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Deadline Set for Restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal?

Iran’s retaliation for a censure from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors put a ticking clock on efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s decision to disconnect 27 IAEA cameras led the agency’s Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi to declare that the gap in monitoring will be a “fatal blow” to efforts to restore the nuclear deal within 3-4 weeks. At that point, he said that the IAEA’s ability to maintain its continuity of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear activities will be compromised, which impacts...

Experts Call on Biden to Redouble Diplomacy to Restore 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal


IAEA Director-General Warns “Fatal Blow” to Agreement Could Be 3 to 4 Weeks Away

For Immediate Release: June 10, 2022

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—Experts from the Arms Control Association strongly urge President Joseph Biden to immediately redouble efforts to break the stalemate on talks to restore compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned that efforts to restore the JCPOA will face a “fatal blow” within three to four weeks, after Iran announced June 9 that it was disconnecting certain cameras monitoring key nuclear facilities.

“President Biden clearly supports a restoration of mutual compliance with the JCPOA as the best way to roll back Iran’s potential to produce bomb-grade nuclear material and maintain more stringent International Atomic Energy Agency oversight of Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “And it is.”

“Unfortunately, the Biden administration has not treated the growing crisis, which was triggered by former President Trump’s irresponsible withdrawal from the agreement in 2018, with the necessary degree of urgency it deserves,” he charged. “In the wake of new disturbing developments, however, the White House must take immediate action.”

This week, Iran disconnected 27 cameras monitoring key nuclear facilities in retaliation for an IAEA Board of Governors resolution urging Iran to cooperate with the agency on its investigation of undeclared nuclear materials from the pre-2003 nuclear weapons program. The IAEA risks losing its continuity of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear activities—which is necessary for restoring the JCPOA—if the cameras remain disconnected for more than 3-4 weeks, Grossi warned June 9.

“A deal to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is on the table and could be quickly implemented—if the United States and Iran move away from hardline positions on the non-nuclear issue blocking agreement: whether and under what conditions to lift a U.S. foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designation on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC),” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy.

“It is past time for both sides to resolve that impasse and finally deliver on what is in the interest of all sides: an agreement to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal,” she said.

“The Biden Administration continues to argue that it is up to Iran to accept the deal or negotiate over the IRGC designation. But it is a failure of leadership on the part of the White House not to announce it will immediately intensify diplomatic efforts to break the impasse on the issue. And blaming Iran, however emotionally or politically satisfying that may seem to be, doesn’t avert the imminent nuclear crisis and it doesn’t advance U.S. national security interests” Kimball said.

"Biden will pay a small political cost for lifting sanctions on the IRGC, but it pales in comparison to the enormous national and international security threat of a nuclear-armed Iran," Davenport said.

“Currently, Iran could produce enough nuclear material for a bomb in less than 10 days—a window so short Tehran’s actions may not be detected by international inspectors. Restoring the JCPOA’s limits on Iran’s nuclear program will significantly increase that margin to about six months, which provides the international community with enough time to take effective action to counter any Iranian move toward a nuclear weapon,” Davenport said. 

“If President Biden fails to promptly conclude negotiations with Iran to restore the JCPOA, it would perpetuate the failed strategy pursued by the Trump administration and allow Iran to further expand its nuclear program and defy its safeguards obligations with the IAEA. Biden risks going down in history as the president that allowed Iran to reach the brink of a nuclear bomb. It is past time the United States doubled down on creative proposals to break the impasse,” she warned. 


Experts from the Arms Control Association are calling on President Biden to immediately redouble stalled diplomatic efforts to restore compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which is facing what the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director-General says could be a “fatal blow” within three to four weeks.

Country Resources:

No Ordinary NPT Review Conference

June 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, waged under the threat of nuclear weapons use, has delivered a shocking reminder of an existential danger that did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Putin’s aggression increases the potential for a NATO-Russian conflict that could quickly escalate, lead to the use of nuclear weapons, and spiral into a global nuclear catastrophe. Although leaders in Washington and Moscow understand that a nuclear war cannot be won, their respective nuclear deterrence policies and the ongoing fighting make it more likely that a nuclear war could be fought.

United Nations Headquarters. (UN Photo/Joao Araujo Pinto)Putin’s decision to discard diplomacy and invade Ukraine puts the 77-year taboo against nuclear weapons use to the test. It also has derailed the strategic stability and arms control dialogue between Washington and Moscow, made a mockery of the repeated security assurances that nuclear-armed states will not attack non-nuclear states, and created a major challenge for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

But the international community’s pushback against Russia’s nuclear bullying has been far too tepid.

The next global debate about nuclear weapons will take place in August at the 10th NPT Review Conference. In the face of the growing danger of nuclear war, this is a critical opportunity for the treaty’s 191 states-parties to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons, to strongly condemn any threat of nuclear weapons use, and to intensify the pressure for action to fulfill the treaty’s Article VI provision “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Responsible nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states cannot afford simply to muddle through the month-long meeting. Russia’s violent assault on Ukraine is a clarion call for responsible NPT states to rally around a meaningful nuclear risk and disarmament action plan. Even if a consensus final document is not attainable due to tensions over the war, a supermajority of states should seek to chart the path forward through a joint declaration.

Putin’s war has derailed for now U.S.-Russian talks on further cuts in their bloated strategic arsenals and new agreements to limit short- and intermediate-range nuclear weapons, but the United States and Russia, as well as other NPT states-parties, are still bound by their disarmament obligations. The last remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), expires in early 2026. Without commonsense arms control guardrails, the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

U.S. President Joe Biden should direct his team to embrace a bold, specific NPT action plan, which, more than any rhetoric from U.S. diplomats, would show that his administration wants to be on the right side of history rather than resisting the overdue action that is needed to reduce nuclear dangers.

Other states cannot afford to wait for the United States to lead or allow the other NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, and the United Kingdom) to escape accountability. Robust, constructive leadership from other NPT states-parties, such as Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, South Africa, and Sweden, will be needed. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and the Non-Aligned Movement also have crucial roles to play. Their previous statements and working papers suggest these states share common positions that would allow them to advance a common nuclear risk and disarmament action agenda that:

  • calls on the United States and Russia to resume their strategic stability dialogue, begin negotiations on New START follow-on agreements, and issue unilateral reciprocal commitments to respect the central limits of New START after 2026;
  • calls on all NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze their nuclear stockpiles and engage in disarmament negotiations;
  • endorses a moratorium on intermediate-range nuclear weapons and the deployment of new short-range nuclear weapons;
  • calls for all states to respect the de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing and to negotiate on-site confidence-building measures pending the entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • reaffirms that any use of nuclear weapons would produce catastrophic humanitarian consequences and that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” nor should any state threaten the use of nuclear weapons;
  • urges all states to phase out “launch under attack” postures and refrain from offensive cyberattacks on nuclear command, control, and communication systems; and
  • calls for the start of negotiations on legally binding security guarantees to prevent unprovoked attacks by nuclear-weapon states against non-nuclear-weapon states.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

At this time of heightened nuclear danger, responsible NPT states must act with urgency to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons, push back against Russia’s nuclear bullying, and strengthen their commitment to reverse the arms race, avoid nuclear war, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Will Domestic Politics Trump Nonproliferation in Stalled Iran Deal?

