"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
January/February 2015
Edition Date: 
Friday, January 9, 2015
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January/February 2015 Books of Note

January/February 2015

Regional Security Dialogue in the Middle East: Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities
Chen Kane and Egle Murauskaite, eds., Routledge, 2014, 253 pp.

This collection offers a number of intriguing options for establishing a regional process for arms control and regional security dialogue in the Middle East. To assess the options for moving forward on a security process in the region, the authors of the book’s essays draw on the Helsinki Process, which began in 1972 as a forum for NATO and Warsaw Pact countries to discuss several groups of issues in Europe, including security. Some of the essays offer perspectives on specific states’ responses to the Helsinki model on the lessons that can be drawn from past attempts to establish a regional security dialogue in the Middle East. A noteworthy contribution in this group is the chapter by Ehud Eiran, who says that the prospect of regional cooperation on security to jointly address the concerns caused by failing states in the Middle East is a particular incentive for Israel to participate in a regional dialogue process. Although he acknowledges Israeli skepticism about the positive role that such a process could play, he argues that Israel’s isolation gives it a compelling reason to participate in a process that could transform relations among states in the region. In the book’s concluding section, Patricia Lewis and Karim Kamel offer suggestions for concrete steps toward the creation of a regional security process in the Middle East. Lewis and Kamel emphasize the role of building confidence based on mutually advantageous solutions for less-contentious issues and the establishment of “collective terms of reference” to address shared concerns.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Moving Beyond Pretense: Nuclear Power and Nonproliferation
Henry Sokolski, ed., Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2014, 507 pp.

In the introduction to this collection of 16 essays, Henry Sokolski, the book’s editor, frames them as a “counternarrative” to the “upbeat view” that the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation associated with the spread of nuclear energy programs can be safely managed. Current nonproliferation controls must be significantly tightened, says Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. François Heisbourg’s essay revisits the history of past proliferation and argues that “the fight against the spread of nuclear weapons has not been recognized in the past as an overriding policy objective by the international community, jointly or severally.” In another chapter, Richard Cleary, drawing on case studies of Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, and South Korea, sees a “mixed” record in U.S. efforts to dissuade countries from producing enriched uranium and separated plutonium. He argues that the United States has failed to make nonproliferation a consistent priority and that nuclear fuel-cycle decisions by other countries often are influenced by “a range of dynamics beyond U.S. control, such as security concerns, issues of prestige, and commercial and industrial interests.” Pierre Goldschmidt, a former head of the Department of Safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), argues in his contribution that the agency’s safeguards system failed in the cases of Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria because the IAEA “does not have the legal authority it needs to fulfill its mandate” to verify that civilian nuclear programs are not being misused for military purposes and “lacks the necessary cooperation and transparency” from its member states.—KINGSTON REIF

BOOK REVIEW: When Strategic Optimism and Nonproliferation Collide

January/February 2015

Reviewed by Edward P. Levine

The US-India Nuclear Agreement: Diplomacy and Domestic Politics
By Dinshaw Mistry
Cambridge University Press, 2014, 300 pp.

The U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement had its roots in India’s refusal to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state. Neither the United States, by law, nor other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), under its guidelines, were permitted to engage in peaceful nuclear commerce with India. The Clinton administration began high-level negotiations with India after the United States imposed sanctions following India’s 1998 nuclear tests. Complicated preliminary steps led to the two countries’ July 18, 2005, joint statement, in which Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to take a series of actions to underscore India’s commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to seek legislation authorizing full U.S. peaceful nuclear commerce with India and to press for changes in international regimes to permit other countries to do the same.[1]

To the possible surprise of both leaders, implementation of the joint statement required more than three years of legislating in the United States and politicking in India. On the U.S. side, the politics of the deal involved the executive branch, both houses of Congress, nongovernmental organizations, hired lobbyists, and diplomats around the world. On the Indian side, they involved statements to parliament, threats to the reigning coalition, and a very public dispute over whether one of India’s past nuclear tests was a “fizzle.” Today, more than nine years later, much of the expected nuclear trade between the two countries has yet to materialize.

Enter Dinshaw Mistry, an associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and the author of a previous book on the Missile Technology Control Regime. In The US-India Nuclear Agreement: Diplomacy and Domestic Politics, Mistry has undertaken to chronicle the tortuous process by which the joint statement was developed and implemented, with particular attention to the role of domestic politics in India and the United States. He draws on declassified U.S. diplomatic cables; interviews with 40 participants in the process, including this reviewer; a thorough review of the public record, including the many news accounts, opinion pieces, speeches, and written statements that were part of the political process that he recounts; and other experts’ informed analysis of the process. Mistry has performed a singular service to those who follow U.S.-Indian relations or nonproliferation. At last, they have a place to go when they forget who did what to whom in this saga and when.

Readers may find the chapter “Getting to July 2005” especially interesting. Mistry describes the evolution of the nuclear agreement from an eventual goal for President Bill Clinton, if India first undertook major nonproliferation actions, to an immediate objective for which Bush, in his second term, was willing to set aside most nonproliferation concerns. Mistry recounts a process in which a small number of senior policymakers (plus an ambassador and a consultant) overturned existing policy by keeping the bureaucracy out of the discussions and unaware of months of negotiations. This chapter is a case study in the ability of a determined president and his top advisers to move the ship of state in new directions. It also highlights the fact that when one country becomes intensely committed to a particular outcome in a negotiation, it may have to cede to the other country most or possibly all of the other policy points at issue.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (left) and U.S. President George W. Bush walk together after announcing a new policy on U.S.-Indian nuclear relations during a press conference at the White House on July 18, 2005. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)Most U.S. readers will find much to learn in Mistry’s extensive discussion of Indian politics. Few of us who tried to follow events in India during this period were expert enough to know how particular news outlets were perceived politically, how Indian scientists divided on nuclear issues, and how much flexibility there was in the fractious parties that made up Singh’s coalition government, led by the Congress Party, and its opposition. Thus, it was clear that Singh’s statement to the Indian parliament on July 29, 2005, in which he stated that “[o]ur strategic policies and assets…will remain outside the scope of our discussions with any external interlocutors” and that “the Government will not allow any fissile material shortages or any other material limitations on our strategic programmes in order to meet current or future requirements,”[2] served to paint him into a corner and forced the United States to come closer to his position in subsequent negotiations on numerous points. It was less clear to many Americans whether these statements were made because of Indian domestic politics or for the purpose of improving his negotiating position vis-à-vis the United States. Mistry makes a strong case that Singh had no domestic leeway to make further concessions on U.S. nonproliferation concerns.

Mistry’s book generates great sympathy for Singh, the head of a minority government, who was pressed by his nuclear bureaucracy and the rightist parliamentary opposition on the one hand and by his anti-U.S. leftist coalition partners on the other. Singh had little choice but to take a hard line if he wished to maintain the nuclear deal and his government. The book provides a detailed account of not only the political arguments in India, but also the government’s many failed attempts to broaden its base of support for the agreement before it finally persuaded the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) to join its coalition in July 2008. SP support, which enabled Singh to press ahead with India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) despite leftist opposition, occurred for unrelated political reasons: the SP needed the Congress Party’s electoral help in the SP’s home base of Uttar Pradesh.

Despite the SP’s need for this help, the government had to ease the process along by saying that India would continue to have close relations with Iran, a move designed to keep the agreement from offending the SP’s important Shiite Muslim constituency. Thus, the price paid for Indian ability to implement this aspect of the July 2005 joint statement was India’s continued refusal to fully support the United States on a nuclear nonproliferation issue that was substantively and politically significant.

The chapters recounting the U.S. politics of the nuclear deal may prove less interesting to Americans. There are minor errors in the book—an official given an incorrect title here, a confusion between floor amendments and committee amendments there, a voting rule seemingly ascribed to political dealing but more likely the result of standing rules—that may be attributable to the fact that the book was published and printed in India, probably without benefit of an U.S. editor.

More importantly, despite Mistry’s far-reaching efforts, there are limits to his data. He can say how many meetings an ambassador or a group had with U.S. legislators, but he cannot readily determine which, if any, of these changed any minds. The same is true regarding the many press releases, hearing statements, and opinion pieces that the nuclear deal engendered. Occasional interviewees flagged something as influential, but they did not yield much information regarding changes in the frame of mind of important actors as the political process played out.

This reader would have appreciated more discussion of the way in which the 2006 and 2008 bills—the Hyde Act in 2006, which provided a mechanism for approval of a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with India despite the pact’s failure to meet the requirements of section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, and the 2008 legislation that approved that agreement on an expedited basis before Congress adjourned—were shaped in the back rooms of Congress. What did members say to each other in the party caucuses? Was there ever any real doubt that Congress would support the nuclear deal? Was the process really about seeing how far Congress could press to include in the legislation its nonproliferation or anti-Iran policies without incurring blame for scuttling the agreement, or was it more about members’ views of Bush and his willingness to put Congress in a difficult position? Did witnesses at hearings present new ideas that made a difference, or were they invited for the purpose of providing talking points to one member or another, who had already formed his or her views based on information from other sources? Did the committee reports contain any useful insights or statements of intent? Which amendments were proposed with a sincere hope of success, and which were proposed more for making a record of the member’s concerns?

