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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
July/August 2021
Edition Date: 
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Cover Image: 

Biden Budget Cuts Threat Reduction Efforts


July/August 2021
By Shannon Bugos

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus, is once again facing the budget axe, this time under President Joe Biden.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), shown here attending a House Armed Services Committee hearing in 2020, has questioned President Joe Biden's cuts in a key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)The Trump administration proposed a similar cut to the program last year, a move that was roundly criticized by members of Congress from both parties and ultimately reversed in final appropriations legislation. (See ACT, April 2020.)

Lawmakers have already begun to express similar misgivings about the Biden administration’s submission, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives in the United States and abroad.

“Rather than cut funding, we need to double down, learn from the global pandemic, and support programs that work to increase our capacity to anticipate and respond when another dangerous pathogen arises,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees this program, told CQ Roll Call on June 8.

The Pentagon is seeking $240 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program in fiscal year 2022, a significant 33 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2021 appropriation of $360 million. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) Congress provided about $120 million more for the program in 2021 than the Trump administration requested.

Of the $240 million, $124 million would be for the Biological Threat Reduction program, a 45 percent decrease from the amount appropriated for 2021. The Trump administration last year sought to slash this program by 38 percent from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation, but Congress rejected the proposal and instead appropriated $225 million.

The Pentagon’s 2022 budget documentation attributed the proposed decrease to the plus-up approved last year by Congress for the program, as well as reprioritization within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The CTR program, commonly known by the authors of the 1991 law that established it, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), has facilitated the deactivation of thousands of former Soviet nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the securing of countless biological pathogens, and the destruction of thousands of tons of chemical weapons agents.

The 2022 budget request for the program includes $13 million to secure and eliminate chemical weapons and $59 million to prevent WMD proliferation. To secure and dismantle nuclear weapons, it seeks $18 million, half of the 2021 appropriation.

The Biden administration is requesting $1.9 billion for nuclear nonproliferation programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department that is responsible for maintaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure. That is a decrease of $14 million from the 2021 appropriation and an increase of $178 million from the Trump administration’s projection in last year’s budget request.

The administration requested $343 million for the Material Management and Minimization program, a 14 percent decrease from the 2021 appropriation. The program supports the removal of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium used in civilian nuclear programs around the world. It also converts research reactors and medical isotope production facilities from using HEU, a fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons, to using low-enriched uranium.

The requested $185 million for the Nonproliferation and Arms Control program, however, would be a 25 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s appropriation. The increase largely would accelerate “the development of the nonproliferation enrichment testing and training platform for use by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” according to the budget documents.

At the State Department, the administration requested about $320 million for nonproliferation activities, including $95 million for the voluntary U.S. contribution to the IAEA, $86 million for efforts aimed at preventing biological and chemical weapons attacks, and $31 million for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, which oversees the global network used to detect nuclear test explosions.

 

A key Pentagon program aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges is facing the budget axe under President Biden.

Trump-Era Missile Defense Spending Continues


July/August 2021
By Kingston Reif

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request would continue the Trump administration’s plans for missile defense, including a controversial proposal to supplement U.S. homeland missile defenses by modifying existing systems to defend against longer-range threats.

The Missile Defense Agency has plans for an elaborate layered homeland missile defense system but questions abound. (Illustration by the Missile Defense Agency)The administration is asking for $20.4 billion for missile defense programs in 2022. Of that amount, $8.9 billion would be for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), $7.7 billion would be for non-MDA-related missile defense efforts such as early-warning sensors and the Patriot system, and $3.8 billion would be for nontraditional missile defense and left-of-launch activities such as conventional hypersonic weapons.

The MDA request of $8.9 billion would be a decrease of 18 percent from the fiscal year 2021 level of $10.5 billion appropriated by Congress, but is similar to the roughly $9 billion the Trump administration was planning to request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The MDA is asking for a total of $225 million for the layered homeland missile defense approach to adapt the Aegis missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats.

Of that amount, $99 million would be for the Aegis system to “support a phased delivery of operational capability” to supplement the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California. The request also contains $65 million to “demonstrate THAAD capabilities for regional and homeland applications.”

The additional funds for layered homeland defense would support modeling and simulation and coordination of command-and-control activities.

The MDA requested $274 million for layered homeland missile defense in 2021. But Congress poured cold water on the proposal and provided $49 million only for limited concept studies, a decrease of $225 million from the budget request. (See ACT, January/February 2021.)

