“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

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ABC News
January 1, 2005
December 2021
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Iran’s Nuclear Growth Puts Deal at Risk

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

As negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal resumed on Nov. 29 in Vienna, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program continued to grow, deepening concerns that Tehran is not serious about returning to compliance with the accord.

As the 2015 nuclear deal hangs by a thread, Iran continues to expand its uranium-enrichment program, according to a report issued in November by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. (Photo by ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images)According to a Nov. 17 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 is 114 kilograms, up from 85 kilograms documented in the agency’s prior report, issued Sept. 7. The stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 is 17.7 kilograms, up from 10 kilograms.

Uranium enriched to these levels poses a more significant proliferation risk because it can be enriched more quickly to the level of weapons grade, or 90 percent U-235. For that reason, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium above 3.67 percent U-235, a level suitable for nuclear power reactors, for 15 years under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran enriched uranium to 20 percent prior to the JCPOA negotiations, but only began enriching to 60 percent in April. (See ACT, May 2021.)

In January 2021, Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent in accordance with a December 2020 law that was passed by Iran to pressure the United States into lifting sanctions and returning to compliance with the JCPOA. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) The United States reimposed sanctions in May 2018 and withdrew from the deal, despite U.S. intelligence acknowledging that Iran was complying with the accord. (See ACT, June 2018.)

The Nov. 17 report also noted that Iran accelerated its installation of more advanced IR-6 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium more efficiently than the IR-1 machines that were permitted for enrichment under the JCPOA.

According to the IAEA, Iran has installed more than 170 IR-6 machines at its Fordow nuclear facility since the September report. These machines are not yet enriching uranium, but Iran is required to begin operating 1,000 IR-6 centrifuges by the end of the year in accordance with the new Iranian law. The new machines bring Iran to about 400 installed IR-6 centrifuges, of which about 210 are operating.

Iran’s continued manufacture and use of advanced centrifuges and its enrichment of uranium to 60 percent pose a more significant risk to multilateral efforts to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the JCPOA because Tehran has gained knowledge from these activities that cannot be reversed.

Biden administration officials have consistently stated that the United States seeks to return to compliance with the JCPOA alongside Iran, but only if the nonproliferation benefits of the deal can be fully restored. They appear to be using the 12-month breakout time established by the JCPOA as the metric for determining if returning to the agreement is still viable. A 12-month breakout means that if Iran were to decide to pursue nuclear weapons development, it would take a year to produce the fissile material for one bomb. Weaponization could take another two years.

Iran’s breakout time now is about one month. Reestablishing the 12-month breakout time frame becomes more challenging over time because of the knowledge Iran has gained from developing nuclear capabilities it did not have prior to the JCPOA, such as operating more efficient centrifuges and enriching uranium to 60 percent.

Iran’s nuclear advances have increased concerns in the region and among parties to the accord that Tehran is not serious about restoring the JCPOA. Talks to restore the deal resumed Nov. 29 after a five-month hiatus.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Monde on Nov. 19 that the resumed talks will enable Paris to assess Tehran’s willingness to pick up where discussions left off in June. He warned that if the “discussion is a sham, then we will have to consider the JCPOA empty.”

Israel already appears to believe that Iran no longer intends to return to the JCPOA, despite Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reiterating that restoring the deal is Iran’s goal.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Nov. 15 that Iran is buying time and has no intention of returning to the accord. His comments came after a meeting with Robert Malley, U.S. special envoy for Iran.

The previous week, Aviv Kochavi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the military is "speeding up the operational plans and readiness for dealing with Iran and the nuclear military threat."

Israel has attacked Iranian nuclear facilities in the past and assassinated nuclear scientists to slow the program. Tehran has generally responded by ratcheting up its nuclear activities. For instance, Iran cited an explosion at the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility in April as motivating its decision to enrich to 60 percent.

Similarly, the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakrizadeh in November 2020 led to the passage of
the law that mandated the acceleration of certain nuclear activities, including enrichment to 20 percent, and new
breaches of the JCPOA.

In addition to Israeli officials, Malley held talks with officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, and Jordan during a Nov. 18 trip to Saudi Arabia. He was joined by officials from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, who are participating in the negotiations with Iran.

A U.S. State Department statement on Nov. 18 said that the parties underlined that “a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA would benefit the entire Middle East.”


As negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal resumed, Iran’s uranium-enrichment program continued to grow, deepening international concerns.

Iran Continues Blocking IAEA Access

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran continues to block International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from accessing a nuclear facility and installing new surveillance equipment. Reports that Iran has resumed operations at the facility, which produces centrifuges for enriching uranium, heightens concerns about gaps in data that could complicate the agency’s monitoring efforts if the 2015 nuclear deal is restored.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian shakes hands with the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi at the foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Tehran on November 23, 2021.  (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)A Nov. 17 report from the IAEA noted that inspectors tried to access the Karaj centrifuge component production facility once in September and twice in October to install new surveillance cameras. Each time, Iran prohibited inspectors from entering the facility.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi traveled to Tehran for talks on Nov. 23 aimed at addressing the access issue. In a press conference the next day, he said the meetings were constructive but inconclusive. Grossi said that the trip, which included talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, was indispensable for exchanging views but that the agency and Iran could not resolve the access issue and were running out of time. “We must reach an agreement,” Grossi said, “the issues are very, very important.” He said no further meetings are scheduled, but he would remain in contact with Amirabdollahian.

In a Nov. 23 statement, Amirabdollahian said Iran seeks “constructive interaction” with the IAEA.

IAEA inspectors have not had access to Karaj since Iran suspended the intrusive agency inspections required by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in February. Under a special arrangement, IAEA cameras were continuing to collect data that would be handed over to the agency if the nuclear deal is restored. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Iran removed the four cameras from the Karaj facility in June, following an apparent sabotage attack on the site that Tehran blames on Israel. In an Oct. 28 letter to the agency, Iran said it had no legal obligation to allow inspectors to replace the cameras and was “investigating whether the terrorists have used the agency cameras to launch an attack on the complex.”

In the Nov. 17 report, Grossi said he “categorically rejects the idea that agency cameras played a role in assisting any third party to launch an attack” on the facility and offered to allow Iran to inspect the cameras in the presence of IAEA officials. He reiterated that Karaj was included in a special IAEA-Iranian arrangement on Sept. 12 allowing inspectors to replace the data storage on surveillance cameras at various sites.

The IAEA said in its report that it could not verify if production of centrifuge components had resumed at Karaj, but officials quoted in a Nov. 16 article in The Wall Street Journal said that Iran had resumed activities at the facility and produced parts for about 170 centrifuges since August. The IAEA report confirms that Iran installed new centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities since the prior report in September, but does not indicate where the centrifuges were produced.

Grossi stressed in October the importance of the IAEA resuming monitoring at the site prior to the resumption of centrifuge production to prevent further gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge about the facility.

Although The Wall Street Journal article said there was no evidence that Iran was diverting centrifuges from Karaj for covert activities, a gap in the monitoring could complicate agency efforts to account for all the components produced at the facility.

If the IAEA cannot reconstruct the facility’s history, speculation that Iran is engaged in covert activities could undermine efforts to restore the nuclear deal and complicate the agency’s efforts to resume implementation of the monitoring and verification mechanisms.

The lack of access to Karaj is “seriously affecting the agency’s ability to restore continuity of knowledge at the workshop, which has been widely recognized as essential” if the IAEA is to resume monitoring under a restored nuclear deal, the report said.

At the Nov. 24 press conference, Grossi said the IAEA is “close” to the point where it will not be able to maintain continuity of knowledge.

A second report issued by the IAEA on Nov. 17 indicated that Iran also is not cooperating with an ongoing two-year-old investigation into the presence of nuclear materials found at four locations outside of Iran’s declared nuclear program sites.

The IAEA assessment of the uranium particles at three of the locations indicates that the materials and activities date to 2003, when the IAEA assesses Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, and are not continuing. Iran’s failure to explain satisfactorily the presence of uranium at undeclared sites suggests Iran violated its safeguards obligations.

The second report warned that the “lack of substantive engagement” in resolving these issues “seriously affects the agency’s ability to provide assurance of the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

Iran continues to block International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from accessing a nuclear facility and installing new surveillance equipment.