The book is a most welcome account of formal actions, but it rarely penetrates to the informal and personal level. Perhaps this research was undertaken too soon after the events for the participants to tell the story with the candor and detail that one might wish.[3]

Mistry’s analysis is grounded in the theory of two-level games, which emphasizes the complexity of situations in which a negotiator must juggle the need to reach agreement in a formal negotiation—with another country or with another economic actor as in labor-management negotiations—and the need to obtain ratification of that agreement by the negotiator’s own institutions. The latter need is expressed in the formal negotiation by each side’s “win-set,” that subset of the range of possible outcomes for which the negotiator can secure the needed ratification.[4] Mistry discusses the U.S.-Indian negotiations within that construct, but it does not provide much in the way of new insights or clarity, perhaps because political leaders rarely analyze their actions in as complex a manner as mathematical theories would posit. Bush, at least, appears to have gone step by step, focusing now on India, now on Congress, now on the IAEA or the NSG. There is little to suggest that he allowed concerns about congressional reaction to limit his choices.

The Nuclear Deal in Practice

Formal constructs aside, The US-India Nuclear Agreement certainly underscores the alacrity with which the Bush administration changed the ground rules for dealing with India’s nuclear program. What resulted from that bold step? Was a new partnership forged between India and the United States? Were international nonproliferation norms dealt a crippling blow?

It is too early to give firm answers to those questions, although the opening to India certainly has not produced all the benefits that U.S. officials initially promised. Nicholas Burns, a chief negotiator of the nuclear deal as U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, recently criticized President Barack Obama for an India policy that he termed “currently adrift.”[5]

Burns went on, however, to call India “a difficult and sometimes disputatious friend” and “an irresolute supporter of U.S. efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” He added that “Obama would be within his rights to ask [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi to repeal India’s discriminatory nuclear liability law, which scuttled the historic” nuclear deal. Burns could have added that it took India six years to ratify its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and that India has yet to adhere to the Australia Group guidelines regarding exports of chemical and biological materials and technology, despite what U.S. officials thought was an informal assurance of prompt action in 2005.

India reduced its oil purchases from Iran, and the various Iran-to-India gas pipeline projects that were in play a decade ago still are not making significant headway. India’s improved naval cooperation with the United States in recent years is a net plus for nonproliferation efforts, despite India’s refusal in the 2005 negotiations and since then to join the U.S.-sponsored Proliferation Security Initiative.

U.S. arms sales to India were expected to benefit from the nuclear deal, and to some extent, this has happened. India is currently the world’s largest importer of arms and is the largest customer for U.S. arms as well; the United States has sold helicopters, transport planes, and maritime patrol aircraft to India. Yet, India rejected U.S. bids for two major arms sales, of fighter jets and most recently anti-tank missiles. In part, this reflects India’s effort to acquire advanced foreign technology, which the United States is not as willing to share as other countries are.[6] It may also reflect India’s desire not to depend on the United States to the detriment of such traditional suppliers as Russia and Israel.

The record of arms sales since 2005 suggests that the nuclear agreement did not prompt many sales due to gratitude from India. The agreement was more likely seen in India as a U.S. attempt to right a long-standing wrong, surely nothing more and perhaps something less than India deserved.

It is more difficult and likely too soon to say whether improved U.S.-Indian ties as a result of the nuclear deal are making India a bulwark against China. Occasional incidents on India’s border with China remind India that those two countries are competitors for influence in Asia, but India chooses not to make that competition a formal one or part of a U.S.-Chinese conflict. Modi’s recent outreach to Japan suggests that “not made in America” Indian initiatives can serve common U.S. and Indian objectives. The statement released during Modi’s visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a shared interest in maritime security and a decision to “upgrade and strengthen” defense relations. It welcomed Indian-Japanese Coast Guard maritime exercises and trilateral exercises with the United States.

The impact of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal on other countries, especially Pakistan and China, was notable and unfortunate. Pakistan focused on the risk that India would use imported uranium to fuel its safeguarded reactors, freeing up its limited domestic uranium supplies to fuel its unsafeguarded reactors and increase its fissile material production. Pakistan and China then announced plans to build more nuclear reactors in Pakistan, despite previous promises by China to the NSG. China claimed that the new plants were grandfathered by an existing agreement with Pakistan, but other countries and outside experts found that claim difficult to credit. Pakistan also blocked consideration of a fissile material cutoff treaty in the Conference on Disarmament, and Mistry cites a Pakistani suggestion that Islamabad might reconsider its stand if there were a U.S.-Pakistani nuclear deal analogous to the U.S.-Indian one. Whether the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal was a direct cause of the Pakistani and Chinese actions or merely provided a rationalization for them, the developments were detrimental to regional security and the world’s ability to stem nuclear proliferation.

India reportedly may increase its fissile material production in response to Pakistan’s actions, perhaps by using domestic uranium that is freed up by fueling its safeguarded reactors with uranium from Australia, which recently signed its own nuclear cooperation agreement with India. Mistry makes an interesting case, however, that India could increase its fissile material stockpiles without using more domestic uranium.

The U.S.-Indian agreement is not the only factor moving Pakistan and India toward increased nuclear weapons production. Pakistan appears to be reacting to India’s alleged “Cold Start” military strategy for mounting a limited but devastating conventional attack on Pakistan with little or no warning. India may be reacting to Pakistan’s efforts to develop and field tactical nuclear weapons that would be under the control of field commanders.[7] The nuclear elements of the Indian and Pakistani armies are highly professional, and they have taken these steps without engaging in much bellicose rhetoric. Still, these developments could be part of a slow-motion arms race that will leave Pakistan more reliant on and India more attentive to nuclear posturing and war-fighting capabilities. It is difficult to see how this will benefit either country, let alone the United States.

From the standpoint of U.S. policy, this situation underscores the need to help India and Pakistan settle their disputes peacefully, thereby reducing their desire for more nuclear weapons. That is in keeping with the realist school of thought, which has always viewed nonproliferation as a stopgap effort, buying time in which to address the underlying causes of countries’ aspirations to nuclear weapons development. If the United States wants to encourage serious Indian-Pakistani dialogue and confidence-building measures, it might consider that the current Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has more parliamentary support than any in decades.

Modi might have more leeway to make conciliatory gestures toward Pakistan because he heads a Hindu nationalist party that led the government that approved India’s 1998 nuclear tests. In Mistry’s terms, Modi’s win-set when negotiating with Pakistan might be larger than was the case for previous Indian governments. Finding a Pakistani government with broad leeway to be conciliatory toward India will be more of a challenge unless the issue is one on which Pakistan’s military agrees that a peaceful solution is needed or on which India is unusually sympathetic to Pakistani concerns.

Reactions Beyond South Asia

Other countries have noted the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, including Iran and North Korea. The U.S. willingness to give India the benefits that accrue to an NPT signatory, although India has remained outside the treaty and built a nuclear arsenal, sends an interesting message to other nuclear outliers and to the rest of the world. In a way, it is a message of hope, that eventually all states that build nuclear arsenals will find international acceptance and status. Yet, it can be interpreted, fairly or not, as an indication that U.S. nonproliferation efforts are not an expression of sincere concern, but only a smoke screen for rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies.[8] The nuclear deal has not helped the cause of nonproliferation.

Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and a chief negotiator of the nuclear agreement with India, speaks to reporters in New Delhi on May 31, 2007. At left is David Mumford, U.S. ambassador to India. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)That said, accusations of hypocrisy directed at the United States are nothing new. Much of the world thrives on them, and this is merely one more in a long list. So far, other countries, with the exception of China and Pakistan, as noted above, have not cited the agreement as an excuse for specific acts that are counter to international nonproliferation norms. The lingering suspicions likely make it more important, however, for the United States to justify with some specificity its nonproliferation requests of others. There is perhaps less willingness than before to take U.S. sincerity on faith. That can be a problem when the U.S. requests are part of a time-sensitive interdiction effort and involve a loss of commerce or a risk of backlash for the state whose help is needed.

Another risk is that other countries will conclude that the United States is inherently hypocritical when it comes to nuclear commerce, that Washington really sees such commerce as more important than nonproliferation. The long battle within the U.S. government over whether to require other countries to renounce domestic uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing in their peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States has been similarly detrimental to the image of U.S. nonproliferation leadership. This is so even though the United States recently secured a legally binding commitment from Taiwan and nonbinding preambular language from Vietnam to refrain from enrichment and reprocessing.

There have been many successes in the effort to stem proliferation, including the development of international treaties and institutions to combat it and the decisions of many countries to reject or give up efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, as well as stockpiles accumulated through those efforts and the equipment that makes them possible. Nonproliferation, however, is one of those never-ending challenges, like counterterrorism and the fight against infectious diseases. The ability and the temptation to develop weapons of mass destruction are endemic now in most of the world. For a policymaker, the message from nonproliferation experts sounds like a nagging relative: “What have you done for me lately?”

In The US-India Nuclear Agreement, Mistry shows how strategic optimism triumphed over such naysayers as Americans who worry about nuclear proliferation and Indians who worry that foreign pressures will lead to gaps in India’s nuclear weapons program. If one wants policymakers to give greater weight to nonproliferation concerns, one must create an optimism about nonproliferation that will stand up to such competing optimisms as “a new strategic direction” and “more jobs for Americans.” Whether the challenge is sanctions fatigue, Russian rejection of further nonproliferation assistance, or another country falling off the nonproliferation wagon, the task for those who care about nonproliferation is not to win battles against presidents, but rather to design more positive and practical nonproliferation initiatives, programs that an optimistic president would be proud to include in his or her autobiography.

