“Over the past 50 years, ACA has contributed to bridging diversity, equity, inclusion and that's by ensuring that women of color are elevated in this space.”
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Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation
June 2, 2022
December 2017
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Arms Control Needs the Modernizing Lens That Gender Offers

December 2017
By Heather Hurlburt

At a moment when the field of arms control and security faces existential challenges, it may seem foolish to insist that one of the sector’s problems is a failure to incorporate thinking about gender. After all, achievements over a half-century in institution building and norm creation, even the most basic norms against the use of nuclear weapons, are under attack.

Yet in an important sense, the community is confronting its 21st century opposition with a 1950s mindset. The politics of the last year showed people in the United States—whether recent graduates or new members of Congress voting on budget funds and authorizations for use of military force—to be broadly unaware of core principles such as deterrence and basic facts about U.S. arsenals and the shape of global threats. At the same time, they are hearing about security through ever-more intimate and personal lenses. Identity-linked advocacy networks, from Concerned Women for America to the Movement for Black Lives to veterans and religious organizations, are increasingly shaping the way Americans receive news and understand the world.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, received this phone message about a caller seeking a woman expert on North Korea to participate in a 10-minute roundtable. (Photo credit: Melissa Hanham)As research carried out last year showed,1 national security professionals are likely to believe the best response to differences in policymaking is to remove it rather than embrace it. That impulse was once the state of the art—“I don’t see race” or “men and women are converging”—but is no longer. A community that fails to catch up on diversity, as reflected in who participates and what perspectives are considered, will fail to compete for talented personnel, as well as for relevance, in a diverse world.

Elsewhere in the security field, gender has moved beyond the personnel department. Scholars have documented how differing experiences of gender affect policy outcomes, most notably how closely linked the treatment of women is to the prevalence of violence within and between societies. In response, institutions from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to NATO and the United Nations have begun to practice analysis and policymaking that explicitly take gender difference into account.

The field faces two related but distinct challenges: diversifying the people who work in it and the perspectives it recognizes. The arms control and security policy sector is still overwhelmingly white and upper-middle class, and disproportionately male, especially in its highest echelons. Despite the reams of evidence and successful practices to emulate from other fields, the sector is only at the very beginning of remaking itself so that it can successfully compete for talent and connect with the majority of Americans, much less the rest of the world.

Despite rich generations of feminist scholarship, the arms control sector lags well behind others in bringing a gender lens, that is, the ability to consider how policies affect the genders differently, to its work.

Finally Get Serious About Diversity

First, there is a tendency to complacency about gender representation in the arms control and security sector. After all, goes the reasoning, Rex Tillerson is just the second white male U.S. secretary of state in 20 years, and a list of illustrious female practitioners tends to follow. Yet, those high-profile achievers mask a more disappointing overall picture. As women’s representation has progressed then seemed to plateau, across the general economy, the private sector has led in developing and implementing practices that seek to remedy gender imbalances. On this, government has lagged, and the national security sector with it. Female representation in national security policymaking has progressed only slowly, despite taking a dramatic jump at upper levels during the Obama administration.2

It would be wrong, however, to regard this trend as irreversible or well institutionalized. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) documented the precipitous falloff in women’s representation that continues to occur at the upper levels of civilian and military government service.3 Although in recent years half of entering U.S. Foreign Service officers have been female, only 30 percent of senior staff are; at the Pentagon, just 20 percent of senior jobs are held by women.4 The Trump administration’s attempts to freeze or roll back civilian hiring at the Department of State and elsewhere in government were accompanied by lopsided ratios among its political appointees.5 Moreover, discussion among top administration officials and allies about returning to a ban on women in combat roles and the promotion by Vice President Mike Pence and others of cultural norms that prohibit women meeting alone with men6 seem likely to further depress women’s equal participation now, as well as limit younger women’s chances to advance for years to come. Further, due to hiring freezes, shifts to contractors, and priority given to hiring older veterans, the proportion of the federal workforce under age 30 has fallen to 7 percent from a high of 25 percent 40 years ago. Gender balance among interns and students in their twenties is thus almost irrelevant to the current workings of U.S. government. Senior leadership in this and future administrations will need to take explicit measures to repair the damage and promote diversity at all levels.

At present, that means focusing on the inclusion of women outside government. From academia to think tanks, from students to journal authorship to board membership, the outlook is still disappointing.

Considering academia matters because it is the main pipeline through which young professionals enter the field and it is where they gain their expectations about what it means to work in security policy. Although women have made up more than half of undergraduate students for almost 40 years, they are underrepresented in the postgraduate and specialized programs that lead to security sector careers. CNAS found that a number of the most prestigious graduate programs in international relations are less than half female.7 Women who enter the security field by joining the military continue to face disproportionate obstacles; as one example, entering classes at the service academies have surpassed 20 percent women only very recently.

Although cross-field studies have not been done, a casual look at rosters and tables of contents confirms that gender disparities among students increase among tenure-track faculty and skyrocket for publication in elite journals. Recent years have seen graduate students organize at Georgetown University to demand a response to the prevalence of all-male reading lists and at Columbia University and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to press for more consideration of gender issues in the curriculum. Faculty members say that many such efforts, while impressively prepared and resourced by a given cohort of students, are allowed by administrations to lapse when that cohort graduates. There are some examples of schools making explicit commitments, such as Fletcher School Dean James Stavridis’ target of a 40 percent female tenure-track faculty, but choosing not to publicize them.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poses with members of the 146th Foreign Service Specialist Class after their swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on October 6. (Photo credit: State Department Photos/Public Domain)Gender representation in the nongovernmental security sector has received considerably less attention, but what is known is discouraging. In 2016, a survey carried out by the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Policy found elite foreign policy think-tank scholars in the United States to be 75 percent male.8 Globally, a 2014 survey of a network of 43 think tanks found staff to be 42 percent female, but leadership only 14 percent.9 Ploughshares Fund, in the process of developing a yet-to-launch “Women’s Initiative,” did its own informal survey of the nuclear nonprofit sector and found that although women were strongly represented at entry levels, senior jobs and, above all, boards remain seriously imbalanced.10

Staffing is just one piece of the representation puzzle; visibility is another. Female experts are badly underrepresented in media coverage of security issues as sources in print media and guests on TV and radio. A study found that, of 6,000 guests on national news segments covering foreign policy and national security in 2016, only 24 percent were women.11

Debates have raged within institutions and among community members about the prevalence of all-male-speaker panels, or “manels,” which continue to be an issue in the arms control field. Surprisingly few U.S. institutions, programs, or funders have taken what is known as the “no manels” pledge. The possibilities for improvement are large. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s International Nuclear Policy Conference, for example, went from 10 percent female panelists in 2011 to 30 percent in 2015 and 49 percent in 2017, according to James Acton, one of the organizers. Anecdotally, however, senior women and men who have been outspoken on the topic confirm that resistance is intense.

‘Gender Lens’

Diversity theory indicates that broadening the perspectives of those who make policy produces better outcomes. The other side of that coin is the concept of a “gender lens,” that is, the idea that policy analysis that considers the different experiences of different genders can produce such better policy outcomes. The concept has gained traction in academic circles and in peacekeeping and conflict resolution training in the UN and NATO and some other regional security bodies, but it is little known in U.S. policymaking and not applied at all in the arms control space.

Socially constructed norms and patterns ensure that people of different genders have different experiences. This commonplace observation has important consequences for security policy. For example, violent extremist groups exploit gender norms to recruit women, deploy women in contexts and societies where women are not expected to be agents of violence, and heighten feelings of victimization and vulnerability among their targets.12 Similarly, counterterrorism analysts have documented important patterns and moments where women’s roles in traditional, as well as Western, societies can be key in detecting or preventing radicalization. Slowly, policymakers are starting to take notice.13

In conflict resolution and peacekeeping, analysis has documented that the inclusion of women makes peace agreements more durable, while failing to take differently gendered needs into account in postconflict stabilization can contribute to the re-emergence of violent groups. UN Women has found that peace processes that include women are 20 percent more likely to last at least two years and 35 percent more likely to last 15 years.14 Yet, new research found that women have made up just 8 percent of peace negotiators over the past 27 years.15

Women in greater numbers were included in panels at the 2017 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference. From left, moderator Marjolijn Van Deelen, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Dell Higgie, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Susan Burk, independent consultant; Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons; and George Perkovich, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discuss provisions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on March 21 in Washington.  (Photo credit: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)The UN Women, Peace and Security framework, constructed through seven UN Security Council resolutions, now provides guidelines for training on and planning and evaluation of peacekeeping and conflict resolution work. NATO and other regional organizations have followed suit, as have military and civilian planners from a number of key U.S. allies. Just this fall, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Act of 2017, which directs but does not require U.S. security policymakers to incorporate these best practices into U.S. government work. Congress did not appropriate any new resources for this task, however, and positions focusing on gender stand empty at the National Security Council, State Department,
and USAID.

Moreover, hard data indicates how gendered dynamics contribute to conflict. Measures of violence against women have emerged as some of the best predictors for outbreaks of violence within and between states.16 Scholars are doing important new work on a variety of indicators, not all associated with women. Societies in which young men are less able to attain the symbols of successful adult masculinity, such as marriage, employment, and community status, may be more vulnerable to violence.17

Students and practitioners of arms control and security disciplines need to catch up to the research on causes of conflict. Although the indicators connecting gender violence to risk of broader societal conflict are robust, surveys by New America have found that work to be almost unknown among national security elites.18 Professionals in and out of government owe it to themselves to become familiar with the findings.

Although “gender” is often associated with feminist or other politically progressive worldviews, the observation that violence against women and societal violence are closely linked also dovetails comfortably with ideologically conservative frameworks that see protecting the vulnerable and traditional family structures as a key goal of security policy. The observations themselves are ideologically neutral.


The following are seven recommendations for action. Not every actor in the field—government agencies, think tanks, advocacy groups, international actors, and scholars—can take up every recommendation. All can do at least one, becoming more effective policymakers as a result.