China, Russia Propose North Korea Sanctions Relief

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

China and Russia are pushing the UN Security Council to lift certain sanctions on North Korea in recognition of steps Pyongyang has taken to denuclearize and to encourage further negotiations, according to a draft resolution circulated to council members. But comments by Biden administration officials suggest that the United States would almost certainly veto such a resolution if it were put to a vote.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, shown here in a 2020 photo, recently told a news conference in Beijing that because North Korea “has taken multiple denuclearization measures in recent years, its legitimate and reasonable concerns [about UN sanctions] deserve attention and response.”  The United States disagrees and is unlikely to support a Chinese-Russian UN Security Council resolution that would lift certain sanctions. (Photo by Artyom Ivanov\TASS via Getty Images)North Korea has been subject to Security Council sanctions since 2006 for continuing to advance its illegal nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The United States says China is not adequately enforcing those measures and has repeatedly called for better implementation of UN sanctions in response to recent North Korean missile tests. In a Nov. 8 press briefing, U.S. Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby said that China has influence with North Korea and needs to “put some bite” in UN sanctions enforcement in order to “help steer” Pyongyang toward diplomacy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a Nov. 2 press briefing that the resolution circulated by Moscow and Beijing aims “to create an enabling atmosphere to facilitate the early start of dialogue” and that because North Korea “has taken multiple denuclearization measures in recent years, its legitimate and reasonable concerns deserve attention and response.” He said pursuing such a resolution now constructively supports efforts to restore negotiations. “[T]he United States should face the crux of the problem squarely…, propose attractive plans for dialogue, and take real actions instead of simply shouting slogans,” Wang added.

Wang also said that international sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic are having a negative impact on North Korean livelihoods, so “the Security Council should facilitate external support and assistance to the country.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its willingness to engage in negotiations with North Korea without preconditions and said it has made specific proposals to North Korea about resuming talks, but has not publicly discussed the details of the offer. (See ACT, November 2021.)

The draft resolution, circulated on Oct. 29, says that the council “shall consider positively adjusting the sanctions measures…in light of [North Korea’s] compliance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

China and Russia appear to be referring here to Pyongyang’s continued suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests, which are prohibited by previous Security Council resolutions. The draft resolution’s introductory language notes that North Korea has refrained from nuclear tests since September 2017 and began a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing in April 2018.

But Pyongyang is prohibited from all ballistic missile and nuclear weapons-related activities, including uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, which produce fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons. Although not acknowledged in the proposed resolution, North Korea recently tested several shorter-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, satellite imagery suggests it is continuing to enrich and reprocess.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations issued a statement on Nov. 2 saying that North Korea has “taken no steps to comply with the Security Council's demands regarding its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

The draft resolution also notes the “positive outcomes achieved in recent years” in talks between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States.

Specifically, the 2021 draft resolution calls for lifting sanctions that prevent the transport of industrial machinery used for infrastructure that “cannot be diverted to [North Korea’s] nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.” It says that sanctions shall not apply to “items necessary for carrying out humanitarian activities.” The resolution would also exempt from sanctions inter-Korean projects designed to connect the two countries via road and rail.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed interest in sanctions relief for such projects during a series of summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019. In November 2018, the UN Security Council said a study to connect North and South Korea via rail could go ahead without being subject to sanctions after U.S. concerns delayed the project.

China and Russia made a similar proposal to lift certain UN sanctions in 2019, but did not pursue a vote. The United States opposed the proposal then as well.

China and Russia reportedly are also shielding North Korea from further Security Council condemnation in response to recent ballistic missile tests.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pictured in September, told an Oct. 20 press conference that the UN needs to be “more serious about the implementation” of the sanctions on North Korea.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)During an Oct. 1 meeting, France proposed that the Security Council adopt a joint statement condemning recent North Korean missile tests, but Russia and China opposed the measure. Several council members ended up issuing their own statements instead.

Similarly, a Security Council meeting on Oct. 20 called by the United States and the United Kingdom in response to North Korea testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile the day before also failed to produce a statement.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, called North Korea’s recent ballistic missile tests a “series of reckless provocations” that violate multiple Security Council resolutions. She told an Oct. 20 press conference that the UN needs to be “more serious about the implementation” of the sanctions on North Korea.

China and Russia are pushing the UN Security Council to lift certain sanctions on North Korea in recognition of steps Pyongyang has taken to denuclearize and to encourage further negotiations.

