"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
July/August 2022
Edition Date: 
Friday, July 1, 2022
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IAEA Board Rebukes Iran

July/August 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors has rebuked Iran for failing to cooperate with an agency investigation into evidence that Tehran failed to declare nuclear materials and activities, prompting Iran to retaliate by reducing IAEA monitoring of its nuclear program.

Laura Holgate (L), U.S. ambassador to the Vienna Office of the United Nations and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), attends the quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on June 6. The board censured Iran for failing to provide long-sought data about its past nuclear activities.  (Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images)The board passed the censure resolution on June 8 by a vote of 30–2, with three countries abstaining. It was the second time that the board has taken action to spur Iran’s cooperation since the IAEA opened its investigation in 2018. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

In a June 6 statement to the board, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Iran “has not provided explanations that are technically credible” regarding the presence of uranium at three undeclared locations in Iran.

Although the activities under investigation took place prior to 2004 when Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, it is still required to declare all nuclear materials and activities to the agency as part of the country’s safeguards agreement, which is legally required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The resolution called on Iran to “act on an urgent basis to fulfil its legal obligations” and work with the IAEA to “resolve all outstanding safeguards issues.” It also expressed concern about Iran’s “insufficient substantive cooperation” with the IAEA’s safeguards investigation.

Ahead of the board’s vote, Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told Al-Jazeera that Iran has provided the agency with accurate explanations but the IAEA lacks the “will” to be convinced by Iran’s answers.

But according to a May 30 IAEA report on the investigation, the only recent explanation Iran gave was that third-party sabotage contaminated the three locations with uranium. Iran failed to provide evidence to back up that claim, according the report.

Eslami also said in the June 6 interview that the evidence that spurred the IAEA investigation is based on “fake documents and accounts” provided by Iran’s enemies.

In 2018, Israel turned over information to the IAEA that it stole from Iran pertaining to the country’s pre-2004 illicit nuclear weapons program. The IAEA has repeatedly stated that it has a rigorous process to evaluate information shared by member states.

Laura Holgate, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said in a June 8 statement that the United States is “not taking this action to escalate a confrontation for political purposes.” She said the United States seeks “credible explanations” to “finally put these issues behind us” and still supports efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Despite this, Iran retaliated for the resolution by disconnecting 27 IAEA cameras surveilling nuclear facilities in Iran and turning off equipment monitoring Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities. Although this reduction in transparency will have no effect on the IAEA investigation, it complicates negotiations to return Iran and the United States to compliance with the JCPOA.

After the IAEA board last censured Iran in June 2020, Tehran allowed IAEA inspectors to take samples at two locations under investigation. But given rising Iranian-U.S. tensions over negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, from which the United States withdrew in 2018, it is not clear that the June 8 resolution will have a similar effect.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on June 9 that Iran will not “retreat as a result” of the resolutions and “will not take a step back from its positions.” Supporters of the censure argue it was necessary to support the IAEA and broader nonproliferation goals.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, resolution co-sponsors, said in a June 8 joint statement that board action was necessary because the “challenge posed by Iran’s insufficient cooperation on substance is serious and ongoing.” The IAEA’s authority and the integrity of the safeguards regime “are at stake,” the statement said.

The May 30 report included more detail than past IAEA reports about the undeclared nuclear activities that Iran may have conducted at the locations under investigation. The IAEA also named the sites for the first time.

According to the report, evidence suggests Iran conducted activities related to the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium processing and conversion, at Varamin. Another location, Turquzabad, was used to store material and equipment, including from the activities at Varamin. At a third location, Marivan, evidence suggests that Iran conducted explosive experiments relevant to building a nuclear device.

The report concluded that Iran undertook uranium metal activities at a fourth location, Lavisan-Shian, that should have been declared to the IAEA under Iran’s safeguards agreement. The IAEA said it has no more questions for Iran about that site.

Censured for failing to cooperate with the IAEA, Iran retaliated by reducing the agency’s monitoring of its nuclear program.

States-Parties Meet on Nuclear Arms Ban Treaty

July/August 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández and Daryl G. Kimball

The first meeting of states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has produced an ambitious 50-point action plan and several decisions designed to implement the 2017 agreement. It also adopted a political statement that aims, in part, to reinforce norms against nuclear weapons use and threat of use.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (on screen) speaks during First Meeting of States-Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in Vienna on June 21. The treaty, which bans nuclear weapons, has been ratified by 66 countries. Notable holdouts are the United States and other nuclear-weapon states.  (Photo by Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images)“We will not rest until the last state has joined the treaty, the last warhead has been dismantled and destroyed, and nuclear weapons have been eliminated from this earth,” delegates said in a joint declaration issued at the close of the meeting.

