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June 2017
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Thursday, June 1, 2017
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Key Issues in Negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty

Key Issues in Negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty

June 2017

By John Burroughs

The outlines of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination, emerged in late March during the first week of negotiations among diplomats representing about 130 governments. During a second session, to take place from June 15 to July 7 at the United Nations, a text will be negotiated, based on the May 22 draft by the president of the negotiating conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica. She aims for conference approval of a text by the end of that session.

Supporters of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons stand outside the United Nations on March 30 as negotiations were underway inside the building involving representatives of about 130 countries. (Photo credit: Clare Conboy/ICAN)The envisaged treaty would be a relatively simple one, prohibiting the development, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons but not containing detailed provisions relating to the verified dismantlement of nuclear arsenals and to governance of a world free of nuclear weapons. The basic intent is to codify the norms of nonuse and nonpossession of nuclear weapons in light of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions and to contribute to the eventual achievement of the global abolition of the weapons. Issues related to elimination of nuclear weapons will largely be left to later negotiations, within or outside the treaty framework, because none of the states possessing nuclear arsenals are participating nor are almost all states in nuclear alliances with the United States.

The negotiations grew out of the initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, particularly the governmental conferences in Oslo; Nayarit, Mexico; and Vienna in 2013 and 2014. During the 2016 UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament, deliberations led to adoption of the strategy of seeking a prohibition or ban treaty and identified many of its elements.

The UN General Assembly in December 2016 adopted a resolution1 to convene the negotiating conference, put forward by lead sponsors Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa. Proponents have emphasized that, like regional nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties, the prohibition treaty will be complementary to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Indeed, they observe, it will partially fulfill Article VI, which requires NPT states-parties to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament."

During the first week, most governments endorsed the negotiation of a treaty focused on prohibition. The positions of countries such as Algeria and Cuba, although accepting the notion of a prohibition treaty, nonetheless in the sweep of their recommendations reflect the long-standing Non-Aligned Movement support for a convention addressing all aspects of nuclear disarmament.2 Malaysia noted that it has been a champion of that approach, having put forward a model convention with Costa Rica. Many countries continue to foresee a future comprehensive agreement on nuclear disarmament following a prohibition treaty. The resolution convening the negotiations generally recognizes in its preamble that "additional measures, both practical and legally binding, for the irreversible, verifiable and transparent destruction of nuclear weapons would be needed in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons."3

Differences concerning scope remain even among strong proponents of the nuclear ban treaty process. In Mexico’s view, negotiators should focus on setting broad prohibitions on possession, acquisition, stockpiling, use, development, transfer, stationing and deployment, and assistance with prohibited acts. They should not venture into complex, time-consuming issues, including those, such as a prohibition on testing, potentially affecting how other legal instruments are interpreted and applied. Alexander Marschik, Austrian vice minister for foreign affairs, stated, "There is a risk that we want to achieve too much…. Please, stay together behind this one, narrow, clear objective: a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons." Reflecting this view, Austria proposed a set of prohibitions restricted to use, development, production, stockpiling, transfer, and assistance with prohibited acts.

On the other hand, South Africa stated that although "the instrument would clearly be more limited than a Nuclear Weapons Convention," it does not "support the idea of turning a simple political declaration into a legally-binding instrument. [It] is unlikely to be taken seriously by those who may choose to remain outside…. More comprehensive prohibitions would therefore be preferred in the form of an unambiguous legal text." New Zealand stated, "We must not, by the omission of any key nuclear weapon development-related activities, seem to create any ambiguity or leave open any possible gap in its coverage."

Variety of Issues

As these positions indicate, drafting the treaty is not as straightforward as might first appear. The participants are non-nuclear-weapon state-parties to the NPT, which bars their acquisition of nuclear weapons, and most are also parties to nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties. In certain respects, however, the prohibition treaty likely will go beyond the NPT and the nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties by imposing additional obligations.

Elayne Whyte Gómez (right), permanent representative of Costa Rica to the UN Office at Geneva and president of the United Nations conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty, chairs a meeting of the conference March 30. (Photo credit: Rick Bajornas/UN)Moreover, the treaty will generally help establish a template for future nuclear disarmament, as well as provide for possible accession of nuclear-armed states after they have disarmed or subject to a time-bound disarmament obligation. Most negotiators also want to make it possible for states in alliances with nuclear-armed states to join the treaty, provided that the allied states end reliance on nuclear weapons. For these and other reasons, a variety of difficult issues will have to be resolved.

This survey of key issues facing negotiators at the second session addresses prohibitions relating to development and manufacture, possession and stockpiling, transit, and use and threat of use; a prohibition on assistance; implementation of the treaty and positive obligations, for example, relating to victims of use and testing of nuclear weapons; institutional issues, including how nuclear-armed states could join the treaty, and final clauses; and the framing of the treaty in its preamble.4

Development and Manufacture

During the first week of negotiations, there was wide support for including a prohibition on development of nuclear weapons as well as their manufacture and/or production. This would provide clarity as compared with the NPT, which only expressly prohibits "manufacture." It would also address a gap in the nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties, not all of which contain a prohibition on development.5

Exactly what activities constitute development? It clearly includes engineering leading to production, but does it include research and design? The term "research" could embrace, for example, simply gaining knowledge about nuclear weapons. Accordingly, there may be reluctance to consider it as an activity of development or to prohibit it separately, as it is in two nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties.6 The term "design," however, is intrinsically related to creation of a warhead and is a term in common use in the nuclear sphere, although it has not been specifically banned in existing treaties prohibiting and eliminating biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

A related subject of discussion was whether to include a separate prohibition on nuclear explosive testing. Austria and Mexico contended that testing would be covered by a development ban. Further, they said, a separate testing prohibition would raise issues of consistency with the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, and other states favored a prohibition. During a conference discussion with experts, physicist Zia Mian, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, explained that not all testing is for development; it may be conducted, for example, to confirm the reliability of a weapon. A complication is that a whole range of activities—computer simulation, hydrodynamic and laser fusion experiments, subcritical explosions—may be considered "testing," and Brazil, South Africa, and other states expressed the desire explicitly to prohibit such activities.

The above issues could be resolved by including definitions of "development" and other key terms. Yet, some states are opposed, observing that it would delay negotiations and that the NPT does not provide definitions. The issues probably also could be resolved in drafting the prohibitions. A prohibition of testing could be made identical with the CTBT prohibition.7 Also, the ban treaty almost certainly will include a provision stating that its terms do not limit or detract from obligations under the CTBT, NPT, and other treaties regulating nuclear weapons. Other activities could be proscribed in connection with the prohibition of development.

There are strong reasons for being reasonably comprehensive. The nuclear ban treaty will set a normative standard for individuals and for future disarmament. It is not only about the legal rules for states that become parties in the near term. Further, specificity will clarify what activities parties must not allow that contribute to nuclear weapons work carried out by states outside the treaty.

One aspect of a development prohibition that received little attention is that monitoring and verifying compliance would be challenging. There are numerous activities related to nuclear and military technology that may or may not be considered part of a nuclear weapons program.8 Additionally, if an activity is intended to further development of nuclear weapons, it may not be easily detectable by observers from outside a country or by authorities within the country committed to compliance. An example is computer simulations of nuclear explosions.

These problems would be difficult ones even under optimal circumstances. In the case of a nuclear ban treaty initiated by non-nuclear-weapon states, a comprehensive verification regime beyond what is already provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and by the CTBT system is not envisaged. The treaty probably will affirm in some fashion that member-states are obligated to comply with IAEA safeguards agreements and certainly should do so. It should also be considered whether adherence to the additional protocol to safeguards agreements should be required, as Sweden advocated, or at least encouraged by the treaty.

Aside from the safeguarding of fissile materials and detection of nuclear explosive testing, verification of a development prohibition probably will not be possible over the near term. Monitoring will have to be done through peer review among states-parties, national intelligence, civil society monitoring, and whistleblowers, who ideally would be protected by the treaty. A mitigating factor is that, as a matter of global politics and implementation of the NPT, serious efforts at undertaking nuclear weapons programs draw much attention, even when not in violation of safeguards agreements. Inclusion of a prohibition will add a clear legal dimension to what is already a matter of intense scrutiny. In the event of accession of nuclear-armed states to the treaty, additional verification arrangements should be agreed.

Possession and Stockpiling

The nuclear ban treaty will include a prohibition on stockpiling, which is standard in weapons-prohibition treaties. In part, it will lay the groundwork for an obligation of nuclear-armed states to dismantle their arsenals. Also possible is a related prohibition on retention, which is found in existing treaties.

A prohibition on possession of nuclear weapons likely will also be part of a nuclear ban treaty. It is contained in the nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties but not as such in other treaties prohibiting weapons. A prohibition on acquisition may be included in order to capture coming into possession by means other than manufacture. Some states seek to include a deployment prohibition. The fielding of nuclear forces is intrinsic to nuclear deterrence as practiced by possessor states. A deployment prohibition would explicitly reject that practice and underline that members of a nuclear ban treaty in no way must cooperate with the practice. A possible, related prohibition of stationing would similarly underline that treaty members may not host nuclear weapons, as certain members of NATO do under nuclear sharing arrangements.

In the same vein, a likely prohibition of transfer of nuclear weapons, applying in the first place to possessors of nuclear weapons who join the treaty, would also imply that a member of the treaty may not accept nuclear weapons from a possessor state outside the treaty. Such an action would be barred as well by a prohibition of acquisition.

The issue of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles received little attention from governments during the first week of negotiations, perhaps because making prohibitions applicable to delivery vehicles for states that have never had nuclear weapons seems unnecessary and unduly complicated. Yet, arms control experience in the U.S.-Soviet/Russian relationship indicates that control or elimination of delivery systems developed for nuclear weapons will be required for a successful global enterprise of eliminating existing nuclear arsenals. Also, a paragraph in the NPT preamble refers to "the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery." The issue of delivery systems may be left aside for now and addressed in some way should nuclear-armed states later join the treaty.

Transit Prohibition

A prohibition on transit, supported by some states, would require treaty parties to be proactive, going beyond the requirements of the nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties. It would require a state-party to ensure that nuclear weapons or their components do not traverse its territory and the air and water over which it has jurisdiction and control. In line with its minimalist approach, Austria opposed the inclusion of such a prohibition, which it said would require resolution of difficult practical issues such as demarcation of maritime and air space. Further, Austria maintained, a prohibition on assisting prohibited acts would bar granting of transit rights. Malaysia similarly stated that implementation of a prohibition on transit would be impractical and lead to technical discussions.

A counterargument is that all states are currently obligated by UN Security Council Resolution 1540 to adopt measures, including controls on transit and financing, to prevent nonstate actors from trafficking in nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their means of delivery, including related materials. A prohibition on transit of nuclear weapons, therefore, would not seem to increase the burden with respect to, for instance, commercial shipping. It still might raise issues with respect to activities of nuclear-armed states. On balance, inclusion of a prohibition on transit makes sense. Full implementation can be achieved over time based on experience and cooperation among treaty parties. In this respect and others, the regime could evolve.

