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

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

Nonproliferation Experts Warn Biden on Urgent Need for U.S. Reentry into Iran Nuclear Deal



For Immediate Release:  January 14, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.)—As Iran continues to threaten to take further steps in retaliation for Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a group of more than 70 former government officials and leading nuclear nonproliferation experts issued a joint statement today on why "returning the United States to compliance with its JCPOA obligations alongside Iran must be an urgent priority" for the incoming Biden administration.

President Trump withdrew the JCPOA in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions that had been waived as part of the agreement. Iran remained in compliance through May 2019, but since then it has retaliated through calibrated violations of the agreement to pressure the remaining JCPOA parties to meet their commitments.

The experts group writes that "[f]ailure to return to compliance with the nuclear deal increases the likelihood that the JCPOA will collapse," and that there exists only "a short window of opportunity following inauguration day for coordinated diplomatic action to fully restore the JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s breaches of the deal are concerning. They also appear to be calibrated responses designed to pressure the remaining JCPOA parties to meet their commitments to deliver on the sanctions relief agreed to in the accord."

The experts note that Iran's "uranium stockpile remains far below the pre-JCPOA levels, and Iran continues to cooperate with the more intrusive verification measures put in place by the accord. Almost all the violations reported to date are reversible."

"Restoration of the JCPOA’s nuclear restrictions and its economic benefits for Iran stands the best chance of blocking Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons, providing incentive and encouragement not to do so, and creating space for further diplomacy,” the experts conclude.

"We strongly urge the incoming Biden administration to end the Trump administration’s failed policy of JCPOA withdrawal that has resulted in Iran advancing its nuclear program and undermined global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. We urge all JCPOA parties to meet their respective obligations under the terms of the agreement and all states to support full implementation of the accord,” the experts write.

Signatories of the letter include former IAEA Director-General Hans Blix, two former special representatives to the president of the United States on nonproliferation, and several former high-level officials from the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council, and the State Department, among other agencies.

The full text of the statement and list of signatories is available online.


Signatories of the letter include a former IAEA director-general, two former special representatives to the president of the United States on nonproliferation, and several former high-level officials from the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council, and the State Department, among other agencies.

Country Resources:

Biden’s First Challenge: Extend New START

January/February 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

Until the Trump era, every U.S. president since John Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with the Soviet Union, or later Russia, to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons to the United States and the world.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (L) and then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (2nd R) meet on March 10, 2011 with their delegations in Moscow. (Photo: Alexy Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images)President Donald Trump did not. He and his team failed to resolve a dispute over Russian noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and bungled talks to extend the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire Feb. 5.

As a result, the top foreign policy priority of President Joe Biden, once he is sworn in, must be to dispatch a senior representative to reach agreement with Russia on a clean, five-year extension of the treaty (the maximum allowed under the agreement) and begin follow-on nuclear disarmament talks on the backlog of issues the two sides have failed to resolve since New START was concluded.

The loss of New START would deprive the United States of an irreplaceable source of information about Russian strategic forces, create the potential for unconstrained nuclear competition, and further complicate the already fraught U.S.-Russian relationship. For the first time since 1972, there would be no agreed limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

During the campaign, Biden said he would pursue an extension of New START, “an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements.”

Russia has recently reiterated it “supports extending the treaty for five years without additional conditions.” To date, however, Biden’s team has not signaled whether he will seek a longer- or shorter-term extension or what type of follow-on agreements he will pursue.

Extending the treaty by five years would enhance U.S. and Russian security by maintaining the treaty limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed strategic delivery systems, ensure newer Russian strategic weapons are covered by the treaty’s limits, and provide the most time for the complex negotiations that will be necessary for any follow-on agreement or agreements to supersede New START.

There is no evidence that a shorter-term extension of New START would make Russia more likely to negotiate a follow-on agreement. Nor would a one-year or two-year extension provide enough time to negotiate a meaningful, durable replacement agreement.

