"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
December 2017
Edition Date: 
Friday, December 1, 2017
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Iran’s Leader Sets Missile Range Limit

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country will not develop ballistic missiles with a range exceeding 2,000 kilometers, reinforcing prior statements by officials and military leaders about missile range limitations.

Although that constraint leaves the United States out of range, most of the Middle East, including regional U.S. military facilities and Israel, are within the 2,000-kilometer range. Further, there was no indication that Khamenei’s order, citied by Iranian officials, precludes Iran from continuing to develop satellite launch rockets, a capability that would inform any attempt to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A military truck carries a Qadr medium-range ballistic missile past a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a military parade in Tehran September 22, 2015. One version of that missile has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, according to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)Iranian government officials have said repeatedly that Iran would abide by such a limit voluntarily and focus on improving accuracy. A statement by the supreme leader in this regard carries greater political significance. Iran’s recent ballistic missile tests appear to confirm that Tehran is concentrating on accuracy rather than trying to extend the range of its systems.

A June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range. The report did mention that Iran’s space launch vehicles could provide a pathway to longer-range ballistic missiles, but many experts note that there are significant technological differences between space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.

Iran’s ballistic missiles are not covered by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal, called on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile testing on systems “designed to be capable” of delivering nuclear weapons.

U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the nuclear deal for failing to include ballistic missiles and, in an Iran policy speech on Oct. 13, directed his administration to work with Congress to “fix” what he described as “flaws” in the agreement, including the issue of ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2017.)

Washington’s EU partners in the nuclear agreement—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—said in a statement responding to Trump’s speech that they are willing to work on ballistic missile restrictions outside of the deal.

Khamenei, however, said that Iran’s ballistic missiles are non-negotiable and “not to be bargained for.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani similarly emphasized that Iran’s ballistic missiles are necessary for state security and that production of ballistic missiles is not a violation of international law.

Although Resolution 2231 only “called” on Iran to refrain from ballistic missile activities, including development and testing, there is a clear prohibition on transfers or exports of ballistic missiles and related technologies without advance approval from the UN Security Council. A similar process is required for a range of armaments.

Yet, a U.S. statement tying a missile fired on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Iran raises concerns that Iran may have violated the restriction prohibiting transfers. The Saudi military intercepted a missile from Yemen targeted at Riyadh’s international airport on Nov. 4.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigan, head of U.S. Air Force Central Command in Qatar, said on Nov. 10 that there have been Iranian markings on missiles used by the Houthis against Saudi and Saudi-backed forces in the war in Yemen. He said the markings “connect the dots to Iran.” Other countries, including Saudi Arabia and France, also linked the missile to Iran in earlier statements.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in Iran on Nov. 5 that accusations that the missile came from Iran are “baseless” and contended that Yemen can produce its own ballistic missiles.

Iran allegedly has transferred missile components in violation of Resolution 2231, according to a June report from the UN secretary-general assessing implementation of the resolution. The report referenced two cases in which missile components were seized in Ukraine. Additionally, the report noted letters from authorities in Yemen and the United Arab Emirates alleging that arms of Iranian origin were seized in Yemen.

IAEA Points to Iran’s Compliance

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program, presenting findings that point toward Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said on Nov. 14 that his “assessment of the current situation” is that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments. Speaking at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Amano said that the IAEA is “confident” that it can “detect diversion of nuclear material or misuse of nuclear facilities and any nuclear activities and materials that are not included in Iran’s declaration in a timely manner.”

In the Nov. 13 report, the IAEA noted that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 96.7 kilograms, well below the 300-kilogram limit, and its stockpile of heavy water was 114.4 metric tons, below the limit of 130 metric tons. Further, Iran was abiding by the limitations on operating centrifuges, which caps Iran’s use of centrifuges for enriching uranium to 5,060 IR-1 machines, according to the report.       

In a new development, Iran provided the IAEA in an Oct. 29 letter with preliminary design information for a light-water critical reactor, which it proposes to build in the “near future” for research purposes, consistent with the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Annex I of the accord notes that Iran will “rely on light water for its future nuclear power and research reactors,” and Annex III says that the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) “will facilitate Iran’s acquisition of light water research and power reactors.”

