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"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
News Briefs

Biden Promotes CTBT in Speech

Daniel Horner

The objections once raised by critics of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) have been fully met, Vice President Joe Biden said Feb. 18 at the NationalDefenseUniversity in Washington.

Referring to the Senate’s 1999 vote against the treaty, Biden said, “We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then—concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal—have now been addressed.”

Biden devoted much of the speech to the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), which maintains the U.S. nuclear arsenal without nuclear testing. As Biden noted, President George H.W. Bush in 1992 signed into law a nuclear testing moratorium that was contained in a spending bill enacted by Congress.

Stockpile stewardship has been a success, he said. The U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories “know more about our arsenal today than when we used to explode our weapons on a regular basis,” he said. “With our support, the labs can anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal,” he said.

For fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration is requesting about $7 billion, an increase of about 10 percent, for the weapons activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy that manages the SSP. The administration plans further increases over the next five years, Biden said.

“This investment is not only consistent with our nonproliferation agenda, it is essential to it,” Biden said.

The audience included several top administration officials, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who introduced Biden.


 

Russia Considers Buying French Warship

Volha Charnysh

French President Nicolas Sarkozy approved the sale of an advanced amphibious warship to Russia, French defense officials told the Associated Press Feb. 8. France is considering the Russian navy’s request for building three more Mistral-class vessels, according to the officials. If Moscow commits to the deal, the Mistral sale will be the first significant arms deal between Russia and a NATO member. Georgia, Lithuania, and Latvia all expressed reservations about the possible sale.

The 23,700-ton Mistral-class ship can carry 16 helicopters and 40 assault vehicles, act as a floating command center, anchor in coastal waters, and deploy troops on land. Although the $750 million ship does not include the latest defense and fire-fighting technology, its purchase would give Russia a naval land-attack capability it currently lacks.

Last year, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vladimir S. Vysotsky said a Mistral-class ship would take just 40 minutes to do what Russian vessels did in 26 hours in the Black Sea during the August 2008 Georgian-Russian war.

The deal comes at a time when Russia is pursuing an ambitious military modernization program. Moscow has more than doubled its arms exports since 2000, according to a Feb. 15 statement by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


Clinton Draws Attention to CFE Impasse

Volha Charnysh

Russia and NATO should revive discussions on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Jan. 29. In a speech at L’Ecole Militaire in Paris, Clinton called the pact “a cornerstone of conventional arms control, transparency, and confidence-building” and said communication and transparency are crucial to meeting European security challenges.

In December 2007, Russia unilaterally suspended implementation of the CFE Treaty and stopped providing information on its treaty-limited equipment. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Clinton expressed concern over that action and said the United States should revitalize the dialogue with CFE Treaty signatories. “We must not allow the transparency and stability that the CFE regime has provided to erode further,” she said.

Meanwhile, Victoria Nuland was appointed special envoy for conventional armed forces in Europe. According to a Feb. 2 statement on the Department of State’s Web site, Nuland will work under the direction of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher “to develop ideas to modernize our current conventional arms control structures in Europe.” She will consult with NATO and Russia on the issue, the statement said.


India Moves Closer to U.S. Nuclear Exports

Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama certified last month that India has met a key condition of U.S. law governing nuclear exports to that country.

The certification, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Feb. 3, means that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission can issue licenses for U.S. firms to make nuclear exports to India. Certain other obstacles to U.S.-Indian nuclear trade remain. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

As part of a Bush administration initiative to lift long-standing U.S. and international restrictions on nuclear trade with India, New Delhi agreed to open some of its power reactors to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. In 2006, it provided an initial list and schedule for that process.

As required by the 2008 U.S. law approving the nuclear cooperation agreement with India, Obama certified that India has given the IAEA a formal declaration that is “not materially inconsistent” with the 2006 plan.


New Law Pushes Nuclear Forensics

Caitlin Taber

A new U.S. law aims to develop U.S. and international nuclear forensics capabilities to help

address concerns about a nuclear terrorist attack.

Through nuclear forensics, scientists can trace nuclear material to the laboratory that produced it.

The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act, which was introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), was signed into law Feb. 16. It establishes a NationalTechnicalNuclearForensicsCenter within the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and sets up an “expertise development program” to promote nuclear forensics as an academic discipline.

The law also expresses the “sense of the Congress” that the president should pursue international agreements to create a framework for determining the source of nuclear material that has been confiscated or has been used in a nuclear or radiological weapon. Under the law, the president also should develop protocols for exchanging sensitive information.

In his testimony during an Oct. 10, 2007, hearing before House Homeland Security Committee, Schiff said that “little of this information is of direct use to adversaries, and in many cases the risk of not sharing the data is much greater than [the] risk of sharing it.”