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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
United States

Tear Gas is Banned in War. It is Time to Ban its Domestic Use.

Images and videos from across the country are capturing the horrific results of police decisions to use toxic chemicals against protestors demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and systemic changes to address racism in the United States. In one high-profile incident on June 1, federal law enforcement used tear gas , along with other measures, to drive back peaceful protestors so President Donald Trump could pose for a photo in front of a church. While international law permits the use of tear gas by law enforcement, it is undeniably immoral to...

Trump Administration Debates Resuming Nuclear Testing

The Trump administration reportedly weighed whether to conduct a nuclear test explosion during a May 15 meeting with national security agencies. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, and no other nuclear-armed country besides North Korea has conducted such a test since 1998. If the United States chooses to conduct a nuclear test, it would undoubtedly invite other nuclear-armed countries to do the same and launch a new nuclear arms race. The Washington Post first reported on this meeting on May 22. The administration did not make a final decision, with a senior...

Begin With New START, Not a New Arms Race


June 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Three and a half years since taking office, the Trump administration has failed to develop, let alone pursue, a coherent nuclear arms control strategy. The administration’s official nuclear policy document, the “2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” barely discusses arms control as a risk reduction tool. It passively states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit.”

A Trident II D-5 intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from the water after being launched from the submerged nuclear-powered strategic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN-734). (Photo: The U.S. National Archives)But President Donald Trump says he would like to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” Since April 2018, Trump and his advisers have talked about somehow involving China in nuclear arms control yet they have failed to explain how to do so.

Meanwhile, Trump has rebuffed Russia’s offer to extend the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START), by five years. This can be accomplished through an executive agreement that must be concluded before the treaty expires Feb. 5, 2021.

Having wasted valuable time, team Trump is now threatening to allow New START to expire and launch a new arms race unless Russia, as well as China, agree to a new and more ambitious arms control deal involving all types of nuclear weapons, strategic and nonstrategic. The Washington Post reported May 22 that senior administration officials even discussed the option of a demonstration nuclear test explosion as a way to pressure the Russian and Chinese leaders to accept the U.S. terms. This would not advance arms control; it would be an invitation for other nuclear-actors to follow suit; and it would blow apart the nonproliferation regime.

The president’s new “arms control” envoy, Marshall Billingslea, told The Washington Times on May 7 that before there is talk about extension of New START, Russia must “bring the Chinese to the negotiating table.” In remarks on May 21, Billingslea said that “any potential extension of our existing obligations must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control.”

Serious pursuit of deep cuts in all types of nuclear weapons in the bloated U.S. and Russian arsenals and engaging other nuclear-armed states in disarmament talks are crucial. But there is no possibility of concluding a new and complex nuclear deal before New START expires, and discarding New START without a replacement agreement would be foreign policy malpractice.

Negotiations to account for, reduce, and eliminate U.S. and Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons are overdue, but they will not be easy. Russian officials say they are prepared to talk about these weapons, but only if U.S. leaders are prepared to address Russian concerns, including U.S. missile defenses—an issue U.S. officials, including Billingslea, say is non-negotiable.

Leaders in Beijing have repeatedly said they are not interested in an arms control deal as long as Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals remain orders of magnitude larger than China’s. Russian officials say they are open to talks with China, but it is up to Washington to bring Beijing to the table, and they want France and the United Kingdom involved in any such talks.

Unfortunately, the administration’s entire approach seems to be based on an exaggerated and naive belief that tough talk and threats will somehow coerce Russia and China to make major unilateral concessions. In remarks broadcast on May 21, Billingslea said the United States would not hesitate to engage in a costly nuclear arms race if China and Russia do not agree to U.S. terms. “We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said.

Even the Trump administration’s former undersecretary for arms control and nonproliferation, Andrea Thompson, is skeptical about the administration’s tactics. “China is not going to come to the table before February of next year,” Thompson told Newsweek on May 14. “There's no incentive for them to come to the table.”

U.S. allies and U.S. military and intelligence officials greatly value the New START limits and its inspection capabilities, which provide predictability and transparency. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 29, “Put me down in the column of extension, and the reason for that is the clock is running. Certainly, in my experience, getting to the right specifics in a very complex treaty takes a long time.”

The administration’s unserious approach on New START—a pattern of behavior that led to its decisions to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Iran nuclear deal—suggests it may simply be seeking a pretext for exiting yet another valuable risk reduction agreement without a plan B.

If Trump genuinely wants to constrain and reduce the nuclear capabilities of major adversaries, the first and best step is to promptly agree to extend New START by five years. This would create the time and the right environment for follow-on disarmament talks with Russia and serious give-and-take discussions with China on risk reduction options, including a possible freeze of the size of China’s arsenal and joint stockpile declarations.

