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– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Shannon Bugos

Abandonment of Open Skies Treaty Would Undermine U.S. and European Security

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For Immediate Release: October 9, 2019

Media ContactsKingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, 202-463-8270 ext. 104; Tony Fleming, director for communications, 202-463-8270 ext 110.

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The Trump administration is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from yet another key arms control treaty: the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. If President Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty, it would undermine the security of the United States and European allies, including Ukraine, say leading arms control and national security experts.

The Open Skies Treaty entered into force in 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. The treaty allows for information-sharing that increases transparency about military forces among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.

The treaty allows aerial imaging through short-notice, unarmed observation flights over each other's entire territory. The flights allow observing parties to identify significant military equipment, such as artillery, fighter aircraft, and armored combat vehicles. Open Skies aircraft can only be equipped with cameras verifiably limited to a resolution below state-of-the-art technology, and the treaty disallows the collection of any other electromagnetic signals. The 34 states-parties have yearly quotas on overflights and must make the collected information available to all treaty parties.

Since entering into force, the United States has conducted almost 200 flights over Russian territory. Russia has carried out more than 70 flights over U.S. territory. U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection.

National security officials, members of Congress, and arms control experts are warning the Trump administration that withdrawal would be "reckless" and would reduce the ability of the United States and European allies to monitor and counter Russian aggression against Ukraine.


QUICK QUOTES

"The Open Skies Treaty provides information about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies and provides the Russians with insight on our capabilities. Such transparency reduces uncertainty and the risk of conflict and miscalculations due to worst-case assumptions."
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association

"U.S. flights over Ukraine and western Russia have yielded valuable data, easily shared between allies. The flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners."
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


RESOURCES


EXPERTS AVAILABLE IN WASHINGTON

To schedule an interview with or appearance by an expert on U.S-Russian arms control agreements, please contact Tony Fleming, director for communications, (202) 463-8270 ext 110.

  • Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

  • Amb. Bonnie Jenkins, former Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, Department of State, and member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], (571) 264-7053

  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, [email protected], 202-277-3478
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The treaty provides transparency about Russian military activities for the U.S. and our allies. Withdrawing from the treaty would be another step in the collapse of U.S. leadership and further alienate U.S. allies and partners, note arms control experts.

Country Resources:

Countries Urge Entry into Force of Nuclear Testing Ban at UNGA

In the midst of this year’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City on Sept. 25, ministers of foreign affairs and diplomats representing nearly 50 countries spoke at a biannual conference in favor of entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) signed by 184 countries. Signed in 1996, the CTBT prohibits “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any nuclear explosion” no matter what the yield, anywhere in the world. According to Article XIV of the treaty, the agreement cannot enter into force until it has been both signed and ratified by the 44 countries listed in...

Saudi Arabia Seeks to Enrich Uranium


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Saudi Arabia intends to enrich uranium to fuel its planned nuclear power program, the country’s new energy minister said on Sept. 9. The Saudi position could run afoul of a recently disclosed Trump administration policy to seek a Saudi commitment to refrain from such activities in exchange for U.S. nuclear technology.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks with reporters in May. He has delivered a letter to Saudi officials demanding they agree to refrain from enriching uranium or separating plutonium in exchange for peaceful U.S. nuclear technology. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)“We are proceeding with it cautiously.… We are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” said Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman at the 24th World Energy Conference in Abu Dhabi on Sept. 9. Saudi officials have announced plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. (See ACT, April 2018.) Currently, companies from the United States, Russia, South Korea, China, and France are competing for a contract to build the first two nuclear power reactors, with a Saudi decision reportedly expected by the end of this year.

To receive U.S. nuclear materials or technology, Saudi Arabia would need first to sign a 123 agreement with the United States. Named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act requiring it, a 123 agreement sets the terms and authorizes cooperation for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries. A 123 agreement can involve what is known as a “gold standard” commitment in which a country forgoes the enrichment of uranium or the reprocessing of plutonium, which are two pathways to making nuclear weapons. The State Department is leading negotiations for this agreement, and once complete, it will require congressional approval.

Those negotiations apparently include a U.S. demand for the gold standard. In September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a letter to Saudi officials outlining the U.S. requirements that Saudi Arabia must adopt an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and commit to the gold standard.

“The terms of the 123 Agreement must also contain a commitment by the kingdom to forgo any enrichment and reprocessing for the term of the agreement,” said Perry’s letter, as reported by Bloomberg.