June 2022
By Barbara Slavin

Only a few years ago, the notion that Iran could be weeks away from amassing sufficient material for a nuclear weapon would have generated a massive crisis in Washington and monopolized international diplomacy. Yet, there seems to be little palpable sense of urgency today, despite the fact that Iran is enriching uranium to near weapons grade and is on the verge of the proverbial breakout about which Iran hawks have warned so often in the past.1 Meanwhile, negotiations on restoring compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and rolling back Iran’s nuclear advances have been in limbo since mid-March.

A Shahab-3 surface-to-surface missile is displayed in Tehran next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a 2021 exhibition marking the 1980–88 Iran-Iraq war. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)In the U.S. view, the ostensible reason for the impasse is an Iranian demand for sanctions relief that goes beyond what is required by the JCPOA. Iran has been seeking removal of the foreign terrorist designation of a powerful branch of the Iranian military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The U.S. Department of State added this designation in 2019 as the Trump administration ran low on new targets to sanction under its “maximum pressure” campaign. The Biden administration, which says it wants to revive the JCPOA, has indicated that it would be willing to lift the designation, which has little practical effect because the IRGC remains subject to numerous other U.S. sanctions, if Iran makes a gesture of its own.2

That could entail an Iranian promise to engage in follow-on talks on regional issues or a pledge not to try to kill former U.S. officials implicated in the 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Qods Force branch of the IRGC.3 Iran has refused so far, although efforts to find a mutually acceptable compromise continue.

In many ways, the issue appears to be an excuse and not the real cause for the diplomatic deadlock. Other factors have led to the delay in restoring compliance with the JCPOA, in particular, the war in Ukraine. With Russian forces committing atrocities daily in Ukraine and the Western world focused on punishing Russia and rearming the Ukrainians, there is less political bandwidth left to deal with the Iran issue.

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The merits of restoring the JCPOA also have come under increasing scrutiny in the United States and Iran. The landmark deal, intended to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and to reintegrate Iran into the global economy, never fulfilled its potential, given that it had only nine months of full implementation before Donald Trump was elected U.S. president in 2016. The agreement started to fall apart after the Trump administration unilaterally quit in 2018 and reimposed all the sanctions lifted by the JCPOA. The administration then added more sanctions even though Trump officials acknowledged Iran was complying with the deal at that time. Iran eventually ramped up its nuclear activities, busting through the limitations established by the JCPOA on stockpiles, enrichment levels, and use of advanced centrifuges, as well as provisions for strict international monitoring.

As of February 2022, Iran possessed more than 3,000 kilograms of enriched uranium. That is more than 10 times the stockpile allowed under the JCPOA and includes more than 30 kilograms enriched to 60 percent uranium-235, perilously close to weapons grade.4 By May 10, the stockpile was at more than 40 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent, Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the European Parliament.5 Although much of this activity can be reversed, the knowledge Iranian scientists and engineers have acquired is permanent, meaning that the long-term nonproliferation benefits of the agreement, if restored, would inevitably be less than when the deal was implemented in 2016.6

U.S. officials continue to assert that the JCPOA, whose limitations on enriched uranium stockpiles are supposed to last until 2031, remains beneficial. “We are still at a point where, if we were able to negotiate a mutual return to compliance, that breakout time would be prolonged from where it is now,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on May 4, 2022.7 “We would have greater transparency. There would be those permanent, verifiable limits reimposed on Iran. That would be in our national security interest.”

Yet, the domestic political climates in Iran and the United States have shifted in ways that have made compromise more difficult. It remains to be seen if there is sufficient political will and creativity to end the impasse.

Weakened Iranian Pragmatists

Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA gravely undermined the so-called pragmatist camp in Iran that had negotiated and championed the deal, making President Hassan Rouhani and his team look foolish and naïve. This perception complicated negotiations even after the Biden administration took office, with Iran refusing to sit directly with the U.S. delegation in Vienna and initially seeking some form of guarantee that a subsequent U.S. administration would not quit the deal again. Nevertheless, substantial progress was made in indirect talks, which resumed in April 2021.

Negotiations paused in June 2021 for the Iranian presidential elections. Rouhani’s successor, Ebrahim Raisi, was handpicked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in large part for his hard-line views on domestic and foreign policy, as well as his fealty to Khamenei. Raisi, like Khamenei, was critical of the JCPOA and named a cabinet of like-minded officials.8 The new Iranian administration then waited until November 2021 to send a team to Vienna, where talks resumed with the other parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus the European Union.

As with the previous team, the Iranians refused to meet directly with U.S. negotiators, arguing that the United States had forfeited its right to be considered a JCPOA party by quitting the agreement without cause. The Iranians also initially demanded the unfreezing of billions of dollars of their assets stuck in foreign banks9 as a precondition for negotiations, a nonstarter for Washington while the Iranian nuclear program continued to advance.

There was also a wrangle over a separate but related issue: a long-running dispute between Iran and the IAEA over Iran’s alleged efforts nearly two decades ago related to possible nuclear weapons development. An 11th-hour trip to Tehran by Grossi in early March 2022 resulted in an agreement that Iran would provide additional documentation about suspect sites in time for the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June.10 Grossi complained on May 10 in a session with the European Parliament that Iranian officials have been slow to provide clarification about the origin of traces of enriched uranium found at the sites.11

A more positive development had occurred on February 4, when the Biden administration announced that it was waiving sanctions on foreign cooperation with Iran’s civil nuclear program. Price said that the waivers were in the U.S. “vital national interest regardless of what happens with the JCPOA.”12 In fact, the waivers were necessary prerequisites to a deal because they facilitate the disposition of Iran’s excess stockpile of enriched uranium and the resumption of modifications to the Arak heavy-water reactor to make it more proliferation resistant. The waiver would also allow an underground site at Fordow to cease uranium enrichment and return to the production of isotopes for medical use as specified by the original agreement, Price explained.

The Ukraine Effect

According to participants, negotiators completed a 27-page draft agreement in mid-March that specified the steps Iran would take to roll back its nuclear progress in return for relief from U.S. nuclear-related sanctions.13 Talks had been interrupted in late February by a Russian effort to exploit the JCPOA to circumvent some of the sanctions imposed on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine. In the end, the Russians backed down and accepted the terms of the original deal, under which Russia agreed to accept excess enriched U-235 from Iran and provide other civil nuclear cooperation that does not deal with broader Iranian-Russian trade issues. Nevertheless, the momentum in Vienna was broken by the war in Ukraine and the Russian attempt to hold the Vienna talks hostage to sanctions exemptions. Despite valiant efforts by EU envoy Enrique Mora14 and other would-be mediators, the stalemate has continued.

In interviews with ACT and in Iranian press reports, Iranian analysts have stated that, for domestic political reasons, Raisi feels he needs to squeeze more concessions from the United States than the Rouhani team obtained, resulting in the demand to take the IRGC off the list of foreign terrorist organizations. At the same time, Iran is no longer feeling the pinch of U.S. secondary sanctions to the extent it was a few years ago. Iran has managed to increase its oil exports, primarily to China, to more than one million barrels a day. Given the steep rise in prices due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, Iran is earning sufficient revenues to meet its basic needs.15 Even if the United States could enforce secondary sanctions on Iranian oil customers, there is little motivation to do so at a time of global shortages and sky-high energy prices.

