliance concern by the end of 2011, although officials do not believe the missile has been deployed. Gottemoeller first raised the issue with Russian officials in May 2013, according to the Times.

Unconfirmed reports have focused on Russia’s R-500 Iskander-K short-range cruise missile as the missile that precipitated the U.S. allegation. That system uses a road-mobile launcher, similar to the Iskander-M, which is a short-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Russia reportedly is deploying the Iskander-M near Luga, south of St. Petersburg, near Russia’s borders with NATO member countries in response to U.S. missile defense plans. (See ACT, January/February 2014.) It is not clear if the range of the R-500 exceeds the lower limit of the INF Treaty.

In the August interview, the diplomatic source said that according to the United States, the R-500 is not the focus of the allegation. That appears to be consistent with other available information on the allegation and the history of the R-500. According to the Times report, the GLCM considered to be a violation was first tested in 2008 and has not been deployed. The R-500 reportedly was first tested in May 2007 and deployed in 2013.

At an April 29 congressional hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) offered an alternative explanation of the nature of the alleged violation and the platform involved. He said that Russia claims to have tested a new intermediate-range missile for use at sea, which is allowed under the INF Treaty if the missile is tested from a test launcher, but that Moscow used “what appears to be an operational, usable ground-based launcher,” which is not allowed. Sherman said that “it appears as if [the Russians] were developing a ground-based capacity for this intermediate[-range] missile.” (See ACT, June 2014.)

Russia Denies Charges

Russia denies that it is breaching the INF treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 28 statement that the allegations are “as baseless as all of Washington’s claims that have lately been reaching Moscow. Absolutely no proof has been provided.” The United States has accused Moscow of providing military support to rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, including the surface-to-air missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July.

“We have many complaints to make to the United States with regard to the [INF] Treaty,” the statement continued. “These include missile defense target missiles having characteristics similar to those of shorter- and intermediate-range missiles and the production by the Americans of armed drones which clearly fall under the [category of] land-based cruise missiles” in the INF Treaty, the ministry said.

Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, told Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on July 31 that Moscow was committed to adhering to the INF Treaty, Reuters reported.

According to the diplomatic source, Gerasimov expressed concern about U.S. plans to field the Mark-41 (MK-41) missile launcher in Romania and Poland as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the Obama administration’s policy for missile defense in Europe. According to an Aug. 1 statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, the sea-based MK-41 “can be used to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles, but [its] ground-launched version will be a gross violation of the INF Treaty.”

The MK-41 is currently used on U.S. Navy ships to launch missile defense interceptors, such as the Standard Missile-3, but it is also used to launch the Tomahawk intermediate-range cruise missile. As a sea-based missile, the Tomahawk does not run afoul of the INF Treaty. But once the MK-41 is based on land, as the United States plans to do next year, it would, in Russia’s view, conflict with the INF Treaty’s prohibition on possessing a ground-based launcher for intermediate-range cruise missiles.

The United States has not responded publicly to the Russian allegations. It is not clear if the land-based MK-41 would maintain its capability to launch intermediate-range cruise missiles or if the United States intends to modify the launcher to eliminate this capability.

Hill Response

In response to the State Department’s charge against Russia, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a July 31 press release that Russia’s action “cannot go unanswered.” Along with Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Rubio introduced legislation that would, among other things, initiate U.S. research and development on missiles banned by the INF Treaty. Such work is allowed under the pact.

Congress does not appear to be pressuring the administration to withdraw from the INF Treaty to protest Russia’s actions, in part because there is an apparent political consensus that the best outcome for the United States would be for Moscow to come back into compliance. “I do not believe the appropriate remedy in this case is for the United States to withdraw from the treaty,” Stephen Rademaker, an official in the George W. Bush administration, told the House Armed Services Committee on July 17. “Rather, since Russia so clearly wants out, we should make sure that they alone pay the political and diplomatic price of terminating the treaty.”

Last summer, Sergey Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of staff, publicly questioned the value of the treaty, saying Russia has more potential threats on its borders than the United States does. “The Americans have no need for this class of weapon[;] they didn’t need it before and they don’t need it now,” Ivanov said, according to RIA Novosti. “They could theoretically only attack Mexico and Canada with them, because their effective radius doesn’t extend to Europe.”

Russia has indicated that another answer to its concerns might to be to expand the membership of the treaty. In 2007, Russia and the United States issued a statement at the UN General Assembly reaffirming their “support” for the treaty and calling on all other states to join them in renouncing the missiles banned by the treaty.

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Profile: State Dept. Targets ‘Generation Prague’

For the past five years, the State Department has hosted an annual conference on arms control and disarmament to heighten interest in the issue among students and young professionals.

Kelsey Davenport

Since 2010, the State Department has hosted an annual conference on arms control and disarmament to support President Barack Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons, with students and young professionals in the field as its principal target audience.

In interviews, participants in the conferences praised the meetings while suggesting ways to strengthen the effort.

The State Department uses the term “Generation Prague” to refer to the conferences and the next generation of professionals working in arms control. The term is an allusion to Obama’s speech outlining nuclear policy in Prague on April 5, 2009.

The State Department created the Generation Prague concept in 2010 to provide a “forum and framework for collaboration” with young professionals, students, and foreign governments that were energized by the Prague speech, Erin Harbaugh, outreach officer for the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 25 e-mail.

Now in its fifth year, Generation Prague is an event for “educating and empowering the next generation,” Alexandra Bell, director for strategic outreach in the Office of the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, said in the same e-mail.

Young people view nuclear weapons “through a completely different lens” in comparison to other generations because many were born after the Cold War, Bell said. The conferences give emerging leaders an opportunity to discuss nuclear policies that will fit in a more interconnected world, she said.

Making Disarmament ‘Relatable’

Participants at the conference said they benefited from the experience. For Brenna Gautam, a senior at the University of Notre Dame who attended the conference while working as an intern in Washington, the gathering presented “a more relatable image of the issue of disarmament and arms control.” Gautam, a co-founder of her university’s Global Zero chapter, said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that this is important because she feels that nuclear disarmament is “not a very personal issue” for her generation.

Erin Corcoran, a recent college graduate with an interest in the field, said in an Aug. 21 e-mail that, for young professionals to continue making progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, it is important to learn about the gravity of the threat posed by these weapons from “predecessors who lived and worked through the Cold War.”