Energy Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette recently spoke in favor of a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. “If there’s going to be any transfer of technology, you can’t do it without it,” he said. He did not, however, specifically mention whether the gold standard would be a part of such an agreement.

Negotiations on a 123 agreement have slowed over the past year as Riyadh has refused to relinquish the possibility of enriching uranium. (See ACT, December 2018.) Further complicating the talks were March 2018 remarks by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Also muddying the situation is an ongoing investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee into allegations that top Trump administration officials, such as former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, pushed for U.S. companies to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia without a 123 agreement and in potential violation of ethics laws. (See ACT, March 2019.) The committee first revealed its investigation in February 2019 and released a second interim report on its investigation this past July.

Shortly after its first report in February, members in both houses of Congress introduced legislation requiring congressional oversight over any 123 agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Those bills also state that no 123 agreement with Riyadh should be approved until Saudi Arabia becomes transparent about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post, in October 2018. The U.S. intelligence community determined last November that the crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi, but U.S. President Donald Trump has defended Riyadh.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who introduced the House bill alongside Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), told Arms Control Today that “Saudi Arabia’s government isn’t known for its transparency, but on the nuclear issue, the kingdom has been crystal clear: it wants to enrich uranium to have the capability to build nuclear weapons. In light of this, a failure to secure a 123 agreement with gold standard safeguards would be reckless and irresponsible. If you can’t trust a regime with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons.”

Saudi Arabia announces plans to enrich its own nuclear fuel just as the Trump administration demands restraint. 

U.S. Raises Treaty Compliance Concerns


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has concerns about Russian and Chinese compliance with nuclear weapons-related treaties, according to a newly released State Department report. The annual compliance report provides additional background details on Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and repeats Trump administration concerns about possible nuclear testing by Russia and China.

The U.S. State Department's annual compliance report reiterated that Russia's 9M729 cruise missile violated the INF Treaty, leading to the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty. (Photo: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)The report, made public on Aug. 22 and titled “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” primarily covers activities during 2018. The State Department released a shorter version of the report in April, which sparked controversy in Congress about the potential politicization of intelligence with regard to Iran, as well as other countries.

The full report said that Russia continued to violate the INF Treaty in 2018, a charge the Trump administration cited before formally withdrawing the United States from the treaty on Aug. 2. The 1987 pact banned the possession or testing of all nuclear and conventional, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile known as the 9M729. The report asserts that Russia began development of the missile “probably by the mid-2000s” and concluded in 2015 a “comprehensive” flight-test program. By the end of 2018, Russia fielded multiple battalions of the 9M729, the report says.

“The history of Russia’s anti-INF [Treaty] overtures leading up to missile tests, its attempt to covertly exploit a treaty exception permitting ground-based flight tests of intermediate-range missiles not subject to the treaty, its lack of an explanation for these tests, and its overall secrecy” about the 9M729, the report declares, “provide important context for Russia’s violation.”

The compliance report also raises concerns about alleged Russian nuclear weapons testing and compliance with the 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT), which prohibits nuclear tests with explosive yields exceeding 150 kilotons. The report states that “based on available information, Russian activities during the 1995–2018 timeframe raise questions about Russia’s compliance with its TTBT notification obligation.”

In addition, the report echoes remarks made earlier this year by the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) regarding Russian nuclear testing. In May, DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley said that “Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard outlined” in the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). (See ACT, July/August 2019.) The CTBT, although not yet in force, goes a step farther than the TTBT by prohibiting nuclear tests, no matter what the yield.

The August report said, “The United States…has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.” In an apparent attempt to back up this statement, the report adds that, “[d]uring the 1995–2018 timeframe, Russia probably conducted nuclear weapons-related tests at the Novaya Zemlya Nuclear Test Site.”

The report also mentions Ashley’s remarks regarding China. In May the DIA director said that China may be preparing to operate its nuclear test site year-round and is continuing to use explosive containment chambers at that site. According to the compliance report, these activities, as well as a lack of transparency from China, “raise questions” about Beijing’s adherence to the zero-yield nuclear weapons testing moratorium.

On Iran, the compliance report states that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities judged necessary to produce a nuclear device” and that the United States will continue with its “maximum pressure campaign” on Tehran until Iran agrees to “a comprehensive deal that resolves all U.S. concerns.”

