"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
January/February 2015
Edition Date: 
Friday, January 9, 2015
Cover Image: 

Senate Confirms Frank Rose

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

The Senate on Dec. 16 confirmed Frank Rose as assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance. Rose, who took office two days later, previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy.

Rose was nominated for the new post on July 18, 2013. He succeeds Rose Gottemoeller, who was sworn in on March 7, 2014, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. (See ACT, April 2014.)

After being approved twice by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once in October 2013 and again last February, Rose’s nomination was held up by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and others over concerns about the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and about the administration’s policy toward potential future nuclear weapons reductions.

In a March 3, 2014, statement opposing a vote on Gottemoeller’s nomination, Rubio and Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and James Risch (R-Idaho) said they would continue to voice their concerns “on every relevant nominee and in every setting possible because such policies are dangerous and will make Americans less safe.”

Rose was confirmed by a voice vote after clearing two procedural hurdles. A motion to proceed to a vote on Rose’s confirmation was approved on Dec. 13 by a vote of 52-41, with all Democratic senators present voting to proceed and all Republican senators present voting against proceeding. The Senate voted 54-39 to end debate on Rose’s nomination on Dec. 15.

The Senate on Dec. 16 confirmed Frank Rose as assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance

Iran, P5+1 Continue Talks in Geneva

January/February 2015

By Kelsey Davenport

Iran and six world powers met in Geneva in December to continue talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement, marking the first round of meetings after the parties decided to extend the negotiations.

When Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed on Nov. 24 to extend the talks, they set a goal of reaching a political agreement within four months. (See ACT, December 2014.) The parties aim to complete the technical annexes by June 30.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters on Dec. 17 that the talks earlier that day had taken place in a “good atmosphere” and that “good steps” were taken. Zarif, who leads Iran’s negotiating team, said that “the world needs this agreement” in light of global challenges, and that reaching a deal is in the best interest of both parties.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow on Dec. 18 that the parties are “very close” to reaching a deal.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi speaks to reporters in Geneva on December 17, 2014, before his delegation met with representatives of six world powers in the most recent round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)Before the talks between Iran and the P5+1, the United States and Iran met bilaterally Dec. 15-16 in Geneva.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and a member of the negotiating team, said that sanctions were a focus of the meetings with the United States but that “all topics” were discussed.

The talks are scheduled to resume Jan. 18 in Geneva.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the international community is concerned that Tehran could use its program to develop nuclear weapons.

New Sanctions

In a Dec. 4 interview with PBS, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that Congress should act cautiously on new legislation directed against Iran.

Corker, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Congress does not want to feel “responsible for this deal falling apart” but that the new Congress will be looking for “an appropriate way” to have a say in the negotiations in 2015.

In the last Congress, lawmakers introduced several bills dealing with sanctions on Iran. One of the bills, drafted by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), would impose additional sanctions on Iran if Tehran failed to comply with the terms of the interim agreement or if a comprehensive deal is not reached. It is not clear which of the bills will be reintroduced during the new Congress.

Corker said its “hard to understand” how the Menendez-Kirk legislation would be a problem for the negotiations.
Under the terms of the interim agreement that Iran and the P5+1 reached in November 2013, the United States agreed not to impose any additional nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. In return for limited sanctions relief and the pledge of no additional sanctions, Iran halted expansion of its nuclear program and stopped certain nuclear activities. When Iran and the P5+1 did not reach a comprehensive deal within the one-year time frame of the interim agreement, the parties agreed to extend the commitments through June 30 of this year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Vienna on Nov. 24 that he hoped Congress would “see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation.”

Terms of the Extension

In a Nov. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an official close to the negotiations said that, under the terms of the extension, Iran and the P5+1 agreed to obligations beyond those in the interim agreement.

The P5+1 and Iran have not made any public reference to the specific elements of the new obligations.
According to the official’s e-mail, Iran will be able to gain access to $700 million of its funds frozen in accounts overseas each month through June 30.