Officials also say they benefit from the conferences. An Energy Department official said in a July 28 interview that the students and young professionals at Generation Prague have “challenged and broadened his thinking.” He said experts need to be reminded that youth “view the value of nuclear weapons differently” because the weapons do not have the same deterrent value today as they did during the Cold War.

One of the young professionals he mentioned was Kingston Reif, who participated in a 2011 panel and is now the director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Reif said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that he was motivated to participate because nuclear threat reduction is the responsibility not only of previous generations, “but our generation and future generations as well.”

Although the conferences bring in high-level officials such as Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Bell said the State Department has also worked to bring in experts from the “policy trenches” to ensure that the “audience gets an idea of how policy is working from top to bottom.”

Shane Mason said he appreciated the opportunity to meet experts who have been in the field for five to 10 years and support high-level officials. Mason, a research associate at the Stimson Center, said in an Aug. 20 e-mail that these experts provide “practical insights” about finding jobs and developing the necessary skills for the field.

Increasing Participation

Mason said that barriers to careers, particularly at the State Department, “seem pretty insurmountable at times.” Although he acknowledged that budget constraints make hiring difficult, Mason said that young people will not stay in the field if they cannot find jobs.

Bell said a “key driver” for reaching out to young people is demographics, as many experts who “built the arms control and nonproliferation regimes” are reaching retirement age. The State Department “wants to recruit their replacements” and is looking for new ways to hire the next generation of leaders, she said.

Despite the difficulties finding jobs, the number of young people involved in nuclear issues at the global level apparently is growing. Meena Singelee, who has tracked participation by young experts attending conferences that are part of the review process for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said the numbers have “gradually increased” since 2010, due in part to “renewed momentum” on disarmament issues and “new priorities” in areas such as nuclear security.

Singelee, executive director of the International Network Emerging Nuclear Specialists, said there remains a “lack of significant participation by young experts from developing countries,” she said.

The State Department is looking to expand Generation Prague to reach international audiences. Bell noted that the State Department has paired with international partners such as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and representatives from countries including Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Harbaugh said that the State Department sees Generation Prague as “one part of a larger push to engage global youth” and welcomes collaborators.

Moving Forward

Several participants agreed that the conferences could accomplish more. Corcoran said that small-group discussions at future conferences might be useful so that there would be more opportunities to “directly engage” with some of the experts.

Reif suggested that the State Department work with universities on events that bring officials to campuses to “demonstrate that nuclear weapons are not just a problem of the past.”

Gautam agreed and suggested that the State Department work with pre-existing clubs on college campuses that are dedicated to arms control issues. She said a stronger online presence could be helpful in reaching out to students who cannot attend events such as the annual conference in Washington. Streaming the conference live would be a good step, she said.

Harbaugh said that the State Department wants to partner with universities and nongovernmental organizations to “offer more opportunities through the year, in and out of Washington.”

She said plans are already underway for next year’s conference and that organizers hope to make it more “interactive.”

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Questions on Syrian Chemical Arms Persist

This article is an ACT Web Extra. It was posted on July 23, 2014, and does not appear in the print or PDF version of the July/August 2014 Arms Control Today.

Daniel Horner

Efforts to resolve several issues arising from Syria’s chemical weapons program appear to be moving slowly, even as the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons material aboard a U.S. ship in the Mediterranean Sea began this month.

Officials from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and some of its key member states have highlighted the need for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons production facilities and resolve questions about its declaration of its arsenal last year.

For months, Robert Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, has been castigating Syria for its failure to destroy its 12 remaining former chemical weapons production facilities. Destruction of such facilities is a required step under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Syria joined last fall. Under a timetable for chemical weapons destruction approved by the OPCW Executive Council last November, that task was to be completed by March 15.

According to statements by Mikulak and others, Syria wants to convert the 12 facilities—seven above-ground hangars and five underground facilities—to other uses rather than destroying them. The CWC allows countries to do so, with the approval of their fellow CWC parties.  

In his statement on the first day of the council’s July 8-11 meeting, Mikulak said the OPCW Technical Secretariat had presented a “compromise proposal” on Syrian facility destruction at a meeting in Moscow in late June attended by officials from Russia, the United States, the OPCW-UN joint mission, and the secretariat. Last September, following the threat of U.S. airstrikes on Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, the United States and Russia, which is a long-standing ally of Syria, crafted a framework agreement for the removal and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal. The OPCW Executive Council and the UN Security Council subsequently endorsed the approach outlined in the agreement.

A May 9 Bloomberg article quoted Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint OPCW-UN mission overseeing the removal of chemical weapons material from Syria, as saying that the production facilities are in a system of tunnels that “are part of a whole complex network of military facilities.” Therefore, she said, “what you destroy, and to what extent you destroy, has [an] impact on the rest of the military installation—which [the Syrians] don’t have to destroy.”

Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent chemical weapons expert, has described the five underground structures as having the shape of a staple. In these structures, one of the “arms” is the production facility, with the rest of each structure having been declared by Syria as a chemical weapons storage facility, Zanders said in a May 26 posting on his blog The Trench. He noted that the CWC requires parties to declare but not necessarily destroy chemical weapons storage facilities. In the Syrian case, however, the United States and other Western countries have “argued that the storage areas form an integral part of the production site, and that therefore Syria’s circumscription of the [production facilities] is incomplete,” Zanders said.

A June 7 OPCW press release said Syria had “agreed to the methodology for destroying [the] hangars” but that “further work is needed regarding the underground structures.”

Russia, Syria, the United States, and other CWC parties, which have been discussing destruction procedures since last December, recognize that trying to preserve certain portions of these buried facilities could incur costs “well into the millions of dollars,” Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability with Green Cross International, said in a July 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today. It is not clear who would cover those costs, said Walker, who is a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee.

In his July 8 remarks, Mikulak said the proposed compromise “would involve acceptance by all parties of revised tunnel perimeters and would also entail more effective monitoring measures.”

In a recent e-mail exchange with Arms Control Today, a Russian official said Mikulak’s reference to revised tunnel perimeters deals with the Syrian argument to the OPCW that only the parts of the facilities that were used or designed to be used for producing chemical weapons should be considered as production facilities and therefore subject to the CWC requirement for destruction, with the other parts allowed to remain intact as long as they are used for purposes that the CWC does not ban. Although this “caused [an] uproar in certain circles,” the revised perimeters are part of the compromise proposal, the Russian official said.

