"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement"
July 1, 2020
January/February 2023
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, January 10, 2023
Cover Image: 

The Nuclear Taboo Remains Strong for Now

January/February 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

Even before his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin had demonstrated a malign indifference toward basic norms of international behavior, an uneven record of compliance with cornerstone arms control agreements, and a penchant for bullying and using deadly force against opponents.

(Photo by Christoph Soeder/picture alliance via Getty Images)Nevertheless, it was still shocking that, at the outset of the war, Putin issued veiled but unmistakable threats that he might use nuclear weapons against anyone, particularly the United States or NATO, trying to interfere in his unprovoked assault on independent, non-nuclear-armed Ukraine. When Putin hinted on Sept. 21 that he might use short-range nuclear weapons in the conflict, many feared that the unthinkable might happen.

Yet, Putin eventually was compelled to back off his nuclear threats. “We see no need for that,” he said in October. “There is no point in that, neither political nor military.”

This rhetorical retreat was no accident. Undoubtedly, Putin was reminded by his advisers and by U.S. and NATO leaders that there is no military value in using nuclear weapons against Ukrainian targets. Instead of ending the war, such an atrocity would draw NATO into the conflict, bringing about Russia’s defeat and Putin’s own downfall. Another major, perhaps decisive, factor was the crescendo of global condemnation against nuclear threats of any kind from non-nuclear-armed states and later from nuclear-armed states, as well as Russia’s few remaining enablers.

To his credit, U.S. President Joe Biden did not issue reciprocal threats against Russia. He reaffirmed that U.S. and NATO forces would not become engaged directly in the war. He also made clear that he would not be intimidated by Putin’s nuclear “warnings” and would provide the assistance needed to help Ukrainians defend their country. This took the punch out of Putin’s threats and helped ensure that the Russian nuclear bully did not get his way.

But early in the war, Biden referred to Russia’s “occasional nuclear rhetoric” as “dangerous and extremely irresponsible,” implying that some nuclear threats are responsible. In July, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States expanded on this theme in a joint paper saying they reject “irresponsible rhetoric concerning potential nuclear use intended for military coercion, intimidation, or blackmail.” They asserted that their nuclear weapons only “serve defensive purposes, deter aggression and prevent war.” Not surprisingly, Russian officials claimed Putin’s nuclear warnings were “defensive” and designed to deter Western interference.

In contrast, many leaders from non-nuclear-weapon states recognized that following Putin’s brazen threats, the world needed to speak with greater clarity to avert nuclear catastrophe, and they did. In June, the 65 states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons issued a political statement noting that “any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations” and condemning “unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” At the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in August, 147 non-nuclear-weapon states declared the use of nuclear weapons unacceptable “under any circumstances.”

Then, following Putin’s alarming threat of possibly using short-range nuclear weapons to decimate Ukraine’s army or its cities, global concern about nuclear war rose to levels not seen in decades. Key leaders began to speak out in more direct terms.

Borrowing from the terminology of the non-nuclear-weapon states, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated on Sept. 27 that “any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared on Oct. 8, “We need to give a clear answer to nuclear threats. They’re dangerous for the world, and the use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable.”

More importantly, leaders who had been silent about Putin’s nuclear threats finally weighed in. On Nov. 4, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the international community should “jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.” The powerful Group of 20 agreed on Nov. 16 at their summit in Indonesia that threats and use of nuclear weapons are “inadmissible.”

The Putin-provoked nuclear crisis forced millions of people, including many world leaders, to confront the grim realities of nuclear weapons for the first time: that even their limited use likely would trigger nuclear escalation with global consequences; that their use is immoral and illegal; and that nuclear deterrence, a strategy that depends on the credible threat of nuclear use, is dangerous, unsustainable, and ultimately unacceptable.

Awareness by itself does not solve the problem, however. Russia might still use a nuclear weapon before the fighting in Ukraine ends, and there are other nuclear flashpoints around the globe. To preserve and strengthen the consensus against nuclear weapons use and threats of use, civil society and the international community must sustain pressure against those who might break the nuclear taboo. Our collective survival depends on it.

Even before his disastrous decision to invade Ukraine last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin had demonstrated a malign indifference toward basic norms of international behavior, an uneven record of compliance with cornerstone arms control agreements, and a penchant for bullying and using deadly force against opponents.

BWC Review Conference Dispatch: A Cliffhanger Conference Seeks to Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention

January/February 2023
By Jenifer Mackby and Sruthi Katakam

After three weeks of intense debate, detailed drafting sessions, and late-night meetings, the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) agreed to establish a working group aimed at strengthening the convention, which outlaws biological arms and entered into force in 1975. The final document approved on Dec. 16 mandated that the working group develop specific, possibly legally binding, measures to support international cooperation, scientific research, and economic and technological development for peaceful purposes.

Delegates to the ninth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention met from Nov. 28 to Dec. 16 in Geneva. (Photo courtesy of UN Geneva)The working group is to recommend establishing two other mechanisms: one to support international coperation and assistance in implementing the BWC and the other to review and assess BWC-related scientific and technological developments and to provide states-parties with relevant advice. Overall, these decisions are intended to “bring the convention into the 21st century,” one delegate said.

Convention delegates came armed with a plethora of proposals contained in 65 working papers.1 Nevertheless, after the recent nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference failed to achieve consensus on its final document, BWC states-parties recognized that it would take extreme efforts to achieve success at their review conference.

Delegates also realized that international tensions over Russia’s war on Ukraine and the widely refuted Russian accusations that the United States was involved with biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine would make this conference a deeply challenging exercise. Facing these odds, delegates burst into resounding applause as the final document was adopted.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped the world understand that diseases could be used deliberately to cause widespread panic, emergency health crises, millions of deaths, and severe economic damage. This increased awareness of a shared international vulnerability caused most states-parties to work to give the BWC a more active role or at least put it on par with the NPT and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Even so, some states-parties insisted on deleting any reference to COVID-19 in the final document.

The new working group will address measures on international cooperation and assistance under Article X of the convention, which calls on states-parties to facilitate the exchange of equipment, materials, and scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes. It will also address scientific and technological developments, as well as confidence-building and transparency efforts to improve reporting on national biological activities. Further, the group will consider compliance and verification measures and measures to improve domestic laws and regulations to implement the convention.