With mere days to effect an extension of New START, the Biden administration should not try to hold an extension hostage to the Trump administration’s ambitious, 11th-hour proposal to impose a one-year cap on all types of U.S. and Russian warheads—a proposal that Moscow is not close to accepting.

A temporary freeze on the number of all types of U.S. and Russian warheads would be a useful confidence-building measure, but a one-year freeze on warhead totals would be of limited value given that neither side could significantly increase the size of its arsenal in such a short time.

Upon announcing an agreement to extend New START, Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin should issue a joint communique expressing their commitment to quickly resume strategic stability talks, begin negotiations on a follow-on agreement to achieve deeper mutual reductions in their stockpiles, and seek to engage other nuclear-armed states, which possess far smaller but still deadly arsenals, in the nuclear disarmament enterprise.

A key objective of the next round of bilateral talks should be, in part, deeper verifiable cuts in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. In 2013 the Obama administration determined that the United States could reduce its nuclear force by one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements. Follow-on negotiations should also address nonstrategic nuclear weapons; the interrelationship between offensive nuclear weapons and strategic missile defenses; long-range, dual-capable conventional missiles, including those formerly banned by the INF Treaty; and hypersonic glide vehicles.

Trump officials argue that the next arms control treaty must include China without explaining how this might be accomplished. Extending New START and pursuing serious follow-on talks designed to limit all types of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons would certainly enhance U.S. leverage to bring China and the other nuclear-armed states further into the nuclear risk reduction process. But rather than repeat Trump’s failed scheme to shame Beijing into joining complex trilateral talks, Biden should propose a regular, bilateral strategic security dialogue with China and an expansion of the existing P5 dialogue on nuclear matters, which China already supports.

The P5 process could be reconfigured to become a genuine negotiating forum where the Biden administration could propose regular reporting by all states on total nuclear weapons holdings and a freeze on the size of Chinese, French, and UK nuclear forces so long as the United States and Russia pursue deeper nuclear cuts.

A straightforward, no-nonsense five-year extension of New START would provide the new president with an early win and positive momentum, help restore U.S. credibility on arms control issues, and create the potential for more ambitious steps to reduce the nuclear danger and move us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.

Until the Trump era, every U.S. president since John Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with the Soviet Union, or later Russia, to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons to the United States and the world.

Nuclear Challenges for the Biden Administration in the First 100 Days



Tuesday, January 19, 2021
11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time
via Zoom


Upon taking office Jan. 20, 2021, the new presidential administration will confront a dizzying array of major challenges, not the least of which are related to the risks posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Tensions between the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are gone or are in serious jeopardy.

President Biden’s nuclear policy challenges have been severely complicated by the neglect and poor policy choices of President Trump and his administration.

On day one, the Biden team will need to address several consequential, nuclear policy-related hurdles that require smart, swift, and decisive action.

Senior policy analysts from the Arms Control Association will review the most consequential nuclear weapons policy challenges and the decisions that the new Biden administration will need to address in its first 100 days—and sooner — and outline their recommendations on the steps that would make the United States and the world safer from the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

The speakers will elaborate upon the recommendations in their forthcoming report, "Nuclear Challenges for the Biden Administration in the First 100 Days," including measures to adjust nuclear launch procedures, extend the New START agreement, return to the Iran nuclear deal, and more.

Speakers will include:

  • Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy
  • Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy
  • Daryl G. Kimball, executive director
  • Tom Countryman, fmr. acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and ACA’s board chair, moderating


Country Resources:

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden

Fate of New START Hinges on Biden With less than two months remaining until the last agreement limiting the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals expires, Russia has reiterated its offer to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ). Though President-elect Joe Biden has said that he will seek to extend the agreement, the incoming administration has yet to decide on the length of an extension to seek. “Russia is in favor of extending this treaty for five years without additional conditions,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov Nov. 30. In his annual...

Missile Defense and the Arms Race

December 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

Within weeks of taking office, President Joe Biden and his team will be confronted with dozens of pivotal choices. An under-the-radar but consequential decision facing the new administration will be whether and how to move forward with Trump-era plans to expand the U.S. national missile defense footprint with new sea-based missiles that can shoot down long-range ballistic missiles.