The report is the first since U.S. President Donald Trump withheld a certification to Congress on the nuclear deal. Although Trump did not do so on the grounds that Iran was violating its commitments, he said that Iran had “intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”

Amano, however, said that inspectors have had access to all the necessary sites and noted that inspectors are now spending 3,000 workdays a year on the ground, twice the number in 2013.

Amano also sought to dispel doubt over the agency’s authority to monitor Iran’s compliance with the accord’s Section T, which prohibits Iran from undertaking activities that “could contribute to the design and development” of a nuclear device, including experiments with certain types of explosives.

That provision includes no specific reference to IAEA verification, and Russia has interpreted that to mean the Vienna-based agency has no authority over it. Western powers disagree with Russia. Amano in September sought clarification from the P5+1 on the IAEA’s role in implementing Section T. U.S. Ambassador the United Nations Nikki Haley in September accused Russia of trying to use the issue to “shield” Iran from inspections.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran is focusing on accuracy gains rather than extending range.

CBO: Nuclear Arsenal to Cost $1.2 Trillion

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in a new report highlights the rising cost of current plans to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces, warns about the many challenges facing these plans, and outlines several options to manage the arsenal that could save scores of billions of dollars.

The report, the most authoritative cost assessment to date, comes as the Trump administration’s ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), due to be completed by the end of the year, appears poised to call for new types of nuclear weapons and for increasing their role in U.S. defense policy. The report is also likely to fuel an ongoing debate in Congress about how much the United States can afford to spend on nuclear weapons.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks with Air Force Captain Kevin O'Neill, 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron maintenance operations officer, beside a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile near Lansford, N.D., on October 27.  (Photo credit: J.T. Armstrong/ U.S. Air Force)The CBO estimates that the nuclear weapons spending plans President Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. This amounts to about 6 percent of all spending on national defense anticipated for that period, as of President Barack Obama’s final budget request to Congress in February 2016. When the effects of inflation are included, the 30-year cost would approach $1.7 trillion, according to a projection by the Arms Control Association.

These figures are significantly higher than previously reported estimates of roughly $1 trillion.

The CBO estimate captures spending on the triad of nuclear delivery systems and command and control systems at the Defense Department and on nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure at the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Nearly every element of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is slated to be upgraded over the next 20 years. Most of these efforts are in the early stages, and a few others have yet to begin.

It remains to be seen whether the NPR will recommend changes to the current arsenal and upgrade plans. (See ACT, July/August 2017.) Trump has said that he favors unspecified actions to “strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities, which could lead to a greater increase in spending than projected by the CBO.

The Guardian newspaper reported on Oct. 29 that the administration is considering several options to bolster the arsenal, including a plan for lower-yield warheads for U.S. ballistic missiles, a re-nuclearization of the Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile, and a reduction in the amount of time it would take to resume nuclear explosive testing.

If the NPR fails to alter the current spending trajectory or accelerates or expands on it, spending on nuclear weapons could threaten money needed for other national security programs, including non-nuclear military spending, which Trump has pledged to increase.

“At a time when modernization of other conventional systems is planned and defense spending is likely to be constrained by long-term fiscal pressures, nuclear modernization will compete for funding with other defense priorities,” the CBO report states.

In addition to budgetary challenges, the report notes that the modernization program will face policy, diplomatic, programmatic, and management challenges.

The October report, titled “Approaches for Managing the Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046,” is the latest in a series of CBO reports on the cost of U.S. nuclear forces. (See ACT, March 2017.) The CBO prepared the 30-year study in response to a request from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Hill Debates Spending Plans

Congress has largely backed the effort to rebuild the arsenal. In an op-ed published on Nov. 8 in Defense News, Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, described the planned increase in nuclear weapons spending as “modest” and “temporary.” They added that it “is needed following decades of underinvestment in the nuclear mission.”