“We stress that any use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations. We condemn unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances,” the declaration added.

The June 21–23 meeting in Vienna occurred at a moment of unprecedented post-Cold War instability as Russia wages war against Ukraine. To date, 86 states have signed and 66 states have ratified the treaty, which prohibits the possession, development, transfer, testing, use, or threat of use of nuclear weapons. The TPNW entered into force in January 2021.

The condemnation represents the strongest multilateral criticism of such nuclear threats since the UN General Assembly approved a resolution on March 2 condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s decision to increase the readiness of his nuclear forces. There have also been exchanges of nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea in 2017 and Pakistan’s reference to the possibility of nuclear war with India in 2019, according to a TPNW conference working paper. Most recently, Russia threatened to use nuclear weapons if NATO members intervene militarily in the war in Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2022.)

In a statement issued June 24 by Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, the Russian government rejected the criticism. “There have never been any ‘nuclear threats’ from Russia and never are. The Russian approach to this issue is based solely on the logic of deterrence.”

Calling NATO actions to be “dangerously balancing on the verge of a direct armed conflict with our country,” she argued that “the logic of deterrence remains an effective way to prevent a nuclear collision and large-scale wars.”

Several states-parties at the Vienna meeting expressed deep concerns about the risks posed by the dangerous nuclear deterrence policies espoused by Russia and the eight other nuclear-armed states and their allies. “The logic that nuclear deterrence provides security is a fundamental error because deterrence requires credibility, meaning the readiness to actually use these weapons. This is nothing less than a massive nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the head of all of us, of all of humanity. We must take and we have taken a different path,” declared Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg at the beginning of the conference.

Many TPNW delegations joined Schallenberg in expressing concern about the risks posed by nuclear deterrence policies of the nine nuclear-armed states and their allies.

Led by conference president Alexander Kmentt, the Austrian director of disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation, states-parties made several decisions that will shape the treaty’s future. These include implementing treaty obligations to assist people affected by nuclear weapons use and nuclear test explosions and designating a competent international authority to monitor treaty implementation and compliance. In addition, the conference agreed on steps to promote further TPNW ratifications and to establish a scientific advisory group on the technical aspects of the treaty, including the risks and consequences of nuclear weapons and their use.

The conference statement also expressed deep concern with the fact that none of the nuclear-armed states are taking serious steps to reduce dependence on nuclear weapons. “Instead, all nuclear-armed [states] are spending vast sums to modernize, upgrade, or expand their nuclear arsenals and placing a greater emphasis and increasing the role of nuclear weapons in security doctrines,” the declaration said.

According to a 2022 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, nuclear arsenals are expected to grow in the coming decade, despite a marginal decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2021. The two largest nuclear weapons possessors, Russia and the United States, have suspended discussions on a follow-on arms control agreement to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which will expire in 2026.

States-parties also agreed on steps relating to their obligations under treaty articles VI and VII to address the harm from the use and testing of nuclear weapons, including the establishment of an international trust fund for assisting health issues in affected states and for environmental remediation.

They pledged to pursue high-level engagement with states that have not joined the treaty, which was negotiated by more than 120 countries but not the nuclear-armed states.

In 2021, NATO members declared their opposition to the treaty in the Brussels summit communiqué, saying, “We reiterate our opposition to the [TPNW] which is inconsistent with the alliance’s nuclear deterrence policy, is at odds with the existing non-proliferation and disarmament architecture, risks undermining the [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)], and does not take into account the current security environment.”

Yet, NATO member states and close U.S. allies such as Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway attended the first meeting of states-parties as observers.

Germany and Norway delivered statements that reiterated NATO’s declaratory policy regarding the treaty. “As a member to NATO, and as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, and confronted with an openly aggressive Russia, which has not only invaded Ukraine but is threatening the rules-based international order and peace in Europe, Germany cannot accede to the TPNW, which would collide with our membership in NATO including nuclear deterrence,” Rüdiger Bohn, the German deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament and head of the German delegation, told the conference.

But he pledged that Germany would seek to engage “in constructive dialogue and exploring opportunities for practical cooperation” with TPNW states.