India Tests Missile Capable of Reaching China

December 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

India successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in an apparent effort to signal advances in its nuclear deterrent to China.

India in October tested an Agni-5 intercontinental ballistic missile, similar to the one shown here, in an apparent signal to China. (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)The Agni-5 ballistic missile is capable of striking targets at ranges up to 5,000 kilometers with a “very high degree of accuracy,” according to an Oct. 27 statement from the Indian Ministry of Defence. The launch was conducted from India’s test site on APJ Abdul Kalam Island.

The missile, a three-stage, solid-fueled system launched from a canister, was last tested in 2018. Although ICBMs are typically defined as having a range of 5,500 kilometers or more, independent assessments put the full range of the Agni-5 at 8,000 kilometers with a 1.5-ton warhead. The solid-fueled, canister-launch configuration makes the Agni-5 more mobile and allows for the system to be fired more quickly.

The Oct. 27 launch differed from five prior tests of the Agni-5 in that the missile was launched in full operational configuration by the military’s Strategic Forces Command. This was also the first time that the system was launched at night.

The Defence Ministry statement said the Agni-5 launch was in line with India’s policy of “credible minimum deterrence,” which means that the country will develop only the nuclear weapons capabilities needed to deter adversaries.

India is already capable of striking the entire territory of its neighboring adversary, Pakistan. New Delhi’s pursuit of longer-range systems, such as the Agni-5, and its development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles are oriented at China, which is expanding its own nuclear arsenal and has developed a larger missile force.

Several Indian media outlets quoted unnamed officials as saying that the test was meant to signal India’s military capabilities to China as a border dispute between the two countries continues to inflame tensions.

Although the Defence Ministry statement did not directly reference China, spokesperson Lt. Col. Abhinav Navneet tweeted on Oct. 28 that the Agni-5 is “capable of neutralizing targets threatening India’s Sovereignty & Territorial Integrity.”

China did not respond to the launch, but when India announced plans to test the Agni-5, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Sept. 16 that UN Security Council Resolution 1172 “has clear stipulations” regarding India’s development of ballistic missiles and that Beijing hopes all parties will make constructive efforts to maintain peace, security, and stability in South Asia.

Resolution 1172 was adopted by the Security Council in 1998 following the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. The resolution includes nonbinding language calling on the two countries to “cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

In addition to developing longer-range systems, India is considering creating a new rocket force to oversee and control the country’s missile forces.

Gen. Bipin Rawat, chief of the defense staff, said on Sept. 16 that the rocket force is a part of India’s effort to adopt a “whole-of-government approach” to dealing with evolving security challenges. A rocket force would help integrate forces and dual-use infrastructure, he said. Rawat cited China’s aggression and its use of Pakistan as a proxy as necessitating the changes. China created its own rocket force in 2016.

India successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in an apparent effort to signal advances in its nuclear deterrent to China.

Defense Department Reorganizes Amid NPR

December 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Defense Department is planning to eliminate the position held by the senior official who was overseeing the Biden administration’s review of U.S. nuclear policy, which is slated to be released in January 2022.

Richard Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, also took over as acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense to oversee the Biden administration's Nuclear Policy Review after the woman who held the job was removed in a Defense Department reorganization.  (Photo by U.S. Department of Defense)Leonor Tomero was sworn in as deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy in January. (See ACT, April 2021.) Previously, she was counsel for the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, focusing on issues such as nuclear deterrence, disarmament, and nonproliferation.

The administration formally began the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) in July with Tomero, who was open to reassessing the U.S. nuclear force structure and modernization plans, leading the process. (See ACT, September 2021.)

Politico reported on Sept. 21 that Tomero’s post was destined for elimination at the end of the month and that the Pentagon’s new assistant secretary for space would absorb the position’s responsibilities.

“It’s natural with any new administration, this one’s not excepted, that we would want to reevaluate the organizational structure and make changes where we think is appropriate to support the secretary’s priorities,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby when asked about the situation the following day.

Kirby emphasized that the administration would “continue to consider and include a wide range of viewpoints” in the NPR.

Following Tomero’s departure, the responsibility of overseeing the NPR fell to Richard Johnson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for countering weapons of mass destruction, who also became the acting official in the role.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote a Sept. 24 letter to President Joe Biden expressing concern about Tomero’s departure amid the ongoing NPR process.