With regard to the more effective monitoring measures cited in Mikulak’s statement, the Russian official noted that the CWC’s annex on verification says that once the OPCW has confirmed that a party has destroyed its production facilities, the organization “shall terminate the systematic verification of the chemical weapons production facility.” Nevertheless, as part of the compromise, Syria “voluntarily accepted certain confidence building measures relating to the destruction of its [production facilities], in addition to verification measures specified in the CWC,” the official said.

The official emphasized that the Syrian production facilities now are “empty shells” because the relevant equipment has been destroyed.

Walker, who is a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, said that the OPCW has conducted occasional on-site inspections of production facilities that were converted to other uses.

In his July 8 statement to the OPCW Executive Council, Mikulak said the current proposal “requires serious compromises and is not entirely in keeping with the extraordinary decision [the Executive] Council took in September.” Nevertheless, he said, “the United States is prepared to support that compromise solution in the interests of reaching a Council decision this week, as long as Syria also accepts it.” If Syria rejects the compromise, “there must be consequences,” he said.

The OPCW did not issue a public statement at the end of the Executive Council meeting, and a U.S. State Department official confirmed in a July 14 e-mail to Arms Control Today that there was “nothing to announce.” The official declined to provide further details on the proposal or on the status of the discussions on it.

The Russian official described the situation as “very fluid,” saying that “[t]he deal may be approved very soon by the [Executive Council], and conversely it may dissipate if one loses touch with reality.”

Doubts About Declaration

The “gaps, discrepancies, and inconsistencies,” as Mikulak put it, in Syria’s declaration of its chemical arsenal are another area that has been cited as a concern. According to a July 4 report to the Executive Council by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, the organization’s secretariat and the Syrian government are “undertaking technical discussions” that are “seeking clarifications with regard to the declaration.”

In his May 26 blog post, Zanders wrote that a key issue is the claim by Damascus that it destroyed approximately 200 metric tons of sulfur mustard in March 2013, about six months before it joined the CWC.

Syria’s declaration of its stockpile included roughly 20 metric tons of sulfur mustard, the only part of the declared stockpile that is in weapons-usable form. Chemical weapons precursors made up the rest.

According to Zanders’ blog post, the Syrians have given details to the OPCW on the March 2013 destruction activities, and the organization’s inspectors have to verify the information in view of the circumstances under which Syria acceded to the CWC.  “Inevitably, the episode has raised concerns among some OPCW members about possible undeclared ‘weaponised’ nerve agents,” he wrote.

In a June 26 e-mail, the Russian official appeared to confirm that the sulfur mustard destruction was at issue, but defended Syria’s actions. “[F]ormally speaking Syria does not have to account for” that destruction because it took place before Damascus became a party to the CWC, he wrote. Nevertheless, “in the interests of transparency and building confidence Damascus may find it appropriate to explain to the [OPCW] Technical Secretariat the circumstances relating to that,” he said. Walker noted that a country’s CWC declaration of its chemical weapons program is supposed to include a history dating back to 1946.

On the broader issue of the need to update the original Syrian declaration, the Russian official said, “Some technical hiccups may be present due to the fact that under the prevailing circumstances Syria simply had not had sufficient time to meticulously prepare its initial declaration. Damascus is cooperating with the OPCW in sorting out this technical stuff and such things should not be blown out of proportion.”

Under the expedited schedule of the OPCW-UN plan, Syria, which is in the fourth year of a civil war, had considerably less time to declare its chemical arsenal than countries normally do when they join the CWC.

At a July 10 conference at the State Department, Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said there were “discrepancies between our knowledge of the Syrian [chemical weapons] program and the declaration submitted by the Syrian government.” Although some of the differences “could be explainable by the speed with which Syria was required to submit its declaration, compared to the years that most countries take to prepare their own CWC submissions,” there are “other, less benign explanations,” she said. “Our concerns include accountancy of materials, undeclared agents and munitions, undeclared sites, and programmatic inconsistencies.”

Claims of Chlorine Attacks

The OPCW also is investigating allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria earlier this year. The alleged attacks were “mainly…in a number of provinces that the Syrian Government does not consider to be under its effective control,” according to a June 16 summary report by the OPCW team that is investigating the claims. The Syrian government and the rebels fighting to topple it have charged each other with launching chemical attacks.

The OPCW traveled in late May to Kafr Zita, the Syrian town “that seemed most affected by incidents of use of chlorine and that was most likely to yield evidence that was fresh from the most recent reported attacks,” the report said. But the team’s convoy had to turn back after it came under attack. (See ACT, June 2014.) The report did not say who was responsible for the attacks.

The team’s “considered view” is that the available information “lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used in a systematic manner in a number of attacks,” the report said.

“[F]ield visits are not envisaged for the immediate future,” but “remain an option,” the report said.

Destruction Proceeds

After the last of Syria’s chemical weapons material was removed from the country June 23, an international convoy brought the highest priority material—the sulfur mustard and DF, a sarin precursor—to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where the material was transferred to a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray on July 2. The Cape Ray then moved to international waters in the Mediterranean Sea and began neutralizing the chemicals July 7, using two mobile hydrolysis units it is carrying.

The Cape Ray has taken on about 600 metric tons of Syrian chemicals, according to the Defense Department. That figure is slightly higher than the 560 metric tons that the Pentagon and the OPCW had previously announced. In an e-mail exchange with Arms Control Today, a Defense Department official said the earlier figure was “an estimate [the Defense Department] was using for planning purposes.” The figure of 600 metric tons is a “more accurate and operational figure” that came from documenting the material as it was removed from Syria and loaded onto the Cape Ray, the official said.

In the e-mail exchange, the official said that if there is an accident during the neutralization process on the Cape Ray, the United States “intends to take responsibility for meritorious claims for damages that result from its negligent acts in accordance with its laws and regulations." The official cited a December 2013 OPCW Executive Council document that says the liability of countries assisting in the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons would be “determined according to the circumstances, to the extent of their respective roles, and in light of the purposes” of the relevant UN Security Council and OPCW Executive Council actions.

