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April 2018
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Trump Hurtles Toward Three Nuclear Crises

April 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

One year into the unorthodox presidency of Donald Trump, the United States faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require principled leadership, pragmatism, patience, and smart diplomacy.

Photo credit: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty ImagesSo far, Trump has not exhibited any of these traits. Nevertheless, he will soon make consequential decisions affecting the future of the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the course of the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the potential for renewed strategic nuclear competition with Russia.

Unfortunately, his appointment of the bellicose John Bolton to serve as national security adviser (Trump’s third in 16 months), along with hawkish CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, could tilt the malleable president in the wrong direction. The result could be three full-blown nuclear crises.

The Iran deal. By May 12, Trump must extend waivers on nuclear-related sanctions to avoid violating U.S. commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. A decision to not extend the waivers will worsen proliferation risks in the Middle East and undermine U.S. credibility.

Trump has threatened to blow up the Iran deal if European partners do not agree to impose additional missile- and nuclear-related restrictions on Iran. The Europeans have made it abundantly clear they will support additional measures to address Iranian ballistic missile and arms transfers that violate UN Security Council resolutions. But because “a deal is a deal,” they will not seek to renegotiate certain nuclear-related requirements already agreed to under the existing agreement. Unfortunately, Bolton, who has long advocated bombing Iran instead of pursuing a deal to verifiably curb its nuclear program, has said he wants the United States to abrogate the accord with Tehran.

There is no rational reason why Trump, without cause, should trigger another Middle East proliferation crisis. It would be the greatest U.S. foreign policy blunder since the 2003 invasion of Iraq under false claims about weapons of mass destruction.

The argument that the deal can or needs to be “fixed or nixed” is misplaced and dangerous. Common sense suggests the United States should strictly enforce the deal and build on it, rather than scrap it without a Plan B. There is nothing in the deal that constrains the United States and Europe from pursuing a follow-on agreement to reduce Iran’s incentives to expand its nuclear program once certain restrictions on uranium enrichment and fuel cycle activities expire.

North Korea negotiations. Trump’s appointment of Bolton is odd in that Bolton’s policy prescriptions on North Korea run counter to Trump’s stated policy and that of ally South Korea of using sanctions pressure and diplomatic engagement, including a summit with Kim Jong Un, to halt and reverse North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

In the early 2000s, Bolton was among those in the George W. Bush administration who called for confrontations and ultimatums rather than dialogue with North Korea, an approach that ultimately allowed North Korea to advance its nuclear program and test nuclear weapons.

More recently, Bolton argued that it would be legal for the United States to launch a “preventive attack” on North Korea, which would result in a catastrophic war. Three days before his appointment in March as national security adviser, Bolton said that if the summit takes place, Trump should not offer economic aid nor should the United States offer security assurances to North Korea, the latter being the very basis of Kim’s offer to negotiate about his nuclear weapons program.

Bolton’s formula is a recipe for confrontation and possibly war. Instead, Trump should recognize that his planned summit with Kim, at best, can solidify the suspension of North Korean nuclear and missile testing and launch serious sustained negotiations on steps toward denuclearization and a peace regime on the peninsula.

Avoiding a new arms race with Russia. In the next year or so, Trump will also need to decide whether to engage in talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in 2021. Bolton has never supported the treaty, calling it “an execrable deal.”

As U.S.-Russian relations have deteriorated, New START serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks, and it continues to enjoy strong support from the U.S. military. Now is the time for the two presidents to agree to extend the treaty for five years, until 2026, which is essential to avoiding an unconstrained arms race. It would also buy time for the two sides to explore new, follow-on approaches to maintain strategic stability at lower nuclear force levels.

Given Trump’s new set of advisers, Congress and U.S. allies will need to play a stronger role to steer him in the right direction and away from avoidable nuclear crises.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


One year into the unorthodox presidency of Donald Trump, the United States faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require principled leadership, pragmatism, patience, and smart diplomacy.

Collateral Damage? The Chemical Weapons Convention in the Wake of the Syrian Civil War

April 2018
By John Hart and Ralf Trapp

The August 2013 sarin nerve agent attack on Ghouta, which killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, led to a Russian-U.S. agreement on eliminating the Syrian government’s chemical weapons and Syria’s accession to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans production, possession, and use of chemical weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN Security Council established the multilateral machinery to monitor the implementation of these decisions. However, a number of states, mainly Western ones, continue to question the completeness of Syria’s chemical weapons declaration; and the use of chemical weapons—chlorine, sulfur mustard, and sarin—did not end.

Syrian anti-government protestors hold a poster depicting an inspector from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons during a demonstration October 11, 2013 calling for international action against the Damascus regime.  (Photo: MEZAR MATAR/AFP/Getty Images)Although the international community has remained united in its condemnation of such attacks, views about the extent of Syrian governmental responsibility fuel debates within international bodies and have become increasingly fraught and reminiscent of Cold War rhetoric. Reported chemical weapons use has continued into 2018, even after the military defeat of the Islamic State group and after the Syrian government had re-established at least nominal control over most of its territory.

It is against this backdrop that the fourth CWC review conference is scheduled to meet November 21-30. It is important to find ways to manage the Syrian chemical weapons issue so as to avoid lasting damage to the CWC regime and its institutions. Further, it is vital to protect the independence of the international mechanisms for investigating alleged CWC violations while holding accountable those responsible for chemical weapons use.

Allegations about chemical weapons use in Syria started in 2012. In March 2013, the UN secretary-general used his authority to investigate a case presented to him by Syria alleging chemical weapons use by opposition groups the prior month. France, the United Kingdom, and later the United States impressed on the secretary-general the view that allegations of such use by the Syrian government should also be investigated. This resulted in extended consultations among governments and UN officials on which cases the United Nations should investigate.

The deadlock was broken when the UN and the Syrian government agreed on the scope of the investigation in early August, but these terms changed again in the wake of the August 21, 2013, sarin attack on Ghouta, a rebel-held eastern suburb of Damascus. Western intelligence agencies concluded within days that the attack was conducted by Syrian government forces. The UN secretary-general’s mission investigated the incident on-site and confirmed that sarin had been used, but did not attribute responsibility.1

This incident, which drew the threat of U.S. military action against the Syrian government, triggered a series of unprecedented steps.

  • The accession of Syria to the CWC in September 2013, which was synchronized with the agreement of the Russian-U.S. framework on the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons along with subsequent decisions by the OPCW and the UN Security Council to implement this framework.
  • The work of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria to verify the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program, including the shipment of chemical warfare agents and precursor chemicals for out-of-country destruction (October 2013-September 2014).
  • The establishment of the OPCW declaration assessment team to clarify and resolve inconsistencies and gaps in the Syrian declaration (spring 2014).
  • The establishment of the OPCW fact-finding mission (FFM) to investigate the continued allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria (spring 2014).
  • The decision by the Security Council to set up the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to establish who was responsible for the confirmed chemical weapons use on the basis of work carried out by the fact-finding mission (2015-2017).

The JIM mandate expired in November 2017 as a consequence of deep divisions in the UN Security Council, in particular Russian criticism. The work of the other mechanisms continues, but in the absence of a handover of confirmed cases from the fact-finding mission to the JIM, the question of responsibility for these transgressions is now largely relegated to national assessments.

Nevertheless, efforts are underway at the Security Council to replace the JIM with a new investigative mechanism: a UN Independent Mechanism of Investigation. The Security Council considered a draft Russian proposal in January, while the United States has tabled a revised proposal, which was considered in early March. The Russian delegation did not attend the March meeting.2 Meanwhile, France has launched an International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons.

Incoming OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias of Spain will assume his duties on July 25. This change at the helm of the secretariat, as well as the upcoming CWC review conference, presents challenges and opportunities for returning to common strategies for handling and perhaps resolving the Syria chemical weapons problem.

A careful management of these issues is vital to avoid further polarization in the OPCW, while burying the issue will harm CWC norms and its institutions.3

Current Status

The situation in Syria involves several interconnected elements: the completion of the destruction of the declared aspects of the Syrian chemical weapons program; the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile and production capabilities, including whether undeclared stockpiles remain in Syria; the continued use of chemical weapons against combatants and civilians; and the question of responsibility for such incidents.

A steering committee comprised of representatives of the OPCW, the UN Office for Project Services, and Syria manages the completion of the operations to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program. All declared materials and 25 of 27 declared production facilities have been destroyed under OPCW verification. Routine inspections of certain destroyed underground structures will continue in accordance with the CWC. In November 2017, due to an improved security situation, the OPCW was able to conduct an initial inspection of the two remaining above-ground production facilities, located outside Aleppo and Damascus.4

The declaration assessment team continues to interview Syrian chemical weapons program officials and conduct site visits to collect samples. It attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the program in order to fill gaps in the Syrian declarations. The current focus is on determining the full role of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center in the chemical weapons program, assessing the results of analyses of samples collected at multiple locations in Syria, and clarifying the nature of “other chemical weapons-related activities” before Syria’s accession to the CWC in 2013.5

The work of the fact-finding mission also continues. In January, a team visited Damascus and transported biomedical and environmental samples back to the OPCW laboratory.6 Although the team’s mandate includes the investigation of whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria, it does not extend to establishing responsibility for their use.

Medical staff at Damascus Countryside Specialised Hospital hold placards April 6, 2017 condemning a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun. (Photo: SAMEER AL-DOUMY/AFP/Getty Images)UN Security Council Resolution 2235 established the JIM on August 7, 2015, with a mandate to identify those responsible for confirmed instances of suspected chemical weapons use. Attributions of responsibility are summarized in the third, fourth, and seventh JIM reports.7 In 2016 the JIM concluded that nonstate actors were responsible for one chemical weapons incident, and it attributed three cases to the Syrian government from the initial nine cases it investigated that year. In 2017 the JIM found that nonstate actors were responsible for sulfur mustard use at Umm Hawsh on September 16, 2016, while the Syrian government was responsible for the sarin attack on April 4, 2017, at Khan Sheikhoun. The JIM collected samples from Syrian officials and opposition groups, as well as via third parties in Turkey. It also had access to the analytical results of samples collected by the fact-finding mission from autopsies carried out in Turkey.