The skepticism from Congress came on the heels of a successful first intercept test of the Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile against an ICBM target on Nov. 17. (See ACT, December 2020.)

But a report published in April by the Government Accountability Office said the test “was not an operational test…and it was executed under highly favorable conditions.” The report raised other concerns about the feasibility of the layered homeland missile defense approach.

Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the director of the MDA, suggested to reporters on May 28 that the layered homeland defense approach may no longer be as high of a priority for the agency.

“[T]here are some very serious policy implications” regarding the approach, he said, “and so we want to make sure that we get the policy angles right.”

“We want to make sure that it's still a need” for the U.S. Northern Command, Hill said, given planned upgrades funded in the budget to improve the capacity of the existing GMD system, which has been plagued by development problems, testing failures, and reliability issues.

The GMD system would receive $745 million in research and development funding in the budget request.

The request also includes $926 million for development of the new Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). An independent Defense Department cost estimate published in April put the estimated cost of the interceptor at $18 billion over its lifetime. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The department plans to supplement the existing 44 ground-based interceptors with 20 of the new interceptors beginning not later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. The budget request would continue to fund a service life extension program for the existing interceptors to keep them viable until the NGI is fielded.

The MDA is seeking $248 million to develop the capability to defend against new hypersonic missile threats.

The Biden administration is planning a review of U.S. missile defense policy and programs. Leonor Tomero, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 9 that the Pentagon would start the review “in the next few weeks.”

Asked whether it would be a “standalone” review or integrated with a larger review of deterrence issues, Tomero said, “[T]hat decision has not been made yet.”

Biden administration budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 would continue Trump-era missile defense plans.

IAEA Chief Presses Iran on Past Nuclear Activities


July/August 2021
By Julia Masterson

Iran’s failure to cooperate with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into its past nuclear activities “seriously affects” the agency’s ability to verify the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in his introductory statement to the agency’s Board of Governors, which met June 7–10 in Vienna.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, talks to a journalist after the press conference about the agency's monitoring of Iran's nuclear energy program in May in Vienna. (Photo by Michael Gruber/Getty Images)Despite repeated efforts by the IAEA to engage in technical discussions with Iran, Iranian officials have failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for the presence of nuclear particles at three undeclared locations. “In the absence of such an explanation from Iran, I am deeply concerned that nuclear material has been present at the three undeclared locations in Iran and that the current locations of this nuclear material are not known by the agency,” Grossi said.

Ahead of the meeting, Grossi circulated a May 31 report detailing the status of Iran’s comprehensive nuclear safeguards agreement, which it is required to implement as a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities has raised concerns about the accuracy and completeness of Iran’s declarations pursuant to that agreement. In his statement, Grossi reiterated that Iran should clarify and resolve all outstanding inconsistencies without further delay.

Grossi has adopted a tougher stance toward Iran than his predecessor, Yukiya Amano. Grossi appears committed to resolving all issues related to Iran’s safeguards agreement during his IAEA tenure.

The issues pertain to pre-2003 nuclear activities, when Tehran had a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA concluded its investigation into these activities in 2015, but is obligated to follow up on evidence that points to undeclared nuclear materials and activities that Iran should have disclosed under its safeguards agreement.

According to the report, the investigation has centered on four locations in Iran, denoted as Locations 1 to 4.

Information made available to the IAEA in September 2018 suggests that Location 1 could have been involved in the storage of nuclear materials and equipment, information that Iran is required to disclose per its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Environmental sampling conducted by the agency in February 2019 yielded evidence of “natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin [human made], the composition of which indicated that they may have been produced through uranium conversion activities.” The agency shared this finding with Iran, but it assessed Iran’s explanation of these undeclared materials and activities to be “not technically credible.”

At Location 2, the IAEA found indications of the possible presence between 2002 and 2003 of natural uranium, in the form of a metal disc that underwent drilling and processing. When the agency requested clarification on the origin of the disc in 2019, Iran declined to respond. Subsequent IAEA efforts to locate the disc and verify its existence have been inconclusive.

The IAEA found evidence of possible uranium-conversion activities in 2003 at Location 3 and, at Location 4, it found the possible use and storage of nuclear material “where outdoor, conventional explosive testing may have taken place,” also in 2003.

Iran denied initial agency requests for access to those locations in 2019, but it later granted permission in August 2020 under an Iranian-IAEA agreement. (See ACT, September 2020.) Subsequent inspections revealed the presence of “anthropogenic uranium particles that required explanation by Iran” at both locations, but Iran has failed to satisfactorily address any IAEA inquiries related to the two sites.

