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"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
Julia Masterson

Talks in Brussels to Precede Vienna Negotiations

European Union Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora traveled to Tehran Oct. 14 to discuss the resumption of negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but it appears that Iran is still not ready to resume indirect talks with the United States. Mora coordinated the first six rounds of discussions in Vienna aimed to revive the accord, which is also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Negotiations have remained stalled since the sixth round concluded in June 2021. Mora met with Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani to review Iran’s plans to resume...

U.S., UK Pledge Nuclear Submarines for Australia


October 2021
By Julia Masterson

Australia could become the first non-nuclear-weapon state to field a nuclear-powered submarine as part of a new trilateral security partnership with the United States and United Kingdom known as AUKUS. The initiative was unveiled at a joint virtual press conference held Sept. 15.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the latter arrives at the Pentagon on September 22. The meeting took place a week after the two countries and the United Kingdom announced the  AUKUS security pact to help Australia develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines and pursue other military cooperation.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) All three nations emphasized that Australia will not acquire nuclear weapons and that they will uphold their commitment to global nonproliferation standards. Even so, the decision by the United States and the UK to equip Australia with nuclear submarines has heightened proliferation concerns because the U.S. and UK submarines are powered by on-board reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium (HEU).

The objective of the new trilateral alliance is to ensure “peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific [region] over the long term,” U.S. President Joe Biden said during the joint appearance unveiling the initiative alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on video monitors.

“We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it will evolve because the future of each of our nations, and indeed the world, depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” Biden added.

The United States has shared nuclear submarine propulsion technology only with the UK, a product of a series of Cold War agreements aimed to counter Soviet influence in Europe.

The UK Royal Navy operates three nuclear-powered submarine systems: the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine and the Astute- and Trafalgar-class attack submarines. Johnson said the AUKUS partnership will provide “a new opportunity to reinforce Britain’s place at the leading edge of science and technology, strengthening our national expertise.”

Morrison said that Australia will work with Washington and London over the next 18 months “to seek to determine the best way forward to achieve” a conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarine fleet. He also said that the submarines will be constructed “in Australia in close cooperation” with the UK and the United States. The submarines will reportedly be finished in time to be fielded in the 2040s. Early reports suggest Australia may lease U.S. or UK nuclear-powered submarines in the meantime, but the details remain unclear.

At a press conference in Canberra on Sept. 16, Morrison noted that “[n]ext-generation nuclear-powered submarines will use reactors that do not need refueling during the life of the boat. A civil nuclear power capability here in Australia is not required to pursue this new capability.”

A senior Biden administration official appeared to confirm on Sept. 20 that the vessels will be powered with HEU, as UK and U.S. submarines are, when they commented on Australia’s fitness for “stewardship of the HEU.” It remains unclear who would supply Australia with the fissile material necessary to fuel the submarines or whether the nuclear-powered submarines might be provided through a leasing arrangement.

Another unknown is whether the submarine design will be based on existing U.S. or UK attack submarines or an entirely new design. One of the reasons that Australia may lease U.S. or UK vessels in the near term is to “provide opportunities for us to train our sailors, [to] provide the skills and knowledge in terms of how we operate,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton told reporters Sept. 19, suggesting the new submarines may share a similar design.

The AUKUS initiative is not limited to the new submarine project. It will also facilitate the sharing of information in a number of technological areas, including artificial intelligence, underwater systems, and quantum, cyber-, and long-range strike capabilities. Morrison said Australia will also enhance its long-range strike capabilities through the purchase of Tomahawk cruise missiles and extended range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

The three leaders were careful not to attribute the new trilateral security initiative as a response to concerns about expanding Chinese military capabilities. In February, as part of a growing U.S. emphasis on prioritizing competition with Beijing, Biden announced a new Defense Department task force charged with assessing U.S. military strategy toward China.

Nevertheless, Chinese officials were quick to condemn the AUKUS initiative. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Sept. 16 that “the nuclear submarine cooperation between the U.S., UK, and Australia has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international nonproliferation efforts.”