On July 6, 2017, the head of the JIM, Edmond Mulet of Guatemala, briefed the UN Security Council. After the meeting, he stated to the media, “We do receive, unfortunately, direct and indirect messages all the time from many sides telling us how to do our work.”8 Four months later, Bolivia and Russia voted against a U.S. proposal that supported the JIM findings and that would have extended the group’s mandate by 12 months. Russia proposed that the mandate be renewed for six months on the condition that the group’s attribution of responsibility findings were not final. Japan proposed a compromise 30-day extension. Bolivia and Russia did not accept Japan’s proposal.

Mulet, who succeeded Virginia Gamba of Argentina in early 2017 as head of the JIM, observed that after Syria crossed the “redline” by carrying out the August 2013 chemical weapons attack at Ghouta, the U.S. administration pursued coercive diplomacy rather than military action. “Despite our rigorous, technical and scientific work,” he observed, “the JIM came to an end after the Security Council failed to extend our mandate. These investigations are critical to ensure that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, a war crime, face their day in court.”9

The Syria issue also overshadowed the CWC conference of states-parties late last year. A joint declaration tabled by Belarus eschewed attributing any responsibility for chemical weapons use to the Syrian government and, in effect, questioned the integrity of the FFM and the JIM investigation methodology by stating, “Investigations of the use of chemical weapons, conducted by the OPCW, should be professional and be based on objective and thoroughly verified evidence.”10 Angola, Bolivia, Burundi, China, Gambia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, Togo, and Venezuela associated themselves with this statement.11

Essentially only the Western Europe and Other Group states, in their plenary statements, sought to hold the Syrian government responsible. China, India, Jordan, Pakistan, the Africa Group, and the Latin America and Caribbean Group more generally refrained from taking a public position.

Compliance and Restorative Measures

Compliance in arms control is a state-centered concept. With regard to Syria, the JIM, the fact-finding mission, and the declaration assistance team have articulated findings that either confirm or imply Syrian noncompliance with prohibitions and obligations undertaken under the CWC and with decisions adopted by the OPCW and the UN Security Council.

In situations of confirmed noncompliance, the goal of CWC treaty mechanisms is to restore compliance as quickly as possible and to create conditions that will enable and motivate the noncompliant state to take remedial actions. Measures to this end can range from political to treaty-based measures and may extend to referral of the matter to the UN General Assembly and Security Council. Otherwise, the UN Security Council may authorize the use of military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter or impose international sanctions.

The question of treaty compliance also arises when nonstate actors are the instigators, particularly with regard to prosecution, extradition, and legal cooperation by states-parties. Also, nonstate actors fighting in Iraq and Syria, while feeling few if any such legal constraints, nevertheless can be viewed as “rational actors” and, as such, may consider the extent to which their actions might result in a lessening of support in Muslim communities or prompt disproportionate military action to be used against them.12

The OPCW Sub-Working Group on Non-State Actors has considered the question of accountability in some detail, including by strengthening CWC implementation legislation, encouraging stronger law enforcement, promoting measures to ensure legal cooperation between states-parties, and engaging in capacity-building work to assist states with chemical weapons attacks prevention, protection, response, and recovery.

On January 23, France launched an international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons.13 Participants of the initiative, consistent with international law and respective national laws, regulations, and policies, undertake a variety of efforts to “hold accountable those responsible for the proliferation or use of chemical weapons.”14 France will act as the coordinator in 2018 and will present the initiative at the EU Working Party on Non-Proliferation and at a NATO meeting. A major objective will be to expand participation by CWC states-parties.

At the launch, then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson criticized Russia for having not fulfilled its role as a guarantor of Syria’s implementation of its CWC obligations. He emphasized that “this initiative puts those who ordered and carried out chemical weapons attack on notice. You will face a day of reckoning for your crimes against humanity and your victims will see justice done.”15 Russia criticized the initiative as a “restricted format meeting” from which it was excluded and which “attempts to replace the OPCW and to create an anti-Damascus bloc through the proliferation of lies.”16 Unsurprisingly, attempts to agree and impose restorative measures have not worked.

Scenarios and Options

The upcoming review conference cannot ignore continuing chemical weapons use in Syria. Disagreements about attribution, culpability, and punitive measures, however, may derail the conference and further deepen the political divisions in the organization. It is therefore useful to review options that the OPCW has to manage this problem.

Separate elements of the Syria situation. One strategy would be to separate the relatively noncontroversial Syrian issues on which consensus can be achieved from those that cannot be resolved by consensus and that would be set aside for the time being. Administrative and organizational matters are separable from the attribution of culpability and clearly articulated decisions on what the OPCW should do about it.17

Consensus also should be achievable on a clear and unequivocal condemnation of any use of a chemical weapon by any state or nonstate actor under any circumstances. A similar condemnation should be achievable with regard to any direct or indirect assistance, inducement, or support for such acts by whatever means, i.e., any form of support for the acquisition and use of chemical weapons, such as financial support and the provision of materials, equipment, and know-how.

There also seems to be space for consensus on the need to continue the work of the declaration assistance team and the fact-finding mission.

Under this approach, the review conference would remain silent on issues of attribution of responsibility for the chemical attacks, or it would record the existing differences of opinion about understanding the results of previous investigations of alleged such attacks.18

Attribution of culpability for past and future acts of chemical warfare in Syria could be pursued through processes outside the OPCW and the UN Security Council, including through the efforts by individual countries or groups of states; by mechanisms under the UN General Assembly (e.g., the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic Since March 2011); or by multilateral entities such as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry of the Human Rights Council.

Efforts could continue in parallel to enhance the forensic capabilities of the OPCW to agree on common standards and criteria that would further clarify the technical basis for attribution of responsibility. The OPCW has considered forensic investigations of alleged chemical weapons use in the past, and the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board issued its first report on these issues in 2016.19 This report emphasized the desirability to collect and curate reference standards and analytical information even if not immediately actionable and highlighted the utility of impurity profiling and isotopic ratio distribution measurements for attribution purposes.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia (raising his hand) votes October 24, 2017 to block the extension of the Security Council mandate authorizing the Joint Investigative Mechanism and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to determine the perpetrators of chemical-weapons attacks in Syria. (Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)There has been broad consensus in the OPCW that enhanced forensic capabilities are desirable.20 Yet, the methods, acceptance criteria, and reference standards for such investigations are still being developed. According to media reports in January, unidentified OPCW-designated laboratories were able to link the profiles of samples collected by the UN secretary-general’s mission that investigated the 2013 sarin attack on Ghouta with samples that originated from the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, as well as samples taken by the OPCW from the sarin precursor methylphosphonyl difluoride, removed from Syria for destruction in 2014.21

These findings link the sarin formulation found after two chemical weapons attacks in Syria to that declared by Syria in its initial stockpile declarations. Russia, however, challenged these findings, as well as recent reports about the use of chlorine gas in East Ghouta. U.S. and other officials have attributed this chlorine use to the Syrian government.22 Even the further development of chemical forensics methods in the field may become controversial, and scientific findings may become challenged in the absence of agreed common standards used in such forensic investigations.23 In short, governments can view the scientific principles and standards through a prism of their geopolitical implications as they pertain to Syria in particular and the Middle East more broadly.

A firewall approach may prevent the current polarization and politicization from damaging CWC norms and the longer-term integrity of the OPCW. Nevertheless, this may be seen as a de facto legitimization of what some states-parties see as continuing noncompliance with one of the core prohibitions of the CWC. This approach also might undermine the technical consensus about acceptable scientific criteria for evaluating investigation findings.

Force the issue. Another approach would be to break the traditional OPCW approach of decision making by consensus by forcing a vote that would explicitly condemn Syria for its violation of the CWC and simultaneously condemn the confirmed uses of chemical weapons by terrorists. Such a vote could be linked to the imposition of sanctions against Syria.24

This approach would likely compel more governments to clearly articulate their positions and assessments, but there is no guarantee about the vote’s outcome given the increasingly partisan OPCW atmosphere. A sizable percentage of the executive council and the conference could still decide to abstain and not take a public position.25 Voting on this matter also would deepen the divisions within the organization with little short- to medium-term prospects for returning to a common approach based on the principle of equal rights and responsibilities among all member states. In short, such a move could result in recriminations, a dysfunctional treaty regime, and paralyzed institutional and investigative mechanisms.

Other international mechanisms, as well as states individually or through collective mechanisms such as the France-led partnership, would continue to gather and preserve evidence for future judicial proceedings. Such proceedings would require the creation of a special tribunal or the activation of the International Criminal Court, which in the case of Syria would require a referral by the UN Security Council.

Allow the issue to recede quietly. A third option would be to place the issue on the back burner until the geopolitical situation in Syria has stabilized and the geopolitical conditions for future arms control verification steps have become clearer. Such an approach might facilitate cooperation among states-parties in other CWC implementation areas and contribute to what could be presented as a “success” of the review conference, albeit without a clear condemnation of chemical weapons use by Syria.

Measures to mitigate the associated risks could include an informal-track process of consultations to limit damage to the CWC regime and its institutions. An informal review of compliance assessment methodologies in general and as applied in the case of Syria could be carried out. Efforts could be made to enhance OPCW forensic capabilities and to develop a scientifically and technically trusted system of investigations with commonly accepted criteria and standards. The OPCW could continue considering how its competencies and capacities can most effectively deal with nonstate actor threats.

A weakened norm against the use of such weapons would likely be the price for a return to cooperation and unity among CWC parties under such circumstances. Whether this option is politically palatable or wise must be questioned.


There are no easy options for the OPCW to bring closure to the Syria issue. The primary objective must be to prevent any future uses of chemical weapons in the Syrian and the broader regional armed conflict. The use of such weapons is not the only violation of humanitarian law, and resolution of the Syrian chemical weapons challenge is intrinsically entangled with achieving a longer-term, stable, and equitable solution to the Syrian crisis overall.

French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a meeting of diplomats discussing sanctions and criminal charges against the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria, at the Foreign Affairs ministry in Paris on January 23, 2018.  (Photo: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)This debate is occurring in an international environment characterized by active information warfare and attempts to discredit hitherto reliable and respected information outlets in the media and in international organizations and investigation mechanisms, as well as extensive use of “alternative information outlets,” including social media.26 Thus, there is the potential for long-lasting reputational damage to international institutions and mechanisms, including independent investigative mechanisms under UN and OPCW auspices.

