“For 50 years, the Arms Control Association has educated citizens around the world to help create broad support for U.S.-led arms control and nonproliferation achievements.”

– President Joe Biden
June 2, 2022
Issue Briefs

Next Stop: The NSG

Daryl G. Kimball

Within months, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will move from the periphery to the center of a year-long debate about whether India should become eligible for full civil nuclear trade even though it does not yet observe the nonproliferation practices expected of other states. The outcome will have a profound impact on the future of the entire nonproliferation system.

The NSG was formed as a direct response to India’s 1974 bomb test, which used plutonium produced by foreign-supplied reactors that were supposed to be operated only for peaceful uses. Although the group’s guidelines are not binding, it has helped curtail the flow of dual-use technologies, materials, and nuclear fuel and reinforced the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NSG debate will provide an opportunity for action by the leaders of states who correctly believe the U.S.-Indian proposal could further erode the nonproliferation system and allow India to expand its nuclear stockpile. When that time comes, possibly as soon as October, they have a responsibility to insist on a better alternative.

In June, two key congressional committees approved bills based on a July 2005 proposal from President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They called for granting India an unprecedented exemption from U.S. laws and NSG guidelines that restrict nuclear trade with states, such as India, that do not allow international safeguards of all nuclear sites. Among the provisions added by Congress, however, is a requirement that the president must win consensus approval from the NSG for nuclear trade with India.

So far, the NSG remains split on whether to grant India a country-specific exemption. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the main proponents, while the majority of other states have unresolved questions and concerns. Meanwhile, China and a handful of other states, including Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden remain opposed to creating a loophole for India without additional disarmament commitments from New Delhi.

One of the concerns of the skeptics is that an India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines would compromise efforts to restrict peaceful nuclear trade only to those states that have joined the NPT and meet global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standards.

The U.S. proposal has already encouraged Russia to ignore NSG guidelines and supply India’s two Tarapur light-water reactors with nuclear fuel. At a later point, China may also seek similar exemptions for Pakistan, one of its allies and nuclear trading partners.

Many concerned NSG members also realize that the proposed separation of India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities and the application of international safeguards to additional civil facilities is more symbol than substance. If India gains access to advanced nuclear equipment, especially uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation-related technology, it could be replicated and used to improve India’s weapons program.

Despite objections from the White House and New Delhi, the Senate legislation includes a partial prohibition on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology. But unless the NSG states also agree to bar such transfers, India could obtain these dual-use technologies from other willing suppliers.

Given that India has not joined the five original nuclear-weapon states in halting the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for bombs, many NSG governments worry that supplying nuclear fuel to India could allow it to devote its limited supply of uranium exclusively to its weapons program. That could lead to further arms competition among China, India, and Pakistan. So far, Congress has failed to require the president to certify that U.S. nuclear trade does not, in any way, assist India’s bomb program.

Unless the NSG requires that India join a multilateral fissile material cutoff regime before getting the full benefits of peaceful nuclear trade, India could increase its annual bomb production rate from about six to ten bombs to several dozen. The NSG should also condition full nuclear trade on the formalization of India’s eight-year-old nuclear test moratorium.

With Congress poised to vote on the committee-approved legislation for renewed U.S. civil nuclear trade with India, Washington, Paris, and London can be expected to press the NSG to take action this year. But there should be no rush to judgment.

Before the United States can deliver nuclear-related goods under the deal, India must first negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. U.S. and Indian negotiators must also resolve at least six major points of contention on a bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation.

The Bush-Singh proposal to make a special exception to the nonproliferation rules and standards for India has the potential to undermine the NSG and the nonproliferation system. For NSG states concerned about the fragility of the nonproliferation system and the adverse impact of the India nuclear deal, this is the time for them to stand up in defense of their security priorities and the future of the nuclear nonproliferation system.



"Completely Nuts"

Daryl G. Kimball

As the international confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program gradually escalates, the Bush administration insists it is seeking a diplomatic solution even as it refuses to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive military strikes against Iran. President George W. Bush himself said last year, "I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table."

One option he certainly should rule out is the use of nuclear weapons. As former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently commented, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran’s nuclear and leadership targets is "completely nuts," for several reasons.

The threat alone reduces the chance Tehran’s leaders will respond positively to multilateral diplomacy designed to persuade them to halt Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and accept more intrusive international inspections. A nuclear or conventional strike on Iran’s nuclear complex would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, enhance popular support for its radical leaders, and provide it with a rationale to pursue nuclear weapons openly. Worse still, it could inflict mass casualties, trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles, and prompt terrorist attacks against U.S. targets abroad and at home. Bush’s foray into Iraq would become even more costly.