The official emphasized the safety of the neutralization process, saying that it is “conducted with the utmost attention to personnel and environmental safety” and that “[n]othing from this process will be released into the air or marine environment.”

According to the Defense Department, about 88 of the 582 metric tons of the DF on the Cape Ray had been neutralized as of July 18.

Other chemical weapons material and the effluent resulting from the neutralization aboard the Cape Ray are being processed in facilities in Europe and the United States. Syria, which declared about 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons material, destroyed about 120 metric tons domestically.

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A Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement with Iran at a Glance

July 14, 2014

Press Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, (202) 463-8270 x102

July 14, 2014

A comprehensive nuclear agreement that verifiably limits Iran's nuclear program is in the best interest of U.S. and international security. An effective agreement will constrain Iran's nuclear program and establish an intrusive inspections regime to ensure that Iran's program remains heavily monitored and exclusively peaceful.

Goals of an Agreement

For the United States and its negotiating partners, an effective comprehensive agreement should:

  • establish verifiable limits on Iran's program that, taken together, increase the time it would take for Iran to produce weapons-usable nuclear material and build nuclear weapons;
  • increase the ability of the international community to promptly detect and effectively disrupt any attempt to deviate from the agreed upon limits and to detect any secret nuclear sites; and
  • decrease Iran's incentives to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.

Evaluating an Agreement

An agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran's nuclear capacity and improving monitoring and verification. Some of these measures will be time-limited. Others, including some of the monitoring and verification measures, will be permanent.

A comprehensive nuclear deal should:

  • constrain Iran's uranium enrichment capacity by limiting its centrifuge capacity, its stockpile of enriched uranium, and monitoring its centrifuge production facilities;
  • modify the planned heavy-water reactor at Arak so it produces less weapons-usable plutonium;
  • put in place intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms, including measures that will allow the international community to visit all Iranian nuclear sites with no notice, so that any attempt to deviate from the agreement will be quickly detected; and
  • grant Iran phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions.

The Alternative to a Deal

An effective deal that limits Iran's nuclear program is better than no deal.

Policymakers must consider that without a comprehensive diplomatic solution Iran's nuclear program will be unlimited and inspections and access to nuclear sites will decrease. The willingness of international allies to help implement sanctions also could erode. A comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran is within reach and Congressional support for a deal--whether it is secured July 20 or sometime after--is vital to its success.

For further information and analysis, see our report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: Toward a Realistic and Effective Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement." For updates on the negotiations, sign up for ACA's P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Talks Alert

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Assessing a Nuclear Deal With Iran

This month, top diplomats from Iran and the P5+1 have a historic opportunity to seal a long-sought, long-term comprehensive deal that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran and helps avoid a future military confrontation over its nuclear program.

Daryl G. Kimball

This month, top diplomats from Iran and six world powers have a historic opportunity to seal a long-sought, long-term comprehensive deal that guards against a nuclear-armed Iran and helps avoid a future military confrontation over its nuclear program.

The negotiation is one of the most important and complex nuclear negotiations in recent decades. Nevertheless, for the United States and the other members of the six-country group (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), which is known as the P5+1, the goals are straightforward:

  • Establish verifiable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment and plutonium-production capacity that substantially increase the time it would take for Iran to break out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and try to build nuclear weapons.
  • Increase the international community’s ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons, including at potential undeclared sites.
  • Decrease Iran’s incentives to enhance its nuclear capacity through nuclear fuel-supply guarantees and phased sanctions relief.

Such an agreement, on balance, would significantly improve U.S. and international security.

Negotiators have made progress in some areas, but gaps remain on key issues. Most importantly, they must still find a formula that would reduce Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium sufficiently to guard against an effort to develop nuclear weapons quickly while providing options for fueling Iran’s peaceful nuclear research and power reactors in the future.

Although the two sides are still talking tough, they can and must find win-win solutions. As explained in the pages of Arms Control Today and in the new Arms Control Association report, “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle,” there is a range of creative, practical options.

Neither side can achieve everything it wants, but with creativity and compromise, each side can advance its core security and political interests.

Even if a nuclear agreement is concluded by the July 20 target date, the drama will not be over. There must be sufficient domestic support in Iran and in the United States to sustain implementation in the years ahead.

Inevitably, some will complain that the nuclear deal does not address human rights concerns, eliminate Iran’s ballistic missile program, or put an end to Iranian support for terrorism. No, it will not, but that is not the goal of these negotiations.

Some may say the deal falls short of their expectations for limiting Iran’s nuclear potential in one area or another. Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving capabilities to detect any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program.

Some will argue that, with additional, tougher sanctions, Iran could be coerced to limit its nuclear program even further. Such thinking is naïve and dangerous. Although the nuclear talks may be extended beyond the July 20 target date to resolve remaining issues, efforts to coerce Iranian leaders to make further concessions will likely backfire.

In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with a comprehensive nuclear agreement than without one. They must consider the results of failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement:

  • There would be no constraints on Iran’s enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles to try to build nuclear weapons, such an effort would likely increase the possibility over time of a military confrontation. Yet, even Israeli leaders know that military strikes are not a solution. Such an attack would only delay, not destroy, Iran’s nuclear program and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict that could push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons. Israel would be far less secure.

Some say that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” But it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is within reach. Those who seek to block an effective agreement have a responsibility to present a viable alternative or take responsibility for its rejection.


The May 2014 news article “Syria Misses Chemical Removal Deadline” misstated the date of a comment by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. It was April 28.

Getting to Know Tun Channareth

The anti-landmine campaigner describes how he became an activist and reflects on his work.

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

In 1982, Tun Channareth was a young soldier serving as a sentry for the Vietnamese army, which was fighting Khmer Rouge forces in his native Cambodia, when he stepped on a Russian-made landmine. It blew off both his legs. Fifteen years later, in December 1997, Channareth accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Today, he runs a workshop that builds wheelchairs and works as a traveling ambassador for the organization. Fifteen years after the Mine Ban Treaty’s entry into force, Reth, as he is known to all, is one of the world’s best-known campaigners against landmines.

Arms Control Today caught up with him by phone April 3 at his home in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The interview, conducted by Jefferson Morley, has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get involved in the landmine campaign?