A “normal” state-party adheres to the objectives and spirit of the treaty regime even if it is not necessarily 100 percent compliant. Many states-parties still have deficiencies, for example, in their national implementation systems. The usual OPCW approach is to encourage willingness and capacity to achieve full compliance in good faith. What is perhaps needed in the case of Syria is a process closer to that used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in handling the question of Iran’s adherence to its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations.

Looking Ahead

A package of political understandings and associated measures adopted incrementally that take into account the political, legal, and institutional cross-linkages of the Syria conflict and the wider geopolitical environment may be required.

In the absence of an agreed multilateral approach, some commentators recommend that France, the UK, and the United States issue “joint announcements summarizing their consensus on facts, and supporting military action if needed, while leaving decisions of national actions to each country according to its constitutional procedures, political traditions and preferences.” They also emphasize that redlines should “never be improvised.”27

The Syria dilemma is a subset of broader considerations within the decision-making levels in capitals. Political and other costs are associated with attempting to force the issue as opposed to seeking compromises or agreed exit strategies with opponents. Such compromises and strategies may be deemed desirable to achieve more positive outcomes in the medium to long term at multilateral security forums. They also may put at risk a country’s values and principles and those of the post-World War II international system, i.e., rules based, consensus driven, and acting within multilateral frameworks.

Finally, political expediency has often resulted in unintended consequences. Governments, policy planners, and other concerned actors do not wish to be unpleasantly surprised or faced with geopolitical and legal problems that are even less tractable than is currently the case. High-level political and operational-level technical engagements on the chemical weapons issue remain vital as the political future of Syria and its government’s legal obligations and responsibilities obtain a de facto but likely provisional and incomplete international imprimatur as a consequence of donors beginning to provide reconstruction and humanitarian assistance and as commercial relationships eventually recover.

Multilateral disarmament and arms control obligations must be implemented in an open, impartial, and professional manner, including with respect to the Syria chemical weapons problem.


1 See UN Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, “Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,” n.d., http://www.un.org/zh/focus/northafrica/cwinvestigation.pdf.

2 Michelle Nichols, “U.S. Hopes for UN Vote on New Syria Toxic Gas Inquiry Next Week,” Reuters, March 2, 2018. Some international investigative bodies, such as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes Under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic Since March 2011, established by the UN General Assembly in 2016, and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, will continue to operate.

3 Brett Edwards and Mattia Cacciatori, “The Politics of International Chemical Weapon Justice: The Case of Syria, 2011-2017,” Contemporary Security Policy, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2018): 280-297.

4 Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council, “Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Programme,” EC-87/DG.7, December 22, 2017, para. 6.

5 Ibid., para. 8.

6 OPCW Executive Council, “Note by the Director-General: Progress in the Elimination of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Programme,” EC-87/DG.10, January 22, 2018, para. 14.

7 UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 24 August 2016 From the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2016/738, August 24, 2016 (containing “Third Report of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism”); UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 21 October 2016 From the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2016/888, October 21, 2016 (containing “Fourth Report of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism”); UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 26 October 2017 From the Secretary-General Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2017/904, October 26, 2017 (containing “Seventh Report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism”).

8 Edmond Mulet, “How the Security Council Failed the Syria Chemical Weapons Investigators and Victims,” The New York Times, December 29, 2017.  

9 Ibid.

10 John Hart and Ralf Trapp, “Same, Same?” CBRNe World, December 2017, p. 42, http://www.cbrneworld.com/_uploads/download_magazines/CBRNe_December_2017_v_Web.pdf (citing a document titled “Joint Declaration: United for a World Free of Chemical Weapons” by Belarus).

11 OPCW Conference of the States Parties, “Report of the Twenty-Second Session of the Conference of the States Parties: November 27-December 1, 2017,” C-22/5, December 1, 2017, para. 25.8.

12 Conflict Armament Research, “Weapons of the Islamic State: A Three-Year Investigation in Iraq and Syria,” December 2017, http://www.conflictarm.com/download-file/?report_id=2568&file_id=2574. On the environmental effects of the burning of elemental sulfur at the Mishraq Sulphur Plant in Iraq and reports that the Islamic State group undertook the development of chlorine and sulfur mustard at the Al-Hekma Pharmaceutical Complex in Iraq, see Wim Zwijnenburg and Foeke Postma, “Living Under a Black Sky: Conflict Pollution and Environmental Health Concerns in Iraq,” Pax, November 2017, pp. 16-18, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/pax-report-living-under-a-black-sky.pdf.

13 International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, “Fighting Impunity,” January 23, 2018, https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/international_partnership_against_impunity_for_the_use_of_chemical_weapons_declaration_of_principles2_en_cle818838-1.pdf.

14 Participants are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Ukraine, as well as the European Union. Representatives of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and the OPCW also attended the launch.

15 Rex W. Tillerson, “Remarks on Russia’s Responsibility for the Ongoing Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria,” U.S. Department of State, January 23, 2018, https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/01/277601.htm.

16 Russian Federation Ministry for Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Ministry Statement on U.S. Allegations Regarding Chemical Attacks in Syria,” 102-24-01-2018, January 24, 2018; “Zayavlenie MID Rossii v svyazi s neobosnovannymi obvineniyami SShA po siriiskomu <<khimicheskomu dos’e>>,” 102-24-01-2018, January 24, 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/international_safety/regprla/-/asset_publisher/YCxLFJnKuD1W/content/id/3033941?p_p_id=101_INSTANCE_YCxLFJnKuD1W&_101_INSTANCE_YCxLFJnKuD1W_languageId=ru_RU.

17 Some decisions made in multilateral disarmament and arms control forums do not meet the dictionary definition of “decision.” For example, they may rather underline concern or a commitment by governments to undertake a clarification process.

18 The latter course, however, would be a departure from the traditional OPCW approach of making decisions by consensus or delaying decision making when consensus cannot be achieved.

19 OPCW, “Report of the Scientific Advisory Board’s Workshop on Chemical Forensics,” SAB-24/WP.1, July 14, 2016.

20 OPCW, “Report of the Scientific Advisory Board at Its Twenty-Fifth Session,” SAB-25/1*, March 31, 2017.

21 Anthony Deutsch, “Exclusive: Tests Link Syrian Government Stockpile to Largest Sarin Attack—Sources,” Reuters, January 30, 2018.

22 Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation, “Foreign Ministry Statement on U.S. Allegations Regarding Chemical Attacks in Syria,” 102-24-01-2018, January 24, 2018.

23 Dr. Sadik Toprak of Bulent Ecevit University in Turkey is currently leading a research project on open source video analysis methodologies for sarin exposure from a civilian forensic pathology perspective.

24 Article XII of the Chemical Weapons Convention allows for the conference of states-parties to restrict or suspend the rights and privileges of a state-party (until the state re-establishes full compliance), to recommend in serious noncompliance cases some collective measures against the perpetrator, and to refer the matter to the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.

25 The executive council, which typically prepares the draft conference decisions, meets just prior to or concurrently with the review conference.

26 Cranfield University and Sussex University presented baseline data on Syrian chemical weapons use allegations in March 2016. See James Revill et al, “Workshop Summary,” Harvard Sussex Program Occasional Paper (Syria Collection), June 2016 http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/spru/hsp/documents/SYRIA%20WORKSHOP%20FINAL%20.pdf

27 Jeffrey Lewis and Bruno Tertrais, “The Thick Red Line: Implications of the 2013 Chemical-Weapons Crisis for Deterrence and Transatlantic Relations,” Survival, Vol. 59, No. 6 (December 2017-January 2018): 100.

John Hart is a senior researcher and the head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons disarmament, held senior positions at the Technical Secretariat of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

After the atrocities in Syria, what is the future for the treaty banning chemical weapons?

The Missile Technology Control Regime and Shifting Proliferation Challenges

April 2018
By Leonard S. Spector

With North Korea conducting multiple flight tests of missiles that can carry nuclear payloads to the United States and Iran testing intermediate-range missile systems at will, an observer might conclude that the current map of global missile developments shows a lawless landscape of missile proliferation run amok.

In reality, such a map reveals much the opposite: a world in which the proliferation of missiles able to deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has been suppressed to a remarkable degree.

The new Iranian medium-range Khoramshahr ballistic missile is displayed during a military parade September 22, 2017 in Tehran. The missile is likely derived from North Korea’s Musudan, which itself has origins in Soviet Union technology. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The cornerstone of this achievement has been the international norm against the possession of WMD-capable systems established through the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), now three decades old. Pyongyang and Tehran unquestionably pose grave challenges to this norm, yet even as the international community wrestles with these two difficult cases and several related missile-proliferation challenges, the MTCR norm can be expected to survive and sustain its crucial contribution to international stability.

The MTCR was established in 1987 by the members of the Group of Seven industrialized countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) with the initial goal of limiting transfers, apart from manned aircraft, that could make a contribution to the delivery of nuclear weapons. This goal was subsequently expanded to limit transfers that could make a contribution to the delivery of all weapons of mass destruction, that is, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

The regime was not established by treaty. Rather, it is a voluntary association of states that have agreed to implement a uniform set of standards, known as the MTCR Guidelines, governing the export of complete missiles, their major components, and related equipment and technology.1 From inception, the guidelines defined the term “missile” to include “rocket systems (including ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, and sounding rockets) and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems (including cruise missiles, target drones, and reconnaissance drones).”2

The guidelines contained a detailed annex, which has been modified from time to time, describing the items to be restricted. The most dangerous items, subject to the most stringent restrictions, are listed under the annex’s Category I. The guidelines provide that participating governments will exercise “particular restraint” in the export of such systems, most notably complete missiles able to deliver a 500-kilogram payload to a distance of 300 kilometers or more and major components of these systems. Any license applications for the export of such systems were to be reviewed with a “presumption of denial.”3

Richard Speier, one of the key U.S. negotiators of the guidelines, has explained that these parameters “were selected because 500 kilograms is the mass of a relatively unsophisticated nuclear weapon, and 300 kilometers is the strategic distance in the most compact theaters in which nuclear weapons were deemed likely to be used.”4 The so-called 300/500 standard subsequently played an important role in restraining proliferation in a number of settings. The guidelines also declared that, until further notice, the transfer of production facilities for Category I systems would not be authorized.