The group will address assistance, response, and preparedness under Article VII, which calls for states-parties to provide support to a state that has “been exposed to danger as a result of violation of the convention.” The group also will consider organizational and financial arrangements to cover the costs of BWC meetings and the convention’s Implementation Support Unit (ISU).

The new working group has been authorized to meet for 15 days each year from 2023 to 2026 and to adopt a report with recommendations to be submitted to BWC states-parties at the 10th review conference, to be held no later than 2027.

The final document did not include many of the ambitious proposals that enjoyed cross-regional support from numerous states-parties and that were included in a previous draft just one day before the conference ended.2 For instance, the previous draft included the explicit establishment of a working group and two other mechanisms, as well as descriptions of how they would operate. This outcome would have allowed states-parties to start the substantive work in all three groups immediately instead of waiting for recommendations to establish two of them.

The draft called for an advisory group that would facilitate international cooperation under Article X, which states from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had been requesting for many years. They contend that they have been prevented from benefitting from the BWC’s peaceful uses provisions, which stipulate that the convention should “avoid hampering the economic or technological development of states-parties to the convention or international co-operation in the field of peaceful bacteriological (biological) activities.”3 The advisory group would include a database to match offers and requests for assistance, as well as a voluntary trust fund to support projects under Article X.

The prior draft also would have established a scientific advisory board, which many delegations have long recommended. They recognize that rapid advances in the life sciences, in particular biotechnology tools that can alter organisms, such as genetic editing, can be used to greatly benefit public health, medicine, agriculture, and the environment, but can also be applied for nefarious purposes banned by the convention. The plan was to have the working group on strengthening the convention make recommendations on the board’s mandate, composition, financial implications, and other arrangements. The board would consist of a scientific advisory group open to all and a limited size scientific reporting committee.

The conference facilitator, Ljupco Gjorgjinski of North Macedonia, worked with delegates for months to develop the terms of reference and rules of procedure for this proposed scientific body. Iran has long opposed such a group, although the proposal has been supported by states from all regional groups. Each of the two new mechanisms would have acquired an additional ISU staff.

The United States, long maligned because it rejected the BWC Verification Protocol in 2001, took steps to change that image. Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international affairs, introduced an initiative in late 2021 calling for a process to examine compliance that could lead to discussions on verification. Since 2001, many NAM states have requested a legally binding protocol that would include verification. The United States also accepted the idea of an international cooperation entity, which it previously opposed due to concerns that some countries would focus on export controls. As one U.S. delegate put it, “We were rolling out the red carpet at this conference.”

These gestures, however, seemed to go largely unnoticed. Iran, Cuba, and other NAM members repeated their complaints about “unilateral coercive measures” that they say violate Article X by denying them access to vaccines, materials, and equipment. This tension between developing countries that want an increased exchange of technology and developed countries that are concerned mostly with nonproliferation has played out in numerous multilateral forums.

Russia’s claims about biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, strongly refuted by Ukraine and the United States, played a role in the review conference deliberations. Russia had brought its allegations to the UN Security Council and instigated a formal meeting in August under the consultation and cooperation provisions of BWC Article V, but no conclusions were reached.

Russia wanted to include language in the review conference final document stressing the need for further investigations of its allegations regarding biological laboratories in Ukraine and what it considered an insufficient response from the United States and Ukraine. Moscow proposed establishing a group of governmental experts to determine guidelines for conducting Article VI investigations.4

Normally, the review conference final document comprises three parts. Part I, which deals with the organization and work of the conference, lists the dates, agenda, documents, and participants. In Part II, the final declaration, states-parties reaffirm their general aspirations and support for the convention’s principles, followed by a detailed review of its 15 articles. Part III contains the decisions and recommendations in which parties look to the future, outlining the intersessional process and other recommendations.

In the December 15 draft final document, Part II was 14 pages long and included mature reflections on strengthening each article. On the final day of the conference, however, the conference president, Leonardo Bencini of Italy, announced that consensus was not possible on that part of the document. He had held closed-door consultations with delegations until the early morning of December 16, but they were unable to agree on a number of contentious issues, including proposed Russian language on biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. The section on recommendations also was considerably reduced. Due to the consensus rule in most UN multilateral forums, it is possible for one country to prevent an agreement.

The penultimate draft included several other proposals that ultimately were dropped from the final document. One encouraged states-parties to incorporate elements from the recently developed Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists.5 These guidelines, initiated by China with U.S. support, had been sought by a majority of the international community and already have been adopted by more than 140 scientific academies worldwide.

Another deleted provision recommended that states-parties promote best practices in life sciences research, including oversight in infectious disease research to improve biosafety and biosecurity globally. It called on stakeholders to apply standards to manage risks posed by working with infectious agents and toxins in laboratories and recommended that states-parties adopt model laws in their national legal codes.

The draft also had included proposals on methods to increase the participation of states-parties in submitting their annual UN forms on confidence-building measures.6 These forms, which typically draw responses from only half of the states-parties, contain an exchange of information on research centers and laboratories, national biological defense research and development programs, outbreaks of infectious diseases caused by toxins, and publications. Several proposals to include equal representation of women in various activities also were removed from the text.

Proposals that did remain in the final document requested states-parties to promote universalization of the convention and renewed the mandate of the ISU, which conducts the BWC Secretariat’s substantive and administrative functions. After years of requests, the conference agreed to increase the staff from three persons to four for 2023–2027.

Over the years, financing BWC meetings has been problematic because states-parties often do not pay on time or do not pay at all. The annual BWC budget is $1.8 million. Costs are shared by states-parties based roughly on the UN scale of assessments. In 2021, almost two- thirds of the 183 states-parties paid less than $1,000 for the BWC. Of these, 54 states paid less than $100.

In comments after the final document was adopted, the Algerian representative, Lazhar Soualem, spoke for many in the conference room, saying, “Despite our high expectations and ambitions, we consider this compromise document as an important step forward.” Most delegations said the document will provide a good basis for future progress on the proposals that were not adopted but had gained so much support at the conference.

