“The Arms Control Association and all of the staff I've worked with over the years … have this ability to speak truth to power in a wide variety of venues.”
– Marylia Kelley
Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
June 2019

Arms Control Today June 2019

Edition Date: 
Monday, June 3, 2019
Cover Image: 

An ‘Arms Race in Speed’: Hypersonic Weapons and the Changing Calculus of Battle

June 2019
By Michael T. Klare

Speed. Since nations first went to war, speed has been a key factor in combat, particularly at the very onset of battle. The rapid concentration and employment of force can help a belligerent overpower an opponent and avoid a costly war of attrition, an approach that underlaid Germany’s blitzkrieg (lightning war) strategy during World War II and America's “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003.

The X-51A, shown as an artist's concept, is an experimental, scramjet-powered hypersonic aircraft that achieved speeds of over Mach 5 in a 2013 test. (Graphic: U.S. Air Force)Speed is also a significant factor in the nuclear attack and deterrence equation. Following the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the late 1950s, which reduced to mere minutes the time between a launch decision and catastrophic destruction on the other side of the planet, nuclear-armed states have labored to deploy early-warning and command-and-control systems capable of detecting a missile launch and initiating a retaliatory strike before their own missiles could be destroyed. Preventing the accidental or inadvertent onset of nuclear war thus requires enough time for decision-makers to ascertain the accuracy of reported missile launches and choose appropriate responses. This is an imperative reinforced by several Cold War incidents in which launch detection systems provided false indications of such action but human operators intervened to prevent unintended retaliation.

Today, speed will alter the calculus of combat and deterrence even further with the imminent deployment of hypersonic weapons—maneuverable vehicles that fly at more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5 and higher). China, Russia, and the United States are testing hypersonic weapons of various types to enhance strategic nuclear deterrence and strengthen front-line combat units. Existing ICBM reentry vehicles also travel at those superfast speeds, but the hypersonic glide vehicles now in development are far more maneuverable, making their tracking and interception nearly impossible. Such dual-use vehicles, capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads, are also being fitted on missiles intended for use in a regional context, say, in a battle erupting in the Baltic region or the South China Sea. With the time between launch and arrival on target dwindling to 10 minutes or less, the introduction of these weapons will introduce new and potent threats to global nuclear stability.

Hypersonic weapons are said by proponents to be especially useful at the onset of battle, when they can attack an opponent’s high-value targets, including air defense radars, fighter bases, missile batteries, and command-and-control facilities. The incapacitation of those facilities at an early stage in the conflict could help smooth the way for follow-on attacks by regular air, sea, and ground forces. Yet, as the same facilities are often tied into a nuclear-armed country’s nuclear warning and command systems, attacks against them could be interpreted by the target state as the prelude to a disarming first strike and trigger the early use of its own nuclear weapons.

From an arms control perspective, the deployment of hypersonic weapons raises a host of additional concerns, beginning with the possible violation by some of the proposed missiles of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty’s prospects are bad enough with the U.S. announcement last February that it will withdraw from the treaty in August, but deployment of treaty-prohibited hypersonic weapons would certainly torpedo any chance of preserving the pact. More complications arise from some countries’ plans to place hypersonic delivery vehicles on ICBMs, which would indirectly bring any such U.S. or Russian systems under the limits set by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), even if the hypersonic components contained conventional warheads. Any negotiation of a successor to New START, which is due to expire in 2021 unless extended, would likely involve discussion of accounting for hypersonic munitions.1

The rush to develop and deploy hypersonic weapons without fully considering their intended uses and strategic impacts is yet another aspect of the speed associated with these munitions. Given the escalatory dangers of deploying hypersonic weapons, it is essential that they receive closer attention from policymakers, arms control analysts, and the general public.

Hypersonic Developments

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union conducted research into mounting maneuverable reentry vehicles on long-range ballistic missiles, but militaries began to explore a variety of hypersonic weapons types in the 21st century. Multiple programs are now approaching the test and deployment stage. In this process, the major powers have largely focused on two types of weapons: hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles.2

Hypersonic glide vehicles, also called boost-glide weapons, employ a booster rocket to carry the glide vehicle into the outer atmosphere. Once reaching that altitude, between 40 and 100 miles above the earth’s surface, the vehicle separates from the booster and, propelled solely by its momentum and kept aloft by its aerodynamic shape, skims along the atmosphere’s outer boundary for great distances. Although unpowered, the vehicle can maneuver in flight, using satellite guidance to strike with high precision.

The X-60A is a test vehicle intended to develop U.S. hypersonic missile technology. (Graphic: Generation Orbit)The U.S. Department of Defense, as part of its prompt global-strike program, initially considered launching conventionally armed hypersonic glide vehicles from repurposed Minuteman ICBMs and placing conventional warheads on a small number of intercontinental Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Later, the Pentagon largely abandoned that approach, worried that such systems could be confused for nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and unintentionally trigger a nuclear response. More recently, the Pentagon has pursued medium-range systems employing assorted rockets to boost the glide vehicle into space. Russia and China, however, are continuing to test and deploy ICBM-launched hypersonic glide vehicles, notably the Russian Avangard and Chinese DF-ZF.