Biden’s Ambivalence

As the Iran issue appears to have lost urgency, the Biden administration also seems increasingly ambivalent about the value of the JCPOA when weighed against the potential domestic political costs of compromising with a long-time U.S. adversary. President Joe Biden did not announce a U.S. return to the JCPOA on the first day of his presidency as many proponents of the deal had hoped. He did appoint an experienced Iran envoy, Rob Malley, who had participated in the original negotiations, within a week of taking office. Yet, Malley took months consulting with U.S. allies and Middle Eastern partners such as Israel, which opposed the original deal, and with Arab countries, which were concerned about the increased oil revenues that Iran would receive and possibly divert to its regional partners.

Biden administration officials such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also talked about their desire for a “longer and stronger” deal before the old one could be revived.16 This language reflected a genuine desire to improve on the original and an effort to placate powerful deal opponents among Democrats such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.), who had the power to slow the confirmation of Biden appointees in a closely divided Senate.17 As a result, precious time was lost before the Iranian presidential elections and the replacement of the Iranian negotiation team with JCPOA skeptics.

With U.S. midterm elections now approaching, the Biden administration seems particularly leery of acceding to Iran’s demands regarding the IRGC. Although it is largely a conscript organization, IRGC elements, particularly the Qods Force, have been implicated in attacks on U.S. military forces in the Middle East, as well as in support of anti-U.S. nonstate actors, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis, and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. Biden appears concerned about looking weak and the impact this might have on select races in November when Democrats are at risk of losing control of the House and Senate.

For Biden, the JCPOA was never the signature issue it was for President Barack Obama, who considered the deal his most important foreign policy achievement. Biden has been much more engaged in solidifying NATO in the face of Russian aggression and is also eager to focus on the challenge of China. He appears unwilling to expend as much political capital as Obama did on the Iran agreement even though public opinion polls show that the deal is more popular in the United States now than it was in 2015 and experts acknowledge that there is no realistic plan B for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the long term.18

Iran’s Goal

One possible reason for the lack of urgency in Washington over Iran’s nuclear advances is that the U.S. intelligence community continues to find no evidence that Iran has resumed work on developing an actual nuclear weapon, despite its growing stockpile of enriched uranium.19 Iran has always denied that it seeks to build nuclear weapons, but the fact that it was found to have possessed a clandestine program two decades ago20 and that its cooperation with the IAEA has been less than stellar has fueled suspicion and concern. Still, Iran’s program has been the slowest moving in the history of nuclear proliferation, given that its activities began in the 1950s under the U.S.-led Atoms for Peace initiative.

Since Iran’s nuclear work first began, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have built nuclear arsenals, but Iran has not. The Iranian program was suspended following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when Western companies halted work on nuclear projects in Iran. The program was revived in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war when Iran feared that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Progress in the 1990s was slow, inhibited by successful U.S. appeals to Russia and China, but picked up in the mid-2000s after the 2005 election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The organized weapons program halted in 2003 and certain weaponization-related activities continued until 2009, but there has been no evidence of illicit weapons work since then, according to the IAEA and the U.S. National Intelligence Council. The JCPOA halted and rolled back the program significantly until the Trump withdrawal.

As a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran has pledged to remain free of nuclear weapons, a pledge it reiterated in the preamble of the JCPOA. The key provisions of the agreement were designed to make it extremely difficult for Iran to violate that pledge without being detected. If Iran returns to compliance again, it must blend down or export hundreds of tons of excess U-235 and remove advanced centrifuges. These actions must be verified and monitored by the IAEA, with no time limits on that cooperation, to provide confidence that Iran cannot “sneak out” and amass material clandestinely for a bomb. Iran, under its interpretation of the JCPOA, says it is entitled to breach these limits again if the United States does not fulfill its obligations to waive key sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and financial transactions.21

Supporters of the agreement concede that, because of the additional technical knowledge that Iran has accumulated since the United States unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, Iran’s ability to break out and amass sufficient material for a single nuclear weapon has been significantly increased.22 When combined with the limitations on uranium stockpiles and IAEA monitoring, however, a restored agreement should still provide sufficient time for the international community to react should violations occur. Without an agreement, Iran could continue amassing larger and larger quantities of U-235 enriched to higher and higher levels. This activity would be inherently destabilizing. It could spark a nuclear arms race in the region, prompting Saudi Arabia in particular to acquire a nuclear arsenal, and provoke new sabotage or other kinds of attacks on Iran by Israel or even the United States, both of which have vowed to never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

The Role of Congress

Because the agreement would be a restoration of the original, not a rewrite, the Biden administration has argued that it is not obliged to submit the deal for formal review by Congress under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015.23 Malley testified on May 25 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, that the administration will invoke the law if a deal is struck to allow Congress to publicly debate the issue.24 It is extremely doubtful that a veto-proof majority of two-thirds of the House and Senate could be assembled to block restoration of the JCPOA. Even so, Republicans are united against the deal; even some Democrats, most prominently those who did not support the agreement in 2015, have expressed concern that it does not cover non-nuclear issues such as Iran’s growing arsenal of ballistic missiles and drones.25

Senator John Hoeven (ND), at podium, and other Republican senators hold press conference at the U.S. Capitol in March to discuss their objections to negotiations aimed at restoring Iranian and U.S. compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)A more serious issue is what might happen in 2024 if a Republican is elected president. Trump and other GOP hopefuls are opposed to the JCPOA and might follow the precedent set by Trump in 2018. It will be important for supporters of the agreement to underline the negative consequences of the Trump withdrawal for U.S. nonproliferation and regional security interests. It will also be key for the United States and other parties to intensify efforts to deescalate broader tensions between Iran and its neighbors and between Iran and Israel to build a stronger foundation for the JCPOA.

Fortunately, Iran, a Shia theocracy, has already made some progress toward improved relations with its Sunni Arab rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Iran and Israel remain bitter adversaries, but the removal of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister and the formation of a broad coalition government in Israel has led to less prickly relations between Israel and the Biden administration. There was also a brief pause in Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities. That appears to have ended, however, with the May 22 assassination of an IRGC officer in Tehran and a mysterious "explosion" May 26 near the Parchin military facility that killed an Iranian engineer.26

Much will depend on Iran’s evaluation of the material benefits it is slated to receive if it returns to compliance with the JCPOA. Iranians have suffered greatly from Trump’s maximum-pressure campaign, not to mention the COVID-19 epidemic, endemic economic mismanagement, and corruption. According to Iranian statistics, the percentage of Iranians classified as poor has doubled over the past three years to more than a third of the population.27 Inflation is higher than 40 percent, and unemployment is also in double digits. The waiving of U.S. secondary sanctions on key sectors of the Iranian economy, especially oil and gas, and the repatriation of some $100 billion in hard currency assets would provide a substantial, if temporary, boost to Iran’s economy. To sustain these benefits, Iran would need to institute reforms of its own, increasing transparency in its banking sector, reducing consumer subsidies, and tackling corruption more effectively.