Use and Threat of Use

The nuclear ban treaty will include a prohibition on use of nuclear weapons, probably on the model of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in which states-parties undertake "never under any circumstances" to use chemical weapons. Another element of the CWC, a prohibition of engagement in any military preparations to use the specified weapons, is worth considering. It would go toward capturing the actions of participating in nuclear war planning, which also could be specifically proscribed, as Algeria recommended. Such provisions would be relevant in the event that states in military alliances with nuclear-armed states join the ban treaty.

There was some division of views during the opening negotiations regarding whether to include language prohibiting the threat of use. There is no such prohibition in the CWC and other treaties prohibiting and eliminating weapons, and there is a strong tendency to model the nuclear ban treaty on existing treaties. Further, several states, including Austria, Mexico, Sweden, and Switzerland, contended that the UN Charter prohibition of the threat of force suffices. Mexico went so far as to say that a specific prohibition on threat of use would call into question the integrity and scope of the UN Charter prohibition.

Arguments on the other side are powerful, and numerous states supported inclusion of a threat prohibition. As Chile said, the threat of use of nuclear weapons is the very foundation of nuclear deterrence, which has allowed the continued existence of the weapons jeopardizing security and survival. Nothing similar can be said about the other weapons already prohibited by treaties. Although useful guides, those treaties need not be slavishly followed. Moreover, in time of armed conflict—the most likely time when a specific threat of use would be made—the standard view is that international humanitarian law is the primary body of law governing the conduct of warfare, not the UN Charter. The International Court of Justice has stated that a threat to commit an act that would violate international humanitarian law is itself illegal.

The ban treaty negotiations grew out of the initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use. This photograph shows the devastated city of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped by a U.S. Air Force B-29 on August 6, 1945. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)A prohibition of threat of nuclear weapons use in times of peace and war would apply and reinforce the UN charter and international humanitarian law, not somehow undermine them. Further, as South Africa said, "a clear ban" on the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons "would be key to the effort to delegitimize the concept of nuclear deterrence."9 Ecuador stated that a threat prohibition is necessary in order to show that the concept has no place in international law.

Assistance with Prohibited Acts

There was widespread support for the inclusion of a prohibition on assistance with prohibited acts. As formulated in the CWC, states may not "assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state-party" under the CWC. A similar prohibition in the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which established a nuclear-weapon-free-zone for Latin America and the Caribbean, requires states to "refrain from encouraging or authorizing, directly or indirectly, or in any way participating" in prohibited acts. Evidently, a prohibition along these lines would bar members of a nuclear ban treaty from cooperation or permitting cooperation relating to nuclear weapons in multiple ways with states outside the treaty. This could become relevant in circumstances now not foreseeable for any member of the treaty, but it would be particularly relevant to any state in a military alliance with a nuclear-armed state that joins the treaty.

In the view of some states, a prohibition on assistance with prohibited acts would extend to financing of nuclear weapons production, at least so far as the state’s own investments are concerned, as Ireland noted. Other states favored the inclusion of a specific prohibition on financing. Implementation of such a prohibition could be complex and demanding, especially if it requires states to regulate actions of persons under its jurisdiction. Still, over time it would be possible to develop a common understanding of what is entailed. It is certain that civil society will be calling on states in a future ban treaty to adopt national measures to prevent financing of nuclear weapons activities, whether or not a specific prohibition is included.

Implementation and Positive Obligations

Some support was expressed during the first week of negotiations for a provision similar to that found in other treaties requiring states to take appropriate measures to prevent any prohibited activity undertaken by persons or on territory under its jurisdiction and control. Another obligation receiving some support would require states to report on their implementation of the treaty. Support was also expressed for an obligation of international cooperation and assistance in relation to states’ implementation of the treaty.

Based on precedents set by the treaties on landmines and cluster munitions, nuclear ban treaty advocates have called for positive obligations of states in relation to assistance to victims.10 States are wary of taking on such obligations, especially given the absence of the nuclear-armed states that have been responsible for harm to individuals and the environment arising from testing and use. Still, there is widespread support for a recognition of the rights of victims, at least in the preamble but perhaps as an obligation. This is natural because the negotiations have grown out of the conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions. Some support was also expressed for positive obligations on environmental remediation, disarmament education, and awareness raising of nuclear weapons risks.

Institutional Arrangements and Final Clauses

Many states supported providing for periodic review conferences of a treaty. Brazil also proposed providing for possible extraordinary sessions, which could negotiate a general plan for destruction of nuclear arsenals and measures related to a non-discriminatory verification regime.

There was also support for establishing an administrative body, which could prepare review conferences, assist states with implementation, and promote treaty aims. Based on the initial discussions, it likely would be quite modest in scope. As noted, at the outset there likely will not be a monitoring or verification capability focused on non-nuclear-weapon states’ implementation beyond what any reporting requirement and review conference assessment provide and the existing roles of the IAEA and the CTBT system.

Discussion of provisions for nuclear-armed states to join the treaty reflected two premises: All states are welcome and encouraged to become parties, and the treaty aims to contribute to the establishment of a world free of nuclear weapons. Yet, nuclear-armed states becoming parties to the treaty is entirely theoretical at this point. If they do decide to eliminate their arsenals, they may do so without joining the treaty. Accordingly, negotiators generally do not want to craft extensive provisions on the matter, but rather desire to create flexibility so that this can be satisfactorily addressed if and when it arises.

The two main mechanisms considered for accession of nuclear-armed states are that a nuclear-armed state would verifiably dismantle its arsenal before joining the treaty or, at the time of joining the treaty, a nuclear-armed state would be subject to a time-bound obligation to dismantle verifiably its arsenal; the obligation and the accompanying arrangements would be subject to approval by treaty members. The treaty could provide for both possibilities. Ensuring compliance with the treaty by nuclear-armed states and nuclear ally states as well could be facilitated by requiring that each state adhering to the treaty provide a declaration regarding whether it possesses nuclear weapons and whether they are located in any place under its jurisdiction or control. Such a requirement is found in the CWC.

Some attention was paid to final clauses, among them those relating to entry into force and withdrawal. Numerous states supported a clause on entry into force requiring only that a set number of states ratify the treaty, with proposed figures ranging from 25 to 80.

Concerning withdrawal, New Zealand expressed a preference for having no clause contemplating that states might withdraw, given that the treaty will set a global norm prohibiting nuclear weapons. South Africa opposed a withdrawal clause on the ground that the matter is adequately regulated by general rules of international law. They might permit withdrawal, for example, based on an unforeseeable "fundamental change of circumstances." A countervailing factor, as New Zealand recognized, is that having a withdrawal provision makes it easier for states to join a treaty.

Other states favored having a withdrawal clause subject to strict requirements, such as a lengthy period of notification and review, consideration by a meeting of states-parties, and exclusion of its exercise during armed conflict involving the withdrawing state. Brazil stated that the NPT withdrawal clause could serve as a basis to which additional criteria would be added. The NPT requires that the withdrawing state notify states-parties and the UN Security Council that it has decided extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of the treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.

Clearly, the question of how to handle, indeed whether to permit, withdrawal would be crucial for a global treaty eliminating nuclear weapons. It perhaps is less important in the case of a treaty focused on prohibitions, given that there seems no near-term prospect of participation by nuclear-armed states. Nonetheless, it would seem best, at a minimum, to impose stringent requirements on withdrawal.11

Preamble Content

The preamble is important in a typical treaty because it provides guidance as to interpretation and application of the treaty. In the case of a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty, the preamble assumes added importance because the treaty in part is aiming to affirm and advance normative standards and, in so doing, educate the world about the imperatives of nonuse and elimination of such weapons.

Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow told ban negotiators March 27 that “no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering” caused by nuclear-weapons use. “We hibakusha have no doubt that this treaty can, and will, change the world,” she said. (Photo credit: Ari Beser/ICAN)From both governmental and civil society participants, there were numerous proposals on preamble content. They included calls for the preamble to refer to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions; the grounding of the treaty in fundamental rules of international humanitarian law; the obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law; the obligation to pursue in good faith and conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament; the role of the treaty in achieving a world free of nuclear weapons; the contribution of the treaty to the objective of general and complete disarmament; the contribution of the treaty to the three pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, human rights, and development; the role of public conscience, including the voices of the hibakusha and other victims of nuclear weapons, in banning nuclear weapons; and more.

Austria urged that the preamble reference the findings of the Oslo, Nayarit, and Vienna conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, including "that impact of a nuclear weapon detonation, irrespective of the cause, would not be constrained by national borders and could have regional and even global consequences, causing destruction, death and displacement as well as profound and long-term damage to the environment, climate, human health and well-being, socioeconomic development, [and] social order and could even threaten the survival of humankind." This seems appropriate in that the negotiations have their genesis in those conferences.

Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and others proposed that the preamble recognize or reflect the incompatibility of use of nuclear weapons with international humanitarian law. Citing the late Judge Christopher Weeramantry, Sri Lanka said that the "illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances could be the key underlying principle that could drive a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons." For other states, there appears to be some reluctance to venture in this manner into contested terrain, contested above all by the nuclear-armed states, but the reasons to do so are compelling.

An affirmation of the illegality of use would reinforce the norm of nonuse of nuclear weapons. The norm arises out of a broad but not universal recognition that use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with international humanitarian law and the practice of nonuse of such weapons in war since 1945. Also, the core operative prohibitions of the treaty will apply only to states-parties. Any implication that nonparty states are permitted to use nuclear weapons must be avoided. An affirmation of illegality of use is one way of doing so.

Another important means of underlining that states outside the treaty cannot escape the fundamental prohibitions it codifies would be to include the famous Martens Clause found in international humanitarian law treaties and the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Here it would provide that, in cases not covered by the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty or by other international agreements, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law, derived from established custom, the principles of humanity, and the dictates of public conscience.


During the first week of negotiations, diplomats and civil society were energized, even passionate, and worked constructively. A fresh wind is blowing in the stagnant nuclear disarmament sphere. All signs are that the energy will carry through into the demanding second session of negotiations. It will be needed to successfully meet the challenges not only of reflecting the results of the initiative on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use, but also codifying and advancing law relating to development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons and helping shape future elimination of nuclear arsenals.


1.   UN General Assembly, "Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations," A/RES/71/258, 11 January 2017. It was adopted by a vote of 130 to 37, with 15 abstentions on December 23, 2016.

2.   For statements on the positions of governments, see Reaching Critical Will, "Statements from the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty Negotiations," n.d., http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/statements; United Nations, "United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination," n.d., https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/index.html. In some cases, diplomats made remarks not contained in the statements.