Iran has violated its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards, but it says its program is solely for peaceful purposes and that it has a "right" under the NPT to pursue it. Although outsiders cannot be sure if Iran has made a strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons, Tehran could have the capacity to mass-produce bomb-grade nuclear material within several years if it continues to improve and expand its enrichment facilities.

Since August, diplomatic efforts by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have broken down, and Iran has resumed enrichment and stopped certain inspections. European offers of access to foreign sources of nuclear fuel and economic integration could not overcome the prestige Iran now associates with nuclear technology and Tehran’s concern about U.S.-led regime change intentions.

New U.S. diplomatic overtures are less likely to succeed so long as the threat of force, especially nuclear force, is held out as an option. Unfortunately, credible press reports indicate that the U.S. government is refining plans for conventional air strikes against some 400 key nuclear and leadership targets in Iran. These plans include contingencies for nuclear strikes using B61 Mod 11 bombs against Iran’s major underground uranium-enrichment facilities.

The Bush administration is not the first to convey ambiguous nuclear threats against non-nuclear-weapon adversaries. When asked about the possible use of nuclear weapons against a Libyan chemical weapons installation in April 1996, a Clinton administration spokesperson said, "We would not foreclose any options for dealing with that threat."

Yet, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi continued his pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for several years. Only after quiet, direct engagement with U.S. and British officials and offers of normalized trade and diplomatic relations, an end to sanctions, and increased foreign investment did Libya agree in December 2003 to renounce its unconventional weapons. Without a public and direct threat of attack, Gaddafi could claim that he arrived at his decision "voluntarily."

Now, the Bush administration believes that if Tehran’s leaders can be made to believe Bush is willing to attack, even with nuclear weapons, they will soften or reverse their position. Think again. Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he is willing to hold talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear agenda but not with Israel or countries that hold "bombs over our head." His defiance has won him broader support in Iran.

The threat of force also makes it more difficult to win international support for a new package of incentives and disincentives that would give Iran a clear choice between the benefits of nuclear restraint and compliance or international financial and economic strangulation.

U.S. officials have sought a fresh UN Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which could lead either to sanctions or the use of military force if Iran does not comply. With the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in mind, veto-wielding China and Russia want it to rule out the use of force. European officials have said they would not support a military attack.

A new and more comprehensive diplomatic push is needed. In exchange for the indefinite suspension of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and full cooperation with international inspections, the major powers should not only offer Iran guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies and trade benefits, but also normalized diplomatic relations and binding negative security guarantees as well.

Just as Iran should not necessarily exercise its "rights" under the NPT to enrich uranium, which could be used for weapons production, certain U.S. military options should not be considered, let alone pursued.



Iran: Breaking the Cycle of Escalation

Daryl G. Kimball

Since talks between Iran and three leading European states fell apart last August, the impasse over Iran's nuclear program has steadily worsened. Each time Washington and its European partners ratchet up international pressure on Iran to slow its nuclear efforts and provide greater transparency, Tehran has pushed back and accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, which could eventually be used to produce bomb-grade material.

Consequently, the main antagonists are moving further away from the diplomatic solution both say they want. As a result, we may eventually see a military confrontation, a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, or both. If such perilous outcomes are to be averted, Washington and Tehran need to engage in direct talks aimed at a grand bargain that addresses each of their concerns.

Last month, in defiance of a UN Security Council statement calling for an immediate suspension of all enrichment activities, Iran announced that it had produced a small quantity of reactor-grade uranium using a test assembly of centrifuges and said it plans to expand the facility's production capacity for "peaceful" purposes.

In response, the United States is calling for "strong steps" to force Tehran to abandon its uranium-enrichment program. U.S. officials say they want a Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would designate Iran's nuclear program as a threat to international security.

Bush administration officials say they favor a diplomatic solution even as they seek to build support for multilateral sanctions and refuse to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive strikes on Iran's underground nuclear complex. Iran's leaders also say they are ready to hold further talks with the Europeans and Russians but have so far been unwilling to accept European offers of economic incentives and assurances of nuclear fuel supplies. If pressured further, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hinted that Iran might withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Virtually all other states are alarmed by Iran's violation of its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and refusal to exercise restraint. But Security Council members, including veto-wielding China and Russia, are understandably wary of a Chapter VII resolution because it would create a trip wire for sanctions or military strikes against Iran's underground facilities. This is the same formula pursued by the same U.S. administration in preparation for its imprudent 2003 invasion of Iraq. As a consequence, the council is divided on what to do next.

Avoiding a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is a vital objective for many reasons. If Iran develops a full-blown enrichment capacity, let alone nuclear weapons, several other key states, including Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, might feel compelled to follow suit. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability may also embolden radical groups supported by Tehran.