Iran’s Foreign Policy Orientation

Another unfortunate result of the maximum-pressure campaign and a factor in Iran’s ambivalence about returning to compliance with the JCPOA has been the solidification of the Iranian regime’s anti-Western orientation. The U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA vindicated Khamenei’s view that the United States is untrustworthy and led him to boost Iran’s economic dependence on China and strategic cooperation with Russia, countries that do not criticize the Islamic Republic for human rights abuses or foreign adventurism. This orientation does not reflect the views of many Iranian people, who traditionally have looked toward Western countries for trade and investment, as well as for cultural ties, underscoring the fact that a large Iranian diaspora resides primarily in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Regardless, the “look to the East” policy is still supported by hard-liners who now control all elements of the Iranian government and is important to their domestic political power base.28

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks in May to Iran’s first international event on privatization. (Photo credit: Iranian government website)When the original nuclear deal was reached, supporters made clear that it was valuable on its own merits. Still, there was hope that the JCPOA, as the product of unprecedented, direct, high-level U.S.-Iranian diplomacy, would lead to some broader détente and even normalization of ties between Washington and Tehran. As then-Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif famously put it, the JCPOA could be “the foundation, not the ceiling” of Iran’s foreign relations, including with the United States.29

Those hopes have been dashed by the Trump withdrawal and the political backlash against pragmatists in Iran. That said, a revived JCPOA is a prerequisite for any improvement in bilateral ties, including the release of jailed dual nationals and a resumption of people-to-people engagement. It would give the United States a seat at the table again in the joint commission that monitors the JCPOA and thus a venue to raise issues that go beyond the nuclear file. It would facilitate Western support for programs to address climate change and other severe threats to the Iranian people and to the world at large. It would also make it easier for Iran to engage with its neighbors on deescalating tensions and resuming normal diplomatic and economic interaction.30

Despite anti-government protests in Iran regarding the poor economy and harsh repression of civil society, the Iranian system has withstood immense challenges and does not appear likely to fall in the near future. It is incumbent on U.S. policymakers to continue to express their views on Iranian policies that are harmful to the Iranian people and to the interests of the United States and its allies and partners. Yet, one lesson of the past four, if not 40, years has been that the United States should use opportunities to lessen tensions when it is in the interest of both countries and the broader Middle East. As former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage once said, “Diplomacy is the art of letting the other guy have our way.”31

If the JCPOA can be revived, it will show that diplomacy can achieve what military conflict cannot. If it finally collapses, it will sadly confirm that the agreement was merely the exception that proved the rule in four decades of U.S.-Iranian enmity.



1. “White House Says Iran Is ‘a Few Weeks or Less’ From Bomb Breakout,” Times of Israel, April 27, 2022.

2. “Secretary of State Blinken Testifies in Senate Foreign Relations Hearing 4/26/22,” April 27, 2022, https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/secretary-of-state-blinken-testifies-in-senate-foreign-relations-hearing-4-26-22-transcript.

3. Laura Rozen, “U.S. on Iran Deal Deadlock: ‘We Know the Status Quo Can’t Endure for Long,’” Diplomatic, May 4, 2022, https://diplomatic.substack.com/p/us-on-iran-deal-deadlock-we-know?s=w.

4. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, “Verification and Monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in Light of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015),” GOV/2022/4, March 3, 2022, pp. 9–10.

5. Rafael Mariano Grossi, “Exchange of Views With European Parliament: The Work of the IAEA at an Unprecedented Moment in History,” May 10, 2022, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/248145/EP_IAEA_20220510dg.pdf.

6. “U.S. Sees Iran’s Nuclear Program as Too Advanced to Restore Key Goal of 2015 Pact,” The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2022.

7. U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing—May 4, 2022,” May 4, 2022, https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-may-4-2022/.

8. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, “Who’s on Iran’s Current Nuclear Negotiating Team? Some Have Controversial Pasts,” IranSource, January 11, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/whos-on-irans-current-nuclear-negotiating-team-some-have-controversial-pasts/.

9. Barbara Slavin, “Iran Offers Less for More as Vienna Talks Stall,” IranSource, December 6, 2021, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/iran-offers-less-for-more-as-vienna-talks-stall/.

10. IAEA, “Joint Statement by HE Mr. Mohammad Eslami, Vice-President and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and HE Mr. Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” March 5, 2022, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/joint-statement-by-he-mr-mohammad-eslami-vice-president-and-president-of-the-atomic-energy-organization-of-iran-and-he-mr-rafael-grossi-director-general-of-the-international-atomic-energy-agency.

11. “IAEA Warns That Iran Not Forthcoming on Past Nuclear Activities,” Reuters, May 10, 2022.

12. U.S. Department of State, “Department Press Briefing - February 7, 2022,” https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-february-7-2022/.

13. Stephanie Liechtenstein and Nahal Toosi, “Iran Nuclear Talks Freeze Amid Terrorist Label Spat—Even With Deal on the Table,” Politico, April 28, 2022, https://www.politico.eu/article/iran-nuclear-talks-freeze-amid-terrorist-label-spat-even-with-deal-on-the-table/.

14. Laurence Norman, “Europe to Make Fresh Push to Revive Iran Nuclear Deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2022.

15. Parisa Hafezi, “Analysis: Rising Oil Prices Buy Iran Time in Nuclear Talks, Officials Say,” Reuters, May 5, 2022.

16. Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, “U.S. and Iran Want to Restore the Nuclear Deal. They Disagree Deeply on What That Means,” The New York Times, May 9, 2021.

17. A U.S. negotiator stated in February 2021 that Menendez was a key factor inhibiting U.S. willingness to quickly return to compliance with the JCPOA. U.S. official, conversation with author, Washington, D.C., February 13, 2022.

18. Matthew Kendrick, “Many U.S. Voters Support a Binding Nuclear Deal With Iran. That Might Not Count for Much,” Morning Consult, February 16, 2022, https://morningconsult.com/2022/02/16/iran-deal-polling-us-voters/; Atlantic Council, “Is There a Plan B for Iran?” YouTube, December 9, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4jLhkO2dHU.

19. U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” February 2022, https://www.dni.gov/files/ODNI/documents/assessments/ATA-2022-Unclassified-Report.pdf.

20. U.S. National Intelligence Council, “National Intelligence Estimate; Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” November 2007, https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/20071203_release.pdf.

21. Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi, and John Irish, “Exclusive: Iran Nuclear Deal Draft Puts Prisoners, Enrichment, Cash First, Oil Comes Later - Diplomats,” Reuters, February 17, 2022.

22. Laurence Norman, “U.S. Sees Iran’s Nuclear Program as Too Advanced to Restore Key Goal of 2015 Pact,” The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2022.

23. Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, 42 U.S.C. § 2160e (2015).

24. U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, "The JCPOA Negotiations and United States’ Policy on Iran Moving Forward," Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, May 25, 2022, https://www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/the-jcpoa-negotiations-and-united-states-policy-on-iran-moving-forward05252201

25. Andrew Desiderio, “Congress Fires Its First Warning Shot on Biden’s Iran Deal,” Politico, May 5, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/05/congress-warning-biden-iran-deal-00030448.

26. Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman, "Israel Tells U.S. It Killed Iranian Officer, Official Says," The New York Times, May 25, 2022.