Category II items included a range of equipment, material, and technologies that could contribute to Category I systems, most of which had uses other than for missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The guidelines provided “greater flexibility,” but required case-by-case review and restraint in allowing their transfers.5

Strengthening the MTCR

This basic two-tier framework and the ban on the export of production facilities for Category I systems remain in force. The original guidelines, however, were strengthened in a number of important respects in 1992-1993. After post-Persian Gulf War inspections revealed that Iraq had designed warheads for a variety of missiles intended to carry chemical and biological payloads, MTCR states agreed to take steps to restrict transfers of missiles below the Category I 300/500 threshold that could carry chemical and biological payloads weighing less than the nominal 500 kilograms of a crude nuclear weapon.

This led to three changes in the guidelines and annexes. First, the MTCR partners amended the opening sentence of the guidelines to read, “The purpose of these Guidelines is to limit the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons), by controlling transfers that could make a contribution to delivery systems (other than manned aircraft) for such weapons.”

Second, partners added language declaring that “particular restraint” and the presumption of license denial standard would be applied not only in the case of missiles exceeding the 300/500 threshold, but would also be “exercised in the consideration of transfers of any items in the Annex, or of any [complete] missiles (whether or not in the Annex), if the [transferring country] Government judges, on the basis of all available, persuasive information…that they are intended to be used for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction.”

Finally, the MTCR members amended Annex II to add Item 19, requiring export licenses for missiles with a range of 300 kilometers or more, irrespective of payload capacity, and technology related to their development.6 These benchmarks are important for understanding the surprisingly limited number of states with missiles that exceed the original and modified MTCR 300/500 standards.

The membership of the MTCR increased rapidly during its first 10 years, growing from seven to 25 members. Currently the regime has 35 members. Admittance requires a consensus of all MTCR partners. MTCR members generally look for a prospective member’s sustained commitment to nonproliferation, as well as a track record of effective implementation of MTCR export controls. In a number of past instances, however, the United States conditioned its support for admission on the applicant’s elimination of Category I systems and, in the case of South Africa, on its termination of satellite launch vehicle programs with the potential to be converted to military purposes.7 In 2016, India was admitted without these requirements, consistent with the rules applied to certain earlier MTCR members, including France, the Soviet Union/Russia, the UK, and the United States.

In 2014 the MTCR initiated a process through which a state may become a formal unilateral adherent to the MTCR Guidelines and Annex. To attain this status, a state must notify the French MTCR Point of Contact in writing of its political commitment to control all of the items listed in the annex according to the guidelines, including any subsequent changes to those documents. Thereafter, the state is recognized on the MTCR website as a unilateral adherent. Estonia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia are the only countries to have completed this process. Certain other states, including Israel, have given the United States a pledge to adhere to the guidelines, which exempts them from potential sanctions under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.8

China agreed to apply the MTCR Guidelines, but its application for membership remains under review because of concerns regarding its failure to implement the guidelines effectively. Finally, a number of other states, such as Cyprus and Iraq, have adopted the guidelines and annex to fulfill their obligations with respect to controlling missile-related exports under UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all UN member states to control weapons of mass destruction and related materials and equipment, including systems for delivering such weapons.9

Category I Missile Proliferation

Diplomatic efforts built around MTCR standards are widely seen as having had a number of successes, including

  • the termination in 1990 of the joint Argentine-Egyptian-Iraqi project to develop the Condor II;10
  • Taiwan’s abandonment of its dual-capable satellite launch program in 1990;11
  • Brazil’s termination of two missile programs in the early 1990s;12
  • China’s decision not to transfer M-11 and M-9 missiles to Pakistan in 1992;
  • the impeding of India’s development of long-range rocket systems in the 1990s;
  • South Africa’s abandonment of its Aniston ballistic missile program and closely linked space launch vehicle program in 1994;13
  • the elimination of a variety of Category I missiles by Eastern European states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, during the 1990s and early 2000s;14
  • the initial limiting of South Korea’s offensive missile program to systems with a range of less than 300 kilometers, pursuant to an agreement with the United States in 2001 (the permissible range was subsequently extended);15 and
  • Libya’s agreement in 2003 to eliminate its Category I missiles, which was not fully executed until after the demise of the Qaddafi regime in 2011.16

Virtually all of these diplomatic interventions were aided by a variety of external developments, such as the changes in leadership in countries of concern, an improved security environment for some of them, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the desire of many states to become better integrated into the Western economic and security system, and the Persian Gulf War, which led to the elimination of Iraq’s missile arsenal under UN Security Council directives. Nonetheless, the existence of the MTCR and its standards enabled diplomats pursuing missile nonproliferation to exploit openings created by external events. In effect, the regime established missile nonproliferation as an international desideratum to be pursued more vigorously when opportunities arose.

These accomplishments are striking because the creators of the MTCR did not have the benefit of building on a pre-existing international treaty or well-established international norm regarding the dangers posed by unmanned delivery systems but had to create such a foundation of shared objectives. The regime had the advantage of arising during what may have been the “golden age” of WMD nonproliferation efforts.

In this regard, during the first decade of the MTCR,

  • Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states;
  • the NPT was extended indefinitely;
  • Iraq’s WMD capabilities were eliminated by mandate of the UN Security Council following the Persian Gulf War;
  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine voluntarily relinquished Soviet-era nuclear weapons on their territory, the related missile delivery systems were destroyed, and the three countries joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states;
  • the U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework froze Pyongyang’s plutonium-production capability;
  • the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was concluded and opened for signature; and
  • the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) entered into force, leading to the destruction by parties to the treaty of any existing chemical arsenals.

These developments undoubtedly facilitated a number of the successes with respect to limiting the missile systems noted above. After all, when a state renounced nuclear or chemical weapons, renouncing the systems that might have delivered them became a somewhat easier task in terms of domestic political acceptance, at least in principle. Once a state eliminated weapons of mass destruction, the MTCR’s underlying objective of suppressing the spread of WMD-armed missiles effectively was achieved there, irrespective of the fate of any missile delivery systems themselves, as long as they were not exported to another WMD holder or aspirant. This point is important in understanding the current map of missile proliferation.

China, FrancU.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displays remains of an Iranian-made ballistic missile fired against Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Speaking December 14, 2017 in Washington, she said Iran violated UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by providing such missiles to the Houthis.  (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)e, Russia, the UK, and the United States—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—all possess nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them. India, North Korea, and Pakistan have declared their possession of nuclear weapons and their intent to use ballistic missiles exceeding MTCR Category I parameters currently in their possession to deliver them. Israel is widely understood to have a comparable missile-based nuclear deterrent (possibly including a Category I cruise missile), although it has never acknowledged this.17 Iran’s nuclear program created profound concerns internationally that its objective was the development of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s parallel development of a nuclear-capable intermediate-range missile was widely viewed as intended to serve as a nuclear weapons delivery system. Its nuclear program is now frozen for roughly 10 years under an agreement Iran signed with China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the United States.

All of the regional powers mentioned above have intermediate-range ballistic missiles able to carry nuclear warheads over a distance of 1,200 kilometers. In addition, India has flight-tested a system with a range of 3,500 to 5,000 kilometers, and North Korea has demonstrated a missile with sufficient range to reach at least the western United States, some 8,000 kilometers distant.18 Syria possesses weapons of mass destruction, namely chemical weapons, probably in limited quantities as of early 2018, and Category I ballistic missiles capable of delivering them, although these missiles have not been used for this purpose in the country’s ongoing civil conflict.19

Aside from ballistic missile systems, India, Iran, Pakistan, and possibly Israel also possess cruise missiles whose ranges exceed the MTCR 300-kilometer benchmark. Research has not confirmed whether the cruise missile systems of the regional powers can carry the 500-kilogram payload associated with nuclear weapons, but all would be able to deliver chemical or biological weapons. None of these states, however, is known to have a militarized chemical or biological weapon capability.

The map of missile proliferation shows three groupings of states. The first, having weapons of mass destruction and powerful missiles, consists of 10 states: the nine possessors of nuclear weapons—China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the United States—and Syria which, like North Korea, has chemical weapons. The second group—states possessing powerful missiles but not weapons of mass destruction—include Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan (cruise missiles), Yemen, possibly Ukraine, and a few other holders of increasingly obsolete Soviet-era Scud short-range ballistic missiles.20

If the second group of states have convincingly opted out of the WMD business, their possession of Category I missiles does not pose an immediate WMD proliferation problem, although in some theaters these systems when armed with conventional warheads can be destabilizing. In addition, as long as the future of Iran’s currently contained nuclear program remains uncertain, caution dictates that efforts to constrain its access to Category I missiles must continue. The great majority of states possess neither Category I missiles nor weapons of mass destruction.

The MTCR partners have sought the elimination of Category I missiles wherever possible, sometimes making this a condition for MTCR membership. The goal of elimination of these systems is certainly worthwhile, but even where Category I systems continue to be held, much has been accomplished if weapons of mass destruction have been convincingly eliminated as a concern. With this understanding, the achievements during the MTCR era can be seen as more substantial than may be generally appreciated.

A Shifting Environment

This analysis would indicate that the most serious proliferation challenges confronting the MTCR are limited to roughly a dozen countries. In practice, however, the MTCR has rarely acted to constrain the missile capabilities of the major nuclear powers, somewhat narrowing the regime’s focus.21

The most serious setbacks the MTCR has encountered over the years have been the expansions of the ballistic missile capabilities of five states that were not MTCR members, namely Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and, until 2016, India, along with the regime’s inability to fully curtail trade in missile technology that has contributed to several of these programs.

Since the early 2000s, the nuclear and missile programs of the most acute concern at the UN Security Council have been those of North Korea and Iran. Currently, North Korea is subject to a Security Council-imposed embargo barring transfers to it of missile-related equipment and technology, and Iran is subject to a de facto embargo of such items.22 The Security Council has taken no action directly against India, Israel, or Pakistan to restrict their nuclear or missile programs, although the council’s adoption of Resolution 1540, requiring all states to control WMD-relevant goods, could restrict the three states’ access to such items without targeting these states by name. U.S. missile nonproliferation policymakers have focused most intensively on constraining the Iranian and North Korean programs, although programs in India, Israel, and Pakistan remain subject to certain U.S. missile-related restrictions.23

From the standpoint of the MTCR, the greatest current challenges are similarly focused on Iran and North Korea, namely restricting their global procurement activities in support of their ballistic missile programs and, in particular, support for those programs provided by entities in China.

