"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
July/August 2019

Arms Control Today July/August 2019

Edition Date: 
Monday, July 1, 2019
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Bolton’s Attempt to Sabotage New START

July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Last year, President Donald Trump told reporters that he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, stiff-armed a proposal supported by the Defense and State departments to engage in strategic stability talks with Moscow. Bolton also persuaded Trump, without a viable plan B, to terminate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in response to alleged Russian violations of the treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with John Bolton, National Security Adviser to the U.S. President, at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 23, 2018. (Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/AFP/Getty Images)Worse yet, Trump’s national security team has dithered for more than a year on beginning talks with Russia to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) before it expires in February 2021. It is now apparent that Bolton is trying to steer Trump to discard New START.

In an interview published June 18, he spoke of a New START extension, saying, “[T]here's no decision, but I think it's unlikely.”

Without New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on the U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly half a century. Today, the treaty caps the number of deployed warheads at 1,550 for each side; if that ceiling expires, Russia and the United States could upload hundreds of additional nuclear warheads to their long-range delivery systems.

Bolton argued that a key flaw of New START is that it has no provisions or limitations on tactical, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons. “So simply extending it,” he said, “extends the basic flaw."

New START was designed to focus on the long-range nuclear weapons that pose the greatest threat to the United States and Russia. Talks on eliminating both countries' short-range tactical nuclear weapons are overdue, but would not be easy. If U.S. negotiators seek limits on Russia’s estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons that are kept in central storage, Russia is sure to press the United States to remove the 180 tactical nuclear bombs it now deploys in five European NATO countries. Also, Russia will likely seek to limit French and UK nuclear arsenals.

Bolton further suggested that new strategic weapons being developed by China and Russia, including hypersonic glide vehicles, and other new delivery vehicles “are simply not effectively covered by New START.”

In fact, if Russia deploys its Avangard hypersonic weapon, which is launched by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the weapon would be covered by New START, according to the State Department. Also, Washington could insist that any new Russian strategic nuclear delivery system, whether a long-range torpedo or missile, also be subject to New START limits.

Bolton also argued that Trump wants to bring China into trilateral negotiations with Russia on a new agreement to limit nuclear weapons not covered by New START.

Pursuing talks with other nuclear-armed states and trying to limit all types of nuclear weapons is an admirable objective, but such a negotiation would be complex and time-consuming. It would be malpractice to discard New START in the hopes of negotiating a more comprehensive, ambitious nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China and getting it ratified and into force.

There is no realistic chance a new agreement along these lines could be finalized before New START expires. The first step should be a five-year extension of New START, which would provide a foundation for a more ambitious successor agreement.

Bolton’s malign influence on U.S. arms control and international security objectives requires that Congress make it clear that the evisceration of common-sense arms control is unacceptable.

A bill introduced by a bipartisan coalition led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, calls for extending New START as long as Russia remains in compliance, or until a new treaty that“provides equal or greater constraints” enters into force. It would also require intelligence assessments of how New START’s expiration would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and of the additional intelligence capabilities that would be needed to compensate for losing the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

Meanwhile, Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have launched a bill to prohibit any funding for nuclear weapons that would violate New START limits as long as Russia continues to stay below treaty ceilings. Such an approach would guard against a breakout by either side and help to maintain strategic stability.

If Trump continues to listen to Bolton’s advice and allows New START to expire, he will likely become the first president since John Kennedy to fail to conclude at least one agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear dangers, and he will have opened the door to a new and dangerous nuclear arms race.

Last year, President Donald Trump told reporters that he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.”

Seeing Red in Trump’s Iran Strategy

July/August 2019
By Eric Brewer and Richard Nephew

Since Iran’s May 2019 announcement that it would no longer abide by some nuclear restrictions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Trump administration has sought to push back against these moves by citing the imperative of the JCPOA’s constraints. The JCPOA created limits on Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle that mean Tehran would need a year to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb, and the agreement established enhanced transparency and inspector access throughout the entire fuel cycle.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to reporters at the White House April 30. Bolton has linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons.  (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. push for Iran to adhere to the deal’s terms has drawn some international incredulity given how the United States withdrew from agreement in May 2018 while noisily alleging many JCPOA flaws. More subtly, the Trump administration has begun to lay the groundwork for what can be described as its first real redline for the nuclear program: that any reduction in Iran’s one-year breakout timeline, the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb, is unacceptable.

It is unclear how much reduction the administration would tolerate, what its response would be, and given President Donald Trump’s avowed preference for a deal and to avoid another conflict in the Middle East, whether it would be enforced at all. Yet, National Security Advisor John Bolton in late May linked any Iranian expansion of enrichment activities to a deliberate attempt to shorten the breakout time to produce nuclear weapons, which would suggest that a severe response, perhaps even military force, would be on the table to prevent Iran from a nuclear restart. At the very least, the United States is shifting the traditional definition of what is unacceptable from a weapon or having the ability to produce one quickly to any deviation from JCPOA baseline restrictions.

A renewed nuclear crisis with Iran is now likely. Not only would Iran’s announced steps from May shorten the breakout timeline, only modestly at the start, but Iran has set a deadline that expires in early July for the restart of other nuclear activities that might reduce the timeline considerably faster.

Nevertheless, Iran’s nuclear actions so far do not merit this redline or the military response that could follow, nor do they rise to the level of an unacceptable threat to the United States or its interests. Rather, they are a signal that, although some in the Trump administration believe otherwise, Iran will not consent to being pushed via sanctions without seeking leverage of its own.

To be fair to the Trump administration, there is some utility in setting out a clear marker for Iran as to what constitutes unacceptable nuclear behavior. In fact, one of the biggest concerns over Trump’s Iran policy thus far is that the Iranians have seen little clarity from the White House as to what the United States wants from Iran. U.S. objectives have varied over time and, depending on who is articulating the policy, have involved everything from regime change to a renegotiated JCPOA. It would be valuable to give Iran and the rest of the world a clearer sense of U.S. intentions, expectations, and the seriousness with which the United States would treat certain Iranian nuclear actions. A firm stance now could also potentially head off a more dangerous situation down the road, and for the Trump administration, there is a palpable desire to avoid being identified as the cause of this new nuclear crisis.

Despite these potential benefits, the particular redline that appears to be in the process of being established is profoundly unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous for four reasons.

Iran’s Restart Will Be Gradual

First, establishing the one-year breakout timeline as a redline makes little sense in terms of the nuclear program itself. The JCPOA was designed to give governments at least a year to mount a strategy to react if Iran started to exit its obligations and dash to a weapon. For this reason, the JCPOA built in restrictions on Iran’s centrifuges, its uranium stockpile, and spare parts and materials for the program, as well as intrusive transparency steps that ensure the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community would quickly become aware of any deviation from Iran’s agreed steps.

Iran has said it will expand its enrichment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and heavy water and will consider additional steps as well, perhaps as soon as July 6. Iran’s decision to restart these nuclear activities will eventually erode the breakout time barrier of a year, but this will occur, at least at the start, relatively slowly and incrementally. The reasons are political and technical. Politically, Iran’s main goal is to regain negotiating leverage and force Europe to provide economic benefits or risk the deal falling apart, not to race to a bomb. As Iran has done in the past, it will likely calibrate the pace and scope of its nuclear activities based in part on how the international community responds.

From a technical standpoint, Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile will probably expand gradually. Iran has said it will exceed the JCPOA’s 300-kilogram limit by June 27, which IAEA reporting suggests would be a major increase in the pace of enrichment operations but not impossible. That said, even at the rate of enrichment that this would suggest, as much as 30 to 50 kilograms per month, it would take many months before Iran would have enough LEU, which would need further enrichment, for a bomb. Of course, enriching uranium further from its current level would be noticed by the IAEA and time consuming.

Iran’s buildup of heavy water is less concerning from a nuclear weapons perspective. Even if Iran fulfills its threat to abandon its JCPOA-mandated requirement to redesign the Arak reactor to produce less plutonium in July, the path to actually completing and starting its old reactor design would be a long and uncertain one.

In early 2016, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had removed the core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Restoring the reactor to maximize its plutonium-production capability would be a lengthy process.  (Photo: President of the Islamic Republic of Iran)More worrying would be if Iran acts on its threat to increase enrichment levels as early as July. Depending on how high Iran goes, such as resuming enrichment to near 20 percent uranium-235, this could have a seriously adverse affect on Iran’s breakout timeline as this material accumulates. A U.S. decision to end sanctions waivers that allow Iran to import 20 percent-enriched fuel for its research reactor would make
it easy for Tehran publicly to justify higher enrichment.

Some of these steps are more concerning than others, but none would indicate a breakout, and they do not suggest that the world is facing an imminent Iranian nuclear weapons threat. Indeed, unless Iran starts to curb IAEA access, which in and of itself would be a major concern, all of these measures will be done in full view of inspectors, which is exactly how Iran wants it. There is time to resolve the crisis diplomatically before using military force. A year was judged to be a reasonable but not necessarily minimum amount of time to do so. Indeed, prior to the JCPOA, Iran only needed a few months to produce a bomb’s worth of material. Even then, the United States determined that it could stop an Iranian breakout with the use of force if necessary.