Iran committed to continue feeding 35 kilograms of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium oxide powder into a process for making fuel plates, the official said. The fuel plates are to be used for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes, he said.

Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium gas was a key concern for the P5+1 because uranium enriched to that level is more easily enriched further to weapons grade. Under the interim agreement, Tehran has taken steps to neutralize its stockpile by diluting half of the stockpile to a level of less than 5 percent-enriched uranium and converting the other half into an oxide powder form for fuel plate fabrication.

Iran committed not to convert the uranium oxide powder back into gas as part of the interim deal.

Under the terms of the extension, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are able to visit Iran’s centrifuge production workshops on a more regular basis and with little notice.

In addition, Iran pledged to refrain from pursuing enrichment using other technologies, such as lasers. Iran is known to have experimented with laser enrichment in the past. As part of a separate agreement with the IAEA, Iran provided inspectors with access to its laser center and information about its laser enrichment program last year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement on the status of the talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna on November 24, 2014. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)According to the official close to the talks, Iran and the P5+1 spelled out the limits to Iran’s research and development activities to clarify ambiguities about permitted activities under the interim agreement after a controversy in November.

In a Nov. 7 report, the IAEA noted that Iran was feeding natural uranium gas into one of its advanced centrifuge models, the IR-5, for the first time. The IR-5 was installed, but was not being tested with uranium gas at the time that the interim deal was reached. According to the agreement, Iran could continue its current research and development practices during the negotiations on a comprehensive accord.

Iran and some members of the P5+1 disagreed about whether testing the IR-5 with uranium was an existing practice or a new practice. Tehran said the action was permitted under the interim agreement.

The State Department did not say last November whether the United States viewed the testing as a violation, but said that Washington had raised the concern with Tehran and that Iran had agreed to stop testing the centrifuge.

The additional research and development restrictions under the extension specifically prohibit testing of the IR-5 centrifuge with uranium hexafluoride gas.

Iran said it would not test the IR-6 centrifuges in a cascade formation or the IR-2M. Iran also agreed not to continue installation of an IR-8 centrifuge that is partially installed at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant. The IAEA noted in its quarterly reports that Iran began installing the IR-8 centrifuge in December 2013.

Iran is working on advanced centrifuges to replace its current operating centrifuge, the IR-1. The advanced machines would likely enrich uranium more efficiently than the IR-1 machines.

At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

Hill Withholds Funds for Work in Russia

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) talks with reporters as he walks to the Senate floor for the start of a series of votes on December 12, 2014, the day that the Senate voted to approve the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2015. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia amid uncertainty about the future of collaborative efforts between Washington and Moscow in that area.

Lawmakers also voted to significantly curtail Defense Department Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia.

Despite the decision not to fund the budget request for the Energy Department programs, unspent money within the department’s nonproliferation account will allow activities in Russia to continue if Moscow agrees to such cooperation, a Senate Appropriations Committee staffer said in a Dec. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

These provisions were part of the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations and defense authorization bills, both of which Congress passed in December at the end of the 113th Congress. Fiscal year 2015 started on Oct. 1, 2014, and runs until Sept. 30.

Of the money Congress withheld for Energy Department work in Russia, $25.4 million was taken from the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and $66.9 million was subtracted from the International Material Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program.

In his e-mail, the Senate staffer said that there is enough unspent money left over from previous years’ appropriations and the spending bill that funded the government from Oct. 1 through mid-December to “complete activities” in fiscal year 2015 “and start new activities” if Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz approves them. According to budget figures shown to Arms Control Today, roughly $100 million remains available to continue work in Russia by the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in fiscal year 2015.

Congress also put constraints on the Defense Department’s nuclear security work in Russia. The defense bill prohibits funding for CTR programs in Russia beyond fiscal year 2015 without specific authorization from Congress. “[T]he traditional manner in which the program’s activities have been carried out in the Russian Federation is no longer necessary and no longer sustainable,” said the explanatory report accompanying the bill. “[S]ecuring and destroying nuclear weapons and nuclear material is now a Russian responsibility and one that the United States should no longer fund without Russian cooperation,” the report added.