27. Nadereh Chamlou, “Can President Ebrahim Raisi Turn Iran’s Economic Titanic Around?” IranSource, February 1, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/can-president-ebrahim-raisi-turn-irans-economic-titanic-around/.

28. Javad Heiran-Nia, “How Iran’s Interpretation of the World Order Affects Its Foreign Policy,” IranSource, May 11, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/how-irans-interpretation-of-the-world-order-affects-its-foreign-policy/.

29. “Iran Deal Not a ‘Ceiling’: Zarif,” Islamic Republic News Agency, July 14, 2015, https://en.irna.ir/news/81683560/Iran-deal-not-a-ceiling-Zarif.

30. Barbara Slavin, “The Potential Side Benefits of a Revived JCPOA for Middle East Stability,” IranSource, April 5, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/the-potential-side-benefits-of-a-revived-jcpoa-for-middle-east-stability/.

31. Barbara Slavin, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007), p. 223.

Barbara Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

There seems little U.S. urgency to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal despite the fact that Iran is advancing its nuclear capabilities.

After Exercise, Russia Downplays Nuclear Threat

June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia simulated launches of nuclear weapons during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May, according to its defense ministry, even as Russian diplomats attempted to downplay the likelihood of Russia employing nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Russia has used the Iskander-M missile, shown parading through Red Square, to pummel Ukraine and conducted simulated launches of nuclear weapons with the missile during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May.  (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)The Russian exercise included “electronic launches” of dual-capable, road-mobile Iskander-M ballistic missiles against targets such as airfields, equipment depots, and military command posts. The Russian Defense Ministry said that more than 100 troops participated in the simulation launched from Kaliningrad, which is located between the NATO countries of Lithuania and Poland along the Baltic coast. Russia has used conventional Iskander-M missiles extensively in Ukraine.

Despite the nuclear simulation and continued threatening rhetoric from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Ministry officials have dismissed the prospect of Russia employing nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

When questioned about the possibility of nuclear war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted on May 1 that “Russia has never ceased its efforts to reach agreements that would guarantee the prevention of a nuclear war.” He emphasized that Moscow has agreed twice in the past year to reaffirm the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Konstantin Gavrilov, head of Russia’s delegation on arms control in Vienna, said more directly on May 4 that “we by no means pursue any nuclear war-related aims on the territory of Ukraine.” Alexey Zaitsev, Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson, echoed this on May 6, saying that nuclear weapons “are not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine.”

Zaitsev pointed to four scenarios in which Moscow might use nuclear weapons, including when the state’s existence is perceived to be in jeopardy. The scenarios are outlined in the Russian nuclear deterrence policy released in June 2020. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

The remarks by the Foreign Ministry officials differ from Putin’s statements since the start of the war in Ukraine, in which he has threatened to use nuclear weapons if any country attempts to intercede on Ukraine’s behalf. (See ACT, March 2022.)

“If anyone intends to intervene from the outside and create a strategic threat to Russia that is unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning fast,” Putin reiterated on April 27. “We have the tools we need for this…[and] we will use them if necessary.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has described such rhetoric as irresponsible and dangerous. “No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility that they’d use that,” he said on April 28.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby commented on the Russian war game and threats of nuclear use, dismissing the prospect of a U.S. or NATO reaction. “Has that exercise or has this rhetoric resulted in us changing the footprint on NATO’s eastern flank? No,” he told reporters on May 5.

Nevertheless, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines assured Congress on May 12 that the United States “will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.”

Thus far, neither the United States nor NATO has mirrored Putin’s decision in February to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, testified in March that he sees no need to change U.S. nuclear force posture. Kirby said on May 5 that the United States is “comfortable and confident that our strategic deterrent posture is well placed and robust enough to defend the homeland, as well as our allies and partners.” (See ACT, April 2022.)

Haines said that “there is not a sort of an imminent potential for Putin to use nuclear weapons.” But she added that he may engage in some further signaling of Russian disapproval of U.S. support for Ukraine “by authorizing another large nuclear exercise involving a major dispersal of mobile intercontinental missiles, heavy bombers, [and] strategic submarines.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumed communication with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, with an hour-long phone call on May 13, the first since the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

During the call, Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” according to the Pentagon readout. A senior defense official added that the department had “been consistently asking for this conversation,” but it was not until that week when Shoigu finally agreed.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley then spoke with his Russian counterpart, Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on May 19, also for the first time since the war started.

Moscow and Washington created a Russian-U.S. deconfliction line at the operational level between the Russian Defense Ministry and U.S. European Command in March, but there has been no communication at the most senior level until now.

China has called for restraint. “No one wants to see the outbreak of a third world war,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on May 23.

The military exercises simulated launches of nuclear weapons.

Little-Used U.S. Powers Employed to Aid Ukraine

June 2022
By Jeff Abramson

President Joe Biden is taking advantage of rarely used legal authorities to expedite massive new U.S. weapons deliveries and other assistance to Ukraine while continuing to delay issuance of a new policy that broadly defines the purpose of arms transfers.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would not allow a $40 billion spending package to speed through the Senate via unanimous consent. He wanted  a special inspector general appointed to monitor the funds. The Senate voted to approve the spending on May 19 without Paul's changes and President Joe Biden signed it into law on May 21. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)In terms of aiding Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, the most symbolic move so far was Congress’ decision to pass legislation modeled after the World War II-era Lend-Lease Act, which enabled the Roosevelt administration to quickly provide arms to U.S. allies and turn the tide of that conflict.

The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 passed the Senate by a unanimous voice vote on April 6 and the House by an overwhelming 417–10 vote on April 28. In a speech touting the legislation that day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stressed the importance of “waiving time-consuming requirements on the president’s authority to send critical defensive resources to Ukraine.”

Biden waited until May 9 to sign the bill into law, providing a symbolic counter to Russia’s Victory Day celebrations. “Every day, the Ukrainians pay with their lives,” Biden said at the signing ceremony. “[T]he cost of the fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is even more costly.”

Although lend-lease authorities already exist, they are rarely used. The new law removes a number of hurdles encumbering Ukraine or other eastern European countries affected by the Russian war, including a prohibition on loans or leases lasting more than five years. Exactly how the president might use the new authority is not clear.

Meanwhile, on April 24, U.S. officials declared that an emergency existed in order to provide $165 million in ammunition to Ukraine under the Foreign Military Sale program. This was Biden’s first use of a rarely invoked authority under the Arms Export Control Act that allows the executive branch to bypass mandated congressional review periods before it can conclude arms sales.

Unlike in 2019 when both chambers of Congress passed resolutions to try to block President Donald Trump from using such an authority for emergency arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Biden did not face any significant opposition to his emergency declaration. Trump had to veto the resolutions, which Congress was unable to override in late July 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The same day the House approved the lend-lease legislation, the Biden administration asked Congress for an additional $33 billion for Ukraine and European security through September, stating that $3.5 billion in existing authority to draw down U.S. stocks was nearly exhausted. (See ACT, May 2022.) The April 28 request included $5 billion in additional drawdown authority, $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, and $4 billion for the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program.