In 1982, I lost both my legs when I stepped on a landmine along the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Afterwards, I just wanted to die. One day, a doctor came close to me to give advice. He told me I had to build a new life…. I didn’t want to listen at all. In 1985, I had my second child. One night she said, “Daddy, please give me money to buy something to eat. All the people in the neighborhood village, they have family. Their parents give them money everyday.” Her speech made me cry. So I started to look for a way to make money. I went to [the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees], and I trained there. I started cleaning and repairing typewriters. I learned welding. In 1993, I started making wheelchairs. I began working with Sister Denise Coghlan at the Jesuit Service Cambodia, and she encouraged me to travel abroad, to speak to people about the damage that landmines had done to me. So I told them about all the other people in Cambodia who are like me, whose lives are affected by landmines.

When did you know that this kind of work was what you wanted to do with your life?

It was around 1996, I think. I had two jobs. One, I was still working with the people with disabilities in Cambodia. I thought all the time about their lives, how to help them to get better. I also worked at the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. When they received the Nobel Prize, I started to understand that this job is very important.

When you were a young man, did you ever think you would travel around the world?

Never. Never. Never.

What is the best part of this work for you?

Working with the people with disabilities. I’d like to ask every donor to please help. They are still hungry. They still suffer. I want to help them get better…. They need help. They need clean water. They need toilets. They need education. They need health care centers because their health care center is so far from them.

Do you think your work is having an impact?

I do. In 1993, there were 10 million anti-personnel landmines in the ground [in Cambodia]. Today, things are much better because of the treaty. We still have 4 million in the ground along the Cambodia-Thailand border, the Vietnam border, and so on. They can remove them soon if they have funds. I think they could finish in four years, in five years; [it] depends on the funds.

What do you tell a young person who wants to do this kind of work?

One, I need them to ban the landmines from Iraq. Two, push their government if they don’t sign the treaty. Push them to join the treaties to ban landmines and cluster munitions.

Are you happy now?

I’m really happy. The Cambodian people are always giving. I am smiling at everyone. My life really changed.

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Russian-U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction Beyond Nunn-Lugar and Ukraine

The new framework for Russian-U.S. threat reduction activities could provide a foundation for continuing and expanding related efforts, especially programs to reduce proliferation dangers in other countries.

Richard Weitz

The crisis in Ukraine probably has ruined prospects for another formal Russian-U.S. arms control agreement during the Obama administration’s second term. Even before the crisis over Crimea, Russian and U.S. negotiators differed sharply on their preferred outcomes for reducing their strategic nuclear forces further, eliminating or consolidating nonstrategic nuclear weapons in Europe, constraining national and theater strategic defenses, or renewing conventional arms limitations in Europe.

For countering nuclear weapons proliferation to states and to nonstate actors, the prospects are somewhat better, given mutual Russian and U.S. concerns in that area. The two countries continue to cooperate to constrain the nuclear weapons potential of Iran and North Korea, although even their combined influence in Tehran and Pyongyang is small. Given the historically pre-eminent roles of Russia and the United States in supplying global nuclear materials and technologies and their large stockpiles of nuclear materials and weapons, their nonproliferation collaboration is perhaps even more important for denying terrorists access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), especially nuclear weapons.

Even after Moscow’s illegal actions in Ukraine, joint efforts to counter WMD proliferation continue. Russia and the United States are cooperating to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities, recently signed the protocol to the treaty that established a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia, collaborated at the nuclear security summit in The Hague this March, and are leading international efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. This type of Russian-U.S. cooperation in spite of tensions is not new. For example, bilateral nonproliferation cooperation continued largely uninterrupted after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war led to the suspension of many other Russian-U.S. security programs.

Russian-U.S. efforts to counter WMD proliferation have changed form and focus over the past two decades. This transformation will need to continue. Last year, Russia and the United States declined to renew their Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) umbrella agreement, which provided a legal foundation for negotiating specific joint projects for eliminating or reducing WMD-related threats in Russia. Combined with bilateral tensions over Ukraine and other issues, the new post-CTR arrangement poses challenges. For example, it remains unclear whether the Russian government will prove willing and able to maintain all U.S.-funded security upgrades at Russian WMD sites. In addition, the inclination of the U.S. Congress to send money to Russia clearly has waned.

Yet, limited Russian-U.S. threat reduction collaboration should still yield net nonproliferation benefits to both parties. Moscow would need to refrain from further aggression and show a greater willingness to cooperate with Washington. Even under these conditions, future Russian-U.S. nonproliferation cooperation will likely involve a smaller number of projects with shorter timelines, a narrower focus, reduced U.S. funding, and more congressional waiver requirements. Yet, Russian-U.S. efforts of whatever scope can help manage WMD challenges that have become more complex and more global.

Building on Fundamentals

In November 1991, Congress passed the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act, which was drafted by Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). The great insight of the Nunn-Lugar approach is that countries can enhance their mutual security by cooperating to eliminate mutual WMD threats.

The legislation aimed to address the collective global danger that the large WMD arsenals inherited by the former Soviet republics could become more vulnerable to accidental or unauthorized use with the demise of the Soviet Union’s strict WMD command-and-control complexes.[1] The CTR process has primarily supported joint projects to eliminate, reduce, or store more securely nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union as well as materials, components, technologies, sensitive information, and delivery systems for these weapons.

The CTR process has been one of the most successful examples of peacetime security collaboration between major military powers, let alone former global adversaries. Among their many achievements, the CTR programs helped eliminate all nuclear weapons and strategic delivery systems inherited by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, as well as many of the former Soviet systems in Russia, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They have strengthened the security and safety of Russian and other former Soviet nonconventional weapons and related material during storage and transportation. In addition, the CTR process has consolidated and improved monitoring of WMD agents, impeded the trafficking of nonconventional weapons and their components, and kept former Soviet weapons scientists off the streets of Tehran and Pyongyang. Furthermore, Russia and the United States have collaborated to return to Russia the spent highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel produced in Soviet-provided reactors and have supported programs to convert such reactors from using HEU to using low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is less proliferation prone.

The Transformation

Two decades after the CTR program’s launch, even its founders recognized that when the CTR umbrella agreement expired, the process needed a major overhaul, given the changing conditions in Russia and elsewhere.[2] Thanks to the CTR program, most of Russia’s Soviet-era WMD assets have been eliminated or made more secure. In addition, the Russian government has increased its own capacity to control and defend these assets, due in part to a remarkable economic recovery since the late 1990s. This recovery, however, has reinforced the nationalist inclinations of Russia’s current political leaders to end foreign-funded programs in Russia because of objections to an outdated donor-recipient model that grates on Russian nationalists. Meanwhile, the U.S. budget situation has worsened, requiring the United States to reassess its threat reduction priorities.

