"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
January/February 2019

Arms Control Today January/February 2019

Edition Date: 
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
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Senate Bucks Trump’s Saudi Approach

January/February 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The U.S. Senate passed resolutions last month sharply critical of ally Saudi Arabia and of the U.S. military role supporting the Saudi war in Yemen, signaling that arms sales to Riyadh will be controversial even as President Donald Trump insisted that they should not be affected by Saudi behavior.

U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command, welcomes Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi ambassador to the United States, at USCENTCOM headquarters, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., on July 31, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)The Senate action on Dec. 13 took the rare path of invoking the 1973 War Powers Act and directed the president to remove U.S. forces not directly engaged in Yemen with al Qaeda and associated groups. The resolution cited aerial refueling, intelligence sharing, and targeting assistance provided to Saudi-led forces.

Actions by coalition partners, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have contributed to civilian deaths and worsened a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where a fragile, limited ceasefire was negotiated in mid-December.

The resolution is not binding without a concurring House resolution. But co-sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said the vote was significant because it shows that “Congress has woken up
to the reality that the Saudi-led coalition is using U.S. military support to kill thousands of civilians, bomb hospitals, block humanitarian aid, and arm radical militias.”

The Senate resolution was originally introduced in February by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and co-sponsored by Murphy and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). An attempt to force a vote on the resolution failed in March when 44 senators sought to move it out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (See ACT, April 2018.) In November, 63 senators voted to move it to full Senate consideration. Ultimately, 56 voted to approve it, including all 47 Democrats, seven Republicans, and independents Sanders and Angus King (Maine).

The resolution is expected to have enough support to pass in the new Senate even with Republicans picking
up a small number of seats in the November elections.

New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was one of 101 co-sponsors on the version introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) in September, but she has not indicated when the House may take up the issue. A provision included in the House version of the farm bill, around the time the Senate was taking up the measure, prevented consideration of it in the last days of the previous Congress.

The controversial killing of dissident journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey in early October was a spur to congressional action. Shortly after the war powers resolution passed, the Senate approved by voice vote a resolution stating that the Senate “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder,” a claim reportedly backed by U.S. intelligence assessments even as Trump said on Nov. 20 that “maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.”

Trump also argued that U.S. arms sales should not be curtailed, frequently citing the economic importance of the $110 billion in Saudi arms sales he announced in 2017. (See ACT, November 2018; June 2017.) But only about a quarter of those notional agreements have been concluded.

According to news reports, the Saudis signed a letter of offer and acceptance in late November for the largest portion so far, a $15 billion deal for seven Terminal High Altitude Area Defense radar systems and 44 launchers, which is the same number of systems that the United States currently deploys. That potential sale had been notified to Congress in October 2017.

No new arms sales to the country via the government-to-government foreign military sales process have been officially notified to Congress since April. In June, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, effectively placed a hold on the sale of precision-guided munition kits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before they were publicly notified.

In explaining his December war powers vote, Menendez argued that the Trump administration view of the U.S.-Saudi relationship was “unhinged” in thinking that “selling weapons to the Saudis was more important than America’s enduring commitment to human rights, democratic values, and international norms.”

Saudi Arabia faces repercussions due to its murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the civilian casualties from its war in Yemen.

U.S. Sets Strategy Against WMD Terrorism

January/February 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

The Trump administration released a national strategy for countering terrorists’ efforts to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in an attack against the United States.

Members of a U.S. Army and New Jersey National Guard Joint Hazard Assessment Team (JHAT) perform a protective WMD sweep of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., May 4, 2018. (Photo: New Jersey National Guard)The U.S. strategy document, released in December, addresses three main elements to prevent terrorists from using chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological devices: efforts to reduce terrorists’ access to WMD materials globally, pressure on terrorist groups that seek to obtain these weapons, and plans for strengthening U.S. defenses against WMD threats.

But the report says that there are no surefire defenses, and it provides what could be pre-emptive political cover in the event there is a WMD-terrorism attack.