The Cuban representative, Rodolfo Benítez Verson, said the BWC’s main weakness is the lack of a verification mechanism and expressed support for the working group to strengthen the convention. The Chinese representative, Li Song, said the document represents a major breakthrough to strengthen the convention and a victory for multilateralism, although he regretted that the Tianjin Guidelines were left out. The Mexican delegate, Fernando Israel Espinosa Olivera, expressed disappointment that the conference did not mention COVID-19 or take decisions on “more mature, daring proposals” on such issues as preparedness and strengthening biosecurity.

Although the Russian representative, Konstantin Vorontsov, welcomed the final document, he blamed an unnamed country, presumably the United States, for blocking consensus on Part II. Russia “will not agree to pathogens and transmitters by foreign military agencies near our border. This one country has blocked a legally binding protocol with a verification mechanism so that they can continue military activities around the world,” he said.

The U.S. representative, Kenneth Ward, said he was pleased that states-parties came together for the adoption of the final document but that this “soon fell apart.” He said the Russian statement shows that “the great and long suffering people of Russia are not threatened by the United States or the West; they are only threatened by [President Vladimir] Putin’s government, driven by lies, hatred, and warmongering.”

The U.S. delegation then walked out of the conference room. Several more delegates spoke after the United States left, expressing both pleasure and regrets over the outcome. Bencini concluded, “We should be proud of this document.”



1. For a list of the 65 papers, see UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), “Biological Weapons Convention - Ninth Review Conference,” n.d., https://meetings.unoda.org/bwc-revcon/biological-weapons-convention-ninth-review-conference-2022 (accessed January 3, 2023).

2. Ninth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (Ninth BWC Review Conference), “Draft Final Document of the Ninth Review Conference,” BWC/CONF.IX/CRP.2/Rev.1, December 15, 2022.

3. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, April 10, 1972, 1015 U.N.T.S. 163, art. X.

4. Ninth BWC Review Conference, “Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC): Proposal for the BWC Article VI Implementation; Submitted by the Russian Federation,” BWC/CONF.IX/WP.15, November 7, 2022.

5. Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Tianjin University, and the InterAcademy Partnership, “The Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists,” n.d., https://www.interacademies.org/sites/default/files/2021-07/Tianjin-Biosecurity-Guidelines-Codes-Conduct.pdf.

6. UNODA, “Confidence Building Measures,” n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/biological-weapons/confidence-building-measures/ (accessed January 3, 2023).


Jenifer Mackby is leading a project on establishing a scientific advisory body for the Biological Weapons Convention. She has worked for a number of organizations on nonproliferation, international security, and verification issues. Sruthi Katakam is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University.

The conference established a working group to develop measures to support international cooperation, scientific
research, and economic and technological development for peaceful purposes.

North Korea Plans to Expand Nuclear Arsenal

January/February 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

After an unprecedented year of missile launches, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced plans to increase exponentially the country’s nuclear arsenal, which is estimated to have 40–50 nuclear warheads.

A TV screen shows footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Jan. 1, after he gave a speech stressing the need to “exponentially” increase the size of the country’s nuclear arsenal and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile.  (Photo by Kim Jae-Hwan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)In a Jan. 1 speech during the Workers’ Party plenary meeting, Kim said North Korea will mass-produce tactical nuclear warheads for targeting South Korea and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that will give his country a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability. The expansion is necessary to counter South Korea’s “preparations for war” and “worrying military moves” by the United States and other hostile forces targeting North Korea, Kim said.

North Korea’s missile activities in 2022 suggest that work is already underway to meet the objectives Kim outlined in his speech.

In December, North Korea tested a solid-fueled rocket motor powerful enough for the first stage of an ICBM capable of targeting the United States. The North Korean Academy of Defense Science described the test as “successful” in a Dec. 16 statement and said it was the “first of its kind” for North Korea. The statement said the rocket will contribute to the development of “another new-type of strategic weapon system,” suggesting that it will be used for a nuclear-capable missile.

North Korea has developed and tested ICBMs powerful enough to target the United States, but those systems are liquid fueled. Solid-fueled ICBMs can be fired more quickly than a liquid-fueled system, reducing the likelihood of the United States or South Korea detecting launch preparations and preemptively striking the missiles.

Kim’s speech came several days after South Korea announced plans to expand its military capabilities and increase defense spending. Seoul updated a five-year defense plan that includes projects specifically designed to counter the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, including capabilities to preemptively strike North Korea, and to expand intelligence gathering.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol also announced the creation of a new drone unit after North Korean unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) flew into South Korean airspace on Dec. 26.

The South Korean military struggled to intercept and shoot down the drones, leading Yoon to criticize Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup for failing to train and prepare for such incursions. South Korea sent its own UAVs over the border in response, and Yoon said South Korea will “punish and retaliate in the event of any North Korean provocations.”

The new drone unit will focus on developing capabilities to disrupt UAVs, such as laser and electromagnetic weapons.

Yoon also expressed interest in increasing South Korea’s involvement in exercises that include U.S. nuclear weapons. In a Jan. 3 interview with Chosun Ilbo, Yoon said that Seoul and Washington are discussing concepts for joint planning and exercises, but U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that same day that there are no plans or discussions regarding joint nuclear exercises with South Korea.

Yoon’s office responded to Biden’s comment by saying that “joint nuclear exercises” only take place between nuclear powers and that Yoon was referring to information sharing and planning “regarding the nuclear forces the U.S. possesses in order to respond to North Korean nuclear weapons.”

In a Jan. 1 speech, leader Kim Jong Un said North Korea will mass-produce tactical nuclear warheads and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

Congress Boosts Defense Budget Beyond Biden’s Request

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

For the second consecutive year, Congress deemed President Joe Biden’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats, prompting lawmakers to increase the fiscal year 2023 defense authorization by $45 billion over Biden’s $813 billion request.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was among the leading forces behind the 2023 National Defense Authorization Law.  (Photo by Oliver Contreras/AFP via Getty Images)“There were compromises made to get this bill across the finish line,” acknowledged House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Dec. 8. But “now more than ever, at a time when global democracy is under attack and the rules-based international order is being threatened, we need a strong national security and defense strategy, and this bill helps us deliver on that front.”

The House passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 350–80 on Dec. 8, followed by an 83–11 vote in the Senate on Dec. 15. Biden signed the bipartisan legislation into law on Dec. 23. The NDAA totals $848 billion. An additional $10 billion of national discretionary defense spending falls outside of the armed services committees’ authority. The $858 billion defense topline is an increase of $80 billion, or 10 percent, over the 2022 national defense budget.