The decline in congressional support for nuclear security work in Russia comes as Moscow has taken steps to wind down cooperation with the United States, putting the future of such cooperation in doubt. (See ACT, December 2014.)

The omnibus bill provided funding above the budget request for other nuclear security efforts, including an extra $32 million to complete installation of fixed detection equipment to prevent nuclear smuggling at vulnerable border crossings, airports, and small seaports in key countries around Russia and in high-threat areas in the Middle East. The bill also added funds to accelerate efforts to develop a new generation of warhead monitoring technologies and improve capabilities to detect low-yield nuclear tests.

Despite these increases, the final spending level for Energy Department nonproliferation work fell far short of what the Senate appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which funds the department’s nuclear security programs, approved in July. The full appropriations committee and the full Senate never voted on that bill. Although the subcommittee provided about $825 million, well above the budget request of $638 million for the GTRI and IMPC programs, the omnibus bill reduced their funding to $597 million.

Instead, the final funding levels for the GTRI and IMPC programs mirror those approved by the House, which withheld funding for work in Russia and funded other activities at roughly the same level as the budget request.

In the Dec. 19 e-mail, the Senate staffer said that increasing the funding for nonproliferation activities in the omnibus bill “was an uphill battle” for a number of reasons, including the Obama administration’s “inadequate” fiscal year 2015 budget request for nonproliferation “and uncertainty about the future of some of these nonproliferation programs.” In August, 26 senators sent a letter to the White House criticizing the administration’s proposed cuts to nonproliferation programs over the last several years. (See ACT, September 2014.)

Signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 16, the omnibus appropriations bill is a $1.1 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. The bill provides funding for agencies covered by 11 of the appropriations bills for the remainder of the fiscal year and continues spending at last year’s funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 27.

The $577 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which Obama signed Dec. 19, establishes spending ceilings and sets policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities.

Overall, the omnibus bill includes approximately $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of roughly $406 million from last year’s funding level.

New Cruise Missile Funded

The omnibus bill includes a compromise between the Senate and House to provide $9.4 million, the amount the NNSA had requested, to study a refurbishment of the warhead for the nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missile (ALCM). The funding figure essentially split the difference between the House, which initially approved $17 million for the study, and the Senate, which provided no funding for the concept study. (See ACT, November 2014.)

According to the Senate staffer, the bill makes no commitment to ultimately fund a life extension program for the ALCM warhead. The bill mandates that before the NNSA moves beyond the concept study phase, the NNSA must provide Congress with a report on the military requirements and preliminary cost and schedule estimates for a refurbishment effort.

The omnibus bill also requires the defense secretary to submit a report to Congress “describing the requirements, anticipated missions, programmed funding by fiscal year, and current program schedule” for the new missile that will carry the refurbished warhead. The Air Force’s fiscal year 2015 budget request delayed the new missile program by three years. According to an aide for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the outgoing chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, the “general intent” of the report “is to have [the Defense Department] better explain” the acquisition strategy for the new missile program.

Meanwhile, the defense authorization bill dilutes provisions in the original House bill regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), Russia’s alleged noncompliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and the maintenance of U.S. Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos. The House bill barred the spending of any money to carry out the reductions required by New START until Russia met a number of conditions, including “respecting the sovereignty of all Ukrainian territory.” The final bill merely requires a report from the Defense Department stating the reasons that continued implementation of New START is in the national security interests of the United States.

Similarly, the House bill required the Defense Department to prepare a plan for developing new U.S. intermediate-range missiles in response to Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation, but the final bill asks for a report on steps being taken or planned by the department to respond to the violation (see story below). Moreover, while the House bill demanded the maintenance of 450 operational Minuteman III ICBM silos without an end date for that requirement, the final bill requires the maintenance of the silos only until 2021.

