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– Izumi Nakamitsu
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
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Medvedev Bans S-300 Sale to Iran

Peter Crail

Following years of mixed messages over the potential delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree prohibiting the transfer Sept. 22. The United States and Israel, arguing that the deal would further undermine regional stability, long had pressed Moscow not to follow through on a 2007 contract Russia inked with Iran to provide the system.

The version of the S-300 system believed to have been part of the contract has the capability to counter aircraft at a range of 195 kilometers and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 50 kilometers. Previous Russian air defense systems sold to Tehran are believed to guard some Iranian nuclear facilities.

For years, Russian officials avoided commenting directly on whether Moscow would transfer the system, merely citing Russian policy that it would take into account regional security before it carried out its weapons sales. Russia also said that an arms embargo imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council in June did not apply to air defense systems, but officials from Western countries said that Moscow assured them the S-300 transfer would not go through.

Responding to the Russian decree, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Sept. 23 that Medvedev “demonstrated leadership on holding Iran accountable to its international obligations from start to finish.”

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi downplayed the decree in a state television interview Sept. 23, saying the sale was “not vital” and that Iran would build a similar system of its own.

Software Error Derails Airborne Laser Test

Robert Golan-Vilella

The experimental Airborne Laser (ABL) missile defense system failed a test last month after a software error caused the system’s high-energy laser to become misaligned, according to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The test was conducted Sept. 1 at the PointMuguNavalAirWarfareCenter off the coast of California. The ABL test bed, which is housed in a modified Boeing 747, attempted to shoot down a liquid-fueled, short-range missile in its boost phase, the first phase of flight. The ABL employs sensors and a low-energy laser beam to detect and track the incoming missile; it then uses a high-energy laser to target and damage the missile.

However, the Sept. 1 test never got beyond the first stage. According to a Sept. 10 MDA press release, the ABL successfully detected and tracked the target missile, but “corrupted beam control software steered the high energy laser slightly off center.” Sensing the misalignment, the system’s high-energy laser immediately shut down, and the test terminated early.

The MDA did not announce the results of the test until AOL News inquired about the results and broke the story Sept. 7.

The failed Sept. 1 test comes after a successful ABL test in February, in which the system’s high-energy laser destroyed a liquid-fuel missile in its boost phase. The system’s next test, which was originally scheduled for late September, is now expected to take place “at some point in October,” MDA spokeswoman Debra Christman said.

According to the Obama administration’s “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” the ABL program has “experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its inception in 1996.” In particular, plans for a second plane were canceled, and the existing aircraft has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, March 2010.) It is not clear if the recent test failure will affect current test plans.

States at Odds Over Disarmament Body

Peter Crail

UN efforts to “revitalize” the work of its negotiating forum on disarmament during a high-level meeting Sept. 24 revealed continued disagreement on how best to resolve more than a decade of deadlock. (See ACT, September 2010.) A summary of the meeting compiled by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who chaired the session, proposed to continue the discussions during the UN General Assembly’s First Committee during the fall.

A key disagreement during the meeting involved the continued utility of the procedural rules of the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), which require consensus. A number of states, including Ireland, Mexico, and Norway, suggested that the consensus rule apply only to substantive issues; they argued that some states have abused the rule by applying it to procedural decisions, such as the adoption of the body’s program of work.

Primarily because of procedural conflicts, the CD has been unable to begin substantive negotiations since 1996.

Many states opposed any changes, insisting that political disagreements, rather than rules of procedure, were behind the deadlock.

States similarly differed on whether negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons should be handled outside the CD. Several countries suggested that if work on the treaty has not started at the CD by the end of 2011, countries need to start considering other forums.

Ban’s summary “strongly suggested” that the CD, when it meets again in January, adopt a program of work initially approved in 2009. Since then, Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations over concerns that a fissile material cutoff treaty, at least in the form that most countries are supporting, would not affect India’s existing stocks of fissile material.

UN Chief Urges Countries to Ratify CTBT

Eric Auner

Countries that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) should aim to be “the first mover” and join the treaty without waiting for others to do so, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a group of national representatives, including 24 foreign ministers, Sept. 23.

Ban, who previously chaired the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, made the comments at a biennial meeting held at the United Nations to mark the anniversary of the date in 1996 when the treaty was opened for signature.

The foreign ministers in attendance released a joint statement reaffirming their support for CTBT ratification. As of Sept. 28, 62 countries, including the United States, had endorsed the statement. The statement will remain open for endorsement until it is submitted to the UN in late November or early December.

More than 180 countries have signed the CTBT; 153 of them have ratified it. Forty-four countries, specified in the treaty’s Annex 2, must ratify the pact before it can enter into force. Nine have not done so, including the United States.

Some governments have indicated that they will be more likely to ratify the CTBT if the United States does so.

In his opening statement at the meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara specifically cited India, another Annex 2 state. The CTBT is “an important measure to guide those non-[nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] signatories, including India, into the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime,” he said.

The meeting took place on the heels of the first annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests on Aug. 29, which was declared by a vote of the UN General Assembly.