Jørn Osmundsen, Norwegian special envoy for disarmament affairs, also laid down caveats. “Norway is attending this conference as an observer,” he stressed. “This is not a step towards signing the TPNW, which would be incompatible with our NATO obligations. Norway stands fully behind NATO’s nuclear posture.”

The TPNW conference reaffirmed that the treaty is designed to complement and strengthen the existing nonproliferation and disarmament regime. “In the absence of an enabling legally binding framework and the slow pace of implementation of agreed disarmament commitments, the TPNW’s negotiation and adoption is an effort by nonnuclear-weapon states to make progress towards the full implementation of Article VI of the NPT…[which is] an obligation for all NPT states-parties,” according to a conference working paper developed by Ireland and Thailand in advance of the meeting of states-parties.

States-parties agreed to pursue further discussions about establishing or designating a competent international authority to monitor and verify the disarmament process. They acknowledged the need to elaborate on what procedure and timeline should follow in case a state wishes to disarm and remove nuclear weapons from its territory. (See ACT, May 2021.)

Prior to the TPNW meeting, Austria hosted a fourth conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons with the goal of bringing together different actors from civil society, academia, and survivors to discuss these issues. Similar conferences in Oslo (March 2013); Nayarit, Mexico (February 2014); and Vienna (December 2014) helped propel non-nuclear-weapon states to launch the negotiations that produced the TPNW in 2017.

The TPNW meeting named Juan Ramón de la Fuente, Mexico’s UN ambassador, to serve as president of the second TPNW meeting of states-parties, which will be held in New York on November 27–December 1, 2023.

The first meeting of states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons declared, “We will not rest until…the last warhead has been…destroyed.”

North and South Korea Exchange Missile Tests

July/August 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea conducted a barrage of missile tests on June 5, prompting the United States and South Korea to respond with a large-scale launch of their own.

In this handout image from the South Korean Defense Ministry, a missile is fired during a joint South Korean-U.S. training exercise on June 6 off the east coast of South Korea. In all, the allies fired eight ballistic missiles into the East Sea in response to North Korea's missile launches the previous day. (Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry/Dong-A Daily via Getty Images)North Korea launched eight missiles from four locations within 37 minutes, according to the South Korean military. The systems tested were short-range missiles, each flying between 110 and 670 kilometers.

U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korean military fired one U.S. missile and seven South Korean missiles the following day. The eight missiles were launched over a 10-minute period from Gangwon province.

A statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 6 said that the testing exercise “demonstrated the capability and posture to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations, even if North Korea launches missiles from various locations.”

U.S. Forces Korea offered a similar explanation, saying the test was intended to demonstrate the ability to “respond quickly to crisis events.”

The June 5 test was the third that North Korea has conducted since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May. (See ACT, June 2022.) In a June 6 statement, Yoon said North Korean missiles are becoming more sophisticated and threaten “not only peace on the Korean Peninsula but also in Northeast Asia and the world.”

Testing eight missiles in succession is the largest North Korean launch since Kim Jong Un took power. Rapidly firing multiple missiles could be intended to test how quickly North Korea can deploy systems from multiple sites and demonstrate Pyongyang’s ability to overwhelm regional missile defense systems or target several locations simultaneously.

The United States and Japan also held a joint military drill in response to the tests.

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said on June 5 that one of the North Korean missiles tested had a variable trajectory. This could mean that the missile can be maneuvered to evade missile defenses, a likely goal for North Korea given defense systems in Japan and South Korea. Kishi said North Korea’s actions “cannot be tolerated.”

Although UN Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests, it is highly unlikely that the council will take any action to rebuke Pyongyang over the June 5 tests.

On May 26, China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-backed Security Council resolution that would have strengthened sanctions against North Korea in response to its recent long-range missile tests.

If adopted, the resolution would have lowered the caps on the oil and refined petroleum products that North Korea is permitted to import and banned the export of mineral fuels, mineral oil, and mineral waxes, as well as clocks and watches. It also targeted companies engaged in cyberactivities.

In a statement following the vote, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the vetoes “dangerous” and said that the council’s failure to act enables Pyongyang to expand its nuclear and missile programs.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun justified the veto by saying that Beijing opposes actions that “could increase tension and lead to miscalculations.” He blamed the “flip-flop of U.S. policies and failure to uphold the results of previous dialogues” for the current security situation on the Korean peninsula and said it is Washington’s responsibility to resume talks with the North.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said further sanctions are ineffective and a “dead end.” He said the United States has ignored North Korean calls for Washington to end its “hostile policy,” which would open up space for dialogue.