3.   UN General Assembly, "Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations," A/RES/71/258, 11 January 2017.

4.   For a useful analysis of many of the issues under negotiation, see John Borrie et al., "A Prohibition on Nuclear Weapons: A Guide to the Issues," International Law and Policy Institute and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, February 2016, http://unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/a-prohibition-on-nuclear-weapons-a-guide-to-the-issues-en-647.pdf.

5.   A prohibition of development is not contained in the Treaty of Tlatelolco or the Treaty of Rarotonga.

6.   Treaty of Pelindaba and the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.

7.   This is the approach taken by the Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty.

8.   See United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination, "Topic 2: Core Prohibitions," A/CONF.229/2017/NGO/WP.18, March 31, 2017.

9.   See also International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, "Selected Elements of a Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons," IALANA Discussion Paper, March 24, 2017, http://lcnp.org/pubs/2017/IALANA/IALANA%20Discussion%20Paper%201.0final.pdf.

10.   See United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination, "Positive Obligations in a Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: Stockpile Destruction, Environmental Remediation, and Victim Assistance," A/CONF.229/2017/NGO/WP.10. March 27, 2017.

11.   See United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards Their Total Elimination, "Withdrawal Clauses in Arms Control Treaties: Some Reflections About a Future Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons," A/CONF.229/2017/NGO/WP.13, March 31, 2017.

Posted: May 31, 2017

Addressing Verification in the Nuclear Ban Treaty

Addressing Verification in the Nuclear Ban Treaty

June 2017 

By Zia Mian, Tamara Patton, and Alexander Glaser

The UN General Assembly last December called for negotiations this year to produce a "legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination." The nuclear ban treaty talks will have to engage the issue of confirming compliance by the parties with the specific prohibitions established by such a treaty and, in addition, can establish guiding principles for the process of eliminating nuclear weapons and maintaining the resulting nuclear-weapon-free world.

Delegates at the UN conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty hold opening-day talks at the United Nations in New York on March 27. (Photo credit: Tamara Patton)During the first round of treaty negotiations in March leading to the draft text presented in May, there appeared to be broad agreement among states on most of the core prohibitions but debate over a few others.1 States by and large seemed to agree on the treaty including, as basic obligations, a ban on the development, production, possession, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons and on the provision of assistance, encouragement, and inducement for these activities. There were differences among states over whether the treaty should include measures on the elimination of existing nuclear-weapon-stockpiles or whether such measures should await later negotiations with the nine states having nuclear weapons today, who at some time may decide to join the ban treaty.2

There also were differences among states on how to treat verification. The ban treaty talks and the larger disarmament process they seek to put in place will need to consider how to assure compliance with their commitments for three classes of states: (1) established non-nuclear-weapon states that join the treaty, (2) transitional nuclear-weapon states that commit to eliminate their weapon stockpiles when joining the treaty, and (3) legacy nuclear-weapon states with latent capabilities after having joined the treaty.

As part of establishing a perspective on verification, the ban treaty process will need to make some broad choices about the eventual arrangements for a nuclear-weapon-free world, recognizing that there are many possible such end states and that some of these will be more resilient than others. This presents an opportunity to establish forward-looking guidelines on ensuring the greatest possible transparency, accountability, and irreversibility in the process for achieving and maintaining the elimination of nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can play an important part in shaping and implementing the verification process. By its statute, the IAEA is charged to further "the establishment of safeguarded worldwide disarmament…in conformity with any international agreements entered into pursuant to such policies."3

Building on the NPT

Many of the key prohibitions envisaged for the ban treaty already are captured by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Under Article II of the NPT, each non-nuclear-weapon state undertakes "not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."4 Under Article III.1, each non-nuclear-weapon state is bound to accept safeguards through IAEA monitoring and inspections "as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the [IAEA]…for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty."

There are 172 non-nuclear-weapon states with comprehensive safeguards agreements with the agency, and 124 states have in place additional protocols that require more extensive reporting by states of their nuclear activities and permit the IAEA increased rights of access to information and sites.5 Of the 130 states-participants in the negotiations, only seven do not have comprehensive IAEA safeguards agreements in force, and all but one of these have agreed to do so. This means that almost all of these 130 states already have in place verification structures that could provide assurance these states are in compliance with many of the expected core ban treaty provisions (table 1).

Further, among the 130 states seeking to agree on the ban treaty, 94 states are also members of nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties. Each of these treaties includes an obligation, separate from that in the NPT, to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. This language varies between the zone treaties and became more precise and demanding with the most recent agreement (the 2006 Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty) requiring states to conclude with the IAEA a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol to that agreement.6 Most nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties also have provisions, in case of compliance concerns, for special inspections that can be conducted at the request of states-parties by the IAEA or the zone’s implementation body.

This opens the way for the ban treaty to put in place a multilateral arrangement that adopts IAEA safeguards as part of its verification regime, as a parallel obligation to that of the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties, including provisions for special inspections. As is already the case for states that are parties to the NPT and a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty, one safeguards agreement with the IAEA is sufficient to satisfy multiple obligations. It also can ease concerns that a state may seek to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear disarmament by joining the ban treaty but use this as an excuse to leave the NPT and thereby end up outside a verification regime.

A U.S. delegation led by State Department official Sung Kim crosses the military demarcation line between North and South Korea May 10, 2008, carrying boxes of North Korean documents. North Korea had declared its separated plutonium inventory and provided 18,000 pages of records on the operation of its production reactor and reprocessing facility to permit verification in response to a U.S. proposal for “full access to records.” (Photo credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)The ban treaty could adopt a simple verification obligation using language similar to that in the nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties, while recognizing that some verification obligations already exist and more stringent verification may be necessary as nuclear-weapon states transition to join the treaty. For example, the treaty could require parties to maintain the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation obligations they had in force as of January 1, 2017, and to accept as soon as possible the most stringent such measures available and to accept all future safeguards, monitoring, and verification obligations as agreed by the ban treaty conference of parties. This would create a stable, common verification baseline as of the start of the negotiations and a mechanism for the agreed evolution and improvement of the verification regime over time.

The final documents of the 2000 and 2010 NPT review conferences and the draft final document of the 2015 review conference each offered the same guidance on the issue of future verification in non-nuclear-weapon states and in nuclear-weapon states in the context of their nuclear disarmament: "The Conference…stresses that comprehensive safeguards and additional protocols should be universally applied once the complete elimination of nuclear weapons has been achieved."7 This guidance could be adopted by the ban treaty process.

Weapons Elimination

Because the goal of the ban treaty is to strengthen the legal and normative basis for a process leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons, an important concern will be establishing guidelines for dealing with nuclear-weapon states committing to eliminate their weapons stockpiles through the ban treaty process. The UN resolution establishing the negotiating conference highlighted that, along with the ban treaty, "additional measures, both practical and legally binding, for the irreversible, verifiable and transparent destruction of nuclear weapons would be needed in order to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons."8

Rather than trying to set up specific, detailed measures to eliminate nuclear weapons, the ban treaty could simply specify that any nuclear-weapon state seeking to join the treaty must do so through an arrangement agreed with the conference of parties to the treaty. This would allow the issue to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, reflecting the particular history, circumstances, and capabilities of the state seeking to accede to the treaty. This flexibility may be necessary given the diversity in the arsenals and programs of the nine states possessing nuclear weapons today.

In principle, any nuclear-weapon state wishing to join the ban treaty could sign the treaty, declare its weapons holdings, and accept international monitoring of the process of taking its weapons off deployment, disabling them, and placing them in secure storage pending their verified elimination as part of an agreed, time-bound plan. This is the model used in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which requires that states declare their chemical weapons and "provide access to chemical weapons...for the purpose of systematic verification" along with a "general plan for destruction", stipulating that "such destruction shall begin not later than two years after this Convention enters into force for it and shall finish not later than 10 years after entry into force of this Convention."9 Following the CWC example, this plan could include destruction of delivery systems specially designed or certified by the state for nuclear weapons missions.

A state could choose to dismantle its nuclear weapons before joining the treaty and then offer up for verification its non-nuclear-weapon status, as was the case with South Africa’s accession to the NPT. This approach, however, would make the eventual verification process more difficult and time consuming and leave greater uncertainty.

In 1989, South Africa decided to terminate its nuclear weapons program. The highly enriched uranium (HEU) cores of its six existing weapons and for a seventh planned weapon were melted down, other key weapons components were destroyed or damaged so they could be not reused, and documents on weapons design and manufacturing were destroyed. In 1991, South Africa joined the NPT and signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. After South Africa in March 1993 revealed its nuclear weapons program, the IAEA inspections had to expand to include confirmation that the nuclear weapons, components, and related manufacturing equipment had been destroyed and that nuclear weapons laboratory and engineering facilities had been decommissioned or converted to peaceful purposes and the former weapons material accounted for.

This IAEA assessment included suggestions to South Africa about other components and information that could be destroyed and what destruction should involve.10 The IAEA recommended that "destruction" of nuclear components should be such that the "critical dimensions of destroyed components would no longer be measurable or reproducible, that the intended function would no longer be recognisable or that a destroyed item could not be reconstituted faster or more economically than it could be redesigned or rebuilt."11

In September 1993, the IAEA reported that it had "found no indication to suggest that there remain any sensitive components of the nuclear weapons programme which have not been either rendered useless or converted to commercial non-nuclear applications or peaceful nuclear usage."12 The lead IAEA inspectors concluded that

[t]he IAEA’s assessment of the complete-ness of South Africa’s inventory of nuclear facilities and materials and its assessment of the status of the former nuclear weapons programme - as in all cases where a large nuclear programme comes under safeguards - is not free from uncertainty.

In the case of South Africa, the results of extensive inspection and assessment, and the transparency and openness shown, have led to the conclusion that there were no indications to suggest that the initial inventory is incomplete or that the nuclear weapon programme was not completely terminated and dismantled.13

Only in 2010, nineteen years after South Africa’s initial report, was the IAEA able to include the country in its list of states where it could conclude "all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities."14 Olli Heinonen, a former head of the IAEA Department of Safeguards, in a study of the South African case concluded that "it is clear that the process of verification after the fact of dismantlement having taken place meant time added to the clock for the IAEA in terms of providing assurances."15

In verifying the elimination of existing nuclear weapons programs, the ban treaty process will need to address existing nuclear arsenals, which range from about 7,000 weapons each in the United States and Russia to the fissile material equivalent of perhaps 10 weapons in North Korea.16 It also will need to tackle the associated infrastructure, which for the United States and Russia produced tens of thousands of nuclear weapons over the past 70 years.17 As a first step, the process will require monitoring up to about 100 sites believed to hold nuclear weapons today (figure 1). This task could be made simpler if nuclear-weapon states were to begin a transparent monitored process of consolidating their nuclear weapons complexes to fewer sites that were configured to be accessible to international inspectors and accounting for past weapons-related activities.18

It is reasonable to assume that a South African-style verification of warhead dismantlement and accounting of fissile material production would be a much more difficult task, may take several decades to complete, and may be fraught with large uncertainties. It would be much more manageable if verification was agreed in advance and nuclear warhead dismantlement and destruction and material disposition actually observed to ensure the process met agreed standards.