An Ambiguous Redline

Second, for this redline to work, Iran would have to know when it is nearing that threshold so that if it wants, it can refrain from doing so. Because Iran possessed a large LEU stockpile, not to mention its near 20 percent-enriched uranium, for many years prior to the JCPOA, Iran may not perceive its renewed possession of this material as now representing a casus belli for Washington. In fact, Israel even set a redline for Iran’s enrichment program that could be interpreted to permit up to 200 kilograms of near 20 percent-enriched uranium, suggesting that what Iran is presently doing is far below the Israeli threshold for action.

Moreover, breakout timelines are based on a range of assumptions, and even among U.S. allies, there was some ambiguity about those timelines as the JCPOA was negotiated. It is therefore unlikely that Iran and the United States would have a common definition of where that tipping point occurs. This presents a high risk of miscalculation.

Advocates of Trump’s redline approach may believe that this works to the U.S. advantage: by laying out extreme positions, Iran can be deterred from undertaking any nuclear expansion. This view, however, ignores two facts. First, Iran will judge what is tolerable to the West based on past experience, and higher levels and amounts of uranium may not be seen as such. Second, Iran’s perspectives on U.S. deterrence are informed by the full range of U.S. responses to Iranian behavior. With North Korea and Iran, Trump has a history of issuing grand yet vague threats and then not following through on them, a practice that is likely to undermine U.S. credibility on this redline. In addition, Trump’s own attempt to walk back his administration’s hawkish stance toward Iran in late April and early May with respect to the deployment of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf has likely confused the Iranians. Offers to restart negotiations on a more limited slate of issues than U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “12 demands”—a list he laid out in May 2018 for Iran to fulfill, including elimination of its nuclear fuel cycle, severe restrictions on its missile program, and the end of its relationships with Hezbollah and other proxies—probably have done likewise. It certainly has led Iran to try to convince Trump that he is being manipulated into conflict via the “B team,” a term Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has used to describe those he says are war advocates, including Bolton, Emirati Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayad, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even in the likely event that this ploy fails, the dynamic means that Iran is unsure as to where the president stands in all of this. In such an atmosphere of confusion and ambiguity, dangerous mistakes can be made by both sides.

Fewer Peaceful Options

Of course, Trump administration officials and their advocates may stress that no one has mentioned the word “force” in any official capacity and that this is a conclusion being inappropriately drawn. Yet, the third problem with the redline approach being articulated is that Trump administration actions have reduced the scope of nonmilitary responses. Most options short of war have already been expended by this administration and arguably are why this predicament exists in the first place. This includes walking out of the JCPOA and reimposing and expanding sanctions.

Some additional sanctions could be imposed against Iran. Recent actions, such as designations of Iranian petrochemical companies and sectoral sanctions targeting other activities, such as Iran’s metal sector, may help U.S. sanctioners build momentum against Iran. Their value as a deterrent to Iran increasing its nuclear activities, however, is limited because the administration is already aggressively seeking to eliminate Iranian oil exports and has implemented widespread financial sanctions, which are far more damaging measures. If history is a guide, more pressure will likely cause Iran to accelerate its program if there is no realistic diplomatic off-ramp. At this point, Iran’s apparent calculus is that there is little more that Washington can do to punish Tehran from pushing back against the United States by rolling back its JCPOA commitments, at least in part and in stages. Iran sees very little difference between the sanctions pressure Washington is applying now and what more it could generate if Iran builds up its nuclear program. Without this perception, Iran would not have broken a year’s worth of restraint to act now.

The absence of specific and discrete response options for enforcing the redline runs the risk of creating a hollow commitment on the part of the United States. As the United States has learned to its chagrin in recent years, unenforced redlines carry risks and consequences. In this case, it would make it more difficult for the United States to deter Iranian nuclear threats that really do matter in the future. The United States would be ill advised to issue such pronouncements and fail to make good on the promises inherent within them. This is why setting appropriate, sober, and well-considered redlines, if redlines are set at all, is so imperative.

A Bigger Risk Ignored

Finally, although what Iran is doing to retaliate for the U.S. pressure campaign may ultimately create some breakout risk, a redline focused on protecting a one-year breakout timeline focuses on the wrong part of the problem. Iran’s most plausible and likely weapons development scenario would involve a covert program rather than relying exclusively on its known facilities and materials. Iran knows that IAEA oversight, enhanced by the JCPOA, enables rapid detection of any major steps toward breakout. Even if Iran is able to erode breakout time to the two-to-three-month range that predates the JCPOA, this is still sufficient time for the United States to detect and respond militarily, and Iran knows it.

For these reasons, the most important step the United States can take to prevent moves toward a nuclear weapon using the very facilities and materials about which Bolton is now concerned would be to ensure the transparency and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program that the JCPOA provides. These same transparency and monitoring tools that help detect a breakout can give confidence that Iran is not presently in possession of covert facilities and that they would be detected long before they can deliver a nuclear weapon.

A Better Approach

The United States does need to demonstrate its readiness to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. For this reason, showing a willingness to use all the means of U.S. power, including diplomacy, to prevent such an eventuality is reasonable and prudent. Indeed, diplomacy is the only means that the United States has employed in the last two decades that has proven capable of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to a significant degree and for a sustained period of time.

Trump has repeatedly said that he wants a better deal than the JCPOA. It is an ambition that people across the political spectrum can endorse, but it seems unlikely that a significantly better deal is available in the current climate. A better deal will not come from issuing ill-founded redlines that increase the risk of miscalculation while targeting the wrong threats. Rather, the Trump administration should invest itself in developing a realistic negotiating agenda and getting back to the table with Iran to avoid this crisis while it still can.

Eric Brewer is a fellow and deputy director of the Project on Nuclear Issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He served a decade in the U.S. intelligence community, including as deputy national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction with the National Intelligence Council. Richard Nephew is a senior research scholar with the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. He has held positions at the Department of Energy and Department of State and on the National Security Council.

The Trump administration’s apparent redline with Iran is unnecessary, unwise, and dangerous.

No Rush to Enrich: Alternatives for Providing Uranium for U.S. National Security Needs

July/August 2019
By Frank N. von Hippel and Sharon K. Weiner

In October 2018, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced its decision to reestablish a domestic uranium-enrichment capability in the United States.1 As described in its fiscal year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship Management Plan, the NNSA said there is a pending shortage of U.S.-origin low-enriched uranium (LEU) needed to fuel the nuclear reactors that produce the tritium gas used in U.S. nuclear weapons. The NNSA initially estimated a need for new supplies of LEU by 2027, but after an internal review identified additional materials, this date was deferred until at least 2038.2

Unit 1 of the Watts Bar Power Plant, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, is the only reactor producing tritium for U.S. nuclear weapons. A second reactor at the site is expected to begin supplementing tritium production in 2020. (Photo: Tennessee Valley Authority)The U.S. Department of Energy, in which the NNSA operates, also sees a need to produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU)3 for the new, small, modular power reactors it argues are central to reviving the U.S. nuclear energy sector. In the longer term, the NNSA argues that an enrichment facility will be needed by 2060 to produce the highly enriched uranium (HEU) used to fuel the reactors that power the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers.4

There are a number of reasons to question the NNSA’s urgency to build an enrichment facility. The United States still has a large surplus of Cold War-era HEU that could be blended down to LEU and could significantly delay the need to enrich LEU for tritium production. Additionally, it might be possible to purchase LEU from the European enrichment services company, Urenco, which operates the only uranium-enrichment plant in the United States. An agreement could be made, as France and Urenco have done, to allow the United States to use Urenco-enriched uranium for military but non-explosive purposes. Urenco also has announced that it plans to produce HALEU, which it could do at a much lower price than the Energy Department’s proposed small, expensive facility that could cost $10 billion or more.

The NNSA’s plans also ignore arguments for fueling future naval propulsion reactors with LEU, which would negate the need for HEU production. Making more HEU for naval reactors sets an undesirable precedent for non-nuclear-armed states such as Brazil, Iran, and South Korea, which are developing nuclear submarines or considering doing so. Unlike LEU, HEU can be used to make nuclear weapons directly, even by terrorist groups.

Credible alternatives exist. The United States should seriously consider those alternatives before investing in a new uranium-enrichment capability.

The NNSA Case for Enrichment

The NNSA argument for building a national enrichment capability begins with tritium, a gas used in two-stage nuclear weapons to boost the power of fission-based triggers, ensuring the ignition of the fission-fusion second stage. With a radioactive half-life of 12.3 years, tritium needs to be regularly replenished in U.S. weapons to maintain the intended yield.

Some of the supplies to meet current and future needs come from the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal after the end of the Cold War. The NNSA has downblended the HEU from dismantled weapons into LEU that is used for tritium production.

New tritium is produced in a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reactor at the Watts Bar Power Plant in Tennessee; a second reactor there is expected to start producing in 2020. Tritium-producing burnable absorber rods containing lithium-6 are inserted into the reactor fuel assemblies, where they stay for about 18 months. When the reactors are refueled, the rods are removed, and the tritium is extracted at a facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

At issue is the availability of “unobligated” LEU to fuel the tritium-production reactors. The NNSA and the Department of State insist that peaceful-use trade agreements prevent the United States from using LEU that has been produced from foreign uranium, or enriched in a foreign-owned plant or in a U.S. plant using foreign enrichment technology. The NNSA argues that any tritium generated from these “obligated” sources is off-limits and therefore more unobligated LEU is needed.