The report says that the information in the cache of documents seized by Israel on Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities, known as the nuclear archive, has not revealed evidence of any ongoing weapons work. The report argues, however, that Tehran retained those documents, which are still under review by the U.S. intelligence community, to potentially “aid in any future decision to pursue nuclear weapons” and may have “taken active measures to deliberately deceive” officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As for North Korea, the compliance report states that the United States “believes there is a clear likelihood” of “unidentified nuclear facilities in North Korea” besides those at Yongbyon, the country’s nuclear center. The report does not provide additional information on those secret facilities.

In response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s declaration in 2018 that Pyongyang would end all nuclear testing and demolish the P’unggye Nuclear Test Site, the report states that the results of the demolition at the test site in May 2018 “are almost certainly reversible.”

The compliance report emphasizes that the administration “remains committed to continued diplomatic negotiations with North Korea toward the goal of achieving the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

 

An annual State Department report reinforces Trump administration charges of arms control treaty violations. 

U.S. Intel Sheds Light on Russian Explosion


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

U.S. intelligence analysts have bolstered earlier assessments that an Aug. 8 explosion near a Russian missile test site involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile undergoing development and testing. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The incident began with a blast at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site, on the coast of the White Sea. According to a statement from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) two days later, five employees died in the accident, which involved “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit.” Two military personnel also reportedly died from the blast.

A subsequent U.S. intelligence assessment determined that the blast was caused by a recovery mission to salvage a nuclear-powered cruise missile from the ocean floor from a previous test, CNBC reported on Aug. 29.

“There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery, and that caused a reaction in the missile’s nuclear core, which lead to the radiation leak,” a person with direct knowledge of the intelligence assessment told CNBC. A number of media outlets have reported releases of a variety of radioactive isotopes.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Norwegian Norsar Research Institute suggested that there may have been two explosions at the test site. Anne Lycke, the institute’s chief executive, said that seismographic readings suggested an explosion first on the ground or water, and then an infrasonic air-pressure sensor pointed to a second explosion two hours later, likely in the air. The second one “coincided in time with the reported increase in radiation,” she said. The governor of the region in which the blast took place denied the possibility of a second explosion.

Some U.S. nuclear experts and intelligence officials initially assessed that the accident likely involved a failed test of a nuclear-powered cruise missile known as the 9M730 Buresvestnik by Russia and the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov appeared to confirm this assessment Aug. 21, stating that a “nuclear-propelled missile” was being tested at the time of the accident.

No official explanations have come from Russia. President Vladimir Putin said only that “this is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems.”

CNBC released another report on Sept. 11 citing an intelligence finding that, despite numerous test failures, the 9M730 would be ready for deployment in 2025, about five years earlier than previously assessed.

 

A mysterious August explosion at a Russian missile test site likely involved a prototype nuclear-powered weapon. 

Turkey Shows Nuclear Weapons Interest


October 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Complaining that nuclear-armed nations retain an unacceptable monopoly on nuclear weapons, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a recent Turkish holiday to seemingly suggest that his nation acquire its own nuclear arsenal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2019. Earlier in the month, he suggested that Turkey may be interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)“Several countries have missiles with nuclear warheads, not one or two. But [they tell us that] we can’t have them. This I cannot accept,” Erdogan said on the centennial of the Turkish independence movement. “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them.”

In fact, many developed countries do not have nuclear weapons. Only nine countries—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—possess nuclear weapons, with Washington and Moscow owning 93 percent of them.

In a comment to The National Interest, a U.S. State Department official reminded Turkey that it is a party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and emphasized the “great importance of Turkey’s continued adherence to its obligations under the treaty.”

Turkey signed the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state in 1980, meaning that Ankara agreed to forgo developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Turkey has also signed the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear test explosions.

Additionally, since 1952, Turkey has been a part of NATO. Under NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, five European countries—Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey—host U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. At Incirlik Air Base, Ankara stores the most of any NATO state, about 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs. Turkey, however, neither trains its pilots to fly nuclear missions nor possesses the required aircraft to deliver those weapons. Meanwhile, despite concerns over the past few years about maintaining these weapons at Incirlik, there remains no indication that the United States or NATO has moved to withdraw them.

As the State Department also pointed out, Turkey is “covered by NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause, which bolsters Turkey’s defense and security.”

Nevertheless, Erdogan once again hinted at Turkey’s potential pursuit of nuclear weapons during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24, saying “the position of nuclear power should either be forbidden for all or permissible for everyone.”

Erdogan’s comments come as Ankara began in July to receive shipments of the S-400 Russian missile defense system. Turkey and Russia signed the S-400 deal, worth $2.5 billion, in December 2017. The United States has opposed it, citing concerns that Russia might use the system to gather intelligence about advanced fighter jets that Turkey purchased from the United States but has not received.