China also expressed concerns about the proliferation risks posed by the initiative. Lijian warned that “the international community, including Australia’s neighboring countries, has full reason to question whether Australia is serious about fulfilling its nuclear nonproliferation commitments.”

Australian, UK, and U.S. officials have endeavored to assure the international community that the initiative does not pose a heightened proliferation risk. A senior Biden administration official said on Sept. 15 that “Australia, again, does not seek and will not seek nuclear weapons. This is about nuclear-powered submarines.” But they noted the novelty of the circumstance, adding, “[T]his is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects.”

Aidan Liddle, the UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, told Arms Control Today in an email Sept. 21 that “[a]ll three parties involved are absolutely committed to the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] and have a long track record of working to uphold and strengthen the global counter-proliferation regime.”

“We have spoken to the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Director[-]General about this, and we will keep in close touch with the IAEA as we investigate the safeguards implications of the programme during the next phase of work,” said Liddle. He added, “[W]e will ensure that we are fulfilling our international obligations and giving absolute confidence that no HEU will be diverted for weapons purposes.”

Most nonproliferation experts, however, say the concern is not necessarily with Australia’s intentions but the precedent that the nuclear-powered submarine-sharing scheme would set. Although Australia’s new submarines would be conventionally armed, they clearly would be deployed for military use and will reportedly utilize HEU, which can also be used for nuclear weapons.

Washington has reached nuclear cooperation agreements for the exchange and transfer of civil nuclear material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes with many non-nuclear-weapon states. But military-relevant naval nuclear technology transfers are not covered under these agreements, including the U.S.-Australian agreement for nuclear cooperation that was signed in 2010.

In a Sept. 21 letter to the editor published in The New York Times, Rose Gottemoeller, former U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, criticized the proposal to share HEU-fueled submarines with Australia. The proposal, she wrote, “has blown apart 60 years of U.S. policy” designed to minimize HEU use. “Such uranium makes nuclear bombs, and we never wanted it in the hands of nonnuclear-weapon states, no matter how squeaky clean,” she said.

As recently as May 2021, the UK and United States declared that they wanted to “reinvigorate” efforts to minimize the use of HEU, according to the official statement laying out the goals for the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction. (See ACT, June 2021.) Reducing the production and use of HEU “enjoys broad support but requires more solid political support,” the statement said.

Senior Biden administration officials have called the decision concerning Australia “a one-off,” implying that similar arrangements would not be made with other U.S. allies.

Despite support for the new initiative among the three capitals, the AUKUS partnership risks undermining U.S. and UK relations with allies, particularly France. Australia signed on to the nuclear submarine acquisition scheme after abandoning a $66 billion deal with France for the construction of 12 conventionally powered submarines. Negotiations to establish the AUKUS initiative took place in secret for six months, and the French were not privy to those discussions.

In her Sept. 21 letter to the editor, Gottemoeller criticized the submarine deal’s lack of “strategic imagination” and noted that “what we needed was a three-cornered billiard shot—pivot to Asia, yes, but keep our European allies on board.”

“I suggest bringing the French to the table,” Gottemoeller, who was also NATO’s deputy secretary-general from 2016 until 2019, concluded. The French utilize low-enriched fuel for their naval propulsion, which, if shared with Australia, would pose a dramatically lower proliferation risk than HEU, she wrote.

Following the AUKUS announcement, Paris recalled its ambassadors from the United States and Australia. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain and Defense Minister Florence Parley said in a joint statement that “the American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret.”

Paris also cancelled a French-UK defense minister’s summit scheduled for the week of Sept. 20.

The controversial deal is designed to counter a more assertive China but many worry it could also weaken nonproliferation norms.

Iran Edges Toward Resuming Nuclear Talks


October 2021
By Julia Masterson

Iran’s new administration appears to be inching toward resuming multilateral negotiations on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other major countries, but exactly when that might happen remains an open question. The sixth round of talks concluded on June 20, and negotiations have since remained stalled.