Edward P. Levine serves on the national advisory board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and is a member of the leadership of the Nuclear Security Working Group. As a senior professional staff member for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was actively involved in legislation dealing with the U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement.


1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Joint Statement Between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” July 18, 2005.

2. Embassy of India to the United States, “Statement by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in Parliament on His Visit to the United States,” July 29, 2005, https://www.indianembassy.org/archives_details.php?nid=566.

3. See Gerald Felix Warburg, “Nonproliferation Policy Crossroads: Lessons Learned From the US-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 19, No. 3 (November 2012): 451-471, http://www.batten.virginia.edu/sites/default/files/fwpapers/Warburg%20-%20US-India%20nuclear%20cooperation%20agreement.pdf. This study describes more of the political calculation in Congress, relying in part on House of Representatives interview sources that, as in Mistry’s book, are unnamed.

4. The concept is rooted in mathematical studies of economic negotiations. It was first applied in political science to studies of congressional committees. For its application to the analysis of international negotiations, see Robert D. Putnam, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Summer 1988): 427-460, http://www.ou.edu/uschina/texts/Putnam88Diplomacy.pdf.

5. Nicholas Burns, “Obama’s Opportunity With India and Its New Leader,” The Washington Post, September 28, 2014.

6. Sunil Dasgupta and Stephen P. Cohen, “Arms Sales for India: How Military Trade Could Energize U.S.-Indian Relations,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 2 (March/April 2011), http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67462/sunil-dasgupta-and-stephen-p-cohen/arms-sales-for-india.

7. For a discussion of how Pakistan may be reacting to a nonexistent Indian strategy, see Jaganath Sankaran, “The Enduring Power of Bad Ideas: ‘Cold Start’ and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia,” Arms Control Today, November 2014.

8. For example, for a description of Brazilian attitudes, see Togzhan Kassenova, Brazil’s Nuclear Kaleidoscope: An Evolving Identity, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2014, pp. 57-60, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/brazil_nuclear_kaleidoscope_lo_res.pdf.

In his book on the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, Dinshaw Mistry performs a “singular service” in his recounting of “who did what to whom,” particularly in India, but his data do not always reveal which of the political efforts...

Extending the Iran Nuclear Talks: Not Ideal, but Not Defeat

January/February 2015

By Ellie Geranmayeh

Delegations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, France, China, the European Union, and Iran attend a session of the talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on November 24, 2014. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)The Iranian nuclear issue has long vexed Tehran’s political and economic relations with the international community. The talks between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Tehran’s nuclear program entered a transformative phase after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed a new team to lead the Iranian delegation.

Since then, the nuclear talks have made their most meaningful progress to date. Although neither side had shifted on its “nonnegotiables” by the time the self-imposed deadline of November 24, 2014, arrived, there apparently had been enough substantive progress to convince the negotiating countries that an extension of the deadline was desirable. The talks in Vienna closed in November with an agreement to continue negotiating for another seven months and the intention of approving the political framework of a final deal in March.

An extension of the talks had long been in the cards, but its duration was expected by some to be much shorter. The logic was that the longer the extension was, the greater the challenge would be to maintain the necessary diplomatic momentum and urgency for a final deal. To achieve a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue and enhance global security, either a final deal or a shorter extension of the talks would have been the desirable outcome. Nevertheless, continuing the talks should not be seen as a defeat. There are compelling reasons to prefer an extension over unpalatable alternatives that risk further undermining the prospects for stability in the Middle East.

Although limited information has been made public, the extension process involves several elements.

Formal extension. The interim nuclear deal agreed under the Joint Plan of Action in Geneva in November 2013 will be formally extended until June 30, 2015.1 This follows the first extension to the joint plan in July 2014, when Iran and the P5+1 made additional commitments beyond the plan’s original scope.

Nuclear freeze for access to assets. Iran has agreed to continue the halt in its nuclear program. In return, the P5+1 will provide Iran with access to roughly $700 million per month (a total of roughly $5 billion) of frozen assets. The P5+1 will continue to suspend the same sanctions as outlined in the joint plan, including on automobile parts and the petrochemical sector.

Enhanced safeguards. Iran has agreed to additional obligations that reduce the chances that it will use its nuclear program for military purposes. These obligations include restrictions on research and development into advanced centrifuges, International Atomic Energy Agency inspections without notice at centrifuge production sites, and increased conversion of existing 20 percent-enriched uranium oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.[2]

Rough timeline. Negotiators reconvened from December 15 to December 17 at lower political levels for technical talks and will continue to meet at this level with the aim of drafting the parameters of the final deal in March. The remaining time will be spent seeking agreement on technical annexes. If there is no agreement on the framework for a deal by the end of March, the parties are to reassess their positions.

One possible explanation for the length of this second extension to the joint plan is that in the final days of the talks last November, new ideas were proposed on how best to resolve the most difficult outstanding issues, namely Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and the timing of sanctions relief. These would require rethinking various elements that would be packaged into a final deal, often described as a Rubik’s cube because of the complexity of finding an acceptable solution and the interlinked nature of the technical solutions, which carry considerable political weight.

The decision to extend the nuclear talks reflects the continued commitment of both sides to reach a comprehensive agreement within a time-bound process. This is a process in which the sides have made substantive progress on resolving differences that once were thought unbridgeable and in which Iran has proven that it can deliver in good faith under the joint plan. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that negotiators would be “fools” to walk away from the talks at this stage because the plan has provided the “benefit of the doubt” that a final deal can be achieved. Indeed, one benefit of the extension is that it allows Tehran and Washington to prepare their respective constituencies for accepting the difficult compromises needed for a final deal.

An extension is clearly better than failure to reach a deal, a scenario in which both sides could have reverted to a hostile stance, with Iran raising its enrichment levels to more than 20 percent and the West imposing more-extensive sanctions and considering its options for a military response. The extension period benefits the P5+1 by ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program remains subject to inspection and verification and its enrichment capacity is capped in return for minimal financial relief to Tehran. Meanwhile, Iran can further entrench what it claims to be its right to enrichment under the joint plan.

Another benefit of the last year of talks is that they have provided a serious and professional platform for Iran and the West to reshape their previous relations, which were plagued by deep mistrust, into a potentially functional relationship. If the two sides continue to deal with the nuclear issue in good faith, this extension could contribute to a longer-term normalizing effect that creates openings for meaningful discourse on escalating regional conflicts.

Yet, repeated extensions of these talks are not ideal and carry risks.3 The biggest concern is how the opposition forces on both sides can be managed. The Obama administration in particular will have to deal with problems at home. The U.S. situation is pertinent for European companies that are severely restricted in their ability to trade with Iran because of the penalties they could face on their business in the U.S. market as a result of the secondary impact of the unilateral sanctions against Iran that the U.S. government has systematically imposed. President Barack Obama now faces a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. That majority includes influential lawmakers who wish to see the nuclear talks fail and who will support new sanctions against Iran to make that happen.

In Tehran, there has been fierce opposition to a final deal. As the November 24 deadline for talks approached, however, Iranian hardliners were reportedly restrained by Khamenei’s office and induced to tone down their harsh and vocal opposition to a final nuclear deal. Tehran and Washington will be preparing for a domestic backlash during the course of this extension, which is likely to escalate if the Obama administration is unable to prevent Congress from imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran. If the political parameters of a final deal can be outlined in the coming months, it will boost the momentum of the talks, which otherwise is likely to diminish the longer the negotiations continue.

In the last four days of the talks, the foreign ministers of each of the seven negotiating countries, in addition to those of Saudi Arabia and Oman, made appearances in Vienna for consultations. The White House conducted closed-door briefings in Washington, preparing allies in Congress to back an extension. Israeli officials, meanwhile, claimed that military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities remained a viable option, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the extension by stating that “this result is better, a lot better” than the terms of the deal that were previously under discussion. These events underscore the importance placed on these talks by opponents and supporters of a final nuclear deal, both of whom will be looking carefully for opportunities to make their voices heard during the extension period.

Until now, it has seemed that the leadership and other influential actors in Iran and the P5+1 each believe they are in the position of greater strength. There is a perception by some powerful factions in Tehran that recent events in the region have bolstered Iran’s position of dominance in the negotiations. Meanwhile, influential forces in the West are convinced that a more extensive sanctions policy can extract greater concessions from Tehran. Each side is determined that the other should and will compromise on areas previously claimed to be nonnegotiable. This is an unsettling prospect for these talks; it reduces the flexibility required for the painful concessions that both sides will have to make.

If there is to be a comprehensive agreement, whether in the immediate or the distant future, leaders in the P5+1 and Iran need to allow more political space for their negotiators to settle the nuclear issue. Otherwise, they risk waiting so long for the opposing side to blink first that they will squander an opportunity for a final deal that would without doubt strengthen global security.

Ellie Geranmayeh is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations specializing in EU-Iranian relations.


1. For the full text of the Joint Plan of Action, see International Atomic Energy Agency, “Communication Dated 27 November 2013 Received From the EU High Representative Concerning the Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” INFCIRC/855, November 27, 2013.

2. See Laura Rozen, “Iran to Limit Centrifuge R&D Under Extension,” Al Monitor, December 1, 2014.

3. For more detail, Ellie Geranmayeh, “Prospects for the Iranian Nuclear Talks,” European Council on Foreign Relations, November 13, 2014, http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_prospects_for_the_Iranian_nuclear_talks349.