However, Iran has not mastered uranium-enrichment technology and will not likely be able to amass enough fissile material for bombs for several years. There is sufficient time to adopt and pursue a new diplomatic approach that can break the current cycle of crisis escalation.

Avoiding the worst requires that the United States and Iran engage in direct talks on the nuclear question and take the other's security concerns seriously. Iran's leaders need to accept that the only way to establish confidence that their once-secret nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes is to suspend enrichment work for a substantial period and cooperate fully with international inspectors.

U.S. allies must also press the Bush administration to rule out pre-emptive military action as long as Iran does not openly pursue nuclear weapons development or support attacks of any kind on the United States or our allies in the region. Pre-emptive attacks could spark a wider war and incite Iranian-supported terrorism against U.S. interests. Such strikes would only delay Iran's nuclear program and tilt Iranian opinion in favor of building nuclear weapons.

Given the stakes, Western states, along with Russia, must fortify their previous offers of economic trade and integration, as well as legally binding nuclear fuel supply guarantees and a joint nuclear fuel production partnership in Russia. Russia and other states must also hold off further assistance for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr reactor project and Iran's military forces.

As President George H. W. Bush did 15 years ago, leading states should also convene talks on a framework for arms control and stability that aims to curb the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East. The effort should be designed to establish a regional, verifiable ban on the production and acquisition of weapons-usable nuclear material and the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, including both Israel and Iran.

The current Bush-Cheney vision may be too limited to see the value of these steps. But the administration's strategy of incremental coercive diplomacy is not working and may in fact be an exercise designed to fail. Either way, the stakes are too high not to pursue a new and more effective diplomatic strategy.


Another Chance for the Fissile Production Ban

Daryl G. Kimball

Cutting off production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium—has been on the international nonproliferation and arms control agenda for decades. But since the late 1990s, the concept has been relegated to the diplomatic shadows as talks on a global verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) have sputtered due to differences over negotiating priorities. The current impasse is due to U.S. opposition to the negotiation of a verifiable treaty or to discussions on other arms topics at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament.

Now, with its controversial proposal for full civil nuclear assistance to India, the Bush administration has, perhaps inadvertently, put the fissile material cutoff back in the spot light. To jump-start progress on an FMCT and help ensure that civil nuclear trade with India will not aid its weapons program, Congress and the international community must press for concrete action on the fissile production cutoff.

Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush agreed to a plan that would “separate” India’s civil and military nuclear programs and phase-in safeguards on more but far from all of its civil nuclear reactors. Bush then proposed India-specific exemptions to U.S. laws and the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which restrict trade with non-nuclear-weapon states, including India, that do not accept safeguards over all their nuclear facilities.

Singh also agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities. Bush administration officials such as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns acknowledge that “the United States and many of the other nuclear powers do have a moratorium on fissile material production.” On March 23, he told reporters that the administration would “encourage other countries to adopt the same practice.”

In the world of nuclear politics, however, encouragement alone is not enough. Burns and other U.S. negotiators failed to win any tangible commitments from India to limit its fissile material production capacity. Singh proudly declared, “[T]here will be no capping of our strategic program,” and “no constraint has been placed on our right to construct new facilities for strategic purposes.”

Indeed, the plan would allow India to exclude from safeguards all of its military production facilities, plus as many as eight additional power reactors and existing spent nuclear fuel. India’s fast breeder reactors, which are particularly well suited for weapons-grade plutonium production, would be kept off-limits.

As a result, a growing number of congressional members and NSG states believe the administration gave up too much and got few, if any, nonproliferation benefits. They are concerned that the proposal would implicitly endorse, if not indirectly assist the growth of India’s nuclear arsenal. Indeed, foreign nuclear reactor fuel supplies could free up India’s limited uranium reserves for the sole purpose of adding to its arsenal of 50-100 nuclear bombs. Not only would the U.S. proposal undermine the nonproliferation system, but it could also lead Pakistan to increase its fissile production and tempt China to resume fissile production for weapons.

Many policymakers are also asking why there should be a special loophole for a state that has not agreed to halt fissile material production or sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as the international community has called on India to do. Following India’s and Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear blasts, the United States and the rest of the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1172, which urges both states to “stop their nuclear weapons development programmes [and] cease any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

U.S. and Indian diplomats have tried to deflect suggestions that the deal should place limits on India ’s bomb program, noting that India has declared support for U.S. efforts to negotiate an FMCT. This pledge means little given that India understandably prefers a verifiable cutoff treaty, a goal the Bush administration opposes and claims (incorrectly) is unattainable.

Given the current political stalemate in Geneva, talks might only begin if the United States finally agreed to negotiations on an FMCT “without prejudice” to the final outcome on verification and allowed discussions on other weapons issues of concern to China, Russia, and non-nuclear-weapon states. Getting talks started would be useful but insufficient. China, India, Pakistan, and possibly others could produce more material for weapons as negotiators spend years trying to resolve thorny differences over verification and other issues.