Unless the White House shifts course and soon, the United States may lose the benefits of New START, and Trump will have opened the door to a more dangerous and costly phase of the global nuclear arms race, which everyone stands to lose.

 

Three and a half years since taking office, the Trump administration has failed to develop, let alone pursue, a coherent nuclear arms control strategy. The administration’s official nuclear policy document, the “2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” barely discusses arms control as a risk reduction tool.

U.S. to Withdraw From Open Skies Treaty


June 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States officially notified its intent to withdraw from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, prompting bipartisan opposition in Congress and expressions of regret from U.S. allies.

Danish F-16 fighter aircraft escort a Russian observation aircraft during a flight over Denmark in 20008. (Photo: OSCE)President Donald Trump justified the withdrawal decision on the grounds that Russia was violating the agreement, but he said, “There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a May 21 statement that the withdrawal will take effect in six months. “We may, however, reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty,” Pompeo added.

Pompeo cited Russian noncompliance with the accord as “making continued U.S. participation untenable.” The United States asserts that Russia has violated the agreement by requiring that observation missions over Kaliningrad limit flight paths to 500 kilometers, establishing a 10-kilometer no-fly corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and denying a requested overflight by the United States and Canada in September 2019.

Pompeo also alleged that “Moscow appears to use Open Skies imagery in support of an aggressive new Russian doctrine of targeting critical infrastructure in the United States and Europe with precision-guided conventional munitions.”

Pressed to provide further information on this allegation on May 21, Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said that he was “not at liberty to go into some of the details of why we think that this is a concern.” He then added, “[W]hile not a violation per se, it’s clearly something that is deeply corrosive to the cause of building confidence and trust.”

Asked about what Russia would need to do in order to return to compliance with the treaty, Ford said, “I would say that that’s a fact pattern we’ll have to deal with when we encounter it.”

The Defense Department said in a statement that “we will explore options to provide additional imagery products to Allies to mitigate any gaps that may result from this withdrawal.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the U.S. exit from the agreement in a May 22 statement, calling it “a deplorable development for European security.”

On the U.S. allegation that Russia is using the treaty to gather inappropriate intelligence, the statement said the “charge is being made by the party that insisted from the beginning on opening the entire territory of the participating states (above all, naturally, the [Soviet Union] and later Russia) to observation flights.”

The statement added that Russia’s future participation in the treaty “will be based on its national security interests and in close cooperation with its allies and partners.”

U.S. allies expressed varied responses to the U.S. exit from the treaty, but none of them signaled support for the move or indicated that they plan to follow the United States out of the agreement.

In a joint statement, 11 European countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) expressed “regret” over the U.S. decision.

“We will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security,” they said. “We reaffirm that this treaty remains functioning and useful.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to return to compliance with the treaty after a May 22 meeting of the North Atlantic Council. He said that the United States withdrew in a manner “consistent with treaty provisions.”

Poland said in a statement that efforts to return Russia to compliance “have proved unsuccessful.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that Germany, along with France, Poland, and the United Kingdom, had previously told Washington that Russian noncompliance concerns did not justify a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

Prior to the U.S. decision to withdraw, the Trump administration consulted U.S. allies and other states-parties to the treaty, including by distributing a written questionnaire earlier this year. Throughout the process, allies expressed their support for continued U.S. participation in the treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Several Democratic and Republican members of Congress excoriated the withdrawal decision and accused the administration of breaking the law.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, called the Trump administration's move to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty a "dangerous and misguided decision."(Photo: Pete Marovich/Getty Images)“The dangerous and misguided decision to abandon this international agreement cripples our ability to conduct aerial surveillance of Russia, while allowing Russian reconnaissance flights over U.S. bases in Europe to continue,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who sits on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) first sounded the alarm about the Trump administration’s plans to withdraw the United States from the treaty last October. (See ACT, November 2019.) Reacting to the withdrawal announcement, he said that “the president’s reckless plan…directly harms our country’s security and breaks the law in the process.”

The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act required that the Trump administration notify Congress 120 days before announcing an intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which it failed to do. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he does “not accept the legitimacy of the administration’s reckless decision.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the committee’s strategic forces subcommittee, echoed the legal concerns and called the withdrawal “a slap in the face to our allies in Europe.”

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents Offutt Air Force Base, where America’s OC-135B treaty aircraft are based, called the administration’s decision a “mistake.” He also urged that the administration adhere to the requirements in the defense authorization bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a longtime treaty critic, voiced support for the withdrawal. He said that he was “particularly heartened” that the United States would now not have to fund the replacement efforts for the two treaty aircraft.