But a vocal group of mostly Democratic lawmakers continue to question the need and affordability. “Congress still doesn’t seem to have any answers as to how we will pay for this effort, or what the trade-offs with other national security efforts will be if we maintain an arsenal of over 4,000 nuclear weapons and expand our capacity to produce more,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an Oct. 31 statement on the CBO report.

Similarly, a group of 14 Democratic senators on Nov. 29 sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry arguing that the CBO report “makes clear, at a minimum, that the existing plan is unaffordable and needs revision.”

Breaking Down the Cost

Of the $1.2 trillion that the CBO projects will be spent on nuclear forces, $399 billion would be allocated for acquiring new missiles, bombers, and submarines and conducting nuclear warhead life-extension programs. The remaining $843 billion would fund sustainment of the current generation of forces and new forces once they entered service.

The projection includes the full cost of the long-range bomber leg of the triad, which has nuclear and non-nuclear missions, and an estimate of additional costs based on historical cost growth.

Annual costs are slated to peak at about $50 billion during the late 2020s and early 2030s. During this period, nuclear weapons would consume about 8 percent of total national defense spending and 15 percent of the Defense Department’s acquisition costs.

Options to Reduce Costs

The CBO report evaluates nine alternatives to the current sustainment and upgrade program that, if pursued, would reduce nuclear weapons spending. The report also measures the capability of the alternatives relative to that of the current program across four metrics: the number of warheads, crisis management, limited nuclear strikes, and large-scale nuclear exchanges.

As part of an option that would delay modernization, the CBO evaluated the cost savings from delaying the existing plan to build a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and instead refurbishing the existing Minuteman III ICBM. The CBO projects this approach would save $37 billion over the next 20 years, when modernization costs are slated to be at their highest, and $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.

The Air Force argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the Minuteman III is aging into obsolescence and losing its capability to penetrate adversary missile defenses. (See ACT, March 2017.)

Another option would forgo the current plan to buy a new fleet of nuclear air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). The CBO projects that this would produce a 30-year savings of roughly $30 billion. According to the report, eliminating ALCMs would not impact the number of deployed, on alert, or survivable warheads, but would “would diminish the capability of U.S. nuclear forces, particularly for limited nuclear strikes.”

The CBO also examined options that would reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal from a triad of delivery systems to a dyad. For example, eliminating the ICBM leg would save between $120 billion and $149 billion over 30 years. The CBO notes that such a step would reduce the capability of U.S. nuclear forces in the event of a large-scale nuclear exchange with Russia.

Nuclear spending may threaten funding needed for non-nuclear defense programs.

Hill Wants Development of Banned Missile

December 2017
By Kingston Reif

Lawmakers voted in November to require the Defense Department to establish a program to begin development of a new missile system that if tested would violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis briefs the press at the NATO headquarters in Brussels November 9, after discussing with allies issues including Russia's alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  (Photo credit: Jette Carr/ U.S. Air Force)The bill authorizes $58 million for a conventional, road-mobile, ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range prohibited by the treaty, as well as other offensive and defensive capabilities to counter Russia’s alleged deployment of a GLCM in violation of the treaty. The measure also expresses the sense of Congress that the United States is entitled to suspend its implementation of the treaty so long as Russia remains in material breach. Furthermore, it requires a report outlining possible sanctions against individuals in Russia deemed complicit in the violation.

The policy provisions are part of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act and come amid reports that the Pentagon has already begun preliminary research on the new missile.

The final compromise version of the bill, passed Nov. 14 by the House and Nov. 16 by the Senate, establishes spending ceilings and legal guidelines for Pentagon programs and activities conducted by the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Since 2014, Washington has accused Moscow of violating its commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM having a range prohibited under the INF Treaty. In the past year, the Pentagon has alleged that Russia is fielding a noncompliant system. Moscow has denied both charges.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty does not prohibit activities related to research and development of this category of weapons.

The original House and Senate versions of the authorization bill called for R&D programs on a new GLCM. (See ACT, October 2017.) The House bill required development of a conventionally armed missile, whereas the Senate bill would authorize a nuclear-capable version.

