Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2009-2010 Report Card

ACA 2009-2010 Report Card CoverPlease click here to download the full report.

Table of Contents

Press Release

Key Nations Need to Work Harder to Control Nuclear Arms, Study Finds
Comprehensive Assessment Finds U.S. and Russia Make ‘Significant Steps,’ Iran Gets a ‘D;’ North Korea Rated ‘F;’ All States Fall Short on Key Nonproliferation Standards, Commitments

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2010
Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107; Peter Crail, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): The independent Arms Control Association (ACA) today released a new study by its research staff that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament and nuclear security categories over the past 18 months.

The study, Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament: 2009-2010 Report Card gives grades to China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan—each of which possess nuclear weapons—and North Korea—which maintains a nuclear weapons capability—as well as Iran and Syria, which are under investigation for possible nuclear weapons-related activity.

“The findings of our 2009-2010 Report Card suggest that the global system that has been established over the decades to reduce nuclear weapons dangers is neither on the verge of crumbling nor on the cusp of success,” said Peter Crail, ACA’s nuclear nonproliferation analyst and lead author of the 65-page report.

“The past two years have seen relatively stronger support from the five original nuclear weapon states for the international norm against nuclear testing, for an end to fissile material production for weapons, and there is renewed progress to verifiably reduce U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear stockpiles, but the nuclear weapons states still fall short of the international standard in key areas,” he noted.

“None of the states possessing nuclear weapons reviewed in ACA’s 2009-2010 Report Card merit an overall, ‘A’ grade, and North Korea, which has violated nearly every nonproliferation and disarmament standard over the past two years, pulls up the rear with an overall grade of ‘F.’ The failure of two states of concern—Iran and Syria—to meet their international nuclear safeguards commitments and basic nuclear export control standards brought their overall grades down to a ‘D,’” Crail said.

“Unfortunately, some nuclear weapon possessor states, including China, India, and Pakistan, continue to build up their nuclear arsenals, while the United States and Russia continue to maintain their weapons on high alert,” noted Crail.

“While there has been widespread rhetorical support for the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, the record shows clearly that the world’s nuclear weapons possessor states all have work to do in order to meet the standards established by the international community aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating the nuclear weapons threat,” Crail said. “Getting to zero remains a long-term endeavor but it still requires sustained progress by many states, on many levels. Action in some areas but not others is not going to get the job done,” he said.

“The ‘states of concern’—Iran and Syria—must be persuaded to come back into compliance with nuclear nonproliferation standards and requirements, or else confidence in the system and their claims not to be pursuing nuclear weapons will deteriorate,” Crail said. “Many countries take aim at the nuclear weapon states for not doing enough on disarmament, and there is merit to that criticism, but that should not be a reason to excuse or ignore states that are clearly breaking the rules,” he said.

The Report Card grades the countries’ records on an A through F letter-scale and details the basis for each grade. The highest grade of “A” requires full adherence to the international standard; a “B” is assigned if the state has taken “significant steps” to adhere to meet the standard; a “C” is assigned if the state has taken “limited or declaratory steps to adhere;” a “D” is assigned if the state has taken “no action” to adhere; and a failing “F” grade is assigned if the state has taken steps “inconsistent with or has rejected” the international standard.

The Report Card gives the United States good grades in some key areas.

“It is important to note that President Barack Obama has devoted significant attention and political capital to advancing initiatives on nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security in his first two years in office. U.S. leadership efforts have shifted the terms of the international debate, put pressure on others to contribute to the global nuclear risk reduction enterprise, and forged broader agreement on the actions required to strengthen the nonproliferation system at the 2010 NPT Review Conference and with UN Security Resolution 1887,” said report contributor and ACA director Daryl G. Kimball.

“Over the past 18 months, the Obama administration has effected improvements in the U.S. record in some key areas measured in this Report Card, such as verifiable nuclear force reductions, the U.S. commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nuclear material security, and negative nuclear security assurances,” Crail said.