Congress appropriated $41.5 million last year to continue replacement efforts for these aircraft, but Defense Secretary Mark Esper in March told Congress that he halted the funding until a decision on the future of the treaty was made. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Signed in 1992 and entering into force in 2002, the treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. All imagery collected from overflights is then made available to any of the 34 states-parties.

Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States. Between 2002 and 2019, more than 1,500 flights took place.

 

Citing Russian noncompliance, the Trump administration has triggered the Open Skies Treaty’s withdrawal provision.

U.S., Russia to Meet on Arms Control


June 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia have agreed to discuss nuclear arms control issues, according to U.S. President Donald Trump’s arms control envoy following a May 8 phone call.

Marshall Billingslea, shown speaking in Latvia in 2019, has been tapped to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. He outlined the Trump administration's plans at a May event at the Hudson Institute.  (Photo: Latvian State Chancellery)Marshall Billingslea, whom Trump also has nominated to serve as U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov agreed “to meet, talk about our respective concerns and objectives, and find a way forward to begin negotiations” on a new arms control agreement.

“So, we have settled on a venue, and we are working on an agenda based on the exchange of views that has taken place,” he said.

Billingslea described the conversation during May 21 remarks at a Hudson Institute event in Washington, where he also criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and sketched out some of the Trump administration’s goals for a new trilateral agreement with Russia and China.

New START expires in February 2021 unless Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to extend it by up to five years. Russia stated in December 2019 that it is ready to extend New START without any preconditions, but the Trump administration has yet to make a decision on the treaty’s fate.

“Any potential extension of our existing obligations must be tied to progress towards a new era of arms control,” Billingslea emphasized on May 21. Earlier, in a May 7 interview with The Washington Times, he also stated that the administration wants “to understand why the Russians are so desperate for extension, and we want the Russians to explain to us why this is in our interest to do it.”

New START caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each. Under its monitoring and verification regime, the treaty allows for short notice, on-site inspections.

Billingslea views the agreement as flawed. “One main failing of New START, among the many problems with it, is that it does not include the Chinese,” he told the newspaper.

Bringing China into nuclear talks would appear to be a challenging task, particularly as China has repeatedly stated that it wants no part in them. Most recently, a Chinese spokesperson told reporters on May 15 that Beijing “has no intention to take part in a trilateral arms control negotiation.” Even Billingslea’s State Department predecessor, Andrea Thompson, said on May 14 “that China’s not going to come to the table before” New START expires next February. “There’s no incentive for them to come to the table,” she said, citing China’s much smaller nuclear arsenal.

But Billingslea insisted that Beijing could be incentivized to negotiate.

“If China wants to be a great power, and we know it has that self-image, it needs to behave like one,” he said May 21. “It should engage us bilaterally and trilaterally with the Russians.”

Billingslea added that “Russia must help bring China to the negotiating table.” Moscow previously said that it
will not try to persuade China to change its position.

He further asserted that the United States would hold Russia to its “public commitments to multilateralizing the next treaty after New START.” Moscow has long said that a future arms control agreement should include additional nuclear-armed states, including U.S. allies France and the United Kingdom.

A new agreement also must include Russia’s large arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and stronger verification measures than those contained in New START, Billingslea argued.

Billingslea did not say what the United States might be prepared to put on the table in return for limits on additional Russian weapons or concessions from China, nor did he clarify what precisely the administration is seeking from China on arms control.

Russia has frequently raised missile defense as an issue that must be on the table in the next round of arms control talks, but the special envoy said that he did not foresee the United States agreeing to limitations on missile defense.

Billingslea claimed that the United States is in a strong negotiating position and could win a new arms race if necessary.

“We know how to win these races, and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said. “If we have to, we will, but we sure would like to avoid it.”

Russia criticized Billingslea’s May 7 interview with The Washington Times. “The unmistakable impression” is that Billingslea “has not been brought up to speed on his new job,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on May 14.

She also noted that the Trump administration’s desire to include China in arms control talks was “far-fetched.”

Trump and Putin discussed arms control on a May 7 phone call.

“President Trump reaffirmed that the United States is committed to effective arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China, and looks forward to future discussions to avoid a costly arms race,” said the White House in a statement following the call. The statement made no mention of New START.

The Kremlin said in a statement that the two presidents agreed to work to resolve “the urgent problems of our time, including maintaining strategic stability.”

The United States and Russia last held formal talks on strategic security in January. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said on May 5 that Trump had agreed to Russia’s January proposal that the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the United States) hold a summit to discuss a broad range of security topics, including arms control.

“It’s my understanding that the substance and logistics of such a meeting are under consideration,” said Sullivan.

On April 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that all parties agreed that the summit “must be face to face.” He added two days later that “the conceptual content” of the summit is in the works.

“There is agreement, an understanding,” Lavrov said, “that it should be devoted to all the key problems of the modern world, strategic stability, and global security in all its dimensions.”