MTCR states are pursuing what might be called the “classic” technology denial strategy to constrain the leakage of technology to the two states of concern. This strategy includes intensified scrutiny of export licenses, heightened attention by customs officials at border crossings and ports, promotion of industry internal compliance programs, and the like. Such a strategy also includes engagement with transit states to counter their use by Iranian and North Korean procurement networks to disguise the ultimate destination of smuggled missile-relevant goods. Also supporting MTCR goals, the United States under the Proliferation Security Initiative has built a network of states ready to assist in interdicting suspect cargoes while in transit.24

Despite these substantial efforts, the missile capabilities of Iran and North Korea have grown steadily, in part through clandestine bilateral collaboration that is largely beyond the reach of the just-noted control mechanisms.

China’s Role

Transfers of missile technology from China to states of concern is adding to these challenges. Such transfers have posed a decades-long quandary requiring particular attention. As former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn and Gary Samore, former senior director for nonproliferation on the U.S. National Security Council staff, wrote in 2002,

China pledged to halt missile exports in 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2000. In the mid- and late 1990s, Beijing also passed laws on and strengthened bureaucratic oversight of its export controls. In spite of these steps, Chinese firms continued to transfer missile-related industrial technology to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, and Syria. In August 2002, however, because of increased recognition of the threat that WMD posed to its own security, and after further talks with the United States, Beijing published a missile export control list that corresponded closely to the MTCR guidelines.25

Exports of Chinese missile-related goods to countries of concern continued, however, and in May 2003 the United States sanctioned China North Industries Corp. for transferring missile technology to Iran. Additionally, in September 2004, Washington imposed sanctions on the Chinese company Xinshidai, also reported as exporting missile-relevant equipment to Iran.26 Since this period, Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions against other Chinese firms for assisting the Iranian and North Korean missile programs.27 Still, U.S. sanctioning of Chinese firms supporting the North Korean nuclear and missile program has continued, with the most recent sanctions imposed in August and September 2017.28

This photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency shows Hwasong-12 ballistic missiles during a military parade February 8 in Pyongyang. The history of leakage of sensitive technology from China to North Korea and Iran over many years leave questions unanswered regarding Beijing’s flawed implementation of its export control system. (Photo: KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. officials hesitate to accuse Beijing of pursuing a deliberate national policy of supporting missile programs in states of concern. Rather, they state that China is committed to implementing strategic trade controls but lacks the ability to effectively enforce these rules, given the vast scale of commercial activity conducted by Chinese entities.29 Nonetheless, the history of leakage of sensitive technology from China to North Korea and Iran over so many years leaves many questions unanswered regarding Beijing’s flawed implementation of its export control system.

Sanctions Regimes

The role of the MTCR in addressing the Iranian and North Korean challenges, including the role of Chinese entities in supporting these programs, is somewhat limited at the moment and, in many respects, is overshadowed by the sanctions regimes imposed by the Security Council and the United States. At the Security Council, the principal contribution of the MTCR is the fact that the MTCR Annex is used to define what missile-related items are embargoed to both countries.

The embargoes themselves, however, are not the result of MTCR action. Indeed, the Security Council embargoes are more stringent than the MTCR Guidelines, amplifying them rather forcefully, by effectively prohibiting all transfers of items in the MTCR Annex, rather leaving the decision on approving a transfer to the discretion of the MTCR partner involved. The requirement for the inspection of all cargoes going to or from North Korea to prevent transfers of banned items, imposed by the Security Council in Resolution 2375, also goes far beyond requirements adopted in the MTCR context, as do Security Council restrictions on dealings with North Korean banks, which, among other consequences, will constrict Pyongyang’s ability to finance its procurement activities.

U.S. sanctions prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any trade or financial activities with North Korea and expose foreign persons to asset freezes if they deal with any party sanctioned by the Security Council or the United States because of its links to North Korean nuclear or missile programs. These measures also go well beyond those adopted in the MTCR context.

Thus, it appears that the place of the MTCR in the international nonproliferation landscape is evolving. Although the scope of its missile nonproliferation rules is global, circumstances are driving the control regime toward focusing on the most salient cases, even as other actors are assuming the leading roles in addressing them. At the same time, the powerful new tools that the Security Council and the United States are bringing to bear against the advancing missile programs of Iran and North Korea are seeking to vindicate the nonproliferation principles the MTCR has placed front and center on the international stage. Champions of the regime should take considerable satisfaction from this contribution and from the state of the global map of missile proliferation.


1 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), “Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers,” n.d., http://mtcr.info/guidelines-for-sensitive-missile-relevant-transfers/ (accessed March 7, 2018) (hereinafter MTCR Guidelines).

2 Some observers incorrectly state that unmanned systems other than ballistic missiles were added to the coverage of the MTCR at a later date. Later guideline changes focused solely on these systems may have given the misimpression that they were being addressed for the first time.

3 MTCR Guidelines, para. 2.

4 Richard Speier, “Missile Nonproliferation and Missile Defense: Fitting Them Together,” Arms Control Today, November 2007.

5 MTCR Guidelines, para. 1.

6 These systems were not subject to the “particular restraint”/“presumption of denial” standard unless the exporting MTCR member had reason to believe the system was intended for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction. In other cases, export licenses were to be required and restraint was to be exercised in approving such licenses. Although these control parameters are the most important modifications of the MTCR Guidelines for the discussion of missile transfers, two additional reinforcements of the guidelines deserve mention. In 1994 the group adopted a “no undercut” policy, under which partners must “consult each other before considering exporting an item on the [MTCR Annex] list that has been notified as denied by another Partner.” Further, in 2003 the partner countries agreed to a “catch-all” provision, providing for the control of exports of items not included on a control list when they may be intended for use in connection with delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction other than manned aircraft. See MTCR, “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),” n.d., http://mtcr.info/frequently-asked-questions-faqs/ (accessed March 7, 2018).

7 The membership criteria as they stood in 2003 required that applicants forgo offensive Category I missiles. See Congressional Research Service, “Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (ICOC): Background and Issues for Congress,” RL31848, April 8, 2003, p. 7.

8 Arms Export Control Act of 1976, 22 U.S.C. § 2751.

9 UN Security Council, S/RES/1540, April 28, 2004.

10 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, “Status of Condor II Ballistic Missile Project,” November 1, 1991, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/DOC_0001175541.pdf. For further background, see Federation of American Scientists, ”Missile Programs,” May 30, 2012, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/argentina/missile/index.html; Wyn Bowen, The Politics of Missile Proliferation (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2000), p. 43; Youliana Ivanova, “Goodbye Missiles, Hello NATO,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 58, No. 5 (September 2002).

11 Dinshaw Mistry, Containing Missile Proliferation (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011), p. 97.

12 U.S. General Accounting Office, “Arms Control: U.S. Efforts to Control the Transfer of Nuclear-Capable Missile Technology,” NSIAD-90-176, June 1990, p. 16.

13 Federation of American Scientists, “Missile Technology Control Regime,” n.d., https://fas.org/nuke/control/mtcr/docs/941118-368095.htm (fact sheet released by the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, November 18, 1994).

14 Wyn Bowen, “The MTCR and EU Expansion,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1998, https://www.nonproliferation.org/wp-content/uploads/npr/bowen53.pdf.

15 Alex Wagner, “South Korea, U.S. Agree on Missile Guidelines, MTCR Membership,” Arms Control Today, March 2001.

16 Jeffrey Lewis, “Libya’s Scud-B Force,” ArmsControlWonk.org, August 22, 2011, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/204383/libyas-scud-b-force/.

17 In this paper, Israel is considered to possess nuclear arms.

18 Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, “North Korea’s ICBM: A New Missile and a New Era,” War On The Rocks, July 6, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/07/north-koreas-icbm-a-new-missile-and-a-new-era/.

19 Egypt is sometimes reported as having residual stores of chemical weapons from its intervention in the 1963-1967 Yemeni civil war and a number of aging Soviet-supplied Scuds. Given the uncertainty about its possession of these items and their likely obsolescence, in this paper Egypt is considered to possess neither weapons of mass destruction nor powerful missiles.

20 See “Elbrus (SS-1C Scud B),” Military-Today.com, n.d., http://www.military-today.com/missiles/scud.htm (accessed March 8, 2018).

21 Individual MTCR partners have taken steps to avoid contributing to the missile capabilities of their respective potential adversaries within this group, but this has been undertaken through the implementation of national security measures rather than the application of MTCR rules. Conversely, some transfers of Category I systems between members of this group, such as the lease by the United States of Trident missiles to the United Kingdom, should be noted.

22 Regarding North Korea, see UN Security Council, S/RES/2087, January 22, 2013. Regarding Iran, see UN Security Council, S/RES/2231, July 20, 2015. Technically these goods are not embargoed to Iran under Resolution 2231, but any transfers of items on the MTCR Annex must be approved by the Security Council, where one or more of the veto-wielding permanent members of the body can be expected to block the transaction. See UN Security Council, S/RES/2231, July 20, 2015, annex B, sec. 4(a); UN Security Council, S/RES/2375, September 11, 2017, paras. 7-12.

23 The United States, for example, does not provide Category I items to any of the latter states. Also in 2016, Washington sanctioned seven Pakistani entities associated with its missile program for violating U.S. export controls. See Anwar Iqbal, “U.S. Sanctions Seven Pakistani Entities,” Dawn, December 31, 2016.

24 Security Council sanctions resolutions have required states to prohibit their financial institutions from engaging in transactions that support such procurement activities and, in the case of North Korea, to expel its diplomats who facilitate procurement efforts and to inspect all cargoes going to or from North Korea to prevent transfers of banned items. Although such measures to constrain the procurement of missile-related goods are not found in the MTCR Guidelines, MTCR states, as UN member states, are required by the Security Council to implement these complementary measures, among others. See UN Security Council, S/RES/2094, March 7, 2013, paras. 2, 7; UN Security Council, S/RES/2270, March 2, 2016, para. 18; UN Security Council, S/RES/2375, September 11, 2017, paras. 7-8. See also Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1718 (2006), “Fact Sheet Compiling Certain Measures Imposed by Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013), 2270 (2016), 2321 (2016), 2356 (2017), 2371 (2017) and 2375 (2017),” November 3, 2017, https://www.un.org/sc/suborg/sites/www.un.org.sc.suborg/files/fact_sheet_updated_03_nov_2017.pdf.