Make the gender lens a standard tool of analysis. As Fletcher School scholar Meg Guliford wrote recently, security “is contextual. There exists no blanket definition to encapsulate how all human beings experience security.” This observation is the foundation of gender analysis, the practice of considering how policies or events affect different genders differently. Gender analysis yields important insights in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism thought, whether predicting the movements of extremist groups from the flows of female recruits or learning about ISIS’ internal cohesion from its practice of systemic rape against women and men. Yet, it is not broadly known, used, or taught in the international security field.

Widen the research lens. The time is ripe for an imaginative research agenda where such dynamics might be at play in the use and control of weapons. For example, little is known about how such dynamics might play out in the demand for, use of, and success or failure in controlling small arms, but that is more than what is known about what measures of societal insecurity are most likely to drive governments to acquire more disruptive weapons systems or become more aggressive in their use. Does the insecurity of women and other vulnerable populations have a bearing on nations’ or groups’ willingness to lay down arms or forbear particular capabilities or systems?

New insights are likely waiting for researchers who widen the lens to perceive women as negotiators and combatants and men as victims of sexual violence, as well as perpetrators. The literature on women’s participation in peace negotiations and their implementation would likely be enriched and challenged by consideration of women in arms control negotiations, from the Iran nuclear deal to the negotiations leading to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Quantify the problem. Every source interviewed for this article cited the scarcity of comprehensive studies and strong data to document the challenge of gender inclusion in security policymaking, let alone test the outcomes of different responses. Organizational leadership at universities, think tanks, journals, and conferences often cites the lack of data as a barrier to galvanizing response. Unlike many of the other identified problems, this one is easily solved by the application of resources
and research skill.

Address hiring and talent management issues. Several excellent sets of recommendations exist for institutions to access. CNAS highlights the need to frame policies in terms of effectiveness and build data sets to document it, get out of a zero-sum framework by setting family-friendly policies for employees of all genders, and rethink mentorship.19 Public and private national security institutions have much to learn from the very public struggles of the cybersecurity field, where extreme gender imbalances and problematic working conditions for women have spilled into the media.

New America proposed five steps for workplaces that are extremely relevant to arms control and security: remove gendered code words from job descriptions and learn what they are, institute policies that allow female and male employees to combine job and caregiving responsibilities and make sure the policies are visibly used by senior staff, hire women at senior levels to help attract and retain junior and mid-level personnel, set targets around office diversity and measure leaders against them, and build talent pipelines through internships and fellowships.20

The “#metoo” surge of women speaking out about workplace sexual harassment and assault in the wake of disclosures about movie producer Harvey Weinstein has shone a spotlight on the painful conditions that remain all too frequent in the security policy environment. Employers and managers must have proactive policies and model leadership for male and female employees.21

#Nomanels. Institutions and program directors can institute policies to prevent all-male panels and direct event planners to any of several resources to help expand their awareness of diverse sources of expertise. Funders can bar their funds going to all-male programming. Individual scholars and leaders can ask organizers about event diversity and decline to participate when they are not. Some existing projects include Manpanels.org, Gender Avenger, and the UN Global Compact Panel Pledge, a global effort to end all-male panels. George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs has become the most high-profile institution to enact such a policy under its dean, Reuben Brigety. Owen Barder, vice president of the Center for Global Development, has attracted more than 1,300 signatories for a pledge stating, “At a public conference I won’t serve on a panel of two people or more unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the chair.”22

Improve media visibility. Institutions and leaders who say they want more women in the field must back this up by making sure female scholars and professionals are equally featured in syllabuses and promoted as institutional representatives in media, publication, and speaking opportunities. Individuals and institutions can facilitate this with explicit policies and commitments to offer media opportunities, speaking engagements, and co-authorship to younger colleagues and through willingness to vouch for those colleagues in the informal networks through which most such invitations move.

Adapt the Rooney Rule. Corporations from Amazon to Xerox to Uber have adopted a standard from the National Football League (NFL) known as the “Rooney Rule,” requiring that at least one minority candidate be interviewed for all senior positions, as they focus on gender and ethnic diversity. It is credited for spotlighting a larger pool of talented candidates who were previously overlooked, but has had uneven results across the NFL.23

The practice brings with it an inherent limitation, which psychologists call “moral licensing,” by which requiring the inclusion of underrepresented groups on a short list can make it less likely that they are selected. The Rooney Rule or indeed the other recommendations mentioned here are most valuable when they are accompanied by staff and management training and practices that identify and challenge such biases at every level. After all, avoiding bias is supposed to be the foundation of good policymaking.


1. Heather Hurlburt and Elizabeth Weingarten, “Not Secondary, but Central,” New America, October 11, 2016.

2. Anne Joseph O’Connell, “Obama Ups Diversity in Appointees,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2015.

3. Katherine Kidder et al., “From College to Cabinet: Women in National Security,” Center for a New American Security (CNAS), April 5, 2017, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/from-college-to-cabinet.

4. Julianne Smith, “Send the Breast Pump With the Defense Attaché,” The New York Times, August 12, 2017.

5. Molly Redden, “Trump Is Assembling the Most Male-Dominated Government in Decades,” The Guardian, September 21, 2017.

6. Ashley Parker, “Karen Pence Is the Vice President’s ‘Prayer Warrior,’ Gut Check and Shield,” The Washington Post, March 28, 2017.

7. Kidder et al., “From College to Cabinet.”

8. Joshua Busby and Heather Hurlburt, “Do Women Matter to National Security? The Men Who Lead U.S. Foreign Policy Don’t Think So,” The Washington Post, February 2, 2017.

9. Shannon Sutton, “Female Leadership at Think Tanks,” Think Tank Initiative, March 7, 2016, http://www.thinktankinitiative.org/blog/female-leadership-think-tanks.

10. Michelle Dover, interview by author, Washington, DC, August 11, 2017.

11. “Study: Women’s Voices Marginalized in 2016 News Coverage of Foreign Affairs and National Security,” Media Matters for America, March 8, 2017, https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2017/03/08/study-women-s-voices-marginalized-2016-news-coverage-foreign-affairs-and-national-security/215584.

12. Heather Hurlburt and Jacqueline O’Neill, “We Need to Think Harder About Terrorism and Gender. ISIS Already Is.” Vox, June 1, 2017.

13. Anne-Marie Slaughter and Elizabeth Weingarten, “The National Security Issue No One Is Talking About,” Time, April 12, 2016; Heather Hurlburt, Elizabeth Weingarten, and Carolina Marques de Mesquita, “A Guide to Talking Women, Peace, and Security Inside the U.S. Security Establishment,” New America, February 21, 2017; Hurlburt and Weingarten, “Not Secondary, but Central.”

14. “Facts and Figures: Peace and Security,” UN Women, n.d., http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/peace-and-security/facts-and-figures.

15. “Women’s Participation in Peace Processes,” Council on Foreign Relations, November 1, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/interactive/womens-participation-in-peace-processes.

16. Valerie M. Hudson et al., “The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Winter 2008/2009): 7-45.

17. Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess, “In Plain Sight: The Neglected Linkage Between Brideprice and Violent Conflict,” International Security, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Summer 2017): 7-40.

18. Hurlburt and Weingarten, “Not Secondary, but Central.”

19. Kidder et al., “From College to Cabinet.”

20. Megan Garcia and Elizabeth Weingarten, “Decrypting the Cybersecurity Gender Gap,” New America, December 2015, https://na-production.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/decrypting-the-cybersecurity-gender-gap.pdf.

21. For a primer on policy responses and gripping testimony of the obstacles women in the field still face, see Susan B. Glasser, “Sexism on America’s Frontlines,” Politico, November 6, 2017, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/06/global-politico-national-security-sexism-215789.

22. “Say No to #ManPanels,” n.d., http://www.manpanels.org; “Take the GenderAvenger Pledge,” GenderAvenger, n.d., https://www.genderavenger.com/the-pledge/; UN Global Compact, “World’s Largest Corporate Sustainability Initiative Says No to All-Male Panels,” March 15, 2016, https://www.unglobalcompact.org/news/3321-03-15-2016; Owen Barder, “The Pledge - I Will Not Be Part of Male-Only Panels,” Owen Abroad, n.d., http://www.owen.org/pledge (accessed August 14, 2017).

23. Oliver Staley, “The Legacy of the Man Behind Football’s Rooney Rule—Requiring Interviewing Minority Candidates—Lives On in Silicon Valley,” Quartz, April 15, 2017, https://qz.com/959608/the-legacy-of-the-man-behind-footballs-rooney-rule-requiring-interviewing-minority-candidates-lives-on-in-silicon-valley/.

Heather Hurlburt is director of the New Models of Policy Change project at New America's Political Reform program.


There is a tendency to complacency about gender representation in the arms control and security sector.

Missing Voices: The Continuing Underrepresentation of Women in Multilateral Forums on Weapons and Disarmament

December 2017
By Elizabeth Minor

The recently adopted Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons contains much that is unprecedented for an international nuclear weapons agreement.

Consistent with the treaty’s humanitarian foundations, its preamble recognizes victims of nuclear weapons use and testing.1 An article on victim assistance obligates states-parties for the first time to respond to affected individuals’ rights and needs through an international framework. Obligations on environmental remediation represent a similarly novel step forward. The preamble’s recognition of the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons activities on indigenous peoples is also a first for arms treaties. These are major achievements.

Costa Rican Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez (shown on screens), permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, in a June 15 photo, led the negotiation conference that produced the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. Still, more than two-thirds of the conference delegates were male, and almost a third of the 121 registered country delegations were exclusively male.  (Photo credit: Eskinder Debebe/United Nations)There is a further element of the preamble that is welcome and unprecedented in arms treaties: the commitment to “supporting and strengthening the effective participation of women in nuclear disarmament.” The treaty recognizes that “the equal, full and effective participation of both women and men is an essential factor for the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security.”2 This recognition and commitment is useful and significant for highlighting the need for change and for offering the opportunity to review progress at future meetings of the treaty’s parties.