In Washington, Billingslea could be facing a controversial Senate confirmation process before he can officially assume the position to which Trump named him on May 1. Some senators are likely to question his reputation as a critic of arms control and to examine his human rights record. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Billingslea previously served as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department. He was an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ardent opponent of arms control who opposed U.S. ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

In 2019, Trump nominated Billingslea for the top human rights post at the State Department, but his nomination stalled in early 2020 amid concerns about his role in promoting enhanced interrogation techniques that Congress later banned as torture while serving in the Pentagon from 2002 to 2003 during the George W. Bush administration.

 

Officials have agreed on a venue to discuss arms control, but not an agenda.

Trump Officials Consider Nuclear Testing


June 2020
By Greg Webb

Senior Trump administration officials recently discussed the possibility of resuming explosive nuclear testing, a practice the United States last undertook in 1992, The Washington Post reported on May 22. No nuclear-armed nation has conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1998 except North Korea, and U.S. resumption would threaten to raise already increasing tensions with China, Russia, and others.

The Nevada National Test Site was the location of 928 nuclear weapon detonations before the United States began its testing moratorium in 1992. (Photo: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada)The recent consideration was taken up by a group of national security officials on May 15, but the participants reportedly did not reach a decision. The idea is “very much an ongoing conversation,” one person familiar with the national security meeting told the Post.

Despite the interest of some officials, others argued against the idea. “There are still some professionals in the room who told them this is a terrible idea, thank God,” a congressional aide told The Guardian. Defense Department official Drew Walter later said there “has been no policy change” regarding explosive nuclear testing, Defense News reported.

The justification for resuming testing would not be a technical one having to do with a design flaw in one of the existing types of warhead, but would be political. According to the Post, a senior official said that demonstrating that the United States could “rapid test” could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration pushes for a new, trilateral arms control deal with Russia and China.

Such a test could take only months to prepare, Walter said. “Ultimately, if the president directed because of a technical issue or a geopolitical issue, a system to go test, I think it would happen relatively rapidly.”

At the May 15 meeting, the officials “discussed underground testing in the context of trying to bring China to the table for the trilateral agreement,” a former official said to The Guardian. “Among the professionals in the administration, the idea was dismissed as unworkable and dumb,” while the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was “definitely not on board” and the State Department likely was not in agreement either, the former official said.

Part of the discussion reportedly focused on the administration’s assessment that China and Russia may have conducted nuclear weapons activities that are inconsistent with the zero-yield standard established by the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits nuclear experiments that produce an explosive yield. The treaty is not in force, as eight specific countries, including the United States and China, have not ratified the pact.

The State Department made its allegations in its most recent annual report assessing nations’ compliance with arms control agreements. The report says some Russian activities since 1996 “have demonstrated a failure to adhere to the U.S. ‘zero-yield’ standard, which would prohibit supercritical tests.” The report added that “the United States does not know how many, if any, supercritical or self-sustaining nuclear experiments Russia conducted in 2019.” (See ACT, May 2020.)

According to the U.S. nuclear test readiness guidelines, a "simple test" with limited instrumentation could be conducted by the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency in the Energy Department, at the former Nevada Test Site within six to 10 months once the president decides to resume nuclear testing.

News of the renewed testing consideration drew widespread condemnation. “I burst into tears when I read that,” said Mary Dickson, a longtime activist for Americans who suffer health problems from decades of U.S. testing in the atmosphere. “I live every day with watching the effects that testing all those years ago had on so many people I know and love. We’re still living with the consequences of fallout from testing…. Their cancers are coming back. They are more at risk during the pandemic. But we think of doing it again,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune on May 26.

China was quick to respond to the report. “We’re gravely concerned about the report,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a Beijing press conference on May 25. “Though [the CTBT] has not yet entered into force, banning nuclear testing has become an international norm. The CTBT is of great significance for nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and world peace and security. All five nuclear-weapon states, including the U.S., have signed the treaty and committed to a moratorium on nuclear tests.”

The administration’s openness to testing raises concern that Washington will move to “unsign” the CTBT, a pact the United States was first to sign in 1996 but the Senate has never approved. The United States has nevertheless adhered to a moratorium on testing and is the leading financial contributor to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which maintains and operates the worldwide monitoring system to verify compliance with the treaty.

The Trump administration has already worked repeatedly to pull the United States out of arms control commitments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, announced May 21 that Washington would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty in six months time. Previously, the administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that banned an entire class of missiles, and it also stepped away from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In addition, it has “unsigned” the Arms Trade Treaty, another pact that the United States had signed but not ratified.

U.S. national security officials discussed the possibility of resuming U.S. nuclear testing for political purposes, but have made no decision so far.