Hypersonic cruise missiles, unlike glide vehicles, fly within the atmosphere and can be launched by ships or planes or from land. To attain Mach 5 and above, they employ advanced, air-breathing jet engines, such as scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets). Because the missiles must carry their fuel, they have less range than glide vehicles and must be launched from sites closer to their target. The U.S. Air Force is pursuing an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile, and Russia has been testing the Tsirkon, will which be launched from ships and submarines.

All three countries are also working on variants of these models and the necessary supporting technologies. The U.S. Air Force, alongside its hypersonic cruise missile program, is financing a separate effort to develop a hypersonic projectile it calls the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. The U.S. Army is proceeding with development of its Alternative Re-Entry System, a maneuverable hypersonic delivery vehicle that could be launched by a number of proposed missile booster systems. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Navy is developing a booster rocket that could be fired from submarines or surface ships to carry hypersonic vehicles. The Defense Department asked for $2.6 billion for these and related initiatives in its fiscal year 2020 budget request, with far larger amounts expected in future budgets.

Strategic Rationales

All three major powers have explored similar applications of hypersonic technologies, but their strategic calculations in doing so appear to vary, with the United States primarily seeking weapons for use in a regional, non-nuclear conflict and Russia emphasizing the use of hypersonic weapons for both conventional and nuclear applications. Whatever the case, the speed of attack largely accounts for the growing pursuit of hypersonic weaponry, along with their extensive maneuverability and perceived invulnerability to existing defensive systems.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the Australian Parliament November 17, 2011 as part of his "pivot to the Pacific" initiative. One consequence of the strategy was intensified military planning with regard to China's military development.  (Photo: Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)The United States first looked at hypersonic weapons as part of a desired capacity to attack an enemy’s high-value targets, including command-and-control systems and mobile missile batteries, without using nuclear warheads or relying on forward-based forces. This was the original premise of the prompt global-strike mission, first announced in 2003. Over time, however, the U.S. pursuit of hypersonic weaponry has focused more on conventionally armed, intermediate-range weapons that might be used in a regional context to degrade an enemy’s defenses at the onset of battle, thereby easing the way for follow-on air, sea, and ground forces. Despite this shift, speed of attack has remained a consistent aim of the Pentagon’s hypersonic endeavors. As noted by the Congressional Research Service in a January 2019 review of these efforts, “Analysts have identified a number of potential targets that the United States might need to strike promptly.” These could include “air defense or anti-satellite weapons that could disrupt the U.S. ability to sustain an attack,” an enemy’s command and control facilities, or “caches of weapons of mass destruction.”3

Such a capacity would be particularly useful, U.S. strategists believe, in any future engagement with Chinese forces in the Asia-Pacific region, such as in the South China Sea or around Taiwan. Since President Barack Obama announced a “pivot to the Pacific” in 2011, U.S. military planners have sought advanced weaponry to counter what are viewed as enhanced Chinese defensive military capabilities. China, it is claimed, has deployed many intermediate-range ballistic missiles to target U.S. warships and bases in the region; a U.S. preemptive strike on those capabilities using hypersonic weapons at the onset of a conflict would help safeguard key U.S. assets and pave the way for follow-on attacks.4 China also appears to be focusing its hypersonic efforts on a regional context, with its DF-ZF glide vehicle apparently aimed at U.S. bases, warships, and missile batteries in the Asia-Pacific theater.5

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Chkalov State Flight Test Center in May to view the aircraft-carried Kinzhal hypersonic weapon, among other systems. (Photo: Kremlin.ru)Russia seems to have been driven by somewhat different intentions. After the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, Russian officials worried that unconstrained U.S. missile defenses could someday threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent. To overcome that risk, Russia says it will soon deploy a nuclear-armed, maneuverable hypersonic delivery system, the Avangard, on some of its ICBMs.6 With its speed and maneuverability, the Avangard is designed to evade any existing or future U.S. anti-missile systems, thereby ensuring the integrity of Russia’s strategic deterrent. “This is a major event in the life of the armed forces and, perhaps, in the life of the country,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told government officials last December. “Russia now has a new kind of strategic weapon.”7

Although Russia has placed its primary emphasis on the development of hypersonic warheads for some of its strategic ICBMs, it has also pursued dual-use weapons intended for theater use, presumably against NATO forces in Europe and the Atlantic. That is the apparent intent of its air-launched, anti-ship missile, called Kinzhal, said to have a range of 1,200 miles while flying at speeds approaching Mach 10, evading any defenses.8

Arms Racing Behavior

Each of these countries initiated its pursuit of hypersonic weapons for unique strategic purposes, but all seem to have recently accelerated their efforts partly to overtake progress made by their rivals—behavior that has all the earmarks of a classic arms race.