The New York Times, citing an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported on Dec. 18 that the new total means the Pentagon budget has grown 4.3 percent annually over the last two years, after inflation, compared to 1 percent in real dollars from 2015 to 2021. Military spending is on track to reach its highest level in inflation-adjusted terms since 2008–2011, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

The chairpersons and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees settled on compromise NDAA text on Dec. 6. Although the House passed its version of the legislation in July, the full Senate did not and brought its armed services committee’s version to the negotiations. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the armed services committee, described the Biden administration’s defense budget request, released in March, as “woefully inadequate.” (See ACT, June 2022.) The compromise bill corrects course by “prioritiz[ing] nuclear modernization amid Chinese nuclear breakout,” and stays “tough on Russia,” Inhofe stated Dec. 6.

Although the NDAA authorizes funding, appropriations bills allow for actual spending. The fiscal year 2023 defense and energy and water appropriations bills, which, on the whole, reflect the same budget levels in the defense authorization bill, passed through the Senate on Dec. 22 and the House on Dec. 23. Biden signed the omnibus appropriations legislation on Dec. 29.

For the most part, the 2023 NDAA either fully authorizes or boosts the requested budgets for U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs, including delivery systems and warheads. In addition to mandating some reporting requirements to bolster congressional oversight on nuclear matters, the law adds funding for a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and an associated low-yield warhead and allows only a partial retirement of the megaton B83 gravity bomb fleet. It fails to reverse language that undermines support for the international organization that monitors the world for signs of nuclear testing.

Nuclear Delivery Systems

The Biden administration requested no funding for the new nuclear-armed SLCM as it views the capability as unnecessary and potentially detrimental to other priorities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at the unveiling ceremony of the B-21 Raider at Northrop Grumman’s Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to fly without a crew on board.  (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images) Further developing this SLCM “would divert resources and focus from higher modernization priorities for the U.S. nuclear enterprise and infrastructure, which is already stretched to capacity after decades of deferred investments,” the White House noted in an administration policy statement in October.

Although Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro concur with this assessment, members of Congress from both parties and other defense officials do not.

“No one can tell in an uncertain world what we will need, but it’s important to keep this option available,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who led the House effort to insert funding for the capability, in July.

Gen. Mark Milley and Adm. Christopher Grady, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively, wrote in June that they see value in the nuclear-armed SLCM due to “its distinct contribution.”

The NDAA authorizes $25 million for the Pentagon to develop the missile and $20 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop the associated warhead, the W80-4 Alt SLCM.The law also requires reports on the concept of operations, operational implications, and costs of the capability, as well as a detailed, unclassified summary of the analysis of alternatives for the missile before the Pentagon can move into the development and demonstration phases.

Congress also authorized $6.2 billion, slightly more than the administration’s request, for construction and continued research and development on a future fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

The Air Force, meanwhile, received an authorization of $4.9 billion for the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, a decrease of $110 million from the request. On Dec. 2, the service unveiled the new highly secretive bomber, which will take its first flight in 2023 and is slated to be deployed later this decade. Six bombers are under construction, and the Pentagon plans to acquire at least 100 bombers total.

Lawmakers authorized $3.6 billion, slightly over the request, for replacement of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and supporting infrastructure with the new Sentinel system. They banned any decrease in the number of deployed ICBMs, currently 400. Congress also authorized the requested $981 million for the new nuclear-capable, long-range standoff (LRSO) weapons system to replace the
air-launched cruise missile.

Nuclear Warheads

For the NNSA, Congress authorized the Biden administration’s requests of $672 million for the B61-12 gravity bomb, $680 million for the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and $1.1 billion for the W80-4 LRSO weapons system warhead upgrade.

Congress also approved the agency’s $241 million request for the controversial new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the W93, and authorized the Pentagon to receive $97.1 million to develop the warhead’s aeroshell.

According to the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, the Biden administration, reversing Trump administration policy, aims to follow through on retiring the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb, but Congress has now slowed that process. The NDAA only allows for the deactivation or retirement of up to 25 percent of the B83-1 fleet until the Pentagon submits a report to Congress. (See ACT, December 2022.)

Meanwhile, the NNSA program for producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons received $500 million more than the administration’s $758 million request for the Savannah River Site location, while the Los Alamos site was authorized for the requested $1.6 billion.

According to an internal NNSA document, pit production is running more than a year behind schedule, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby acknowledged last spring that the agency will not reach its goal of producing 80 pits a year by 2030.

Hypersonic Weapons

Congress also broadly threw its full support behind the Pentagon’s hypersonic weapons programs.

The Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), received $47 million less than the request and the authorization for a total of $115 million. The system hit a major milestone Dec. 9 with the successful completion of its first all-up-round test, meaning a test of the full prototype operational missile, off the southern California coast.

“Following the ARRW’s separation from the [B-52H Stratofortress bomber], it reached hypersonic speeds greater than five times the speed of sound, completed its flight path and detonated in the terminal area,” an Air Force statement said. The service aims to conduct three more all-up-round tests before deciding whether to move into production.

Congress added $145 million to the requested $317 million for the Air Force’s Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program.

As for the Navy, the service received a $20 million increase for the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, bringing the total to $1.2 billion, and a $67 million increase for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Weapon, for a total $160 million.

The Navy’s CPS program shares the common hypersonic glide-body vehicle with the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), which could enter the field in 2023. Congress authorized $1.1 billion for the Army’s hypersonics program, an increase of $50 million above the request, to account for the National Hypersonic Initiative, which will improve coordination and address any development gaps among the hypersonic weapons programs.

In late October, the Pentagon conducted two test launches of rockets, each carrying about a dozen different experiments, meant to inform continued development of the CPS and LRHW systems.

The NDAA also requires a report on the ARRW, CPS, and LRHW programs to assess their respective costs, schedules, and potential alternatives.

Various hypersonics programs overseen by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency received substantial increases in the authorized budget. Glide Breaker jumped from $18 million to $38 million, Tactical Boost Glide from $30 million to $65 million, and Operation Fires, which was in line to be zeroed out, received $42 million. The MoHAWC hypersonic air-launched cruise missile program was authorized for its requested $60 million.