Russian Colonel Aleksey Gridnev, Russian Federation team chief, receives a welcome gift May 15 from U.S. Air Force Colonel John Klein, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The visit is part of the Open Skies Treaty missions.  (Photo credit: Louis Briscese/U.S. Air Force)In statements during the summer, the Trump administration objected to the GLCM language, stating that it “unhelpfully ties the administration to a specific missile system, which would limit potential military response options.” Nevertheless, The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 16, citing U.S. officials, that the Pentagon started research on the missile given the likelihood that it would soon be required by law.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefed NATO defense ministers on the administration’s plans at a Nov. 9 meeting in Brussels. Mattis told reporters afterward that Washington is focused on trying to bring Russia back into compliance and does not intend to abandon the pact.

A U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the idea behind beginning the GLCM research is “to send a message to the Russians that they will pay a military price” for violation of this treaty. “We are posturing ourselves to live in a post-INF [Treaty] world…if that is the world the Russians want,” the official added.

If the United States ever decides to deploy the new missiles, development would likely take years and cost several billion dollars.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported on Nov. 16 that the Trump administration has called for another meeting of the Special Verification Commission, the treaty’s dispute resolution forum. The commission last met a year ago without progress. (See ACT, December 2016.)

The authorization bill would provide $626 billion for national defense programs and $66 billion for the overseas contingency operations account, which is nominally used to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Syria but also funds other defense programs. This spending level exceeds the spending cap for fiscal year 2018, imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, by roughly $77 billion and the administration’s budget request by $23 billion. The bill does not include an additional $8 billion for defense activities requested by the administration.

The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution that covers most programs at the fiscal year 2017 appropriated level through early December. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have yet to agree on top-line spending levels for the current fiscal year.

Neither the House nor Senate appropriations committee-approved versions of the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill include funding for a new GLCM.

Missile Defense Buildup Urged

The final authorization bill supports the Trump administration’s early moves to significantly expand U.S. ballistic missile defenses to counter North Korea’s advancing missile capabilities.

The bill authorizes $10.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $2.6 billion above the administration’s initial request. In total, the bill adds $4.4 billion above the request for missile defense and related programs.

The legislation provides all of the extra $4 billion for missile defense programs requested by the administration in a Nov. 6 amendment to its fiscal year 2018 budget request (see page 40). The supplemental request follows congressional approval in October for the transfer of $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Army operations and maintenance funds to missile defense programs. (See ACT, November 2017.)

The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, designed to protect the United States against a limited intercontinental ballistic missile attack from North Korea or Iran, would receive $1.3 billion in the bill, an increase of $498 million above the requested level of $828 million. This includes $88 million to begin increasing the number of ground-based, long-range missile defense interceptors by up to 20 beyond the currently deployed 44.

In addition, the bill requires the Pentagon to develop a plan to increase the number of interceptors to 104 and authorizes additional money for missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. It also supports the rapid acquisition of a boost-phase missile defense capability and a space-based interceptor layer.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year.

CTBTO Funds Curtailed

The authorization bill limits funding for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and declares that UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed in September 2016, does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The explanatory statement accompanying the bill states that “it is wholly inappropriate for U.S. funds to support activities of the [CTBTO] that include advocating for ratification of the treaty or otherwise preparing for the treaty’s possible entry into force.”

The CTBTO is the intergovernmental organization that promotes the CTBT, which has yet to enter into force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System to deter and detect nuclear test explosions. Resolution 2310 urges eight countries, whose ratification is needed for the treaty to enter into force, to ratify the CTBT “without further delay” and calls on all states to refrain from conducting nuclear tests, emphasizing that current testing moratoria contribute to “international peace and stability.” (See ACT, October 2016.)

The legislation also imposes conditions on funding to upgrade U.S. digital imaging systems pursuant to implementation of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits each of the agreement’s 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

The United States has yet to transition to the use of the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia, but is requesting funding to do so in the near future.

The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions.

Congress completes the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization act.

U.S. Signals Shift at UN First Committee

December 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

When it came to voting at the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Trump administration may have said something by saying nothing.

Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, addresses the UN First Committee on November 2 in New York. (Photo credit: United Nations)The U.S. delegation to the First Committee session, which drew extra attention due to the shift in U.S. leadership, abstained from two resolutions that the United States had backed last year, one supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the other welcoming the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

On others, the delegation followed many of the positions taken by the Obama administration. The United States co-sponsored a resolution tying together disarmament and international security introduced by Japan, which it had voted for in the past, and continued to express opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Following the ATT resolution vote, Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), said that although the United States “shares the aims” of ATT states-parties, it could not vote in favor because it is undertaking a review of “various” international agreements. The United States did not make a statement after its abstention on the CTBT resolution. Wood said in a Nov. 17 email to Arms Control Today that the United States could not take a position on that resolution due to the ongoing review. The United States was also silent on the CTBT at a September conference on its entry into force. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The United States supported all other treaty resolutions it had voted for in past years, including one calling for a ban on fissile material production and one in support of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It continued to abstain from two other resolutions relating to treaties to which the United States is not party: the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Treaty.

This year, the United States spoke in support of funding the Biological Weapons Convention, after the resolution related to this treaty was adopted without a vote.

The United States chose to co-sponsor a controversial resolution introduced by Japan because, more than any other, it highlighted “the inseparable link between progress on disarmament and the international security environment,” Wood said in the email.

This resolution was considerably revised from the 2016 version to condition its call for prompt disarmament. The 2017 resolution eliminated several references to the elimination of nuclear arsenals and also scrapped a call to comply with steps toward disarmament agreed at previous nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences. Instead, it added several calls on all states to “ease international tension, strengthen trust between states and create the conditions that would allow for” further steps to disarmament.

The new resolution also weakened its support for achieving the entry into force of the CTBT and negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). It replaced a previous call for all Annex 2 states to adopt the CTBT with a demand for North Korea first to sign and ratify the treaty, claiming that the treaty cannot enter into force until North Korea ceases its nuclear testing. Instead of urging all states to negotiate an FMCT, as the 2016 resolution did, the 2017 resolution merely acknowledged the “widespread call” for such negotiations.

In a statement after the vote, Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament, expressed “disappointment” with the new text, adding that it “risks fracturing the widespread and long-standing agreement on certain fundamental aspects of the international community’s approach to nuclear disarmament.”

The United States and other nuclear-armed states vocally objected to all explicit or implicit references to the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in almost a dozen First Committee resolutions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States called the treaty “dangerous,” Russia described it as a “mistake,” and Pakistan said it was not inclusive.

The United States opposed references to the prohibition treaty because it is “counterproductive, divisive, and only serves to divert attention from actual effective measures,” Wood said in the email, adding the treaty “will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear warhead or improve the security of any state.” Thomas Hajnoczi, Austrian ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva and leading negotiator of the treaty, argued in a Nov. 8 email to Arms Control Today that the division at the First Committee was caused instead by nuclear-weapon states failing to comply with NPT obligations and that efforts to weaken further such commitments would “seriously harm the NPT Review Process.”

Hajnoczi said France, the UK, and the United States objected to mentioning the prohibition treaty for another reason: to prevent it from becoming customary international law. “They perceive as the best way of not being bound by the prohibition norm in the future [is] to persistently object to it whenever it is mentioned,” he said.

United States abstains on two arms control resolutions.

Trump Fills Arms Control Jobs

December 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Trump administration, after more than 10 months in power, is finally moving to fill key arms control and nonproliferation positions in the State and Defense departments.

Christopher Ford addresses the Arms Control Association annual meeting June 2. (Photo credit: Terry Atlas)President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have been criticized by lawmakers and others for the slow pace of filling top State Department positions. As of the end of November, only one of the six State Department undersecretary positions has been filled. In October, Trump sent Congress the names of two nominees for the assistant secretary of state posts responsible for arms control and nonproliferation matters, and he was said to be considering a prospective nominee for the senior position of undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

Christopher Ford, currently senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation at the National Security Council, was nominated to be assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation. Ford previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control and international security during the George W. Bush administration and as a staff member for the Senate Appropriations, Banking, and Foreign Relations committees.