During his first speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 22, President Joe Biden said that although the United States is "prepared to return to full compliance [with the 2015 nuclear deal] if Iran does the same,” it also “remains committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.” (Photo by Eduardo Munoz/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)Although Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi used his first speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21 to slam the United States for the sanctions imposed on his country, he remained open to negotiations on the nuclear accord. Raisi made clear that Iranians “don’t trust the promises made by the U.S. government,” but said Tehran considers talks useful if they result in the lifting of all sanctions.

The same day, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying that talks with world powers over reviving the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported, according to Reuters.

"Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks," he reportedly said.

U.S. President Joe Biden also used the UN meeting to lay down markers. “We are prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same,” he said in his first speech to world leaders. But Biden underscored that the United States “remains committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Early posturing by Raisi and his cabinet had cast doubt on the likelihood of the near-term resumption of talks.

The new Iranian government set out to clarify Tehran’s position on negotiations to restore the deal after Raisi was inaugurated Aug. 5. Although pledging a commitment to the deal, the new president said he would pursue “smart engagement” to lift U.S. and international sanctions on Iran, suggesting his administration may take a more hard-line approach. (See ACT, September 2021.)

Officials in Raisi’s government and that of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, have long maintained that a restoration of the JCPOA should begin with the lifting of U.S. sanctions, which were reimposed after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018. Washington is also interested in returning to the JCPOA but in mutual exchange for Iran’s return to compliance with its obligations under the accord.

Tehran has cautioned the other parties to the deal, and specifically the United States, against pushing for a prompt return to talks. Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said during an Aug. 31 interview that a two- or three-month process will be necessary for the Raisi government to prepare for negotiations.

Although change is underway in Tehran, including the appointment of Ali Bagheri Kani as deputy foreign minister, there appears to be some continuity from the Rouhani administration. Abbas Aragchi, the former deputy foreign minister who was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, will stay on as an advisor to JCPOA talks, the Raisi administration confirmed Sept. 14. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Khatibzadeh, announced on Sept. 19 that further changes to Iran’s negotiating team are being considered but have not been finalized.

In a Sept. 4 interview, Raisi underscored that Iran is interested in negotiations but not with the pressure imposed by the United States and the European parties to the deal (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom). But he confirmed Iran is committed to resuming talks and will not step back further from diplomacy.

Khatibzadeh said on Sept. 13 that Tehran will resume talks in the near future. Amid speculation that Amirabdollahian could meet with his foreign minister counterparts at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September, Khatibzadeh said that no decision has been made but that the Iranian minister will meet with each of the foreign ministers separately and on a bilateral basis.

Other parties to the JCPOA have pushed back on Amirabdollahian’s proposal. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Sept. 9 that “two or three months is a time frame that is much too long for us.” At a Sept. 15 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, France, Germany, and the UK delivered a statement urging Iran to “constructively reengage in negotiations without further delay.” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, in a Sept. 17 tweet similarly lamented that talks must promptly resume.

Although all parties to the JCPOA and the United States appear committed to restoring the deal, the window for talks may not stay open indefinitely. Iran has accelerated steps to breach JCPOA limits in accordance with its December 2020 nuclear law, including by boosting its enrichment of 20 percent uranium-235 and producing uranium metal. These provocative moves have shortened the one-year breakout window, or the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb, that was envisioned by the 2015 accord.

In their statement to the IAEA board, the European parties noted that “[c]ollectively, these steps present a pressing nuclear proliferation risk, have irreversible consequences for Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and undermine the non-proliferation benefits of the JCPOA.”

“It is particularly regrettable that Iran has deepened its systematic violations of the JCPOA at a time when all JCPOA participants and the United States are engaged in substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a diplomatic solution to restore the JCPOA,” they said.

Asked about a deadline for negotiations to resume, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sept. 9, “I’m not going to put a date on it, but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the [JCPOA] does not reproduce the benefits that the agreement achieved,” likely referring to the original one-year breakout window. He added, “[W]e’ve been very clear that the ability to rejoin the JCPOA…return to mutual compliance, is not indefinite.”