Grossi and Iranian officials held a series of talks aimed at addressing questions associated with the four locations beginning in April 2021. To date, Iran has not cooperated sufficiently.

Another round of bilateral technical meetings is scheduled to begin the week of June 21, several days after Iran’s June 18 presidential election. It remains to be seen whether Ebrahim Raisi, newly elected president, will engage with the IAEA to resolve the disputed issues.

 

Iran-IAEA Agreement in Question

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed frustration over Iran’s failure to respond to agency inquiries about the status of a special arrangement for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on June 25 that the special monitoring arrangement had expired the previous day and that it was “essential for the agency to understand Iran’s position” regarding the data being collected under the arrangement. He stressed the “vital importance” of an “immediate response from Iran.”

Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement in February for Tehran to collect and store certain information after Iran informed the agency that it was suspending certain monitoring and verification mechanisms required by the 2015 nuclear deal. (See ACT, March 2021.) Iran will transfer the collected data to the IAEA if U.S. compliance with the nuclear deal is restored. The arrangement expired in May, but was extended through June 24.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in a June 28 press conference that “no decision has been made yet, either negative or positive, about extending the monitoring deal.” He also said that there has been no decision about deleting the collected data and video footage.

A senior U.S. State Department official said in a June 24 press call that the United States is concerned about the status of the agreement. “If the IAEA is blind for a certain amount of time,” it will make it “much more difficult” restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, he said.

The IAEA has access to certain nuclear sites under Iran’s safeguards agreement, which Tehran continues to implement.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran has failed to adequately explain its past nuclear activities to the International Atomic Energy Agency, affecting the agency’s ability to verify the peaceful nature of the program, the IAEA director-general has said.

NATO Highlights Concerns With China, Russia


July/August 2021
By Hollis Rammer

Leaders of the 30 member countries of NATO expressed concerns about China’s expanding influence and emphasized their support for further arms control measures between the United States and Russia during their June 14 summit in Brussels.

U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (R) talk at a memorial for the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States after the June 14 NATO summit in Brussels. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)“All leaders agreed that, in an age of global competition, Europe and North America must stand strong together in NATO to defend our values and our interests, especially at a time when authoritarian regimes like Russia and China challenge the rules-based order,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the conclusion of the meeting.

The 2021 summit communiqué states that “China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an alliance.” Although NATO leaders stopped short of declaring China a rival, their commitment to “engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the alliance” represents a shift from previous statements that did not mention China at all.

The communiqué also condemns “Russia’s aggressive actions [that] constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security” and says NATO “remains clear-eyed about the challenges Russia poses.” The document specifically cites concerns about Russia’s arsenal of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and deployment of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the alliance says is a violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In addition, NATO leaders reiterated that the alliance has “no intention to deploy land-based nuclear missiles in Europe.” The communiqué repeated NATO’s stance that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a moratorium on missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty is “not credible and not acceptable.” Putin first made the proposal following the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2019 and has since expanded it to include mutual verification measures. (See ACT, January/February and November 2020.)

The NATO document also reaffirmed the alliance’s opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, describing it as “inconsistent with the alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy” and “at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture.” In a change from previous statements, however, the communiqué called on partners to “reflect realistically on the ban treaty’s impact on international peace and security,” including on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In addition, the heads of state reinforced NATO’s status as a nuclear alliance, stating that “given the deteriorating security environment in Europe, a credible and united nuclear alliance is essential” and that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”

Prior to the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Stoltenberg to reiterate the U.S. commitment to the alliance, namely Article 5 of the NATO Charter. Article 5 declares that an attack on one member state will be seen as an attack on all and that such an attack will be met with a collective response. This represents a major shift from the rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently referred to the alliance as “obsolete.”

At a summit in Brussels, NATO leaders expressed concern about China’s expanding influence.

 

Biden to Speed Development of Hypersonic Weapons


July/August 2021
By Shannon Bugos

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request would accelerate plans that began under the Trump administration to develop and field conventional hypersonic weapons to compete with Russia and China.

A B-52 carried the Air Force's Advanced Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW IMV), a hypersonic system, for its first captive carry flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 2019. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The Pentagon requested $3.8 billion for projects related to research and development of hypersonic weapons in the budget submission published on May 28, including two new hypersonic cruise missile programs for the Air Force and Navy.