There are compelling reasons to prefer an extension over unpalatable alternatives that risk further undermining the prospects for stability in the Middle East.

Looking Beyond the Interim Deal

January/February 2015

By Ariel E. Levite

Ali Akbar Salehi (left), head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, sign an agreement in Tehran on November 11, 2013, on the agency’s investigation into past Iranian activities suspected of being part of an effort to develop nuclear weapons. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)The negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have been extended again, removing any remaining doubts that, after 18 months of intense negotiations, the key to obtaining a comprehensive agreement still hinges on finding clever, new technical solutions to bridge the remaining disagreements between the parties.

The contours of an achievable deal now seem clear. The United States and its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) have gone very far to accommodate Iran’s preferred terms regarding enrichment capability and gradual sanctions relief. Yet, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues to procrastinate because he hopes to tactically leverage U.S. President Barack Obama’s eagerness for a deal into even better terms or he remains strategically uncertain that his regime can survive the political transformation such a deal might introduce. Either way, although negotiations will linger for some additional months, the United States must move on.

Taking stock of the interim results, the United States must reorient its diplomatic efforts to confront the likely shortcomings of the achievable deal and prepare a fallback in the event that Khamenei does not ultimately come through. For both scenarios, it must urgently contemplate complementary steps that the parties to the negotiations, the UN Security Council, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could take to build confidence that Iran’s future nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.

Iran already has attained considerable legitimacy for its nuclear hedging posture, but it is no closer to the bomb than it was at the beginning of the process. If anything, it is slightly further behind although a precarious balance exists here because Iran’s loss of more readily usable enriched uranium is increasingly offset by its progress on advanced centrifuges.

Moreover, while the plutonium route to an Iranian nuclear weapon has been slowed down at a minimum, Iran’s indigenous enrichment capabilities have not been meaningfully reduced and are unlikely to be reduced later. Similarly, the improvement in the IAEA’s powers to monitor Iran’s program has been positive but marginal, and Iran has been only slightly more forthcoming on the key issues of its past weaponization effort. Tehran will likely be subjected to a far more intrusive verification regime following an agreement, but the chances are slim that it would accept the kind of airtight, open-ended arrangement allowing for wide-area monitoring and regular inspections of its military facilities that would dramatically reduce the risk of a clandestine rush to the bomb.

The picture surrounding the Iran sanctions regime that has brought Iran to the negotiating table is crystallizing and similarly mixed. The regime remains in place, albeit with modest easing of restrictions on Iran’s frozen assets overseas. Although sanctions are bound to be immediately relaxed following a deal and breached by some countries resuming trade with Iran even in its absence, with Russia leapfrogging the others by implementing the recent nuclear deal it has concluded with Iran, neither scenario envisages immediate removal or collapse of the sanctions regime.

Furthermore, the impact of the mere easing of sanctions is uncertain. It might have the hoped-for positive effect of whetting the Iranian appetite to continue benefiting from such dividends by upholding the terms of a deal. Conversely, it might lead Tehran to believe that sanctions fatigue will preclude the rapid reimposition of these measures even if Iran follows its custom of circumventing and eroding any nuclear deal it signs. With these parameters already generally set, the challenge is to consider the additional steps that might further enhance Iran’s motivation to finally transform its nuclear program into a genuinely and exclusively peaceful one while providing ample credible warning if this were not to be the case.

One area requiring immediate attention for nuclear safety and nonproliferation in Iran and beyond is Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear activity. Iran has repeatedly deflected appeals to implement standard measures of nuclear responsibility common to all other peaceful nuclear energy programs worldwide. At a minimum, these include a serious commitment to safety regulation, a commitment to liability provisions governing compensation of victims of potential accidents, and harmonization of the scale, pace, and sequence of any fuel cycle activities with indigenous nuclear power plant development. The next phase of negotiations should seek Iranian commitments to remedy these disconcerting anomalies in its nuclear program.

First, the P5+1 must profoundly understand and address the consequences stemming from conceding to Iran an operational capability of several thousand older, operating centrifuges and continuing research, development, and production of more-modern units. The existence of such a capability in Iran defies any peaceful-use logic, but is ideal to support a nuclear weapons application. Iran has no need for fuel for the Bushehr reactor, its single functioning nuclear power reactor, which is solely powered by Russian-provided fuel; has no relative advantage in uranium enrichment; and lacks the economy of scale to justify uranium enrichment. Moreover, the size of the enrichment operation under consideration is far too small to provide fuel for even a modest nuclear energy program. Yet, it is perfectly adequate for a military one.

Thus, any acceptance of uranium enrichment in Iran, let alone its expansion on the grounds of supporting its ostensibly peaceful nuclear program, must be conditioned on Iran’s prior accession to and full implementation of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Among the major elements of this treaty are its requirements for an independent nuclear regulator, periodic reporting to the IAEA, and peer reviews. Iran also must be expected to join the only international, legally binding undertaking in the area of physical protection of nuclear material, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. As with the safety convention, Iran and North Korea are only nonratifiers among countries purporting to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
In the same vein, Iran must join forthwith one of the modern international conventions regulating nuclear liability or, at a minimum, pass legislation anchoring their standard principle.[1]

An Iranian technician works at the water-purifying facility in the Bushehr nuclear power plant on February 25, 2009. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)Furthermore, if the duration of Iran’s obligations to abide by key fuel-cycle aspects of a future agreement is shorter than the total duration of an agreement, Tehran should be expected to peg the scale and specifications of its future fuel-cycle activities to the requirements posed by the actual construction of new power plants.

Last but certainly not least is the challenge of putting in place a credible verification and enforcement regime for Iran for the long term. This requires far closer coordination of the P5+1 with the IAEA than has been the case to date in order to make sure the IAEA develops the legal basis and operational capabilities to apply such a uniquely rigorous verification regime to declared and undeclared activity in civilian and military sites and is provided with the requisite resources to sustain it well into the future.

Iran’s willingness to apply these measures will serve as a critical bellwether of its reorientation of the nuclear program toward peaceful pursuits. A final agreement with Iran that does not include these provisions would be extremely risky and ill advised unless there was confidence by the P5+1 and tacit Iranian understanding that these shortcomings would be offset by incorporating these measures, as appropriate to each body’s mandate, in complementary actions by the UN Security Council, IAEA Board of Governors, and U.S. Congress. This could be done in the context of hearty endorsements of an agreement reached by the P5+1 with Iran, with the explicit purpose of buttressing the integrity and durability of such an agreement as well as addressing its broader normative aspects. This goal would also be well served by incorporating into the respective resolutions a deterrence mechanism laying out a credible diplomatic procedure to handle subsequent Iranian circumvention or violation of the terms of the deal in order to prevent a situation in which only two extreme alternatives are available to address such circumstances—that is, to look the other way or to escalate toward coercive action.  

Ultimately, the United States must finally lay out a realistic Plan B to enhance the prospects of securing a credible deal soon and to avoid undue escalation if such a result proves elusive. Such a plan would require that the United States profess genuine willingness to walk away from the negotiating table while holding Iran to its obligations under the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action and tightly enforcing existing sanctions, but honoring its part of the bargain by not going beyond the existing sanctions. Also, the United States would have to put Iran on notice that failing to meet its obligations under the joint plan or making meaningful progress in sensitive nuclear areas not presently covered by that document would result in the immediate imposition of harsher sanctions.

Iran should be reminded that the Obama administration has not ruled out military action if Tehran takes concrete steps to acquire a nuclear device. Congress should be encouraged to provide authorization for the imposition of additional sanctions and other coercive measures if these circumstances arise. Capitol Hill might require the administration to provide quarterly certification that a vigorous monitoring effort is in place and that Iran remains in compliance with these requirements.

At the same time, a viable Plan B should see Washington keeping its hand extended to Tehran if the Iranian leadership offers far more credible assurances of reliably and irreversibly reconfiguring its nuclear program toward its stated peaceful intent. Congress would ideally provide the administration with a measure of flexibility to generously reward and reciprocate cooperative Iranian behavior in the nuclear domain, in counterterrorism collaboration, and in improvement of Tehran’s appalling human rights record. These are indispensable measures, in part to demonstrate to the more moderate segments of the Iranian public and a handful of the country’s more receptive leaders that U.S. enmity toward Iran and its regime is not set in stone. Such measures would convey the message that all arms of the U.S. government would work in tandem to cooperate with Iran if Iran were to mend its ways in areas germane to the interests of the United States, its allies, and the stability of the Middle East.

Ariel E. Levite is a senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Prior to joining Carnegie in 2008, he held senior positions in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Atomic Energy Commission, and National Security Council.


1. For a comprehensive review of this issue, see Anthony Adisianya, “Different Compensation Systems Under Liability Conventions,” University of Dundee, n.d., p. 19, http://www.dundee.ac.uk/cepmlp/gateway/files.php?file=cepmlp_car14_76_361028374.pdf; World Nuclear Association, “Liability for Nuclear Damage,” December 2014, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Safety-and-Security/Safety-of-Plants/Liability-for-Nuclear-Damage.

The United States must reorient its diplomatic efforts to offset the likely shortcomings of an achievable deal and prepare a fallback if a credible deal proves elusive.