Trump nominated Yleem Poblete to be assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance. Poblete worked for more than 20 years as a staff member for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including as chief of staff. Poblete was the principal staff member for proliferation concerns involving Iran, North Korea, and Syria, but she has not held any positions specific to arms control.

There were reports that Andrea Thompson, a deputy assistant to the president and national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is in line to become undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, although there has not been an announcement. Thompson, a retired Army colonel, was a career military intelligence officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The nominees will need approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and confirmation by the Senate.

Trump also put forward three nominees for Defense Department posts with arms control and nonproliferation portfolios, one of whom has been confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee. The confirmation hearing for the other two nominees was held Nov. 18.

David Trachtenberg, nominated in July to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, was confirmed Oct. 17 by a vote of 79-17. Trachtenberg expressed support at his confirmation hearing for a new long-range standoff cruise missile, which would replace the current air-launched cruise missile. Previously, Trachtenberg served as principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security policy and as acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for forces policy during the Bush administration. Earlier, he was a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee. Most recently, Trachtenberg was president and CEO of Shortwaver LLC, a national security consultancy.

John Rood, a senior vice president for international sales at defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., was chosen to become undersecretary of defense for policy. Rood served as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the Bush administration. Earlier in his career, he held various positions at the CIA, including as an analyst following foreign missile programs.

At his confirmation hearing Nov. 16, Rood highlighted the growing threat posed by North Korean and Iranian nuclear and missile activities and Iran’s support of regional terrorism. His hearing was unexpectedly contentious as committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) repeatedly pressed him on whether he would recuse himself from discussions with U.S. allies that could benefit Lockheed Martin.

Trump also nominated an assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, Randall Schriver, who also testified on Nov. 16 before the Senate committee. When asked about conducting diplomacy with North Korea, Schriver agreed that the United States must remain “entrepreneurial and creative” to find a diplomatic solution, although he noted that Pyongyang had rejected previous U.S. offers to talk. Schriver previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs and deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

The administration has been slow to act on top State Department jobs.

Boost Sought for Missile Defense

The Trump administration laid the groundwork to aggressively expand U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities when it submitted an amendment to its fiscal year 2018 defense budget request. The supplemental request, sent to Congress on Nov. 6, asked for an additional $4 billion for ballistic missile defense programs, citing the need to “counter the threat from North Korea.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hands over the gavel to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) at the start of an Armed Services conference committee meeting on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill October 25. (Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)In a press release later that day, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairmen of the armed services committees, welcomed the request, noting their committees “in fact…have already authorized many of these missile defense programs in our respective defense bills.”

The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress’s defense policy bill, authorizes increased procurement of interceptors for currently deployed missile defense systems to address near-term threats while endorsing development of proposed boost-phase and space-based intercept capabilities that could require even more substantial spending in the future.

The supplemental request follows congressional approval in October for the transfer of $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Army operations and maintenance funds to missile defense programs as the administration and Congress make expanding missile defenses a priority. (See ACT, October 2017.) The House overwhelmingly passed the compromise authorization bill on Nov. 14, and the Senate followed on Nov. 16, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.—MACLYN SENEAR

Boost Sought for Missile Defense

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

The group charged with determining the party or parties responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria was forced to discontinue its work Nov. 17 after several failed attempts to extend its mandate. The UN Security Council authorized the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in August 2015 with the support of Russia and the United States. Recently, Russia has rejected the legitimacy of the JIM’s findings, which placed some blame on Russia’s Syrian government allies, and argued the process must be substantially reformed if its investigations are to continue.

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Nonproliferation and Arms Control Department, and other officials hold a press conference in Moscow November 2 to dispute the report by UN investigators which blamed a sarin gas attack in Syria's Khan Sheikhoun on the Syrian government. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The council on Nov. 16 failed to pass a resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate. Russia vetoed the U.S.-sponsored measure, which received 11 votes in favor out of 15. The Russian-backed alternative received four votes, far short of nine required for adoption. Japan’s last-minute resolution on Nov. 17 for a 30-day extension also was vetoed by Russia. When Russia vetoed another council resolution Oct. 24, it left open the possibility of changing its position depending on the results of the outcome of the JIM’s work, which subsequently cited the Syrian government for a major sarin gas attack. (See ACT, November 2017.)