Missile Defense

The NDAA authorized the Pentagon’s efforts for hypersonic missile defense at $518 million, a 1.3 percent increase above the request.

The Space Force landed $830 million for its effort to build a satellite system to track missiles, including hypersonic weapons, which marked a 30 percent increase from the request. This effort includes plans by the Space Development Agency, now part of the Space Force, for the development of a tracking layer.

Congress also authorized the requested $2.8 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense weapons system based in Alaska and California, which includes $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptors.

Lawmakers boosted the budget requests for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system by $165 million to $587 million to buy 15 additional interceptors and for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system by $245 million to $2 billion.

Risk Reduction

The NDAA contains a slight $13 million increase above the $354 million request for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program to account for inflation. In each of the previous two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program’s budget by more than $100 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as COVID-19.

The NDAA omitted language originally in the House version that would have repealed the restriction, imposed by the 2018 NDAA, on funding the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the systems in place to detect signs of nuclear testing across the world.


For the second year, Congress deemed the president’s proposed national defense budget insufficient to counter growing inflation and rising security threats.

Pentagon: Chinese Nuclear Arsenal Exceeds 400 Warheads

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Michael Klare

China’s nuclear arsenal likely exceeds 400 operational nuclear warheads, a level that the Pentagon estimated two years ago might not be reached until the end of the decade.

DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are a key weapon in China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.    (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as “a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps.” Beijing has undertaken plans “that exceed really their previous attempts, both in terms of the scale, the numbers, and also the complexity and technological sophistication of the capabilities,” the official said at a press briefing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized the Pentagon’s report on Nov. 30. “We have exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities,” he said. “We have kept those capabilities at the minimum level required by national security.”

The nuclear warhead estimate comes from the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power, which was published Nov. 29 and covers developments through 2021. In its National Defense Strategy released this year, the Biden administration named China as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” for the United States. (See ACT, December 2022.)

The report projects that China aims to complete its nuclear modernization plans by 2035.

“If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” the report states. This statement extrapolates the Pentagon’s estimate from the previous year, which said that Beijing may be able to amass 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. (See ACT, December 2021.)

China is continuing to build three silo fields for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which will feature at least 300 new silos in total for two Dongfeng (DF) missile variants. Open-source intelligence analysts discovered these fields in 2021. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“At least some of the new silos might be operational,” according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists on Nov. 29. He made the assessment based on the Pentagon’s estimate that China has tripled its number of ICBMs to 300 silo-based or road-mobile missiles from a previous estimate of 100.

Although the report finds that China’s nuclear arsenal continues to closely align with the concept of a limited deterrent, senior U.S. defense officials have suggested that Beijing may be shifting away from that posture.

The Defense Department disclosed in the report that the DF-41, a fixed or mobile ICBM with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, likely will carry no more than three warheads per missile.

Beijing also continues growing its inventory of about 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads to the western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. The report says China is probably seeking a low-yield nuclear weapon and, if so, is likely using the DF-26 for that purpose.

In 2021, China launched approximately 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training, more than the rest of the world combined outside of conflict zones, according to the report.

The Pentagon confirmed China’s test in July 2021 of a hypersonic glide vehicle paired with an ICBM in a demonstration of a fractional orbital system. (See ACT, November 2021.) The vehicle flew around the world in low-orbit space for a total of 40,000 kilometers in roughly 100-plus minutes and very nearly struck its target inside China.

The development of such a system, the report acknowledges, is probably “due to long-term concerns” about U.S. missile defense capabilities and to a drive “to attain qualitative parity with future worldwide missile capabilities.”

As for sea-based nuclear forces, the Pentagon revealed for the first time that China “likely began near-continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” with its six operational Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines, each of which can carry up to 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Beijing operationally fielded the H-6N nuclear-capable bomber in 2020 as part of its “nascent” nuclear triad, according to the report. The Chinese military likely is developing tactics and procedures for the bomber to support its nuclear mission, the report states.

To support its nuclear force expansion, China continues to pursue the construction of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities, the Pentagon said, reaffirming a previous assessment.

“Despite China’s public support for a fissile material cutoff treaty,” the report says, “we judge that Beijing intends to use this infrastructure to produce nuclear warhead materials for its military in the near term.”

The report reiterates previous assessments that China, which keeps a majority of its launchers and missiles separated from nuclear warheads, may ramp up this peacetime status by moving toward a launch-on-warning posture. At this stage, this posture largely has been associated with military exercises.

China also maintains its declaratory no-first-use nuclear policy, but the Pentagon believes it may consider using nuclear weapons if a conventional attack imperils the country’s existence.

In parallel with China’s efforts to enhance its strategic nuclear capabilities, the Pentagon sees a concerted Chinese drive to advance its emerging and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, and cyberweapons. The report indicates that Chinese leaders are convinced that mastery of these technologies will be essential to success in future wars with a “strong power” such as the United States.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is pursuing next-generation combat capabilities based on its vision of future conflict, which it calls ‘intelligentized warfare,’ defined by the expanded use of AI and other advanced technologies at every level of warfare,” the report states.

According to the Pentagon, China is exploring using AI in target detection and identification systems, missile guidance, computer-assisted decision-making, and autonomous weapons platforms of various sorts, including unmanned air, sea, and ground vehicles.

China also is reported to have developed a significant capacity for offensive cyberoperations and intends to employ these capabilities at the onset of battle to disable an adversary’s command, control, and communications systems, a scenario with significant implications for strategic stability.

The report includes a special section on Chinese views of strategic stability, which are described as increasingly revolving around the concept of “ensuring mutual vulnerability” with its nuclear-armed adversaries. “Beijing views significant risks to strategic stability from potential U.S. technological breakthroughs or new commitments to produce and deploy cutting-edge weapons systems at greater scale or near China’s periphery,” the report says.

China’s main strategic stability concerns include rapid, credible advances in U.S. missile defenses, U.S. and allied hypersonic weapons capable of threatening China’s land-based arsenal, space surveillance assets, conventional prompt-strike weapons, and cyberoperations capable of undermining nuclear command and control, the report adds.

A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as rapid and substantial. 