U.S. Aims to Extend Iran Embargo


June 2020
By Julia Masterson

The Trump administration is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. If multilateral efforts to renew the embargo fail, the administration will likely attempt to argue that the United States remains a participant of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal so that Washington can exercise a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2018. He has vowed a "crushing response" if the arms embargo on Iran is extended. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The embargo’s expiration date is included in Resolution 2231, which endorses and helps implement the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under a resolution provision, listed participants of the nuclear deal are granted the ability to invoke a sweeping “snapback” of all UN restrictions that were lifted or would be lifted by the agreement, including the embargo. The United States formally abrogated the JCPOA in May 2018, but Resolution 2231 was never amended to reflect the U.S. withdrawal and still names the United States as among the JCPOA participants that have the right to invoke the snapback mechanism.

Reinstating sanctions and restrictions through Resolution 2231 would extend the embargo indefinitely. Doing so, by also reimposing all other UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran, would likely collapse the JCPOA and tie the hands of a future U.S. president seeking to return to the multilateral nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 6 that “Iran would never accept the extension of an arms embargo” and warned that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also threatened that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty altogether if referred to the Security Council over its nuclear program and faced with the reimposition of UN sanctions. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Whispers of the Trump administration’s plan to claim participation in the deal in order to exercise the snapback mechanism began in late 2019, when an internal legal memo that circulated within the State Department reportedly detailed “a legally available argument we can assert that the United States can initiate the snapback process” under Resolution 2231.

Washington “will exercise all diplomatic options” to extend the embargo, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9, after receiving a congressional letter urging the administration to pursue diplomatic measures to prevent the embargo’s expiration. More than three-quarters of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed the May 4 bipartisan letter co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. The House letter does not mention the JCPOA or the Resolution 2231 snapback process, but according to a May 4 statement by Engel, “[T]his letter, supported overwhelmingly by both parties in the House, represents an imperative to reauthorize this provision—not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign.”

The administration has indicated it will pursue a standalone Security Council resolution establishing a new arms embargo on Iran first, but that measure will almost certainly be vetoed by one of the other four JCPOA participants who have permanent membership and veto power on the UN Security Council.

In that case, the United States has hinted its intent to invoke the snapback provision in Resolution 2231, which cannot be vetoed. The State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, confirmed in a May 13 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that the administration drafted a standalone Security Council resolution to extend the embargo and is hoping it will pass, but said that “if American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.”

The United States has not yet formally introduced its draft of a standalone resolution to the Security Council.
The Trump administration reportedly shared sections of that draft with European members of the nuclear deal
in February 2020.

According to Hook, “[T]he Trump administration’s preferred strategy is for the Security Council to extend the arms embargo while the U.S. continues to apply maximum economic pressure and maintains deterrence against Iranian aggression.” But, he said, if the United Nations “doesn’t renew the arms embargo against Iran, the U.S. will use its authority to do so.”

It is not clear whether the Trump administration’s move to reinstate sanctions through Resolution 2231 would succeed. Should the United States attempt to exercise the snapback mechanism and unilaterally block the expiration of the arms embargo, it is highly likely that the remaining parties to the nuclear deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU) will strive to delegitimize the U.S. legal argument in order to preserve the JCPOA.

Although the Europeans appear to share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s arms trade, they have made clear they do not support steps to extend the embargo that could lead to the JCPOA’s collapse. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on April 30 that Europe does not consider the United States a participating member of the 2015 nuclear deal. A second European official said the same day that France, Germany, and the UK would not condone extending the embargo through the Resolution 2231 snapback clause because “the arms embargo is a legitimate part of the JCPOA.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, said on May 12 that the United States “has lost any right” to snapback UN restrictions under Resolution 2231. China’s UN mission bluntly tweeted on May 14 that the United States “failed to meet its obligations under Resolution 2231 by withdrawing” from the JCPOA and that “it has no right to extend an arms embargo on Iran, let alone to trigger snapback.” Together, statements from Russia and China make clear that Moscow and Beijing will counter any U.S. efforts to extend the embargo through a standalone resolution or through invocation of the snapback mechanism.

The Trump administration appears determined to prevent the expiration of the UN embargo, but if the United States fails to do so, many key restrictions governing arms sales to and from Iran will remain in place. Iranian arms sales to nonstate actors in Yemen and Lebanon will continue to be subject to U.S. and UN restrictions, even if the embargo expires as scheduled in October 2020.

 

United States Ends Sanctions Waivers

The Trump administration has announced it will terminate some key sanctions waivers that had allowed other nations to cooperate on certain projects with Iran outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Companies working on modifications to Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak have 60 days to wind down activities or face U.S. sanctions, according to a May 27 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The waiver allowing Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent for its Tehran Research Reactor and to transfer out spent fuel was also terminated.