The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) fires a Standard Missile-3 during exercise Formidable Shield 2017 over the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 15, 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)Although the new interceptor, known as the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, may help mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea in the near term, it will undoubtedly encourage Russia and China to believe they need to continue to enhance the capability and quantity of their offensive nuclear-armed missiles—and undoubtedly complicate progress on arms control.

Nuclear strategists have long understood that the development and deployment of strategic missile interceptors are ineffective against determined nuclear-armed adversaries but could lead them nonetheless to build more numerous and sophisticated offensive missile systems to overwhelm and evade missile defenses.

To prevent costly and destabilizing missile competition, Washington and Moscow agreed to cap strategic missile interceptors to no more than 100 each under the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Those limits facilitated progress on arms control and steep reductions in U.S. and Soviet nuclear forces.

Even after the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002, U.S. policymakers have focused for the most part on improving capabilities to address limited missile threats from rogue states. To date, the Pentagon has only managed to field 44 strategic interceptors as part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. This system would be ineffective against Russia’s arsenal of some 450 land- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and China’s arsenal of some 100 ICBMs.

As North Korea has improved its ballistic missile capabilities in recent years, however, Congress has poured billions of dollars more into the Missile Defense Agency to develop, procure, and test additional missile defense capabilities and explore new technologies.

In 2019, the Trump administration’s Missile Defense Review recommended a more robust approach “to further thicken defensive capabilities for the U.S. homeland” to defend against the rogue-state threat. But President Donald Trump declared that the goal is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.”

Such an approach, if pursued, would represent a major departure from the traditional policy of defending against limited attacks from North Korea or possibly Iran.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 defense budget request sought nearly $180 million to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to intercept ICBMs.

On Nov. 17, the Missile Defense Agency tested the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM-type target. Current Pentagon plans call for building hundreds of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors by 2030 and deploying them on land and at sea across the globe.

James Miller, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and Biden campaign adviser, told Arms Control Today last year that if the SM-3 Block IIA missile becomes part of the U.S. national missile defense architecture, “we should expect the Chinese nuclear arsenal to grow substantially and Russia to resist reductions—and to prepare seriously to break out.”

As a first step, the new administration should reiterate that U.S. homeland missile defense capabilities will be sized to defend against third-party offensive missile threats, not against more sophisticated Russian and Chinese capabilities.

Such a clarification alone will not be sufficient. Moscow has conditioned further offensive nuclear cuts on future limits on U.S. missile defenses. Russia claims its efforts to develop new intercontinental-range nuclear delivery systems such as an undersea torpedo, hypersonic glide vehicle, and nuclear-powered cruise missile are designed to overcome U.S. missile defenses.

China has already begun to respond to U.S. missile defense capabilities by diversifying its nuclear strike capabilities, including by increasing the number of silo-based ICBMs that are armed with multiple warheads.

U.S. efforts to further limit Russian nuclear weapons and bring China into the arms control process are unlikely to gain traction unless Washington agrees to seriously discuss its long-range missile defense capabilities, including the SM-3 Block IIA. Fielding sufficient missile defenses to defend against limited ballistic attacks from North Korea or Iran and agreeing to binding limits on the quantity, location, and capability of such defenses should not be mutually exclusive.

But doing so will require the Biden administration to move away from the simplistic notion that there should never be any limits on U.S. missile defenses.

Twenty years ago, then-Senator Biden argued for the “development of a theater missile defense that enhances regional stability” and against a strategic missile defense system that “would be seen as threatening by both Russia and China.” Now, as president, Biden has a responsibility to adjust the U.S. missile defense strategy so that it strikes the right balance.


Within weeks of taking office, President Joe Biden and his team will be confronted with dozens of pivotal choices.

U.S. Completes Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal

December 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States formally withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Nov. 22 despite domestic and international pressure to remain party to the accord, including from President-elect Joe Biden and numerous U.S. allies.