“Despite our technological and military advantages, we cannot eliminate all pathways for terrorists to conduct a WMD attack against the United States and its interests,” the report concludes. “Nonetheless, we can significantly reduce the probability and consequences of such attacks.”

The strategy builds on a number of existing efforts started under the Bush and Obama administrations to prevent WMD terrorism, particularly in efforts to minimize access to necessary materials and technologies. Although President Donald Trump frequently has belittled U.S. alliances, his introduction to the report stresses the need to advance “enhanced partnerships with our allies and partners worldwide” to prevent WMD terrorism.

The strategy calls for prioritizing disposition of nuclear and radiological materials worldwide that “pose the highest risk for terrorist acquisition” and minimizing the use of “highly-attractive” materials in civil programs. This objective continues priorities from the nuclear security summits held biannually from 2010 to 2016, which sought agreement on actions to minimize and eliminate weapons-usable nuclear materials in civilian programs.

On chemical weapons, the United States states its commitment to strengthening chemical security practices in academic and industrial institutions and says it will consider revising policies and best practices for “responsible conduct” in sciences that use materials applicable to chemical weapons development.

The strategy document also recognizes that terrorists have used chemical weapons and says the United States is exploring ways to work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to prevent nonstate actors from pursuing chemical weapons.

To prevent diversion of biological materials for weapons, the United States says it will promote policies that reduce the risk of misuse and provide more effective oversight for dual-use research.

The strategy also includes objectives to strengthen U.S. defenses against WMD terrorism. The document notes deployed U.S. capabilities, such as technical means to detect certain weapons of mass destruction, rapid counterresponse teams, and intelligence capabilities to prevent WMD attacks, and commits the United States to strengthening its response capacity with an emphasis on minimizing casualties and helping communities recover in the event of an attack.

Better coordination of state, local, and federal efforts and empowerment of state governments also features in the strategy. The Trump administration will continue providing equipment and training to states, with the goal of creating self-sustaining capabilities, the report says.

The strategy recognizes that the threat posed by WMD terrorism will continue to evolve and be affected by technological advances. The report says that the United States will strengthen collaboration with public and private sector entities analyzing the applications of technological advancements. In particular, the report identifies artificial intelligence as “certain to produce security implications beyond our current understanding.”

The United States will also look for opportunities to leverage new technologies to counter WMD terrorism, and the strategy notes how machine learning is already being used to assist in identifying trends and providing insights.


New report shows continuity with past administrations.

Advances Made in Aegis Intercept Test


In a December 11 test, the Aegis Ashore-launched Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor successfully intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target.  (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)For the first time, the Aegis Ashore-launched Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor successfully intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target using the ability to “engage on remote,” which allows for an earlier attempted intercept of a ballistic missile using a forward-based sensor. The Dec. 11 test occurred on the heels of another test of the interceptor on Oct. 26, which successfully intercepted a medium-range missile target using its native radar to guide the interceptor. Overall, the December test was the third successful intercept by the SM-3 Block IIA out of five total tests. Further tests of the interceptor are needed to validate its capability more fully.

The SM-3 Block IIA was intended to be deployed by 2018 at Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and later Romania under the third stage of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a U.S. initiative backed by NATO to build ballistic missile defense sites in Europe. But that stage, which has caused tensions between the United States and Russia, has been delayed until 2020. (See ACT, April 2018.) The Japanese government also plans to construct two Aegis Ashore sites by 2023 to supplement its Patriot batteries. The SM-3 Block IIA is designed to destroy short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase and is a larger and faster version of the SM-3 Block IA and IB. It is a joint U.S.-Japanese development via Raytheon and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Advances Made in Aegis Intercept Test

Russia Blocks Move on Killer Robots Ban


Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), meeting Nov. 21–23 in Geneva, failed to advance consideration of lethal autonomous weapons systems to a higher level of international discussion, mainly due to opposition from Russia and a few other countries. For the past several years, a group of governmental experts, largely drawn from CCW signatory states’ delegations, has been considering the implications of such weapons, particularly with respect to their potential violations of the laws of war and international humanitarian law. The experts group has also weighed the possibility of negotiating within the CCW framework a binding prohibition on the development and use of fully autonomous weapons.