“I am…concerned that the sudden departure of a top appointee, charged with presenting you options on the future of the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise, will result in a draft Nuclear Posture Review that reflects the Cold War era’s overreliance on nuclear weapons, rather than your lifetime of work championing policies that reduce nuclear weapons risks,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Politico, citing an unnamed White House official, reported on Nov. 5 that the National Security Council would convene a high-level meeting on nuclear declaratory policy by the end of the month to consider the option of shifting the United States to a sole-purpose or no-first-use nuclear policy.

The Financial Times reported on Oct. 29 that U.S. allies, including Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, are lobbying Biden to refrain from changing current U.S. policy, which is ambiguous regarding the precise conditions under which Washington would consider using nuclear weapons.

On the 2020 presidential campaign trail, Biden said in a questionnaire from the Council for a Livable World that the United States should review its nuclear declaratory policy.

Near the end of the Obama administration in 2017, Biden, then vice president, expressed his belief that “the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal is to deter and, if necessary, retaliate for a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.”

The Defense Department is planning to eliminate the position held by the senior official who was overseeing the Biden administration’s review of U.S. nuclear policy.

Lawmakers Pressure Biden to Waive India Sanctions

December 2021

Members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to waive potential sanctions on India, considered a key U.S. strategic partner in the competition against China, for purchasing Russian air defense systems.

India faces U.S. sanctions as a result of its decision to purchase S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. This one was used during a Russian military exercise in July 2021 near the village of Plotnikovo. (Photo by Kirill Kukhmar\TASS via Getty Images)On Oct. 26, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked President Joe Biden in a letter not to impose the sanctions that are required under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The law, signed by President Donald Trump in 2017, imposes sanctions on countries engaging in certain transactions with Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

Cornyn and Warner wrote that waiving the sanctions was a “national security imperative” that would “reinforce India’s status as a Major Defense Partner” and “provide another avenue to counter [Chinese] influence in the Indo-Pacific” region.

Three days later, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Todd Young (Ind.), and Roger Marshall (Kan.) introduced a bill that would shield Australia, India, and Japan from CAATSA sanctions as members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The dialogue, which includes the United States, was established in 2007 to counter China’s growing power.

In a statement, Cruz insisted that “now would be exactly the wrong time” for sanctions against India because they would “do nothing except undermin[e] our shared security goals of combatting China’s aggression and forcing India to become dependent on Russia.”

India agreed to purchase five batteries of S-400 systems, valued at $5.4 billion, from Russia in 2018. (See ACT, November 2018.) Since 1961, Russia has been the largest overall provider of weapons to India.

During a visit to New Delhi in October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters the United States has “been quite public about any country that decides to use the S-400.” She called such purchases “dangerous and not in anybody’s security interest.”

Under CAATSA, the president must either impose sanctions on offenders or submit a waiver to Congress explaining how sanctions would harm national security. U.S. allies and strategic partners are not exempt. In December 2020, the United States, citing security concerns, imposed CAATSA sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally, for its S-400 purchases from Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in September that Turkey has not ruled out buying additional S-400 systems.—WILLIAM OSTERMEYER

Lawmakers Pressure Biden to Waive India Sanctions

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits

December 2021

Russia and the United States are continuing to adhere to the limits on their strategic nuclear arsenals established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) as the two countries engage in a dialogue on the future of arms control.

Under New START, Moscow and Washington exchange data twice a year to confirm that they are complying with the cap of 1,550 nuclear warheads deployed on 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. The treaty also limits deployed and nondeployed heavy bombers and launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs to 800.

As of Sept. 1, the United States has 1,389 warheads deployed on 665 delivery vehicles, while maintaining 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. Russia has 1,458 warheads deployed on 527 delivery vehicles, in addition to 742 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers.

Since the treaty’s implementation in February 2018, the number of deployed nuclear warheads in each country has fluctuated roughly between 1,300 and 1,450.

This latest data exchange came as the United States and Russia hold discussions within their bilateral strategic stability dialogue on the future of arms control after New START expires in 2026. The two sides last met at the end of September. (See ACT, November 2021.)

The Biden administration’s goal is to hold the third round of the dialogue since the start of the administration by the end of the year.