The impact of these new conditions became clear in the fall of 2012, when Russia informed the United States that, unlike in 1999 and 2006, Moscow would not renew the CTR program’s umbrella agreement. This document provides the legal foundation required for various Russian and U.S. agencies to negotiate specific CTR projects in Russia. The agencies then hire various contractors to implement these projects. The Russians stated that the current CTR framework was “not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built.”[3] Months of behind-the-scenes discussions followed, during which many projects were delayed or halted as program managers awaited the results.[4]

On June 14, 2013, immediately prior to the expiration of the 2006 accord, Moscow and Washington signed a new bilateral protocol that placed U.S. CTR projects in Russia within the 2003 Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR).[5] The MNEPR has facilitated cooperation between Russia and other countries, primarily EU members, on radioactive waste management, spent nuclear fuel security, and reactor safety in Russia.[6] The U.S. Department of State said that Russian-U.S. projects under the new MNEPR protocol might include improving nuclear and radiological material security and customs control, consolidating nuclear materials, converting excess HEU into LEU and research reactors to operate with LEU instead of HEU, and completing dismantlement of decommissioned Soviet nuclear-powered submarines.[7]

Over the last year, CTR projects have been legally executed under the provisions of the MNEPR protocol and the specific implementation agreements negotiated between the various Russian and U.S. government agencies. Some of the latter agreements are still being drafted, resulting in further delays in some projects, especially those of the Russian State Corporation for Atomic Energy (Rosatom).[8] In December 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy and Rosatom agreed to broaden cooperation between U.S. and Russian nuclear research laboratories and renew the program to return to Russia the spent research reactor fuel that came from Russian-origin HEU. (A similar program returns U.S.-provided HEU to the United States.) They also signed memorandums under the MNEPR “to support bilateral cooperation in nuclear and radiological material security, reactor conversion, combating the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radiological material, and other areas.”[9] Before the crisis in Ukraine, U.S. officials believed that the new CTR arrangement could provide a legal basis for extensive Russian-U.S. nuclear cooperation, and they were considering launching new projects toward this end.[10] Since the annexation of Crimea, no new bilateral CTR initiatives have been launched.

The arrangement signed last summer is narrower than the Nunn-Lugar version in terms of permitting U.S. CTR activities in Russia. Under its terms, the United States can continue some existing work related to nuclear security, such as securing and eliminating radiological sources and spent reactor fuel, converting nuclear reactors to use LEU rather than HEU, and enhancing customs and border security against nuclear trafficking, but the Russian Ministry of Defense will now assume exclusive financial and other responsibility for carrying out previously joint efforts to dismantle or secure its remaining Soviet-era strategic missiles and bombers. In addition, the new arrangement does not authorize U.S. involvement in projects to secure or eliminate Russia’s former Soviet chemical and biological weapons complexes. Continuing the recent trend of decreasing the presence of the Defense and State departments inside Russia, now reinforced by the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. Energy Department, in partnership with the Russian Ministry of Energy, will likely lead most future CTR-related projects in Russia, with a reduced presence on the ground of U.S. government personnel and contractors to execute the projects. These changes have aroused concern in some arms control circles that the new Russian-U.S. CTR agreement has been “watered down to the point of being nearly unrecognizable.”[11]

In practice, the changes are less radical than they seem. Most of Russia’s former Soviet strategic forces have been eliminated while its nuclear arsenal is shifting to a post-Soviet force of Russian-made weapons. U.S. Defense Department personnel continue to inspect Russian nuclear forces in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and other bilateral and multilateral arms control treaties.[12] Russia’s progress in chemical weapons demilitarization, like that of the United States, continues to lag far behind initial plans, but Russia now has eliminated almost three-fourths of its declared Soviet stocks. In earlier years, the CTR process played a significant role in focusing Russian-U.S. attention on the dangers of WMD proliferation and terrorism.[13] Now, however, mechanisms such as the nuclear security summits, UN Security Council activities under Resolution 1540, and public awareness projects run by various nongovernmental organizations such as the Nuclear Threat Initiative sustain this focus.

The exclusion of Russian biological weapons from future CTR-like programs would be a more grievous blow but for the little progress in this area due to severe Russian government limitations on U.S. access to former Soviet biological weapons sites. The Russian government may be conducting sensitive biological weapons research at these locations, at least for defensive purposes, that it does not want to advertise. Russian sensitivity regarding biological weapons has been evident in recurring allegations that the United States has been collaborating with Georgia under the CTR framework to construct a biological weapons facility in Tbilisi.[14] For now, the international nongovernmental community has greater potential for promoting Russian-U.S. dialogue and collaboration in furthering Russia’s domestic biological disarmament processes, given the absence of a legal foundation for bilateral government projects in this area.

Meanwhile, the new CTR approach addresses several issues, such as liability, access, and other asymmetries, that had been a matter of concern for Moscow throughout the program. Under previous CTR framework agreements, the Russian government assumed all responsibility for possible accidents involving U.S.-funded projects, even if non-Russian personnel were responsible. That is no longer the case. Furthermore, Russian worries that Washington will acquire its military secrets or proprietary civilian technologies through CTR exchanges should decline. Unlike their bilateral arms control agreements, the CTR framework did not give Russian personnel the same access to U.S. WMD elimination programs and facilities as U.S. personnel had in Russia because the Russian government did not pay for the U.S.-based activities. Under the Putin presidency, Russian officials have become more vocal in rejecting what they characterize as unequal practices forced on Russia when it was weak. This new nationalism was manifested in the September 2012 expulsion of the U.S. Agency for International Development from Russia, the subsequent shake-up in Russia’s state-controlled media, the display of Russian pride at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and most recently the annexation of Crimea. The new nationalism will likely remain an impediment to U.S. threat reduction activities inside Russia, but not necessarily for joint projects in other countries.