To leverage action on an FMCT and begin to address the flawed proposal for nuclear assistance to India, Congress and NSG member states should refuse to relax nuclear trade rules with India until it halts production of fissile material for weapons purposes. At the same time, they should urge others to halt fissile material production pending the conclusion of a verifiable FMCT. If they do not, the proposal for nuclear cooperation with India would constitute a dangerous sellout of core nonproliferation goals and could become the catalyst for an Asian nuclear arms race.


Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle

Daryl G. Kimball

Three years after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had secretly built uranium-enrichment facilities, diplomatic opportunities to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are narrowing fast.

To improve the chances for success, U.S. and European leaders must pursue a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy. They must further reduce Iran’s incentives to enrich uranium and motives to acquire the bomb. They also need to strengthen the IAEA’s authority while maintaining broad international support for greater Iranian restraint and compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

In August 2005, Iran rejected inducements by the European Union to suspend its enrichment program and restarted enrichment-related work. That gave IAEA member states little choice but to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements in September and to report Iran’s file to the UN Security Council last month.

Despite the 27-3 IAEA Board of Governors vote, Iran’s leaders seem more determined than ever to proceed with uranium enrichment, which they say is solely for nuclear reactor fuel production but which can also create bomb-grade fissile material. In recent days, Tehran ended its voluntary cooperation with enhanced IAEA inspections and restarted small-scale enrichment experiments in defiance of IAEA member-state requests not to do so.

In response, the United States and the EU, along with Russia and possibly China, are expected to pursue a strategy in the Security Council of targeted political and economic sanctions. By itself, this will not likely induce Iran to suddenly reverse course, let alone stick with a decision to suspend uranium enrichment.

It offers little gain and high costs, but the pursuit of nuclear technology has become a popular rallying cry for Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s leaders are betting they can avoid meaningful penalties or, as India and Pakistan did, wait for international support for nonproliferation-related sanctions to erode.

Although there is no direct evidence of an illegal nuclear weapons program today, neither has the IAEA been able to determine that Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran requires several more years to master the operation of centrifuge cascades and construct a large-scale plant that can produce highly enriched uranium for bombs. It would also take time to develop a bomb capable of delivery on a missile. But if Iran can master enrichment on research scale, Iran could pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program, especially in the absence of intrusive inspections.

To avoid such an outcome, several steps must now be pursued and others avoided. The EU and Russia should redouble their efforts to provide Iran with a face-saving option to continue uranium-enrichment research and get a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel through the managed use of Russian facilities. This approach would not require Iran to disavow its “right” as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to “peaceful” nuclear pursuits.

At the same time, the international community must demonstrate it will respond to Iran’s defiance by strengthening the IAEA’s authority in Iran and elsewhere. The Security Council could adopt a resolution stipulating that if a state is in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, the agency’s verification authority will automatically expand until questions about possible nuclear weapons activity are resolved. The council could also require a noncompliant state to accept permanent, facility-specific IAEA safeguards. This would legally preclude the state from using equipment, facilities, and nuclear material for weapons purposes if it decides to withdraw from the NPT.

Such measures would not only strengthen the NPT but would ensure that IAEA inspections and reports, rather than potentially politically biased national intelligence assessments, serve as the basis for compliance actions. They would also provide noncompliant states a way to demonstrate they have taken corrective steps and help deter states from frivolously withdrawing from the NPT in the future.

Other tactics, such as punitive economic sanctions against a major oil exporter such as Iran, could divide and immobilize the Security Council or else provoke Iranian countermoves and even lead Iran to withdraw from the NPT. Washington-funded “regime change” initiatives will only harden Iranian resistance. The effect of a pre-emptive strike by Israel or the United States on Iran’s nuclear complex would be temporary, provide a rationale for Iran openly to pursue nuclear weapons, and could trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles.

Rather than rushing toward confrontation with an uncertain outcome, the Bush administration must overcome its historic antipathy toward meaningful engagement with Iran. The people of Iran need to see that nuclear restraint and compliance will put Iran on a path toward peace and prosperity. Too much is at stake not to offer a better U.S.-Iranian political relationship, including a mutual nonaggression pledge, which is essential to changing Iranian perceptions that it should retain a nuclear weapons option.

There is no quick fix. Renewed and more creative diplomacy remains the only practical way to resolve the Iranian nuclear puzzle.


India's Choice, Congress' Responsibility

Daryl G. Kimball

Sometime this year, Congress will be formally asked to allow the resumption of full civil nuclear cooperation with India, which was restricted following New Delhi’s 1974 nuclear bomb test.