This article looks at some of the patterns in women’s representation at international meetings of multilateral forums dealing with arms matters in recent years. The gender picture is currently far from balanced. Although this article looks at the numbers, achieving equal participation in multilateral forums is a matter that goes beyond securing parity in attendance and speakers at meetings. Further, successfully integrating gendered perspectives and improved attitudes to gender equality could be of greater significance than simple numerical equality to the outcomes these forums can generate for women and men affected worldwide by the weapons issues they discuss. These are all important issues for policymakers and civil society to consider in addressing gender and marginalization in multilateral forums.

Gender Imbalance at the Ban Talks

The final treaty text recognizes the importance of women’s participation, but imbalances in representation were seen at the negotiations on the prohibition treaty, where 31 percent of registered country delegates were women3 and women gave 29 percent of publicly available country statements.4 Although noteworthy that the negotiations were led by Costa Rican Ambassador Elaine Whyte Gómez, women headed only 19 (15 percent) state delegations. Thirty-one percent of delegations were composed entirely of men, with 3 percent of delegations all female. On the composition of the 125 registered country delegations, 65 had more men than women (including 39 all-male delegations); 15 had equal numbers of men and women; and 45 had more women than men (including four all-female delegations).5

These patterns are nevertheless higher than the averages seen in data analyzed by Article 36 on women’s participation on state delegations at 13 multilateral forums and processes dealing with weapons and disarmament between 2010 and 2014.6 Those forums and processes included those dealing with conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction.7

Figure 1Recent studies using similar data over longer periods of time suggest a general upward trend in women’s representation on state delegations over recent decades. For example, a 2016 study recorded an increase of more than 20 percent since 1980 in women’s representation on official delegations at multilateral forums dealing with security issues.8

The patterns recorded at the prohibition treaty negotiations, although showing significant inequality, may therefore be part of a general trend toward more equal representation in such forums. If the current rate of progress is maintained, however, achieving equal gender representation could take many decades.

Women’s Participation 2010-2014

For its study, Article 36 gathered data on women’s attendance, leadership of delegations, and delivery of statements or expert presentations.9 It examined patterns in representation among states and civil society, including nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, and others, such as religious groups. Civil society performed better in the available data, but states and civil society remained far from the equal representation of women and men.

At any given meeting of the forums studied, only about one-quarter of official country delegates were likely to be women, and less than one-fifth of statements were likely to be given by a woman. Almost half of all country delegations at any of these meetings were likely to be composed entirely of men. Women headed 15 percent of delegations on average.

On average at meetings, less than half of civil society delegates were women, and more than one-third of civil society delegations were likely to be all male, with 16 percent of delegations all female. Women headed roughly twice the proportion of civil society delegations as state delegations on average, with women giving more than twice the proportion of civil society interventions as state interventions, across the available data (fig. 1).

The gender balance within country delegations also starkly illustrated the overrepresentation of men in these forums and processes. Only 10 of the 195 countries and territories for which Article 36 gathered participation data had equal numbers of men and women on their delegations on average, across five years of the meetings of 13 forums. One hundred sixty countries’ delegations had more men than women on average. Five did not include women on any delegations for the meetings for which data were available (fig. 2).

Of the 143 civil society organizations for which information was available about the representation of men and women on delegations, 17 had equal numbers of men and women on their delegations on average. Forty-two had more women than men on their delegations on average, including 29 whose delegations were always all female. Fifty-four civil society organizations sent only men to the meetings they attended.

Women’s leadership and representation on state delegations
A clear relationship was seen in the data across the meetings between the gender of the head of a country delegation and the proportion of women on a delegation. On average, the data showed a considerably higher proportion of women were included on female-headed delegations, compared to those led by a man. Figure 3 shows the average proportions, with the numbers excluding the delegation heads themselves.

Figure 2This pattern in the data appears to indicate the importance of women’s leadership to the question of representation, but it cannot reveal the mechanism. Initiatives to increase the proportion of women in higher positions in countries’ foreign services may accelerate the pace of change toward more equal representation.

Country income group, region, and women’s representation on state delegations
Analysis revealed variations in the representation of women on country delegations between regional groups and countries of different income categories.10

Of the delegates attending any given meeting for low-income countries, the proportion of women was on average lower than the proportion attending for higher-income countries. A similar pattern was seen for heads of delegations. A higher proportion of lower-income country delegations were also all male on average, compared to the delegations of higher-income countries (fig. 4).

Article 36’s broader study showed that lower-income countries were significantly underrepresented in multilateral disarmament forums, indicative of their broader marginalization.11 Why these countries have lower average rates of women’s representation cannot be determined from this data, but it suggests that, in addressing issues of underrepresentation, it is important to investigate how different forms of marginalization may intersect.

Variation was also seen in looking at patterns by region, suggesting the utility of regionally based initiatives to improve women’s participation. African and Asia-Pacific countries had the lowest average proportions of women delegates and delegation heads. On the other hand, Latin American and Caribbean countries had the highest proportions of women delegates and delegation heads.

Improving the Picture

The patterns described illustrate one aspect of the relative marginalization of women in international forums, recognition of which has grown over recent years. Women’s marginalization, however, is an issue that goes far beyond international forums and specific policies that can be adopted in relation to them. Yet, some recommendations can be made.

Figure 3A first necessary step to addressing patterns of underrepresentation is the consistent monitoring and analysis of data, which should be supported by states and others, whether done by international or official bodies or civil society monitoring organizations.12 Highlighting patterns and assessing any steps taken to address them against available data represent a first level of action.

Article 36 interviewed a limited number of representatives from states, international organizations, and civil society for its study. Most state respondents stated that women’s representation was an important issue for their country, with some considering that they were likely performing well without a formal policy (a national policy on gender balance or diversity was only reported by one respondent). This was clearly unsupported by the data collected. Others welcomed initiatives to raise awareness on this issue, including the civil society initiative on all-male panels.13 States should highlight the issue of underrepresentation in the appropriate forums to keep this on the political agenda and adopt formal policies on it nationally.

Steps such as increasing women’s leadership, working regionally, and examining the intersection of different forms of marginalization could have an impact on women’s representation in international forums and processes on arms. Where states are involved in the administration or funding of sponsorship programs for meetings of international forums, they should consider adopting policies, such as that suggested by the UN Development Programme, requiring that half of any budget be spent on sponsoring men and half on women, with funding to be held back where funds are unspent in either category. Such policies can assist in the greater inclusion and increased capacity of female experts who may be overlooked due to wider structural factors, although it would not directly reach unsponsored delegations.

Figure 4Gender intersects with arms issues in numerous ways, of which the underrepresentation of women at diplomatic meetings is one. For example, gendered discussion of violence and weapons, which may frame certain weapons as symbols of masculine strength and women as being in need of male protection, can shape how disarmament issues are addressed, as well as exacerbate women’s exclusion from these processes.14 Women, men, boys, and girls also can be exposed to different patterns of violence and affected differently by specific weapons and practices.15

The achievement of the equal representation of men and women at international meetings would not guarantee that women’s voices would be heard equally or that processes or forums dealing with arms would adequately address gendered issues. Doing so is not a product of the sex of the individuals involved in discussions. Fundamentally challenging the framing of discussions, how women are addressed within them, and facilitating the promotion of progressive initiatives by women and men must be addressed in order to achieve this.

Nevertheless, it is important to confront women’s underrepresentation and other patterns of marginalization in these forums alongside other objectives, such as ensuring the participation of those that have been most affected by the issues under discussion and the consideration of humanitarian perspectives. States and civil society can adopt policies and undertake monitoring and analysis toward these objectives.

‘Organizations With More Diverse Teams Make Better Decisions’

Michèle Flournoy is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security. From February 2009 to February 2012, she served as undersecretary of defense for policy, the most senior executive position held by a women in Defense Department history.

ACT: Women are still significantly underrepresented in our national security and arms control fields. How important is gender diversity in these areas, and what can be done to encourage women to enter these fields and reduce barriers to success?

Flournoy: It's important for a number of reasons. One is as a matter of principle. As a healthy democracy, you want your national security cadre to look like America. As a matter of performance, all of the business literature suggests that organizations with more diverse teams make better decisions. In the business world, they're actually shown to be more profitable, higher performance. Then, from simply a fairness perspective and an access-to-talent perspective, why would you not access half of your population to try to bring them into leadership positions in this field or any other?

There are more women in the national security field than ever before, but they are not fully represented in the leadership ranks. I think there are a number of reasons for that. There are systemic barriers where there are often unintended obstacles to women's progression. Then there may be other societal and social factors that also figure in.

I was part of a task force at the CIA that looked at diversity. The agency had entry-level classes of intelligence officers that were 50/50 men and women, but by the time 10, 12, 13 years in, when people were being considered for senior intelligence service, the pool was about 25 percent women. The question was why, what was happening? What was causing the falloff? It was a mixture of factors. There were issues of work-life balance. There was lots of investing tremendously in the training and development of women, and yet the agency was just letting them leave because it was inflexible in allowing them a little bit of work flexibility to have families and then making no effort to bring them back. Women don't lose their brains when they have children.

There's a lot that figures into this, and each organization is different. We have to take a much more systemic approach to keeping women in the pipeline and giving women access to achieving their full potential and serving at the highest levels. There are lots of ways to do that which are very much worth doing, not very costly, and with very high payoff.


1. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 2017, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Treaties/2017/07/20170707%2003-42%20PM/Ch_XXVI_9.pdf.

2. Ibid., preamble. For relevant documents where the importance of women’s participation has previously been recognized, see UN Security Council, S/RES/1325, October 31, 2000; UN Department of Public Information, “Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower All Women and Girls,” n.d., http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/; UN General Assembly, “Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control,” A/RES/65/69, January 13, 2011; UN General Assembly, “Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control: Report of the Secretary-General,” A/68/166, July 22, 2013; UN General Assembly, “Report of the Fifth Biennial Meeting of States to Consider the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,” A/CONF.192/BMS/2014/2, June 26, 2014; UN Security Council, S/RES/2117, September 26, 2013; UN Security Council, S/RES/2200, February 12, 2015.