Meanwhile, Israeli officials said they have accelerated military planning against Iran's nuclear program.

Laying markers at the UN General Assembly, the U.S., and Iranian leaders reaffirmed interest in restoring the Iran nuclear deal but negotiations remain stalled.

North Korea Rachets Up Nuclear, Missile Activities


October 2021
By Julia Masterson

North Korea may have restarted its five-megawatt reactor, which it has historically used to produce plutonium to support its nuclear weapons program, according to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Whether it be nuclear weapons or missiles, North Korea is continuing to expand its military capabilities and refusing entreaties from the United States to “meet without conditions.” (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)Although the reactor, located at the Yongbyon complex, was inoperative from December 2018 until July 2021, the discharge of cooling water from the reactor suggests it may now be operational, the report, issued Aug. 27, said.

The IAEA does not have an on-site presence in North Korea, but it reports annually on the country’s nuclear activities using information gathered from satellite imagery analysis and other national technical means.

North Korea’s radiochemical laboratory at Yongbyon was also operational during the last reporting period, from February to July 2021. The laboratory houses North Korea’s plutonium reprocessing facility, which is used to extract the weapons-grade fissile material from spent reactor fuel.

According to the agency’s report, “[T]he five-month timeframe is consistent with the time required to reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel” from the five-megawatt reactor, in keeping with design information provided to the IAEA by North Korea in 1992. It is likely that North Korea’s latest reprocessing campaign involved fuel rods that were removed after the reactor was last operational, in December 2018.

North Korea has conducted three known reprocessing campaigns, in 2003, 2005, and 2009, each of which lasted for about five months.

Although North Korea appears to be continuing its plutonium production, the IAEA report suggests that the production of enriched uranium-235 has stalled. “The reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation” throughout the last reporting period, the IAEA stated.

But some analysts contend that North Korea may be gearing up to boost its production of enriched uranium, as evidenced by apparent efforts to expand the enrichment hall at Yongbyon. Commercial satellite imagery reveals possible steps to construct a new outer wall at the facility, which some analysts predict could allow North Korea to rachet up its enriched uranium production by 25 percent, according to a Sept. 16 report by CNN.

Other analysts disagree, citing commercial imagery that depicts the removal of cooling units from the enrichment hall. “As proper air conditioning and system cooling is essential to the uranium enrichment process—including maintaining a consistent temperature inside the cascade halls—it is unlikely that the [uranium-enrichment plant] is currently operating,” a group of analysts wrote on Sept. 16 on the 38 North website. Any uranium-enrichment activities will remain paused until those cooling units are replaced, they estimated.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s recent nuclear activities have raised alarm. “The continuation of [North Korea’s] nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi wrote in the agency’s report.

Senior diplomats from Japan, the United States, and South Korea called on Pyongyang to return to talks over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, met with Noh Kyu-duk, South Korean special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, and Takehiro Funakoshi, Japanese director-general for Asian and Oceanic affairs, on Sept. 14 in Tokyo. That scheduled meeting took place the day after Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors that North Korea’s nuclear program is “cause for serious concern” and after North Korea tested new long-range cruise missiles. The U.S. envoy urged Pyongyang to “respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”

North Korea tested the new cruise missiles on Sept. 11 and the next day described them as a “strategic weapon” that had been developed over two years. The missiles will serve as “an effective deterrent ensuring the security of our state more firmly and overpowering powerfully the anti-[North Korean] military moves of the hostile forces,” North Korean state media reported. One of the missiles flew 1,500 kilometers.

Later in the week, Pyongyang also tested a new train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which state media reported could travel 800 kilometers. The testing of the new system, dubbed the Railway Mobile Missile Regiment, was overseen by a top North Korean military official.

State media said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend either missile test.

 

Pyongyang continues to expand its nuclear capability by testing more missiles and reportedly restarting a reactor capable of producing plutonium.

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot


October 2021

The last U.S. projectiles containing mustard agent at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky, were destroyed on Sept. 4, marking the third of five destruction campaigns completed at the site.