Congress and the Future of the Iran Talks

January/February 2015

By William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh

Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the two top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attend a hearing on July 29, 2014, on the nuclear talks with Iran. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Following the announcement on November 24, 2014, that Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) were extending the Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program, pressure has been building in Washington and Tehran against the negotiations. Domestic opposition in both countries has been empowered by this delay. Some in the U.S. Congress have even called for an end to the negotiations or threatened new sanctions.

It would be a dangerous folly if the progress achieved so far under the Joint Plan of Action, the interim agreement reached in November 2013, were to be discarded. Over the past year, this agreement has proven to be the most effective policy tool in the history of the Iranian nuclear dispute for limiting and rolling back the most worrisome aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. The joint plan, however, is not enough. Failure to reach a follow-on, comprehensive agreement could have serious and unwelcome consequences for nuclear nonproliferation, U.S. regional allies, and U.S. national security interests.

Current Status

Since the signing of the joint plan, the world has reason to be more confident that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon. Tehran has stopped the most disturbing elements of its nuclear program by ceasing production of 20 percent-enriched uranium hexafluoride and eliminating most of its stockpile of that material, halting work on the still-unfinished Arak heavy-water reactor, and setting limits on its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium. Each of these activities was a major U.S. concern less than a year ago.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities and continues to report that Iran is in full compliance with its commitments under the joint plan. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, who a year ago harshly criticized the plan, have recognized its benefits and welcomed its extension as preferable to a new agreement now.

Some Americans have criticized this extension for drawing out the negotiations. Yet, these negotiations are among the most complex and important since the end of the Cold War. Seven independent countries, each with a different agenda, have been engaging in discussions for more than a year. The U.S. and Iranian governments, who are the central players, had not talked for almost 35 years. The negotiations have proceeded during a period when U.S. bilateral relations with two members of the P5+1, Russia and China, have been deteriorating. Although both countries have stayed on track with the P5+1, more-serious confrontation with Russia could derail that collaboration. Should the group not remain united under U.S. leadership, Iran might well find ways to take advantage of the differences, particularly by seeking to unravel the international sanctions regime.

In addition to the bewildering array of political and historical obstacles, the technical and scientific issues are unprecedented in their complexity. The reconfigurations of the Fordow underground enrichment facility and the Arak reactor have required new thinking and scientific approaches to determine whether a compromise could be found that is politically acceptable to both sides. There remains a need for greatly increased monitoring of the program by the IAEA to assure compliance and to deter Iran from building clandestine facilities.

These nettlesome issues could be managed if the two major questions could be resolved. The first is how to meet Iran’s demands for an industrial-scale enrichment program without allowing Tehran to produce sufficient highly enriched uranium for one nuclear weapon in one year. The second is how to carry out a gradual relaxation of economic sanctions as an incentive for Iran’s compliance without a commitment to meeting unrealistic and potentially irreversible Iranian demands up front. Resolution of these questions would be possible if both sides took progressive steps that would take effect incrementally over the entire implementation period of the agreement.

With this extension, negotiations will not become easier, nor will the possibility of further extensions be attractive in light of the growing opposition in each country and the complexities of concluding an agreement. Yet, the stakes are clear. Preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon must remain the U.S. goal. Only a sound and verifiable settlement will bring about long-term assurances that Iran’s nuclear program will be peaceful.

Divisions in Tehran, Washington

Many Iranians oppose the negotiations and accuse President Hassan Rouhani of selling out Iranian interests. These critics argue for a return to a “resistance economy” to counter sanctions. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has recently sought to silence these critics by signaling his support for the negotiations. In early December, one of Khamenei’s closest advisers, Ali Akbar Velayati, said, “Our country’s nuclear negotiation team has thus far observed all redlines drawn” by Khamenei and has put forth a “tremendous effort,” which is “worth appreciation.” Because Khamenei is the highest authority in the country, if he “said that he agrees with the negotiations and with their continuation, arguments against the nuclear negotiations should not be made,” Velayati said.[1]

In the United States, some members of Congress are displeased by the extension of the negotiations and are persuaded that the threat of more sanctions would force Iran to make more concessions. Neither the United States nor the other P5+1 states believe that this is the case. The authors of this article agree. Rather than inducing concessions, such action could have the opposite effect and cause Iran to dig in, lash out, and walk away rather than risk appearing humiliated in front of its own public.

New sanctions may precipitate a tit-for-tat response by Iran, prompting a renewed cycle of additional U.S. sanctions and construction of Iranian centrifuges. This dynamic, all too familiar to both sides, would damage the United States’ leadership role in the world and result in an Iran even more hostile to U.S. interests. This vicious cycle could lead to a nuclear-armed Iran and eventually to a war.

More important than Iran’s response might be the reaction of countries that currently support the U.S.-led sanctions regime. Additional sanctions from Congress will be interpreted in Iran and around the world as a unilateral breach of the commitments the United States made in the joint plan, which obliges the parties to refrain from additional sanctions while negotiations are ongoing. Even so-called trigger sanctions, which the president could implement if he felt the need, would likely be seen as inconsistent with that commitment.

If Congress insists on imposing sanctions over President Barack Obama’s opposition to such action, it will appear to the international community that the United States is unwilling or unable to abide by its commitments. In that circumstance, Europe, Russia, China, and others might well back away from the unprecedented international sanctions regime that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, causing the entire structure to crumble.

Congress should refrain from taking actions that risk undermining the negotiations at this critical juncture. The talks may yet fail, and if they do, Congress can act at that time.

This may be the last opportunity for many years for the United States to reach a negotiated settlement in which Iran makes verifiable commitments to scale back its nuclear program and assure the world that the program will remain peaceful. Absent an agreement, Iran’s nuclear activities will be unconstrained, and the chances of Iran ultimately acquiring a nuclear weapon will increase. The negotiations are the best hope for advancing the national security goals of the United States and its allies. If Americans hope to achieve a durable and effective agreement, they need to support the negotiating team at this critical moment.

William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and Czechoslovakia, is director of the Iran Project and an adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Thomas Pickering is a former U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Jordan, and the United Nations. Jim Walsh is a research associate in the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


1. “Leader’s Aide Stresses Continued Talks With World Powers,” Fars News Agency, December 1, 2014, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13930910000775.

Additional sanctions from Congress will be interpreted in Iran and around the world as a unilateral breach of the commitments the United States and its five negotiating partners made in their 2013 interim deal with Iran.

SPECIAL REPORT: Did Maridia Conduct a Nuclear Test Explosion? On-Site Inspection and the CTBT

January/February 2015

By Jenifer Mackby

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Preparatory Commission launched a large-scale simulation of an on-site inspection in Jordan on November 3, 2014, to test the organization’s ability to find a nuclear test explosion site. The exercise, involving two fictitious countries, lasted for five weeks and used 150 tons of equipment to comb a large swath of land next to the Dead Sea.

Lassina Zerbo (center right, in broad-brimmed hat), executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission, participates in Integrated Field Exercise 2014 in Jordan on December 2, 2014. (CTBTO)The inspection area encompassed 1,000 square kilometers, the maximum area allowed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), although the 30-day inspection period for the exercise was much less than the potential 130 days that the treaty allows. Searching for clues of a nuclear explosion in such an expanse and in such a shortened time period was a daunting task. It required the international teams, comprising 200 scientists and experts in on-site inspection technologies from 44 countries, to focus on their respective tasks for 12- to 14-hour days.

The 40 inspectors employed 15 of the 17 techniques provided in the treaty, some for the first time. The on-site inspection began with less-intrusive techniques, such as visual observations (including satellite imagery), overflights, and seismic networks, and moved into more-intrusive techniques, such as magnetic field mapping and electrical conductivity measurements. The objective was to narrow down the areas of interest to one limited area where the inspection team found traces of relevant radionuclides, the “smoking gun” indicative of a possible nuclear explosion. The CTBT provides for inspection measures that are more intrusive than those of any other arms control treaty.

The purpose of the exercise in Jordan, called Integrated Field Exercise 2014 (IFE14), was to test the Provisional Technical Secretariat’s ability to conduct the complex logistics, procedures, and techniques in a cohesive manner. The Preparatory Commission has been working on the key provision of on-site inspection for several years so that it will be sufficiently developed and operational prior to the CTBT’s entry into force.[1] Such an inspection cannot be requested until the treaty is in force.

The CTBT specifies 44 nuclear-capable countries that must ratify the treaty to bring it into force, and eight of those ratifications are still lacking (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States). All the countries that have signed but not ratified the treaty (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States) participated in IFE14.

On-site inspection is a significant, final component of the CTBT’s verification regime and is seen as a deterrent to noncompliance. The other components include the International Monitoring System (IMS), comprised of 337 seismic, radionuclide, infrasound, and hydroacoustic facilities, which transmit data from the stations to the CTBTO International Data Centre in Vienna. Under the terms of the CTBT, neither the inspection team nor the Technical Secretariat can make a judgment about the nature of an event or the measures to be taken in the case of possible noncompliance. That is the prerogative of the states-parties.

The Scenario

Did the fictional state of Maridia really detonate a nuclear device underground early in the morning of October 28? Its neighbor, the fictional country of Alluvia, certainly thought so, based on the discovery of telltale clues—a seismic event followed by unusual radioxenon isotopes detected by the IMS. Alluvia decided to request the ultimate verification measure, an on-site inspection under the CTBT. Thus began IFE14, which took place near the peak of Mount Nebo.