“Russia’s actions today and in recent weeks have been designed to delay, to distract, and ultimately, to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Nov. 17. The president of the Security Council in November, Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, claimed that the body will try to find a compromise to continue the JIM’s work. Even so, the disruption in the organization’s operation could lead to substantial delays for resumed investigations.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

The Trump administration continues to offer arms to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries despite an ongoing crisis within the group. On Nov. 1, the administration notified Congress of a possible $1.1 billion sale to Qatar of design and construction services for runways, hangars, and other facilities. The Persian Gulf country is home to the al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military base in the region, and was by far the largest partner in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in 2016, which included more than $20 billion for 72 F-15QA fighter aircraft and related weaponry. The deal notified last month “is vital to ensuring the [Qatar Air Force] partners can utilize the F-15QA aircraft to its full potential,” according to the U.S. administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps off a plane October 24 at the al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, after flying earlier in the day to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images)Calling in part for Doha to cut ties with Iran and terrorist organizations, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in June severed relations with and imposed a blockade on Qatar, also a member of the group. On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up further arms sales to GCC countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal dispute. But the administration has continued to notify deals to the group, including more than $15 billion for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems to Saudi Arabia in October and more than $4 billion for F-16s to Bahrain in September.

The potential sale to Qatar is the first notified this year to that country through the FMS program, indicating the administration is not taking a side in the GCC crisis when it comes to arms deals. “Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” according to the notification.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

NSG Renews Membership Debate

Participating governments of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) convened an informal meeting Nov. 16 in Vienna to renew consideration of membership criteria for countries that have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an issue that has been discussed on and off since 2011.

The NSG exempted India in 2008 from its long-standing full-scope safeguards requirement for nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states on the basis of political commitments made by India, including a reiteration of its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. In mid-2016, India filed a formal membership bid, with Pakistan submitting a separate membership request shortly thereafter. But the NSG, which operates by consensus, could not agree on a common set of criteria for membership by the two countries, which are not NPT signatories. Confidential discussions involving the 48 member-states did not produce a consensus. (See ACT, December 2016.)

The Nov. 16 meeting convened by the current NSG chair, Benno Laggner of Switzerland, was the first on the issue during the Trump administration. In response to Laggner’s request for input, U.S. representative Richard Stratford wrote Sept. 25 to say that the U.S. position is “that all relevant factors for consideration have been identified and that consensus on these factors is possible, if pursued.” Yet, diplomatic sources indicate that differences persist. China continues to insist that NPT membership must be one of the key criteria, while several other states insist that criteria should include, among other options, a binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions, a declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities, and a commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament regime by working toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

NSG Renews Membership Debate

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’

The U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) concluded its “Global Thunder 2018” strategic nuclear forces exercise, which leaders said was intended to bolster the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence and the readiness for a possible nuclear conflict. “Quite frankly, if we ever come to a strategic exchange, nobody wins,” Navy Rear Adm. Daniel Fillion, Stratcom director of global operations, said in a Nov. 17 statement. “We are not looking for a fight by any stretch of the imagination, but everybody has to understand that, if pressed, we will deliver a fight and it will be very short and we will come out victorious.”

A 509th Security Forces Squadron member controls access to a B-2 Spirit during “Global Thunder 2018” at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., November 1.  (Photo credit: Taylor Phifer/U.S Air Force)Navy Rear Adm. William Houston, deputy director for strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning, said in the same statement that “effective” deterrence efforts now rest on more than just nuclear capabilities. “There are significant challenges we face in multiple domains: integrating space, cyber and our strategic weapons into the overall strategic deterrence we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Those are key elements because any one of those areas could lead to a strategic imbalance between potential adversaries.”

Russia also held nuclear forces exercises in October, in which President Vladimir Putin participated. Putin test-fired four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles during the exercise, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Oct. 27.—TERRY ATLAS

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’


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