The United States has used OC-135 aircraft to conduct overflights as part of the Open Skies Treaty. The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty may trigger plans to dispose of the aircraft. (Photo: Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force)“Today, pursuant to earlier notice provided, the United States withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies is now effective,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a tweet. “America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in noncompliance with its obligations.”

In May, Pompeo issued the six-month notice of withdrawal as required by the treaty, citing concerns over Russian compliance with and implementation of the treaty as grounds for the U.S. withdrawal. (See ACT, June 2020.)

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations that it has violated the treaty and said in a Nov. 22 statement that all options remain on the table regarding its continued participation. The statement followed Nov. 12 remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in which he outlined in stark terms the circumstances in which Moscow might remain party to the treaty.

“If they [the remaining states-parties] want to keep the treaty in force, and if we choose to remain part of it, we will require our partners to legally confirm in writing that, first, they will not prohibit flights over any part of their territory regardless of whether U.S. bases are located there or not,” he said.

He added that the parties must also “strongly commit not to transmit data on flights over Russia to the United States.”

Under the treaty, all imagery collected from overflights is made available to any of the states-parties. During the treaty’s fourth review conference in October, Russia prioritized the provisions of the pact that restrict the distribution of treaty data to states-parties only. (See ACT, November 2020.)

A senior U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the United States is already moving to dispose of the two Boeing OC-135B aircraft used for treaty overflight missions.

“We’ve started liquidating the equipment,” the official said. The planes “are really old and cost-prohibitive for us to maintain. We don’t have a use for them anymore.”

An Air Force official told Defense News on Nov. 24 that a final decision on the disposition of the aircraft has not yet been made.

Congress appropriated $41.5 million in fiscal year 2020 to continue modernizing the aircraft, and the Air Force was planning to seek $76 million in fiscal year 2021 to replace the planes. But the Defense Department halted the funding earlier this year. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Following the U.S. withdrawal, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. William Keating (D-Mass.) issued a Nov. 23 statement maintaining that the Trump administration broke the law when it neglected to notify Congress 120 days before issuing an intent to withdraw from the treaty as required by the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“President Trump is attempting to burn down our critical institutions on his way out the door,” they wrote. “In doing so, he not only jeopardized U.S. national security, but he blatantly ignored and deliberately broke the law.”

In a Dec. 20, 2019 statement issued alongside his signature of the fiscal year 2020 authorization bill, Trump argued that the NDAA provision on the treaty raised constitutional concerns.

“I reiterate the longstanding understanding of the executive branch that these types of provisions encompass only actions for which such advance certification or notification is feasible and consistent with the president’s exclusive constitutional authorities as commander in chief and as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs,” the president said.

President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support for the treaty and condemned the administration’s decision to withdraw. But he has stopped short of committing to try to reenter the agreement when he takes office in January or arguing the United States still remains a state-party because the withdrawal was done in violation of the law.

If Biden did want to resume U.S. participation in the treaty, it is unclear whether and how he could do so.

In a statement to Arms Control Today, Monica Matoush, a Democratic spokesperson for the House Armed Services Committee, did not address whether Biden should attempt to rejoin the agreement.

“The importance of alliances and confidence-building measures to support strategic stability in Europe in the face of Russian aggression must be a priority for the next administration, despite efforts over the past four years to undermine these relationships and dismantle agreements that uphold transatlantic stability,” she said.

Peter Jones, a former Canadian representative to the Open Skies Treaty negotiations, proposed on Nov. 12 that the remaining states-parties pause the treaty at one minute to midnight on Nov. 21 in order to prevent the Trump administration from withdrawing from the treaty and buy time for a new Biden administration to rescind the withdrawal.

“In effect, they would be ignoring the Trump deadline until the Biden administration was sworn in and could rescind the withdrawal,” he wrote. Although the proposal was reportedly discussed in Vienna, it did not come to fruition.

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.

The U.S. withdrawal raises questions about the treaty’s future.

Biden Victory May Save Iran Nuclear Deal

December 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election increases the likelihood that the United States and Iran will quickly return to full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but Tehran says any formal U.S. reentry into the deal will need to be negotiated.