Challenges and Opportunities

Even before the end of the Nunn-Lugar program, the U.S. Congress had been reducing funding for threat reduction projects involving Russia while increasing those for projects involving other countries. In addition, lawmakers directed that the Russian government assume more responsibility for funding and administering U.S.-provided nuclear security upgrades. To advance this transition while maintaining CTR sustainability, U.S. program managers have been trying to enhance Russia’s capacity to manage these projects with reduced U.S. funding and on-site support. For example, they have been encouraging the use of Russian-made technologies, training Russians to administer more project elements, and urging Russians to raise their nuclear security standards. Despite these efforts, it remains unclear whether the Russian government will prove willing and able to maintain security upgrades at Russian WMD sites that previously were sustained by U.S. and other foreign financing.

In theory, the Russian government’s assumption of greater responsibility for securing and eliminating its WMD assets is appropriate because Russia’s WMD holdings have become more secure, Russia has more funds available to support the projects, and Russian politicians have become more nationalistic and less willing to constrain their behavior in return for Western aid. In practice, doubts remain that Russian partners will fully compensate for reduced U.S. funding and other support. Russian officials insist that Moscow now possesses the resources and capabilities to ensure the security of its WMD assets. Yet, the main concern is that Russian officials will treat the enterprise as a lower priority than their U.S. counterparts, resulting in funding shortfalls, a more lax nuclear security culture, inadequate training or regulations, and other security vulnerabilities.[15] Ensuring a successful nationalization of the CTR programs inside Russia and addressing these remaining vulnerabilities will be an important goal for the international community in coming years.[16]

This transition primarily involves the “first line of defense” projects in Russia. Under its Material Protection, Control, and Accounting program, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has upgraded the security at almost all Russian nuclear research, storage, and manufacturing facilities. In contrast, neither the demise of the Nunn-Lugar program nor the crisis in Ukraine will affect the “second line of defense” projects established around Russia to prevent illegal trafficking in Russian WMD materials by enhancing the security of borders and maritime shipping routes. The United States has negotiated separate arrangements with each country hosting these projects.

By relying more on Russian contractors to execute threat reduction projects, the new post-CTR framework could increase the support and the capacity of the Russian private sector to engage in Russian-U.S. threat reduction activities in Russia and elsewhere.[17] The extensive use of non-Russian contractors at CTR sites had reinforced Russian perceptions that they had received few financial benefits from the Nunn-Lugar program. If the Russian government now funds Russian contractors to do threat reduction work, the economic benefits to Russians might become more perceptible, and Russian firms’ capabilities to engage in threat reduction projects will be enhanced.

Even with the new CTR arrangement, Moscow and Washington can keep repatriating vulnerable HEU stocks to Russia or the United States, converting research reactors from HEU use to LEU use, and enhancing the capacity of new partners and regions to interdict WMD-related items in transit, perhaps through their joint membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative. Russia helpfully continues to require its partners to return any Russian-provided reactor fuel to Russia.[18]

In addition, the new post-CTR framework could provide a foundation for continuing and expanding other joint Russian-U.S. threat reduction activities, especially efforts to reduce proliferation dangers in other countries. Such cooperation would build on the recent extension of the U.S. threat reduction projects to dozens of additional countries.[19] Although Russian and U.S. officials sometimes disagree on how best to prevent third countries from pursuing WMD development, they concur on the general need to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to states and to nonstate actors.

The annexation of Crimea has depressed U.S. congressional support for more financial assistance to Russia, but any funding reduction could, at least in theory, make more resources available for addressing other nonproliferation priorities and regions. In some cases, the diverging security relations, capabilities, and approaches of Russia and the United States could make it easier for them to complement as well as supplement each other’s nonproliferation work.[20] For example, Beijing would probably more easily accept Russian rather than U.S. involvement in projects enhancing nuclear materials security in Vietnam. Russians can engage Iran and North Korea in discussions of nuclear materials security issues more easily than Western countries can. Conversely, Washington can promote nuclear materials security and other nonproliferation programs more effectively than Russia can in Israel, Georgia, Ukraine, and some eastern European countries suspicious of Moscow’s motives. Depending on their relations with Russia or the United States, some governments will feel more comfortable dealing with Moscow or Washington, allowing for a beneficial division of labor.

In cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other partners, Russia and the United States should remain open to conducting further emergency efforts to secure vulnerable WMD materials. Their past collaboration in removing HEU from Serbia, Kazakhstan, and other countries has been very productive. If successful, their current cooperation in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons could encourage renewed efforts to eliminate other WMD threats in the Middle East, perhaps beginning with a campaign to secure Egypt’s and Israel’s full membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention as a possible step toward a chemical-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

The Syrian case demonstrates the value of having readily available capabilities to secure and eliminate previously inaccessible WMD assets. Syria presented a sudden WMD elimination opportunity that the United States successfully exploited in partnership with Russia. Although Moscow was acting to protect its Syrian client, Russian mediation was essential for securing the chemical weapons destruction agreement between Damascus and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, backed by the UN Security Council. Similar opportunities might occur with regime changes or national emergencies elsewhere, such as the demise of North Korea’s dysfunctional Communist dynasty or a threatened terrorist seizure of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Russian and U.S. experts see the potential for enhancing their mutual capabilities in nuclear forensics and other tools to counter WMD terrorism.[21]

Toward this end, Russia and the United States can collaborate to identify and develop new technologies and processes to address novel nuclear, chemical and biological threats, which continue to become more global and complex. For diverse reasons, more countries are actively considering pursuing civilian nuclear power programs, which can be misused for making nuclear weapons. New technologies, such as laser enrichment, also pose new proliferation challenges, even as Russia and the United States join with other countries to develop more proliferation-resistant civil nuclear processes. In partnership with the IAEA and through such mechanisms as the newly implemented Russian-U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation agreement and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, Russia and the United States can strengthen the safety and security of civilian nuclear energy technologies. Their joint nonproliferation assistance could encompass the growing number of nuclear security centers of excellence, where they can exchange best practices through national and regional training programs.[22] The chemical and biological industries are also becoming more international and complex, with many new types of dual-use products and technologies, raising the specter of novel WMD terrorism challenges to both countries and their allies.