If Congress and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) approve the deal, which was unveiled in July 2005, countries could supply nuclear fuel and equipment to India for civil purposes under international safeguards. In exchange, India has claimed it will separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as the five original nuclear-weapon states.

But as more members of Congress are realizing, the purported benefits of the proposal are illusory, and unless they legislate significant changes to the original plan, the damage to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) could be severe.

The existing terms of the proposal would not oblige New Delhi to undertake the same practices as the five original nuclear-weapon states, including signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nor would it commit India to an “early cessation of the arms race” and disarmament, as Article VI of the NPT requires.

Furthermore, the deal could erode overall confidence in the already fragile NPT regime because it might provide India—one of only a handful of NPT holdouts—with the benefits of membership without requiring it to live up to the responsibilities of the treaty’s 183 non-nuclear-weapon states. Such states are eligible for civil nuclear assistance only if they comply with comprehensive, “full scope” safeguards. The NSG agreed in 1992 to limit trade only to states that accept full-scope safeguards, a policy championed by the administration of George H. W. Bush.

But perhaps worst of all, the arrangement could violate one of the most fundamental principles of the global nonproliferation system: Article I of the NPT stipulates that states shall “not in any way” assist the nuclear weapons programs of others. To avoid such an outcome, Congress should insist on permanent, facility-specific safeguards on a mutually agreed and broad list of current and future Indian civilian nuclear facilities. In addition, India must halt the production of fissile material for weapons (as the five original nuclear-weapon states have done) pending a verifiable global production ban.

So far, India has pledged only to accept “voluntary” safeguards over nuclear facilities that it chooses to designate as civilian. That could allow India to withdraw any nuclear facility or nuclear weapons-usable material from international safeguards for national security reasons. Such an arrangement provides no objective guarantee that foreign nuclear technology or spent fuel might not be used for India’s nuclear bomb program.

Such concerns are well founded. India improperly utilized the Canadian-supplied and U.S.-fueled CIRUS reactor to produce the plutonium for its 1974 test and to help increase its fissile stockpile, which is now estimated to be enough for 50 or more nuclear bombs.

In recent statements, senior Bush administration officials have adjusted their pitch, noting that Congress and the NSG will not tolerate the deal unless it is “credible from a nonproliferation perspective.” On Nov. 2, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told a congressional committee that “voluntary” safeguards are not acceptable and they “must be applied in perpetuity.”

That’s a good start. But in the absence of a fissile production cutoff, foreign nuclear fuel supplies could free up India’s existing capacity to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. Indian nuclear hawks such as K. Subrahmanyan openly argue that, in order to expand India’s arsenal, it should “categorize as many reactors as possible as civilian” to facilitate foreign refueling and conserve India’s scarce “native uranium fuel for weapon-grade plutonium production.”

Indian officials and their paid lobbyists insist that the proposal should have nothing to do with India’s strategic program. They say that a fissile production cutoff is not on the table. According to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, “These suggestions are deal-breakers.”

Perhaps they are. But if India is really only interested in a “minimum credible deterrent,” there is no need for additional fissile production. Alternatively, the continued expansion of India’s arsenal would force Pakistan to increase its nuclear and missile arsenal and encourage China to continue modernizing its forces. Rather than facilitating an arms race in Asia, U.S. and Indian policy should be aligned to halt and reverse it.

Some baldly assert that the deal is worth the high costs because it would draw India within the U.S. sphere of influence. Such talk is fanciful given India’s fiercely independent political history and interest in preserving good relations with China, Russia, and even Iran on its own terms.

It is, of course, up to India to choose whether it keeps its nuclear weapons options open or whether it wants to expand its energy output with nuclear technology. But it is the responsibility of the president and Congress not to aid and abet any other state’s nuclear bomb program and unravel the nonproliferation system.


"Getting Serious" About North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

Despite the breakthrough agreement in September on a Joint Statement of Principles outlining a series of action-for-action steps to denuclearize North Korea in a verifiable manner, the main antagonists are again at odds over the substance and sequencing of the deal.

Following an unproductive round of six-party talks last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on North Korea to “get serious” about dismantling its nuclear program. North Korea, however, insists that the United States must act first before it freezes and then dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

Enough already. To break the cycle and test Pyongyang’s seriousness, President George W. Bush should borrow a page from his father’s playbook: unilateral, reciprocal actions that demonstrate the good faith of both sides and improve the likelihood of success.

Fourteen years ago, North Korea and South Korea were at odds over an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. To help break the impasse, the first Bush administration decided in late 1991 to remove U.S. tactical nuclear warheads from the peninsula. On December 31 of that year, the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was signed.