“Progress has been slower and some U.S. grades lower, however, due to the fact that several U.S. nuclear risk reduction measures require congressional action. The Test Ban Treaty, New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), four nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties, still require Senate approval for ratification. Two international accords to prevent nuclear terrorism require the adoption of implementing legislation,” Kimball noted. “U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation depends on stronger congressional support,” Kimball said.

India, Israel, and Pakistan—the only three states never to have signed the NPT—earn slightly lower overall grades in the “C” range due largely to their policies on nuclear testing, their continued production of fissile material, and the gradual increase of their nuclear forces. Pakistan is currently responsible blocking multilateral talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty.

“Although India claims to be a ‘responsible’ nuclear power, it has not taken on many of the obligations that are expected of nuclear-armed states. To move further into the nuclear nonproliferation ‘mainstream,’ both India and Pakistan must take steps that would slow down the nuclear arms race, including codifying their nuclear testing moratoria and halting fissile material production for weapons,” Kimball said.

Israel’s grades were affected, in part, by its systematic lack of transparency on nuclear matters. Israel, which will neither confirm nor deny the existence of its nuclear arsenal, has as many as 200 weapons.

“While North Korea has violated nearly every international nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standard during 2009-2010, it is not known to have pursued the most dangerous action of all: providing nuclear weapons-material to rogue states or rogue actors,” Crail noted. “Preventing renewed North Korean fissile material production and preventing its sale to others must be a top priority,” Crail urged.

“The Report Card is an ambitious attempt to help describe what constitutes the ‘mainstream’ of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament behavior expected of responsible members of the international community. We hope it will serve as a tool for the public and policy makers to assess the status of nuclear risk reduction efforts and hold governments accountable,” Kimball said.

“By outlining the many responsibilities and the records of states on nonproliferation, disarmament and nuclear security, this Report Card is a reminder that success in reducing the nuclear threat depends on implementation of tougher standards. All states, including those that are not analyzed in this report, have a responsibility to provide the leadership necessary to eliminate the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Kimball said.

Background and Approach

Basis for the “Standards”

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has long been recognized as the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation system. In the 40 years since the NPT entered into force the system has been regularly updated, expanded, and reinforced through bilateral agreements, UN resolutions, Security Council decisions, ad hoc coalitions, voluntary rules-of-the-road, and through concrete actions.

Though uneven and incomplete, this body of widely-recognized standards and commitments provides a baseline for what constitutes responsible behavior for all states. The Report Card has organized these commitments in the following 10 categories:

  • banning nuclear weapon test explosions;
  • ending the production of fissile material for weapons;
  • reducing nuclear weapons alert levels;
  • verifiably reducing nuclear force size;
  • assuring nonnuclear weapons states they will not be subject to nuclear attack;
  • establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones;
  • complying with international safeguards against the diversion of peaceful nuclear activities for weapons purposes;
  • controlling nuclear weapons-related exports;
  • implementing measures to improve the security of nuclear material and facilities; and
  • criminalizing and preventing illicit nuclear trafficking and nuclear terrorism.

These initiatives all have been recognized by an overwhelming majority of governments as critical elements of the nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security system.

It is the view of the authors of the report that in many cases these standards are not high enough and additional measures are needed to reduce and eventually eliminate the nuclear threat. However, the Report Card does not grade states on whether they are following recommendations formulated by the Arms Control Association, but rather it assesses whether key states are meeting internationally-recognized nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security commitments.

Grading Methodology

The report grades the states on an A through F letter-scale and details the basis for each grade. The highest grade of “A” requires full adherence to the international standard; a “B” is assigned if the state has taken “significant steps” to adhere to meet the standard; a “C” is assigned if the state has taken “limited or declaratory steps to adhere;” a “D” is assigned if the state has taken “no action” to adhere; and a failing “F” grade is assigned if the state has taken steps “inconsistent with or has rejected” the international standard.