In anticipation and support of these future verification efforts, both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states ought to pursue with a greater sense of urgency joint efforts to develop and demonstrate inspection systems for verified warhead storage and dismantlement. Equally important, nuclear-weapon states ought to begin now to document warhead assembly, refurbishment, and dismantlement activities and movements of warheads and warhead components through the weapons complex in ways that international inspectors will find credible at a later time. This includes generating and preserving appropriate records for all relevant transactions. Modern cryptographic techniques, such as blockchaining, could help demonstrate the authenticity of these records in the future.19 Although these records would not necessarily be made public now, they would help establish the provenance of treaty-accountable items and drastically simplify the verification challenges of nuclear disarmament.

Legacy Capabilities

As part of its verification of the disarmament of South Africa, the IAEA agreed with that government "to consult on future strategies for maintaining assurance that the nuclear weapons capability would not be regenerated."20 Accordingly, the IAEA took up the government’s invitation to provide the IAEA with "full access to any location or facility associated with" the former nuclear weapons program and to "grant access, on a case--by-case basis, to other locations or facilities that the IAEA may specifically wish to visit."21

The problem of legacy capabilities will be more significant for the nine current nuclear-weapon states. It will be most acute in the case of the United States and Russia, which have had the largest and most complex weapons programs by far. The scale of the challenge was captured in a 1997 National Academy of Sciences report, which assessed that

[i]f all nuclear warheads were eliminated, the current nuclear weapon states, and probably a dozen or more other countries, could in a national emergency produce a dozen simple fission weapons in as little as a few months, even if no effort had been made to maintain this capability. On the other hand, the production of a hundred lightweight thermonuclear bombs or warheads equipped with modern safety and security devices might take several years, even if special efforts had been made to maintain the capability to produce such weapons.22

The timescale and the size of reconstituted nuclear forces identified by this report depends fundamentally on the access to nuclear weapons-usable fissile material, i.e., plutonium and HEU. Therefore, the ban treaty process must consider adding, either as an immediate obligation or as a goal of the treaty process, a prohibition on the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons-usable materials for any purpose. For the existing stockpiles of fissile materials—about 1,350 tons of HEU and 510 tons of separated plutonium—the treaty could make recommendations for a framework to deal with the disposition and elimination of these materials and, for the interim period, envision their international custody (figure 2).23

Any state wishing to build or reconstitute a simple nuclear arsenal would need first to produce tens to hundreds of kilograms of plutonium or HEU, which would increase the scale of the reconstitution, its complexity, and the time required, which together increase the risk of early detection. If the elimination of nuclear weapons was accompanied by a phaseout of nuclear power, reconstitution would be made even more difficult, and its verification would be made even easier.24

Weapons-Related Research

Along with access to fissile material, research and development efforts leading to a weapons capability will be a key challenge for a legacy nuclear-weapon state seeking to reconstitute a nuclear arsenal, as it is for a would-be nuclear proliferant state today. Because the ban treaty is expected to prohibit the development of nuclear weapons, the linked issue of prohibiting weapons-related research may also be important. Notably, there is an explicit constraint on such activities for states in the African nuclear-weapon-free zone.25

The NPT and the IAEA safeguards system have grappled with this question recently in the case of Iran. The IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program identified research and testing activities and management structures judged to have been "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."26 Among other things, these activities included specific kinds of computer modeling, the development of detonators, systems for triggering high explosives, hydrodynamic experiments, and neutron initiation.

The 2017 Carnegie Endowment report "Toward a Nuclear Firewall" identified a similar set of "activities, materials, and equipment that should be inhibited because they are purely or strongly associated with nuclear weapons programs."27 The critical weapons-related activities to be prohibited included

  • milling of plutonium or uranium shells, spheres, or hemispheres;
  • neutron generators;
  • tritium technology;
  • hydrodynamic codes and experiments;
  • preparations for a nuclear test explosion, including devices using inert materials;
  • modification of a delivery vehicle to carry a nuclear warhead;
  • development of a re-entry vehicle; and
  • weaponization.

The report noted that states where there is evidence of all these R&D activities should be subject to greater monitoring than states where there are few signs. It also identified the importance of "contextual factors," such as secrecy regarding such activities, military involvement, and the absence of activities that one would expect if these activities were part of a civilian program and of states being part of international agreements, in making such a judgment. The overall framework was characterized as an assessment of a state’s nuclear activities in terms of "compatibility, cohesion, and consistency" with a peaceful or military purpose. The report concluded that, "as a general principle, activities that alone and/or in combination elicit warning that nuclear weapons are being pursued should not appear in states that have completed a nuclear disarmament process."28 The ban treaty could give guidance that all nuclear R&D activities should be able to demonstrate they meet such criteria for a peaceful purpose.

Technological and Societal Verification

The UN open-ended working group on nuclear disarmament negotiations in its 2015 report to the General Assembly helped lay the basis for the ban treaty talks and suggested some verification measures that could be part of such a treaty process, such as routine and challenge inspections, as well as measures for the use of on-site sensors, satellite photography, radionuclide sampling, and other remote sensors. The measures also include information sharing with other organizations, and citizen reporting and establishment of an international monitoring system, which includes making information available through a registry.29

Former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu flashes the V-for-victory sign as he leaves prison April 21, 2004, after an 18-year sentence for revealing details of Israel’s secret nuclear-weapons program. In 2005, he told Israel’s Channel 2 television that he had acted after becoming alarmed by the danger posed by Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Under a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” Israel neither confirms nor denies having the region’s only nuclear weapons. (Photo credit: Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images)Some of these measures go beyond what is part of the current IAEA safeguards system. The IAEA, however, already complements its on-site monitoring equipment and inspections with open-source information and satellite imagery as part of an "all source" approach.30 Further technology advances in the areas of commercial satellite imagery, sensor networks, and information sharing can be harnessed to verify the ban treaty and nuclear weapons elimination and sustain a nuclear weapons-free world.

Large constellations of small satellites, some of which are already being deployed, aim to provide daily coverage of the entire planet. This qualitatively new capability could be combined with the large archives of existing satellite imagery to provide a "time machine" showing what has been happening at a particular site once it has been identified as a possible site of concern. More frequent imagery, combined with improvements in machine learning techniques, could also offer improved abilities to identify such sites. New means for tracking and authenticating warheads and unattended and remote-sensor networks at weapons storage sites are possible that could lay the basis for an international monitoring system to support the disarmament process. The ban treaty could include a commitment to continue developing specific measures to strengthen the verification of elimination and a nuclear weapons-free world, similar to the process envisioned in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.31

It has long been recognized that any system of nuclear verification would gain from access to information that could be provided by scientists and technicians inside nuclear programs, as well as by ordinary citizens, with regard to possible violations of a treaty.32 This would be especially important for exposing R&D activities that might be part of building or maintaining a nuclear weapons capability. Government and corporate scientists and technicians who blow the whistle and civil society groups have a long history of publicly reporting violations of national laws and international agreements. Many have paid a high price for exposing governmental or corporate secrets.

There is a limited history of individuals exposing nuclear weapons activities. The most famous example is Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli technician jailed for 18 years for revealing details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program in 1986. At trial, Vanunu defended his actions as necessary to force Israel to acknowledge its secret weapons program and open it for inspection so that Israel could disarm.33 Among Vanunu’s defenders was the late Nobel laureate Joseph Rotblat, a Manhattan Project physicist who became a founder of the Pugwash movement of scientists against nuclear weapons. Rotblat advocated that the "right and the civic duty of the citizen" to report improper nuclear activities should be embedded in any nuclear disarmament treaty. His 1993 proposal called for this right and duty to "become part of the national codes of law in the countries party to the treaty…[and be] explicitly expressed in a specific clause of that treaty."34 The ban treaty should include such a Rotblat clause.


The inclusion of verification elements in the ban treaty is feasible and important. Most of the proposed core prohibitions are already covered in existing legal structures and associated verification mechanisms. In addition, the treaty’s verification framework will be valuable in the process leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons and may be easier to manage in key regards than arms control treaties that set numerical limits on nuclear weapons.

The ban treaty could require parties to maintain the safeguards obligations they already have in force and establish the goal of convergence in transparency through all states accepting a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol as a verification baseline. It also could provide guidelines for the process for nuclear weapons elimination, including the need for verified declarations, warhead disabling, and monitored warhead storage pending warhead and facility dismantlement on an agreed schedule and with agreed criteria. The goal can be specified as making the disarmament process and outcome as transparent, accountable, and irreversible as possible. To facilitate future verification, nuclear-weapon states ought to begin now to document warhead assembly, refurbishment, and dismantlement activities.

The ban treaty process could consider, as an immediate obligation or as a goal of the treaty process, a prohibition on the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons-usable fissile material for any purpose. Finally, a treaty commitment to developing and accepting new verification technologies and requiring laws in states imposing obligations on all citizens to report possible prohibited activities and protecting those who do so can play an important role in verifying the ban treaty and nuclear weapons elimination and sustaining a nuclear weapons-free world.


1.   For statements from the first round of negotiations on March 27-31, 2017, see http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/statements; https://www.un.org/disarmament/ptnw/statements.html. The draft treaty is at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/documents/CRP1.pdf.

2.   For a brief summary of the positions expressed in the first round of ban treaty discussions regarding key obligations, see Allison Pytlak, News in Brief, Nuclear Ban Daily, March 30, 2017, pp. 10-13, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/nuclear-weapon-ban/reports/NBD1.4.pdf.

3.   For an online version of the text of the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), see IAEA, Statute of the IAEA, https://www.iaea.org/about/statute (art. 3.B(1)).

4.   William C. Foster, the U.S. negotiator to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that, under NPT Article II, the construction of an experimental or prototype nuclear explosive device would be covered by the term ‘manufacture’ as would be the production of components which could only have relevance to a nuclear explosive device. Statement by ACDA Director Foster to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Nonproliferation Treaty, July 10, 1968, Documents on Disarmament 1968, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, no. 52 (September 1969), pp. 498-504, http://unoda-web.s3-accelerate.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/assets/publications/documents_on_disarmament/1968/DoD_1968.pdf.

5.   For a list of states with IAEA safeguards and additional protocols, see IAEA, Status List: Conclusion of Safeguards Agreements, Additional Protocols, and Small Quantities Protocols, October 7, 2016, https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/16/10/sg_agreements_comprehensive_status_list.pdf. See also IAEA, The Structure and Content of Agreements Between the Agency and States Required in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, INFCIRC/153 (Corrected), June 1972; IAEA, Model Additional Protocol to the Agreement(s) Between State(s) and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards, INFCIRC/540, September 1997.

6.   For an online version of the text of the Central Asian nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty, see UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia (CANWFZ), http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/canwfz/text.