3. See UN General Assembly, “United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally-Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination: List of Participants,” A/CONF.229/2017/INF/4/Rev.1, July 25, 2017.

4. See Reaching Critical Will, “Statements From the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Negotiations,” 2017, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/statements. Data on speaking in closed sessions are not available.

5. Article 36 acknowledges gender diversity beyond the binary categorization of “men” and “women.” These are used in this paper as the categorizations available in the source data discussed.

6. During 2015 and 2016, Article 36 conducted a study into patterns in underrepresentation at multilateral forums dealing with weapons and disarmament, from which this article draws. For the full results and notes on methodology, see Elizabeth Minor, “Disarmament, Development and Patterns of Marginalisation in International Forums,” Article 36, April 2016, http://www.article36.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/A36-Disarm-Dev-Marginalisation.pdf. See also “Women and Multilateral Disarmament Forums: Patterns of Underrepresentation,” Article 36, October 2015, http://www.article36.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Underrepresentation-women-FINAL1.pdf. (containing further information on methodology.)

7. The forums or processes on which data were collected were the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons; meetings on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Arms Trade Treaty, the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament, and the UN Disarmament Commission.

8. International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI) and UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), “Gender, Development and Nuclear Weapons: Shared Goals, Shared Concerns,” October 2016, http://nwp.ilpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/ILPI-UNIDIR-gender-and-nuclear-weapons.pdf. See Mothepa Shadung, “In the Debate Towards Nuclear Disarmament, Where Are All the Women?” Institute for Security Studies, August 26, 2015, https://issafrica.org/iss-today/in-the-debate-towards-nuclear-disarmament-where-are-all-the-women; Kathleen Danskin and Dana Perkins, “Women as Agents of Positive Change in Biosecurity,” Science and Diplomacy, Vol. 3, No. 2 (June 2014), http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/files/women_as_agents_of_positive_change_in_biosecurity_science__diplomacy.pdf.

9. Data on the sex of speakers was much more limited than on that of attendees. See “Women and Multilateral Disarmament Forums.”

10. Using categorizations from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Development Assistance Committee. See Minor, “Disarmament, Development and Patterns of Marginalisation in International Forums.”

11. Ibid.

12. Article 36’s project relied heavily on data collected by Reaching Critical Will in the course of its work to monitor disarmament forums.

13. See “Say No to #ManPanels,” n.d., http://www.manpanels.org.

14. See ILPI and UNIDIR, “Gender, Development and Nuclear Weapons.”

15. See Reaching Critical Will, “Women and Explosive Weapons,” 2014, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Publications/WEW.pdf; Article 36 and Reaching Critical Will, “Sex and Drone Strikes: Gender and Identity in Targeting and Casualty Analysis,” 2014, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Publications/sex-and-drone-strikes.pdf; Reaching Critical Will, “Gender-Based Violence and the Arms Trade Treaty,” 2015, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Publications/GBV_ATT-brief.pdf.

Elizabeth Minor is an adviser at Article 36, a nonprofit group based in the United Kingdom working to prevent harm from nuclear and other weapons. The name refers to Article 36 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions that requires states to review new weapons, means, and methods of warfare.


Achieving equal participation in multilateral forums is a matter that goes beyond securing parity in attendance and speakers at meetings.

‘We’ve Done Something Quite Significant’ A Conversation With ICAN’s Beatrice Fihn

December 2017
Interviewed by Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has had an extraordinary year.

At the United Nations, ICAN’s 10-year campaign culminated in the adoption on July 7 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first legally binding accord to prohibit such weapons with a goal of their eventual elimination. Then, on October 6, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to ICAN “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), answers a question during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York on October 9, three days after the announcement that the group won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.  (Photo credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)Fihn has led ICAN since 2014. Previously, she headed the disarmament program at the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, where she started as an intern. She studied international relations at Stockholm University and law at the University of London.

ICAN, founded in 2007 to ban nuclear weapons, is a coalition of 468 nongovernmental organizations in 101 countries. In making the award, the Nobel committee said its members are fully aware that an international legal prohibition “will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”

Still, the committee said this year’s peace prize is “a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world.” Fihn said she expects ICAN will continue to take a leadership role in working to achieve the treaty’s early entry into force and its eventual success. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations to ICAN for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What was your first reaction to the news?

Just really overwhelmed. There’s a video of me that my colleague took in which I was walking around shaking my hands, hyperventilating. I just felt very strongly that this changes everything for us.

How has the award affected ICAN’s work? It’s been a few months.

It gave us what we have been missing so far in this campaign. That’s media coverage and a recognition outside the diplomatic community that there is a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons, that there are people working on this issue, and that we’ve done something quite significant.

I think it’s catapulted us into the public awareness in a much bigger way than before, which is useful for many things—for us to be able to mobilize people, for putting pressure on governments, and for getting the opportunity to talk about nuclear weapons today in a way that isn’t centered around the North Korea threat only but that also questions nuclear weapons in general no matter who has them.

As you say, this was a pretty significant achievement. The prohibition treaty is one of the few breakthroughs in multilateral nuclear disarmament in many years. How do you see it affecting the global conversation around nuclear weapons in the years to come?

It’s too early to say. Obviously, the humanitarian angle, talking about what would happen if nuclear weapons were used, has stuck. Also, it has put a spotlight on all the states and organizations and people that are complicit in upholding the nuclear weapons structure in the world. We like to think that it’s just nine states, but we plan to expose how many more are participating in activities around nuclear weapons and legitimizing nuclear weapons. Long term, we really want to challenge the kind of behavior that goes against the treaty—use, testing of nuclear weapons, development, possession.

You mentioned the humanitarian dimension. Clearly, that is a key part of this treaty. How do you see the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons being different from the status quo perspective, and why is it important?

Humanitarian concerns are what have driven any kind of real progress on nuclear weapons, starting with the Partial Test Ban Treaty, when atmospheric testing had a huge impact on people. That perspective, what would happen to people if nuclear weapons were used, has always been the motivating factor.

However, a lot of governments have felt comfortable to do whatever they want in the name of state security. We see governments saying that they need to torture people or arrest them without rights for national security reasons. At some point, you have to draw a line on what atrocities governments can commit and claim [as] national security. It’s important to remember that indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of thousands of civilians is not a national security interest. That’s what nuclear weapons will do if they’re used, and that’s what governments are threatening to do with the weapons that exist today.

The treaty elicited very strong criticism from nuclear-weapon states. Why is the treaty so controversial? Has any of the criticism given you any pause in your support for the treaty?

The treaty gets a lot of criticism because it challenges the belief that nuclear weapons are for some countries to have until they feel like not having them anymore and it removes control from the nuclear-armed states on how international law governs nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are mainly a political power tool, which means they’re also the most sensitive weapons to norms and opinions. They’re only powerful if people say that they are, so that’s why they’re also very fragile.

Three survivors of the U.S. atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 pose with their supporters October 6 in Tokyo to congratulate ICAN on being awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. Fihn has said the award also honors the elderly hibakusha, who embody the humanitarian aspects of the campaign.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)I think there can be criticism about certain parts of the treaty. For example, I also think that the treaty would be better if nuclear-armed states would sign on to it. I’d love to see that. Most criticism, though, is hiding the fact that the people who make the criticism don’t want nuclear weapons to be prohibited. This criticism comes from the most powerful countries in the world. They’re not easy opponents. There’s been pressure from states to back off. Nuclear-armed states held press conferences about how awful we are and how we’re doing the wrong thing. That has been, of course, tough. Not tough enough to stop us.

Another criticism, one that even the Nobel committee brought up in its statement, is that the treaty will not, in and of itself, eliminate a single weapon.

Well, that’s because the nuclear-armed states are not signing it! It’s in their power. If they wanted to, they could sign this treaty and eliminate their nuclear weapons, and then the treaty would lead to elimination. But I think that’s sort of an unjust benchmark to put this treaty against because the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty doesn’t eliminate any nuclear weapons either. A fissile material cutoff treaty wouldn’t eliminate any nuclear weapons either. But somehow, we’re judged against the benchmark of securing international peace forever.

Turning to the negotiations themselves, there were a lot of women at the forefront of the prohibition treaty effort, including the negotiating conference president and several key heads of delegations. Did you think that the higher percentage of female leadership impacted the negotiations?

It’s difficult to tell. I don’t think that the sex of the negotiators really determines the outcome, but at the same time, I think the gender perspective is a huge influencer. [U.S. President] Donald Trump’s tweets about how diplomacy is useless indicate an extremely macho culture where negotiating and compromising is considered feminine and therefore weaker than bombing and starting wars. Negotiating to find joint solutions to global problems is something that, I think, is feminine coded. Women have been trained to focus more on that.

In many disarmament forums, women are underrepresented and don’t have as many leadership roles. Could the prohibition treaty negotiations, which had more women in leadership, be a model for future negotiations?

Yes, absolutely. If you do include people with different perspectives who are shaped by different norms, I think it definitely can help. The whole humanitarian consequences perspective isn’t about whether to bomb a city but on what happens afterward and who would build up the community again. It’s very often women who have to put everything together later.

I think having that perspective will make space for women much more than the military perspective. It gives a more complete picture of the problem. We’ve also seen in peace negotiations that if you include women, the negotiations go better because it involves the communities who maintain and build up the peace afterward. It’s definitely beneficial for all processes to involve different groups and to make sure to have as many perspectives as possible to get a solution that works for everyone.

Looking ahead, the treaty needs to be ratified by 50 states to enter into force. It currently has three. How does ICAN plan to get at least 47 others? Do you have a target date?

We looked at other weapons treaties, and to hit 50, it took those treaties approximately two years. I would love to see it get 50 ratifications before the end of 2018. I know that’s an ambitious goal. If it takes longer, it takes longer, but I think we should be able to move relatively fast into entry into force.

ICAN was founded to achieve a ban, which has now happened. What’s next for ICAN?