Vice President Joe Biden visits members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015 to discuss the Iran nuclear deal. As president, he may seek to reverse the U.S. withdrawal from the deal, but the agreement does not contain provisions for such a move. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran. (See ACT, June 2018.) Iran was abiding by the agreement’s nuclear restrictions at that time, but took steps beginning one year later to breach certain JCPOA’s limits in response to the U.S. sanctions campaign. (See ACT, June 2019.)

Although the Trump administration claimed its maximum pressure campaign was designed to push Iran to negotiate a new deal that addressed Tehran’s nuclear program and a range of other activities, Biden has stated a clear preference for restoring the JCPOA.

In a Sept. 13 CNN commentary, Biden wrote that “[i]f Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.”

Iranian officials have rejected Trump’s push for negotiations on a new deal, but have said consistently that if Washington returns to full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, Iran will do likewise.

After Biden was projected the winner of the election, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran “has always adhered to its commitments when all sides responsibly implement” their JCPOA obligations.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered more detail on the Iranian position on Nov. 17, saying that a return to full implementation by the United States and Iran can be “done automatically” and “needs no negotiations.” However, Zarif said that if the United States wants to rejoin the JCPOA, Iran will be “ready to negotiate how” Washington can reenter. U.S. reentry, however, is “not a priority,” Zarif said.

The nuclear deal does not contain any provisions detailing what, if any, steps a state must take to rejoin the deal.

Zarif’s comments appeared to imply that Iran would be satisfied in the short term with Washington and Tehran fully implementing their obligations under the JCPOA without the United States being a state party and that Iran may try to impose conditions to a formal U.S. return.

Formally rejoining the JCPOA would give the United States certain privileges, such as participating in meetings of the Joint Commission, which oversees the agreement’s implementation, and having the power under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 to unilaterally trigger a reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran in the event of a violation.

Zarif’s comment about negotiating a return to the JCPOA may be motivated in part by concern that the United States would abuse the UN snapback privilege in the future. The Trump administration attempted to snap back sanctions on Iran earlier this year, despite having withdrawn from the JCPOA, but was opposed because the United States was no longer a participant in the nuclear deal. (See ACT, November 2020.)

It appears that each Biden and Rouhani have the authority to return their respective countries to compliance with the JCPOA, but some of the details and determining the sequencing may pose challenges.

For the United States to return to full compliance with the accord, the Biden administration would need to waive sanctions reimposed when Trump withdrew from the accord and determine if any of the additional sanctions imposed on Iran since May 2018 should be waived.

Iranian officials have called for all of the sanctions put in place by Trump since May 2018 to be lifted, including those imposed for non-nuclear issues, such as support for terrorism.

Nothing in the JCPOA prohibits the United States from imposing sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear activities, but Trump administration officials have indicated that some of these sanctions were put in place to complicate any future return to the JCPOA, suggesting that some of the designations may not have been made in good faith.

Despite this, the Biden administration may face opposition from Congress if it lifts designations on individuals and entities sanctioned under executive orders designed to prevent terrorism, for example.

The Biden administration may also need to make clear that it views Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA and helps implement it, as intact. The Trump administration attempted to use a provision in Resolution 2231 to reimpose all prior UN sanctions on Tehran lifted as a result of the JCPOA in order to prevent the UN arms embargo on Iran from expiring in October. While Security Council members rejected the U.S. argument that it was entitled to snap back the UN sanctions, the Trump administration maintains that the measures were reimposed.

Rouhani appears to have support from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to return to compliance with the JCPOA, if the United States does likewise.

Saeed Khatizbadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, summarized Khamenei’s thinking about the future of the nuclear deal, noting that the United States must accept that it made mistakes, end its “economic warfare” against Iran, “implement [its] commitments” and then “compensate for the damages.” It is not clear what compensation Iran will seek, but the order of Khamenei’s steps and Zarif’s comments suggest that Tehran may seek compensation in the negotiations over U.S. reentry into the JCPOA, rather than as a condition for returning to compliance.