The Biden administration said it has made clear to the North Korea regime that it is willing to engage in negotiations without preconditions. But talks appear unlikely at this time because North Korea is focused on expanding its nuclear-capable ballistic missile arsenal and fighting a COVID-19 outbreak.

North Korea may also be looking to refine its nuclear weapons designs through further testing. South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said on June 13 that North Korea has completed preparations to conduct a nuclear test and only needs to make the “political decision” to do so. Park urged North Korea to refrain and said a nuclear test would only “strengthen our deterrence and also international sanctions.”

During a June 7 trip to Seoul, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S. response to a test would be “swift and forceful,” but did not provide details about what specific steps the United States might be prepared to take.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi confirmed that the agency also noted signs of possible nuclear test preparations at North Korea’s test site. In a June 6 statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, Grossi said that the agency has “observed indications” that one of the tunnels at the site has been reopened.

North Korea announced a nuclear test moratorium in April 2018 and blew up tunnels used for testing as part of that commitment. (See ACT, May 2018.) Grossi said any test would be “a cause for serious concern” and “contravene UN Security Council resolutions.”

He noted that the IAEA has observed indications that North Korea continues to operate its five megawatt-electric (MWe) nuclear reactor, which produces weapons-grade plutonium, and that the external construction of a new building attached to North Korea’s centrifuge enrichment facility appears to be completed.

Grossi said North Korea is dismantling parts of its unfinished 50MW reactor. Pyongyang halted construction on that facility in 1994.

A satellite imagery analysis published by 38 North also concluded that North Korea is dismantling the reactor. It said activity at the site “suggests that the main reactor building is being scavenged for materials probably for use in other construction projects.”

After the tit-for-tat missile tests, there are signs North Korea may be preparing a nuclear test.

Biden Reverts to Obama-Era Landmines Policy

July/August 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball and Magritte Gordaneer

After a months-long policy review, the Biden administration announced on June 21 that it will reverse the Trump administration policy that allowed for wider use of anti-personnel landmines. The decision means the United States is returning to the Obama-era policy that bars the use of the weapons anywhere except in support of its ally South Korea on the Korean peninsula.

Ukrainian deminers collect unexploded material during a demining operation in Horenka village in the Kyiv region in May as Russia pressed its war in Ukraine.  (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)The policy to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines will “align the United States’ policy and practice with key provisions of the Ottawa Convention for all activities outside the context of the Korean peninsula,” Stan Brown, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said in a briefing on June 21.

As a result of the decision, Brown said, “we’re not going to export or transfer anti-personnel landmines; we’re not going to use them outside the Korean peninsula. We would also undertake to destroy all anti-personnel stockpiles not required for the defense of [South] Korea; and again, we would not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the context of the Korean peninsula to engage in any activity that would be prohibited by the convention.”

As a candidate, President Joe Biden pledged to reverse what he characterized as President Donald Trump’s “reckless” stance on landmines.

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, typically referenced as the Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty, seeks to end the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide. It was opened for signature on Dec. 3, 1997, and entered into force on March 1, 1999.

Today, 164 countries are party to the treaty, representing more than 80 percent of the world’s states and all NATO allies except the United States. The Ottawa Convention has won strong global support because anti-personnel landmines are indiscriminate weapons that devastate civilian communities during conflict and for decades after the conflict has ended.

Brown said that the United States “will continue to pursue materiel and operational solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention, while we at the same [time] ensure our ability to meet our alliance commitments.”

Pressed about when the United States could deploy an alternative weapon along the DMZ that would allow it to accede to the Ottawa Convention, Brown said that “it is being worked on, but I would have to defer you to the Department of Defense for the specific acquisition and operational capabilities of future devices.”

Currently, the United States does not maintain any active anti-personnel minefields, not even in South Korea or on the DMZ with North Korea, where the landmines are all owned by South Korea. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States has roughly three million anti-personnel landmines, which are defined as victim-activated. Aside from a single use in Afghanistan in 2002, the United States has not used these weapons since the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

“The administration’s policy stands in a sharp contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where there’s compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive munitions, including landmines, in an irresponsible manner which is causing extensive harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there,” Brown said. Russia is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty but Ukraine is.

The United States recently transferred Claymore mines to Ukraine. They are command-detonated weapons, meaning they tend to be less lethal to civilians. The Ottawa Convention outlaws landmines that are victim activated.