UN Diplomats Spar Over Iranian Drone Sales

January/February 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States expressed its regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

Activists protested at the Iranian embassy in Kyiv in October after the shelling of Ukrainian territory by kamikaze drones, which Iran supplies to Russia. (Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)The United States, along with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, requested in October that Secretary-General António Guterres investigate the drone transfers as part of his mandate to report on implementation of Security Council Resolution 2231. The request followed an Oct. 17 letter from Ukraine to Guterres accusing Iran of transferring the drones to Russia in violation of the resolution.

Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously in July 2015. In addition to endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it prohibits Iran from transferring nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and drones, as well as certain materials and technologies relevant for building those systems, until October 2023 without approval from the Security Council.

The secretary-general is charged with reporting twice a year on the status of the resolution and has investigated evidence of illicit missile transfers in the past. But his Dec. 12 report said only that the UN Secretariat is “examining the available information” and will report any findings to the Security Council “as appropriate.”

Robert Wood, the U.S. alternative representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council during a Dec. 19 meeting that, for the past seven years, the UN mandate to report on Resolution 2231’s implementation “has been clear and unquestioned.” The failure to open an investigation “is not acceptable,” and there must “be some degree of accountability for openly violating” council resolutions, Wood said.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, disputed Guterres’s authority to conduct an investigation under the resolution and said Russia shared its legal analysis regarding this issue with the secretary-general. Nebenzia said on Dec. 19 that any “pseudo-investigations are legally null and void” and that Guterres must not “succumb to pressure of Western states.”

Iran has admitted to selling drones to Russia, but denied that its actions violate the resolution’s provisions. In a Nov. 5 statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran “sold a limited number of drones” to Moscow but the transfer took place prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amirabdollahian said that if Ukraine proves that Russia used Iranian drones in the war in Ukraine, “we will not remain indifferent to this issue.”

In two letters to Guterres in October, Iran said that it “has never produced or supplied” materials and technologies that “could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems” and argued that Resolution 2231 only restricts the transfers of items that could contribute to such systems.

The resolution uses the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export control lists to define the materials and technologies that Iran is prohibited from transferring without Security Council approval. The MTCR seeks to limit the spread of missiles and drones capable of delivering nuclear warheads, which the regime defines as systems that can carry a 500 kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers.

Sergiy Kysltsya, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, said that the drones transferred to Russia fall into the categories covered by the MTCR export control list and therefore violate the resolution. He invited UN experts in October to examine drones and drone debris recovered and open an investigation.

Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, expressed support for such a visit and encouraged Guterres to “examine and report” any evidence of transfers inconsistent with the resolution. She also strongly cautioned Iran “against any further deliveries of weapons to Russia” and said that transferring short-range ballistic missiles would “constitute a serious escalation.”

In the Dec. 12 report, Guterres called for the United States and Iran to return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the diplomatic stalemate appears likely to continue.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Amirabdollahian in Jordan on Dec. 20 and said that both agreed to “keep communication open” and to restore the JCPOA on the “basis of Vienna negotiations.” The parties last met in Vienna in August, and those meetings informed the draft agreement to restore the JCPOA that Borrell described as “final” and circulated to the parties on Aug. 8. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Prior to the Dec. 20 meeting, Borrell told the EU Foreign Affairs Council that “we do not have a better option than the JCPOA to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons” and that although Iran’s nuclear escalation is “of great concern, we have to continue engaging as much as possible in trying to revive this deal.”

But there does not appear to be any progress on resolving the issues that prevented the parties from reaching an agreement based on Borrell’s August draft.

Iranian officials remain adamant that an agreement to restore the JCPOA cannot happen until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closes its investigation into past Iranian nuclear activities that should have been declared under Iran’s legally binding safeguards agreement.

The United States and the European parties to the deal have made clear they will not pressure the IAEA to prematurely end the investigation. (See ACT, December 2022.)

IAEA officials, including the head of the safeguards department, Massimo Aparo, traveled to Tehran on Dec. 18 to continue discussions about the investigation. The IAEA did not comment on the meetings, but Iranian officials described them as businesslike.

Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said that resolving the safeguards issue could “break the ice” on the stalled JCPOA negotiations.

Even if there is progress on the safeguards issue, the political space for reaching an agreement to restore the JCPOA is narrowing.

Iran’s transfer of drones to Russia and brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters has shifted U.S. and European focus away from the JCPOA. Iran’s nuclear advances also continue to erode the nonproliferation benefits of a restored accord.

Antje Leendertse, German ambassador to the UN, said on Dec. 19 that the “prospects for a sustainable diplomatic solution” have been “fading in recent months.” She cited Iran’s nuclear escalation and support for Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Nebenzia said that the JCPOA remains the “best tool” for strengthening the nonproliferation regime and it must “become fully functional again as soon as possible.”

He accused the United States and Europe of using the drone transfer allegations to undermine the JCPOA. The allegations were “first made the moment the Vienna talks entered the final stage,” which clearly shows “who is simply politicizing the discussion,” he said.


The United States expressed regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones for its war against Ukraine. 

Putin Denies Wielding Nuclear Threats

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos

After raising the nuclear temperature with his comments in recent months, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use, stating that “we have not lost our minds.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin conducts a video conference in Moscow on Dec. 7, the day he denied issuing threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. (Photo by Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)Russian nuclear forces are “in a more advanced and up-to-date condition than the weapons in the possession of any other nuclear power,” Putin said on Dec. 7. “Yet, we are not going to wield these weapons like a razor running around the globe.”

But even as the Russian president denied having ever spoken about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, he emphasized that Russia will protect itself and its allies “with all means at our disposal, if needed.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denounced Putin’s statements on Dec. 9, saying that “the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber rattling” during Russia’s “cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine.”

Bloomberg reported the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to hold an annual meeting with Putin due to the threats of nuclear use. But the two leaders held a telephone call on Dec. 16, during which Modi emphasized dialogue and diplomacy as the only way forward in Ukraine, according to the prime minister’s office.

The Kremlin readout of the call reported that “the two leaders agreed to maintain personal contacts.”

After Russia’s cancellation of a Russian-U.S. meeting to discuss the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Austin reiterated in December that the United States “stand[s] ready to pursue new arms control arrangements with willing partners operating in good faith.” (See ACT, December 2022.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Dec. 1 that “it is impossible to discuss strategic stability today while ignoring everything that is happening in Ukraine.” Washington and Moscow typically include arms control under the umbrella of strategic stability matters.