The grades assigned in the Report Card are informed primarily by the stated policies and action of the states, such as their positions on treaties and agreements, laws it has or has not passed, etc. The Report Card also draws upon the findings of international organizations such as the IAEA, and in a few cases draws from unclassified intelligence judgments and widely-respected independent reports.

To the greatest extent possible, the report credits states for concrete actions rather than statements of policy or intention to take an action.

Highlights of the 2009-2010 Report Card

Overall Trends:

  • Nuclear weapon possessor states are adhering to some key standards but are falling short or are even abrogating others, resulting in cumulative grades in the mid-range (“B” and “C”). North Korea’s record, which includes a nuclear test explosion in 2009, earns it an overall grade of “F.”
  • Failure by some states to be more transparent about their nuclear programs reduced their grades in several areas, as they have not provided the international community with adequate assurances that their nuclear programs are not being used for military purposes.
  • The norm against nuclear weapons testing is well-established among the five original nuclear weapon states and has been strengthened by the United States renewed support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, the United States, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and others must still ratify the treaty to bring it into force.
  • During the 2009-2010 period, the United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons—made significant progress in meeting their nuclear disarmament commitments by negotiating and signing the New START pact; however, other nuclear weapons possessor states received low or failing (China, India, Pakistan) marks in the category of nuclear reductions.
  • Despite long-standing calls to reduce nuclear weapon alert levels, nuclear weapons possessor states maintain their arsenals in various states of readiness. Those that keep their bombs apart from their delivery systems earn an “A” while the United States and Russia, which keep many of their weapons on Cold War-style alert posture, each receive a “C.”
  • The non-NPT states (India, Israel, Pakistan) continue to pose a challenge regarding efforts to halt the production of fissile material for weapons. Pakistan is currently responsible blocking multilateral talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty.
  • Once the domain of a few supplier countries, efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear- and missile-related technology through export controls are more widely recognized and supported, but they need to be better enforced.
  • In part due to the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. greater attention has been focused on nuclear material security, leading several nations to bolster efforts to prevent terrorist theft. It is one of the few areas in which no state reviewed earned an “F.”

Country-by-Country Highlights:

China (Overall grade: B-)—China earned higher grades for its nuclear weapons alert posture and for its declaratory policy of  "no first use," which not only strengthens its commitment not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states, but also leads China away from keeping its weapons on more ever-ready alert levels maintained by all of the other nuclear-weapon states.

However, China is also the only nuclear-weapon state that is scaling up its nuclear forces, rather than drawing them down, earning it an “F” grade for nuclear reductions. China has signed but not ratified the CTBT and it asserts, as it has for years, that it is pursuing ratification.

France (Overall grade: B)—France's highest grades are attributable to the closure of its nuclear weapons-material-producing facilities, a step going beyond other nuclear-weapon states that have merely pledged not to produce such material for weapons. Similarly, France closed its national nuclear test sites, a critical demonstration of its commitment to ban nuclear testing.

However, France scores the lowest with respect to its policies on negative security assurances. Its nuclear strategy of "dissuasion" suggests potentially expansive conditions under which its nuclear weapons may be used, including against non-nuclear-weapon states.

Russia (Overall grade: B-)—Despite the fact that Russia possesses the largest nuclear arsenal of any country, Russia’s April 2010 signature of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the United States earned it one of the top grades (“B-“) for nuclear force reductions. The Russian Duma, however, still must approve the treaty to bring those reductions into effect. Moreover, if Russia is ever to receive an A in this category, it will need to further reduce its strategic nuclear weapons and verifiably reduce its large stockpile of nonstrategic warheads.

Russia's work to reduce the size of its strategic nuclear arsenal has not been accompanied by efforts to take its strategic weapons off of high alert. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, and after repeated international calls to lower nuclear force readiness levels, many Russian nuclear weapons are geared to launch within minutes, running the risk of accidental or miscalculated use, earning Russia is lowest grade, a “C.”