The scenario, which presumes that the CTBT has entered into force, began at 5:54 a.m., when the CTBTO recorded a magnitude 4 seismic event and then detected xenon-133 coming from the state of Maridia, located in the Middle East. To the trained analyst’s eye, it did not look like an earthquake. In addition, Alluvia’s national radionuclide station detected xenon-133 coming from Maridia. For its part, Maridia expressed its “outrage and grave concerns about the false and unfounded accusations” made by Alluvia in the request for an on-site inspection. Maridia said it had never violated its obligations and had always been a staunch supporter of the treaty.

The treaty requires the CTBTO Executive Council to decide within 96 hours whether to conduct an inspection, and on November 3, it voted to do so.[2] Once the council had endorsed the inspection, inspectors had to arrive within six days in Maridia. The Technical Secretariat’s On-Site Inspection Division and Operational Support Center began to mobilize immediately. All members of the inspection teams, which had been trained by the secretariat, were called to duty. The treaty provides for a roster of on-call inspectors rather than having them on staff because an on-site inspection is not likely to occur frequently. The secretariat arranged visas and air tickets for inspectors who assembled at the airport in Amman.

The inspection team developed an initial plan, and the support center checked that the 431 pieces of equipment, including seismic sensors, magnetometers, geophysical instruments, and radiation monitoring devices, were working properly. Each piece of equipment carries a bar code so that it can pass quickly through the loading and receiving area. All 150 metric tons of equipment were sealed in containers and sent off to Maridia within the six days.

The logistics of such an operation are complex. The Preparatory Commission keeps the equipment in a warehouse in Vienna. For IFE14, the Provisional Technical Secretariat devised plans, maps, routes, color-coded templates, and log forms. After arriving in Jordan, the inspection team set up a base of operations in a parking lot overlooking the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.

Although participants slept in a nearby hotel, the base became home for the experts serving in the exercise. It consisted of numerous inflatable tents that served as work spaces for representatives of the inspection team and Maridia, as well as management, communications personnel, and evaluation teams. A receiving area was designed to scan people and equipment with dosimeters for possible radiation exposure. A decontamination tent stood nearby with shower facilities and a 500-liter water tank. A doctor staffed a medical tent. Inspectors installed ultra-high-frequency and very-small-aperture-terminal (VSAT) antennas to ensure communication with the teams in the field as well as with Vienna. Portable laboratories consisting of tightly outfitted cargo transport containers analyzed samples brought back from the field to detect the possible presence of radionuclides.

Inspectors deployed the world’s only portable laboratory designed to analyze argon. Inspection team and Maridian representatives were required to inspect each piece of equipment before leaving for the field and after they returned, when they reviewed together the data harvested. They analyzed three to five samples each day.

In addition to working in the field or analyzing data most of the day, the teams held multiple meetings in the morning and evening to review the day’s activities and plan the next few days. Because IFE14 was an exercise, the inspected state-party had fewer staff in its contingent than it would have had in real life. With only about 25 people on its team, many of them had multiple functions.

“No one is being paid extra for this,” said inspector Natalie Brely, chief of the Provisional Technical Secretariat’s Monitoring Facilities Support Section. In the exercise, she directed the convoys each day, insisting that they stick together.

Revealing Signs

The first few days after a nuclear test are crucial because the telltale signs, called signatures, of a nuclear explosion are most pronounced during this period. When the cavity created by a nuclear explosion begins to collapse, it causes seismic aftershocks, which dissipate exponentially. So do radionuclides. Xenon-133 has a half-life of 5.24 days, and argon-37 has a half-life of 35 days. Therefore, the inspection team must act with great haste. It is looking for radionuclides, consisting of fission products and noble gases that are listed in the Preparatory Commision’s manual for on-site inspections.

Thus, setting up the 18 seismic aftershock monitoring stations was a high priority. The positioning of this system is based on the location of the epicenter of the seismic event. Differentiating between normal radioactivity in any given area and radionuclides coming from a nuclear explosion can be quite difficult because the absence of radionuclides does not exclude the possibility that a nuclear test took place. If the explosion is fully contained, there might be no seepage through the rock fissures or cracks, although this would be unusual.

Safety and security were paramount during the exercise. To cope, five means of communication were available, from cellphones to satellite antennas. This combination provided coverage that was close to 100 percent, allowing the base to be able to reach the inspectors even in the deep canyons of the region.

The inspection area ranged from the Dead Sea, which lies 1,378 feet below sea level, to mountains reaching 6,083 feet above sea level. The terrain includes numerous valleys and sinkholes and is susceptible to landslides. The inspection team also needed to bargain with Bedouins herding sheep, donkeys, and camels and with private landowners whose permission was needed to install equipment or to conduct gamma surveys.

Further complications came from rain and the presence of scorpions and rodents. Almost every day, the rodents nibbled their way through cables, causing a certain amount of data loss.

The inspection teams snaked through the mountains in convoys of five cars, including one that carried a VSAT communications satellite rack on top, and always included one or more gendarmes supplied by the government of Jordan. In spite of the strains in the war-ridden region, Jordan was seen as providing an example for Egypt, Iran, and Israel, the nearby countries that are among the eight whose ratification is still needed for entry into force of the CTBT. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei, former counselor at the Iranian mission in Geneva who was an IFE14 observer, said he was “amazed by the level of maturity of the [on-site inspection] capability and component.”

Every day, four or five teams inspected different sites. In the early phase of the inspection, one team used helicopters to cover the entire inspection area of 1,000 square kilometers with handheld cameras. Later, the helicopters would carry equipment capable of multispectral imaging, which can provide additional information about changes in surface and subsurface features, and gamma spectroscopy, which assists in identifying elevated levels of gamma radiation. Inspectors relied initially on visual observations to detect anomalies on the surface, such as fresh landslides, scraping of earth, new roads, and roads leading to nowhere. They also used satellite imagery to look for changes in order to focus on specific areas and eliminate others.

The inspection team started the initial phase (November 11-20) with the least intrusive techniques and proceeded to more-intrusive techniques during the so-called continuation period (November 22-December 4). In the treaty, the initial phase is to last 25 days, after which the teams must send a preliminary report to the Executive Council. The council could then vote to end the inspection; otherwise, the inspection would continue. For IFE14, the initial phase was compressed into 10 days.

Parsing the Polygons

Based on visual observations on the ground and from the air, inspectors found a number of areas of interest, which they blocked on maps in areas known as polygons. By November 20, the team had created 29 polygons. Within days, however, it began to eliminate some in the southern part of the inspection area where the team found no interesting evidence of nuclear testing. The objective was to narrow down the territory to be inspected so that the team could focus on a smaller area with more-sophisticated inspection techniques to identify or confirm the possible nuclear nature of an underground explosion.

Click image to enlarge.As part of this process, inspectors took samples of earth, plants, and debris on top of rocks or even on the tires of vehicles. Although most of the detection equipment is very sophisticated, the inspectors resorted to using small shovels to dig up the dirt, small plastic bags to hold the plant material, and plastic wrap to rub against rocks to remove debris for a sample. They divided each sample into two, one for the inspection team and one for Maridia, and immediately labeled them with barcodes for chain of custody and identification purposes back in the laboratory.

Within 10 days, the inspectors were focusing their search on two polygons of high interest (numbers 18 and 29), where they began to take samples of soil, plants, and soil gas. Mysteriously, in polygon 18, newly laid stones forming a staging area appeared at the end of a short dirt road that ended at a locked grated door on the side of the hill. The inspection team suspected that the door might lead to a tunnel under the hill. The team asked Maridia if it could sample the air from the top of the door and then sucked air from behind the door with a tube leading to an air sampler mounted on a pickup truck. The sample was compressed into what looked like a scuba tank and taken back to the base of operations for analysis.

One of the inspectors walked up the hill above the locked door and began to swipe a pipe sticking out of the ground. When he reached the cap on the top of the pipe, he tried to swipe around under the cap, but it fell off into his hand. This caused quite a stir because he was supposed to ask permission before swiping anything.

“Inspectors don’t manipulate things without asking first,” said the senior representative of the Maridian team at a subsequent meeting with the inspection team. “I will, of course, give you a chance to explain, but my government is not happy about this and expects an explanation. You will not go back to the site if this happens again.”

He also suggested that the inspector might be asked to leave. The inspector in question replied, “Believe me, no one was more surprised than I that the cap fell off into my hand.” He explained that as he swiped the pipe near the lid the cap fell off. “The hinge on the cap was broken,” he said.

It was a crucial time in the inspection, as the inspection team wanted to introduce two large geoprobes into polygons 18 and 29 the following day. These large machines, which poke holes up to about five meters into the ground, had to be delivered by large flatbed trucks. The senior representative of the Maridian team said that it would usually take three weeks to obtain permission to enter the requested area with such equipment, and he would get back to the team the following day about further action. When the team asked to visit another location, he said that there were local landowners who did not want inspections on their land, so he would have to get permission.

The inspection team leader later told his colleagues that Maridia “shows interest in getting us out of the area sooner rather than later, so it is worthwhile to begin continuation-period techniques.” These inspection techniques assist in locating features of possible nuclear explosions conducted underground, such as certain tunnel infrastructures. They are employed when the inspectors conclude the initial inspection period of 25 days and have narrowed down the search to a number of limited areas of interest that are roughly the size of a soccer field.