The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines welcomed the policy adjustment, calling it “an important first step toward the ultimate goal of the United States joining the Mine Ban Treaty and banning the use, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines worldwide.”

States-parties to the Ottawa Convention, including Germany, Norway, and Spain, and Switzerland, praised the Biden policy adjustment in statements delivered at Mine Ban Treaty meetings in Geneva in late June, which the United States attended as an observer and used as a venue to announce its new policy.

Norway’s delegation, in a tweet on June 21, said, “Norway warmly welcomes the United States new landmine policy, bringing [it] in closer alignment with the requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty, and an important step toward possible accession.” The German delegation called it an “important step to achieve a mine-free world and universalization of the Ottawa Convention.”

The decision means the United States will bar the use of the weapons, except in support of South Korea on the Korean peninsula.

Declaration Limiting Explosive Weapons Advances

July/August 2022
By Jeff Abramson and Carol Giacomo

A new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas has been agreed and will be opened for signature at a high-level conference in Dublin later this year.

Russia's destruction of Ukrainian cities is driving home the devastating impact of explosive weapons on populated areas. In this photo from June, an elderly woman sits inside her damaged house in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas after a missile strike. (Photo by Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)The declaration, concluded at a meeting in Geneva on June 17, recognizes the devastating harm to civilians from bombing and shelling in towns and cities and commits signatory states to impose limits on the use of these weapons and take action to address harm to civilians.

“With this declaration, we have sent a strong signal that multilateralism can work and we have also sent a strong signal that we are ready to adopt a declaration which will be relevant to current conflicts and to future conflicts,” said Michael Gaffey, the Irish ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva whose government led the process that produced the document.

The declaration “sends out an unambiguous message on the fundamental importance of the protection of civilians in armed conflict and never has that message been more necessary,” Gaffey told delegates representing states, civil society groups and international organizations.

He said a specific date for the signing ceremony is being worked out.

In a written statement that same day, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, “The implementation of this declaration will change how militaries operate in populated areas, including when the use of explosive weapons is expected to cause civilian harm.”

“It will ensure that militaries take in to account the effect of their actions not only on civilians but also on homes, hospitals, schools and vital resources such as food and energy systems. It also provides for improved data collection, the sharing of best practices and assistance to victims,” he said.

According to research by Action on Armed Violence, 90 percent of the casualties are civilians when explosive weapons are used in populated areas.

Approval of the declaration occurred amid what Coveney called the “appalling consequences” for civilian victims of recent wars in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

The declaration’s preamble recognizes that civilians and civilian infrastructure are harmed by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, not just at the time of the weapons use, but into the future in what are often called “reverberating effects.”

States that sign the declaration will commit to develop or improve practices to protect civilians during conflict, collect and share data, and provide victim’s assistance.

The key commitment regarding weapons use aims to “ensure that our armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to help avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining as appropriate from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, when their use may be expected to cause harm to civilians or civilian objects.”

Although some states and many civil society advocates initially pushed for stronger language against weapons use, the international civil society coalition that has championed the process welcomed the text.

Laura Boillot, coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons, said that “the key thing now is that states join this political declaration at the earliest opportunity, and start the important process of work to implement it to impose limits on the use of explosive weapons and work to end this pattern of harm.”

Ireland took on leadership of the declaration process in 2019, following up on earlier meetings, with the initial hope of presenting the document in the summer of 2020. (See ACT, November 2019.) The pandemic delayed the effort, which shifted to virtual and hybrid meetings. (See ACT, April 2022.) The war in Ukraine brought renewed attention to the harm caused by the use of explosive weapons as Russia struck cities and towns with a range of missiles and artillery.

A new political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will be opened for signature later this year.

Russian-U.S. Arms Dialogue Remains Uncertain

July/August 2022
By Shannon Bugos

As Russian-U.S. tensions over Ukraine continue to grow, neither side is showing any sign of quickly resuming bilateral contact over strategic stability issues that could help avoid misunderstandings and escalation.

In remarks to the Arms Control Association annual meeting, Mallory Stewart, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, was pessimistic about resuming stability talks with Russia because "it’s very hard to... think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side.”  (Photo by Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

U.S. President Joe Biden similarly stated in June that engagement with Moscow on strategic stability and nuclear arms control issues must continue even as “we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.”