Unfortunately, the rules and methods for verification were left for later, and North Korea resisted calls for international inspections. A year later and after considerable internal debate, officials in the George H. W. Bush administration decided to take a second, bold, but low-cost step: it temporarily suspended the annual “Team Spirit” military exercises with South Korea, prompting North Korea finally to announce it would allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Although the denuclearization agreement and the subsequent 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration ultimately fell apart, it was because leaders on each side failed to follow through on their baseline commitments through concrete action.

Today, following the 2002 disclosures about North Korea’s secret uranium-enrichment efforts and its ejection of inspectors in 2003, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States understand they must hammer out verification arrangements in advance. The task is to ensure that North Korea has frozen its nuclear material production activities, accounted for all of its plutonium, and dismantled any nuclear weapons it may have. Washington is reportedly preparing a list of sites that will be subject to intrusive monitoring, a list that the North will not easily accept.

Bush administration officials are urging North Korea to begin the disarmament process by suspending its plutonium separation operations at Yongbyon. Doing so would give both sides more diplomatic breathing space and restore the valuable plutonium production freeze established by the Agreed Framework.

Bush hard-liners, however, have not allowed U.S. negotiators to bargain with North Korea to achieve this result for fear that they appear to be pursuing Clinton’s past policy. That is counterproductive. Unless it reimposes a freeze, North Korea can continue to produce and perhaps to export nuclear bomb material.

For its part, North Korea has said it wants a light-water nuclear power reactor before it “dismantles its nuclear deterrent” and rejoins the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States has balked, saying it will be willing to discuss the civilian nuclear assistance at “an appropriate time.” That is the right stance for now. No state, whether it is India, Iran, North Korea, or South Korea should have access to such nuclear assistance if it is not in compliance with the NPT and does not allow for comprehensive safeguards.

But the nuclear reactor and sequencing issues should not be allowed to become deal-breakers. The United States and others should recognize that Pyongyang’s demand for reactors represents something more fundamental: the importance of tangible steps on the part of each side to show their good-faith commitment to terms of the Joint Statement.

North Korea is particularly interested in steps that recognize its sovereignty and provide assurances against attack. A North Korean government editorial published Oct. 26 by the state-run news agency urges the United States “to show…a practical action to remove mistrust and hostility between the two sides and create an atmosphere of confidence.”

To overcome present-day hurdles, the United States could announce it will cancel the next round of annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which continue to rile the North Korean regime. If North Korea reciprocates by suspending activities at Yongbyon, the United States might also pledge to withdraw some of its strike aircraft from the region to demonstrate its commitment to its pledge in the Joint Statement that it has no intention to attack or invade the North.

The opportunity for progress through the six-party process may be fleeting. All sides, especially the United States and North Korea, must be willing to undertake the bold and necessary steps to keep the diplomatic process moving, reduce longstanding tension, and prevent the emergence of a ninth nuclear-armed state.


Of Madmen and Nukes

Daryl G. Kimball

Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu told journalists last July that China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the United States if it targets Chinese ships, aircraft, or territory in a confrontation over Taiwan. “We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds…of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese,” he warned.

With Zhu’s suicidal nuclear threats as backdrop, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told his military counterparts in Beijing last month that “advances in China’s strategic strike capacity raise questions” about its intentions. Rumsfeld suggested that “greater clarity would generate more certainty in the region.”

Excellent points, Mr. Secretary. But China, of course, is not the only state to amass nuclear weapons to defend and advance its interests. Although other Chinese officials disavowed Zhu’s remarks, he is not the first to suggest, officially or unofficially, that his government is “mad” enough to use massive nuclear force against conventional attacks.

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, U.S. presidents have developed policies and issued statements intended to make nuclear threats appear credible and create uncertainty about when and where they might be used. As unnerving as China’s estimated arsenal of 100-400 nuclear weapons and Zhu’s remarks may be, Beijing’s official no-first-use policy arguably makes its posture more restrained than that of the United States today.

To deter other nuclear-armed states, particularly Russia, from attacking with their nuclear arms, current U.S. strategy calls for the maintenance of a massive arsenal of approximately 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on high alert through 2012 and beyond. In addition, the United States will still possess some 3,000 additional strategic warheads in storage and several hundred substrategic weapons.

The Pentagon’s March 2005 draft “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” also outlines a wide range of options to deal with non-nuclear scenarios. It would allow for the possible first use of nuclear weapons to help support U.S. forces or allies against conventional attacks, such as a conflict with China over Taiwan, as well as other scenarios, including pre-emptive nuclear strikes on suspected chemical or biological weapons targets in non-nuclear-weapon states.

Given the absence of a hostile, well-armed nuclear adversary, U.S. conventional military dominance, and the possibility that additional states might acquire nuclear weapons, is such a large U.S. arsenal and expansive view of the role of nuclear weapons necessary, justifiable, and sustainable? No.