These techniques are more intrusive than those used in the initial period of the inspection. One  such technique is gravitational field mapping to measure changes in the earth’s gravity. Another is magnetic field mapping from the air and the ground to measure the deviations in the earth’s magnetic field that could indicate the presence of pipes, cables, and shafts.[3]

According to the preliminary inspection report of November 22, during the initial period, the team conducted 137 field missions, including sampling and laboratory activities at the base of operations. The team identified 29 polygons of interest, triggering 35 ground visual observation field missions and numerous radionuclide missions.

Maridia strongly condemned Alluvia’s “malicious act” of calling for an on-site inspection and provided an explanation of the nature of the event. Maridia is located in a part of the Middle East where three tectonic plates meet, providing active seismicity in the “Palestine-Sinai subplate.” This complex tectonic setting produces frequent earthquakes. Indeed, the location of the suspected event that triggered the on-site inspection is in an area of known seismic activity, consistent with the fault lines shown in a map that Maridia produced. Thus, Maridia said, the event was an earthquake.

In addition, Maridia contended that the xenon concentrations detected at the radionuclide station of the IMS originated from a medical isotope production facility southwest of Maridia where molybdenum-99 is produced from the fission of uranium targets. Maridia was aware that molybdenum-99 was being produced for 12 days (October 20-31) prior to the IMS radionuclide detections. For the same reasons, Maridia dismissed the radioxenon signals from Alluvia’s radionuclide station. The report noted that seismic aftershock monitoring had detected four local seismic events. One was identified as an explosion and at least one as a potential aftershock.

The report concluded that there was “a discrepancy” between the clarification provided by Maridia and the inspection team findings within the inspection area. Therefore, “the collection by the inspection team of facts as are relevant to the…inspection has not yet been concluded.”

At the beginning of the continuation period, one of the inspection teams returned to polygon 18 to begin the laborious process of gravimetry, measuring the changes in gravity in the field above the locked door to determine if there was a tunnel below. This technique involves dividing the area into quadrants of four square meters, using stakes, tape, and orange spray paint to mark where the gravimeter should take measurements.

Another inspection team set out for a second visit to polygon 29. A Bedouin accompanying his large flock of sheep occupied the road, so experts waited in the car, listening to the famous Lebanese singer Fairouz on the Palestinian radio station. This polygon was located in an old quarry, and noting the interest of the inspection team, Maridia quickly established a restricted access site. According to the treaty provisions on managed access, an inspected party can delineate an area of four square kilometers as off-limits to inspectors in an on-site inspection.

Citing security risks, Maridia said the team could not enter the area. In the area, inspectors saw a pipe sticking up from the ground with wires coming out of it. This could be a strong clue of instrumentation underground. They also saw that buildings were fractured, which could have been caused by the ground motion from an explosion or earthquake. In addition, the inspection team observed freshly plowed land next to the site. Satellite photos showed that the road leading to this part of the site had been upgraded since September.

The inspection team ordered that large geoprobes be placed in polygons 18 and 29 to sample the subsoil for radiation. Maridia managed to delay the deployment of the geoprobes for a few days, but they arrived on November 26. At polygon 29, the geoprobe drilled some holes in the ground, and the inspectors placed tubes into the holes to draw air overnight into a large yellow balloon. They compressed the air from the balloon into a scuba tank so that they could bring it to the portable laboratory at the base of operations to analyze it. As the machine probed the earth, one member of the Maridian team kept repeating, “You will find nothing. My country is innocent.”

In a November 21 interview, Peter Sankey, a senior scientist at the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment who helped create the IFE14 scenario, said he thought the exercise, as a whole, was going well. “We need to quicken the uploading and processing of information, and [fix] a few other kinks, but it is demonstrating an integration of techniques and procedures,” he said. The 2014 exercise showed “dramatic progress” over the one in 2008, he said.

Multiple Missions

The teams planned the work of each day two days in advance. Each day, the teams set out on various missions, including overflights, visual observations, gamma radiation monitoring, and environmental sampling with equipment to monitor air particulate and noble gas. Gamma radiation monitors were mounted in airplanes, cars, and even backpacks to trace the possible presence of radionuclides. Each team comprised a color-coded representative from the inspectors (light blue), Maridia (red), a control team to monitor that the teams operated within the limits of the scenario (bright blue), an evaluation team (green), and a management team (black).

Early in the continuation period, an additional overflight, along with updated information from the International Data Centre on the area of the epicenter and ground-based missions, resulted in most polygons in the southern part of the inspection area being moved lower on the list of sites of interest or eliminated from it. Others, in particular numbers 18 and 29, continued to elicit high interest, requiring the more sophisticated inspection equipment that is used in smaller areas of concern.

Mounting Evidence

By December 2, the noose seemed to be tightening on Maridia. “We have now had several significant detections of xenon in polygon 29 from analyses of soil gas samples,” said Charles Carrigan, who played the role of a key member of the Maridian team. (Carrigan is a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the soil gas sampling system used by inspectors was developed.) It would be a significant challenge to explain the presence of xenon as resulting from something other than an underground nuclear explosion. “There are a lot of technologies to potentially deploy and only a small amount of time to really use them, given the compressed nature of the field component [of the exercise],” Carrigan lamented.

Nevertheless, the inspection team found enough evidence to press its case. It detected xenon-133, xenon-131m, and argon-37 in subsoil gas samples taken at polygon 29 at a level that “could be considered as strong evidence of a nuclear explosion,” according to an expert. As noted above, however, the CTBT gives the states-parties, not the inspectors or the secretariat, the right to make a judgment about the findings of an inspection.

On December 6, members of the inspection team and Maridia met to sign and formally exchange the Preliminary Findings Document on the inspection. Maridia held to the position that no test had occurred in this seismically active part of the world and that the xenon gases detected were not of weapons origin. The iodine-131 detected came from a spill of a radiotracer used in a groundwater study at the quarry in polygon 29, Maridia argued. In the end, the main evidence against Maridia was noble gases. Although the high level of observed argon-37 might be expected in a limestone quarry location, Maridia had a difficult task in explaining the xenon. Experts quietly noted that the findings were indicative of an underground nuclear explosion in polygon 29.


Senior experts from China, France, Germany, Israel, Russia, the UK, and the United States created the scenario for this simulation. A number of them had worked on nuclear testing for many years. Other experts commended their ability to design a clever, challenging, and plausible exercise. Only the control team, comprising individuals involved in the elaboration of the scenario, knew the scenario in advance, and they kept it quiet. As there has not been any nuclear testing in Jordan, it was essential to create a convincing scenario so that the inspectors could collect credible data.

Members of the inspection team use a geoprobe to poke holes in the earth for sampling of subsoil gases as part of the exercise’s simulated on-site inspection on November 25, 2014. (Courtesy of Jenifer Mackby)As part of the exercise, the control team injected variables to ensure that the inspection operated within the boundaries of the scenario and that the objectives of the exercise could be accomplished. The designers of the scenario actually detonated three chemical explosions in order to create the seismic signals and injected radioactive noble gases into some samples before they underwent analysis in the laboratory so that it would appear that a nuclear explosion might have been conducted.

Ward Hawkins, project leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory, chaired the task force set up in November 2012 to create the event. He said the group studied 150 potential locations, using maps and aerial photos, to determine which would be the best place to test the 15 on-site inspection techniques. “The exercise needed to be technically realistic, rationally coherent, temporally logical to narrow the search area, and intellectually motivating,” he said in an interview on November 24. He said the inspection team was more or less where it should be at that point and that he thought the exercise would demonstrate that it is possible to catch a noncompliant state.

The exercise in Jordan was the second and largest IFE conducted by the Preparatory Commission. The first took place in 2008 at the former Soviet nuclear test site of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. In that exercise, the Preparatory Commission learned a great deal about how to test crucial aspects of the various phases of an inspection as well as the gaps to be filled. A robust evaluation process revealed the areas that required more work and refinement.

What has changed since 2008? North Korea has conducted another two tests (2009 and 2013), both of which were detected by the Provisional Technical Secretariat. The IMS is now more than 90 percent complete. Communications and data analysis systems have been improved. In addition, the Preparatory Commission had conducted a number of build-up exercises and field tests to test various individual on-site inspection techniques and prepare for IFE14. As noted above, the IFE14 inspection team employed 15 of the 17 on-site inspection technologies provided in the treaty, whereas in Kazakhstan it tested 10. Drilling and resonance seismometry were the only two not employed in Jordan.

Another significant difference between the 2008 and 2014 exercises was the role of the United States. The country did not participate in any on-site inspection activities during the administration of President George W. Bush and therefore did not participate in IFE08. Now it is contributing fully, which makes a substantial difference as the United States has extensive experience and expertise in this field. Washington sent a number of experts from its national laboratories and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to take part in the exercise.

In addition, some participants said they believed that the recent IFE was based on a scenario that was more plausible and technically credible than the one in 2008.

The Provisional Technical Secretariat spent $10 million on the exerise; the European Union and 10 countries[4] contributed another $10 million in voluntary funding and in-kind contributions. As a finale to the 2014 exercise, a South Korean Ministry of Defense representative told the observers that his country is thinking about hosting the next IFE.

An Assessment of IFE14

IFE14 will provide a wealth of information, scientific findings, and recommendations. The Preparatory Commission expected to obtain information about the preparedness of the inspection team in a number of areas, in particular radionuclides; multispectral imaging, including infrared equipment; continuation-period technologies; documentation; and shortcomings. This will entail a lengthy evaluation period.