“Today—perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation,” Biden wrote in a June 2 letter to the Arms Control Association. “My administration is committed to reducing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, protecting the American people, and reinvigorating the global nuclear order to reduce the risk of use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

But senior U.S. administration officials indicated that current conditions in Ukraine prevent the resuscitation of the bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia that the United States paused at the outset of the war.

Prior to Biden’s statement, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times on June 1 that “right now it’s almost impossible to imagine” how the dialogue might resume before the last treaty limiting the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals expires in 2026. Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended this treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), last year for five years. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Mallory Stewart, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, made a similar point during the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2.

“With [Russia’s] illegal invasion of Ukraine and their continued, horrific 17th century activities, it’s very hard to figure out how we can sit and think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side,” Stewart explained. “If there was some way to indicate good faith on their side, if there was some way to indicate that the dialogue would be more meaningful than just another meeting in Geneva, we could consider something.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on June 16 described the future of Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control as “important not only for the peoples of our two countries, but also for the whole world, for global security.” This topic, he added, is not one that can be avoided. But Peskov acknowledged on June 30 after Putin's remark that "there are no tangible plans" now to resume the dialogue.

Russia officially launched a full-blown war in Ukraine on Feb. 24. Within two days, the U.S. State Department announced a suspension of the strategic stability dialogue, which Biden and Putin had revived in 2021 and which last took place in January. (See ACT, March 2022; July/August 2021.)

In previous rounds of the dialogue, Washington and Moscow had begun to exchange proposals on future arms control arrangements to follow New START. They also established working groups in an attempt to make headway between official meetings. (See ACT, September and November 2021.)

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden emphasized in June.

Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said on May 26 that the United States remains committed to “eventually getting back to the table to continue the dialogue on laying the groundwork for future arms control and to the pursuit of follow-on measures” to New START.

She also reiterated the administration’s overall agenda for future arms control, to include sustaining limits on systems covered by New START, addressing new kinds of Russian nuclear weapons in the development or deployment stages, and limiting the Russian arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.

For its part, Moscow has continued to call for the creation of “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has long resisted putting up for negotiation, as well as missile systems formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia incorporated this agenda into its December proposals on security guarantees to the United States and NATO.

Given the various likely divisive topics on the table and the makeup of the U.S. Senate, Washington and Moscow have conceded that what may follow New START might not be a traditional arms control treaty, but rather another type of arms control arrangement or arrangements.

Putin’s decision to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces in the opening days of the war and his multiple threats since then to use nuclear weapons should any country interfere in Ukraine has further highlighted the need for a revived dialogue to ensure limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

Despite Putin’s hostile behavior and rhetoric, the Biden administration has repeatedly made assurances that there is not an imminent threat of Russian use of nuclear weapons.

“We currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Biden wrote in a May 31 op-ed for The New York Times. “Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences.”

The Pentagon also repeated its assessment on May 26 that it sees no indication that “we would need to change our strategic deterrent posture.”

Since March, U.S. national security officials have conducted a series of tabletop exercises to evaluate how the president should respond if Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine or around the Black Sea. (See ACT, April 2022.) An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Times on June 1 that the group is focusing primarily on non-nuclear responses, such as sanctions and conventional strikes.

The three ranking members on the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and armed services committees—Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), respectively—sent Biden a letter on June 17, asking for further details on how the United States might respond to the Russian use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

“We urge you to clarify U.S. policy concerning the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia in Europe and to clearly communicate such policy to the Russian government,” they wrote. “If Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the U.S. must act. This must be clear to Russia to deter their use of nuclear weapons in this unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russia in June proceeded with military nuclear exercises after simulated nuclear exercises the previous month. The latest drills were held in Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, with an estimated 1,000 troops and 100 vehicles, according to the Russian Defense Ministry on June 1.

The June exercises were aimed at practicing setting up missile systems in the field, carrying out “intensive maneuvering actions on combat patrol routes,” and organizing combat security. The drills featured the nuclear-capable Yars intercontinental ballistic missile.

A Russian military official said on June 1 that the Zircon, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile, has completed the testing phase of development and will be deployed by the end of 2022. In May, Russia said it had launched a Zircon missile from a frigate in the Barents Sea to a target about 625 miles away in the White Sea.

As U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine grow, neither shows signs of resuming bilateral contact that could avoid escalation.