25 Robert J. Einhorn and Gary Samore, “Ending Russian Assistance to Iran’s Nuclear Bomb,” Survival, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2002).

26 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Recent OFAC Actions,” May 23, 2003, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/pages/20030523.aspx; Victor Zaborsky, “Does China Belong in the Missile Technology Control Regime?” Arms Control Today, October 2004. The article provides a detailed account of China’s unsuccessful efforts through October 2004 to join the MTCR.

27 For the current list of Chinese parties sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for assisting foreign missile and nuclear programs, see “SDN List by Country,” n.d., https://www.treasury.gov/ofac/downloads/ctrylst.txt (accessed March 8, 2018).

28 U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Targets Chinese and Russian Entities and Individuals Supporting the North Korean Regime,” August 22, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0148.aspx; U.S. Department of the Treasury, “North Korea Designations; Non-proliferation Designations Updates,” September 26, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20170926_33.aspx.

29 Author discussions with U.S. officials 2016-2017, Washington, D.C. See also, Niels Rasmussen, “Chinese Missile Technology Control—Regime or No Regime?” Danish Institute of International Studies, February 2007, https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/29608/nra_chinese_missile_technology_control.pdf.

Leonard S. Spector is executive director of the Washington office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Middlebury College, or any of their sponsors.


While Iran and North Korea pose grave challenges, the MTCR norm can be expected to survive and sustain its
crucial contribution to international stability.

Q&A: Ambassador Adam Bugajski: ‘The NPT is still strong and alive.’

April 2018

Photo: Permanent Mission of the Republic of Poland  to the United Nations Office and the International Organizations in ViennaAdam Bugajski, Poland’s permanent representative to the UN Office and international organizations in Vienna, is chairman of the second session of the preparatory committee for the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), being held in Geneva on April 23-May 4. These responses to questions from ACT’s Alicia Sanders-Zakre have been edited for clarity.

As chair of the NPT preparatory committee, how will you seek to bridge the growing divides within the international community, for example on the pace of disarmament?

My role as the chairman of the second stage of the 2020 review cycle is, first and foremost, to uphold and strengthen the NPT in all of its aspects. It can be achieved by open, inclusive, mutually respectful, and transparent dialogue. I am ready to work on every reasonable and viable proposal in accordance with well-established rules. Yet, the success or failure of the 2020 review cycle is on the states-parties. It is fair to say that, at this stage, many states-parties prefer a steady pace of work and are not struggling for outcomes on the most delicate dossiers.

I am fully aware, of course, of different positions on disarmament and of difficulties to find a common ground on the basis of NPT Article VI. Under the present circumstances, one must be realistic. The second preparatory committee is a building block in the whole construction of the review cycle, which will be concluded in 2020; and until that moment, there is still plenty of space to find the way to bring us closer to the answers and solutions. One must remember that there is no single road toward disarmament and that disarmament is not only about reductions. Different countries and groups of states have different approaches, and neither of them should therefore be regarded as the only valid one. Much depends on the P5 states, as those who are in possession of nuclear weapons, but the voice of others could serve as an important prompt for constructive dialogue, free
of any prejudices and unrealistic expectations. The meeting offers a useful and well-structured platform
for such a dialogue.

And on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East?

The same applies to the creation of the WMD-free zone in the Middle East. This issue regularly posed a challenge to recent review cycles. It is not going to be different this time, I suppose. My visit to the region revealed that it is still difficult to find a common ground to build on. There is a clarity on the goal, and the 1995 Resolution [on the Middle East] remains the ultimate reference for a solution, but there are currently more questions than answers on modalities and on the next step to be taken. However, with the help of other interested parties, such co-conveners, and possibly also international organizations, the region itself is able to come up with a viable proposal at least as to the general direction of their further actions.

What should be accomplished during the 2018 NPT preparatory committee in order to set the stage for a successful NPT review conference in 2020?

The NPT review cycles always have been challenging. Only half of the review conferences ended up with the positive outcome. But on the eve of its 50th anniversary, the NPT is still strong and alive. It is pretty much the most comprehensive treaty if you compare it to the other arms control treaties, and we deal with the deadliest weapon ever invented by mankind. It is true that the NPT is also fragile and easy to be undermined. Therefore, we all have the responsibility to take care of it. This is why a well-thought-through structure of the review cycles has been established for permanent improvement. I am not in a position to judge whether this cycle will be successful. Whether we will have a comprehensive progressive outcome document; a series of decisions, as was the case in 1995; or a short but bold political declaration, it is premature to predict at this stage.

What is the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge, I believe, is the current global security situation, full of tensions and largely unpredictable. It is fair to say that those circumstances are not conducive to a successful NPT review cycle as it does not exist in the vacuum. At the same time, I believe that a passive, sort of “wait and see” approach could easily lead to the next failure. Therefore, my choice was for a positive engagement and common diplomatic effort to change the situation in the sphere of disarmament and nonproliferation. I hope it will pay back.

However, what actually can be accomplished during this preparatory committee session and beyond to build toward the 2020 review is to limit the discrepancies in areas where it is feasible, for example in the disarmament area. We can also identify and mark the issues where progress can be made on the way to 2020. Full support for institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization should be shown by all states as they are indispensable instruments of the NPT portfolio. It all can be done through fair, open discussion given an understanding that the NPT is our common value and there will not be any better instrument dealing with nuclear nonproliferation.


Poland’s permanent representative to the UN Office and international organizations in Vienna discusses his role as chairman of the April 23–May 4 session of the preparatory committee for the 2020 review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

REMARKS: Rebuilding a Common Vision on Disarmament and Arms Control


April 2018
By António Guterres

The dangers of nuclear weapons are all too clear. They pose a catastrophic risk to human life and to the environment, and there is great and justified anxiety around the world about the threat of nuclear war.

António Guterres (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)In East Asia, millions face this threat up close on a daily basis. I welcome the courageous initiatives taken by the Republic of Korea during the Olympic Games, but this is not enough. We need lasting improvements, based on the central objective of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and sustainable peace in the region. I also welcome the completion of reductions by the United States and the Russian Federation under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Disarmament and arms control have achieved important gains. They have reduced inventories of strategic nuclear weapons, entirely prohibited chemical and biological weapons, and led to agreed prohibitions and limits on the use of indiscriminate weapons, including landmines and cluster munitions, but the first resolution of the General Assembly—seeking the complete elimination of weapons of mass destruction—remains unfulfilled. There are currently some 15,000 nuclear weapons on earth. The danger posed by these weapons inspired the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that opened for signature last year.

In recent years, long-standing goals, including reductions in military spending and armed forces, have been seemingly forgotten. Military power is celebrated, without reference to the obscene human cost of conflict. The global arms trade has reached the highest level since the Cold War.

Strategic tensions are jeopardizing gains in nonproliferation, as countries persist in the belief that nuclear weapons make the world safer. Nonstate actors pose an enormous threat to global disarmament efforts. Science and technology are accelerating development of autonomous and remotely controlled weapons, challenging normative frameworks. Nuclear weapons are being re-evaluated as tactical battlefield munitions—a dangerous prospect.

Meanwhile, the impact of war has moved from frontlines to front doors. Armed conflicts are killing more and more civilians, as governments and nonstate armed groups use powerful explosive weapons in populated areas. Weapons of war are marketed and traded for profit like ordinary consumer goods, and taboos against the use of chemical weapons and nuclear testing have been repeatedly challenged.

In the face of this deterioration, the international community must urgently rebuild a common vision on disarmament and arms control. I am preparing a new initiative aimed at giving greater impetus and direction to the global disarmament agenda.

On prevention, we must respond to the dangers of the overaccumulation and proliferation of weapons and reinforce the need to integrate disarmament into the United Nations’ efforts on preventive diplomacy and peacemaking. We must work together toward forging a new momentum on eliminating nuclear weapons.

On humanitarian action, we need to focus on the growing and unacceptable impact of conventional weapons on civilians and infrastructure, particularly in urban areas, which represents also a clear violation of human rights. On sustainable development, we need to strengthen the links between disarmament and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reduce the illicit arms flows that feed conflict and divert resources, and understand the dire economic consequences of excessive military spending.

Finally, we need to examine the potential risks and challenges posed by the weapons of the future. This includes the relationship between new technologies—autonomous and unmanned weapons, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and space-based systems—and international humanitarian and human rights law.

We cannot contemplate further erosion of the global framework for disarmament. We must bring the current review process of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to a successful outcome in 2020. This cornerstone treaty must remain strong for nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear power.

We must bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force without delay. We must enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention and ensure accountability for violations. We must reinvigorate the agenda for disarmament and arms control, and we must work together toward our common goal: a world free of nuclear weapons.

António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, gave these remarks February 28 at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. This version has been edited for space.

Rebuilding a Common Vision on Disarmament and Arms Control

New Russian Weapons Raise Arms Race Fears

April 2018
By Kingston Reif

Tensions between the United States and Russia took another turn for the worse in March after Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted about his country’s development of several next-generation nuclear weapons systems and Moscow announced that it was postponing scheduled talks with Washington on strategic stability.

The disclosure of the new weapons is prompting fresh concerns about the advent of a new arms race and follows the Trump administration’s recent release of a new defense policy focused on the re-emergence of strategic competition with Russia and China and a new Nuclear Posture Review report, which calls for expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers an annual address March 1 to the Russian Federal Assembly at Moscow's Manezh Central Exhibition Hall. (Photo: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)Whether Russia actually deploys all of the weapons touted by Putin remains to be seen, as many of them are still early in development. Putin also may have been blustering about Russian military capability as a way to build nationalist enthusiasm for his presidential re-election campaign amid a stagnant national economy and the absence of any major challenger.

Following his election to a fourth six-year term March 18, Putin declared that he planned to focus on domestic matters and reduce spending on defense. “Nobody plans to accelerate an arms race,” said Putin.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House, following a March 20 phone call with Putin, that “we'll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Trump added a caveat: “But we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.” Factually, however, the United States and Russia have similar numbers of deployed strategic nuclear forces under a limit set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

In his March 1 presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly, Putin outlined the developmental status of several nuclear weapons systems.