By contrast, Sergei Ryabkov, Lavrov’s deputy, said two weeks earlier that so long as the United States demonstrates an “interest and readiness,” Russia would be willing to discuss matters of strategic stability only.


After raising the nuclear temperature with his recent comments, the Russian president denied issuing any threats of possible nuclear weapons use.

OSCE in Crisis Over Russian War on Ukraine

January/February 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia and its war on Ukraine are disrupting the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the leading forum for addressing security and stability concerns in that region.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ministerial council met in December in Lodz, Poland. (Photo: OSCE/MFA Poland)For the first time, the annual OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, which took place Dec. 1–2 in Lodz, Poland, failed to adopt any decisions. This includes the failure to approve an OSCE budget proposal of $143 million that Russia, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, blocked, according to Stephanie Liechtenstein in the Security and Human Rights Monitor newsletter.

Without a budget, the OSCE can operate only in a limited manner. Instead of undertaking new projects, including conflict prevention missions, it can implement only those already established in last year’s budget. “What else will be blocked by Russia?” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, the OSCE chair, said in his opening statement at the meeting.

Rau listed other OSCE activities that have been stymied by Moscow, including the election of the 2024 OSCE chair and a mandate for a special monitoring mission to Ukraine.

This year also marked the first time that a chair banned a foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov of Russia, from attending the ministerial council meeting, the Security and Human Rights Monitor reported. Poland refused to issue a visa for Lavrov to enter the country, but the Russian ambassador to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, was present.

Russia condemned Poland’s decision, and Lavrov told a press conference Dec. 1 that “[i]t is important to say that Poland's ‘anti-chairmanship’ will one day be seen as the unsightliness period in the OSCE history. No one has ever done so much damage to the OSCE while being at the helm.”

Russia has long complained about the OSCE, which takes a comprehensive approach to regional conflicts, arguing that it should discuss hard security issues rather than human rights and fair elections. “Moscow is not yet considering withdrawing from the OSCE, or suspending membership, but [its] patience is not unlimited,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said March 3.

Liechtenstein wrote in Foreign Policy that Russia is using the budget as a “political tool to erode the activities of vital OSCE institutions.”

Russia’s war against Ukraine has created serious new tensions, with many OSCE participating states unified in providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Another irritant is the illegal detainment of three OSCE mission members by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Every year, foreign ministers from 57 OSCE participating states, including from Central Asia and the Caucasus, meet to make key decisions about the organization’s future agenda. The ministerial council is its central governing body, and decisions are made by consensus.

At the meeting, most states condemned Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and described it as a violation of the Helsinki Final Act, the OSCE founding document.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated his call for Russia’s suspension from the OSCE. “You all have seen the horrors of this war, and the question now is what makes possible the presence of the Russian nameplate at the table,” Kuleba said Dec. 1.

But other participating states were cool to terminating or suspending Russian participation, and some states, such as Austria, Hungary, and Kazakhstan, criticized Poland’s decision to exclude Lavrov from the meeting. There is no clear mechanism for banning a participating state from the OSCE.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Dec. 1 that he regretted Lavrov’s absence. “Representatives of all states should be granted access to high-level meetings like the one today. Let us not destroy this unique platform that used to be our collective answer to the tensions of the Cold War and the deep divisions between East and West,” he said.

Many states still regard the organization as a useful platform for dialogue even when consensus is lacking. For instance, despite tensions with Russia, military information exchanges at the OSCE have continued at a high rate in 2022.

An OSCE official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arms Control Today that although many participating states empathize with Ukraine, all need to understand that Ukraine is not the only conflict in the OSCE region that needs to be addressed.

At the meeting, Victoria Nuland, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, stressed the OSCE’s value. “[I]t's important not just for Europe, it's important for the world because this organization has set the gold standard for tools that we are now exporting to other continents to help solve conflicts, defend democracy, defend a free press, defend security, and ensure military transparency,” she said.

North Macedonia will take over the OSCE chairmanship for 2023.

The OSCE evolved during the Cold War from a desire to help prevent interethnic conflict in Eurasia through monitoring missions and promoting human rights, free media, and fair elections. It contributes to arms control through the Vienna Document, which allows participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant activities.

Russia and its war on Ukraine are disrupting the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the leading forum for addressing security concerns in that region. 

Mine Use Continues as Ban Treaty Marks Anniversary

January/February 2023
By Jeff Abramson

Member states of the Mine Ban Treaty, marking the convention’s 25th anniversary, renewed their condemnation of the weapons, which are still being deployed by some countries despite the prohibition and the great harm inflicted on civilians.

A Ukrainian team worked to clear mines and unexploded ordinance from the side of the main road leading to Kherson City, Ukraine, in November. Kherson was the only regional capital to be captured by Russia following its invasion on Feb. 24.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)According to the Landmine Monitor, Russia has used at least seven types of anti-personnel mines since it invaded Ukraine in February, leading to at least 277 civilian casualties in the first nine months of the year, a nearly fourfold increase in Ukraine over 2021.

The Monitor, in a report Nov. 17, also identified an escalation in landmine use by Myanmar, especially around infrastructure such as energy pipelines and mobile phone towers. The report has listed Myanmar, a nonstate-party to the treaty, as using landmines every year since it first began publishing in 1999.

It also identified new use of landmines by nonstate armed actors in at least five countries, including the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and Myanmar.

During the treaty’s annual meeting of states-parties Nov. 21–25 in Geneva, delegates adopted language similar to past years that “condemned the use of anti-personnel mines anywhere, at any time, and by any actor, including by armed non-State actors.”

In an opening statement, Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, said that “[t]he use of anti-personnel mines is unacceptable and violates key principles of international humanitarian law.”

At the meeting led by Alvaro Ayala, Colombia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, landmine clearance extensions were granted to Afghanistan, Argentina, Ecuador, Guinea-Bissau, Serbia, Sudan, Thailand, and Yemen. Under the treaty, countries have 10 years to clear areas contaminated by landmines, but may seek extensions that set new deadlines.