The United States had been issuing sanctions waivers allowing these projects to continue since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran in May 2018.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is required to modify the unfinished reactor at Arak so that when operational it would produce annually far less plutonium than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were finished based on the original design, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons per year.

Iran said in 2019 it would revert back to the original design of the reactor if cooperative efforts, which primarily include China and the United Kingdom, cease.

The agreement allows Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor and requires Iran to ship out the spent fuel. The parties to the agreement are required to assist Iran in obtaining the necessary fuel. Iran is also prohibited from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent uranium-235 for 15 years under the nuclear deal.

In past statements announcing the renewal of waivers for these sanctions, Pompeo has highlighted the nonproliferation benefits of the cooperative projects. In October, Pompeo said the United States was issuing the waivers because the projects “help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks,” and “prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

In the May 27 announcement, Pompeo said that Iran has “continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities” so he “cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities.”

It is unclear what activities Pompeo is referring to. While Iran has taken steps to violate the nuclear deal in response to Trump’s reimposition of sanctions, Tehran has not announced any new actions to reduce compliance with the accord since the United States last renewed the waivers March 30.

Pompeo said the Trump administration would extend for another 90 days the waiver allowing cooperative activities at the Bushehr power reactor to “ensure safety of operations.” The Bushehr reactor was operational prior to the JCPOA’s implementation.

Waivers for several other cooperative projects were terminated in 2019.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States may try to claim participation in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to ensure the continuation of a UN embargo against Tehran.

U.S. Continues Intermediate-Range Missile Pursuit


June 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Defense Department is moving forward with plans to acquire conventional ground-launched missiles that fly distances previously banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The progress follows two demonstration tests of such missiles last year, but the next steps in the development process and how much the Pentagon plans to spend on the missiles is unclear. Whether U.S. allies and partners will agree to host the missiles once they are built also remains to be seen.

The USS Annapolis submarine test launches a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile off the coast of California in 2018. The Trump administration is proposing to acquire Tomahawks to launch from land which would have previously been banned by  INF Treaty. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The two 2019 tests included a prototype ground-launched ballistic missile last December (see ACT, January/February 2020) and a ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile in August, just two weeks after the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The treaty required the United States and Russia to eliminate permanently all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the agreement by producing and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.

The fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February includes $125 million for the Marine Corps to purchase 48 Tomahawk missiles. The budget documents did not include further information about the purchase or whether the Marine Corps planned to buy additional missiles in future years.

Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty allows the naval branch to assess the feasibility and utility of firing the Tomahawk missile from a ground launcher. The missile has an estimated range of between 1,250 and 2,500 kilometers.

Berger suggested the missile could be used to “contribute to sea control and sea denial,” but other Marine Corps officials have said the missile would be evaluated for attacking targets on land.

A February report by the Congressional Budget Office questioned whether the Tomahawk missile would be a suitable candidate for a new ground-launched system.

The “Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, a relatively slow missile with no low-observable features, has become less effective at penetrating defended airspace,” the report stated.

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, Marine Corps deputy commandant for combat development and integration, provided lawmakers with some additional details about the Marine Corps plans for longer-range, ground-launch systems at a March 11 congressional hearing.

The Marine Corps will work with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office “to continue design and development of a mobile launch platform in order to prototype and field a Marine Corps ground-based, long-range, land attack cruise missile capability for employment by its rocket artillery units,” he said. “Prototype launchers will undergo firing and endurance testing through fiscal year 2022, with the aim of fielding a battery of launchers to an operational unit in fiscal year 2023.”

Smith did not say how much the Marine Corps is requesting in fiscal year 2021 and beyond for the launch platform. A Defense Department spokesman told Arms Control Today in February that money appropriated in fiscal year 2020 “will complete the maturation of a conceptual cruise missile launcher.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2019. He later told the committee that the United States can now assess ground-launched cruise missiles once banned by the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)The Pentagon requested $96 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. (See ACT, May 2019.) These included a ground-launched cruise missile and two types of ballistic missiles. The final fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill approved by Congress in December provided $40 million less than the request. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has provided far less information about the status of its plans for developing a ground-launched ballistic missile capability.

Department officials told reporters in March 2019 that the department was seeking a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, April 2019.) The officials estimated that the new missile would not be ready for at least five years.

The Pentagon is not requesting new funding for either of the ballistic missile line items Congress funded in fiscal
year 2020.

One possible candidate for the weapon is the Army’s Precision Strike Missile, which the service is developing to replace the aging Tactical Missile System and “attack critical and time sensitive area and point targets.”