The United States stopped making HEU for nuclear weapons in 1964 and ended the production of unobligated LEU in 2013 when it closed the last of its Cold War gaseous-diffusion uranium-enrichment plants. The LEU used for current tritium production comes from uranium previously enriched in these facilities, including some of the 374 metric tons of HEU the United States declared excess to its weapons requirements in 1994 and 2005. Of this excess Cold War HEU, 152 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium were set aside to fuel Navy nuclear reactors, and 28 metric tons have been made available to be diluted down to LEU fuel for tritium production.5

This Cold War enriched uranium is a finite resource. The NNSA projects that the United States will run out of unobligated LEU for tritium production between 2038 and 2041 and that the HEU that has been set aside for naval reactors will run out around 2060.6 Because the United States does not have experience building modern gas-centrifuge enrichment facilities, the NNSA argues that it would be wise to start building soon.

Centrus Energy installed 120 AC100 centrifuges, each about 12 meters tall, in a demonstration project completed in 2016. The NNSA has estimated that using this centrifuge design to enrich uranium to use for tritium production would cost up to $11.3 billion.  (Photo: Centrus Energy)The NNSA established the mission need for a domestic uranium-enrichment facility in fiscal year 2017 and has funded development of two technologies.7 One would use AC100 centrifuges developed jointly by the NNSA and the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and USEC’s successor, Centrus Energy. The AC100 is the world’s largest gas centrifuge and has a capacity to produce about 340 separative work units (SWUs) per year.8

USEC, a private corporation, operated two U.S. gaseous-diffusion plants and acted as a broker for down-blended Russian HEU from 1993 until 2013, when USEC went bankrupt. Renamed Centrus Energy and with former Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman as its president and chief executive officer, the company continues as a uranium broker for Russian LEU while lobbying for Energy Department funding to build a gas-centrifuge enrichment plant. In 2009 the Energy Department turned down a USEC request for a $2 billion loan guarantee to build a commercial enrichment facility, but has issued a notice of intent to contract with Centrus Energy to develop the capability to produce HALEU using AC100 centrifuges.

The NNSA is also funding the development of smaller, more conventional centrifuges designed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

According to NNSA estimates, building a domestic enrichment capability for tritium production would cost between $3.1 billion and $11.3 billion using the AC100 centrifuge and between $3.2 billion and $6.8 billion using the smaller centrifuge. Adding capacity to produce HEU for naval reactor fuel would increase the cost significantly.

A 2018 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises some concerns about NNSA plans and cost estimates. The GAO states that the NNSA’s preliminary analysis of options for meeting enrichment needs was biased toward establishing a new enrichment capability and did not sufficiently consider alternatives.9 In addition, the GAO found that the NNSA cost-estimating process did not meet best practices. The NNSA has consistently been on the GAO list of agencies with projects at “high risk” for cost increases and schedule delays because of contract management problems. If past NNSA cost overruns are any indicator, a domestic enrichment capability could cost significantly more than current NNSA estimates.10

This makes it even more important to consider three credible alternatives. First, the need for a new, national uranium-enrichment program could be delayed by declaring additional HEU to be excess to U.S. weapons needs. Second, it might be made altogether unnecessary if the NNSA were willing to purchase uranium-enrichment services from Urenco. Finally, the United States could eliminate any future need for producing additional weapons-grade uranium by designing future nuclear submarines to be fueled by LEU.

Declaring Additional HEU Excess

The NNSA’s review of potential alternative sources of unobligated LEU was not authorized to consider the possibility that the United States might be in a position to declare as excess additional HEU-containing weapon components.

The NNSA has not issued recent public information, but an estimate of the amount of HEU currently in the U.S. weapons stockpile can be made from past declarations by using a detailed report on U.S. stocks of HEU available for weapons as of September 30, 1996, and subtracting material declared to be excess for weapons in 2005 and an estimate of the amount of scrap HEU declared to be excess in 2015. This data suggests the United States has in nuclear weapons, weapons components, and reserves available for nuclear weapons between 216 and 240 tons of weapons-grade HEU containing about 200 to 225 tons of uranium-235.11

Based on the official September 2017 declaration that the U.S. nuclear stockpile contained 3,822 operational warheads, less than half of this HEU is used in operational U.S. nuclear warheads. If each of these operational warheads contained an average of 25 kilograms of HEU, a conservatively high estimate, then today’s entire arsenal would contain about 93.5 tons of U-235. That would leave more than 100 tons of weapons-grade uranium not in operational warheads.

If the United States declared 40 tons of weapons-grade uranium from this reserve to be excess and blended it down with natural uranium to 1,000 tons of 4.5 percent-enriched LEU, that would be sufficient to fuel the two Watts Bar tritium-production reactors for another 20 years, until about 2060 when the Navy’s reserve of HEU would be depleted as well.

Enrichment Services From Urenco

The Energy Department argues that the United States cannot fuel its tritium-producing reactors with LEU enriched in foreign-owned plants because all foreign material is obligated not to be used for weapons purposes under international supply agreements. Interestingly, Urenco does not agree.

The peaceful-use article in the treaty among the United States and the three nations (Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) that own Urenco’s commercial enrichment plant in New Mexico states that “[a]ny centrifuge technology, equipment and components transferred into the United States subject to this agreement,… any nuclear material…, any special nuclear material produced through the use of such technology, any special nuclear material produced through the use of such special nuclear material…shall only be used for peaceful, non-explosive purposes.”12 “Special nuclear material” is defined in the agreement as “plutonium, uranium-233, and uranium enriched in the isotopes U-233 or U-235.” Tritium is not included.

A 2014 GAO report on the topic stated that it was Urenco’s position that the use of Urenco-produced LEU to fuel the TVA tritium-production reactors would be allowed by the treaty: “Urenco has consistently informed TVA that it places no restrictions on TVA using [Urenco’s] LEU in its tritium-producing reactors.”13

Therefore, although the seller is willing, the buyer is not.

The GAO noted that the strict U.S. interpretation of its peaceful-use commitments was established in 1998 when USEC was still producing LEU. It also noted that the key agencies involved in this discussion, the Energy and State departments, argued that having a national enrichment plant would further U.S. nonproliferation and national security goals. According to the GAO, the Energy Department argued, for example, that “if the United States were to permanently lose its domestic enrichment capability, it could cause concern among other countries that the United States may not be able to ensure a guaranteed LEU supply, and other countries may then seek to acquire their own indigenous enrichment capability. This could, in turn, create new proliferation concerns, as the use of sensitive nuclear fuel enrichment technologies that are used to develop LEU for nuclear fuel could also be used for a clandestine nuclear weapons program.”

The USS Gerald R. Ford, the mostly recently commissioned U.S. aircraft carrier, is powered by two nuclear reactors fueled with weapon-grade uranium. Some other nations use low-enriched uranium to fuel their nuclear-powered naval vessels, and the U.S. Navy has assessed that it could also use low-enriched uranium for its aircraft carriers. (Photo: Christopher Delano/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)On the other hand, it could be argued that the United States could strengthen the nonproliferation regime by setting the example of forgoing a national enrichment program in favor of a multinational program. The current international supply of enrichment services is quite diverse (China, France, Russia, Urenco), and supply significantly exceeds demand. Currently, only three non-nuclear-armed states have active enrichment programs: Brazil, for its nuclear submarine program; Iran, with a program that has been a major focus of proliferation concern; and Japan. Each of these programs is uneconomic and currently too small to support even one large power reactor.

The Energy Department has suggested that a government-funded facility created for national security purposes could have surplus capacity to produce LEU for the commercial market.14 Given the Energy Department’s estimated costs for building and operating the plant, however, even without the huge cost overruns typical for new nuclear facilities, the production cost per SWU for the NNSA plant would be 15 to 40 times greater than the current market price.15

The NNSA argues that, in the long run, the United States will need a national enrichment facility to make HEU for naval reactor fuel. Even here, however, foreign centrifuges might be used. France, for example, already enriches uranium for its naval reactors with centrifuges produced by Enrichment Technology Company (ETC), a company owned jointly by Urenco and France’s fuel-cycle corporation, Orano. The peaceful-use paragraph in the Treaty of Cardiff under which France bought a share of ETC appears to have been designed to allow this: “The Government of the French Republic shall ensure that any organization which builds plants for the enrichment of uranium on the territory of the French Republic using or otherwise exploiting Centrifuge Technology owned by, held by, or deriving or arising from the operations of, ETC, or operates such plants, shall not produce weapons-grade uranium for the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”16

This limitation would appear to allow uranium enrichment for naval reactor fuel even up to the level of weapons grade. Because it did not want to go to the extra expense of higher enrichment just for its naval reactors, however, France fuels its nuclear submarines and nuclear aircraft carrier with LEU produced at Orano’s Georges Besse II plant, which produces primarily LEU for power reactor fuel. Enrichment of the LEU produced at Georges Besse II is limited to 6 percent.