These included the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, which is designed to carry multiple warheads; an intercontinental undersea drone; and a nuclear-powered, long-range cruise missile that Putin said “is invincible against all existing and prospective missile defense and counter-air defense systems.”

Putin also outlined Russia’s development of two hypersonic weapons, specifically the Kinzhal air-launched cruise missile and the Avangard glide vehicle. Hypersonic missiles can travel at approximately 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, or 1 to 5 miles per second. They can change their trajectories during flight and fly at odd altitudes. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Putin’s presentation contained animated videos, including one that pitted Russia against the United States. The video of the Sarmat showed the missile releasing nine warheads at what appeared to be the southern half of Florida.

It is unclear if formal development programs exist for all the systems mentioned by Putin and, if so, how close the weapons are to being fielded. Putin said that Russia has begun production of the Avangard, is “in the active phase of testing” the Sarmat, and successfully tested the nuclear-powered cruise missile in late 2017.

Putin described the rationale for the weapons largely in terms of the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and concern about U.S. missile defense systems.

Existing long-range U.S. missile defenses are limited in scope and scale and would not be effective against Russia’s large and sophisticated arsenal of nuclear missiles. Russia, however, has expressed concern that the combination of U.S. nuclear forces and advancing missile defense and conventional strike capabilities could enable Washington to threaten Moscow's secure second-strike nuclear capability.

U.S. Defense Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers an annual address March 1 to the Russian Federal Assembly at Moscow's Manezh Central Exhibition Hall. (Photo: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary Jim Mattis played down Putin’s show. Mattis told reporters on March 10 that Putin’s nuclear weapons statements were “disappointing” and “unsurprising” but the systems he highlighted would “not change at all the strategic balance.”

Former Defense Secretary William Perry similarly said in a March 9 essay in Politico that the new Russian weapons “don’t change the basic deterrent or military capability of Russia.” But he warned that “Putin seems to be welcoming a new nuclear arms race and challenging the U.S. to join in.”

Key pillars of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control architecture, like the bilateral relationship more broadly, are under siege. Although some meaningful arms control cooperation continues, such as adherence to New START and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk-reduction steps.

Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord.

Both countries are investing massive sums to replace and upgrade their existing nuclear arsenals. To complicate matters further, technological change and advances in conventional weapons are raising concerns about new escalation dangers. Both sides are developing hypersonic missiles, new missile defense capabilities, offensive cybertools, and anti-satellite and counterspace weapons.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review report does not offer any proposals to advance U.S.-Russian arms control or address the growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. It also does not commit to an extension of New START, which is slated to expire in 2021. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

That treaty provides for discussion on emerging strategic offensive arms and possible limitation of them. The United States could put these systems on the table at the next meeting of the treaty's Bilateral Consultative Commission, the treaty’s implementation body, scheduled for this spring.

Putin has failed to outline how Russia believes that Moscow and Washington, along with the world’s other nuclear-armed states, can reduce nuclear competition. In 2013, Russian leaders rejected a U.S. proposal for talks on a further one-third cut in deployed strategic nuclear arsenals below the New START limits.

In a March 1 interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin said Russia is willing to have a dialogue with the United States about extending New START. But he added that given Russia’s acquisition of “weapons that can easily breach all anti-ballistic missile systems, we no longer consider the reduction of ballistic missiles and warheads to be highly critical.”

The United States and Russia held a first round of strategic stability talks last September in Helsinki. The specific agenda was not disclosed. (See ACT, October 2017.) A second round of talks was slated to take place on March 7-8 in Vienna, but Russia announced that it would not participate in the talks, citing the U.S. cancellation of bilateral consultations on cybersecurity that had been scheduled to take place in late February in Geneva.

It is not clear when the two sides will resume the strategic stability talks.

In a March 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Edward Markey (Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged the Trump administration to convene a new round of talks as soon as possible and focus them on “[e]xtending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons.”

Despite significant disagreements with Russia, the senators said “the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.”


Putin sends mixed signals, and Trump eyes new talks.

New Nuclear Option Faces Budget Uncertainty

April 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report calls for the near-term deployment of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), but the administration has yet to find the money needed to do that.

The Defense Department’s budget request for fiscal year 2019, released on Feb. 12, includes $22.6 million for developing the missile variant. The department plans to spend a total of $48.5 million on the effort over the next five years, according to budget documents obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry swears in Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration on February 22. She told a Senate committee March 14 that the administration is looking at options for funding planned low-yield nuclear warheads. (Photo: NNSA)But the proposed budget for the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure, did not include the funds needed to modify SLBM warheads. The administration plans to modify a small number of 100-kiloton W76-1 SLBM warheads to detonate at a less powerful yield by removing the weapon’s uranium secondary core. The W76 is currently undergoing a $4 billion life extension program that is slated for completion next year.

NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14 that the agency is “working closely” with the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon to identify the necessary funding options. The Pentagon and NNSA say the modification can be completed quickly, perhaps as soon as the end of 2019.

U.S. law requires that the energy secretary specifically request congressional authorization and appropriations to develop a new or modified nuclear warhead. Although the NNSA did not seek funds for the modification in its original budget request, the agency could make a supplemental request later this year or ask Congress for permission to reprogram funds from other activities.

The NPR report also calls for the development of a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could be available for fielding within the next decade. The fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $1 million to begin an analysis of the performance requirements and costs to pursue that capability.

The United States deployed SLCMs during the Cold War, but President George H.W. Bush removed them from attack submarines and surface ships in the early 1990s. President Barack Obama ordered the retirement of the aging warhead for the missile in the report for the 2010 NPR. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The Trump administration NPR report calls for the development of the two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons on a limited basis to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) Russia possesses a larger and more diverse arsenal of such weapons than the United States.

According to the report, the development of the two options “is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear war-fighting.’” Rather, expanding U.S. tailored response options will “raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” according to the report. Critics maintain that the report misconstrues Russian nuclear doctrine and that additional low-yield options are unnecessary.

The Trump administration is also pursuing research and development on and concepts and options for conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) The fiscal year 2019 budget documents do not specify how much money the Pentagon proposes to spend on this work.

In total, the Defense Department is requesting $24 billion for nuclear forces, an increase of $5 billion from the fiscal year 2018 request. This includes $11 billion for nuclear force sustainment and operations; $7 billion for upgrade programs such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine replacement, B-21 “Raider” heavy bomber, and the long-range standoff weapon; and $6 billion for nuclear command, control, and communications. The NPR report acknowledges that the cost to sustain and upgrade the arsenal is “substantial,” but claims the projected bill is affordable and will consume no more than 6.4 percent of the Pentagon budget.

This proposed spending does not include the additional costs that must be borne by the NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. The administration requested $11 billion for the NNSA nuclear weapons account in fiscal year 2019.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last fall that the plans President Donald Trump inherited from Obama to maintain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years would cost $1.2 trillion. (See ACT, December 2017.) The figure does not include the effects of inflation.

Trump, Congress Bulk Up Ballistic Missile Defense

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes large funding increases for theater and strategic ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems relative to the administration’s first budget submission in May 2017. Missile defense programs accounted for $12 billion of the 2019 request, including $9.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

Although the proposed request for the agency is up from the fiscal year 2018 request of $7.9 billion, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill last month that provides $11.5 billion, a increase of $3.6 billion above the original budget submission. President Donald Trump signed the bill on March 23.

To thwart intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the fiscal year 2019 request proposes $2.1 billion for expanding and modernizing the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. This includes construction of an additional missile field in Fort Greely, Alaska, bringing the total number of ground-based interceptors to 64. The budget request would cover 14 of the expected 20 new ground-based interceptors, as well as design and testing of the so-called Redesigned Kill Vehicle and Multi-Object Kill Vehicle intended to increase the number of kill vehicles atop each long-range intercepter.

For midcourse defense against less than ICBM-range missiles, the request allocates more funding to the Aegis Afloat ship-based ballistic missile defense system. The largest line item is $6 billion for three new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2018. Procurement for software packages and missiles decreased slightly from $2.1 billion in fiscal year 2018 to $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. These funds will be used to procure 43 Aegis software packages and 125 interceptor missiles, most of which are the Standard Missile-3 Block IB variant. Forty-three of the missiles are to be completed by 2020.

The envisioned spending on terminal-phase defense remained about the same, including $1.1 billion each for 82 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors and 240 Patriot Advanced Capability Missile Segment Enhancement interceptors. The fiscal year 2019 request provides for the acquisition of enough interceptors to operate seven THAAD batteries and 15 Patriot battalions worldwide.

On Feb. 16, the MDA provided Congress with a $1.6 billion wish list of 16 unfunded projects not included in the budget request. The top priority on the list is a $73 million space-based Missile Defense Tracking System to track ICBMs in their midcourse phase of flight.—RYAN FEDASIUK

The Trump administration envisions a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Trump Agrees to Summit With North Korea’s Kim

April 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Managing expectations for what constitutes success will be a key challenge for the United States if U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet as anticipated next month.

Although offering an opportunity to reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, a summit carries substantial risks, particularly because it would not be preceded by months of lower-level diplomatic preparation. There is little way to predict the course of any substantive discussions and the personal interaction between the two men, one a newcomer to international diplomacy who carries the mantle of U.S. power and the other a third-generation leader of an isolated, impoverished Communist nation armed with nuclear weapons.

A South Korean soldier walks past a television screen showing pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul on March 9, 2018. Trump agreed on March 8 to a historic first meeting with the North Korean leader. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)If critics of diplomacy, such as newly appointed U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, do not view a summit as making enough progress toward North Korean denuclearization, they could use the outcome as a reason to urge Trump to abandon talks and pursue a military option.

Trump confirmed his willingness to participate in a summit in response to an invitation conveyed by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who met with Kim in Pyongyang before flying to Washington. When Chung told reporters at the White House on March 8 that Trump accepted the invitation, he said that Kim is “committed to denuclearization” and will refrain from further nuclear and missile tests.

Chung said Trump looked forward to meeting with Kim by May “to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed on March 8 that Trump was willing to meet with Kim and that he “expects North Korea to start putting action to these words that were conveyed via the South Koreans” regarding denuclearization. She said Trump is not willing to reward North Korea just for talking.