The range requirement for the missile is up to 499 kilometers, but that was dictated by the INF Treaty. Army officials have stated the missile could eventually fly as far as 700 kilometers. That range, however, would be far shorter than the 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers department officials previously identified as the goal for a new intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The Army is requesting $123 million for the Precision Strike Missile in fiscal year 2021. The service aims to begin fielding the missile as soon as 2023.

Other ground-launched weapons being pursued by the Army with ranges slated to exceed 500 kilometers include the long-range hypersonic weapon and the strategic long-range cannon. The budget request seeks $801 million for the hypersonic weapon, a massive increase of nearly $400 million above the fiscal year 2020 appropriated level, and $65 million for the cannon program.

The Army’s budget request does not include funding to continue development of a mobile, land-based, medium-range missile, citing an “Army realignment of funds to higher priority programs.” The fiscal year 2020 budget request contained $20 million in initial funding for the program, but Congress only provided $5 million.

The Pentagon’s request to develop missiles formerly prohibited by the INF Treaty was a controversial issue in Congress last year.

The final version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill prohibited the use of current-year funds to procure and deploy missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty, but does not prohibit their development and testing, as the House of Representatives’ version of the bill had initially proposed. The bill also required the Pentagon to report on the results of an analysis of alternatives that assesses the benefits and risks of such missiles, options for basing them in Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, and whether deploying such missile systems on the territory of a NATO ally would require a consensus decision by NATO.

Basing new ground-launched missiles in Europe and East Asia is likely to prove challenging. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host the missiles.

A senior Defense Department official told reporters on Feb. 21 that the administration has not “actually spoken to the allies about basing” such missiles “on their territory, at this time.”

The Pentagon is moving to develop once-banned missiles even as U.S. allies are not eager to host them.

U.S. Arms Deals Continue During Pandemic


June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

As the Trump administration designated the defense industry as essential, notifications of potential new international arms sales have continued during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, however, the firing of the State Department's inspector general and push for new arms sales raised controversy.

The most high-profile concerns, however, focus on a deal that has not yet been formally notified to Congress for new weapons for Saudi Arabia. In a May 27 CNN commentary, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he had not received sufficient answers as to why the deal, details of which were not yet public, was needed and that, “Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.” The following day, The New York Times reported that the deal valued at $478 million would include 7,500 precision-guided missiles and licenses to allow Raytheon to expand manufacturing capacity in Saudi Arabia.

Menendez linked his concerns to a congressional effort to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2019, which was given greater attention when President Donald Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general on May 15. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Trump on May 18, saying, “It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General [Steve] Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that weapons sales to the countries needed to proceed on an emergency basis in May 2019, bypassing the 30-day notification period, both chambers passed resolutions of disapproval that the president vetoed last July. (See ACT, September 2019.) Members of Congress had asked for the inspector general to start an investigation into the arms sales.

Overall, between March 30 and May 28, Congress was notified of potential foreign military sales of approximately $7.5 billion. If annualized, that pace of $45 billion for sales notifications would be lower than the nearly $70 billion in sales that were notified in 2019.

The recent notifications included two possible attack helicopters sales, valued at either $1.5 billion or $450 million, for a bid request issued by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, as well as $2.3 billion to refurbish 43 Apache attack helicopters in Egypt and $556 million to sell 4,569 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to the United Arab Emirates that were declared excess defense articles in 2014. Potential sales to Hungary, Taiwan, and India, valued at $230 million, $180 million and $155 million, respectively, were notified during the period, which also included Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, and South Korea as possible clients.

As expected, the May 20 notification of the potential sale of 18 heavy-weight torpedoes to Taiwan for $180 million elicited Chinese opposition.

 

The Trump administration has pressed forward with foreign military sales, triggering calls of concern from some U.S. lawmakers.

German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate


June 2020
By Oliver Meier

A senior member of the German Parliament has revitalized the debate over whether the nation should host U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil. “It is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory, said Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, in a May 2 interview with Der Tagesspiegel. The German Social Democrats are coalition partners of the conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU). The SPD leadership backed Mützenich's comments.

A U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft refuels in 2017. Germany is exploring acquiring 45 F-18s from the United States, 30 of which would be nuclear capable. (Photo: Trevor McBride/U.S. Air Force)The discussion followed a mid-April decision by the Defense Ministry to replace Germany’s current fleet of Tornado aircraft, some of which are dual-capable with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey host up to 150 U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territory. These countries, except Turkey, provide their own aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons in times of war. Details of the arrangements remain shrouded in secrecy, but 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are estimated to be deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

The Tornado replacement has been controversial for years. Washington has been lobbying Berlin to follow the example of other host nations and buy U.S. F-35 aircraft as the future nuclear weapons carrier.