After the initial delivery of the S-400 system to Turkey, the Trump administration decided on July 17 to remove Ankara from the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, canceling the shipment of more than 100 F-35s and causing Turkey to lose its production work on the jet. On Sept. 4, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said that it had moved ahead with the training of their air force personnel to operate the S-400 system in Gatchina, Russia. The ministry said on Sept. 15 that the delivery of a second battery of the system has been completed and that the S-400 missiles would become active in April 2020.

Erdogan’s remarks may have been more an expression of desire to build its status as a world power than an actual goal, according to some analysts.

“The Turkish president was not actually signaling an imminent decision to develop nuclear weapons,” wrote Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Instead, Stein says, Erdogan is arguing that the West has failed to treat Turkey equally and, in order “to right the wrong,” demanding a seat at the table.

Turkey’s president said, “There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them.” 

U.S.-Russian Nuclear Arms Control Watch, Sept 13, 2019

U.S. Tests Ground-Launched Cruise Missile On Aug. 18, less than two weeks after the official collapse of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the United States tested a ground-launched variant of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile that would have been prohibited by the treaty. The test was a clear signal that the United States can and will pursue such systems in the absence of the INF Treaty. In a statement, the Defense Department said the “test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight. Data...

U.S. Completes INF Treaty Withdrawal


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Less than one year after President Donald Trump informally announced that the United States would withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the State Department announced on Aug. 2 that the move was officially complete. The treaty’s death leaves just the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in place to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons deployments, and that pact is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears at the State Department's anniversary celebration on July 29, three days before the United States withdrew from the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)For several years, the United States has alleged that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a banned missile system, and Washington pinned its treaty withdrawal squarely on Russia. “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in announcing the U.S. move. “Over the past six months, the United States provided Russia a final opportunity to correct its noncompliance. As it has for many years, Russia chose to keep its noncompliant missile rather than going back into compliance with its treaty obligations.”

Russia and China strongly criticized the Trump administration’s action and sought to blame the United States for the end of the treaty. “Instead of engaging in a meaningful discussion on international security matters, the United States opted for simply undercutting many years of efforts to reduce the probability of a large-scale armed conflict, including the use of nuclear weapons,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an Aug. 5 statement. He added that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes.

Similarly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Aug. 2 that “[w]ithdrawing from the INF Treaty is another negative move of the U.S. that ignores its international commitment and pursues unilateralism. Its real intention is to make the treaty no longer binding on itself so that it can unilaterally seek military and strategic edge.”

For its part, NATO supported the U.S. decision, saying in a statement that “a situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, however, lamented the end of the treaty, saying that “a piece of Europe’s security has been lost.”

Signed in 1987, the INF Treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by testing, possessing, and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), known as the 9M729. (See ACT, September 2014.)

In October 2018, on the sidelines of a campaign rally, Trump stated that he planned to “terminate” the INF Treaty. Since then, U.S. and Russian officials held only a few unsuccessful meetings to discuss the treaty.


 


Pompeo announced on Feb. 2 that the Trump administration would suspend its obligations under the treaty and withdraw from agreement in six months if Russia did not return to full compliance. When formally withdrawing on Aug. 2, Pompeo argued that “Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners.”

Trump echoed that statement in Aug. 2 comments, saying that “if [Russia is] not going to live up to their commitment, then we have to—we always have to be in the lead.” The White House previously also cited concerns about the intermediate-range missile arsenal of China, which is not party to the treaty and has deployed large numbers of missiles with ranges that Washington and Moscow were long prohibited from deploying.

Attention has now shifted to how the United States and NATO should approach a world without the agreement. The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 million in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty.

“Sooner rather [than] later, we want to develop this capability and [make] sure we can have long-range precision fires, not just for [Europe], but for the theater that we’re deploying to as well, because of the importance of great distances we need to cover, and how important an intermediate-range conventional weapon would be to the [Pacific Command] theater,” said Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Aug. 2.

The Pentagon conducted the first test of one of these systems Aug. 18, when it fired a GLCM from San Nicolas Island, off the coast of California, to a target more than 500 kilometers away, according to an official statement. A test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile is expected in November.

With limited time remaining, New START could be extended for up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents. The treaty caps U.S. and Russian deployments of strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550 and intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers at 700. The treaty also has a comprehensive verification regime, including on-site inspections and routine data exchanges. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

If New START does expire with nothing to replace it, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century.