Chung and Sanders each reiterated that sanctions pressure will remain in place in the interim and that Kim understood that joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises would continue as planned. The exercises, delayed due to the 2018 Winter Olympics held in South Korea, are set to take place in April. In the past, Kim has viewed joint exercises as provocations and proof of the “U.S. hostile policy” toward his country.

Kim’s invitation for a summit with Trump came as a surprise, and there remained some uncertainty about whether it will take place. The two leaders traded insults in 2017, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence canceled a meeting with the North Korean delegation during a trip to South Korea for the Olympics. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Chinese President Xi Jinping escorts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a welcoming ceremony March 26 in Beijing. China's Xinhua news agency said that Kim confirmed his willingness to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, although the report did not confirm the anticipated May timeframe. Kim said "it is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula" in accordance with the will of his late father and grandfather, according to the March 28 Xinhua report. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)South Korea, however, built on the Olympic spirit that led to North and South Korea fielding a joint team and sent a high-level delegation to Pyongyang in early March. The two states are also planning a summit between their leaders for April that will include discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program and could help lay the groundwork for a Trump-Kim summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is planning to travel to Washington after his meeting with Kim.

Managing expectations for a summit may be complicated by Bolton taking office before the meeting. Three days before he was named to succeed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Bolton in an interview with Radio Free Asia described himself as “skeptical” about North Korean intentions and warned that a summit could be a “very short meeting” if Kim is not prepared to move on denuclearization. Although the cautious McMaster allowed that a limited strike in North Korea was an option, Bolton has been a leading voice for pre-emptive military action against North Korea and Iran in order to eliminate their nuclear weapons capabilities and bring about regime change.

Further, Trump may hear similar views from outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, his nominee to replace fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose early advocacy of diplomacy toward North Korea had been undercut by Trump. Pompeo, a strong critic of the Iran nuclear deal, said on March 11 on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Trump will demand “the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

In preparation for a summit, the Trump administration will need to consider what the United States is willing to put on the table. That could include easing current sanctions or holding off on new ones, scaling back provocative elements of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, and refraining from actions that North Korea views as hostile, such as flying B-1 bombers north of the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

It is unlikely that Kim will agree to give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons at a summit, but he could recommit to denuclearization as a long-term goal and take steps that would decrease tensions and reduce the threat posed by the North’s nuclear program. Steps such as agreeing to continue regular talks, establish clearer lines of communication, and work toward a freeze on nuclear and missile tests and fissile material production could contribute to stability in the region.

Critics such as Bolton may view these steps as insufficient and use the failure to achieve denuclearization quickly as an argument against further diplomacy. In February, Bolton in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal advocated a pre-emptive military strike, arguing that it is “perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first." Previously, he has asserted that the “only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.”

Bolton has disrupted negotiations with North Korea in the past. When serving at the State Department under President George W. Bush in 2002, he used the discovery of North Korea’s illicit uranium-enrichment program as a reason to kill the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. Although the uranium enrichment violated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and needed to be addressed, it was outside the scope of the Agreed Framework, which had successfully halted North Korea’s plutonium production.

Bolton wrote in his memoirs that evidence of the illicit uranium enrichment was “the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.”

Will talks ease tensions or set the stage for U.S. military strikes?

EU Prepares for U.S. Exit From Iran Deal

April 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

While the United States continues discussions with European partners on a supplemental agreement to the Iran nuclear deal, the European Union is starting to prepare for the impact of President Donald Trump pulling out of the accord.

Brian Hook, director for policy planning at the State Department, said on March 21 he had “constructive” meetings in Berlin with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the so-called E3 group, on a supplemental agreement that addresses what Trump regards as “flaws” in the nuclear deal.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini addresses a press conference during a foreign ministers meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on March 19, 2018. She said the EU is starting to prepare to “protect European interests” in case “decisions are taken elsewhere” not to abide by the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)Trump threatened on Jan. 12 to withhold sanctions waivers in May, which would effectively put the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, unless the E3 and Congress act to address his concerns. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Further, Trump in March shook up his national security team, putting into key positions two officials who have been outspoken in their rejection of the Iran deal. Trump selected CIA Director Mike Pompeo, subject to Senate confirmation, to replace fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and named former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who has advocated military action against Iran and North Korea, as White House national security adviser, succeeding fired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. The two ousted officials had clashed with the president over their views that the benefits of maintaining the nuclear agreement exceed any shortcomings.

Trump’s threat has rattled key European allies, who have lobbied to keep the nuclear deal, and perhaps complicated anticipated negotiations with North Korea, which would have reason to doubt the reliability of any U.S. promises tied to denuclearization. Further, Iranian officials have said such action by Trump would mean their country is no longer bound by the nuclear deal, which could lead to a military confrontation if Iran resumes certain nuclear activities.

Hook would not predict whether the United States and the E3 would conclude an agreement before the May 12 deadline, but he said conversations were focused on the sunset provisions, or elements of the deal that expire; Iran’s missile program; and stronger inspections. He said that the United States and the E3 are working to “narrow” the differences to see if an agreement can be reached.

If an agreement is reached, Hook said it will be presented to Trump, who would make a decision on “whether he wants to remain in the deal or stop waiving sanctions.”

Hook’s meetings with the E3 took place as Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, citing disagreements over the nuclear deal as one of the causes for his dismissal. Tillerson had urged Trump to remain in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Although the EU did not participate in the talks between the E3 and the United States, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, speaking after the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting March 19, said that the EU is starting to prepare to “protect European interests” in case “decisions are taken elsewhere” not to abide by the deal.

Mogherini did not provide details on what the EU’s preparations included, but if the United States reimposes sanctions on Iran, it would impact European entities doing legitimate business with Iran.

Hook said the United States is also “engaged in contingency planning” for “any eventuality.”

Mogherini, who headed the P5+1 group in negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal, said the EU is prepared to address Iran’s ballistic missiles and activities in the region through dialogue and separately from the nuclear agreement. The E3 states are looking at sanctions to respond to Iran’s actions in these two areas, but Mogherini said the EU did not discuss any additional sanctions.

The P5+1 and Iran met in March for the regular quarterly meeting of the Joint Commission, the body set up by the nuclear deal to oversee its implementation. The March 16 chair’s statement called for continued “effective implementation” of the accord by all parties and welcomed the most recent quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming Iran’s “continued adherence” to its nuclear commitments.

During the Joint Commission meeting, Iran raised what it termed “breaches of obligations or delays” by the United States on sanctions relief. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called attention to delays in licenses for passenger aircraft sales.

The nuclear deal specifically references providing licenses for aircraft as part of the sanctions relief granted to Iran.

Hook said on March 21 that he told Iran during the Joint Commission meeting that the United States would not issue licenses “at the expense of our national security” because Iran uses its commercial airlines to “move terrorists and weapons” around the Middle East. He said he urged Iran to make reforms to its civil aviation.

Trump also called on Jan. 12 for Congress to pass legislation addressing the flaws he identified in the deal. Members of Congress, however, appear to be waiting to see what comes out of the negotiations with the E3 before acting. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on March 13 that Trump will have to make a decision to waive sanctions by May 12 “based on where the Europeans evolve to.”

It is “solely the responsibility of the administration to work out something with our European allies,” Corker said. “It’s not Congress’ responsibility.”

Members of Congress will likely have an opportunity to seek additional clarity from the Trump administration on its approach to the May 12 deadline during Pompeo’s confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

Pompeo, who served in the House of Representatives during the 2015 congressional debate over the nuclear deal, opposes the agreement. In a July 2016 opinion essay for Fox News, he called for the United States to walk away from the agreement and argued that it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons when limitations expire.

Trump’s threat to walk away rattles key allies.

U.S.-Saudi Talks Begin on Nuclear Pact

April 2018
By Kingston Reif

As the Trump administration begins negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, a growing number of lawmakers are expressing concerns that the administration is not seeking sufficiently strong nonproliferation safeguards.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry led an interagency delegation to London in late February to discuss a pact, known as a 123 agreement, with a Saudi delegation led by Saudi Arabian Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry reviews a carbon management accord with Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih during a December 4, 2017 visit to Riyadh.  (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)A 123 agreement, named after the section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that requires it, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

The Trump administration has not commented on the status of the talks, and no agreement was announced during the visit to Washington last month by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia says that it is seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes to diversify its energy sources. Yet, Prince Mohammed raised concerns about the kingdom’s intentions by stating in a March 15 interview with CBS News that Saudi Arabia will quickly follow suit if Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans for nuclear power, but currently has no nuclear power plants. The kingdom plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association. It has solicited bids for the first two reactors and hopes to sign contracts by the end of this year.

A key issue in the negotiations is whether the United States will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as part of a 123 agreement. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) These activities are considered sensitive because they
can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and produce nuclear explosive material.

In testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 22, Perry refused to say whether the United States was pushing such a prohibition. But he warned that if Washington does not sign an agreement with Riyadh, then Russia and China would be chosen instead and would demand less stringent nonproliferation and security standards than the United States.

To date, Saudi Arabia has resisted a ban and suggested that it seeks to make its own fuel. Al-Falih told Reuters in a March 22 interview that “it’s not natural for us to bring enriched uranium from a foreign country to fuel our reactors.” Saudi Arabian officials say the country has natural uranium deposits to mine while critics say it is more practical and economic to import uranium enriched for civil power reactors.

Opposition to an agreement that does not block Saudi fuel-making appears to be mounting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. President Donald Trump in a March 5 meeting at the White House that the United States should insist on a Saudi commitment not to enrich and reprocess.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Perry at the March 22 hearing that he “and many others" would oppose a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia that does not include a fuel-making ban. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) expressed a similar view at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on March 21 on the implications of nuclear cooperation with Riyadh.

“The idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern,” she said. “Unfortunately from the little we do know from the administration, it is looking at this deal in terms of economics and in terms of commerce, and national security implications only register as a minor issue if at all.”

Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) introduced legislation March 21 that would strengthen congressional oversight by requiring that lawmakers vote to approve any agreement that does not include a legally binding prohibition on enrichment and reprocessing.

Under current law, most nuclear cooperation agreements can enter into force after 90 days of so-called continuous session unless Congress enacts legislation blocking the pact.

Will the administration prioritize jobs or measures to prevent nuclear proliferation?


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