In the first stage of the evaluation process, the Provisional Technical Secretariat will hold a two-part workshop, one near Tel Aviv in April and one in Vienna in June, to obtain reactions from the participants, examine the functioning of the equipment, assess procedures and management, and make recommendations. In addition, the participants will review the observations of an external evaluation team. All of these elements will be integrated into a new On-Site Inspection Action Plan to be submitted to the signatory states of the Preparatory Commission by the end of 2015 for further action. According to the commission, the plan will address achievements, progress made since IFE08, capabilities requiring further development or training, and recommendations to be approved by signatory states.

Although it is too early to draw conclusions about IFE14, some of the experts shared a few preliminary observations. While expressing a strongly positive view of the exercise overall, they noted some flaws. They found that some members on the inspection team missed seeing some obvious indications. In some instances, the inspection team underestimated the time it would take to go to proposed deployment sites and did not sufficiently review the data in advance to determine that some seemingly suitable locations might be out of the question as sites for a nuclear test. Some of the equipment malfunctioned (a high-resolution camera on an initial overflight, some radionuclide detectors, other equipment that resulted in delays of additional overflights).

The equipment likely should have been operated or tested more often while in storage in Vienna, the experts said. It took the inspectors longer than expected to find the iodine-131 at polygon 29, and in general, they should have taken more samples than they did, according to the experts. Undoubtedly, these and other criticisms will be aired at length in the workshops in 2015, and experts will be provided opportunities to find ways to rectify the problems.

Countries are expected to honor their legal commitments to treaties they have signed, and they usually do so. Thus, an on-site inspection under the CTBT will be an unlikely although very significant event. Nevertheless, it is valuable to test the provisions of a regime that has been so arduously developed over the years.

Although many countries that have ratified the treaty have expressed frustration that the treaty has not entered into force because certain countries have not ratified it, only one country, North Korea, is not abiding by it. Russia, the UK, and the United States have not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, France and China since 1996, and India and Pakistan since 1998.

The CTBT has established a norm against nuclear testing. Nevertheless, countries cannot request an on-site inspection until the treaty enters into force.

Jenifer Mackby is a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and a senior adviser to the Partnership for a Secure America. She was a technical observer in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission’s Integrated Field Exercise 2014. She previously served as secretary of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in Geneva and secretary of the Working Group on Verification at the Preparatory Commission in Vienna.


1. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) stipulates that until it enters into force, the organization is to be called the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which has a Provisional Technical Secretariat. Thereafter, these will be the CTBTO and the Technical Secretariat.

2. The CTBT requires the support of 30 of the 51 members of the Executive Council for this measure. As the exercise began after the vote occurred, a tally was not provided.

3. Other examples are electrical conductivity measurements to identify metallic objects near the surface and disturbances deeper underground, ground-penetrating radar to locate buried objects, and active seismic surveys to identify anomalous areas.

4. The 10 contributing countries are Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In an exercise in Jordan lasting five weeks and involving 200 experts and 150 tons of equipment, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Preparatory Commission sought to assess its capabilities to detect a nuclear test explosion.

State Dept., NTI Partner on Verification

January/February 2015

By Jefferson Morley

Joan Rohlfing, president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, speaks at an event in Washington on May 11, 2010. (Nuclear Threat Initiative)Seeking to enhance international support for nuclear disarmament verification efforts, the U.S. State Department and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) launched the International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification on Dec. 4.

The partnership will strengthen the goals of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while “furthering the role of [non-nuclear-weapon states] in the challenging work of verification of nuclear disarmament,” the State Department said in a statement announcing the launch.

In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Corey Hinderstein, NTI vice president for international programs, said the partnership has three goals: providing education on disarmament verification and monitoring to the states that do not possess nuclear weapons; encouraging support for “practical, realistic” approaches to arms control and disarmament; and facilitating technical progress on verification challenges.

In a Dec.17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official said the effort marked the first time it had “joined in partnership with an outside entity to bring together a broad spectrum of expertise outside the United States” from non-nuclear-weapon states.

The NTI, founded in 2001 by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and philanthropist Ted Turner, is a nonprofit organization seeking to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NTI President Joan Rohlfing called the partnership “a true Track 1.5 effort,” indicating that it will include government officials (“Track 1” in diplomatic jargon) and representatives of civil society (Track 2).

Stephen Young, a global security analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, praised the plan in a Dec. 16 interview, saying that verification issues are “huge, important issues and they need more investment.”

At the same time, Young said, “to solve the biggest verification problems, we’re eventually going to have to bring Chinese and Russian technical people into the room.” Unfortunately, according to Young, the Chinese have consistently refused such exchanges at the governmental level, saying Russia and the United States need to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals first. Russia has also been unwilling to cooperate on these questions, he said.

The partnership “is a valuable step, especially if Chinese and Russian participants can be included, even unofficially,” he said. “But more will be required. In the long run, it is obviously essential” for all nuclear-weapon states to be “involved directly.”

Seeking to enhance international support for nuclear disarmament verification efforts, the U.S. State Department and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) launched...

Illicit Traffickers Arrested in Moldova

January/February 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Seven people were arrested in Moldova in December for allegedly smuggling radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb.

Dirty bombs combine conventional explosives with radioactive sources to spread contamination.

Ion Bodrug, an official in Moldova’s Interior Ministry, said at a Dec. 9 press conference that raids in Chisinau and two other towns found 200 grams of uranium-238, one kilogram of mercury, and one kilogram of a radioactive substance.

U-238 is the most common isotope of uranium. Unlike U-235, it cannot be used as a nuclear explosive material.

The suspects allegedly transported the material, estimated to be worth about $2.1 million, from Russia on a train, Bodrug said. He did not say if the suspects had arranged a sale, but police collected documents and computers during the raids that uncovered the materials.

Interpol and the FBI worked with Moldovan authorities to uncover the smuggling operation and apprehend the suspects.

In a Dec. 11 press release, Jeffrey Muller, a member of Interpol’s team dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons-related issues, said the incident demonstrates the need for a “coordinated international approach” to prevent illicit trafficking of radioactive sources and nuclear materials across borders.

According to the Interpol statement, the seven individuals arrested are part of a criminal network that specializes in trafficking radioactive materials.

The International Atomic Energy Agency keeps a database to track incidents of illicit trafficking, theft, or misuse of radioactive and nuclear materials. According to the agency, states report more than 100 incidents a year to the database.

Six people were arrested in Moldova in 2011 for trying to sell one kilogram of weapons-usable uranium.

Seven people were arrested in Moldova in December for allegedly smuggling radioactive materials that could be used in a dirty bomb.

BWC Parties Start Looking to 2016

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

Robert Wood of the United States addresses the opening plenary session of the meeting of parties to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva on December 1, 2014. (U.S. Mission Geneva)With the attention of many delegations starting to turn toward the 2016 review conference, the states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) met Dec. 1-5 in Geneva.

In the accounts of several observers and participants, the approach of the review conference helped spur a raft of proposals to strengthen the treaty and its processes. But some accounts portrayed a sharply divided meeting.

One observer who attended the meeting remarked in a Dec. 9 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “broader geopolitical issues are spilling into the BWC.” That development is “[n]ot a surprise but could sink hopes for the review conference, which needs to make real progress on effective implementation,” the observer said.

A large number of the proposals focused on verification and compliance, a perennial BWC topic of debate, and on modifications to the so-called intersessional process, the series of meetings that the parties hold during the five years between review conferences. Many of the proposals and statements echoed positions that were articulated at the 2011 review conference. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

In its opening statement, the European Union suggested a mechanism under which the parties could begin holding “informal consultations” that “could focus on areas that are likely to command consensus.”

At the December meeting, Myanmar became the 171st party to the BWC. In his statement welcoming Myanmar’s ratification to the treaty, Robert Wood, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament and special representative for BWC issues, said that “[s]hould Myanmar so desire,” the United States “stands ready to assist” in areas such as incorporating Myanmar’s incorporation of its BWC obligations into its national laws, regulations, and practices.

Myanmar has indicated it also is preparing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (see Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable).

With the attention of many delegations starting to turn toward the 2016 review conference, the states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) met Dec. 1-5 in Geneva.

Panel Calls for NNSA Overhaul

January/February 2015

By Daniel Horner

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should be reconstituted as the Office of Nuclear Security within the Energy Department, and the department’s name should be changed to the “Department of Energy and Nuclear Security,” according to a high-level independent report.

Since it was established 15 years ago, the NNSA has been a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department responsible for the management and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and for nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs. Congress created the NNSA to sharpen the department’s focus on nuclear security and other issues relating to the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

In its recently released report, “A New Foundation for the Nuclear Enterprise,” the panel argued for “a knowledgeable, engaged” energy secretary and for department-wide “ownership” of the NNSA’s mission. That stands in contrast to proposals for greater NNSA autonomy.

The congressionally mandated report also stressed the need for better coordination and collaboration with the Defense Department. According to the report, NNSA “customers” in the Pentagon currently “lack confidence” in the NNSA’s ability to carry out programs to extend the life of warheads in the U.S. stockpile and modernize the facilities that produce the warheads.

NNSA reform is crucial because “nuclear weapons have become orphans” in Congress and the executive branch, the report said.

The NNSA should be reconstituted as the Office of Nuclear Security within the Energy Department, and the department’s name should be changed to the “Department of Energy and Nuclear Security,”...


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