A munitions handler guides a 155mm projectile containing mustard agent into a box to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky. The last mustard-agent projectile was processed on Sept. 4. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)To date, about 32 percent of the chemical agents stored at Blue Grass, or about 170 tons, has been destroyed. The destruction process began in June 2019. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, which was created by Congress in 1997, is responsible for the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.

After signing and ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States endeavored to destroy its approximately 3,500 tons of chemical agents. Today, only two U.S. chemical weapons destruction facilities remain operational; the rest are closed. The Blue Grass Army Depot originally stored more than 523 tons of mustard gas and nerve agents, while the Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Colorado, stored more than 2,600 tons of mustard agent.

Destruction remains ongoing at both sites. At Pueblo, 78 percent of the agents have been destroyed since the process began in March 2015.—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot

Iran, IAEA Reach Access Agreement

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement Sept. 12 that will allow agency inspectors to access remote monitoring equipment at certain nuclear facilities in Iran to service the units and install new data storage. The agreement likely staved off an IAEA Board of Governors resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Sept. 8 that “unconstructive” action from the board could “disrupt” negotiations in Vienna to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Talks...

IAEA Report on Iran Raises Serious Concerns About Monitoring

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program paints a bleak picture of the agency’s current ability to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and the new Iranian government’s willingness to cooperate with the agency. Newly inaugurated Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi may think intransigence and ambiguity over the status of Iran’s nuclear program will build leverage in negotiations to bring Tehran and Washington back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal—which would reimpose on Iran the most stringent monitoring regime ever negotiated—but his...

IAEA Report on Iran Raises Serious Concerns About Monitoring

The most recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program paints a bleak picture of the agency’s current ability to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and the new Iranian government’s willingness to cooperate with the agency. Newly inaugurated Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi may think intransigence and ambiguity over the status of Iran’s nuclear program will build leverage in negotiations to bring Tehran and Washington back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal—which would reimpose on Iran the most stringent monitoring regime ever negotiated—but his...

New Chinese Missile Silo Fields Discovered


September 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

China is constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos at as many as three locations, fueling concerns that it aims to substantially expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. Beijing’s rapid nuclear buildup, recently revealed through open-source intelligence analysis, could significantly impact the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and arms control and strategic stability talks between the United States and Russia.

Yumen in northwestern China is among three locations where the Beijing government is constructing at least 250 new long-range missile silos. (Image: Planet Labs Inc. / Analysis: MIIS James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies)U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his concern with the “rapid growth” of China’s nuclear arsenal at an Aug. 6 meeting of foreign ministers at the ASEAN Regional Forum. He said this dramatic expansion indicates a sharp deviation from Beijing’s “decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” according to a readout of the meeting by State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, called the development a “strategic breakout” by China. “The explosive growth and modernization of its nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking, and frankly, the word ‘breathtaking’ may not be enough,” he told the Space & Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., on Aug. 12.

China has yet to officially respond to the discovery of two new missile silo sites at Yumen and Hami in northwestern China in June and a potential third in Inner Mongolia in July. The Chinese Foreign Ministry told the Associated Press on July 30 that, with respect to reports about the Hami site, it was not aware of the situation.

China’s nuclear stockpile remains small in comparison to those of the United States and Russia and only grew by an estimated 30 warheads, to 350, between 2020 and 2021, according to a June 2021 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The U.S. Defense Department’s 2020 military power report on China was more conservative, putting China’s nuclear warhead stockpile in the low 200s. (See ACT, October 2020.) Beijing currently has an estimated 20 silos for liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Comparatively, the United States and Russia are believed to have nuclear stockpiles of about 4,000 warheads each.

Republicans in Congress said that the recent revelations confirmed reports during the Trump administration that China was speeding its nuclear buildup and that Beijing’s actions demand an accelerated modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, called China’s nuclear buildup “unprecedented” and suggested that China is “deploying nuclear weapons to threaten the United States and our allies.”