Missile Defense Scrutinized

Personnel at the Missile Defense Integration and Operation Center on Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado work at the test control facility during the flight test of a ground-based interceptor on June 22, 2014. (Missile Defense Agency)The defense bill includes provisions to strengthen congressional oversight of U.S. missile defense programs. One section requires that prior to production or deployment of “a new or substantially upgraded interceptor or weapon system of the ballistic missile defense system,” the defense secretary must ensure “sufficient and operationally realistic testing” of the system and that the testing results demonstrate “a high probability” that the system “will work in an operationally effective manner.” The provision also requires the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation to provide an assessment of the “sufficiency, adequacy, and results of the testing.”

Another section requires the defense secretary to commission an independent study on the testing program of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The study must include “an assessment of whether the currently planned testing program” for the missile system “is sufficient to establish reasonable confidence that the…system has a high probability of performing reliably and effectively.”

Plagued by rushed development, cost overruns, and test failures, the GMD system is designed to protect the United States from limited missile attacks by Iran and North Korea. A total of 30 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon is planning to deploy an additional 14 interceptors in Alaska by the end of 2017.

Overall, the omnibus bill provided $1.1 billion for the GMD system, including $43 million more than the administration requested to upgrade the Capability Enhancement II kill vehicle. The bill also funded the administration’s $99.5 million request to begin work on a redesigned kill vehicle for the system. (See ACT, July/August 2014.)

Congress voted in December to withhold the Energy Department’s $92.3 million fiscal year 2015 budget request for nuclear material security work in Russia...

U.S. Explores INF Responses

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

In this video image, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testifies at a December 10 hearing in the House of Representatives on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (House Arms Services Committee)The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a senior Defense Department official told Congress in December.

The State Department announced in July that Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligation “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, September 2014.)

In testimony at a Dec. 10 hearing in the House of Representatives, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said a military assessment concluded “that development and deployment” of an INF-range GLCM by Russia “would pose a threat to the United States and its allies and partners.” At the hearing, held jointly by the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told lawmakers that the United States has seen Russia developing a prohibited GLCM, but did not say that the missile was deployed.

If Russia does not come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, McKeon said, the United States will seek “to ensure that Russia gains no significant military advantage from its violation.” Russia denies that it is breaching the INF Treaty. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a July 28 statement that the allegations are “baseless” and “no proof has been provided.”

McKeon said the range of military response options under consideration includes “active defenses to counter” INF-range GLCMs, “counterforce capabilities” to prevent attacks from these missiles, “and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” The Defense Department is reviewing the effect these options “could have on convincing Russian leadership to return to compliance with the INF Treaty, as well as countering the capability of a Russian INF Treaty-prohibited system,” McKeon added.

McKeon did not provide details on the options, but did say that some “would be compliant with the INF Treaty” and some “would not be.” He later added that deploying U.S. GLCMs “would obviously be one option to explore.”

McKeon said that, in responding to Russia’s alleged treaty violation, the United States wants to avoid “an escalatory cycle of action and reaction.” But he warned that “Russia’s lack of meaningful engagement on this issue, if it persists, will ultimately require the United States to take actions to protect its interests and security, along with those of its allies and partners.”

One European analyst said the deployment of U.S. GLCMs in Europe is unlikely. In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Jacek Durkalec, nonproliferation and arms control project manager at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said other options, including sea- and air-launched cruise missiles “have been seen as more realistic and less costly.” He added, however, that “if Russia would really deploy a militar[il]y significant number of GLCMs, perceptions in Europe could change.”

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

At the Dec. 10 hearing, Gottemoeller said the administration has “a kind of three-pronged approach” for dealing with Russia’s INF Treaty violation: diplomatic efforts to bring Russia back into compliance, exploration of potential “economic countermeasures,” and “military measures” in the event Russia’s noncompliance persists.

McKeon and Gottemoeller refused to say how much time the United States would give Russia to come back into compliance before pursuing economic and military measures. Gottemoeller noted that, in the case of Russia’s noncompliance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in the 1980s, “the Reagan administration and the [George H.W.] Bush administration worked with the Soviets diplomatically for five years” before Russia returned to compliance with the treaty.