In principle, if the United States could get the same terms with Urenco and Orano as France did, this could open up the possibility of buying enriched uranium for U.S. naval reactors from Urenco as well. Some would argue that Urenco and ETC, which produces its centrifuges, are foreign-controlled companies, but the controlling governments are all U.S. allies. Urenco’s U.S. subsidiary is incorporated in Delaware, its plant is in the United States, and virtually all its employees are Americans. The risk that somehow the United States would be cut off from its naval fuel supply seems remote.

In any case, the U.S. supply of enriched uranium for national security missions could be buffered by large stockpiles that would provide ample time for the United States to build an alternative enrichment plant if something should go awry. If this is not sufficient assurance, a U.S. company might be encouraged by the government to buy a share of Urenco. The Netherlands, the UK, and the two utilities that own Germany’s share of Urenco have been expressing an interest in selling for years.17 The market value of $10 billion estimated for the company in 2013, is within the $3.1–11.3 billion range estimated by the Energy Department for construction of a facility equipped with AC100 centrifuges with an enrichment capacity of 0.4 million SWUs per year. Urenco’s enrichment capacity is nearly 50 times larger.18

Future Submarines and LEU

All U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers are fueled by weapons-grade uranium containing 93.5 percent U-235. There are technical advantages to HEU fuel, including more compact, longer-lived reactor cores. Yet, global trends are moving away from the use of HEU because the material can also be used directly to make nuclear weapons, even by terrorist groups. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States led a largely successful global campaign to end the use of HEU to fuel research reactors.

The technical trade-offs for the benefits of moving naval reactors to LEU fuel would be acceptable.19 France has quietly switched its submarines and aircraft carrier to use LEU fuel, mostly for cost reasons, and China has reportedly always used LEU.20 That leaves the United States; the UK, which bases its naval reactors on U.S. designs; Russia; and India, which bases its naval reactors on Russian designs.

The U.S. nuclear navy believes that it could switch its aircraft carriers to LEU but argues that it would have to design its future submarine reactors to hold larger cores or go back to midlife refueling.21 So, there is a trade-off between strengthening nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts by banning the production of HEU for any purpose and continuing to design future U.S. submarine reactors to run on HEU fuel.

If the United States designed its future naval reactors to operate on LEU, that could provide an extra incentive for the Urenco countries and France to renegotiate the treaty terms between the United States and Urenco. Rather than the 6 percent-enriched level that France has adopted for its naval reactor fuel, the United States could use the same fuel to which research reactors were converted to use: 19.75 percent-enriched, just below the 20 percent HEU threshold.

Uranium Enrichment Can Wait

In 1964, as part of an effort to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union after the Cuban missile crisis, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced parallel reductions in the production of fissile materials. In addition to promoting a more peaceful “post-Cold War era,” Johnson warned that the United States must not operate a nuclear project “just to maintain employment.”22 That same year, Johnson ordered an end to the production of enriched uranium for weapons purposes. For Johnson, the focus had shifted from weapons production to concerns about more countries getting the bomb.

Since 1974, when India tested a nuclear explosive made with plutonium separated for its civilian nuclear research and development program, the United States has discouraged non-nuclear-armed states from launching plutonium-separation or uranium-enrichment programs and argued for a shift from HEU to LEU in research reactors so as to minimize their proliferation potential and reduce terrorist access to nuclear materials. Given the options of down-blending more excess HEU and Urenco’s offer to supply LEU for U.S. tritium-production reactors and the feasibility of designing future U.S. naval reactors to use LEU fuel, the United States can afford to wait and consider the alternatives before building a national enrichment plant.

The authors would like to acknowledge Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center for his work on this subject. See https://www.weeklystandard.com/henry-sokolski/national-security-and-crony-nuclear-capitalism.


1. U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan - Biennial Plan Summary: Report to Congress,” DOE/NA-0072, October 2018, pp. 2–16.

2. U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “NNSA Should Clarify Long-Term Uranium Enrichment Mission Needs and Improve Technology Cost Estimates,” GAO-18-126, February 2018, p. 14.

3. Instead of the 4 to 5 percent-enriched fuel of conventional power reactors, this uranium would be closer to the 20 percent-enrichment level above which enriched uranium is officially considered weapons usable.

4. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060: Report to Congress,” October 2015, p. 26, http://fissilematerials.org/library/doe15b.pdf.

5. Ibid., fig. 2. All of the 174 tons of the highly enriched uranium (HEU) declared to be excess in 1994 was restricted to peaceful uses and therefore is not available for tritium production. Twenty tons of HEU declared to be excess in 2005 has been committed to be down-blended to high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) for research reactors.

6. NNSA, “Fiscal Year 2019 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan,” pp. 3–38.

7. GAO, “NNSA Should Clarify...,” pp. 23–27.

8. Separative work units (SWUs) are used to measure enrichment capacity and embedded enrichment work. It takes about 200 SWUs to produce a kilogram of 90 percent-enriched HEU, 8 SWUs for a kilogram of 5 percent-enriched low-enriched uranium (LEU), and 40 SWUs for a kilogram of 19.75 percent-enriched HALEU.

9. GAO, “NNSA Should Clarify...”

10. Lydia Dennett, “Nuke Agency Needs Budget Accountability,” Project on Government Oversight, May 1, 2018, https://www.pogo.org/investigation/2018/05/nuke-agency-needs-budget-accountability/; David Kramer, “DOE Uranium Contract Raises Fairness Concerns,” Physics Today, Vol. 72, No. 3 (2019), pp. 28–30.

11. Frank von Hippel, “Declaring More U.S. Weapon-Grade Uranium Excess Could Delay by Two Decades the Need to Build a New National Enrichment Plant,” April 5, 2018, http://fissilematerials.org/library/fvh18.pdf.

12. “Agreement Between the Three Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Government of the United States of America Regarding the Establishment, Construction and Operation of a Uranium Enrichment Installation in the United States,” February 1, 1995, art. III.

13. “Urenco has consistently informed [the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)] that it places no restrictions on TVA using [Urenco’s] LEU in its tritium-producing reactors.” GAO, “Department of Energy: Interagency Review Needed to Update U.S. Position on Enriched Uranium That Can Be Used for Tritium Production,” GAO-15-123, October 2014, p. 30.

14. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060,” p. 33.

15. The NNSA estimated that the capital cost of a facility built by Centrus Energy with a capacity of 400,000 SWUs per year would be $3.1 billion to $11.3 billion, with an annual operating cost of $112 million to $195 million. U.S. Department of Energy, “Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060,” pp. 32–38. Assuming a 30-year lifetime for the facility and a real inflation rate of 1.5 percent, the annual capital charge would be about 4 percent, and the cost of an SWU would be $590 to $1,600. For comparison, during 2018–2019, the average spot price for enrichment contracts was about $40 per SWU.

16. “Agreement Between the Governments of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany and the French Republic Regarding Collaboration in Centrifuge Technology,” July 12, 2005, art. IV.2.

17. Stanley Reed, “Powerhouse of the Uranium Enrichment Industry Seeks an Exit,” The New York Times, May 27, 2013.

18. Urenco’s annual enrichment capacity is 18.6 million SWUs. Urenco, “Global Operations,” n.d., https://urenco.com/global-operations (accessed June 14, 2019).

19. Sebastien Philippe and Frank von Hippel, “The Feasibility of Ending HEU Fuel Use in the U.S. Navy,” Arms Control Today, November 2016, pp. 15–22.

20. Hui Zhang, “China’s Fissile Material Production and Stockpile,” International Panel on Fissile Materials Research Report, No. 17 (December 2017), p. 16, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr17.pdf.

21. NNSA, “Conceptual Research and Development Plan for Low-Enriched Uranium Naval Fuel: Report to Congress,” July 2016.

22. “Design for Peace,” The Washington Post, April 21, 1964, p. A14.


Frank N. von Hippel is a professor emeritus of public and international affairs in Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. During 1993–1994, he served as assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Sharon K. Weiner is an associate professor in American University’s School of International Service. During 2014–2017, she worked in the National Security Division of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

The United States wants to enrich uranium domestically for defense purposes, but there are better options.

Translating Goals Into Agreements: An Interview with Pavel Palazhchenko

July/August 2019

Pavel Palazhchenko has witnessed historic arms control efforts from a unique position: the interpreter’s seat next to top Soviet leaders as they negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In the arms control community, he is instantly recognizable because of his consistent presence in images of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meeting with U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s. Palazhchenko’s experience offers an unusual perspective on the process of arms control negotiations and the value of U.S.-Russian engagement today. He spoke with Arms Control Today on June 8 by phone from Moscow.

Arms Control Today: How did you get your start as an interpreter for the Soviet Foreign Ministry?

Pavel Palazhchenko: I graduated from what is now called Moscow Linguistic University, which at that time was called Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, where I majored in English and French. I then studied for a year at the UN language training course in Moscow, which trained simultaneous interpreters for the UN Secretariat.

Soviet interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko (center), supports a conversation between President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the end of their 1986 summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. (Photo: Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)Then I worked in New York at the United Nations from 1974 to 1979, and when I returned to Moscow, I was kind of lucky because at that time they were expanding the linguistic services of the Soviet Foreign Ministry. So, there were vacancies, and I was accepted to work there. Interestingly, one of my first assignments was to work at the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty] negotiations that started in 1981.