7.   2000 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, NPT/CONF.2000/28 (Parts I and II), 2000, p. 4. See 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Final Document, NPT/CONF.2010/50 (Vol. I), 2010, p. 25. For a repetition of this language, see 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Draft Final Document, NPT/CONF.2015/R.3, May 21, 2015, p. 4.

8.   UN General Assembly, Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations, A/RES/71/258, January 11, 2017.

9.   For an online version of the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention, see Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, n.d., https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/CWC/CWC_en.pdf.

10.   The IAEA recommended among other things destruction of photographs and drawings which could reveal significant dimensions or the design of the nuclear material core and any components that would simplify engineering design or reveal dimensions of other sensitive components. IAEA General Conference, The Denuclearization of Africa (GC(XXXVI)/RES/577): Report by the Director General, GC(XXXVII)/1075, September 9, 1993, attach. 1, pp. 8-9.

11.   Ibid., p. 9.

12.   Ibid., p. 11.

13.   Adolf von Baeckmann, Garry Dillon, and Demetrius Perricos, Nuclear Verification in South Africa, IAEA Bulletin, No. 1 (1995), pp. 42-48.

14.   Olli Heinonen, Verifying the Dismantlement of South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program, in Nuclear Weapons Materials Gone Missing: What Does History Teach? ed. Henry D. Sokolski, November 2014, p. 174, https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pdffiles/PUB1238.pdf.

15.   Ibid.

16.   Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, Status of World Nuclear Forces, n.d., https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces (accessed March 1, 2017).

17.   Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, Global Nuclear Weapons Inventories, 1945-2013, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 69, No. 5 (2013): 75-81.

18.   International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM), Global Fissile Material Report 2013: Increasing Transparency of Nuclear Warhead and Fissile Material Stocks as a Step Toward Disarmament, October 2013, http://ipfmlibrary.org/gfmr13.pdf.

19.   Dominic Frisby, In Proof We Trust, AEON, April 2016, https://aeon.co/essays/how-blockchain-will-revolutionise-far-more-than-money; Joon Ian Wong, Even the U.S. Military Is Looking at Blockchain Technology—To Secure Nuclear Weapons, Quartz, October 2016, https://qz.com/801640/darpa-blockchain-a-blockchain-from-guardtime-is-being-verified-by-galois-under-a-government-contract.

20.   IAEA General Conference, Denuclearization of Africa (GC(XXXVI)/RES/577), p. 4.

21.   Ibid., p. 12.

22.   Committee on International Security and Arms Control, National Academy of Sciences, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997), p. 97.

23.   The idea of international plutonium storage was extensively discussed in the 1970s and 1980s, in particular as part of the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation. More recently, it has been proposed as a confidence-building measure for Japan’s growing stockpile of separated plutonium. Fred McGoldrick, IAEA Custody of Japanese Plutonium Stocks: Strengthening Confidence and Transparency, Arms Control Today, September 2014.

24.   Harold Feiveson et al., Unmaking the Bomb: A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), pp. 173-183.

25.   Article 3(a) of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty includes an undertaking [n]ot to conduct research on, develop, manufacture, stockpile or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over any nuclear explosive device by any means anywhere. For an online version of the text of the Treaty of Pelindaba, see UNODA, Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty in Central Asia (CANWFZ),  http://disarmament.un.org/treaties/t/pelindaba/text.

26.   IAEA Board of Governors, Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues Regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme, GOV/2015/68, December 2, 2015, p. 2.

27.   Toby Dalton et al., Toward a Nuclear Firewall: Bridging the NPT’s Three Pillars, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2017, http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CP_301_Dalton_et_al_Firewall_Final_Web.pdf.

28.   Ibid.

29.   UN General Assembly, Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations: Note by the Secretary-General, A/71/371, September 1, 2016 (containing the report of the UN open-ended working group taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, p. 24).

30.   Matthew Ferguson and Claude Norman, All-Source Information Acquisition and Analysis in the IAEA Department of Safeguards, IAEA-CN-184/048, n.d.,  https://www.iaea.org/safeguards/symposium/2010/Documents/PapersRepository/048.pdf.

31.   For an online version of the text of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, see https://www.ctbto.org/fileadmin/content/treaty/treaty_text.pdf (art. 4.a.11).

32.   IPFM, Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament, October 2009, pp. 114-123, http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr09.pdf.

33.   Deborah Sontag, Israel Eases Secrecy Over Nuclear Whistle-Blower’s Trial, The New York Times, November 25, 1999.

34.   Joseph Rotblat, Societal Verification, in A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, eds. Joseph Rotblat, Jack Steinberger, and Bhalchandra Udgaonkar (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), pp. 103-118.

Posted: May 31, 2017

Toward a Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons

The coming nuclear weapons prohibition treaty is not an all-in-one solution, but it promises to be a historic and valuable leap forward.

June 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Nearly five decades ago, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) established the requirement that states-parties pursue “effective measures” to end the nuclear arms race and to achieve nuclear disarmament.

The United States and Russia have reduced their Cold War stockpiles and verifiably banned nuclear explosive testing. But some 15,000 weapons remain, additional nuclear-armed states have emerged, and the risk of nuclear weapons use is rising.

Key NPT disarmament commitments made in 2010 are unfulfilled. The future of key nuclear arms control treaties, including the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, are in doubt. The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not formally entered into force. Global fissile material stocks remain very substantial. Worse still, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states are replacing, upgrading, or in some cases expanding their arsenals.

In response, non-nuclear-weapon states have justifiably argued that the grave risks posed by nuclear weapons demand more urgent action. Last fall at the United Nations, 123 states voted to launch negotiations on a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.

The conclusion of such a treaty is now within sight. From June 15 to July 7, representatives from some 130 states and civil society groups will try to finalize a draft treaty text issued May 22 by the president of the negotiating conference, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica.

The draft preamble correctly notes that “further effective measures” will be necessary to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons and that the “use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law in armed conflict.” The draft also recognizes the central role of the NPT, the CTBT, and nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties for achieving disarmament.

At its core, the new treaty would prohibit states-parties from using, testing, developing, producing, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, transferring, or receiving control over nuclear weapons. It would also require each state to prohibit and prevent the stationing, installation, or deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory (but does not prohibit “transit”). These latter provisions would affect the five NATO states that still host U.S. nuclear weapons.

The text provides a solid basis for a final agreement, although, like any first draft, it will under go refinements. As negotiators make adjustments, they should ensure the treaty allows for the establishment of effective means for disarmament verification on a case-by-case basis, including special anytime, anywhere access by the International Atomic Energy Agency as may be required to verify that a nuclear-armed state has completely eliminated its arsenal and related facilities and inventory of materials. Negotiators also should make clear that the prohibition on nuclear explosive testing in the new convention does not detract from or offer an alternative to states’ obligations under the CTBT, including its nuclear test explosion monitoring and inspections regime.

The nuclear-weapon states have dismissed the initiative as irrelevant and said it may undermine support for the NPT. In reality, efforts to reduce the salience of nuclear weapons are fundamentally consistent with NPT objectives and the common pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons.

It is also a healthy challenge to nuclear deterrence orthodoxy, which incorrectly and dangerously assumes that military postures threatening large-scale use of nuclear weapons are sustainable and will not fail. It is a reminder that, for a majority of the world’s states, these weapons of mass destruction are a security liability, not an asset.

The emerging treaty has the potential to further delegitimize nuclear weapons as instruments of national power and to strengthen the legal and political norms against their possession and use. At a time when the nuclear danger is growing, these contributions are especially useful.

Although the emerging prohibition convention can help encourage further action on disarmament, additional and difficult work lies ahead. Prohibition treaty supporters, skeptics, and opponents must find new and creative ways to come together to strengthen the NPT regime, in part by advancing new and effective disarmament measures, while easing the growing tensions between nuclear-armed states that make progress difficult and increase the danger of nuclear use.

Leaders from the nuclear-armed states who say nuclear disarmament can be achieved only in a progressive, step-by-step fashion must be willing and able to walk the talk. Such measures include securing the ratifications needed to bring the CTBT into force; reviving the moribund U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue; bringing China, India, and Pakistan further into the nuclear risk reduction and disarmament process; avoiding the introduction of new and destabilizing strategic weapons systems and technologies; concluding legally binding negative nuclear security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states; and conducting smart and sustained diplomacy to halt and reverse North Korea’s dangerous nuclear pursuits.

The coming nuclear weapons prohibition treaty is not an all-in-one solution, but it promises to be a historic and valuable leap forward.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


Posted: May 31, 2017

REMARKS: A “Realistic and Practical” Route to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

REMARKS: A “Realistic and Practical” Route to a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

June 2017

By Fumio Kishida

First of all, I would like to pay tribute to the efforts by the hibakushas and the communities affected by the atomic bombings, who have been calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. I would also like to pay respect to the efforts by the civil societies all over the world that promote discussions of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons.

Fumio Kishida (Photo credit: Rick Bajornas/UN Photo)The recognition of the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons underpins all approaches toward a world free of such weapons. Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear and missile development has now reached a new level and is posing a real threat to the region and beyond. This is a challenge to the international nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime centered on the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons should be carried out in a realistic manner, while taking into account the security environment. With the clear recognition of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the objective assessment of the severe international security environment, I am convinced that only the promotion of cooperation between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states will lead to a world free of nuclear weapons.

At this moment, the schism on approaches toward a world free of nuclear weapons has become salient among nuclear-weapon states, between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, and even among non-nuclear-weapon states. In light of this, I would like to put forward three points as a way to bridge nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states and to rebuild confidence and trust among them.

The first is to further build confidence through enhancing transparency. This includes reliable detection of nuclear testing by enhancing the International Monitoring System under the Compre­hensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This also includes the reporting of nuclear forces by nuclear-weapon states and of possessed fissile materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.

The second is to improve the security environment in order to reduce the incen­tive to possess nuclear weapons. On the North Korean issues, Japan will lead the diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula as well.

The third is to raise awareness of the reality of the use of nuclear weapons and the risk of proliferation. I am confident that if many people in the world, including political leaders and youth from both nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, learn the reality of the atomic bombings and accurately understand the nuclear risks, that will build a common foundation for making a nuclear-free world.

As we rebuild confidence and trust and strive to build an internationally reliable verification system, we will move forward toward the early entry into force of the CTBT and early commencement of negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty. Those instruments will limit both qualitative and quantitative improvement of nuclear forces, and we will steadily decrease the number of nuclear weapons while striving to build an internationally reliable verification system. In this way, when we reach a so-called minimization point, at which the number of nuclear weapons is decreased to a very low level, we will introduce a legal framework aimed at achieving and maintaining a world free of nuclear weapons, and then we will reach this goal.

This is the pathway toward a world free of nuclear weapons, which Japan genuinely believes in. I am convinced that this approach provides the realistic and practical shortcut toward a world free of nuclear weapons, instead of pressing for a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons at this point in a manner that deepens the gap between nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states. The NPT is our common ground, which forms a basis for this approach as well as an important means by which we can promote nuclear disarmament.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Fumio Kishida is the minister for foreign affairs of Japan. This is adapted from his May 2 remarks in Vienna at the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference.