There is no conceivable circumstance in which the United States would need to use or could justify the use of nuclear weapons to fight or terminate a conventional conflict with a non-nuclear adversary. On several occasions, U.S. presidents from Truman and Eisenhower to Kennedy, Nixon, and George H. W. Bush have considered the limited use of nuclear weapons in tactical situations, but they have always rejected doing so. The calculus should be no different today.

Policies that assert a war-fighting role for nuclear weapons only deepen the risk of proliferation. They undermine existing pledges by nuclear-weapon states that they will not use nuclear arms against countries without them. They give states such as North Korea and Iran a cynical excuse to maintain their nuclear weapons options and send a green light to nuclear rivals India and Pakistan to contemplate their battlefield use.

The lessons of the Cuban missile crisis and other U.S.-Soviet confrontations during the Cold War make clear that even limited nuclear engagement risks escalation and unacceptable annihilation. Nuclear weapons are, therefore, not a realistic war-fighting option in a conventional conflict against a nuclear-armed adversary.

Some nuclear acolytes believe new types of weapons are needed to provide “credible” options against future adversaries and targets, including underground bunkers and chemical or biological threats. Such thinking ignores the reality that employing any nuclear weapon would produce disproportionate and unacceptable collateral destruction and severe political fallout.

A saner nuclear weapons policy is feasible and overdue. As long as the United States and others possess nuclear weapons, their role should be limited to deterring other states from using them. Further, if that is their only function, there is no reason why the United States cannot observe a policy of no-first-use. Nor would there be any need to develop and test new nuclear-weapon capabilities or maintain Cold War-sized arsenals on high alert, a condition that risks accidental or unauthorized launch.

It has been 60 years since the last nuclear bomb was used in war. Perhaps more than any other state, the United States has the most to lose if others not only seek to acquire nuclear weapons but come to view them as legitimate and useful instruments of coercion and war. But if U.S. policymakers expect nuclear restraint from China and other states, they must reconsider and readjust the role of U.S. nuclear forces.


Preventing a Nuclear Katrina

Daryl G. Kimball

Surveying the devastation the day after Hurricane Katrina struck Gulf Coast towns and cities, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) likened the storm force to a nuclear attack. “I can only imagine this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago,” he told reporters. Not quite, Governor.

The blast, fire, and radiation effects of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945 and injured still more. A similar weapon used today against a major city would wreak similar or even more extensive death and damage.

The nation must and will help the greater New Orleans region recover from the worst U.S. natural disaster in decades, but there is no evacuation or post-disaster triage plan sufficient to deal with a terrorist attack with even a “small” nuclear weapon, let alone a conflict between states involving nuclear weapons. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it mildly when he asked, “[I]f we can’t respond faster to an event we saw coming across the Gulf [of Mexico] for days, then why do we think we’re prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?”

The only cure is prevention. Success primarily depends on depriving terrorists access to nuclear bomb material, which they cannot produce on their own. But it only takes about 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or 8 kilograms of plutonium to fashion a nuclear bomb. Worldwide, there are about 1,900 metric tons of HEU and more than 1,800 tons of plutonium in civilian and military stockpiles in dozens of countries. In the absence of U.S. support for a global, verifiable ban on fissile material production for military purposes and a phaseout of production for civilian purposes, the stocks will only grow.

Significant quantities of nuclear weapons-usable material remain all too vulnerable as a result of inadequate security and accounting at hundreds of nuclear facilities, particularly in the former Soviet republics. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented at least 18 cases of theft or smuggling of weapons-usable fissile material since 1993. In July, Georgia disclosed it had thwarted four more attempts to steal HEU over the last two years. Russia also possesses at least 3,000 relatively more portable and less secure tactical nuclear weapons.

Just as essential levee protection and Louisiana coastal wetlands restoration projects were ignored or shortchanged, the president and most members of Congress have also failed to act on many of the recommendations of expert panels on nuclear terrorism. The 2001 bipartisan Baker-Cutler task force report on Department of Energy nonproliferation programs with Russia praised the program’s “impressive results” but warned that diffuse management and budget shortfalls leave an “unacceptable risk of failure” with potentially “catastrophic consequences.”

The panel recommended ramping up funding for nuclear security in Russia to $3 billion annually for 10 years. Nevertheless, critical nuclear threat reduction programs were cut in the fiscal year 2002 budget submission. Congress later restored the funding, and the administration has sought and received substantial contributions from European allies. In the administration’s latest budget request, Energy and Department of Defense programs to secure nuclear material and weapons were approximately $515 million.

Some projects have been accelerated. U.S. officials report they have “secured” 75 percent of Russia’s estimated 600 metric tons of plutonium and HEU and will complete the rest by 2008. Additionally, nearly 50 of Russia’s known nuclear warhead sites now have state-of-the-art security. Still, there may be as many as 100 sites that do not. Clearly, there is more that must be done and quickly.