The request also includes funding for initial procurement of the Air Force’s Advanced Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, the continued development of the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, the addition of the CPS to Zumwalt-class destroyers, and the procurement of additional batteries of the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system.

“This budget supports our efforts to…accelerate investments in cutting-edge capabilities that will define the future fight, such as hypersonics and long-range fires,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10.

Michael White, principal director for hypersonic weapons in the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said on June 2 that “we’ve really been very fortunate in having a new administration continue the momentum and step up and champion what we’re trying to do with delivering this war-fighting capability.” He emphasized the importance of this acceleration given that “our adversaries,” namely Russia and China, “have fielded capability today that we don’t have.”

The Air Force requested $238 million for continued R&D on the ARRW system, an air-launched hypersonic glide vehicle, a $40 million increase over the Trump administration’s projected request in last year’s budget documents. The request is nearly $150 million less than Congress’ fiscal year 2021 appropriation for R&D, the Air Force stated in its budget documents, “due to near program completion and transition to early operational capability” in 2022.

The service requested an additional $161 million for the system’s production and rapid fielding. The Air Force most recently conducted the first booster flight test of the system in April, but it failed. (See ACT, May 2021.)

The Air Force also asked for $200 million for the new Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile program to design, develop, and test “a prototype that will demonstrate the viability of a multi-mission weapon concept to be fielded as a long-range prompt strike capability.” The request was included as part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which Congress created last year to boost deterrence against China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Navy asked for $1.4 billion for the CPS program, an increase of about $600 million from last year’s appropriated amount and $70 million above the Trump administration’s projection. The Navy attributed the increase in part to the need to add the weapons system, which uses the common hypersonic glide body, to Zumwalt-class destroyers starting in fiscal year 2025.

The Navy is also seeking $57 million for its new Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II weapon, a high-speed, long-range, air-launched weapons system aimed at addressing “advanced threats from engagement distances allowing the Navy to operate in, and control, contested battle space in littoral waters and [anti-access and area denial] environments.”

The Army requested $412 million for the LRHW system, which also uses the common hypersonic glide body, for costs that include funding for additional LRHW batteries. That was a decrease of $114 million from the Trump administration’s projection, which the Biden administration attributed in part to reallocating funding to sdevelop ground-launched missile capabilities.

It is not clear what if any effects the proposed budget cut would have on the LRHW program.

The Army requested $286 million to develop a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability. The service announced in November its selection of the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Tomahawk cruise missile to serve as the basis for the new capability. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) This effort “will leverage existing SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles for ground launch, to provide a responsive, highly accurate, deep strike capability designed to destroy high value, high payoff targets,” according to the Army’s budget documents.

Both the SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in August 2019. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The Biden administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget would accelerate Trump era plans to develop and field conventional hypersonic weapons to compete with Russia and China.

Russia Officially Leaves Open Skies Treaty


July/August 2021
By Hollis Rammer

Russian President Vladimir Putin officially signed off in June on Moscow’s withdrawal from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty after the Biden administration’s announcement that the United States would not seek to rejoin the accord. Some remaining states-parties have expressed an intent to maintain the treaty, but Russia’s impending exit has sparked concern that the accord may lose its rationale.

Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov, seen here at a Russian Academy of Science meeting in Moscow in April, has declared that the era of Russian participation in the Open Skies Treaty is "closed forever."  (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the treaty in November 2020 “seriously upset the balance of interests of states-parties to the treaty that was attained during its signing,” the Kremlin said in a June 7 statement announcing that Putin had signed the Russian law denouncing the treaty. “This seriously hampered the treaty’s implementation and undermined its significance for strengthening trust and transparency and also threatened the national security of the Russian Federation.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emphasized on June 10 that “[t]here is no turning back, the chapter of Russia’s participation in the Open Skies Treaty is closed forever.”

Russia notified treaty depositaries Canada and Hungary of its intent to withdraw on June 18, kicking off a mandatory six-month waiting period until the official withdrawal takes place in December. Belarus will withdraw from the accord alongside Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, as the two countries were paired as a group of states-parties.

In a June 18 statement, NATO urged Russia “to use the remaining six months before its withdrawal takes effect to reconsider its decision and return to full compliance with the Treaty.”