Now we need to work on the implementation. The treaty has always been the tool, not just the goal in itself. First, we need to build a strong norm, and that comes through getting as many countries to sign and ratify this treaty as possible. Also, parallel to that is to challenge behavior that lies outside this new norm.

We’ve been very, very focused on the negotiations. Now, we need to change direction and move toward focusing on the nuclear weapons and the nuclear-armed states. In a way, they’ve gotten away very easily because we’ve just focused on negotiations. But now, we have to look at their arsenals, their decisions, and their actions and campaign against that from the position of the treaty. So, we will find what kind of activities are going on today that are not in line with this treaty and then build campaign opportunities and mobilize people against those activities to stop them, whether or not the country has signed the treaty.


What’s next for the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons?

Triggers, Redlines, and the Fate of the Iran Nuclear Accord

December 2017
By Richard Nephew

Following President Donald Trump’s decision no longer to certify that the Iran nuclear accord is in the
U.S. national security interest, the conversation in Washington has focused on what Congress can and ought to do next.

Given the centrality of the issue of when certain restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities expire under the accord, there is a possibility that Congress will seek to pass legislation to address the perceived problem by attempting to unilaterally change the terms of the 2015 agreement. Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) said they would introduce legislation1 that creates triggers or redlines for the automatic snapback of U.S. sanctions suspended pursuant to the agreement, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), although there is a chance that they will hold off moving forward for some time due to lack of support.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) with President Donald Trump at the White House on August 2. Cotton has been a leading voice in the Senate urging the president not to certify Iranian compliance with the nuclear accord, so that Congress can act.  (Photo credit: Zach Gibson - Pool/Getty Images)These triggers or redlines could be simple (e.g., focused on uranium centrifuge numbers) or complex (e.g., related to stages of ballistic missile development). Yet, the concept is the same across the board: manage the political problem of a president who campaigned against the nuclear agreement having to validate Iranian compliance, which is occurring, while devolving responsibility for the response to that compliance away from the chief executive and legislative branch to a set of “dead man’s switches.”

Separate and apart from the wisdom of this approach, discussion of such options misses the real point concerning Iran and the challenge if Iran’s nuclear program expands in the future. The central challenge is not in figuring out how the United States could respond in such a scenario; it is in ascertaining how best to achieve the goal of preventing Iran’s nuclear program from expanding in the first place. In legislating on the topic of nuclear redlines and Iranian sunsets, Congress may be able to cobble together a framework for managing the U.S. policy response. By doing so, however, Congress might eliminate any chance for negotiations with the Iranians to arrest this problem. In fact, legislating on Iranian behavior without any thought as to how Iran will actually be convinced to agree is not only somewhat pointless, it is also counterproductive in the extreme.

The Trouble With Triggers

To start, it is worth reviewing the text of existing U.S. law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). In essence, it lays out the process whereby the JCPOA would be evaluated by Congress for its suitability and then enforced into the future. Congress was not entirely clear as to what would be involved in the JCPOA, as specific provisions were still under negotiation with the Iranians and U.S. partners in the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) when the legislation passed. Nevertheless, as a result of extensive briefings provided by the Obama administration, Congress had a decent idea that the agreement would involve U.S. and UN Security Council sanctions relief being traded for Iran accepting restrictions on its nuclear program, as well as additional monitoring and transparency.

Congress therefore gave itself a broad mandate to review the JCPOA and its constituent parts and the president a broad obligation to confirm on a regular basis that Iran was living up to its responsibilities under the deal. The result was a series of reporting requirements imposed on various parts of the U.S. executive branch and intelligence community, as well as the quarterly certification requirement that Iran was complying with its obligations and that sanctions relief under the JCPOA was in the U.S. national security interest. It is this latter point that the president has now refused to certify.

The rest of that law, however, is constructed as a way of signaling to Iran what would happen if it were to cheat on its obligations and to simplify the process of mounting that response. The concept is that a sanctions snapback strategy might be required if Iran starts to break out of its nuclear restrictions and that it would be prudent for that process to be as expedient as possible. Congress therefore defined cheating in broad terms, speaking of “material breaches,” “compliance incidents,” and even “potentially significant breaches.”

Congress wisely left the determination of what constitutes what in the hands of the president and the executive branch, requiring information about any such problems but avoiding prescription. Congress even acknowledged the possibility that a breach or compliance issue might arise but be “cured” by Iran, noting in essence that mistakes or provocations were to be expected during the JCPOA and that flexibility ought to be afforded to the president and his diplomats to fix them.

By discussing redlines and triggers, Congress may undo this effective and prudent setup to our collective detriment. First and foremost, if drawn tightly, such redlines and triggers could create unwarranted and unnecessary crises with Iran even where fundamental risks from the nuclear program are not present. Triggers and redlines are intended to serve as a forcing function in which A automatically results in B. For example, a redline may be drawn that Iran may not possess more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium in forms other than fuel in perpetuity. If the amount of enriched uranium was reported at 301 kilograms, although this has no significance from the perspective of weapons breakout, the result would be the same as if Iran possessed 1,000 or 10,000 kilograms of enriched uranium in the same form: snapback of U.S. sanctions and likely a confrontation with Iran. At the same time, if the decision is made to have a redline that is looser than the underlying JCPOA requirement, say, a redline at 350 kilograms rather than 301, then the approach opens up areas of “acceptable” marginal behavior, giving Iran the impression that it can play within the range of 300-350 kilograms.

Some may argue that this is precisely why a tight trigger ought to be agreed, to stop Iran from playing games on the margins of the JCPOA. Proponents of this strategy might note that Iran played such games on heavy-water production in 2016, edging just over the permissible threshold of heavy-water possession on two occasions, and that it is precisely this kind of behavior that merits prevention. The theory goes that if Iran sees a tight trigger, it will be dissuaded from testing the fences that ring it in the JCPOA.

But, there are few scenarios in which a numerical benchmark is obtainable. Many of the issues in the JCPOA depend on interpretation of data where there may be no consensus or no judgment. On transparency and verification, for example, throughout the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is called on to conduct inspections and complementary access visits in order to verify various aspects of the agreement. As a matter of logical necessity, it is up to the IAEA to make the call as to whether it assesses Iranian compliance with those elements or not. Member states can object to the IAEA assessment and render their own verdicts, but this too is a subjective appraisal. It is impossible, therefore, to have a trigger attached to such access that is immune from interpretation unless it is so mundane as to be meaningless (e.g., numbers of inspector visits).

This opens up another problem: what happens if part of the JCPOA is not captured under an explicit trigger? Just as with the concept of a 350-kilogram limit on enriched uranium, any indication given to Iran that some provisions are less important than others could convey an unhelpful signal to Iran that noncompliance in one area would be treated differently than noncompliance in another. Even if a catchall provision were to be retained, the damage might still be done, as it is human nature to take signals from perceived prioritization. After all, laws are written to forbid specific crimes rather than to encourage people to behave as good citizens.

Last but not least, if a trigger and redline approach operates as intended, then it eliminates the opportunity for diplomacy and negotiation in managing incidents that might emerge. Automaticity in the design of snapback means by its very definition that once an assessment of noncompliance is made, there would be limited opportunities for the Iranians to make redress. Presumably, they could do so before such a determination was reported to Congress, although this would create all the same problems as under the present system and as outlined above with respect to a more flexible interpretation of noncompliance.

After that, unless there is significant leeway accorded to the president on enforcement of snapped-back sanctions, which would reduce the credibility of threat itself, the die would be cast. This might be fine if the intent is to police behavior without concern for the consequences of violations, but it is worth underscoring that it is not in the interest of the United States for there to be violations in the first place. The entire basis of the accord was that the imposition of consequences for Iran’s violations of its obligations was less valuable than a resolution of the underlying nuclear problem with Iran. That would not necessarily be the case with a less flexible approach.

In all of this, an analogy with U.S. nuclear strategy in the 1950s and 1960s may be warranted. Advocates of the trigger and redline approach lament the flexible response arrangements of the present, but it is not apparent that going to a “massive retaliation” strategy would accomplish much more than raising real risks of a rapid and unintended escalation into a crisis with Iran.

Of course, some advocates of triggers and redlines have underscored that their interest is not necessarily in going after Iran today but rather laying out a set of requirements on Iran for the future. This trigger and redline approach would be potentially different because it would not be intended to resolve implementation problems but rather to police Iranian behavior after Iran’s affirmative obligations under the JCPOA start to lapse.

In this conception, the redlines and triggers would not really come into play until such time as Iran’s nuclear program begins to change and expand toward the later years of the JCPOA restrictions, or roughly 2023 forward. Options could include things such as a decision to snap-back sanctions if Iran fields advanced centrifuges in greater numbers than research and development scale starting in 2028 or a decision to reimpose sanctions if Iran declined to source its future power reactors from foreign vendors, instead preferring to build and fuel its own.

From a nonproliferation perspective, both of these Iranian steps are objectionable in their own ways. Other examples of potentially problematic Iranian nuclear activities that could occur as restrictions lapse abound, such as a decision by Iran to restart R&D on spent fuel reprocessing or the production of uranium enriched to a level higher than 3.67 percent U-235. For this reason, it is in the U.S. interest to avoid these outcomes and to work to prevent these developments.

The Matter of Iranian Honor

Those inclined to pursue a redline and trigger approach appear to believe that the most effective way forward is to threaten Iran into cooperation. They are arguing implicitly that an Iran that knows the potential consequences of its activities is an Iran that will stay meekly in its box, abiding by foreign-imposed restrictions.

Unfortunately, that is not likely to take place. Iran’s very core identity is that of a revolutionary state that resists the imperialistic tendencies of the West and those of the United States in particular. This identity was forged in the resentments that were engendered in a history of colonialism and foreign power domination, most recently experienced in the U.S. and UK-assisted coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and in the predatory oil investment arrangements that Iranians felt were foisted on them throughout the 20th century.