For Iran to return to compliance it will need to reverse its violations of the JCPOA. Most of the steps necessary could be accomplished quickly and must include shipping out or blending down uranium enriched in excess of the JCPOA’s limit on 300 kilograms of uranium-235 gas enriched to 3.67 percent, halting enrichment above 3.67 percent, halting enrichment at Fordow and removing all uranium from that location, and dismantling advanced centrifuges installed and operating in excess of JCPOA limits.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told Axios on Oct. 30 that Iran could take those steps in about four months.

A potentially more challenging question is how to address new advanced centrifuges Iran installed over the past year that are not covered by the JCPOA. The JCPOA allows Iran to introduce new centrifuges with permission of the Joint Commission, the body that oversees implementation of the JCPOA, but Iran did not seek such approval.

It is unclear if the parties to the JCPOA will ask Iran to dismantle the new machines or if Iran will be permitted to test them in restricted numbers.

President-elect Joe Biden has indicated his support for the 2015 nuclear deal, but going back may be complicated.

New UAE Arms Sales Raise Concerns

December 2020
By Alexander Bertschi Wrigley

In an anticipated move shortly after the November elections, the Trump administration formally notified Congress of its intent to sell more than $23 billion of advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates, an effort that is now facing bipartisan opposition in Congress.

The U.S. Air Force displays two fighter wings of F-35 aircraft at a January exercise in Utah. The  Trump administration has notified Congress that it intends to sell up to 50 F-35s to the United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force)The sales appear to be linked to the August agreement in which the UAE and Israel normalized relations, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo noting in his Nov. 10 announcement of the proposed sales that the “historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape.”

The sale includes up to 50 F-35 aircraft valued at $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B armed drones valued at $3 billion, a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions valued at $10 billion, as well as a revision to a 2018 notification for additional Sidewinder missiles valued at $490 million. In a rare change from standard protocol, the notifications to Congress of the potential sales specified that they would result in “a significant increase in capability and will alter the regional military balance.”

On Nov. 18, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Rand Paul (R-Ky.); and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced four separate joint resolutions of disapproval taking aim at the proposed arms sales. “The UAE has violated past arms sales agreements, resulting in U.S. arms ending up in the arms of dangerous militia groups, and they have failed to comply with international law in Libya and Yemen. A sale this large and this consequential should not happen in the waning days of a lame duck presidency, and Congress must take steps to stop this dangerous transfer of weapons,” said Murphy. These resolutions were followed up on Nov. 19 by joint resolutions of disapproval introduced into the House by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Democrats have objected to what many see as a rushed process, as well as one that could threaten Israel. In October, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to limit sales of advanced defense equipment, including F-35s and armed drones, to Middle Eastern countries to those that have signed normalization agreements with Israel and will not violate international humanitarian law.

On Oct. 20, Sens. Menendez and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to reassert congressional oversight over F-35 sales by requiring presidential certifications that Israel’s qualitative military edge would not be undermined before F-35s could be sold to other countries in the Middle East.

Under laws passed in 2008, proposed U.S. arms sales to any country in the Middle East and North Africa, apart from Israel, must be accompanied by a determination that the sale would not impact Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

The new sales would also be made easier by the administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) earlier this year. (See ACT, September 2020.) Under the previous understanding of MTCR guidelines, the sale of MQ-9 Reaper drones were subject to a “strong presumption of denial.” But under the revised interpretation, the sale would now be considered with the same criteria as any other foreign military sale.

In addition to coming under criticism for its role in the war in Yemen, the UAE has also been accused of openly flouting the UN arms embargo in Libya. On Nov. 10, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) released a letter to Pompeo detailing concerns regarding the role of the UAE in allegedly violating the embargo.

On Nov. 18, the House of Representatives passed the Libya Stabilization Act, a bipartisan bill that requires the secretary of state to issue a report within 90 days on the full extent of UAE and other foreign military involvement in Libya.

Even if the resolutions of disapproval were to pass both chambers of Congress but fail to garner enough support to overrule an expected veto by President Donald Trump, as happened in 2019 (See ACT, September 2019), the incoming Biden administration could suspend sales, and a new Congress could act at any time to block delivery.