Posted: May 31, 2017

Old Disputes Cloud NPT Review

Old Disputes Cloud NPT Review

June 2017

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

As a review cycle began for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), old divisions quickly re-emerged that will challenge efforts to reach a successful outcome at the 2020 review conference of states-parties to the NPT.

Diplomats at the initial UN meeting to prepare for the review conference voiced support for a number of disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives, but stumbled on familiar obstacles, namely the pace of disarmament and how to advance the initiative for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, addresses the NPT preparatory committee meeting in Vienna, as Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast of the Netherlands, the committee chairman, looks on. (Photo caption: Agata Wozniak/ UNIS Vienna)The 2020 review conference assumes additional importance following the failure of the 2015 review conference to produce a consensus document and the growing frustration of the non-nuclear-weapon states at the lack of action by nuclear powers, particularly the United States and Russia, to deliver on their legally binding disarmament obligations under the 1968 treaty. A second consecutive failure would risk weakening the global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime, including efforts to block nuclear weapons activities by Iran and North Korea.

The May 2-12 preparatory committee meeting, chaired by Henk Cor van der Kwast of the Netherlands, is the first of three conferences leading up to the 2020 review conference. “At the start of a review cycle, one is almost under an obligation to be positive—to see the glass, at least, as half-full,” Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament, told the meeting May 2, while adding, “To suggest that optimism should be the order of the day is not, however, to minimize the challenges we face.”

The next preparatory committee meeting will take place in Geneva in 2018 and will be chaired by Adam Bugajski, Poland’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The review conference likely will be chaired by Rafael Grossi, Argentina’s ambassador to Austria and to international organizations in Vienna.

The preparatory committee discussions covered the three pillars of the NPT: nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and nuclear energy. On many issues, there was general agreement.

Many states expressed support for convening a panel of experts on a fissile material cutoff treaty; continuing implementation of the nuclear deal involving Iran; IAEA safeguards, including comprehensive safeguard agreements and the IAEA Model Additional Protocol; the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under Article IV of the treaty; and the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was specifically endorsed in a joint appeal by Japan, Kazakhstan, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

The preparatory committee also was united in condemning North Korea’s continued nuclear weapons and missile testing. “Such brazen disregard for international norms and binding obligations is unprecedented in the history of the NPT,” said South Korean Ambassador Kim In-chul on May 8.

The U.S. priority was to show international resolve against North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, Robert Wood, U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said at an April 28 news conference. Sixty-two states condemned North Korea’s actions in a statement submitted May 10 by France and South Korea. The declaration, however, did not deter North Korea from conducting another launch test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on May 14.

The pace of disarmament and how to establish a WMD-free zone in the Middle East—the two issues that have obstructed past NPT review cycles—continued to elicit disagreement in the 2017 preparatory commission. Many non-nuclear-weapon states consider that the nuclear disarmament pace is too slow, alleging that nuclear-weapon states have failed to fulfill obligations under Article VI of the NPT to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.” Nuclear-weapon states contend that they have made progress on disarmament in the past decades and advocate a “step-by-step” approach of pursuing practical disarmament initiatives dependent on the security environment.

Ban Treaty

The tensions on this issue are playing out in UN negotiations, involving about 130 countries, which aim to complete a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons by July 7 (see "Ban Talks Advance With Treaty Draft", this issue). The nuclear-weapon countries and most U.S. defense treaty allies are boycotting the negotiations.

The division on the ban treaty was particularly apparent during the critiques of the chairman’s summary on the final day of the conference. Strong supporters of the ban treaty, such as Ireland and South Africa, regretted that the issue did not feature more prominently, while the United Kingdom explained that it could not support the summary due to its reference to the nuclear ban.

U.S. Ambassador Robert A. Wood, U.S. permanent represen­tative to the Conference on Disarmament, presents the U.S. statement May 2 at the NPT preparatory committee meeting in Vienna. (Photo caption: U.S. Mission to International Organizations in Vienna)Russia also rejected the ban negotiations. “The conceptual framework of the negotiation process, which in effect ignores the strategic context and addresses the elimination of nuclear weapons in isolation from existing realities, is unacceptable for us,” Russian Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov said in a May 5 statement.

States were split on how to advance a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, which has been a sticking point among NPT states-parties since the 1995 review and extension conference, when they adopted a resolution calling for practical steps to adopt such a zone. At the 2010 review conference, NPT states-parties put forward five steps in the final document to achieve the WMD-free zone, including the convening of a conference in 2012 on the issue. Unable to reach agreement on an agenda for that conference, the conveners, which included Russia, the UK, and the United States, announced in November 2012 that the meeting, originally scheduled for December, would be postponed. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Disagreement over the WMD-free zone stymied the 2015 review conference. States-parties failed to pass a final consensus document because Canada, the UK, and the United States rejected text proposed by Egypt, which was reflected in the final document, calling for new deadlines to reach agreement on an agenda for advancing the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. (See ACT, June 2015.) Egypt’s push to include this text in the final document caused a rift among Arab League members, many of whom disagreed with Egypt’s proposal.

The splintering of the Arab League continued into the 2017 preparatory committee, at which the Arab League did not present a unified statement. Egypt, Iran, and a group of 12 Arab League members, including Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, each offered separate working papers on advancing the WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Egypt’s working paper expresses concern over the lack of implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and demands that the next review cycle call on Israel to join the NPT.

In its working paper, the group of 12 Arab League states, not including Egypt, also recommended that Israel join the NPT, but emphasized that a conference on the WMD-free zone should take place under the auspices of the three depositories of the treaty: Russia, the UK, and the United States. Russia also criticized the lack of progress toward a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and submitted its own working paper to advance the convening of a conference before the 2020 review conference on the issue.

‘Misguided Attempts’

The United States stated that the conditions necessary for a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone do not currently exist, adding that “misguided attempts to coerce an outcome, or to hold the NPT review process hostage, indicate a misunderstanding of the function and purpose of weapons-free zones.”

In a new development in the NPT review cycles, there were calls from many states for more gender equality in disarmament forums. Ireland submitted a working paper on the subject, and the European Union stated that “promotion of gender equality, gender consciousness and empowerment of women remains a key priority for the EU, including in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation.” Australia, in a May 10 statement, pointed out that there were too few female delegates at the preparatory committee. 

Posted: May 31, 2017

Ban Talks Advance With Treaty Draft

Ban Talks Advance With Treaty Draft

Updated June 13 to clarify Article 4 provisions for nuclear-weaon states that will have disarmed before the treaty’s entry into force for those states.

June 2017

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The first draft of a landmark treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons, released May 22, set the stage for pivotal efforts to conclude a treaty document by the July 7 deadline established by the UN General Assembly.

The draft by Elayne Whyte Gómez, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva and president of the negotiating conference on the ban treaty, reflects the areas of broad agreement during the first round of negotiations in March at the United Nations in New York. It leaves out several controversial proposals that states will likely debate when talks resume June 15.

A computer displays the symbol of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) at the UN Conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in New York March 31. (Photo credit: Manuel Elias/UN Photo)The envisioned treaty reflects an historic effort to shift international norms against the acquisition, possession, and potential use of nuclear weapons. The international effort is pressed by non-nuclear-weapons states and rejected by nuclear-armed countries that see the ban as impractical and potentially destabilizing if it undermines nuclear deterrence.

The initiative is driven by growing recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the rising risk of accidental or intentional nuclear use, and the frustration of many non-nuclear-weapon states at the slow pace of nuclear disarmament. The pace of disarmament was a critical point of contention at the May 2-12 meeting of preparatory committee for the 2020 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, where many states alleged that nuclear-weapons states have failed to fulfill their NPT Article VI obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith towards complete disarmament.

Following the recommendation of the last of three open-ended working groups on disarmament, the UN General Assembly First Committee on disarmament voted in October 2016 to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons (see ACT, November 2016). During the last week of March, about 130 non-nuclear-weapon states engaged in the first round of negotiations (see ACT, May 2017).

In March, states agreed on many of the prohibitions in the draft, including on the acquisition, possession, stockpiling, use and transfer of nuclear weapons, as well as on assistance with any prohibited activities. The prohibition on testing was the most controversial element included in the draft text, in part because of debate over whether it might inadvertently undermine the existing Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Other contested prohibitions—on the threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as on transit and financing—were left out pending further negotiations.

The text does not call for states-parties to adopt the stricter verification requirements embodied in the Inter-national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol which some states, such as Sweden and Switzerland, advocated for in March.

The draft treaty outlines verification provisions for states that will have disarmed before the treaty’s entry into force for those states.

Verification of disarmament by any former nuclear-weapons state that does so before the treaty’s entry into force for it will be determined by an agreement between the state and the IAEA. This clause only pertains to states that possessed nuclear weapons after 2001, thereby exempting several post-Soviet states, including Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which dismantled their arsenals before that date.

In a so called non-paper, Whyte Gomez identifies a path for accession of nuclear weapons states to the treaty following the model of South Africa’s accession to the NPT; nuclear weapons states could dismantle their nuclear arsenals and then sign the treaty, accepting verification provisions under the treaty.

Ban treaty advocates hailed the draft as a clear and strong basis for a nuclear-weapons prohibition but treaty skeptics raised questions about the text’s uncertain relationship to existing nonproliferation treaties. In an effort to dispel concerns that the new treaty will contradict the NPT, the draft text declares that the ban treaty will not influence the “rights and obligations” of states under the NPT.

However, some experts claim the NPT allows for temporary and limited nuclear possession, and thus a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would inherently infringe upon the NPT rights of nuclear-weapons states. Ban advocates counter that the NPT does not allow for the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons and therefore the two treaties are compatible.

Some are concerned that the prohibition of testing of nuclear weapons in the draft text does not include a reference to the CTBT’s International Monitoring System (IMS), a global network of sensors which detect nuclear explosions. Duplicating language from the CTBT, which bans nuclear testing, without referencing the IMS could undermine that treaty, they argue.

Concerns and criticisms will be aired when negotiators take up the draft text in the second round of negotiations. According to a timetable circulated in late March, the first two days will be dedicated to a general discussion of the draft. During the following week, states will examine the text thematically, with separate negotiating sessions devoted to the preamble, positive obligations, core prohibitions, implementation and institutional arrangements and universality and final provisions. Additional time is reserved for consultations. On June 23, states will determine the organization of the remainder of the negotiations.

The United States, along with most NATO allies, and other nuclear-weapons states are expected to continue to boycott the proceedings.

“Almost all the nuclear armed states put pressure on smaller countries to not participate, to not attend, and there will be even more pressure when the time for signing the treaty comes,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, in a May 16 interview with Arms Control Today. “I think that is going to continue. It’s not going to get easier for us. But I don’t think it’s going to get easier for them to ignore the treaty either. It’s moving forward whether or not they like it.”