Iranian soldiers march Sept. 22 past President Hassan Rouhani during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Rouhani vowed that Iran will boost its ballistic missile capabilities despite criticism from the United States.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Taking aside completely whether a U.S. decision to impose penalties against Iran for nuclear activities that, to a certain extent, were determined to be acceptable in the JCPOA would be a violation, the simple reality is that an overt imposition of obligations on Iran from the outside is the completely wrong way to start this conversation with Iran. Throughout the 2002-2015 period, when various attempts at negotiation with Iran were made, the Iranians were unambiguous about precisely one thing: they would not accept any arrangement in which they were forced to obey the demands of an outside power.

The Iranian system imposed this constraint, and Iranian negotiators observed it religiously. It is this reason, for example, that the JCPOA and the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) that preceded it included so many references to Iran undertaking voluntary actions or making a decision as to what it would do. The legal impact of these decisions was the same as a prohibition, but the phrasing was an essential element of getting Iran to agree.

U.S. negotiators were confronted with this challenge early on in the JPOA’s restrictions on its enrichment plants and the Arak heavy-water reactor. The United States wanted to have a concrete requirement on Iran not to expand its enrichment plants or to construct the reactor, which would be capable of producing weapons-usable plutonium. Iran would not agree to such blunt language. In the end, the United States agreed to accept a statement that “Iran announces that it will not make any further advances of its activities at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow, or the Arak reactor, designated by the IAEA as IR-40.”2 The United States then used IAEA inspector access and U.S. intelligence resources to verify that this announced intention was observed.

The result was that Iran was able to frame its commitment in its own way, and the United States got the desired end result. Proponents of a trigger and redline approach might argue that they too would be fine with such an outcome and that their concept would not inherently preclude Iran making a similar declaration in the future. Yet, by framing the very discussion of this approach as coercing Iran’s future behavior, Congress would nonetheless feed into the internal deliberations in Iran as to why it would be taking or, more likely, forgoing nuclear steps in the future. This would make the jobs of those future Iranian leaders more difficult if not impossible, especially if the next few years involve a more general increase in tensions between the United States and Iran.

An important difference must be made between legislating what the United States wants and getting what the United States wants. Congress naturally has the ability under the U.S. Constitution to set conditions for what the U.S. executive branch can offer insofar as sanctions relief is concerned or even what would constitute an acceptable policy toward Iran. Historical precedent has tended to accord a president latitude in implementing his own foreign policy, which Congress has largely respected. Yet, Congress cannot legislate what a foreign government will do, only what the United States will do in response. The problem therefore emerges: how to get Iran to sign on to U.S. requirements and preferences.

The prevailing theory of the redline approach is that the threat of overwhelming U.S. sanctions pressure will be sufficient. This is a dubious proposition. U.S. sanctions prior to the 2013 JPOA were hardly light in touch, driving the Iranian economy into recession and depriving it of more than $50 billion in oil revenues in 2012 alone. Some have argued that Iran would have accepted deeper concessions in JCPOA negotiations had sanctions not been held back in 2013, but this is at best conjecture and speculation, if not wishful thinking. This author’s own assessment is that sanctions had delivered as much pressure as was going to be achievable and that they were a wasting asset.

Either way, the sanctions pressure was able to bring Iran along only so far, and bringing more to bear would require not only snapback but far deeper sanctions against Iran. Given international hesitancy to support the Trump administration approach, it is a purely hypothetical exercise to suggest that even snapback would be effective, much less obtaining the comprehensive global embargo against Iran that would be necessary for a sanctions-focused strategy to have even a chance of succeeding.

Getting the Best of Both Worlds

As was hinted in the description of what Iran accepted in JPOA language, the right answer is to get Iran to believe it is in its own interest to take the required steps and to be able to sell the result at home. This requires more tact and diplomacy and less rigid demands from the outside, but has the hope of creating actual solutions with Iran and a more sustainable agreement to boot.

To start, Congress should not change the approach of a flexible response to compliance standards embodied in INARA, and it should not adopt rigid redlines to manage Iran’s future nuclear program. Instead, Congress should maintain its more general view of how Iranian compliance under the JCPOA should be judged and should outline the broad strokes of U.S. priorities for future negotiations with Iran.

Activists participate in a protest in front of the White House October 12 denouncing President Trump's anticipated decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)Congress can offer legislation that mandates reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran long into the future if evidence emerges that Iran is once again violating its nonproliferation commitments or that the IAEA is unable to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared Iranian nuclear activities after the JCPOA’s expanded verification requirements end. This would be the establishment of a redline but one sufficiently distant and broad so as to permit latitude for executive branch performance. Alternatively and preferably, Congress can simply wait to see what happens, content in the knowledge that a massive snapback of sanctions remains a U.S. policy option in perpetuity, provided there is adequate cause and scope.

Privately, Congress can register with the administration its views as to what would constitute sufficient measures for a long-term arrangement, charging the administration to seek negotiations with Iran and other U.S. partners in its pursuit. The administration can define core elements for such an arrangement, prioritizing those measures that would provide expanded confidence as to Iran’s nuclear intent, and then seek a variety of ways for bringing them about. These could include enhancements to the IAEA’s standard safeguards practices, improved global export controls, regional arrangements, and even a direct agreement with Iran.3

Such a strategy would not generate immediate headlines nor would it satisfy the visceral desire on the part of some to see Iran acquiesce to the demands of the United States. Yet, it might just have a chance of securing the kind of steps and commitments on Iran’s part that would be necessary to convert the JCPOA into a longer-term, more sustainable nonproliferation instrument.


1. “Fixing the Iran Deal: Background and Key Elements,” n.d., https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/INARA%20Amendment%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

2. “Appendix C: Text of the Joint Plan of Action,” Arms Control Association, June 23, 2014, https://www.armscontrol.org/reports/Solving-the-Iranian-Nuclear-Puzzle/2014/06/APPENDIX_C-Text-of-the-Joint-Plan-of-Action.

3. Robert Einhorn and Richard Nephew, “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Prelude to Proliferation in the Middle East,” Brookings Institution, May 31, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-iran-nuclear-deal-prelude-to-proliferation-in-the-middle-east/.

Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Previously, he was principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the Department of State from 2013 to 2015. Nephew also served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. team negotiating with Iran on the nuclear deal. From May 2011 to January 2013, Nephew served as the director for Iran on the National Security Council Staff.


Why action now by Congress could be counterproductive.

IN MEMORIAM: Bill Kincade (1939-2017), Former Executive Director, Arms Control Association

December 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball

William H. Kincade, who served as executive director of the Arms Control Association from 1977 through 1984, passed away on October 9 in Portland, Oregon. He was 78.

Kincade was the staff director of the Joint Congressional Committee on Defense Production before he arrived at the association to replace its first executive director, Tom Halstead. (See ACT, November 2017.) While at the helm of the association, Kincade expanded the organization’s program and public outreach activities, significantly increased the organization’s funding base and staff expertise, and helped transform Arms Control Today from an eight-page newsletter into a 16-page monthly journal.

William H. Kincade (Photo credit: C-SPAN)Working with the association during one of the most intense periods of public debate on nuclear weapons, Kincade was a strong and vocal opponent of the accelerating U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms race. In a November 1981 column in The New York Times that remains relevant in 2017, he wrote, “Today, each strategic item is very expensive. Each adds proportionally less firepower to already swollen nuclear inventories, and each innovation…invites countermeasures that are costly to overcome or offset. In a time of egregious superpower nuclear arsenals.” He argued that the United States needs “a coherent, pragmatic approach to arms control.”

Kincade went on to write and teach on the subject of international arms control and international security as a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and later as a professor at the American University School of International Service, where he taught and mentored the next generation of leaders in the field. He produced three books, including Nuclear Proliferation in the 1980s (1982) and Nuclear Proliferation: Diminishing Threat? (1995).

He is survived by his wife, Susan, and daughters Jennifer and Hadley. A memorial gathering will take place in 2018. The Arms Control Association family, including the many staffers and interns who had the pleasure to work with him, appreciate his many contributions to a more peaceful and secure world.

William H. Kincade, who served as executive director of the Arms Control Association from 1977 through 1984, passed away on October 9 in Portland, Oregon. He was 78.

The Risk of ‘Blundering’ Into Nuclear War: Lessons From the Cuban Missile Crisis

December 2017
By William Perry

I was not in the government at the start of the Cuban missile crisis, but I was considered, rightly or wrongly, to be an expert on Soviet missiles. I was called to be part of a small team to analyze intelligence data that was coming in every day and prepare a report to go on President Kennedy’s desk first thing in the mornings to guide him in his decisions and actions.

So, I was right in the middle of it and knew exactly what was going on. I believed, then, that every day that I went in was going to be my last day on earth. That’s what I thought about the Cuban missile crisis at the time. Kennedy, after it was over, said he thought the probability of those events leading to a nuclear war was about one chance in three, one in three, which is pretty scary when the consequence at the other end of it is the end of civilization.

William PerryKennedy’s statement was optimistic because he didn’t know, when he made that statement, some things that we now know. He didn’t know at that time that the Soviets already had tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba with authorization to the commanders to use them without reference to Moscow. If Kennedy had accepted the unanimous recommendation of his Joint Chiefs of Staff, which was to invade Cuba with conventional forces, our troops would have been decimated on the beachhead, and a general nuclear war would surely have followed. We can only wonder why Kennedy did not follow the combined recommendation of his Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Had he followed it, we would have surely had a nuclear war. He did not know that the Soviets had submarines escorting the ships that were carrying missiles to Cuba, that those submarines had nuclear torpedoes and that one of our destroyers, not knowing that either, was dropping depth charges at a submarine, and that the skipper of the submarine was preparing to launch a nuclear torpedo. That, in itself, would have brought about a nuclear war. The Soviets had a policy then that it took two out of three [commanders] on the submarine to decide to launch a nuclear torpedo, and the other two commanders had voted against it. It was that close—one person different would have changed that decision.

We were amazingly close to a civilization-ending nuclear war in Cuba, even closer than I realized at the time because I didn’t know some of those things. That’s a very scary situation.
But I want to emphasize one very important point. Neither Kennedy nor [Nikita] Khrushchev wanted a nuclear war. In spite of that, we almost blundered [into] one.