If the nuclear security summits end in 2016 as planned, Moscow and Washington will need to collaborate to create an effective follow-on structure to ensure that the IAEA and other institutions can carry on important nuclear materials security work in the absence of regular summits of national leaders. Given this contingency, the United States and its allies should reconsider proposals to exclude Russia permanently from the Group of Eight industrialized countries (G-8). For many issues, that institution has lost its elevated status of the 1980s and 1990s, when it was seen as a kind of great-power directorate for managing the world economy. For example, the Group of 20 has assumed many of its economic functions. Yet, the G-8 has retained important nonproliferation functions, including providing critical management support for the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction With the scaling back of the CTR umbrella arrangement, the Global Partnership looks to be the most important multilateral threat reduction framework in coming years.

Opportunities exist for nongovernmental initiatives to help sustain the Russian-U.S. threat reduction partnership. For example, at modest cost, the Nuclear Threat Initiative or other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) could sponsor pairs of Russian and U.S. scientists, drawn from their national laboratories and universities, to conduct joint WMD proliferation training and educational awareness activities in other countries, impressing their audiences with their teamwork despite their national differences. They could help compensate for Russia’s withdrawal from the International Science and Technology Center by helping Russian experts travel to the center’s new home in Astana, Kazakhstan, and conduct joint activities with U.S. and other foreign scientists. These initiatives could help sustain working relationships between Russian and U.S. WMD scientists, which could take years to reconstruct if broken.[23] Private corporations could helpfully support joint Russian-U.S. projects in the emerging domain of nuclear cybersecurity and recommend measures to make nuclear facilities less vulnerable to computer accidents or cyberattacks. It was precisely such NGO initiatives that launched the CTR concept and program three decades ago.[24]

Russian-U.S. tensions regarding Ukraine, Syria, and the end of the original Nunn-Lugar program further reduce windows for bilateral security cooperation. Yet, Russia and the United States can cooperate on issues such as Afghanistan and Iran, and they are doing so. Further collaboration is required to address serious nonproliferation challenges relating to North Korea, nuclear materials security, and management of novel technological and geopolitical developments that will inevitably continue to challenge nonproliferation regimes in coming years.

Richard Weitz is senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute. He would like to thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for supporting his nonproliferation research and various U.S. and Russian experts for providing helpful information without attribution.


1. Paul I. Bernstein and Jason D. Wood, “The Origins of Nunn-Lugar and Cooperative Threat Reduction,” NDU Case Study Series, No. 3 (April 2010), http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/casestudies/CSWMD_CaseStudy-3.pdf.

2. Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Statement From Former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn Regarding New Nunn-Lugar Agreement,” June 17, 2013, http://www.nti.org/newsroom/news/statement-former-us-senator-sam-nunn-regarding-new-nunn-lugar-agreement/.

3. “Russia May Quit Nunn-Lugar Program,” RIA Novosti, October 10, 2012.

4. Daniel Horner, “U.S. Reviewing, Not Halting, Russia Work,” Arms Control Today, May 2014.

5. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “A New Legal Framework for U.S.-Russian Cooperation in Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security,” 2013/0772, June 19, 2013, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/06/210913.htm (hereinafter U.S.-Russian framework fact sheet). For the text of the agreement, see Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Framework Agreement on a Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation,” October 28, 2003, https://www.oecd-nea.org/law/MNEPR-en.pdf.

6. Egil Tronstad and Cristina Chuen, “The Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program in the Russian Federation (MNEPR),” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), June 6, 2003, http://cns.miis.edu/global_partnership/030604.htm.

7. U.S.-Russian framework fact sheet.

8. Matthew Bunn, interview with author, Washington, D.C., June 1, 2014.

9. U.S. Department of Energy, “Joint Statement on Future U.S.-Russia Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation Collaboration Following Russian Delegation Visit to the United States,” December 10, 2013, http://energy.gov/articles/joint-statement-future-us-russia-nuclear-energy-and-nonproliferation-collaboration.

10. U.S. expert, interview with author, Washington, D.C., December 2013.

11. Bellona Foundation, “New Russian-U.S. Agreement on Nunn Lugar Vastly Dilutes Program’s Reach,” June 19, 2013, http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/nuclear-issues-in-ex-soviet-republics/2013-06-new-russian-us-agreement-on-nunn-lugar-vastly-dilutes-programs-reach.

12. Karen DeYoung, “U.S.-Russia Nuclear Nonproliferation Work Continues Amid Rising Tensions Over Ukraine,” The Washington Post, March 21, 2014.

13. Vladimir Orlov and Alexander Cheban, “Life After Death,” Russia in Global Affairs, No. 2 (April/June 2013), http://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/Life-After-Death-16057.

14. “U.S. Lab in Georgia at Center of Storm Over Biological Warfare Claims,” RIA Novosti, October 15, 2013.

15. Tom Z. Collina, “Nunn-Lugar Program’s Future Uncertain,” Arms Control Today, November 2012.

16. Matthew Bunn et al., “Advancing Nuclear Security: Evaluating Progress and Setting New Goals,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, March 18, 2014.

17. Orlov and Cheban, “Life After Death.”

18. “Moscow Agrees to Process Uzbekistan’s Spent Nuclear Fuel,” Global Security Newswire, February 4, 2014.

19. Committee on Strengthening and Expanding the Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Global Security Engagement: A New Model for Cooperative Threat Reduction (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009).

20. Anton Khlopkov and Elena Sokova, ed., “U.S.-Russian Partnership for Advancing a Nuclear Security Agenda,” CNS, Center for Energy and Security Studies, and Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, June 2012, http://www.nti.org/media/pdfs/US-RussianPartnershipNuclearSecurityAgenda-KlopkovSokova-0612.pdf?_=1341594568.

21. Matthew Bunn et al., “Steps to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism,” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, October 2, 2013, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/JTA%20eng%20web2.pdf.

22. Public-Private Task Force on U.S.-Russian Health Cooperation, “A Quiet Force: Health Cooperation in U.S.-Russian Relations,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/quiet_force1.pdf.

23. Siegfried S. Hecker and Peter E. Davis, “Why the U.S. Should Keep Cooperating With Russia on Nuclear Security,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 29, 2014, http://thebulletin.org/why-us-should-keep-cooperating-russia-nuclear-security7207.

24. Ashton B. Carter, “Origins of the Nunn-Lugar Program” (presentation, Presidential Conference on William Jefferson Clinton: The “New Democrat” From Hope, New York, November 11, 2005), http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/hofstra_presidential_conference_presentation_november2005.pdf.

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