With these deals, the Trump administration has notified Congress of more than $127 billion in potential global arms sales via the Foreign Military Sales program, the largest annual total in more than two decades. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Congress is taking steps against Trump administration efforts to conclude large new arms deals with the United Arab Emirates.

U.S. Conducts Successful ICBM Intercept Test

December 2020

The U.S. Navy conducted a successful intercept test of an ICBM target using an Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile interceptor on Nov. 16, according to a Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announcement.

The USS John Finn (foreground) exercises with an Australian destroyer in 2018. Based in Hawaii, the U.S. ship launched an SM-3 interceptor that successfully destroyed an ICBM target. (Photo: Jesus Sepulveda/U.S. Marine Corps)A threat-representative ICBM target was launched from Kwajalein Atoll toward the ocean northeast of Hawaii. The USS John Finn, a destroyer equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) System, launched the interceptor which destroyed the target warhead, the MDA said. The test modeled a potential scenario for the defense of Hawaii.

The test, originally scheduled for May but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fulfilled a congressional mandate to test the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM target before the end of 2020 as required by the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It was the sixth SM-3 Block IIA test from a vessel equipped with the Aegis BMD system.

The test marked the third test of the U.S. missile defense system against an ICBM target, all of which have been successful. The previous two tests were conducted using ground-based interceptors as part of the ground-based midcourse defense system.

Vice Admiral Jon Hill called the test “an incredible accomplishment and critical milestone for the Aegis BMD SM-3 Block IIA program” and “a step in the process of determining its feasibility as part of an architecture for layered defense of the homeland.”

Critics have warned that increasing the number of U.S. interceptors capable of intercepting ICBMs could spur Russia and China to enhance the size and capability of their nuclear arsenals.—ANNA KIM

U.S. Conducts Successful ICBM Intercept Test

New START in Limbo Ahead of U.S. Election

November 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States and Russia each dismissed last-minute proposals involving a short-term extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), leaving the fate of the sole remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement undetermined on the eve of the U.S. presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets reporters at the State Department on Oct. 19. Two days later he reaffirmed the U.S. position that New START "is not a good deal for the United States." (Photo: Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)The down-to-the-wire diplomacy appeared to narrow the large gap between the two sides on prolonging the treaty, but no resolution was found, and the failure to close a deal raised questions about whether Russia ever intended to strike a deal with the Trump administration so close to the election or whether the Trump administration ever intended to extend New START. Administration officials have repeatedly criticized the treaty and waited more than three years to begin serious arms control talks with Russia.

It remains to be seen if the Trump administration and Russia will seek to continue negotiations later this year regardless of the election result. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he is elected president in November, he will pursue the treaty’s extension without conditions.

New START, which is slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, permits an extension of up to five years so long as the U.S. and Russian presidents agree.

After several months of talks, Washington and Moscow in mid-October exchanged dueling offers pairing a one-year extension of New START with an undefined one-year freeze on the numbers of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in an Oct. 20 statement that Russia offers to extend New START for one year and “undertake a political commitment to ‘freeze’ for the above-mentioned period the number of nuclear warheads that each side possesses.”

But the statement said that the offer “may be implemented only and exclusively on the premise that ‘freezing’ of warheads will not be accompanied by any additional demands on the part of the United States.”

The foreign ministry added that the “time gained” by the New START extension “could be used to conduct comprehensive bilateral negotiations on the future nuclear and missile arms control that must address all factors affecting strategic stability.”

Russia had previously called for extending New START by five years without conditions and balked at a warhead-level freeze.

The foreign ministry statement followed direction from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 16 to seek to extend New START “unconditionally for at least a year.” Putin made no specific mention of a freeze on all warhead levels.

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded to Putin’s proposal on Twitter later that day, describing it as a “non-starter.” He claimed that Russia had appeared willing to accept a U.S. offer to extend New START and freeze all warhead levels in tandem after he met with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on Oct. 2.