The danger today, I think, is the same. It’s not the danger of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launching an attack, the United States launching an attack, or Russian President Vladimir Putin launching an attack. It’s a danger that we will blunder into a nuclear war. That was a very, very real danger in the Cold War.

In the Cold War, we always thought that the danger was that the Soviet Union was going to conduct a surprise attack, as a bolt out of the blue; and all of our policies, all of our weapons programs, and so on were based on responding to that. But that was never the threat. The threat was always that we would blunder into a nuclear war, and that threat was almost realized in the Cuban missile crisis.

William Perry was U.S. secretary of defense from February 1994 to January 1997. Early in his career, he worked on classified government efforts to assess Soviet missiles. In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis, he was part of a small group of analysts gathered to help inform President John F. Kennedy during that perilous Cold War period. This is adapted from his remarks at a Ploughshares Fund conference October 26 in Washington.



I was not in the government at the start of the Cuban missile crisis, but I was considered, rightly or wrongly, to be an expert on Soviet missiles.

Possible Challenges to Space Security and Sustainability

December 2017
By Thomas Markram

On October 10, the international community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty. This landmark instrument codified the foundation of outer space law and established the shared objective of maintaining space as a realm of peace. It was central in ensuring that the Cold War arms race did not extend beyond the earth’s surface. Yet, it did not aim to comprehensively solve all possible challenges to outer space security. Concerns relating to the weaponization of space were left for future deliberations.

The increasing accessibility and use of outer space has brought undeniable benefits. Our dependence on outer space affects all sectors, from the economy to the military. Outer space is a fragile environment, however, and the actions taken by one actor can impact all others. Preventing any conflict from extending into outer space thus remains an urgent imperative, even as growing military dependence on outer space is increasing its strategic significance and exposing the inherent vulnerability of space-based assets.

Thomas Markram (Photo credit: United Nations)The preservation of outer space for peaceful purposes has been regarded as an essential step necessary for the United Nations to accomplish its ultimate objectives in the field of disarmament since UN General Assembly Resolution 1148 in 1957 [calling for measures to “ensure that the sending of objects through space shall be exclusively for peaceful and scientific purposes”]. Yet despite the subsequent conclusion of five international treaties governing activities in outer space, some aspects of the legal regime meant to prevent outer space from becoming a realm of conflict remain largely underdeveloped. For instance, there appears no dispute that the right to self-defense is applicable to activities in outer space. Yet, there remains a lack of common understanding of how this right could be applied in conformity with international law and without resulting in severe and long-lasting consequences.

Although we have yet to witness any active arms race in outer space, many concepts for the placement of disruptive and destructive counter-space capabilities have been studied, developed, and tested. Anti-ballistic missile systems deployed today could function as anti-satellite weapons. Secretary-General António Guterres has described our world as one of new and old conflicts woven in a complex web. At the same time, we live in an era of exponential acceleration in the rate of scientific and technological development. These trends point to an increase in potential for the rapid emergence of new military capabilities to finally tip the balance and result in the uncontrolled expansion of armed conflict into outer space. Such an outcome could have unimaginable consequences.

It is encouraging that the United Nations appears to be experiencing a renaissance in its efforts to increase security and sustainability in outer space and to prevent an arms race. Since 2013, the General Assembly has encouraged and subsequently called on all member-states to review and implement the proposals of the group of governmental experts on transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) in outer space activities. Entities within the UN system have established coordination mechanisms to assist with implementation. There appears to be a high level of interest in pursuing deliberations on TCBMs in the UN Disarmament Commission on the basis of a joint proposal by China, the Russian Federation, and the United States. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is working to finalize next guidelines on the long-term sustainability of outer space, a number of which address international security matters and TCBMs.

Finally, China and Russia have proposed the establishment of a new expert group to further the elaboration of legally binding measures to prevent an arms race in outer space. If approved by the General Assembly, this group could help narrow differences on how
the outer space legal regime could be further codified and developed, pending the end of the stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament.

Thomas Markram is director and deputy to the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. This is adapted from his remarks October 12 in New York to the UN General Assembly First Committee.


On October 10, the international community commemorated the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty. This landmark instrument codified the foundation of outer space law and established the shared objective of maintaining space as a realm of peace.

Pope Condemns Having Nuclear Weapons

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport in Rome

Pope Francis firmly condemned the possession of nuclear weapons for the first time at a Vatican conference on disarmament, a significant move that extends the Roman Catholic Church’s position on the immorality of nuclear weapons.

The Holy See’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development hosted the conference Nov. 10-11 to discuss the steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. Cardinal Peter Turkson, the head of the dicastery, warned of the “increasing drumbeat of a possible nuclear conflagration” and said that a candid conversation is urgently needed on how to move toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Pope Francis is greeted by participants at a conference on nuclear disarmament on November 10 at the Vatican.   (Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano/Vatican)The pope’s comments reflect a notable shift on the issue of possession of nuclear weapons. Although the Roman Catholic Church has consistently advocated for the abolition of nuclear weapons, it has accepted nuclear deterrence on a limited basis. The 1963 papal encyclical “Pacem in Terris” stated that minimum nuclear capability to deter a nuclear attack is acceptable as an interim ethic until disarmament is achieved. Pope John Paul II reiterated this in 1982, noting that nuclear deterrence is morally acceptable as a “step on the way toward a progressive disarmament.”

Under Pope Francis, however, the church began to revisit its position on the morality of deterrence and, in a 2014 study document, said that the “use of nuclear weapons is absolutely prohibited.” At the December 2014 conference in Vienna on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said that “reliance on a strategy of nuclear deterrence has created a less secure world,” and he called for all countries to review whether deterrence actually provides a “stable basis for peace.” (See ACT, January/February 2015.)

Pope Francis’s Nov. 10 statement at the Vatican conference directly addresses the question of possession of nuclear weapons. “If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned,” he said.

Pope Francis also noted both the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and the “false sense of security” created by nuclear weapons as reasons for condemning possession. This shift was motivated by several additional factors he cited, including the high cost of nuclear weapons and the failure to make progress on disarmament.

Gerard Powers, director of Catholic peacebuilding studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said that the conference clearly indicated that the “moral imperative of nuclear disarmament” is at the center of the Roman Catholic Church’s agenda for international peace. The Kroc Institute was one of the sponsors of the conference.

Nuclear Ban Treaty

Pope Francis said that nuclear disarmament is an achievable goal. “Progress that is both effective and inclusive can achieve the utopia” of a world free of nuclear weapons, “contrary to the criticism of those who consider idealistic any process of dismantling arsenals,” he said.

Pope Francis on Nuclear Weapons

“[T]he escalation of the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations. As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects, and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place.

Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned. For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race…. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security.”

He and many other speakers at the conference called attention to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in July 2017 by 122 non-nuclear-armed states, and noted its importance in prohibiting nuclear weapons and building the norm against possession. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

The pope described the express prohibition in the treaty as filling a “significant judicial lacuna,” similar to the manner in which chemical weapons, biological weapons, and landmines are prohibited by international treaty.

The Holy See participated in the treaty negotiations and was the first state to deposit its ratification of the ban. (See ACT, October 2017.) A group of Nobel Laureates participating in the conference, including representatives from the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, issued a statement at the conference that expressed gratitude to the pope for his position and applauded his efforts to promote nuclear disarmament.

Many speakers at the conference called attention to the significance of the ban treaty while noting that additional work is necessary to advance disarmament. Thomas Hajnoczi, who headed Austria’s delegation during the treaty negotiation, said his country will “actively seek dialogue” with nuclear-armed states and non-nuclear-weapon states in order to “broaden the common basis for taking joint further steps” toward a nuclear weapons-free world.

Rose Gottemoeller, deputy secretary-general of NATO, also called for all states to do more to advance toward that goal but in a way that does not “jeopardize international peace and security.” The member countries of the military alliance, which rely on nuclear deterrence provided by the French, UK, and U.S. nuclear arsenals, have rejected the prohibition treaty as dangerous. Other nuclear-armed states, including Russia and China, also do not support the treaty.

Gottemoeller pushed back against criticism that there has been no progress on disarmament. While emphasizing that the current number of U.S. nuclear weapons remains too high and more must be done to reduce the arsenal, she said that the United States and Russia have “reduced reliance on nuclear weapons in our nuclear strategies.”

Nuclear Weapons Costs

The cost of maintaining nuclear weapons and investing in new delivery systems was a key criticism voiced by many conference participants. Pope Francis stated that the high cost of nuclear weapons “represents a considerable expense for nations” at the expense of “real priorities facing the human family.”

The United States, for instance, is embarking on costly upgrades to its nuclear arsenal. When combined with sustainment costs, U.S. nuclear forces will cost more than $1.5 trillion over the next 30 years.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that the church cannot “approve a debilitating arms race” and renewed a 1967 proposal by Pope Paul VI that called for all states to set aside a portion of military budgets for a fund that would serve impoverished people worldwide.

Further, several speakers noted that nuclear modernization programs are sparking a new arms race. Izumi Nakamitsu, UN undersecretary-general for disarmament affairs, warned that the “modernization campaigns in every single nuclear-armed state are provoking a qualitative, if not quantitative, arms race.”

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said that nuclear powers are on the “cusp of modernization programs that will dramatically intensify the trajectory toward proliferation and ultimately confrontation” and emphasized that the Roman Catholic Church should speak with “prophetic power and certitude” to the nuclear powers.


Pope Francis challenges the concept of nuclear deterrence.

Trump Seeks More Pressure on North Korea

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump during a trip to Asia publicly urged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “come to the table” to negotiate over the country’s nuclear program, as he pressed regional leaders to increase economic pressure on the Pyongyang regime.