United Kingdom (Overall grade: B)—The United Kingdom is perhaps the most forward-looking of the NPT nuclear-weapon states on disarmament, with the lowest arsenal of the five. Yet since this Report Card measures progress made within the last 18-month timeframe, the lack of continued reductions meant that the UK fared poorly in the nuclear reductions category. The UK's recent Strategic Defense Review, which recommends additional cuts to the UK nuclear stockpile, suggests that its performance in this regard will be much improved in the future.

United States (Overall grade: B)—The country with the most significant changes in its adherence to nonproliferation and disarmament standards in the past 18 months has been the United States. The Obama administration has brought U.S. policy further in line with such standards in areas such as banning nuclear testing, verifiably ending fissile material production, verifiably reducing nuclear arsenals, and assuring states without nuclear weapons against the use of nuclear weapons against them. However, further progress on these initiatives requires congressional action.

India (Overall grade: C+)—India earns relatively good grades for actions and policies regarding warning time for nuclear weapons use, export controls, and multilateral nuclear security commitments. Although India claims to be a “responsible” nuclear power, it has not taken on many of the obligations that the original five nuclear-weapon states have accepted. In particular, it continues to build up its nuclear arsenal, including through the production of nuclear weapons material. Moreover, it has not made a formal commitment to halt nuclear testing by signing the CTBT. It therefore received low marks in the areas of banning nuclear testing, ending fissile material production, and nuclear force reductions.

Unlike other states that maintain their weapons at some degree of heightened readiness, India is believed to keep its nuclear arms separated from their delivery systems, reducing the chances of accidental or miscalculated use. It earns one of the top marks among all nuclear-weapons possessors for this stance.

Israel (Overall grade: C-)—One of the most important responsibilities of nuclear weapons-possessors is transparency, as it helps to provide assurance that those weapons would not be misused. Israel's refusal to acknowledge its nuclear weapons-possession severely hinders its adherence to international nonproliferation and disarmament standards. These standards include ending fissile material production for weapons, reducing nuclear weapons alert levels, nuclear force reductions, and negative security assurances.

Among the states that have not signed the NPT, Israel alone has signed the CTBT, demonstrating some commitment against testing. Its adherence to international guidelines against the proliferation of nuclear weapons-related and missile-related technologies also demonstrate strong nonproliferation commitments.

Pakistan (Overall grade: C-)—Pakistan not only continues to produce fissile material for weapons against the norm, it is also the sole country blocking progress on an international treaty to verifiably ban such production for all states. It therefore not only gets a failing grade regarding efforts to end the production of fissile material for weapons, it hinders efforts to improve adherence to this standard across the board.

Pakistan has engaged in efforts to alleviate concerns regarding the security of its nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials by joining international and multilateral nuclear security initiatives. This positive step does not mean, however, that those concerns are to be dismissed. Despite claims by both Pakistani and U.S. officials that Pakistani nuclear assets are protected, the continued political instability in Pakistan and the threats posed by insurgent and terrorist factions in the country place those assets at risk.

North Korea (Overall grade: F)—North Korea violated nearly every nonproliferation and disarmament standard in the timeframe of this report. It tested a nuclear device in May 2009, separated more plutonium for weapons, engaged in nuclear threats against its neighbors, and continued to proliferate sensitive technology, ultimately earning it a failing grade overall.

Iran (Overall grade: D)—Iran earned failing grades for violating its safeguards obligations, including by constructing clandestine uranium enrichment facility at Qom, which was revealed last year, and continuing to violate export control laws to import sensitive nuclear and missile-related goods and technologies.

The most positive action Tehran has taken in regard to nuclear nonproliferation is signing the CTBT, committing itself not to carry out nuclear tests. Though work that Iran is believed to have carried out in the past undermines this commitment, its signature suggests that Iran might not stand in the way of the treaty’s entry into force.

Syria (Overall grade: D)—The destruction of Syria's nearly-completed nuclear reactor in September 2007 may have permanently crippled any possible nuclear-weapons ambitions it may have had. However, Syria's ongoing failure to cooperate with the subsequent IAEA investigation severely undermines the agency's authority, and the health of the nonproliferation regime.