States Prepare for Nonproliferation Conference

July/August 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

States-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) will convene in August to discuss the future of arms control at a moment when the international strategic environment is more unsettled than any time since the Cold War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, shown at an international economic forum in St. Petersburg in June, looms large over the 10th Review Conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty scheduled for August 1–26 at UN headquarters. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images).After multiple delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th NPT Review Conference, set for UN headquarters on Aug. 1–26, will seek to bolster the landmark treaty against the backdrop of Russia’s nuclear threats and its war on Ukraine.

The Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which gave up the nuclear weapons on its territory in return for security assurances, has raised serious doubts about the intentions of Russia, a leading nuclear-weapon state that, along with the United Kingdom and the United States, promised in 1994 to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has played up his country’s nuclear weapons status (see ACT, June 2022) to keep NATO members from interfering as Russian forces conduct a brutal military campaign, now largely focused on the Donbas and southern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, arms control and nonproliferation challenges are intensifying. In early June, the United Nations revealed that Iran has enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon if the uranium is enriched further to weapons grade. Efforts to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, are stalled. China and North Korea are building up their nuclear arsenals, while Russia and the United States have discontinued bilateral discussions about their own nuclear programs.

Given such divisions and competing agendas, it is unclear how much the review conference could achieve. Although a consensus document would be ideal, some officials argue that that is not the only metric by which to measure success. “The absence of consensus will not necessarily undermine the [nonproliferation] regime,” Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said in a speech to the Arms Control Association’s 50th anniversary meeting on June 2. “What will jeopardize the NPT and the tangible benefits it provides is if states-parties do not approach the review conference with a willingness to listen, negotiate and compromise.”

Nakamitsu warned that a review conference wracked by divisive actions will endanger the central role of the treaty and “we don’t want to see that happening.” She urged nuclear-weapon states to reaffirm their commitment to the norm against nuclear weapons use and to agree to nuclear risk reduction measures.

Many experts view the conference as an opportunity to strengthen the NPT. “A frontal assault on the key concepts of the NPT by the Russian Federation [during the war against Ukraine] makes everything harder, but it is also an opportunity,” said Thomas Countryman, a consultant to the U.S. State Department’s delegation to the conference, who also spoke at the Arms Control Association meeting.

“I think it reinforces what most nations should feel, that this is not just a review conference, one in a series, [but] this is happening when basic tenets of the treaty are being undermined, and therefore, there is a need better than ever to come to the defense of the treaty, to reiterate that it is not just relevant, but important and central to the global rules-based order and that we are determined to strengthen it against all challenges,” Countryman said.

The 10th nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference takes place at a crucial moment for the future of arms control.

Germany Prioritizes Biosecurity for Global Partnership

July/August 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

Germany plans to prioritize biological security during its year-long presidency of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Rüdiger Bohn, the German deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament, seen in 2020 photo, says Berlin will focus on biological security during its year-long presidency of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. (Photo courtesy of German UN Vienna)In an undated message outlining Berlin’s priorities for the Global Partnership in 2022, Rüdiger Bohn, the German deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament, said that Germany will put “special emphasis on the field of biological security.”

He described an effort co-chaired by the United Kingdom and Canada that focuses on mitigating biological risks in Africa as a “key asset” that Germany will continue to prioritize, but also said that there is a need to “look at possible risks in other regions.”

He said that Germany wants to introduce “new ideas” into the biosecurity work of the Global Partnership, such as the concept of cyber-biosecurity at laboratories.

Germany took over the presidency from the UK. London supported the creation of the signature initiative that focused on mitigating biological risks in Africa during its presidency. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The Global Partnership is an initiative of the Group of Eight, now the Group of Seven (G7), industrialized nations. It was formed in 2002 to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Initially focused on disposing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and dismantling production facilities for those weapons in the former Soviet Union, the partnership has expanded to 31 member states and implements projects worldwide to reduce the risks of nonstate actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

The initiative uses a matchmaking process to pair states looking for assistance in mitigating WMD-related threats with states looking to donate funds or relevant expertise.

Currently, the partnership has four working groups: nuclear and radiological security, biological security, chemical security, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear security.

In a May 9 statement, the G7 nonproliferation political directors highlighted the critical need for enhancing biosecurity, saying that “substantial improvements are needed in global biosafety, biosecurity, and oversight for dual use research, in order to prevent laboratory accidents and deliberate misuse.”

Although the UK prioritized efforts to further minimize stocks of highly enriched uranium (HEU) worldwide during its presidency in 2021, Germany said the nuclear security working group would focus on “preventive measures to increase physical protection of nuclear and radioactive materials and facilities” and “preventive and repressive countermeasures against nuclear terrorism and criminal activities.”