Those first INF Treaty negotiations, which were not successful, lasted for a little more than two years, and I basically did the entire process from beginning to end. There were several rounds of negotiations. Ultimately they were not successful, but they were still useful because it was a discussion of the conceptual basis of intermediate-range nuclear forces, the balance of arsenals on both sides, the format of a future agreement, all of those things. Of course, it was quite a bit frustrating.

The Soviet side was led by Yuli Kvitsinsky, at that time a rising star in the Soviet Foreign Ministry. On the American side, it was Paul Nitze, who was a veteran. They were two very different individuals, but they were able to work together quite well. They respected each other, and they really wanted some kind of an agreement, but politically of course, it turned out that that was not possible.

ACT: Did Soviet interpreters, and now Russian ones, receive diplomatic training and education and status? In the United States, interpreters are selected for their linguistic skills. Is it the same in Russia?

PP: We are also chosen as linguists, but in the Soviet Foreign Ministry, once you start working as a linguist, you also are a diplomat. There is no separation between different categories. You are a diplomat, and you are supposed to have that diplomatic awareness. I suspect that even though in the United States it’s kind of two separate categories, it’s still the same: you really need certain diplomatic skills. Above all, you have to be very much aware of the subject matter of negotiations. You have to have access, sometimes limited, but very often quite wide-ranging access to the diplomatic material. So even though it’s a little different in the U.S. tradition and the Russian tradition, I suspect that it’s basically quite similar.

ACT: What are the professional norms of the interpreter? Are you expected to sit and translate, or are your opinions sought?

PP: The opinions would not normally be sought because the status of the interpreter is different from the status of official members and advisers in the delegation. But of course, later when I was working with [Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard] Shevardnadze and with [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev, informally, yes, they might seek your opinion. In the arms control delegations, perhaps not so much. But you know, a delegation is a kind of environment in which you socialize, you communicate, you interact with diplomats, so you learn a lot, even though your official status is not the same as the status of the members of the delegation.

The actual work of the interpreter, specifically in arms control negotiations, is that you interpret the official statements that are delivered during the meetings of the delegations. Also, the delegation heads then talk separately, and I was interpreting their discussions. Then at the lower level, the senior military representatives talk, advisers from the foreign ministry and from the defense department talk, and there are interpreters who take care of that.

Then a couple of days later, we would exchange official translations of the formal statements that had been made at the meeting of the delegations. That is done to make sure that the terminology is correct, that we interpret the terms and understand the terms in a similar way, and that was of course useful.

The rest of it is quite informal, and to some extent, it depends on the rapport and the informal interactions within the delegations. There are official receptions where everything is quite informal and the value of what is being said is less than what is being said during the formal meetings. A lot of the talk and discussion is exploratory. It is something that can later be denied, or you can back out of some of those things, and interpreters are also involved in that type of discussion as well.

ACT: There are reports that U.S. President Donald Trump had a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki summit in 2018, where only interpreters were present, and Trump asked his interpreter not to share or discuss the meeting with anyone in the U.S. delegation. In your experience, what are the normal standards for an interpreter in record-keeping and in sharing information with their delegation?

PP: There can be no standards to apply here because it’s a matter of government service in this case. Of course, interpreters do have a standard of confidentiality. You are not supposed to talk out of school. Whenever the president, or whoever else is the main interlocutor in a negotiation, says that something is not to be revealed to others, I would assume that’s an order, that’s something that interpreters have to obey.

ACT: You are well known, you have a higher profile than most interpreters
have achieved.

PP: That began in 1985, and it began with the first meeting that Shevardnadze had with [U.S. Secretary of State] George Shultz. That was the first formal, official meeting of foreign ministers where simultaneous interpretation was used. That is to say not the consecutive interpretation where a person speaks and then you interpret what he has said, but simultaneous interpretation with the proper equipment, microphones, and headphones. The U.S. side actually proposed this, and after some initial hesitation, this was accepted. I was asked to interpret at that meeting because I had had a lot of previous experience in doing it at the UN and elsewhere.

Interpreter Pavel Palazhchenko (right) continues to work with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, here in Berlin in 2014 to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Photo: Target Presse Agentur Gmbh/Getty Images)That was a bit of luck. I was fortunate that I was asked to do it. Then I continued both with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev. I interpreted Shevardnadze’s first meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in September 1985, so the profile was high because at that time it was quite unusual. It was after a period of deep freeze in U.S.-Soviet relations, so there was a lot of media interest, so I guess that’s the reason.

ACT: You wrote a book about your experience. Given this principle of confidentiality, was it difficult to get the book cleared by Russian officials?

PP: I was not asked to submit it for review because everyone assumes, at least in Russia I guess, that a person who had access to truly confidential information would not reveal something that remains confidential. When I was writing the book, a lot of the material from those conversations and negotiations had been declassified either on one side or both sides. Today, the memorandums of conversation from those negotiations have been made public on both sides; and even then, when I was writing the book and particularly when the book was published, a lot had already been declassified. Of course, there were certain things that were still confidential and perhaps some things that still are, but it is assumed that people that had access to those things are responsible individuals and that they will not reveal anything that will cause problems.

ACT: Looking back at the INF Treaty talks, can you describe how the negotiators from both sides worked together?

PP: The completion of the INF Treaty was the result of agreements that were achieved at the summit level. It was in Reykjavik that Gorbachev and Reagan agreed on a zero-option agreement in Europe with a limited number of INF Treaty missiles elsewhere. Ultimately, for reasons that were good and legitimate, they decided that it would be best to have a global zero. That agreement was reached, I think, in February 1987.

That was the difference. Once there is an agreement at the summit level, it’s a lot easier for diplomats to work out the details. Whereas during the first negotiations, the unsuccessful negotiations of 1981 to 1983, there was no common basis agreed at the highest level for negotiating the details and actually drafting the treaty.

ACT: You referred to a deep freeze in U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, and we may be in a similar period now, with the two countries struggling to talk to each other, including about the INF Treaty. Are there parallels between what you saw firsthand to what could happen today?

PP: The main lesson is simple: If there is dialogue, then there is a chance that some kind of an agreement will be achieved. If there is no dialogue, then there is no chance that an agreement will be achieved. That’s why when the dialogue resumed between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States in November 1985 in Geneva—and when they established a process of discussions about all issues, the so-called four-part agenda to discuss arms control and security, regional issues, bilateral relations, and human rights—once that started, the chance for an agreement emerged.

Unfortunately, today’s leaders of Russia and the United States have not established such a process. It’s not guaranteed that a process of dialogue and negotiations will actually bring success, but at least there is a chance.

Right now, our leaders have had only one proper meeting in Helsinki. It didn’t go well. They have not had a real summit since then, and even worse, there is no diplomatic process, which to me is really a mystery why that is so. A normal process of diplomatic discussion probably would not cause political problems for either Trump or Putin, so why they have not established that kind of process, I really cannot understand. So, that may be something that they might finally want to achieve, to establish.

ACT: Perhaps when tensions are high, that is the time to talk?

PP: Well, if you look at the history of U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian relations, unfortunately that is not the case. It is often when tensions start that the process of negotiations stalls or is interrupted or is even abandoned. That was the case, unfortunately, after the U-2 episode between [Soviet Premier Nikita] Khrushchev and [U.S. President Dwight] Eisenhower. That was the case after the entry of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. That is often when negotiations stall, and that’s unfortunate.

To the great credit of Gorbachev and Reagan, they never interrupted the negotiating process even though there were bumps on the road, unfortunate incidents, spy scandals, and expulsions of diplomats. Nevertheless, they persevered, and they continued the talks.

ACT: Former President Gorbachev continues to promote dialogue and arms control. Is he heard in the Russian government?

PP: I have not heard the president or the foreign minister of Russia ever quoting Gorbachev, but sometimes it seems to me they do listen.

ACT: Right now, there’s a very popular television show about Chernobyl. Did the accident at Chernobyl affect Soviet thinking about nuclear weapons issues? Did that affect any negotiations?

PP: Gorbachev has said on many occasions that the disaster at Chernobyl reinforced his view that the arsenals of nuclear weapons should be cut to a minimum, that a nuclear war is unthinkable, that it must never be fought. It strengthened his intention and his desire to work hard on some kind of agreement that would start the process of nuclear disarmament. He has stated that on a number of occasions, both when he was president and afterward.

ACT: Can the INF Treaty experience still contribute to the future?

PP: First of all, it’s very unfortunate that the United States decided to withdraw from the INF Treaty. The treaty was a great achievement. We lived in a better and safer world for over 30 years as a result of the INF Treaty. I believe that the philosophy and the legacy of that treaty need to be preserved, even though both sides have now decided to withdraw from that treaty.

Nevertheless, I think there is a good chance that an arms race, an intermediate-range nuclear forces arms race, can be avoided because I do not see any great appetite in European countries to deploy those weapons. I don’t know much about Asia, but I’m not sure that there is appetite there either.

The philosophy of the INF Treaty is that ground-based missiles of that range are dangerous because they could trigger an all-out nuclear war. That philosophy was right. The legacy of the treaty remains in the minds of many experts, in the minds of many members of the military. I believe it’s very much alive in Europe, which remains, I think, the place where we should really focus on security issues.