Draft Convention on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons: Key Elements


The preamble references the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, the suffering of victims of nuclear use and testing, international and humanitarian law, the UN Charter, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Article 1: Core Prohibitions

Article 1 prohibits acquisition, possession, stockpiling, use, transfer, testing, stationing, installment, and deployment of nuclear weapons and assistance with prohibited activities. The draft text does not include prohibitions on threat of use, transit, and financing of nuclear weapons, but states will debate whether to include them during the final round of negotiations.

Article 3 and Annex: Safeguards

Article 3 and the annex state that safeguards should be the same as required in connection with the NPT. States are not required to ratify an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement.

Article 4: Verification

Article 4 pertains to states-parties that had nuclear weapons after 2001 but will have eliminated them before the prohibition treaty enters into force for those states. These states must conclude an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify the elimination of their arsenals. This clause does not cover Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, the former Soviet states that eliminated their arsenals before 2001.

Article 5: Other Disarmament Provisions

Article 5 suggests that other effective measures relating to nuclear disarm­ament that are not covered by Article 4 be considered in future meetings of states-parties or review conferences.

Article 6: Victim Assistance

Article 6 asserts that states-parties “in a position to do so” should provide assistance to individual victims of nuclear testing or use on their territory and that states that were victims of nuclear use or testing by other states should also receive assistance. Environmental remediation is included.

Article 9: Meeting of States-Parties

The first meeting of states-parties will take place within one year of entry into force and biennially thereafter.

Article 16: Entry Into Force

The ban treaty will enter into force 90 days after ratification by the 40th state.

Article 17: Reservations

No reservations to articles are allowed.

Article 18: Withdrawal

The treaty is of “unlimited duration,” but withdrawal is permitted and would take effect three months after the notice is received.

Article 19: Relationship to NPT

Article 19 states that the prohibition treaty does not impact the “rights and obligations” of states-parties to the NPT.

Nonpaper: Accession of Nuclear-Weapon States to the Treaty

The nonpaper submitted by Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez, who authored the draft treaty, presents a model for nuclear-weapon states to accede to the treaty: disarm first and then sign the treaty, referenced during the first round of negotiations as “South Africa-plus” because it is modeled after South Africa’s accession to the NPT. 

Posted: May 31, 2017

North Korea’s New Missile Tests South Korea

North Korea’s New Missile Tests South Korea

June 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea’s test of a ballistic missile capable of longer ranges poses an immediate challenge to newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on an engagement-oriented approach to dealing with Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is showing no sign of making that easy as he continues to defy international demands that he halt nuclear weapons activities and missile testing.

The missile tested May 14 is a new system that North Korea debuted a month earlier at its parade celebrating the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung. (See ACT, May 2017.) Known as the Hwasong-12, the missile likely is an intermediate-range ballistic missile, meaning its range is between 3,000 and 5,500 kilometers, which would put Guam within striking distance but fall short of reaching the continental United States. The test was intended to verify “the tactical and technological specifications” for a system “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear weapon,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

This May 14 picture from the official Korean Central News Agency shows leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile before a test launch. The test was intended to verify “the tactical and technological specifications” for a system “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear weapon,” according to the state-run news agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea tested the missile at a lofted trajectory, so it flew higher than a normal flight pattern and traveled about 700 kilometers to splash down in the Sea of Japan. David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, used data from the test to calculate a 4,800-kilometer range at a standard ballistic missile trajectory, according to his organization’s blog, “All Things Nuclear.” The lofted trajectory was likely used to avoid the missile splashing down too close to another country.

The test came just four days after Moon won South Korea’s presidential election on May 10. He was sworn in immediately to fill the vacancy left by Park Geun-hye, who was impeached in December 2016.

Moon described the missile test as “deeply regrettable” and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles. Despite saying that South Korea must “act decisively against North Korean provocations,” Moon said he remains open to dialogue with North Korea when Pyongyang “changes its attitude.” That dialogue cannot begin while North Korea continues to conduct ballistic missile tests, he said.

Moon’s openness to talks with Pyongyang marks a change from Park’s more hard-line policy toward North Korea. Moon has described his policy as moving away from the “pressure only” to “pressure with pragmatic engagement.”

For instance, Moon has suggested that he might reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kaesong, located on the North Korean side of the border, provides space for South Korean companies to manufacture products using North Korean labor. The complex was closed in 2016 during a period of increased tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul following nuclear and missile tests by North Korea.

The Unification Ministry in South Korea also called May 17 for re-establishing the hotline between North Korea and South Korea. North Korea cut off the hotline in February 2016 in response to the closing of Kaesong.

Pressure Plus

Moon’s approach of pressure plus engagement sounds similar to the policy approach of “maximum pressure plus engagement” described by the United States after the Trump administration completed its policy review on North Korea. (See ACT, May 2017.) Moon, however, opposes U.S. talk about using military force without South Korean consent if diplomacy fails.

North Korea has pressed for talks with the United States without preconditions that it halt nuclear and missile activities. North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui told reporters in Beijing on May 13 that Pyongyang would talk to the United States “if the conditions are there.” Choe did not specify what conditions North Korea is expecting from Washington and did not speculate on whether North Korea would reach out to South Korea for talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated the U.S. policy toward North Korea when meeting with South Korea’s special presidential envoy, Hong Seok-hyun, on May 18. Tillerson was reported in the South Korean press as saying that talks with North Korea can begin if Pyongyang refrains from nuclear and missile testing and is willing to trust that Washington not undertake hostile acts toward it.

Newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in greets supporters in Seoul after his victory was confirmed May 9. (Photo credit: Jean Chung/Getty Images)Washington’s statement after the missile test, however, took a more strident tone. The White House statement on May 13 called North Korea a “flagrant menace” and said all states must implement stronger sanctions against North Korea. The statement also noted Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to U.S. allies.

Moon will come to Washington in late June for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. In announcing the summit, Moon’s office said on May 16 that the two states will look for “bold and practical” steps to take on North Korea.

UN Security Council President Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay issued a statement on behalf of all 15 members that “strongly condemned” North Korea’s ballistic missile launch. The May 15 statement called for Pyongyang to end its ballistic missile tests and for all UN member states to enforce sanctions on North Korea.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters ahead of a May 16 consultation on North Korea that the United States is ready to “tighten the screws” on Pyongyang and will target sanctions against any country that is “supplying or supporting North Korea.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also condemned the missile test and said on May 15 that Moscow is “categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states, including through the Korean Peninsula.” But Putin, who was on a trip to China at the time, said that “intimidating” North Korea was not the right path forward.

Missile Defense

Moon’s administration may review the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. The missile defense system became operational on May 2, according to U.S. officials.

Despite the operational status of the system, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that he was aware that there were procedural concerns over the THAAD deployment.

McMaster’s comments came after Hong told him that South Korea’s National Assembly  needed to discuss the THAAD deployment. Moon made comments to that effect, namely that the correct procedure was not followed for deciding to deploy the THAAD system, during his campaign.

The United States and South Korea agreed on the THAAD deployment in July 2016 to the displeasure of China and Russia. (See ACT, September 2016.)

South Korea is working on its own ballistic missile defense, known as the Korea Air and Missile Defense System. Moon told the military to speed up development of the system after the North Korean ballistic missile test on May 14.

Posted: May 31, 2017

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions

INF Dispute Adds to U.S.-Russia Tensions 

June 2017

By Maggie Tennis

Reacting with strong language to a U.S. report alleging arms control treaty violations, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the United States of “creating dangerous conditions” that could trigger a nuclear arms race. Further, Russia warned that U.S. missile defense development may give “hot heads” in Washington the “pernicious illusion of invincibility and impunity” that could lead to misguided unilateral action, as it claims occurred when the United States launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase on April 7.

The annual U.S. report on arms control compliance, which for the fourth consecutive year alleges Moscow’s noncompliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s response reflect contrasting views on arms control and nonproliferation issues and demonstrate the precarious condition of the U.S.-Russian bilateral arms control regime.

The State Department’s “Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” dated April 2017, also raised “serious” concerns with Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies and cites Moscow for suspending the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), an accord intended to reduce stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium that had stood as an example of U.S.-Russian cooperation against nuclear proliferation risks.

Russian Complaints

The report asserts that the United States last year remained in compliance with all of its treaty obligations. The Russian Foreign Ministry disputed the alleged violations and countered with what it said are U.S. violations of the INF Treaty stemming from its missile defense and drone programs, as well as citing other actions it said hinder arms control efforts.

The United States contends that Russia has tested and deployed a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 to 5,000 kilometers, a class of weapons prohibited by the treaty. The State Department report details steps Washington took in 2016 to resolve the dispute, including convening a session of the Special Verification Commission, the technical dispute-resolution venue created by the treaty. (See ACT, December 2016.)

Specific Details

The State Department, which previously provided no details of those consultations, disclosed in the new report elements of its evidence. The United States presented information to the Russians that included Russia’s internal designator for the mobile launcher chassis and the names of the companies involved in developing and producing the missile and launcher, the report says. The United States detailed “the violating GLCM’s test history, including coordinates of the tests and Russia’s attempts to obfuscate the nature of the program,” according to the report.

Further, the report says the missile in dispute is distinct from two other Russian missile systems, the R-500/SSC-7 Iskander GLCM and the RS-26 ballistic missile. The R-500 has a Russian-declared range below the 500-kilometer INF Treaty cutoff, and Russia identifies the RS-26 as an intercontinental ballistic missile treated in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The report also appears to suggest that the launcher for the allegedly noncompliant missile is different from the launcher for the Iskander.

Through the commission and other formats, the United States has provided “more than enough information for the Russian side to identify the missile in question and engage substantively on the issue of its obligations,” according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry, in its statement April 29, said Washington has failed to provide clear evidence to support its assertions. The United States has put forward only “odd bits and pieces of signals with no clarification of the unfounded concerns,” the ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry statement repeated Russian allegations that the United States is violating its INF Treaty obligations by positioning a missile defense system in Romania. “The system includes a vertical launching system, similar to the universal Mk-41 VLS, capable of launching Tomahawk medium-range missiles,” the ministry said. “This is undeniably a grave violation under the INF Treaty.” Yet, the U.S. Tomahawk intermediate-range cruise missiles are permitted under the agreement as a sea-based weapon. In addition, the Mk-41 has not fired GLCMs, and Washington says the launchers to be deployed in Romania and Poland are different than the ship-based version that has been used to fire Tomahawks.

Russia also cited the United States for testing ground-based ballistic missiles characteristic of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles and developing percussion drones that “fall under the definition of land-based cruise missiles contained in the INF Treaty.” It said Washington has been “simply ignoring Russia’s serious concerns.” The State Department report does not mention those disputes.