On May 10, the House added to the request by passing an even larger $40 billion emergency package in a 368-57 vote. In a press release, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who sponsored the bill, said, “Given the magnitude of the terror campaign being waged against the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian democracy, we are morally obligated to ensure Ukraine has the security and economic aid they need.” The Senate passed the legislation 86–11 on May 19, and Biden signed it into law on May 21.

The law places very few hurdles on the administration’s use of the funds, an issue that prompted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to block an effort to move the bill forward by unanimous consent on May 12. He proposed including language requiring the appointment of a special inspector general to monitor the funds. That could have forced the legislation back to the House despite presidential calls for quick action.

The law requires the Defense Department’s inspector general to provide a report on the funds within 120 days, a report on end-use monitoring efforts within 45 days, and an unclassified report every 30 days detailing defense articles and services provided to Ukraine.

At the same time as it is speeding weapons to Ukraine, the Biden administration continues to delay actions that would clarify its view on the role of U.S. arms transfers more broadly. Specifically, the administration has not used the moment to finally release its new conventional arms transfer policy despite telling congressional offices as least as long ago as July 2021 that a presidential policy that would do more to promote human rights was coming.

During an event hosted by the Forum on the Arms Trade on April 14, Mira K. Resnick, deputy assistant secretary of state for regional security, reiterated that the revised arms transfer policy had the “goal of revitalizing U.S. leadership on democracy and human rights.” But she did not indicate when the document would be finalized.

Civil society advocates have expressed frustration with the delay of the policy release, which they have attributed to administration preoccupation first with the collapse of the Afghan government in 2021 and now the war in Ukraine. To many of those advocates, the policy inherited from the Trump administration places too much emphasis on the commercial value of arms transfers. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The current policy did not come up publicly during recent Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) preparatory meetings in late April. At the annual ATT conference of states-parties last August, U.S. representatives indicated that the policy would be “finalized shortly and released” and would be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the treaty. (See ACT, October 2021.)

Despite expectations that this administration would do so, it has not taken action to honor the 2013 U.S. signature to the treaty, which Trump rejected in 2019. (See ACT, May 2019.) The vast majority of the countries providing weapons to Ukraine are treaty members. Today, there are 111 states-parties to the treaty, including all NATO countries aside from Turkey and the United States.


Invoking rare legal authorities will enable President Joe Biden to expedite deliveries of arms to defend against Russia.

U.S. Defense Officials Balk at Biden’s Nuclear Budget

June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Top U.S. defense officials disagreed publicly with some Biden administration decisions to strip funding for nuclear capabilities from its $813 billion fiscal year 2023 request for national defense, while Republicans in Congress attacked the budget proposal as dangerously insufficient to keep pace with China, Russia, and inflation.

General Mark Milley (L), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown testifying to Congress with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) in May, has told lawmakers he disagrees with a Biden administration decision to cut funding for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile from the fiscal year 2023 budget. Austin supported the decision.  (Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Wheeler)“This budget funds modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad to ensure that we continue to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following the release of the detailed budget documents on March 28. Of the topline amount proposed for national defense, $773 billion is earmarked for the Pentagon.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) criticized the request for making “cuts to key capabilities” in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, meaning that “we will lose ground against China’s and Russia’s rapidly expanding arsenals.” He wrote a letter signed by 40 Republicans on March 23 demanding that the Biden administration focus investment on nuclear modernization and boost the budget by 5 percent over inflation.

The White House eliminated funding in 2023 for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), which the Trump administration proposed in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). According to news reports, the Biden administration’s version of the NPR reflects this decision. (See ACT, April 2022.) The White House sent a classified version of its NPR to Congress on the same day as it released its budget, but an unclassified version has not been made public.

“The marginal capability that [the nuclear SLCM] provides is far outweighed by the cost,” Austin told Congress on April 4. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro agreed with the administration’s decision. “I believe that we should zero out the SLCM line,” he said on May 12, adding that “the president has all the tools in his tool kit necessary to deter and deal with the threat.”

But three other leading U.S. defense officials—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Charles Richard, and Commander of U.S. European Command Gen. Tod Wolters—testified to Congress that the Pentagon should continue developing the weapon.

“My position on [the nuclear SLCM] has not changed,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee on April 5. “My general view is that this president or any president deserves to have multiple options to deal with national security situations.”

Richard, who wrote a letter to lawmakers on April 4 supporting the nuclear SLCM, said in an April 4 hearing that, “[w]ithout this capability, adversaries may perceive an advantage at lower levels of conflict that may encourage limited nuclear use.” Wolters concurred with Richard’s assessment.

In fiscal year 2022, Congress approved $15.2 million for the Navy’s new cruise missile and its associated nuclear warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

Another nuclear capability likely on the chopping block is the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb. According to press reports, the Biden NPR is expected to make the case for cancelling plans to extend the life of the bomb, which was initially slated to be retired around 2025 before the Trump administration moved to keep it in the arsenal.

Budget documents for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) do not clarify funding for the gravity bomb. Experts believe that although there appears to be some sustainment funding for the B83-1 to ensure its safety and reliability over the next year, there are no funds for a full life extension program. In fiscal year 2022, Congress appropriated $98.5 million for the bomb’s sustainment and alteration.

Overall, the Biden administration proposed to spend $50.9 billion on nuclear weapons in 2023, with $34.4 billion for the Pentagon, which leads in building nuclear delivery systems, and $16.5 billion for the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, that builds and maintains nuclear warheads. These accounts consume 6.5 percent of the total national defense budget and reflect an 18 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s spending.

The Pentagon described its request as necessary to implement the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which, according to the unclassified factsheet released on March 28, identifies China as the department’s “pacing challenge” and Russia as an “acute” threat. The factsheet outlines the Pentagon’s aim to implement integrated deterrence, which officials describe as being supported by the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“Nuclear weapons continue to provide foundational strategic deterrent effects that no other element of U.S. military power can replace,” Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress in March. “A safe, secure, effective, and credible nuclear deterrent is the ultimate backstop to protect the American homeland and our allies.”

Richard also said that “the absolute minimum that we need to do is to recapitalize the triad, the nuclear command and control, and the nuclear weapons complex” to counter China and Russia. “What we have today is the absolute minimum, and we are going to have to ask ourselves what additional capability, capacity, and posture do we need…based on where the threat is going,” he said.

The National Defense Strategy encompasses the NPR and the Missile Defense Review, which are all Defense Department documents. The White House is in charge of producing the National Security Strategy, which guides the Pentagon documents. It has not been released.

In general, the Biden administration’s budget proposal continues plans started during the Obama administration to replace components of all three legs of the nuclear triad, while halting a few programs added by the Trump administration.

The Navy requested $6.2 billion for construction and continued research and development on a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a $1.1 billion increase from the 2022 appropriation. This amount “will provide the third and final year of incremental full funding” for the first submarine, to be delivered in 2028, and enable advanced procurement of future submarines of this class, according to the budget documents.

Meanwhile, the Air Force proposed $5 billion for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, up $2 billion from the previous appropriation. The service announced in September that five out of an estimated 100 planned bombers were in production and expected to achieve operational status in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force requested $981 million for the long-range standoff weapon system to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), a 64 percent increase over the 2022 appropriation of $599 million. The total includes the first request for procurement funding at $31 million.