Several dozen states, along with nongovernmental organizations, have sought negotiations on a ban on so-called killer robots, but face opposition from countries such as Israel, Russia, and the United States. (See ACT, September 2018.) Ban advocates had hoped that the Geneva talks would open the way for negotiations this year, but Russia blocked the required consensus. Instead, delegates decided that the experts group will meet this year for further discussions. Ban supporters, expressing disappointment, said they will continue working within the CCW while seeking other options. “Russia demonstrated conclusively that the CCW is unlikely to make any meaningful progress on this issue,” said Stephen Goose of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.—MICHAEL KLARE

Russia Blocks Move on Killer Robots Ban

Nigeria Ships HEU to China


Nigeria shipped its highly enriched uranium (HEU) back to China, making it the 33rd country, plus Taiwan, to become HEU free. Nigeria’s one kilogram of HEU was used to fuel a Chinese-supplied miniature neutron source reactor used for a range of research activities. Although one kilogram of HEU is far less than what is necessary for a nuclear warhead, the fuel was enriched to more than 90 percent uranium-235, which is considered weapons grade.

The HEU was flown to China under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Experts from China, the Czech Republic, Russia, and the United States assisted in the process. Yusuf Aminu Ahmed, director of the Center for Energy Research and Training in Nigeria, said the country does not want “any material that is attractive to terrorists” and that removal of the material fulfills Nigeria’s commitment to reduce the use of HEU in civilian applications. As part of the project, China converted the reactor to run on low-enriched uranium fuel. The conversion was completed in October 2018 under a commitment that was part of the nuclear security summit process, which took place from 2010 to 2016.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Nigeria Ships HEU to China

Mine Ban Nears 20th Anniversary


With the Mine Ban Treaty approaching its 20th anniversary in March, delegates to the annual meeting of states-parties in November welcomed progress on many treaty requirements and again “condemned the use of anti-personnel mines by any actor” as they reaffirmed their “aspiration to meet the goals of the [treaty] to the fullest extent possible by 2025.”

A fighter with Yemen’s Tariq Salah forces, a militia aligned with the Saudi-backed government, shows landmines reportedly found in September at an outpost of the Houthi rebels.  (Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)According to the “Landmine Monitor” report, only one country could be confirmed to have used landmines in the previous year, which was Myanmar, a state not among the 164 parties to the treaty. Nonstate armed groups used mines in at least eight countries, frequently employing improvised devices, according to a report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines released just prior to the Nov. 26–30 meeting in Geneva. For the third year in a row, the report also identified atypically high numbers of casualties due to landmines, cluster munition remnants, and other remnants of war. Of 7,239 casualties recorded in 2017, more than 4,200 occurred in Afghanistan and Syria, and more than 2,700 casualties worldwide were due to improvised mines.

The November meeting celebrated declarations from Mauritania that it had completed landmine clearance and from Oman that it had finished destroying its landmine stockpile, steps required under the treaty. The report also noted that international support to efforts to prevent and address problems due to mines reached a record $670 million in 2017.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Mine Ban Nears 20th Anniversary

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan


Russia’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested Dec. 26 in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and will be deployed during 2019, according a Kremlin statement. Putin noted the Avangard system, built to carry a nuclear warhead, will be “impervious to current and future” air and missile defenses of a “potential enemy,” a response to long-standing Russian concern that U.S. missile defense systems in combination with U.S. nuclear forces enable Washington to threaten Moscow’s retaliatory nuclear capability. The latest test is the third reported success out of six reported tests of the Yu-71 configuration since 2013. According to reports, the first two Avangard launchers will be deployed on two SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles based at Dombarovsky in 2019, and a total of 12 are expected to be deployed there by the end of 2027. A hypersonic glide vehicle, which travels at speeds of 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, can change its trajectory during flight and fly at varying altitudes.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