The Foreign Ministry statement identified the U.S. missile defense system as the No. 1 “unacceptable action” by the United States on a list of 11 areas of arms control concerns, which includes the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and the U.S. failure to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

“It should be understood that the [U.S.] anti-missile facilities placed around the world are part of a very dangerous global project aimed at ensuring universal overwhelming U.S. superiority at the expense of the security interests of other countries,” according to the statement.

Plutonium Disposition

The State Department report found “no indication” that Russia had violated its PMDA obligations, but said that Moscow’s decision to “suspend” the accord “raises concerns regarding its future adherence to obligations” under the agreement. The Foreign Ministry said the report’s finding “does not correspond to reality” because Moscow only suspended the PMDA in response to Washington’s “hostile actions toward Russia” and a “radical change of circumstances” since the agreement was signed in 2000.

The Foreign Ministry said the Obama administration initiated plans to transition to a new method of plutonium disposition without obtaining proper consent from Russia. The statement reiterated Moscow’s position from October that Russia would resume the agreement if the United States adheres “to the agreed method of disposal,” which called for mixing the plutonium with uranium to create mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for power plant use, and reverses the other measures that prompted Russian suspension. Specifically, the ministry called for the U.S. to lift its sanctions against Russia enacted in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, compensate Russia for the damage caused by the sanctions, and reduce the U.S. military presence on the territory of NATO member states that joined the alliance after 2000.”

Posted: May 31, 2017

GAO Sees Big Rise in B61 Bomb Cost

GAO Sees Big Rise in B61 Bomb Cost

June 2017

By Kingston Reif

The program to rebuild the B61 nuclear gravity bomb is likely to exceed Energy Department cost projections by about $2.5 billion, or 35 percent, and begin production two years later than anticipated, according to the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In addition, the GAO study released in April disputes the department’s claim that its long-term plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure are affordable, calling this conclusion “optimistic.”

An Air Force F-16C prepares to drop an inert B61-12 during a development flight test by the 422nd Flight Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on March 14, 2017. The test is part of the life extension program intended to improve the weapon’s safety, security and reliability. (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Brandi Hansen/U.S. Air Force)The report illustrates the significant fiscal challenge facing the Trump administration as it seeks to continue and perhaps expand the ambitious effort set in motion by the Obama administration to overhaul the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $10.2 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of roughly $1 billion from the current fiscal year level and about $570 million more than the Obama administration’s final budget request projection.

An updated assessment of the B61 life extension program (LEP) performed by the NNSA about a year ago put the direct cost of the program at $7.6 billion, an increase of $200 million over the agency’s estimate of $7.4 billion provided in its fiscal year 2017 budget materials. The NNSA’s independent Office of Cost Estimating and Program Evaluation, however, told the GAO that its assessment of the program projects a total cost of approximately $10 billion and a two-year delay to the agency’s estimated March 2020 first production-unit date.

Arms Control Today reported last November that the independent office’s analysis had identified program risk factors that could lead to cost increases and schedule delays. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Although the NNSA’s fiscal year 2018 budget request of $789 million for the B61 LEP reflects the agency’s updated $7.6 billion cost figure, it is not in line with the independent projection. An NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today last fall that the B61 program office is “monitoring and mitigating” the cost and schedule risk identified by the independent office.

Under the B61 LEP, the NNSA plans to consolidate four of the five existing versions of the bomb into a single weapon known as the B61-12. The upgraded weapon will be equipped with a new tail-kit guidance assembly that will make the bomb more accurate and allow it to have a lower yield than some of the existing variants. The new tail kit is being developed by the Air Force and is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.

The NNSA is expected to produce 400 to 500 B61-12s, which officials have said will lead to the retirement of the stock of B83 gravity bombs, the most powerful nuclear weapon remaining in the U.S. arsenal.

The GAO report also showed that the NNSA thinks the estimated cost of the program to refurbish the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warhead could be understated by more than $1 billion.

The LEP for the ALCM warhead would receive $399 million billion under the fiscal year 2018 budget request, an increase of $179 million over the current-year level, but a decrease of $63 million below the projection in Obama’s final budget submission. The first refurnished ALCM warhead, which will be mated to the new long-range standoff weapon being developed by the Air Force, is scheduled for production in 2025.

Overall, the GAO report concluded that “budget estimates in some of NNSA’s fiscal year 2017 nuclear security budget materials do not align with the agency’s plans for its modernization efforts at several levels, raising concerns about the overall affordability of NNSA’s planned portfolio of nuclear modernization programs.”

The auditors note that the NNSA may need $2.9 billion more in funding for weapons activities during fiscal years 2022-2026 than the agency is projecting. During this period, the NNSA is planning to be simultaneously executing four to five major warhead LEPs and several major construction projects.

The mismatch between NNSA budget projections and program plans is driven in part by the agency’s costly and controversial proposal to eventually consolidate the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads. First announced in June 2013, the so-called 3+2 strategy has a sticker price of roughly $60 billion and calls for shrinking the current stockpile from nine different warhead types to five. Three of these warhead types would be “interoperable” on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, an approach that has not been tried. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two of the seven current warhead types would be retired.

The NNSA argues that its modernization program is “generally affordable,” but the GAO claims the agency “does not thoroughly explain the basis for this conclusion or provide options for how potential affordability concerns…may be addressed if future funding is not increased.”

Posted: May 31, 2017

Congress Limits Warhead Dismantlement

Congress Limits Warhead Dismantlement

June 2017

By Kingston Reif

Long opposed to the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons risk reduction agenda, the Republican-controlled Congress voted in May to prevent the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from implementing the former administration’s proposal to accelerate the rate of dismantlement of retired nuclear warheads.

Congress approved $56 million for nuclear warhead dismantlement and disposition activities, a reduction of $13 million, or 19 percent, from the Obama administration’s proposal of $69 million in its final budget request. The funding provision is part of the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, which President Donald Trump signed into law on May 5. Fiscal year 2017 started on Oct. 1, 2016, and runs until Sept. 30.

When a warhead is retired and removed from the U.S. nuclear stockpile, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department, takes the weapon apart to ensure that it can never be used again. The transition from retirement to disassembly can take years and involves a number of steps and facilities.

In a January speech in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden stated that the Obama administration dismantled 2,226 warheads during its eight years in office. Biden also said that the queue of warheads awaiting dismantlement stood at 2,800 warheads as of September 2016.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request included funds to begin accelerating the rate of dismantlement by 20 percent pursuant to an announcement made by Secretary of State John Kerry in April 2015 at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in New York to further demonstrate the administration’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

But a number of Republican members of Congress strongly opposed the proposal, calling it unilateral disarmament.

The fiscal year 2017 national defense authorization act signed by President Barack Obama last December sets an annual limit of $56 million for NNSA dismantlement expenditures in fiscal years 2017 to 2021 and prohibits spending beyond that amount unless a number of stringent conditions can be met. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

Although the House and Senate appropriations committees last year approved the Obama administration’s request to accelerate the dismantlement rate, the final funding level in the omnibus bill follows the direction in the defense authorization bill.

The omnibus bill also includes a policy provision prohibiting the use of fiscal year 2016 funds “to reduce or to prepare to reduce” the number of deployed and nondeployed U.S. strategic nuclear delivery systems below the levels the Pentagon has said it will retain as it adjusts its forces to meet the requirements of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the treaty’s implementation deadline of 2018.

The Obama administration last year considered reducing the size of the deployed arsenal below New START levels, but ultimately decided not to do so. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)

Defense Spending Increased

The omnibus appropriations bill is a nearly $1.2 trillion conglomeration of 12 appropriations bills that had to be passed to keep the government operating. For the first seven months of the fiscal year, Congress passed a series of continuing resolutions that extended funding for most discretionary governmental programs at the previous year’s levels, although several programs, including nuclear weapons programs, received fresh funding at the fiscal year 2017 request level.

The bill includes $14.8 billion of the extra $30 billion in spending requested by the Trump administration in March. The administration requested the funds as a supplement to the Obama administration’s original budget submission.

Congress included the additional funds in the Defense Department’s overseas contingency operations account, which is nominally used to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Syria but in fact also funds other defense programs, as the account is not limited by the 2011 Budget Control Act. That act places limits on discretionary spending, including military spending.

The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released on May 23, includes a total of $603 billion for national defense, which includes the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons programs. This is an increase of $54 billion above the budget cap in effect for fiscal year 2018 and $19 billion, or 3 percent, above the projected spending level for fiscal year 2018 contained in the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 request.

Nuclear Modernization

The omnibus bill largely supports the Obama administration’s proposed funding increases for programs to sustain and to rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The bill includes the requested amounts of $1.9 billion for the Navy’s Ohio-class submarine replacement program, an increase of $360 million above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation; $114 million for the Air Force’s effort to develop a replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, an increase of almost $39 million over 2016; and $96 million for a new fleet of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs), almost six times as much as Congress appropriated last year.

The bill funds the nuclear-capable B-21 “Raider” bomber program at $1.3 billion, a small reduction of $20 million below the budget request level. The bill also includes a provision calling on the Defense Department’s inspector general to review the secrecy of the program.

The Air Force has refused to release the value of the contract awarded to Northrop Grumman Corp. in October 2015 to develop the B-21 and the estimated total cost of the bomber program, citing classification concerns.

The bill also provides $9.3 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of $399 million, or 4.5 percent, above the fiscal year 2016 appropriation. The appropriation for weapons activities includes $223 million to begin refurbishing the existing ALCM warhead and $616 million for the B61 nuclear gravity bomb life extension program.

GMD System Gets Boost

The omnibus bill provides $968 million in research and development funding for the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system designed to protect the United States against a limited ICBM attack from North Korea or Iran, an increase of $106 million above the budget request level of $862 million. The increase restores funding to the level the Obama administration planned to request for fiscal year 2017 in its fiscal year 2016 budget submission.

The GMD system consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California supported by radars and sensors around the globe and in space.

Overall, the bill provides approximately $8.2 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $700 million above the Obama administration request.

MOX Construction Continues

Congress provided the NNSA with $335 million to continue construction of the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, rejecting the Obama administration’s proposal to end the project. (See ACT, March 2016.)

The MOX fuel program is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for power reactors.

The U.S. effort to dispose of its plutonium via the MOX fuel path has suffered from large cost increases and schedule delays that put the project in jeopardy, prompting the Obama administration to propose ending the program and instead pursue an alternative approach. The alternative “dilute and dispose” process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository. That approach can be implemented decades sooner at a much lower cost and with fewer risks, according to the Energy Department. (See ACT, June 2015.)

Despite the Energy Department’s efforts to terminate the MOX fuel project, Congress, led by the delegation from South Carolina, has refused to abandon it. Nonetheless, the bill provides $15 million, the same as the budget request and an increase of $10 million over the fiscal year 2016 level, to complete design activities for the dilute-and-dispose alternative.

Overall, the bill includes $1.9 billion for NNSA fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, an increase of $75 million above the budget request and a decrease of $57 million from the current level.

Posted: May 31, 2017


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