Another Air Force program, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, renamed the Sentinel in April, was budgeted at $3.6 billion, a $1 billion increase from the last appropriation.

The service plans to buy more than 650 new Sentinel missiles to begin replacing the fleet of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in fiscal year 2029, with testing starting in 2024. The Pentagon solicited a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on potential alternatives for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The study was to be completed by the end of January 2022, but has not been made public.

Although the Army does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal, after the 2019 U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the service announced its pursuit of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability that would have likely been prohibited under the accord. The budget documents renamed this capability the Strategic Mid-Range Fires program, for which the Army requested $404 million, $118 million more than the 2022 appropriation. The weapon will be based off the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk cruise missile.

The NNSA budget request includes $241 million for another controversial program proposed by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration: the new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (W93). The request is a giant increase from the $72 million appropriation in 2022. The Pentagon is also seeking $97.1 million for the warhead’s associated aeroshell, up from $62 million the previous year.

In addition, the administration asked for continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and the W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade at $672 million, $680 million, and $1.1 billion, respectively. The budget documents revealed planning for a future strategic warhead, with proposed spending starting in fiscal year 2027 at $70 million.

The NNSA budget includes $2.3 billion for plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Savannah River Site. The Trump NPR in 2018 and Congress in 2019 called for the NNSA to produce at least 80 pits a year by 2030, even though experts questioned the feasibility of this goal due to cost and past performance.

For the first time, the NNSA has acknowledged that this goal cannot be met. “No additional amount of money will get 80 pits per year in 2030,” NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby told Congress on May 4, adding that the agency will nevertheless still work to make more pits and reach this goal “post-2030.”

In another first, the Pentagon did not seek funds for a layered homeland missile defense system, after two consecutive years of requesting funding that Congress judged was not needed. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had plans to adapt the Aegis missile defense and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited ICBM threats, which is the aim of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California.

The budget documents noted the elimination of the layered homeland defense program from the MDA request and, in the case of Aegis, specified that there are no plans to request funding in the coming years.

Reporters asked MDA Director Adm. Jon Hill about the future of layered homeland defense during a March 28 briefing, but he skirted the question, suggesting the answer will be featured in the Missile Defense Review, which has yet to be released in an unclassified format.

The MDA requested continued R&D, procurement, and maintenance for current missile defense systems separate from the layered homeland defense effort. This includes $1.6 billion for the Aegis system and the procurement of 47 Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB missiles and 10 SM-3 Block IIA missiles.

The overall proposal for the GMD system came in at $2.8 billion. This includes $68.9 million to improve the reliability and performance of the existing Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) and $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). The MDA plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 GBI missiles with 20 NGI missiles no later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. The NGI request is a 107 percent higher than the 2022 appropriation of $884 million.

The MDA requested $422 million for the THAAD system, including $260 million for R&D and $75 million for three interceptors.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon also budgeted $342 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus. This is a slight decrease from the previous year’s appropriation, but in the last two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program above the requested amount, leaving open the possibility lawmakers may do so again.

Some top U.S. defense officials oppose cutting funds for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

U.S. Rushes Hypersonic Development

June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon plans to continue marching ahead with the rapid development and deployment of hypersonic weapons capabilities across its services, despite some setbacks in testing and questions about how effective they may be in warfare, according to the Biden administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru)“The future security environment requires us to innovate across all domains and drives us to optimize our investments” in areas including hypersonic weapons, Adm. Chris Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 28. Michael McCord, the Pentagon comptroller, also testified that, in particular, “hypersonics are central to Pacific strategy.”

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (See ACT, April 2022.) A Ukrainian military official said that Russian bombers also struck a “tourist infrastructure target” in Odesa in southwestern Ukraine with three Kinzhal missiles on May 9, but the Pentagon has not confirmed this account.

Overall, a senior U.S. defense official said on May 10, “We would assess at this time…76 days in or whatever it is, probably between 10 and 12” Russian hypersonic weapons have been used against Ukrainian targets.

Russia fielded the Kinzhal system in 2018, according to expert assessments, and the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle in 2019. The United States has at least five hypersonic weapons programs in the works across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, plus four programs underway at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Although the United States is pursuing a conventional-only capability, China, which may have deployed its first hypersonic weapon in 2020, and Russia appear to be seeking nuclear or dual-capable hypersonic capabilities.

Given this, members of Congress and defense officials have claimed that Washington has fallen behind Moscow and Beijing and therefore endorsed efforts to accelerate U.S. hypersonic weapons development so as to deploy this capability as soon as possible and catch up with and eventually surpass China and Russia.

“We’re behind our adversaries” in hypersonics, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on April 5.

But after Russia used hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, downplayed the initial influence of this capability on the battlefield.

“The Russians have used several hypersonic missiles,” Milley told Congress on May 11. “Other than the speed of the weapon, in terms of its effect on a given target, we are not seeing really significant or game-changing effects to date with the delivery of the small number of hypersonics that the Russians have used.”

Hypersonic weapons are defined as traveling at speeds at least five times the speed of sound with greater maneuverability over unique altitudes.

The Air Force has requested $162 million for the research and development of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, one of the first U.S. hypersonic weapons scheduled to enter the field, in fiscal year 2023, which is a $157 million decrease from the 2022 appropriation. In the original budget documents, $47 million of the total ARRW system request was slated for procuring one ARRW system, but the service later decided against any procurement funding due to three test failures in 2021.

“As much as we are encouraged to have failures, we have to have success before we can move forward to production,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 3.

The ARRW system completed its first successful booster flight test on May 14, during which the booster “ignited and burned for expected duration” after separating from a B-52H bomber off the coast of California, according to an Air Force statement. The Air Force will conduct additional booster flight tests of the system in fiscal year 2022 and four all-up-round tests in fiscal year 2023, before transitioning to an early operational capability also in 2023. “Initial fielding and operational use…will be on the B-52 aircraft and have a 15-year shelf life,” the Air Force said.

The service also requested a second year of funding for a hypersonic weapons program called the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile of $317 million, a 67 percent increase from the 2022 appropriation. Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress on March 28 that the missile is slated to be fielded on F-15 fighter jets in 2027.

The Navy has two hypersonic weapons programs underway. The service requested $1.2 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike system, a 9 percent decrease from the 2022 appropriation. This system features the common hypersonic glide body that is shared with the Army’s program and will be added to Zumwalt-class destroyers starting in 2025 and to Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Navy also asked for $92 million for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare system and plans to field it in 2028.

Meanwhile, the Army is working on the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program, for which it requested $1.1 billion, including $807 million in research and engineering and $250 million for procurement. The system is slated to enter the field in fiscal year 2023.

DARPA is seeking $253 million for its multiple hypersonic weapons R&D programs, a $59 million increase from the 2022 appropriation. These programs include Glide Breaker, Tactical Boost Glide, and MoHAWC, for which it requested $18 million, $30 million, and $60 million, respectively.

The Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, has been completed after flight tests in 2021. MoHAWC is the successor program, with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as the prime contractors. Each company recently successfully tested its respective version of the HAWC system. (See ACT, May 2022.) Lessons learned from developing the earlier weapon will be incorporated into the MoHAWC cruiser design, according to the budget documents.