Moscow began the domestic procedures necessary to withdraw from the accord in January. (See ACT, March 2021.) The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, approved the formal legislation endorsing the move on May 19, followed on June 2 by the Federation Council, the upper house. Russia last year sought written guarantees from the remaining states-parties that they would not continue to share data collected under the treaty with the United States or prohibit overflights of U.S. bases in Europe. But the states-parties dismissed the request, which Moscow has said contributed to its decision to withdraw. (See ACT, November 2020.)

Putin’s signing of the law came after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman informed Ryabkov on May 27 that the Biden administration determined the United States would not seek to return to the treaty. (See ACT, June 2021.) When he was president-elect, Joe Biden condemned the Trump administration’s announcement in May 2020 of its intent to withdraw the United States from the accord, but he stopped short of committing to reenter the agreement. His administration opened a review of “matters related to the treaty” once in office and held consultations with U.S. allies and partners earlier this year.

A State Department spokesperson attributed the Biden administration’s decision in May to “Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance” with the treaty. Washington has raised concerns that Moscow is in violation of the treaty because it has limited the distance for observation flights over the Kaliningrad region to no more than 500 kilometers from the border and prohibited missions over Russia from flying within 10 kilometers of its border with the conflicted Georgian border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has denied all alleged violations, condemning them as “fallacies.”

As a sign of the dwindling chances that Washington would seek to rejoin the treaty, reports emerged in April that the U.S. Air Force planned to retire the two Boeing OC-135B aircraft used to conduct Open Skies overflight missions. (See ACT, May 2021.) The first was officially sent to the scrapyard in Arizona in May, followed by the second in June.

Alexander Graef, a researcher at the Institute for Peace, Research, and Security Policy in Hamburg, suggested on June 7 that “if Ukraine remains committed to the treaty, there is a good chance that the states-parties can save it for now.” In 2014, six states-parties, including the United States, used the treaty to conduct an overflight of eastern Ukraine following a Russian attack on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Black Sea. At the time, Kyiv said Moscow was increasing its forces near the Ukrainian border. (See ACT, January/February 2019.)

Nevertheless, Graef says, for the remaining states-parties, “it is true that…the treaty loses its rationale” without Russia.

The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, aimed to increase confidence in and transparency of military activities by permitting each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data.

Russia announced its formal withdrawal from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty, following the Biden administration’s decision not to rejoin the accord.

India Arrests Alleged Uranium Traders


JulyAugust 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

Twice in the past two months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals on charges of illicit trading in uranium. The incidents have raised concerns about what appears to be a growing nuclear security risk in the region.

An intermediate form of uranium called "yellow cake" displayed at India's highly restricted uranium processing facility at Turamdih Uranium Mill at Jadugoda in Jharkhand in India. Twice in recent months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals for alleged illicit trading in uranium, which has applications in nuclear bombs, medicine and electricity production.  (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)In the first case, Indian police arrested two men in Maharashtra on May 7 for allegedly possessing 7.1 kilograms of natural uranium, estimated to be worth more than $2.8 million, according to news reports.

Natural uranium, which has applications in bombs and medicine, would have to be subjected to a substantial extraction process to be usable in nuclear weapons. Even so, it is supposed to be under state control, not available on the black market.

Authorities said the source of the uranium is currently unknown and being investigated.

In the second incident, police in Jharkhand, reportedly acting on a tip, arrested seven individuals on June 3 for allegedly possessing 6.4 kilograms of a substance said to be uranium.

But on June 10, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs disputed that claim. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy “stated that the material seized [on June 3] is not uranium and not radioactive,” the spokesperson said.

No further details on the material were provided.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 4 criticized the Jharkland and Maharashtra arrests as showing “lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.” The agency called for a “thorough investigation.”

The Indian spokesperson countered in a written statement, saying, “The gratuitous remarks about India by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry drawing upon a media report indicate their disposition to malign India without caring to check/verify facts.”

Pakistan in recent years has improved its controls on nuclear materials, but it and India still rank near the bottom of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 2020 Nuclear Security Index, which annually rates states’ efforts to secure nuclear materials and protect nuclear facilities at home.

India possesses around 156 nuclear warheads and Pakistan has an estimated 165 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2021 report. Both countries are expanding their nuclear weapons arsenals and fissile material stockpiles.

Although India has two functional uranium mines in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, it is attempting to accelerate its domestic uranium mining efforts to offset its dependency of uranium imports from such states as Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan.

With 22 nuclear reactors in operation and 21 under construction, India can hypothetically use highly enriched uranium to produce even more lethal capabilities by manufacturing thermonuclear or boosted-fission nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan are not members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but they are technically bound by international norms such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to withhold any support to non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons, and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which urges states to enforce stringent measures for nuclear security.