Congress itself has complicated and slowed the work by requiring the president to certify Russian compliance with arms control agreements before releasing funds for securing and disposing of Russia’s dangerous nuclear and chemical stockpiles. This year, Congress should finally pass legislation to suspend this self-defeating requirement. To overcome lingering distrust, break through disputes about who is liable for accidents, and reaffirm their mutual commitment to the task, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin must corral their own bureaucracies and put nuclear threat reduction at the top of the agenda.

One of their highest priorities should be higher funding and early completion of the Energy Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative. This includes returning U.S. and Russian-origin HEU and spent fuel from vulnerable sites throughout the world and converting the 105 civil research reactors that use HEU fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel. They should also agree to new tactical nuclear weapons transparency and security arrangements and begin to decommission and dismantle obsolete tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe and elsewhere.

As Bush himself said in 2001 about the threat of nuclear terrorism, “History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act.” Mr. President, now is the time to accelerate action on effective measures aimed at preventing the ultimate disaster before it is too late.


U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation: A Reality Check

Daryl G. Kimball

Leaders in Washington and New Delhi claim their July 18 civil nuclear cooperation and nonproliferation deal is a transformational event that will deepen the ties between the two countries and strengthen the effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The agreement is indeed historic, but a sober reading reveals that the nonproliferation benefits are vastly overstated and the damage to the nonproliferation regime is potentially high.

The deal calls for broad civil nuclear cooperation for the first time since India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion, which demonstrated that New Delhi was willing to use “civilian” technology assistance to build nuclear weapons and was determined not to join the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, President George W. Bush will have to convince Congress to make sweeping changes in U.S. nonproliferation laws that restrict the export and licensing of nuclear and dual-use materials and technologies. Bush also will have to persuade the world’s 44 other major nuclear technology suppliers to bend rules forbidding assistance to nonmembers of the NPT unless they accept comprehensive, “full-scope” nuclear safeguards.

This radical new approach, if implemented, would effectively grant India highly sought-after access to sensitive nuclear technology only accorded to states in full compliance with global nonproliferation standards. It would also treat India in much the same way as the five original nuclear-weapon states by exempting it from meaningful international nuclear inspections. It is a virtual endorsement of India’s nuclear weapons status.

What is wrong with that? It would make the job of blocking the spread of nuclear weapons more difficult, if not now, then in the future. Other “responsible” countries have for decades remained true to the original NPT bargain and forsworn nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful nuclear technology under strict and verifiable control. Many of these states made this choice despite strong pressure to spurn the NPT and pursue the nuclear weapons path. They might make a different choice in the future if India is allowed to have their radioactive cake and eat it too.

For his part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities. He agreed to some new nuclear practices, and he reiterated some of India’s modest nuclear restraint commitments. The main selling point is that India would identify its civilian and its military nuclear assets and put the civilian facilities under safeguards and allow tighter inspections under the terms of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

If India were to receive technical assistance for nuclear energy, clearly separating its civilian and military programs is essential to ensure that outside assistance is not directly used to build bombs. But the core purpose of nuclear safeguards and the Model Additional Protocol is to detect and deter the diversion of nuclear weapons material and related technology to the military sector. The application of such safeguards only to the civilian sector would do little or nothing to limit or even monitor India’s production of fissile material for weapons.

If the IAEA negotiates an additional protocol agreement similar to the symbolic ones that apply to the five original nuclear-weapon states, India would be permitted to exclude military-related facilities and even portions of civilian facilities on “national security” grounds. As a result, India might continue to use spent fuel from power generation reactors to acquire plutonium for weapons.

The Bush-Singh agreement also commits India to refrain from transferring sensitive nuclear and missile technology. India deserves credit for these actions, but these are minimal steps that every country with such capabilities should be expected to undertake. At the same time, India continues to engage in a destabilizing missile race with Pakistan.

There are no measures in the July communiqué that would restrain India’s nuclear weapons program. If India wants to become a responsible nuclear-weapon state with a “minimum nuclear deterrent” capability, it must be prepared to stop producing fissile material as the five original nuclear-weapon states claim to have done and actively support the conclusion of a verifiable fissile material production cutoff treaty. It must be prepared to declare at least some of its nuclear material excess to its military programs and place that material under international safeguards. It must also be prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as the original five nuclear-weapon states have done.

Bush’s gambit to radically revise U.S. nonproliferation law and policy demands detailed congressional hearings and revisions. Making far-reaching exceptions to existing international nuclear nonproliferation practices might only be justified if the nonproliferation and disarmament commitments outlined in the Bush-Singh statement significantly strengthened the nonproliferation regime. As of now, they do not.



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