Gottemoeller led a U.S. delegation to Moscow in September for talks with Russian officials to discuss the violation. A State Department press release summarizing the meeting said that “the U.S. concerns were not assuaged at the meeting.” At the hearing, Gottemoeller and McKeon said that Russia refuses to acknowledge the existence of an illegal missile.

In a Dec. 12 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the McKeon and Gottemoeller testimonies “caught our attention.” The statement lamented the U.S. “intention to exercise economic and military pressure on Russia because of its alleged non-compliance with the INF Treaty.” Referring to the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations over Ukraine, the statement said U.S. military measures “would increase tensions in a situation that is already complicated.”

The statement said that the U.S. government continues to be unable “to give an explicit wording to its claims and accusations” on Russia’s alleged INF Treaty violation and accused the United States of being in noncompliance with the treaty. The statement referred to the use of “target missiles that resemble short- and intermediate-range missiles” in U.S. missile defense tests, “armed US drones that necessarily fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground-launched cruise missiles,” and the U.S. “intention to deploy in Poland and Romania a land-based version of the MK 41 shipboard launcher for intermediate-range cruise missiles” as examples of U.S. INF Treaty violations.

The issue of how to respond to the alleged Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty was a controversial issue on Capitol Hill last year. The House-passed fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill included a provision requiring the Defense Department to develop a plan for the research and development of intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense authorization bill contained no such provision. The final version of the bill, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19, softened the House demands by requiring the Defense Department to submit a report on Russia’s alleged violation and a report describing any steps being taken or planned by the department in response.

A senior Senate staffer said in a Dec. 19 interview that the incoming Republican-led Senate would likely follow the House in advocating for a more aggressive U.S. response to Russian noncompliance.

The United States is reviewing a broad range of military options to respond to a future Russian deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a senior Defense Department official said.

Nuclear Impact Meeting Is Largest Yet

January/February 2015

By Kingston Reif

A December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use attracted more participants and included a broader focus than the previous two meetings on the issue, with many delegates emphasizing “that humanitarian considerations should no longer be ignored but be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations,” according to the chair’s summary of the meeting.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz speaks on December 8, 2014, in Vienna at the third international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)The Dec. 8-9 meeting at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna drew delegations representing 158 states, the United Nations, and academia.­­­

For the first time in the series of conferences on nuclear weapons use, the list of participants included countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, an unofficial representative from China attended the meeting. Two other nuclear-armed states, India and Pakistan, took part in the previous two meetings and also were present in Vienna.

Previous conferences had focused primarily on the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, but the Vienna meeting expanded the agenda to include the risk of nuclear weapons use, the application of international law to the consequences of nuclear weapons explosions, and the shortfalls in international capacity to address a humanitarian emergency caused by the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting included presentations from experts on the factors that could lead to the deliberate or inadvertent use of nuclear weapons and the relevance of international environmental and health law to nuclear weapons use.

“The scope, scale and interrelationship of the humanitarian consequences caused by nuclear weapon detonation are catastrophic and more complex than commonly understood,” concluded Alexander Kmentt, conference chair and director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation in the Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, in his summary delivered at the end of the conference.

The Vienna conference was the third meeting in the past two years focused on the medical and societal impact of nuclear weapons use. The first meeting took place in March 2013 in Oslo and brought together representatives from 127 governments. Delegations from 146 governments attended the second conference, held in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014. (See ACT, November 2014.)

The Catholic Church used the occasion of the December conference to revise its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence, stating that “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world” (see box).

The Vienna conference and the two that preceded it reflect the growing impatience of many non-nuclear-weapon states with what they characterize as the slow pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament.

But unlike the conference summary statement delivered by host Mexico at Nayarit, the Austrian chair’s statement did not call for the initiation of a diplomatic process to ban nuclear weapons. Instead, Kmentt noted that state delegations “expressed various views regarding the ways and means of advancing the nuclear disarmament agenda.”