We are currently at a difficult crossroads, but I still think that there is a chance to preserve both the philosophy and the legacy of the INF Treaty. That’s the connection that I see between that time and now.


Arms Control Today interviews Mikhail Gorbachev’s interpreter about his experience with arms control negotiations and the INF Treaty.

Hypersonic Weapons Affect South Asia Too

July/August 2019

Michael T. Klare’s article “An ‘Arms Race in Speed’: Hypersonic Weapons and the Changing Calculus of Battle” (ACT, June 2019) analyzes hypersonic weapons developments in China, Russia, and the United States. South Asia is an equally relevant and important region in this regard. Hypersonic technologies have already begun proliferating in the region. For instance, India tested its indigenous Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (HSTDV) on June 12. It is also developing the BrahMos-2 hypersonic missile with Russia’s help. It aims to produce a scramjet engine capable of flying faster than Mach 5. These developments will not only destabilize the already precarious state of strategic stability in South Asia, but will also increase the risks of inadvertent escalation.

India will have the capability and confidence to conduct a counterforce strike against Pakistan. The plan could be to launch a speedy attack against Pakistan, and by using its ballistic missile defenses, India will shoot down incoming missiles. What if Pakistan launches a preemptive strike to avoid India’s first strike? In any case, the outcome will be mutually assured destruction. Not only this, the proliferation of hypersonic technologies will spur an unwanted arms race in the region.

In addition, unlike China, Russia, and the United States, hypersonic technology development is in its infancy in South Asia. With BrahMos-2 tests delayed, only one test of the HSTDV has been conducted. Pakistan is not known to have an indigenous hypersonic development program. Moreover, if China, Russia, and the United States reach an agreement on the issue, then there are more chances of avoiding a possible regional hypersonic rivalry in South Asia by making India part of the agreement.

Samran Ali works on nonproliferation issues at the Center for International Strategic Studies in Islamabad.


Hypersonic Weapons Affect South Asia Too

Regime Protection Fuels Nuclear Proliferation

July/August 2019

Paul Kerr’s article “Lessons Learned From Denuclearizing States” (ACT, May 2019) has much to offer, but it leaves out a very important lesson from Libya’s denuclearization: engaging in regime change, as the United States effectively did in Libya, motivates nuclear proliferation by other nations that we might target. Here is the background and the result:

On Dec. 19, 2003, President George W. Bush stated,:

Today in Tripoli, the leader of Libya, Colonel Moammar al-Gaddafi, publicly confirmed his commitment to disclose and dismantle all weapons of mass destruction programs in his country. … [L]eaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations. … As the Libyan government takes these essential steps and demonstrates its seriousness, its good faith will be returned. Libya can regain a secure and respected place among the nations, and over time, achieve far better relations with the United States. … I hope that other leaders will find an example in Libya’s announcement today.

When President Barack Obama attacked Libya in 2011, North Korea put out a press release indicating that it had learned a lesson from Libya’s example, but not the one that Bush had in mind. Although that press release includes puffery, it also conveys an important point:

The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson.

It was fully exposed before the world that Libya's nuclear dismantlement, much touted by the United States in the past, turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one’s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world.

Even if Bush had not promised Libya that “its good faith will be returned,” whenever we threaten regime change and especially when we engage in that practice, we unwittingly encourage nuclear proliferation. Nations that we threaten and that have the capability to develop nuclear weapons are likely to do so since that is the only way they can deter us from doing to them what we did to Libya.

If we want North Korea to denuclearize and if we do not want Iran to develop nuclear weapons, we need to recognize that threatening regime change works counter to achieving those goals.

Martin Hellman is a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Stanford University and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Regime Protection Fuels Nuclear Proliferation

The Wohlstetter-Warnke Debate in Foreign Policy

July/August 2019
By Paul S. Warnke

In 1974 and 1975, two influential Cold War nuclear strategists used the pages of the still-young journal Foreign Policy to debate how to achieve stability in the U.S.-Soviet nuclear rivalry. Their discourse contributed to the course policymakers followed for decades after and continues to have relevance today as U.S.-Russian arms control agreements appear to be on the rocks.

Foreign Policy, No. 18 (Spring 1975) courtesy Foreign Policy.In the summer of 1974, Albert Wohlstetter published a pair of articles in Foreign Policy that crystallized and fueled the national debate on nuclear policy. He challenged the conventional wisdom that the United States and Soviet Union were engaged in a nuclear arms race defined by overestimation and overreaction, as well as spiraling moves and countermoves. He asserted instead that the Soviet Union was rushing ahead while the United States ambled backward. A race, at least a fair one, requires matching paces. Yet, there can be no race, Wohlstetter wrote, “between parties moving in quite different directions.”1

Wohlstetter’s claims that the United States was ceding strategic ground to the Soviet Union sparked a lengthy debate in Foreign Policy. Prominent thinkers and policymakers defended and prosecuted his thesis. They disagreed on how to measure nuclear superiority, how much the United States could afford to spend on its nuclear arsenal, and the perils and possibilities of engaging in arms control with the Soviet Union.

Of all the rebuttals to Wohlstetter that the magazine published, one stands out for its approach and imagery. Paul C. Warnke, a former defense official in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson and a staunch arms controller, did not challenge Wohlstetter’s scholarship or conclusions. He argued that the entire premise of his article was wrong: vying for advantage in the nuclear arms competition was a senseless exercise. He likened the United States and Soviet Union to two “apes on a treadmill,” accumulating more and more nuclear weapons in the futile pursuit of nuclear superiority. In Warnke’s opinion, the arms competition resembled less a race in which the two rivals were running at different paces and in different directions. They were instead “jogging in tandem on a treadmill to nowhere.”2

The Backdrop

The debate in Foreign Policy came at a turning point in the U.S.-Soviet strategic relationship. U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had just signed the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) agreement, a landmark accord that severely constrained the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities of both countries and placed five-year limits on their offensive strategic forces. Still, the pact failed to prevent both sides from pressing ahead with their nuclear weapons ambitions. The Soviet Union continued to build a new generation of multiple-warhead, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that U.S. strategists feared could threaten the survivability of U.S. land-based missiles and give Moscow escalation dominance in a nuclear exchange. Meanwhile, the price for Senate approval of SALT I was an extensive U.S. modernization program.

‘Is There a Strategic Arms Race?’

In his article, Wohlstetter set out to debunk the myths of the nuclear arms race and in the process undermine SALT I and Nixon’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union.

Wohlstetter took issue with the lexicon of arms controllers, bristling at what he considered their hyperbolic claims that the superpowers’ arms competition was “accelerating” and “spiraling.”3 In his opinion, this reliance on metaphor had led to an imprecise portrayal of the U.S.-Soviet strategic relationship.

Paul C. Warnke (left), director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, meets with President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office. (Photo: Courtesy Warnke family)Culling declassified data from U.S. intelligence reports between 1962 and 1972, Wohlstetter concluded that the United States had chronically underestimated the number of nuclear weapons the Soviet Union would deploy. Through a buildup of ICBMs and strategic bombers, the Soviet Union had been surging forward, moving quickly from a position of strategic inferiority to one of rough parity with the United States. Contrary to the rhetoric of arms controllers, Washington was not overreacting to these developments with countervailing moves. Wohlstetter contended that U.S. strategic programs were actually in decline, with spending on offensive forces insufficient to meet the growing Soviet threat. Taken together, these findings painted an ominous picture of the strategic reality: Moscow was setting a pace that Washington neglected to match.

Wohlstetter’s Foreign Policy articles carried profound implications for U.S. nuclear policy at a critical juncture. First, they questioned the wisdom of practicing restraint with an adversary that appeared bent on achieving strategic superiority. Second, the articles added greater urgency to modernization efforts. Improving Minuteman ICBM accuracy and procuring new submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bomber capabilities appeared imperative for providing adequate U.S. strategic strength.

Finally, Wohlstetter’s articles delivered a broadside against Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente. The articles portrayed Kremlin leaders more intent on winning an arms competition than on imitating U.S. self-control.

‘Apes on a Treadmill’

Titling his Foreign Policy article “Apes on a Treadmill,” Warnke used a simple metaphor to dispute Wohlstetter. As Warnke saw it, the United States and Soviet Union were stuck in a “‘monkey see, monkey do’ phenomenon,” in which each side reciprocated the arms decisions of the other.4 The United States responded to Soviet moves toward ABM deployments in the mid-1960s by building its own ABM systems and deploying multiple warheads on its strategic missiles to overcome defensive systems. In turn, Moscow had begun to take similar steps.

This quest for some numerical or technological edge by either side was futile, Warnke said, arguing that losing a cosmetic lead was no cause for concern because nuclear weapons served merely as offsets, not as exploitable resources for military and political gain. He strove to discredit the central premise of Wohlstetter’s article and lay bare the impulses driving the arms race.