Eritrea again failed to request an extension to its deadline, which had passed on Dec. 31, 2020. Delegates instructed the new president of the treaty, Thomas Göbel, Germany’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, to engage with Eritrea to resolve the issue by March 31 or refer it to the UN secretary-general. If that occurs, it would be the first time Article 8.2 of the treaty was exercised, bringing in the secretary-general to resolve compliance concerns.

In its statement to the meeting, Ukraine said Russia had used the mines as “a weapon of terror,” initially to hold captured territories and later “throughout the arable lands, in the houses, gardens etc.” prior to withdrawing from them. It also said Russia had in August “openly blackmailed the whole world, declaring that they laid mines at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plants and are ready to blow it up and turn into a scorched desert.” (See ACT, September 2022.)

More than 30 treaty members still have contaminated areas to clear, with many now having deadlines later than 2025. For those still with deadlines in 2025 or sooner, the Monitor assessed that only two were on track to do so. At the treaty’s 2019 review conference, members set the global goal of completing landmine clearance by 2025.

Despite the challenges of new use by a small number of nonstate actors and contamination remaining in more than 50 countries globally, the treaty is still widely considered a success, with 164 countries, including every NATO member except for the United States, as states-parties. Those parties collectively have destroyed more than 55 million stockpiled landmines.

The treaty was adopted on Sept. 18, 1997, and opened for signature that Dec. 3. Events to celebrate these anniversaries took place in many countries. In a Dec. 2 statement commemorating the treaty, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson drew special attention to retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a long-time treaty champion, saying that “he has helped us all envision a world free from the scourge of these weapons. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to continuing work toward this future.”

In June, the Biden administration reversed a Trump-era policy that permitted potential use of anti-personnel landmines globally, instead limiting them to the Korean peninsula, and indicated it would like to eventually join the treaty. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

Member states again condemned landmines, which are still being deployed by some countries despite the treaty’s prohibition.

U.S. Said Mulling Cluster Munitions Request

January/February 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Ukraine has pushed the United States to provide its armed forces with cluster munitions warheads, and the Biden administration has not rejected the request, according to CNN, even though the weapon is banned by more than 110 countries.

Part of a cluster bomb is seen in the village of Shevchenkove, Ukraine, after attacks by Ukrainian and Russian forces in October. (Photo by Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Cluster munitions are gravity bombs, artillery shells, and rockets that fragment into small bomblets or grenades. They are controversial and widely shunned because they can inflict devastating harm on civilians.

Russian forces have used these weapons in attacks throughout Ukraine, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. Ukraine allegedly also has used them in its attempt to defend against Russia’s brutal assault, although far less than Russia. (See ACT, October 2022.)

CNN reported on Dec. 8 that senior Biden administration officials have been fielding Ukrainian requests for cluster munitions for months and “have not rejected [them] outright.”

Asked about the status of Ukraine’s request, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today by email on Dec. 19 that “[w]e are not in a position to comment on internal deliberations regarding specific systems requested by Ukraine.”

The spokesperson reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment that, “as a general matter, we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance for as long as it takes and will continue to work with Allies and partners to identify and provide Ukraine with additional capabilities.”

“As Russia’s war against Ukraine has evolved, so too has U.S. military assistance, and we will continue to calibrate our assistance to align with Ukraine’s current and future battlefield needs,” the spokesperson said.

On Dec. 21, President Joe Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House as Congress prepared to pass a giant annual spending package that includes an additional $44 billion
for Ukraine.

CNN said the administration has not taken the cluster munitions request off the table as a last resort in case Ukrainian munitions stockpiles run dangerously low. Russian forces are bolstering their defenses as the war enters a second year, and U.S. officials believe the conflict could enter a stalemate, The New York Times reported on Dec. 21.

“Providing banned cluster munitions to Ukraine or any other country is a flagrant rejection of the Convention on Cluster Munitions [CCM] and a blatant disregard for civilian lives.

Such a move risks exacerbating the existing humanitarian disaster in the country,” Hector Guerra, director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines - Cluster Munition Coalition, said in a statement Dec. 19.

He called on states-parties to the CCM, which bans the weapons, to “react urgently to the prospect of further civilian harm from cluster munitions in the Ukraine conflict.”

“Any support for the country should be contingent upon unconditional respect for international humanitarian law and repudiation of any use of indiscriminate weapons,” he said.

According to CNN, Ukrainian officials have lobbied for dual-purpose improved conventional munitions compatible with the U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and the 155mm howitzer. Ukrainian officials say the munitions would increase the capacity of the Ukrainian military by enabling more effective attacks on larger concentrations of Russian forces and equipment. The Ukrainians also claim that they would not use them in civilian populated areas as Russia has.

Asked by Arms Control Today to comment on Russia’s use of cluster munitions in Ukraine and the strategic considerations behind Ukraine’s request for cluster munitions, a spokesperson at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington said in a Dec. 13 email that “Russia’s use of these weapons is a part of their tactic aimed to threaten people, make them flee, capture the land, [and] force Ukraine to negotiations through terror. It’s the same tactic as the airstrikes on our energy infrastructure and leaving people to freeze to death in winter.”

Granting Ukraine access to cluster munitions would require the Biden administration to override a U.S. law that generally restricts the transfer of cluster munitions that result in more than a 1 percent rate of unexploded ordnance.

As stockpiles of U.S. munitions dwindle, Kyiv has told Washington that it could use U.S. cluster munitions sitting in storage, CNN reported.

Some cluster munitions disperse only two bomblets while others can spread up to hundreds of submunitions over a large area. These weapons are designed for use against massed formations of troops and armor or broad targets, such as airfields. But cluster submunitions sometimes fail to explode on impact and can kill or maim civilians who later encounter them. These unexploded submunitions may remain dangerous for decades.

In Ukraine, Russia’s short-range BM-21 Grad launchers are capable of firing cluster munitions warheads, although they usually carry unitary warheads. Longer-range systems such as the Smerch multiple rocket launcher, the Tochka, and Iskander ballistic missiles can also fire a cluster munitions warhead. Ukraine inherited some of these systems and a stock of cluster munitions including the Tochka and Smerch multiple rocket launchers, according to The Economist.

The 110 states that ratified the CCM include former cluster munitions producers France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Russia, Ukraine, and the United States have not signed the treaty.

The Biden administration has not rejected Ukraine’s request for U.S. cluster munitions to defend against Russian forces, according to CNN.


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