In a separate statement, Austria called on all NPT members “to identify and pursue effective measures to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and promised “to cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.” Unlike the treaties prohibiting even the possession of chemical and biological weapons, there is no such legal ban on nuclear weapons.

The U.S. statement, delivered by Adam Scheinman, President Barack Obama’s special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, alluded to “the growing political will to pursue a practical disarmament agenda,” but advised that there must be “a practical way to do it.”

In remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 18, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “[w]hile we acknowledge the views of those who call for the negotiation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty, the United States cannot and will not support efforts of this sort.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon states that are close allies of the United States expressed similar sentiments at the Vienna conference. “Prospects for disarmament are enhanced by engaging, not alienating, those states that will need to take the action to disarm,” Australia said in its statement.

In a Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt told Arms Control Today that the Vienna meeting “established the humanitarian focus” as the “mainstream” view and the context in which “the vast majority of states wish to discuss the nuclear weapons issue.” If nuclear weapons are used, “no capacity exists to deal adequately with the consequences,” he said. “These arguments and findings make the insistence on nuclear weapons as a necessary security tool for possessor States untenable.”

Kmentt added that this majority of states will expect the upcoming NPT review conference, to be held in New York later this year, “to give clear answers to address” the findings and conclusions of the Vienna conference “and point a credible way towards the implementation” of Article VI of the NPT. That article commits the nuclear-weapon states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race” and “to nuclear disarmament.”

In a Dec. 23 interview, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, director of the International Organizations and Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the conversation on the humanitarian aspect promises to be “a central theme” of the review conference. She said she expected that many countries would make a strong push to ensure that the findings and conclusions of the Vienna meeting are reflected in the review conference’s final document, if there is one.

It is unclear whether there will be a fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and, if so, what the final result of the process will be. In his Dec. 22 e-mail, Kmentt said that no country had offered to host another meeting.

The focus for NPT states is “to achieve progress within the NPT framework” and “see what happens at the Review Conference,” he said. That is certainly Austria’s objective for the conference, he said.

Vatican Revises Stance on Deterrence

The Catholic Church revised its long-standing position on nuclear deterrence in December, declaring that the possession and use of nuclear weapons are not acceptable.

At a Dec. 8-9 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Vatican’s UN ambassador in Geneva, delivered the Vatican’s statement. He said the “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world,” and called for all countries to review deterrence as a “stable basis for peace.”

The Catholic Church has consistently advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but its original position on deterrence, laid out in the 1963 papal encyclical Pacem in Terris, stated that a minimal nuclear capability to deter a nuclear attack is acceptable as an interim ethic until disarmament is achieved.

Although that position might have been acceptable during the Cold War, the current pace of disarmament is too slow and the status quo is “unsustainable and undesirable,” Tomasi said. The argument that nuclear weapons prevent war is “misleading,” he said.

Nuclear deterrence “works less as a stabilizing force” in a multipolar world and serves as an incentive for countries to break out of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and develop nuclear weapons, he said. In addition, the threat of accidental use or theft of the weapons has become too high, Tomasi said.

In a Dec. 8 document, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” prepared for the Vienna conference, the Vatican laid out in greater detail its reasoning for moving away from limited deterrence. In addition to calling on all states possessing nuclear weapons to increase the pace of disarmament, the document called for an examination of the rationale for nuclear deterrence.

In a Dec. 7 letter to the conference president, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, Pope Francis said that “nuclear detterence and the threat of mutually assured destruction” cannot be the basis of “fraternity” and “peaceful coexistence amongst peoples and states.”

The Vatican document cited several factors that influenced the Vatican’s revised position on deterrence, including the “illusion of security” from nuclear weapons, the high costs of arsenal maintenance, and the lack of transparency and oversight of the disarmament process. The Vatican proposed that states examine these factors in further detail to question the “moral legitimacy of the architecture of the ‘peace of a sort’ supposedly provided by deterrence.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    At a December conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, many delegates emphasized that “humanitarian considerations should…be at the core of all nuclear disarmament deliberations.”