To suppress these basic impulses, Warnke offered a daring initiative. Instead of trying to match or surpass Soviet weapon advancements, the United States should initiate a “process of matching restraint,” whereby the two superpowers would undertake a series of informal, reciprocal actions to uphold strategic stability.5 He proposed that the United States suspend many of its modernization programs. If Moscow responded by freezing its own strategic arms buildup, Washington could continue with further moderating steps. Warnke’s article ended where it started, with a metaphor: “We can be first off the treadmill. That’s the only victory the arms race has to offer.”6


The Wohlstetter-Warnke debate holds particular resonance for today. The United States and Russia are undertaking extensive modernization programs, refurbishing each leg of their nuclear triads and building new, exotic capabilities. As the two emphasize the role of low-yield, nonstrategic forces, nuclear weapons become instruments of statecraft with perceived military and political value. The arms control architecture is crumbling under this weight.

The visceral fear of falling behind, which Wohlstetter translated into mathematical proofs, has gained traction in the debate. The United States and Russia are striving to find an edge in their strategic competition as each develops capabilities to match or surpass the other, within and outside the parameters of existing arms control agreements. In this climate of heightened competition and suspicion, Warnke’s calls for reciprocating restraint are at risk of falling on deaf ears.

Looking back at the Wohlstetter-Warnke exchange in Foreign Policy may not resolve the complex issues of nuclear policy, but it throws them into sharp relief. In doing so, it raises the important question of whether the United States and Russia can afford to take bold initiatives and pursue mutual restraint in the name of strategic stability. Or as Warnke wrote in Foreign Policy, are the two forever doomed to continue “the solemn jog on the treadmill”?7



1. Albert Wohlstetter, “Is There a Strategic Arms Race? (II): Rivals but No ‘Race’” Foreign Policy, No. 16 (Autumn 1974), pp. 79–80.

2. Paul C. Warnke, “Apes on a Treadmill,” Foreign Policy, No. 18 (Spring 1975), p. 13.

3. Wohlstetter, “Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” Foreign Policy, No. 15 (Summer 1974), p. 4.

4. Warnke, “Apes on a Treadmill,” p. 15.

5. Ibid., p. 28.

6. Ibid., p. 29.

7. Ibid., p. 17.

Paul S. Warnke is a congressional nuclear security fellow for Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and the grandson of Paul C. Warnke. This article is adapted from his honors thesis for his master’s degree from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.


Albert Wohlstetter and Paul C. Warnke squared off in the pages of Foreign Policy nearly 45 years ago, framing an arms control debate that continues today.

REMARKS: Making Progress in Inter-Korean Peace

July/August 2019
By Jeong Kyeong-doo

During the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, President Moon and Chairman Kim agreed on complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a permanent peace regime, alleviation of military tensions and practical mitigation of the risk of war, and a broad and groundbreaking development of inter-Korean relations.

(Photo: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)In fact, the U.S.-North Korean summit that took place right here in Singapore a year ago was a historical meeting where President Trump and Chairman Kim agreed on a complete denuclearization of the peninsula and the improvement of bilateral relations, as well as mutual cooperation for the peace of the Korean Peninsula and the world.

The current denuclearization dialogue between the United States and North Korea is clearly different from the past denuclearization talks of the last 30 years that had missed their mark. While there may be more difficulties like the present into the future, these difficulties will surely be overcome as a part of an important step toward denuclearization.

In order to hold on to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for denuclearization, it is important to continue maintaining the momentum of dialogue generated through the summit talks. A variety of measures must also be considered to provide North Korea with the assurance of a bright future of peace and prosperity.

Permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, together with denuclearization, is only achievable when the 70-year-long fear and anxiety of war between South and North Korea is overcome and when military tension is alleviated and confidence is built.

Last September, the agreement of the implementation of the historic Panmunjom Declaration in the military domain, also known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) was signed by the minister of national defense of the Republic of Korea and the minister of the People’s Armed Forces of North Korea in Pyongyang, serving us the first steps toward the establishment of permanent peace. The foundation of this agreement is comprised of the basic spirit of the 1953 armistice agreement in preventing armed confrontations in the peninsula, as well as the contents of previous inter-Korean agreements in the military domain. It includes practical matters to comprehensively halt acts of aggression toward each other.

The two Koreas have ceased military aggression in all domains including land, air, and sea since last November. The demilitarized zone (DMZ) is also undergoing actual demilitarization, transforming into a zone of peace. An agreement was reached to withdraw all guarded posts installed at key points within the DMZ.

In addition, the two Koreas have completed demilitarization measures, such as removing all firearms installed in joint guard posts in the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, an area known for its symbolic representation of the division of the peninsula.

Furthermore, in areas within the DMZ that includes territory from both Koreas, recovery of war remains has commenced for the first time since the division. This area has seen the deaths of countless young men and women in fierce battles between the two Koreas and many other participating nations, while access was restricted for all ever since the armistice agreement was signed in 1953. An inter-Korean agreement to jointly pursue recovery has brought newfound attention.

Furthermore, the Republic of Korea government has not stopped at just implementing the CMA, but also constructed open DMZ peace trails in the vicinity of the DMZ, creating opportunities to experience peace at the heart of the division. The reason that the CMA is set apart from past agreements is that rather than limiting ourselves to a declarative purpose, it makes tangible contributions for the alleviation of military tensions and confidence building between the two Koreas. This has allowed for a more stable management of inter-Korean military relations than ever before. Efforts will continue for a complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula through the meticulous implementation of the CMA, making sure that the heightened military tensions, crises, and friction of the past will not be repeated.

Adapted from a June 1 speech by South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at the 18th Asia Security Summit in Singapore organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

South Korea's defense minister highlights areas of improved relations between the Koreas.

U.S. Questions Russian CTBT Compliance

July/August 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball

A top U.S. intelligence official publicly accused Russia in May of not complying with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), raising concerns that the Trump administration may be considering withdrawing from another multilateral arms control agreement. The allegation is a significant shift from recent U.S. government and intelligence community assessments.

Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifies to Congress on January 29. Speaking at a May event in Washington, Ashley accused Russia of not adhering to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)“Russia probably is not adhering to its nuclear testing moratorium in a manner consistent with the ‘zero-yield’ standard” outlined in the CTBT, said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in remarks to the Hudson Institute May 29.

Article I of the treaty requires its parties “not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,” and the issues of low-yield, zero-yield, and subcritical tests were debated at length during the treaty’s negotiation.

The new allegation veers from recent U.S. assessments. In December 2015, for example, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the House Armed Services Committee that “within this century, the only state that has tested nuclear weapons...in a way that produced a nuclear yield is North Korea.” More recently, no charge of a Russian CTBT violation was made in the State Department’s annual compliance report released in April.

The allegation raises a number of key questions and poses significant new challenges for states that support the CTBT, including how the Trump administration plans to address the compliance concern and whether officials believe low-yield nuclear explosions to be militarily significant.

Following the charges, some Republican U.S. senators urged the administration to remove the United States from the list of 184 signatories of the treaty, an action that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, once advocated when he held a senior State Department position in 2002. Whether the Trump administration will seek to exit the CTBT, which it has already said it does not support, is not yet clear. Unlike Russia, the United States has not ratified the pact, a step needed for the treaty to enter into force.

Ambiguous Charges

Asked by a journalist at the Hudson Institute briefing if Russian officials have only “set up at their test site at Novaya Zemlya in such a way that they could conduct experiments in excess of a zero-yield ban in the CTBT” or have actually conducted nuclear test explosions, Ashley said only that Russia had the “capability” to conduct very low-yield supercritical nuclear tests in contravention of the treaty.

He also implied that China may not be complying with the CTBT, saying that “China’s lack of transparency on their nuclear testing activities raises questions as to whether China could achieve such progress without activities inconsistent” with the treaty. He did not provide any evidence that China has violated the treaty.

A White House official sought to clarify Ashley’s comments later at the same event. “I think General Ashley was clear,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council. “We believe Russia has taken actions to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities that run counter or contrary to its own statements regarding the scope of its obligations under the treaty.”

Responding to a flurry of inquiries sparked by Ashley’s comment, the DIA said in a statement June 13, “The U.S. government, including the intelligence community, has assessed that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield.”

This statement did not clarify whether the assessment is a joint intelligence community assessment, how much confidence the community has in the assessment, or if the charge is based on very recent intelligence findings or is a new interpretation of older intelligence.

Russia, which signed the CTBT in 1996 and ratified it in 2000, has vigorously denied the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the accusation “a crude provocation” and pointed to the U.S. failure to ratify the treaty. “We are acting in full and absolute accordance with the treaty ratified by Moscow and in full accordance with our unilateral moratorium on nuclear tests,” he said on June 12.

Treaty Status and Verification

The United States signed the CTBT the day it opened for signature in 1996, but the Senate declined to provide its advice and consent for ratification in 1999 after a short and highly partisan debate. In 2009, President Barack Obama said his administration would pursue reconsideration of the pact, but he concentrated early arms control efforts on the negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. By 2012, Republicans regained control of the Senate, making CTBT ratification unlikely.

To enter into force, the treaty requires ratifications from 44 specific states, and eight of those (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States) have still not taken that step. Nevertheless, the treaty has established a de facto global moratorium on nuclear testing; and the treaty’s verification tools, the International Monitoring System (IMS) and the International Data Center, have been completed and are fully operational.