New START is the only pact left to limit U.S. and Russian nuclear weapon deployments.

U.S. Hosts Nuclear Disarmament Working Group


September 2019
By Shannon Bugos

Aiming to break loose stagnant progress toward nuclear disarmament, officials from more than 40 nations agreed to an initial framework of a U.S. initiative during a two-day meeting in Washington ending July 3. The U.S. State Department hosted the plenary meeting for participants of its Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative.

The officials discussed “ways to improve the international security environment in order to overcome obstacles to further progress on nuclear disarmament,” according to the State Department’s media note released on the first day. As stated in a summary report of the working group obtained by Arms Control Today, three particular topic areas were identified: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the involvement of multilateral institutions in nuclear disarmament, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons.

Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, opened the session saying he wanted the process “to be as free and open an engagement as possible…. While no one should be asked to abandon strongly held policy views, I would encourage you to focus more upon how we can build a better world together than upon trading recriminations about the present.”

The United States first proposed the CEND initiative at the May 2018 meeting of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee, held in advance of the NPT’s 2020 review conference. (See ACT, July/August 2019.) U.S. officials characterized the initiative as an effort to hold a dialogue on the “discrete tasks” necessary in order “to create the conditions conducive to further nuclear disarmament.”

The recent meeting, consisting of about 100 representatives from nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, as well as non-NPT nations, was randomly divided into three groups and rotated through each of the three topic areas. Afterward, a subject matter expert in each group summarized the areas of convergence that emerged from each session.

On the issue of reducing incentives to acquire or retain nuclear weapons, the participants agreed to future discussion of the need for states to clearly articulate the full scope of threats they perceive from others, according to the summary report. Additionally, the officials agreed on their desire to buttress existing arms control, nonproliferation, and security mechanisms, as well as compliance with them. Some participants, for example, expressed support for two existing agreements: the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program, and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which they encouraged the United States and Russia to extend.

The summary reported that the discussion of the role of multilateral and other types of institutions found general agreement that the CEND initiative could provide “an innovative format for strengthening existing forums.” Other areas of convergence included the need to reaffirm the importance of the NPT as the “cornerstone” of the global nonproliferation and disarmament architecture and to develop a list of practical measures, such as negotiating and implementing confidence-building measures, to improve the security environment.

Lastly, the risk reduction discussion identified the need to manage and prevent conflict from escalating to nuclear war, according to the summary report. Increased dialogue and communication were noted as potential areas for future work, particularly in respect to having nuclear-armed states provide greater detail on what is feasible for nuclear risk reduction. The most discussed options among participants for specific risk-reduction measures included improving crisis communication channels, standardizing pre-launch notifications to prevent misunderstandings, and eliminating certain categories of nuclear weapons or launch systems.

The next meeting of the CEND initiative has not been announced, but some reports have indicated it will take place later this year in Europe. Finland, the Netherlands, and South Korea will serve as co-chairs of the three discussion subgroups, and three additional co-chairs are expected to be named.

A new survey finds that some global tech firms have no policies to ensure their applications are not used for lethal autonomous weapons.

TAKE ACTION: Extend New START

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With the Aug. 2 termination of the INF Treaty, the New START agreement is now the only treaty putting limits on the world’s two largest nuclear weapons arsenals—and it too is in jeopardy.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher and Sen. Dick Lugar relentlessly pursued steps to reduce nuclear risks and to enhance strategic stability during their time in Congress and afterwards. New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, is set to expire in 2021, although the U.S. and Russian presidents can extend it—and its irreplaceable verification and monitoring system—for up to five years if they choose.

But given the Trump administration’s demonstrated antipathy toward important arms control treaties, it may be up to Congress to save it.

A growing number of Republican and Democratic members of Congress are voicing their support for the treaty and its extension. For instance:

  • In the House, Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (H.R. 2529) bill, which expresses the Sense of Congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START Treaty so long as Russia remains in compliance.
     
  • In the Senate, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced a companion bill, also named the “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces” (S. 2394). This bill expresses the same as the House bill.

Instead of working toward an extension of New START, the Trump administration is busy arguing that China and Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons must be covered in the treaty as well.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states, like China, and limits on all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming.

The first step should, therefore, be a five-year extension of New START which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Use the form below to urge your senators and representative to support these bills.

We need your members of Congress to support these efforts to make sure that the limits on Russia’s nuclear weapons arsenal—which help keep us from engaging in an expensive and dangerous arms race—remain in force.

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