    Russia Extends Chemical Arms Timetable

    January/February 2015

    By Daniel Horner

    Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw addresses the conference of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention in The Hague on December 2, 2014. He said Myanmar was on the verge of ratifying the treaty. (OPCW)Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable, according to a Dec. 1 Russian statement.

    In the statement, which came on the first day of the week-long annual conference in The Hague of countries that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), Russia said it was “fully committed” to the convention and would complete the destruction as quickly as possible. But Moscow “will do so based on the actual economic situation as it unfolds, while following all safety standards that ought to be met during the implementation of such a complex technological task,” the statement said.

    In the statement, Russia said it planned to complete the work at four of its active destruction facilities—Leonidovka, Maradykovsky, Pochep, and Shchuch’ye—this year, but that work at the Kizner facility would continue through 2020.

    Under the CWC, countries that possessed chemical weapons were supposed to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012, the 15th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Russia and the United States, which accounted for the vast majority of chemical arms declared under the CWC, did not meet the deadline. Libya, which declared a much smaller stockpile, also did not meet the deadline.

    In a document adopted at their 2011 annual meeting, the CWC parties essentially recognized that the three countries would miss the deadline, but said they should complete the work “in the shortest time possible.” The document spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for the destruction work. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

    Russia had set the 2015 target date in 2010. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) At the time, some experts expressed skepticism about the feasibility of that timetable.

    Earlier this year, Moscow indicated that it would not be able to meet the schedule. According to a May 2014 report by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) describing a visit to Russia the previous month by members of the council, a senior Russian official, Col. Gen. Victor Kholstov, told the delegation about several obstacles for the work at Kizner.

    According to the council’s report, Kholstov described certain munitions that are particularly expensive and time consuming to destroy because of their complex configuration. The report cited Kholstov as saying that funds were moved from Kizner to the facilities handling the complex munitions, delaying completion of the construction work at Kizner. Kholstov also said that recently adopted safety regulations have had a particular impact on the technology used at Kizner, further delaying the work there, the report said.

    At the council’s meeting in July 2014, Russia provided information that work at Kizner would continue beyond 2015, according to the official report of that meeting. Russia apparently did not specify a new target date at that time.

    The current U.S. target date for eliminating its chemical stockpile is 2023.

    According to figures cited by OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü in his Dec. 1 statement to the CWC conference, the United States has destroyed about 24,900 metric tons of chemical weapons, representing 90 percent of its stockpile. Russia has destroyed about 33,800 metric tons, about 85 percent of its holdings, he said.

    In his remarks, Üzümcü praised the OPCW’s “truly remarkable achievements” in the successful effort to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical weapons, but noted that some issues relating to Syria’s chemical weapons program remain to be resolved.

    On one of those issues, the destruction of 12 chemical weapons production facilities, he reported that contracts with the “commercial entities” that are to carry out the destruction had been finalized at the end of November. In a Jan. 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said destruction of the first facility had begun Dec. 24 and was “ongoing.”

    Another issue is the completeness of the declaration of its chemical weapons program that Syria made when it joined the CWC in 2013. In her Dec. 3 remarks to the meeting of CWC parties, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that “chemical weapons capabilities may very well remain in the hands of the Syrian government.”

    Üzümcü said in his statement that the OPCW would continue its consultations with Syria on the country’s declaration. Another continuing effort, he said, is the work of the OPCW team that determined “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in three villages in the northern part of the country last year, when Damascus already was a CWC party. (See ACT, October 2014.)

    With Syria’s accession to the CWC, six countries—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan—remain outside it. At the December conference, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw said his country was on the verge of ratifying the treaty.

    During remarks at a Dec. 12 conference in Washington sponsored by the Arms Control Association, Peter Sawczak, head of government relations and political affairs in the OPCW’s external relations division, said he expected Myanmar to ratify the CWC “in short order.”