France Calls for Global Cybersecurity


French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech November 12 during the opening session of the Internet Governance Forum at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.  (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)The United States, alongside countries such as China, Iran, and Israel, and Russia did not sign a broad statement of cybersecurity principles unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Internet Governance Forum sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris on Nov. 12. The principles, titled “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace,” were signed by 51 countries, including all states of the European Union, as well as more than 130 companies and 90 universities and nongovernmental organizations. The document was hailed by supporters as a potential framework for a “digital Geneva Convention” and, despite the lack of participation by the United States, has had the support of U.S. powerhouse companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HP, and IBM.

The principles are an outline that urges states to protect civilians, to refrain from using cyberattacks indiscriminately, and to strengthen capabilities to prevent malign activities such as digital manipulation of elections and theft of business information. It encourages cooperation among governments and private entities to promote a safer cyberspace. Despite the broad language, some countries, such as the United States, are reluctant to limit their cyberweapons options. The principles will be followed by further talks on the subject at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum and the 2019 Berlin Internet Governance Forum.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

France Calls for Global Cybersecurity

Preventing a New Euro-Missile Race

January/February 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Next month, it is very likely the Trump administration will take the next step toward fulfilling the president’s threat to “terminate” one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements: the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe. The treaty helped bring an end to the Cold War and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and to withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

Russia's 9M729 missile reportedly has been tested using a mobile launcher system similar to that used by the 9K720 Iskander-M pictured here on September 18, 2017. Photo credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian FederationOn Dec. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia had fielded a ground-launched missile system, the 9M729, that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-kilometer range limit. He also announced that, in 60 days, the administration would “suspend” U.S. obligations under the treaty and formally announce its intention to withdraw in six months unless Russia returns to compliance. Suspension will allow the administration to try to accelerate the development of new missiles currently prohibited by the treaty.

Noncompliance with the treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But Trump’s public declaration that he will terminate the treaty and pursue new U.S. nuclear capabilities will not bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty. Worst of all, blowing up the INF Treaty with no substitute plan in place could open the door to a dangerous new era of unconstrained military competition with Russia.

Without the treaty, already severe tensions will grow as Washington considers deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in Europe and perhaps elsewhere and Russia considers increasing 9M729 deployments and other new systems.

These nuclear-capable weapons, if deployed again, would be able to strike targets deep inside Russia and in western Europe. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis. Any nuclear attack on Russia involving U.S. intermediate-range, nuclear-armed missiles based in Europe could provoke a massive Russian nuclear counterstrike on Europe and on the U.S. homeland.

In delivering the U.S. ultimatum on the treaty, Pompeo expressed “hope” that Russia will “change course” and return to compliance. Hope that Russia will suddenly admit fault and eliminate its 9M729 system is not a serious strategy, and it is not one on which NATO leaders can rely.

Instead, NATO members should insist that the United States and Russia redouble their sporadic INF Treaty discussions, agree to meet in a formal setting, and put forward proposals for how to resolve issues of mutual concern about the treaty.

Unfortunately, U.S. officials have refused thus far to take up Russia’s offer to discuss “any mutually beneficial proposals that take into account the interests and concerns of both parties.” That is a serious mistake. Failure by both sides to take diplomatic engagement more seriously since the 9M729 missile was first tested five years ago has bought us to this point.

Barring an unlikely 11th-hour diplomatic breakthrough, however, the INF Treaty’s days are numbered. Doing nothing is not a viable option.

With the treaty possibly disappearing later this year, it is not too soon to consider how to head off a dangerous and costly new missile race in Europe.

One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that none of them will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove those 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system. Key allies, including Germany, have already declared their opposition to stationing new intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

In the absence of the INF Treaty, another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles.

Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START, which is now scheduled to expire in 2021.

The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.

Next month, it is very likely the Trump administration will take the next step toward fulfilling the president’s threat to “terminate” one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements: the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe.


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