France prefers a European approach, and it is jointly developing with Germany and Spain the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that will have a nuclear capability in the French Air Force. Germany’s selection of the F-18 was thus a political compromise which Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer presented as a “bridge solution” until the FCAS becomes operational after 2040. Germany plans to retire the Tornado between 2025 and 2030.

Kramp-Karrenbauer may have mishandled the process by not sufficiently consulting with SPD members in the parliament. She has conceded that the Bundestag would not need to make a decision until 2022 at the earliest and said that there would thus be “space for a debate” on the dual-capable aircraft decision in the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and negotiations on a new coalition government thereafter.

In a May 7 article in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, Mützenich took up that invitation, saying that he would like “an open and honest debate about the rationale for nuclear sharing.” Social Democrats “are not calling for the immediate denuclearization of NATO,” but want to discuss the need “to spend billions on the procurement and maintenance of U.S. aircraft whose sole purpose is to drop American nuclear bombs,” he wrote.

Katja Keul, spokeswoman on disarmament policy for the Green party, told Arms Control Today in a May 14 interview that the Greens “do not want to put Germany on a path of continued involvement in technical sharing arrangements by committing to the procurement of a new nuclear-capable aircraft now.” Based on current polls, many expect the Greens to be part of Germany’s next government.

Keul, like other proponents of change, separated Germany’s role as a host nation from the continued participation in NATO political bodies associated with nuclear sharing, such as the Nuclear Planning Group. By contrast, those who have argued in favor of preserving the nuclear status quo have often conflated technical and political dimensions of sharing arrangements, equating the end of forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons with a denuclearization of the alliance or even the end of deterrence.

The idea that NATO’s consultative mechanisms provide Berlin with influence on the policies of its nuclear allies has always been a key rationale for German involvement in them.

But Mützenich argued that this concept of Mitsprache is no more than a “long-held pious hope,” arguing that “non-nuclear powers do not have any influence on the nuclear strategy, let alone when it comes to the deployment options of nuclear powers.” He cited the U.S. withdrawals from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as the “reorientation of U.S. nuclear weapons as a means of conducting warfare,” as examples of recent Trump administration decisions that contravene European interests.

Roderich Kiesewetter, CDU spokesman for the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Arms Control Today on May 12 that NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements are important because they “guarantee trust in the extended nuclear umbrella and thus avoid nuclear proliferation in the European theater.” But he added that “it would be naive to believe that a U.S. president would grant Europeans influence on U.S. nuclear strategy or a more general say on the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in conflict.”

By contrast, Richard A. Grenell, U.S. ambassador in Berlin, in a May 14 opinion piece in Die Welt claimed that “Germany’s participation in nuclear share ensures that its voice matters.”

In dozens of commentaries, conservative decision-makers, analysts, and pundits have accused withdrawal proponents of weakening NATO cohesion. In an obvious aside to his party colleague Mützenich, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on May 4 that one-sided steps “weaken our alliances.” Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, in a May 15 tweet suggested that “if Germany wants to diminish nuclear capability and weaken NATO, perhaps Poland—which pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank—could house the capabilities.”

In fact, there is broad agreement in Berlin that “it is important to bring this debate to the European level and to discuss it with NATO partners,” Gabriela Heinrich, deputy leader of the SPD Parliamentary Group, told Arms Control Today on May 13.

But different preferences exist on the direction and structure of a discussion with alliance partners. Keul said the Greens want “Germany to push for a new consensus in NATO that would pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. That would be our plan A.” She cautioned that “because such a consensus will be difficult to achieve, our plan B would be to ask for understanding that Germany will end the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory once the Tornado reaches the end of its lifetime.”

Kiesewetter pointed out that “it matters who is the sender of messages on nuclear issues across the Atlantic.” He suggested that, “to avoid the impression of unilateralism, the five nuclear host nations should first among themselves discuss what their position on the future of nuclear sharing is.” Then, Kiesewetter said, “we should also consult with central and eastern European countries what package of non-nuclear defense and deterrence measures might provide complimentary reassurances and can be an effective deterrent to Russia.”

Like others, Keul believes that “the future of nuclear sharing should certainly be on the agenda of the NATO experts group” established by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of March. Kiesewetter agrees that “we need an informed debate, including by experts, on the future of nuclear sharing arrangements.” The group, co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat A. Wess Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Lothar de Maizière, is to discuss NATO’s political role. Heinrich suggested that it would also be “useful if the experts include civil society in their deliberations.”

Heinrich said that “there is no pressure to bring the debate on nuclear sharing to a quick conclusion,” predicting that it would be an issue in the next federal election. Another waypoint in the debate might be the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Mützenich stated that he is opposed to “replacing the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Büchel with new atomic warheads,” referring to U.S. plans to deploy new B61-12 weapons sometime after 2022.

Some leaders question the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on German territory.

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