The dialogue is separate from more formal negotiations on an arms control agreement that could follow New START, but the Biden administration has yet to establish a timeline for transitioning the dialogue into a negotiation with Moscow.

Meanwhile, treaty inspections that had been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic were scheduled to restart on Nov. 1, according to an October statement from the U.S. Defense Department. Asked for comment by Arms Control Today on Nov. 15, the State Department suggested that inspections have not resumed.

“The United States is currently exploring measures for resuming inspections while mitigating the risks to U.S. and Russian personnel,” said a State Department spokesperson.

The inspections are intended to confirm the information contained in the biannual data exchanges.

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits

Countries Grapple With 2025 Landmine Goal

December 2021

Aware of the continued threat from anti-personnel landmines in many parts of the world, states-parties to the Mine Ban Treaty again granted extensions to countries that still need to clear contaminated land. The action was taken at the treaty’s annual conference on Nov. 15–19, held virtually from The Hague.

Delegates to the Mine Ban Treaty annual conference watch video of athletes wounded by landmines. The meeting was held Nov. 15-19 at The Hague. (Photo by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands)At the treaty’s 2019 review conference, members set the global goal of completing landmine clearance by 2025. Despite that aspiration, the Mine Action Review found that the majority of contaminated countries are not on track to meet their national deadlines, some of which already extend beyond 2025. Under the treaty, countries have 10 years to clear areas contaminated by landmines, but may seek extensions that set new deadlines.

States-parties granted treaty-compliant extension requests to Cyprus, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, and Turkey. They “expressed serious concern” that Eritrea remained in noncompliance by not requesting an extension to its 2020 deadline.

On the positive side, the Mine Action Review found that more than 159 square kilometers of land was cleared of landmines in 2020, the highest worldwide total since 2015. The Landmine Monitor noted that financial contributions to support clearance and other mine action activities was 6 percent higher in 2016–2020 than during the previous five-year period, and international support in 2020 totaled $565 million, a small increase over 2019.

The Landmine Monitor also reported more than 7,000 casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war in 2020, a sixth year of high annual totals. Nearly 1,500 of those casualties were in Afghanistan, where the Taliban takeover is disrupting internationally supported clearance efforts.

The United States, the world’s largest financial contributor to mine clearance, attended the annual meeting as an observer, as it has done since 2009. In 2020, President Donald Trump renounced the Obama-era policy to someday accede to the treaty. In April, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said President Joe Biden “intends to roll back this [Trump] policy, and our administration has begun a policy review to do just that." A State Department official confirmed to Arms Control Today via email on Nov. 18 that the review is ongoing.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Countries Grapple With 2025 Landmine Goal

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise

December 2021

NATO has wrapped up its annual week-long nuclear deterrence exercise, called Steadfast Noon, across southern Europe with aircraft and personnel from 14 allied countries.

“The exercise is a routine, recurring training activity, and it is not linked to any current world events,” NATO said in a statement on Oct. 18 as the exercise began. “This exercise helps to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.”

A different NATO country hosts Steadfast Noon each year.The alliance normally does not identify the host country, with the exception of last year when NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg publicly visited Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, the main operating base for the exercise. (See ACT, December 2020.)

Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists determined that the 2021 exercise was likely hosted by Italy out of Ghedi and Aviano air bases, which are home to an estimated 15 and 20 U.S. B61-3/-4 gravity bombs, respectively. Another 65 B61-3/-4 bombs are believed to be deployed in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

The United States is developing the more accurate B61-12, which will replace all existing gravity bombs and is scheduled to have the first production unit completed in late 2021. Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands are in the process of acquiring the new F-35A fighter jet, which conducted in September its final flight test to complete the nuclear design certification process and ensure compatibility with the B61-12. (See ACT, November 2021.)

“The combination of the F-35A and B61-12 represent a significant improvement of the military capability of the NATO dual-capable aircraft posture in Europe,” Kristensen wrote in an Oct. 20 blog post.

Steadfast Noon is designed so NATO can practice and assess its nuclear capabilities deployed in Europe. The aircraft do not carry live bombs during the exercise flights.

This year’s exercise occurred during NATO’s defense ministerial meetings, which started Oct 21. “NATO’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons,” said Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings. Yet, “a world where Russia, China, and other countries like North Korea have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is simply not a safer world.”

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise


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