The tactical boost glide program will aim to conduct its third flight test in the upcoming fiscal year.

Glide Breaker, a design for a hypersonic defense interceptor, is budgeted for a 161 percent increase over its previous appropriation as the program enters a new phase that includes wind tunnel and flight testing.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $226 million for hypersonic missile defense activities, a 22 percent decrease from the previous year. This effort includes $149 million for a system to defeat a hypersonic missile in its glide phase, which involves the development of an interceptor and updates to the Aegis system to incorporate it. The MDA awarded contracts to three companies in 2021 to develop an interceptor prototype. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

The agency requested $89 million for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program, which is intended to be a new constellation of satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles in flight and guiding the proposed interceptor to its target. The request is down 67 percent from the 2022 appropriation because the satellite development is complete.

In 2023, “[w]e will launch two prototype hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensors for on-orbit experimentations in conjunction with the U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency (SDA),” Dee Dee Martinez, MDA comptroller, said on March 28.

The SDA is similarly developing satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles as part of its “tracking layer” effort, for which the agency requested $500 million for fiscal year 2023 after Congress appropriated $550 million the previous year, despite no such ask from the agency. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The goal eventually is to integrate HBTSS and SDA satellites and place them within the Space Force’s overarching missile tracking architecture, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill explained in March, and the information gleaned during the upcoming fiscal year will help to determine the fate of the HBTSS program.

“We should have data coming down in the summer ’23 or so, and we’ll be able to help the Space Force make decisions,” Hill said.

The Space Force also requested $400 million to begin a “new resilient” missile warning and tracking system that will help “address emerging challenges such as hypersonic missiles and anti-satellite weapons.”

The Pentagon is hastening the pace of development despite some questions about warfighting effectiveness.

Emphasis Intensifies on Unmanned Systems

June 2022
By Michael Klare

Running throughout the Defense Department budget request for fiscal year 2023 is the widespread expectation that unmanned weapons systems, such as drone ships, planes, and ground vehicles, will play an increasing role in future U.S. military planning. There is no single heading for such systems in the overall budget, but each military service incorporates unmanned weapons systems of one sort or another in its individual request.

An MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform refueling and surveillance functions, was tested in December 2021 while underway aboard USS George H.W. Bush. (Boeing Photo/ Tim Reinhart)The proposed budget, released April 15, also includes substantial funding for research on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automated command and control, and other technologies related to the development of unmanned systems.

Unmanned weapons, the budget documents indicate, will replace or supplement manned systems in a growing array of combat tasks. The Air Force, for example, speaks of its Next Generation Air Dominance program, which is to incorporate advanced drone aircraft serving alongside next-generation fighter planes. This program, it says, will provide “survivable, persistent, and lethal options through a mix of manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned aircraft.”

The Pentagon’s request for research, development, testing, and evaluation includes $1.7 billion for this program, but how that money will be spent is not explained. The Air Force request also includes $187 million for enhancements to the MQ-9 Reaper combat drone and $111 million for work on the MQ-4C Triton high-altitude surveillance drone.

As with the Air Force, the Navy projects a widening role for unmanned systems in its future combat formations. “Unmanned platforms play a vital role in our future fleet,” it affirmed in the defense budget overview. “Successfully integrating unmanned platforms—under, on, and above the sea—gives our commanders better options to fight and win in contested spaces.”

To supplement conventional, human-crewed warships in future naval contests, the Navy is developing prototypes for a medium and a large unmanned surface vessel. Each is to serve as a model for a “reconfigurable, multi-mission vessel designed…for unmanned missions [to] augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” the Pentagon’s request states. The Navy is seeking $339 million for continued development of these vessels in 2023, with an additional $61 million for unmanned undersea vessels.

In addition, the Navy requested $1.2 billion for the MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform aerial refueling and surveillance functions. The request also incorporates $748 million to procure an initial batch of four MQ-25s, $758 million for three MQ-4Cs, and $190 million for five MQ-9s.

Like its sister services, the Army emphasized the integration of unmanned systems into its future combat formations, requesting $116 million for a tactical unmanned ground vehicle and millions more for research on related technologies.

The Pentagon request also seeks increased investment in advanced computing and information technologies, particularly those, such as AI, that can be incorporated into automated command-and-control systems. To support research on the underlying technologies, the request includes $1.1 billion for “core AI.” It also provides substantial funds for automated command-and-control systems that will incorporate these technologies, including the Air Force’s advanced battlefield management system, which is budgeted at $231 million in 2023.


The Pentagon expects that unmanned drones, ships, planes, and ground vehicles will play an increasing role in U.S. military planning.

Space Security Working Group Meets

June 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

The first meeting of the working group on reducing space threats was held May 9–13 in Geneva. The forum was mandated by a UN General Assembly resolution approved in December to promote “norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors” in space. (See ACT, December 2021.) Earlier this year, Russia raised procedural objections that delayed the scheduling of the meeting, but Russia participated in this session.

Members of the space security working group launched their first meeting in May at UN headquarters in Geneva.  (Photo courtesy of the UN)The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons in space, but there are no restrictions on other types of weapons in that domain. Efforts to launch talks that might produce new understandings on maintaining the peaceful use of space have been stymied for years. The working group discussions reflected ongoing differences in emphasis and approaches to the issue, but also showed there is growing pressure for tangible results.

“We are trying to have a positive momentum in this process…because it is in everybody’s interest, and so far, we have achieved that. We see that there is big engagement and interest in moving things forward,” Hellmut Lagos of Chile, chair of the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats, said on May 13.

In April, the United States announced it would “not…conduct destructive, direct-ascent [anti-satellite (ASAT)] missile testing, and that [it] seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space.” The initiative has received support from other states.

On May 9, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva issued a statement pledging that Canada would join the ASAT ban. “For 40 years [Canada] has advocated for a halt to [ASAT] tests. Today we joined the U.S. pledge not to conduct destructive ASAT missile testing. We encourage all states to join so that together we can make this a global norm,” the Canadian statement said.

To date, Russia, China, the United States, and India have demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites with ground- or air-launched missiles, which produce dangerous space debris that can threaten orbiting satellites and represent counterspace activities that threaten international stability and security. Russia and China have long advocated for a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space, which would focus on barring weapons in space, while other states have sought approaches that prevent actions that harm objects in space from any source.

In a statement on behalf of his government, Aidan Liddle, UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said on May 9 that the United Kingdom “believes that framing this problem in terms of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors—that is, on the actions, activities or omissions of states rather than the capabilities themselves, many of which are dual purpose or hard to effectively verify—is more likely to lead to solutions.”

Referring to Russia and China, Liddle added that “[w]e recognize that many delegations want those solutions to be enshrined in a legally binding treaty. We hope that this will be possible. History has shown that successful legal instruments are usually the result of an iterative process, such as this one. So, the responsible behaviors approach is not a prescription for moving slowly but a way to get the journey started.”

The working group will meet again in September with a focus on “current and future threats by states to space systems, and actions, activities and omissions that could be considered irresponsible.” In 2023 the working group will begin preparing its recommendations to the UN General Assembly.

The forum was mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote “responsible behaviors” in space.


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