The treaty drafters anticipated that the pact would need additional means to detect and deter violations, particularly involving nuclear test explosions at very low yields. If and when the treaty formally enters into force, a state-party may request a short-notice, on-site inspection to investigate a possible violation. The request can be based on information collected by the IMS or through national technical means. Such inspections require the approval of at least 30 members of the treaty’s 51-nation Executive Council, which must decide on inspection requests within 96 hours. An inspection team would arrive at the suspected nation within six days of the council’s receipt of the inspection request.

Under Article VI of the treaty, which addresses the settlement of disputes before or after entry into force, “the parties concerned shall consult together with a view to the expeditious settlement of the dispute by negotiation or by other peaceful means of the parties’ choice, including recourse to appropriate organs of this treaty.” Such measures could involve mutual confidence-building visits to U.S. and Russian test sites by technical experts to address compliance concerns.


The DIA assessment that “Russia probably is not adhering” to the CTBT echoes longtime charges by test ban opponents that Russia does not share the U.S. interpretation of what the treaty prohibits and may be conducting extremely low-yield nuclear tests in a containment structure at its Soviet-era nuclear test site on the arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

In his May 29 remarks, Ashley said the DIA assessment was partly based on the view that Russia “has not affirmed the language of zero yield.” This assertion contradicts State Department fact sheets published in 2011 that report that Russia and all other nuclear-weapon states recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have publicly affirmed the CTBT prohibition on all nuclear test explosions, no matter the yield.

“At the time the treaty opened for signature, all parties understood that the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty as advocated by the United States in the negotiations,” according to a September 2011 publication from the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance.

“The United States led the efforts to ensure the treaty was a ‘zero-yield’ treaty, after the parties had negotiated for years over possible low levels of testing that might be allowed under the agreement,” according to the document. “Public statements by national leaders confirmed that all parties understood that the CTBT was and is, in fact, a ‘zero-yield’ treaty.”

Under this zero-yield interpretation, supercritical hydronuclear tests, which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are banned by the treaty. Subcritical hydrodynamic experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted.

Stephen Ledogar, chief U.S. negotiator of the CTBT, testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 1999, that Russia and the rest of the NPT nuclear-weapon states had committed themselves to the zero-yield standard.

For example, a March 1996 statement from Sha Zukang, the lead CTBT negotiator for China, said that “the Chinese delegation proposed at the outset of the negotiations its scope text prohibiting any nuclear-weapon test explosion which releases nuclear energy.” The future CTBT, he said, “will without any threshold prohibit any nuclear-weapon test explosion.”

More recently, Russia has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to this standard. On July 29, 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that, “under the global ban on nuclear tests, we can only use computer-assisted simulations to ensure the reliability of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.”

In an April 2017 essay, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote that the treaty “prohibits ‘any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,’ anywhere on Earth, whatever the yield.” Ashley said at the Hudson Institute event that he was not aware of Ryabkov’s essay.

‘Unsigning’ the Treaty

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), John Cornyn (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) sent a letter in March to Trump asking him whether he would consider “un-signing” the CTBT, The Washington Post reported June 13.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), speaks at the U.S. Capitol April 4. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and two other senators, Cotton asked President Donald Trump in March to consider “unsigning” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)If the United States were to formally withdraw its signature from the treaty, it would lose access to the nuclear test monitoring provided by the IMS, consisting of more than 300 seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide sensor stations.

According to the Trump administration’s 2017 budget request, the United States “receives the data the IMS provides, which is an important supplement to U.S. National Technical Means to monitor for nuclear explosions (a mission carried out by the U.S. Air Force). A reduction in IMS capability could deprive the U.S. of an irreplaceable source of nuclear explosion monitoring data.”

According to CTBT rules, only treaty signatories can access IMS monitoring information, and only treaty signatories have voting rights in meetings of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

A decision by the Trump administration to formally exit the CTBT would lead to international condemnation. In November 2018, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution on the CTBT that “urges all states that have not yet signed or ratified, or that have signed but not yet ratified...to sign and ratify it as soon as possible.” The resolution was approved 183-1 with four abstentions. Only North Korea, whose recent nuclear tests were condemned in the resolution, voted against the resolution. The United States abstained.


U.S. accusations raise concerns that the Trump administration may withdraw from another multilateral arms control pact.

Bolton Declares New START Extension ‘Unlikely’

July/August 2019
By Shervin Taheran and Daryl G. Kimball

Prospects for extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) dimmed in late June as U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton criticized the pact that is due to expire in February 2021.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks outside on the White House on April 30. In a June interview, Bolton said “it’s unlikely” that New START will be extended. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)“There’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely,” he told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview published June 18. His comments came less than a week after top U.S. and Russian arms control diplomats met in Prague to discuss the resumption of talks on strategic stability and the future of New START.

In his interview, Bolton said most Republican senators who voted to approve New START in 2010 actually opposed the treaty, primarily because the pact has no provisions or limitations on tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons. “That flaw remains today,” he said, “so simply extending it, extends the basic flaw.”

The treaty was negotiated to last 10 years after its entry into force, but it can be extended by up to five years by mutual agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on June 6 that Russia is prepared to let New START lapse if the Trump administration is not interested in extending the agreement. Russia has “already said a hundred times that we are ready to do so, but no one is willing to talk about it with us,” he said. Putin and President Donald Trump are expected to briefly meet at a late-June Group of 20 summit in Japan.

U.S. and Russia Reach ‘Starting Point’ for Dialogue

A June 12 meeting in Prague between Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was their fourth meeting this year, but the first where “strategic security issues on which the United States would like to engage in a more constructive dialogue with Russia” were discussed, according to the State Department.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials last met for a dialogue on strategic stability in Helsinki in September 2017, but a subsequent conversation scheduled to take place in early 2018 was canceled. (See ACT, October 2017.) The previous meetings between Ryabkov and Thompson this year were largely focused on the narrower issue of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The recent discussion followed a May meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Putin in Sochi. Pompeo told reporters after the meeting that the two nations would soon “gather together teams” to discuss New START and its potential extension, as well as “a broader range of arms control issues.” (See ACT, June 2019.)

After his latest meeting with Thompson, Ryabkov told Russian journalists that it was a “starting point” for further conversations and negotiations and that both sides recognized the importance of continued dialogue. Prior to the meeting, Ryabkov said on June 7 that Russia intended to discuss New START, prospects for next year’s nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, U.S. allegations about Russian compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the prospect of space-based weapons and U.S. missile defense systems.

The two diplomats also discussed the Trump administration’s recently stated desire for a more comprehensive nuclear arms control agreement that would include China, according to Ryabkov’s June 12 statement to reporters. (See ACT, June 2019.) He added that although a multilateral process was a good idea, it must involve all five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the NPT, including France and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Russia had sent several proposals to the United States over the past year on strategic stability and arms control, according to Lavrov. Russia “expects specific responses” to proposals that “cover the entire range of issues of strategic stability,” as well as “control over nuclear and other strategic offensive and defensive weapons,” he said, adding that one of the proposals “of fundamental importance” is for both countries to reaffirm “at the top level” that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and therefore it is unacceptable.”

Congress Urges New START Extension

Eight Senate and House Democratic committee leaders sent a June 4 letterto Trump encouraging him to extend

Forgoing “the benefits of New START by failing to extend the agreement would be a serious mistake for strategic stability and U.S. security,” they wrote.

The letter praised the administration’s “effort aimed at bringing both China and Russia into new arms control talks,” but stressed that, in light of “the challenges inherent to reaching new agreements with Russia and China, we strongly believe the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

The letter was signed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.); the House and Senate armed services committees, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.); the House and Senate intelligence committees, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.); and the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

Engel and the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), also continue to pursue House approval of their bill which expresses the sense of congress that the United States should seek to extend the New START so long as Russia remains in compliance. Their bill would also require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

Eleventh Hour for the INF Treaty

The United States and Russia have continued to set the stage for the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, slated to expire Aug. 2 after the U.S. announcement of its withdrawal plans in early February.

The Defense Department has requested nearly $100 billion in fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would exceed the range limits of the treaty, but the Democratic-led House of Representatives has expressed concern about the rationale for the missiles.
The House versions of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act and defense appropriations bill zeroed out the Pentagon’s funding request for the missiles. On June 18, House Democrats defeated an attempt by Republicans on the floor of the House to restore the funding by a vote of 225–203.

On June 18, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s position that it will not deploy INF Treaty-range missiles until the United States does. The United States alleges that Russia has already deployed the treaty-noncompliant 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8. (See ACT, March 2019.) Ryabkov made his comments as the Russian State Duma supported legislation submitted by Russian President Vladimir Putin to suspend Russia’s participation in the INF Treaty. The upper parliamentary body, the Federation Council, is expected to approve the legislation soon.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels on June 26 to discuss defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia fails to resolve U.S. allegations of treaty noncompliance. In remarks to reporters June 25, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Russia has until 2 August to verifiably destroy its SSC-8 missiles, which violate the treaty. But unfortunately, we have seen no indication that Russia intends to do so.”

Stoltenberg said the ministers “will decide on NATO’s next steps, in the event Russia does not comply. Our response will be defensive, measured and coordinated. We will not mirror what Russia does. We do not intend to deploy new land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. We do not want a new arms race. But as Russia is deploying new missiles, we must ensure that our deterrence and defense remains credible and effective.”—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control prospects are fading despite new talks between senior diplomats.


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