China’s nuclear posture has long been one of minimum nuclear deterrence, aimed at maintaining a small but technically sophisticated arsenal capable of a second-strike. Beijing has long asserted that it adheres to a no-first-use policy, meaning that it would only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a first strike.

But the discovery of new missile silos provides some evidence for the claims made during the Trump administration that China aims to substantially expand the size of its nuclear arsenal in the coming years. In May 2019, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley Jr. predicted that, “over the next decade, China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the course of implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China’s history.”

In April 2021, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, Ashley’s successor, shared his assessment that China is well poised to exceed that estimate. “China probably seeks to narrow, match, or in some places exceed U.S. qualitative equivalency with new nuclear warheads and their delivery platforms,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a briefing on the annual worldwide threat assessment.

At the new missile silo fields at Yumen and Hami, which are located roughly 236 miles apart, Beijing has 229 missile silos under construction. Each site features silos placed about two miles apart in a grid-like pattern, spanning an area of about 300 square miles. The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies first identified the construction of an estimated 119 silos at the Yumen site, as reported by The Washington Post on June 30.

On July 26, the Federation of American Scientists announced its discovery of an additional 110 missile silos outside of Hami, on which construction had begun in March 2021. “The silo construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever,” wrote Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen.

A potential third site, at Hanggin Banner, Inner Mongolia, was disclosed in a report on Aug. 12 that revealed construction of a silo field similar to those found at Yumen and Hami. According to Air University’s China Aerospace Studies Institute, a U.S. Air Force education institute that publicized the location, satellite imagery indicates construction of at least 29 new silos, 13 of which have dome shelters.

Experts suggest that China’s DF-41, a solid-fueled ICBM capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, may be destined for the silos at the new sites. It is uncertain, however, whether Beijing plans to fill every silo with a missile and how many warheads each missile will carry.

“Just because you build the silos doesn’t mean you have to fill them all with missiles,” Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, told The New York Times on July 26. “They can move them around.”

Employing such a shell-game strategy could be one of China’s motivations for constructing new missile silos. Alternatively, as suggested by Tong Zhao of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, leaders in Beijing may have adjusted their calculus to determine that “a bigger arsenal would make the country’s rivals respect China and exercise more self-restraint when dealing with Beijing.”

Although China once prioritized a sophisticated but small nuclear arsenal, Zhao suggests that recent evidence indicates Beijing “has become more willing to invest in quantity, in addition to its traditional focus on [the] quality” of its nuclear forces.

Caitlin Talmadge, an expert on Chinese nuclear issues at Georgetown University, shared her assessment July 1 on Twitter that “China is working hard to entrench [the United States] in a deeper state of mutual vulnerability” through its nuclear buildup.

“Beijing has a good ways to go still, but true nuclear stalemate would make it much more challenging for [the United States] to reassure [and] defend allies in the face of Chinese conventional threats,” she concluded.

U.S. defense officials are also watching to see if China will use its civilian nuclear power infrastructure to expand its weapons-grade fissile material stockpile. Richard warned in April that Beijing’s new nuclear power reactors “could change the upper bounds of what China could choose to do if they wanted to in terms of further expansion of their nuclear capabilities.” Nuclear infrastructure intended for civilian use could be maladapted for the production of weapons-grade material.

China’s rapid expansion has prompted questions about how it could affect arms control and strategic stability talks between the United States and Russia. Washington and Moscow kicked off the dialogue in July in Geneva.

The Trump administration pursued efforts in 2020 to bring China into trilateral arms control talks with Russia, but Beijing repeatedly refused. (See ACT, November 2020.) At one point, the Trump administration conditioned an extension of the 2010 U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was set to expire in February 2021, on China’s involvement in a new trilateral arms control agreement. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Trump left office with the treaty’s future in doubt, but the Biden administration agreed to extend New START just days before its expiration. Even so, Blinken said on Feb. 3 that Washington will not only seek future arms control covering all Russian nuclear weapons, but also “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal.”

On Aug. 10, Price echoed the secretary’s remarks after the silo field revelations, saying that “we encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races and conflict.”