It is not clear whether Russia had agreed in principle to such a two-part deal or whether Russia further amended its position between Putin’s Oct. 16 comments and the Oct. 20 foreign ministry statement.

Regardless, the Trump administration praised Russia’s willingness to agree to a short-term extension of New START and a freeze and said that although a deal was close, more work needed to be done to seal it.

“President [Donald] Trump has made clear that the New START Treaty by itself is not a good deal for the United States or our friends or allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Oct. 21. He criticized the treaty for failing to capture Russia’s large and, according to the Defense Department, growing arsenal of up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads.

“What we’ve proposed to extend that agreement would be historic,” Pompeo said. “But we need to make sure that U.S. and Russian negotiators get together just as soon as possible to continue to make progress to finalize a verifiable agreement.”

O'Brien expressed optimism at an Oct. 28 Hudson Institute event that “if we can get through the verification issues, I think we're going to be able to get to a deal.” “We'll see how that plays out over the next couple of days and weeks,” he said.

If a deal is secured, the administration said it plans to use the ensuing year to translate it into a formal treaty that would also include China.

But Russia rejected the U.S. demand for verification of a freeze and said that such details should be deferred for future negotiations.

“We have the feeling that they [the United States] need verification for the verification's sake,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news outlet Interfax on Oct. 22.

“It may be considered that we’ve made two concessions,” Ryabkov said, referring to Russia’s willingness to agree to a one-year extension of New START and a one-year warhead-level freeze. “Let them make concessions to meet us halfway: let them drop their monitoring demand.”

In a separate interview with Kommersant, Ryabkov said “that the degree of our differences is rather significant” and that he did not see “reasons for strong optimism” that New START would be extended.

He warned that “[r]ejecting this condition will immediately destroy the possibility of reaching the agreement” and that Russia would be willing to allow New START to expire if the United States continued to make unrealistic demands.

The warning appeared to be a response to repeated suggestions by Marshall Billingslea, U.S. special envoy for arms control, that Russia is desperate to extend New START and that Washington would raise the price to extend the treaty if Russia failed to meet U.S. demands.

Ryabkov told reporters on Oct. 27 that Washington and Moscow still “are exchanging documents behind closed doors” and that “Russia is open to continuing the dialogue."

The Trump administration’s October offer of a short-term extension of New START and a freeze marked another shift in the U.S. negotiating position in arms control talks with Russia.

In August, the administration conditioned U.S. consideration of a short-term extension of New START on Russia agreeing to a politically binding framework deal that would verifiably cover all nuclear warheads, make changes to the New START verification regime, and be structured to include China in the future. (See ACT, September 2020.) The administration had earlier insisted that China immediately participate in trilateral arms control talks with the United States and Russia, which Beijing rejected. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

Key details about the U.S. freeze proposal have yet to be clarified by the Trump administration.

According to an Oct. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official said the United States wants both sides to declare the total number of warheads deployed on delivery systems of all ranges and kept in storage.

To verify that neither side was exceeding the declared number of warheads, the official said Washington wanted monitors to be stationed outside U.S. and Russian warhead production facilities. The official added that such a portal monitoring system, which has featured in past arms control agreements, did not need to be in place immediately but that Russia needed to agree to technical talks on how to eventually implement such an approach.

But Russian officials have called the adoption of such a system a nonstarter, at least in the near term.

In the past, the United States and Russia agreed to politically binding arms control and risk reduction measures without stringent verification protocols.

If Trump is not reelected and does not make a deal with Russia before Inauguration Day, a President Joe Biden would have 16 days before the treaty expires in which to pursue an extension. It is not clear whether he would continue to push for a freeze on all U.S. and Russian warheads.

Billingslea said in an Oct. 20 interview that a potential Biden administration would have to “rethink” its support for an unconditional extension of New START.

According to Billingslea, Trump, “by signaling his intention to pursue this historic approach and with the Russians now agreeing in principle, that now sets the floor for future arms control discussions.”

New START caps the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers each.


Despite pre-U.S. election maneuvering, prospects for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty remain slim.


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