Although his rhetoric toward North Korea during the trip was less aggressive than recent statements and tweets, Trump still did not lay out a strategy for engagement and continued to send mixed signals about what the United States wants to see from North Korea before engaging in talks. Trump’s trip included stops in Japan, South Korea, and China, with the North Korea challenge a key agenda item in his talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9.   (Photo credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a Nov. 6 press conference with Trump that Japan would adopt additional sanctions measures on North Korea. “Now is not the time for dialogue but for applying the maximum level of pressure on North Korea,” he said.

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in said on Nov. 7 that he and Trump affirmed their “current strategy, which is to maximize pressure and sanctions on North Korea until it gives up nuclear weapons” and comes to the table for dialogue “on its own.” He said that the goals must be to freeze and “ultimately dismantle” North Korea’s nuclear weapons and that the timing is not right to discuss replacing the 1953 armistice with a “permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Despite having affirmed a shared strategy toward addressing North Korea’s nuclear program, Moon’s comments are at odds with statements by U.S. officials, who have discounted the value of purusing a freeze deal with North Korea. Trump said at the same briefing that all nations must “cease trade and business entirely with North Korea” and fully implement UN Security Council resolutions.

When pressed on his diplomatic strategy, Trump said in Seoul, “[W]e’re making a lot of progress,” but provided no details, stating that he does not like to talk about whether he sees a diplomatic outcome to avert threatened U.S. military action.

Still, after earlier threats to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, Trump’s comments appeared aimed at easing regional alarm that he was careening toward a potentially nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula that could extend to Japan and beyond, given the range of North Korea’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. North Korea also has chemical weapons and is thought to have biological weapons capabilities.

No additional detail was provided during Trump’s stop in China, which the U.S. administration sees as the country most able to influence North Korea’s leadership. In a Nov. 9 press statement, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the United States and China are committed to “working toward a solution through dialogue and negotiation” to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump said he and Xi would not “replicate failed approaches of the past” that unsuccessfully sought denuclearization. Even so, Trump’s remarks during his Asia trip demonstrate that his policy remains similar to that of U.S. President Barack Obama, namely to ratchet up pressure and insist that North Korea take steps toward denuclearization as a precondition for beginning negotiations. But although Obama declared a policy of “strategic patience” even as North Korea advanced production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, Trump has said that the clock is running out to stop North Korea before it produces reliable, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles able to strike major U.S. cities.

Trump has progressively increased pressure on North Korea through unilateral U.S. actions, most recently by designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism on Nov. 20, and by supporting more aggressive UN Security Council measures. Along with seeking to curtail North Korea’s key trade relations, the United States is pressing countries such as Kuwait and Qatar to stop using North Korean construction laborers, whose employment provides a major source of foreign currency for the isolated North Korean government.

Unlike during his stops in Seoul and Tokyo, Trump in Beijing did not single out China to better enforce UN Security Council sanctions, but said in Nov. 9 remarks with Xi that Washington and Beijing were in agreement to “increase economic pressure until North Korea abandons its reckless and dangerous path.”

Trump and Xi did not take questions from the press. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that there is “no disagreement” between the leaders on the goal of negotiations with North Korea but the two countries favor different tactics.

China supports a resumption of the so-called six-party talks, which took place from 2003 to 2009, and has proposed that North Korea freeze nuclear and missile testing in return for a suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

Shortly after Trump’s visit, China announced Nov. 15 that it was sending a high-level envoy to Pyongyang, likely to push for a resumption of talks. The four-day visit was the first to North Korea's capital by a high-level Chinese envoy in two years.

According to the official announcement from Beijing, Song Tao, the head of government’s external affairs department, would inform North Korea about the outcome of the Communist Party Congress, which took place in October and reappointed Xi Jinping to a second term as president. Experts interpreted the wording of the announcement to mean that Song likely also would urge North Korea to engage in negotiations over its nuclear program.

Trump also focused on the U.S. security alliances with South Korea and Japan during visits and said that Washington stands ready to “defend itself and its allies using the full range of our unmatched military capabilities.”

Moon said on Nov. 7 that he and Trump agreed to expand the rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets in and around the Korean peninsula and to discuss South Korea’s acquisition and development of military reconnaissance assets.

Moon also confirmed that Seoul and Washington reached a final agreement to eliminate the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. Trump had already agreed in principle to lift the limit in September after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. (See ACT, October 2017.)


China, South Korea Drop THAAD Dispute

China and South Korea set aside what had been a disruptive dispute since South Korea deployed a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery earlier this year.

The Chinese and South Korean foreign ministries released a joint statement Oct. 31 on restoring normal diplomatic relations. The two countries said they would resume all cooperation and trade “expeditiously” and cooperate on reaching a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

China had encouraged an informal boycott against South Korean companies this year, pushing South Korean President Moon Jae-in closer to the United States. It is unclear what prompted China’s sudden shift because South Korea offered no significant concessions on the THAAD dispute or change in policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping may have decided that economic sanctions were failing to erode the U.S.-South Korean alliance and may have seen an opportunity to exploit the growing discomfort among many South Koreans with what they perceive as U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach toward North Korea.

China maintains its opposition to the THAAD deployment, but acknowledged South Korea’s reassurances that the missile defense system is not aimed at China and that it would not deploy more THAAD batteries, participate in a U.S.-led strategic missile defense system, or form a NATO-like U.S.-Japanese-South Korean military alliance.

China’s economic actions hurt elements of South Korea’s economy, particularly the tourism sector. The number of visiting Chinese tourists fell by half in the first nine months of this year, which cost the economy $6.5 billion in lost revenue based on the average spending of Chinese visitors in 2016, according to data from the Korea Tourism Organization cited by Reuters. China also restricted imports of South Korean cosmetics, barred performances by K-pop musical groups, and ramped up criticism in official media of the South Korean government.

Moon and Xi met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 11, where they reiterated the agreement to quickly normalize bilateral relations and agreed to hold further talks on managing the North Korean crisis, according to South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan.—MACLYN SENEAR

While seeking greater sanctions pain, U.S. is vague on engagement strategy.

Senate Examines Launch Authority

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

Against the backdrop of bipartisan concern about President Donald Trump’s temperament and bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month examined the president’s sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

Despite the worries expressed by some committee members, the three witnesses selected to testify at the hearing argued that the current command and control system already includes layers of safeguards and reviews and urged Congress to procced with caution in weighing changes to the procedures. The hearing was the first time a congressional committee has met to discuss the subject of nuclear weapons launch authority since 1976.

Brian McKeon, former acting undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee November 14 on presidential authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.  (Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 ensured that nuclear weapons would be under civilian rather than military control. As the Cold War progressed, decisions about the use of nuclear weapons became the unique responsibility of the president. This was due in part to the fact that a “bolt from the blue” Soviet nuclear attack could rain thousands of warheads on the United States in as little as 30 minutes. Deterring such a threat and responding to an attack was thought to require the capability to rapidly launch U.S. weapons before Soviet warheads detonated, leaving little time for the president to consult with his advisers or Congress.

The current U.S. nuclear launch system is set up so that “the president has the sole authority to give that order, whether we are responding to a nuclear attack or not,” committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at the Nov. 14 hearing. “Once that order has been given and verified, there is no way to revoke it.”

Trump and several of his top advisers have made comments alluding to the use of military force or a preventative strike against North Korea’s missile capabilities, including the president’s warning that continued North Korean threats would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said questions about a president’s exceptional authority are more urgent in light of Trump’s words and personality. “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, and has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. security interests,” he said. “So let’s just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment, of this discussion we’re having.”

These concerns have prompted some members of Congress to back legislation that would constrain Trump’s ability to use nuclear weapons and attack North Korea. For example, four days after Trump’s inauguration, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would prohibit the president from launching nuclear weapons without first having Congress expressly authorize such a strike. (See ACT, March 2017.)

“Absent a nuclear attack upon the United States or our allies, no one human being should have the power to unilaterally unleash the most destructive forces ever devised by humankind,” Markey said at the hearing.

But the witnesses sought to calm fears that the president could start a nuclear war on a whim and counseled against legislating drastic changes to the current system. Retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, a former head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the committee “that the United States military doesn’t blindly follow orders. A presidential order to employ U.S. nuclear weapons must be legal.”

“The basic legal principles of military necessity, distinction, and proportionality apply to nuclear weapons just as they do to every other weapon,” he added.

The current commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, echoed similar sentiments at an international security forum in Canada on Nov. 18. But he added that if the president gave an illegal order, the military would “come up with” legal alternatives for the president to consider “to respond to whatever the situation is.”

Brian McKeon, who was acting undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration, told the committee that the president would not make a decision to use nuclear weapons “by himself.” The system is designed “to ensure that the president consults with the National Security Council [NSC] and his other senior civilian and military advisers,” he said.

McKeon added that if the president is considering initiating a war against another nuclear-armed state that did not pose an imminent threat, such an action would require authorization by Congress. Asked by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) how he would define an imminent threat, McKeon said that it would depend on the circumstances. The president does have authority to act on his own.

While several senators engaged the witnesses on questions of legality, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) sought to remind his colleagues, as well as North Korea, that it would be the president and the president alone who would make a decision about the use of nuclear weapons.

“The discussion we’re having is not so much practical as academic,” he said. “This talk about lawyers…is not a discussion that is going to take place in the heat of battle in today’s world.”

Other senators said their biggest concern was that Trump might give a nuclear use order that was legal but nevertheless unnecessary or unwise. “I would like to be able to tell my constituents” and “the American people, [that] we have a system in place that prevents an impulsive and irrational decision to use nuclear weapons,” said ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “Unfortunately, I cannot make that assurance today.”

“I don't think that we should be trusting the generals to be a check on the president,” said Markey.

Peter Feaver, who served on the NSC staff under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told the committee that “the time is ripe for a fresh look” at the nuclear command and control system. “Many possible improvements…are worth considering,” such as “requiring certifications by additional cabinet officials of launch orders under certain circumstances,” said Feaver, who is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University.

Asked by Udall if it would “make sense to require at least one other person sign off on a decision to launch a first strike,” all three witnesses said they opposed such a change.

Trump’s threats spark first such hearing on president’s nuclear launch power in 40 years.


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