The desire for a dialogue on strategic stability with China is shared by some U.S. military leaders. “A dialogue allows us to communicate our national security or diplomatic objectives, and then to understand Chinese national security diplomatic objectives,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton, commander of the 20th Air Force, which has responsibility for the U.S. ICBM force, on Aug. 10. “I think it is beneficial to work with the Chinese.”

In addition to China’s construction of new missile silos, a July 30 report by National Public Radio revealed satellite images of the construction of a new tunnel and roads at Lop Nur, the former Chinese nuclear test site. The U.S. State Department has previously expressed concern that Beijing may be seeking to increase activities at Lop Nur. (See ACT, May 2021.)

China’s construction of new long-range missile silos is raising concerns.

 

Key Arms Control Officials Confirmed


September 2021
By Shannon Bugos and Julia Masterson

The Biden administration made progress over the past two months in filling key arms control and national security posts within several departments.

Bonnie Jenkins, a former Arms Control Association board member with decades of experience as an arms control and nonproliferation expert, is the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She is among the unusually high number of women named to national security positions by President Joe Biden. (Photo by U.S. Mission-Geneva)Bonnie Jenkins was sworn in on July 25 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Just three days later, she led the U.S. delegation, alongside Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in a round of the U.S.-Russian strategic stability dialogue in Geneva.

“I am committed to reduce the risk of nuclear war by effective arms control, limit Russian and [Chinese] nuclear expansion, strengthen biosecurity, and pursue accountability for the use of chemical weapons,” Jenkins posted on Twitter following her swearing-in ceremony.

The Senate confirmed Jenkins on July 21 by a vote of 52–48. Biden nominated her for the post in March. (See ACT, April 2021.)

Jenkins, a former board member of the Arms Control Association and former coordinator for threat reduction programs at the State Department under President Barack Obama, will oversee bilateral talks with Russia on strategic stability and nuclear arms control, as well as guide U.S. strategy for the upcoming 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition, Biden nominated Mallory Stewart on July 2 to become assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, a position that reports to Jenkins. Stewart currently serves as a special assistant to the president and senior director for arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation on the National Security Council. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy during Obama’s second term.

Stewart’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to be scheduled.

Also among the Obama administration alumni tapped to join the Biden team is Laura Holgate, who was nominated July 27 to be the U.S. representative to the Vienna office of the United Nations and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Holgate previously served as U.S. ambassador to the IAEA from July 2016 until January 2017.

At the Pentagon, Biden nominated Sasha Baker as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy and Deborah Rosenblum as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense. Baker is now the White House’s senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council and served as deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter during the Obama administration. She was nominated Aug. 10, and her confirmation hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Rosenblum, an executive vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a nongovernmental organization, previously held multiple senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Following her nomination April 27, she was confirmed by a voice vote of the Senate on July 29, and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Aug. 10 that the department recently welcomed her to its ranks.

With a bipartisan vote of 79–16, the Senate confirmed Jill Hruby on July 22 as undersecretary of energy for nuclear security and administrator at the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency at the Energy Department. Biden nominated Hruby, a former director of Sandia National Laboratories, in April.

Hruby will “lead our efforts to maintain a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent and protect our national security,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm following Hruby’s confirmation. “She is a brilliant leader, a model public servant, and an inspiration to engineers and rising stars everywhere.”

Frank Rose was sworn in Aug. 2 as NNSA principal deputy administrator. Rose, nominated in April, previously served in Obama’s State Department as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance and deputy assistant secretary for space and defense policy.

Biden also announced on Aug. 4 his nomination of Corey Hinderstein as deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the Energy Department. She previously served as senior coordinator for nuclear security and nonproliferation policy affairs in that office and currently is the NTI vice president of international fuel-cycle strategies.

“If confirmed, she would lead our nonproliferation work and help keep our nation and our world safe from nuclear threats,” Granholm said about Hinderstein’s nomination.

 

Bonnie Jenkins, the new undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, is among the officials recently confirmed by the Senate.

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