    Sawczak also highlighted another nonparty, Angola, which began a two-year term on the UN Security Council on Jan. 1. “I think a lot of states-parties have delivered the message that it’s not a good look for a member of the Security Council not to be a state-party to cornerstone arms control treaties” such as the CWC, he said.

    CORRECTION: The original version of this article misstated the conclusion of the report by an investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into allegations of weapons use of chlorine in Syria. In its report, the team said it had a “high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon, but it did not assign responsibility for the chlorine use to any party.

    Russia now plans to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by the end of 2020, a five-year extension of its previously announced timetable.

    Time to Close the Iran Deal

    January/February 2015

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing. Nevertheless, a historic agreement to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran is attainable within the next several weeks and certainly before their new July deadline.

    The agreement would block Iran’s major potential pathways to nuclear weapons development—the uranium-enrichment route and the plutonium-separation route—guard against a clandestine weapons program, and remove a major threat to international security. To get to “yes,” the two sides must act with renewed determination, and Iran in particular must demonstrate greater flexibility on key issues.

    There is no time to waste. Some members of the new, Republican-led Congress are threatening to advance new Iran sanctions legislation and set unrealistic requirements for a nuclear deal. With a deal so close at hand, new sanctions are unnecessary and would be counterproductive. Moreover, they would violate the terms of the successful November 2013 interim nuclear agreement and prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

    Over the past year, Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have made significant progress toward long-term solutions on major issues of proliferation concern. For instance, the two sides agree in principle that the design of and fuel for Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor can and should be modified to drastically cut its output of weapons-grade plutonium.

    They agree that Iran should implement and ratify measures that would allow short-notice inspections of undeclared sites and provide early notification of new nuclear projects to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This would allow for prompt detection and disruption of a clandestine nuclear weapons effort.

    Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with “possible military dimensions” will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that all sanctions tied to this particular issue will not be removed unless the questions are adequately resolved. This makes it more likely that if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement, Iran will have a stronger incentive to provide the IAEA with the information necessary to determine that no such efforts are taking place now or will in the future.

    Some members of Congress erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran’s path to nuclear weapons is somehow to persuade Iran’s leaders to dismantle the country’s major enrichment facilities and other elements of its “illicit nuclear program,” as Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), two leading advocates of new sanctions, recently put it. But it is unrealistic to expect that Iran’s leadership would accept such harsh terms, even under tougher sanctions pressure.

    Instead, negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 are discussing a combination of realistic, practical measures that would establish verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. These must be sufficient and irreversible enough so as to block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons use while providing Tehran with a politically and technically acceptable enrichment capability consistent with its practical needs.

    Iran’s 10,200 first-generation, operating centrifuges provide a capability that far exceeds its foreseeable civilian nuclear fuel needs. At the same time, they can produce enough weapons-grade uranium gas for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months. The P5+1 is, for good reason, pressing Iran to significantly reduce its enrichment capacity in order to increase the time Iran would need to produce a significant quantity of weapons-grade material to a year or more.

    Effective limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity will involve several complementary measures, including reducing the capacity of currently operating centrifuges; verifiably disabling centrifuge machines that are installed but not yet operating; limiting, but not stopping, research on more-advanced centrifuges; and reducing the size of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium and converting it to oxide form.

    The two sides are closer to agreement on the right formula, but differences remain. In late November, Iranian negotiators proposed lowering the number of its operating centrifuges, but they will need to reduce the number further to assure the P5+1 that Iran cannot make a dash for nuclear weapons.

    The P5+1 has promised Iran that it will phase out nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. But if the P5+1 wants to convince Iran to accept tighter restrictions on enrichment, the six-country group should agree to the faster removal of certain sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the European Union that are not tied to the weaponization issue.

    An effective, verifiable nuclear deal is within reach if the two sides—and the U.S. Congress—make smart choices in the days and weeks ahead.

    The failure of Iran and the six-country group known as the P5+1 to bridge their differences on a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their November 2014 target date is disappointing.


    Subscribe to RSS - January/February 2015