The UK released an annex detailing the projects that were implemented in 2021. It showed 181 projects valued at $500 million were implemented by 10 countries.

The annex detailed several new projects that began in 2021. Several ongoing projects continue to support HEU minimization efforts which London prioritized, but no new projects were announced that specifically focused on that goal. Some of the ongoing partnerships include U.S.-funded research in collaboration with European countries to develop new low-enriched uranium fuels for producing medical isotopes. The United States also continues to fund efforts to dispose of HEU and plutonium from civil nuclear programs.

But there were several new biosecurity projects noted in the annex. As part of the signature initiative on mitigating biological threats in Africa, the UK and Canada supported a workshop that brought together experts and parliamentarians from across Africa to discuss the necessity of comprehensive national laws and strategic communication in mitigating biological risks.

Canada funded a project in Laos that established a scientific partnership between the two countries “to investigate and respond to emerging zoonotic viral diseases and reduce the threat of potential deliberate use of these novel pathogens.”

The 2021 annex also included reporting on gender equality of the first time. Partnership members were asked to include the “extent of consideration of gender equality” that went into designing and implementing projects. Of the 181 projects, states reported that 77 included gender considerations. According to the annex, these statistics will “provide a baseline for activity in subsequent years.”


Germany plans to prioritize biological security during its year-long presidency of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

IAEA Chief Visits Israel to Discuss Iran

July/August 2022

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Israel for talks with the prime minister on June 3 as international tensions rose over Iran’s accelerating nuclear program.

In a statement issued by his office, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities were approaching dangerous levels and called for an international mobilization against Iran. He said Iran was “deceiving the international community by using false information and lies.”

Although Israel “prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement added.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi made the trip ahead of a June 8 meeting in which the IAEA Board of Governors censured Iran, which is continuing to ratchet up its nuclear program, for failing to provide technically credible answers for the presence of undeclared uranium at three locations in Iran. Tehran responded by disconnecting cameras used by the IAEA to monitor Iranian nuclear activities.

These developments occurred in the context of stalled efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, under which Iran accepted limits on its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. Israel has long opposed the deal and reserved the right to respond militarily to perceived Iranian threats. Israel is suspected of assassinating a number of Iranian nuclear scientists and conducting other attacks on Iranian facilities.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on June 13 criticized Grossi’s trip as showing bias toward Israel. Grossi, in a tweet, said he discussed important issues with Bennett, including the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, is a treaty member while Israel, widely accepted as possessing as many as 90 nuclear weapons, is not.—MICHELLE LIU

IAEA Chief Visits Israel to Discuss Iran

Brazil, IAEA in Nuclear Submarine Negotiations

July/August 2022

Brazil is negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to use nuclear fuel for its submarine program, which has been in development for decades.

A computer-generated image of Brazil's first nuclear-powered attack submarine, the Álvaro Alberto, which is under  construction by the Brazilian state-owned naval company ICN. (Image by Brazilian Navy)The talks between the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) and the IAEA Secretariat were launched in late May, with plans to reconvene before the end of the year, Reuters reported on June 6.

The negotiations center on the safeguards and verification process that Brazil must implement to be allowed to produce or acquire nuclear fuel. Nuclear-powered submarines face heightened regulation under the IAEA because they can remain at sea for a prolonged duration while operating outside of the watchdog agency’s supervision.

During a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on June 6, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi praised Brazil’s “transparent approach and decision to work closely with the agency on this important project.”

According to The Economist, Brazil started developing a nuclear submarine in 1978 after facing political tensions with neighboring Argentina. The program languished for a time, then took on new life in 2008 under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with policymakers arguing that the underwater military platform was needed to protect fossil fuel resources along the Atlantic Coast.

Brazil is developing the nuclear-powered submarine under a contract with Naval Group, a French defense company. If the project is completed, Brazil could be the first non-nuclear-weapon state to have a nuclear submarine. The target for completion is the early 2030s. At the moment, the only countries with nuclear submarines are the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Brazil’s move follows a decision last year by Australia, the UK, and the United States to enter into the AUKUS security pact, under which Australia would be provided with nuclear-powered submarines. That arrangement has required the AUKUS countries also to initiate nuclear technology negotiations with the IAEA. Like Brazil, Australia is a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not possess nuclear weapons.

Brazil, IAEA in Nuclear Submarine Negotiations


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