Indian authorities arrest individuals for reportedly trading illicitly in uranium.

NPT Review Delayed Again


July/August 2021

The pivotal 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has been postponed again, until sometime in 2022, according to multiple diplomatic sources.

The meeting, which typically occurs every five years and involves hundreds of representatives from most of the 191 states-parties to the treaty, was originally set to begin in April 2020 at UN headquarters in New York. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 led to an initial decision to reschedule until “no later than April 2021.” (See ACT, April 2020.) In October 2020, conference president-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen announced that states-parties decided to postpone again, until August 2021. (See ACT, November 2020.)

But with the COVID-19 virus still posing a public health threat in many parts of the world, a majority of states-parties have told Zlauvinen they want a further postponement, until 2022. They have not yet settled on a new date for the month-long meeting.

One option would have been to start the conference on Jan. 17, 2022, but sources indicated that China objected because that would conflict with the opening session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. An alternative option under discussion is to start earlier, on Jan. 4, but that would conflict with the first meeting of states-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, now set for Jan. 12–14 in Vienna. (See ACT, May 2021.)

The NPT review conference caps a five-year cycle of meetings during which states-parties review implementation and compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on action steps to overcome new nonproliferation challenges and to fulfill core goals and objectives.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

NPT Review Delayed Again

OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria


July/August 2021

An investigation into 77 allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria has concluded that chemical weapons were likely or definitely used in 17 cases, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported to the UN Security Council on June 3.

A mother and father weep over the body of their child, who was killed in a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in August 2013. The OPCW says there have been 17 cases of chemical attacks in Syria, including Khan Shaykhun and Ltamenah, both in 2017. (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias announced that the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will be addressing new issues during future consultations with Syria, including “the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.” He said that the organization had notified Syria of its intention to conduct on-site inspections and requested visas for its expert team, but never received a response.

That is not the first time that Syria has declined to cooperate. In April 2020, the OPCW Executive Council demanded further information regarding three alleged chemical weapons attacks that took place in 2017. Syria declined, and in response, the organization in April suspended Syria’s “rights and privileges,” marking the first time that the OPCW had taken such action since its formation in 1997. (See ACT, May 2021.)

Russia has consistently defended Syria and criticized the OPCW and its investigators. In response to Arias’ report, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the OPCW of exclusively using information “from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government” and of relying on “pseudo witnesses,” according to media reports. He also claimed the OPCW “was established illegitimately” and that therefore it is unfair to expect Syria to comply with its regulations. Russia joined 14 other states, including China, in voting against the measure to restrict Syria’s rights within the multilateral organization.

Richard Mills, U.S. deputy ambassador to the OPCW, called for accountability and further investigation into all alleged cases of weapons use. He defended the OPCW’s legitimacy.

Despite Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 under heavy international pressure, questions remain about the validity of the country’s chemical weapons declarations. Arias reported that one of the deadliest attacks took place in 2017, three years after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons program was complete.—HOLLIS RAMMER

OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

UN Adopts Nonbinding Arms Embargo On Myanmar


July/August 2021

More than four months after the Myanmar military overthrew the country’s elected leaders, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that “calls upon all member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.”

A protester holds the flag of the National League for Democracy, the party of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while making the three-finger salute during a flash mob demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on June 25. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)Although supported by 119 of the assembly’s 193 member states on June 18, the resolution lacks the binding nature that can come with UN Security Council resolutions and is more of a political message than a punitive measure. Among the Security Council’s five permanent members, China and Russia abstained, typically an indication that a binding Security Council embargo resolution would not be adopted.

Arms trade with Myanmar, still called Burma by U.S. officials, has long been controversial, with Western countries at times shunning weapons sales during the country’s most undemocratic periods. Not surprisingly, EU member states were well represented among the original sponsors of the resolution. The European Union has maintained some form of arms embargo on the country since the 1990s.

The United States also voted for the resolution. Within the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the majority of members supported the measure, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as Myanmar, whose pre-junta ambassador is still recognized by the United Nations.

According to the latest reporting by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on global trends on the transfer of major conventional weapons, Myanmar accounts for less than 1 percent of global arms imports, with China, India, and Russia supplying more than 80 percent of those weapons. India was among the 36 countries that abstained on the resolution. Only Belarus voted against it—JEFF ABRAMSON

UN Adopts Nonbinding Arms Embargo On Myanmar

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