“China’s hypersonic weapons development outpaces ours,” Admiral Harry Harris, then commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and now ambassador to South Korea, told Congress last year in a bid for higher U.S. spending on such munitions. Another top official, Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said the United States must pump more money into hypersonic development if it is to regain its technological edge. “The United States is not yet doing all that we need to do to respond to hypersonic missile threats,” he said last year. “I did not take this job to reach parity with adversaries. I want to make them worry about catching up with us again.”9

Whether China or Russia has overtaken the United States in hypersonic weaponry is a matter of debate. Both assert they are ready to deploy hypersonic weapons, but it is unclear if those munitions are truly as capable as claimed. Furthermore, with each of these countries driven by their specific goals, the United States likely enjoys significant technological advantages in those types of hypersonic weapons it seeks for its own arsenal. It would be misleading, therefore, to claim that the United States is behind in a hypersonic arms race.10

Nevertheless, the need to ensure a U.S. technological advantage in hypersonic weapons has been underscored by the nation’s top defense contractors, many of which expect to benefit from higher spending in this area. “From a pure business perspective, there is a significant opportunity in the hypersonic domain,” said Raytheon Vice President Thomas Bussing at a December 2018 meeting of military contractors. Indeed, the hypersonic weapons market could be worth “many billions of dollars,” said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst who works with Lockheed Martin and other big firms. “We’re talking about an entirely new class of weapons and the operating concepts to go with it.”11

These comments, along with others by senior military officials in China, Russia, and the United States, highlight another way in which hypersonic weapons and speed are closely related: there is a rush to move these weapons from the design stage to mass production and deployment. “This is not primarily a research effort,” Griffin said at the December meeting of military contractors. “It is an effort to get these systems into the field in the thousands.…We are going to have to create a new industrial base for these systems.” Unfortunately, this rush to “industrialize” the production of hypersonic weapons is occurring in the absence of sufficient discussion of the escalatory and arms control implications of fielding these munitions.

Escalation Risks and ‘Entanglement’

Many weapons can be employed for offensive and defensive purposes, but hypersonic weapons, especially those designed for use in a regional context, are primarily intended to be used offensively, to destroy high-value enemy assets, including command-and-control facilities. This raises two major concerns: the risk of rapid escalation from a minor crisis to a full-blown war and the unintended escalation from conventional to nuclear warfare.

That hypersonic weapons are being designed for offensive use at an early stage in a conflict has been evident in U.S. strategic policy from the beginning. Claiming that a major adversary might try to hide or move critical assets at the outbreak of a crisis to protect them from U.S. air and missile strikes, the Pentagon hoped the prompt global-strike program would enable U.S. forces to attack those targets with minimal warning. As this program got under way, hypersonic weapons became the technology of choice for its implementation. “Systems that operate at hypersonic speeds…offer the potential for military operations from longer ranges with shorter response times and enhanced effectiveness compared to current military systems,” states the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Such munitions, it adds, “could provide significant payoff for future U.S. offensive strike operations, particularly as adversaries’ capabilities advance.”12 Most of the hypersonic weapons being developed by the U.S. military, including the Air Force cruise missile and the Navy’s sea-launched system, are intended for strikes against key enemy assets at an early stage of conflict, when speed confers a significant advantage. Certain Russian weapons, such as the Kinzhal, also seem intended for this purpose.

Some analysts fear that the mere possession of such weapons might induce leaders to escalate a military clash at the very outbreak of a crisis—believing their early use will confer a significant advantage in any major engagement that follows—while reducing the chances of keeping the fighting limited. It is easy to imagine, for example, how a clash between U.S. and Chinese naval vessels in the South China Sea, accompanied by signs of an air and naval mobilization on either or both sides, might prompt one combatant to launch a barrage of hypersonic weapons at all those ships and planes and their command-and-control systems, hoping to prevent their use in any full-scale encounter. This might make sense from a military perspective, but would undoubtedly prompt a fierce counterreaction from the injured side and restrict efforts to halt the fighting at a lower level of violence.

The introduction of hypersonic weapons also raises concerns over the escalation from conventional to nuclear warfare. The United States has focused primarily on the development of hypersonic weapons carrying conventional warheads, but there is no fundamental reason why they could not be nuclear armed. Indeed, Russia’s Avangard missile is intended to deliver a nuclear warhead, and it is assumed that China’s DF-ZF is also designed with this in mind.

This leads to what is called “warhead ambiguity”: the risk that a defending nation, aware of an enemy’s hypersonic launch and having no time to assess the warhead type, will assume the worst and launch its own nuclear weapons.13 Concern over this risk has led the U.S. Congress to bar funding for the development of ICBM-launched hypersonic glide vehicles, thereby helping to propel the Pentagon’s shift away from such systems and toward the development of medium-range weapons more suitable for use in a regional context. Nevertheless, warhead ambiguity will remain a feature of any future landscape involving the deployment of multiple hypersonic weapons, as a defender will never be certain that an enemy’s assault is entirely non-nuclear. With as little as five minutes to assess an attack—the time it would take a hypersonic glide vehicle to traverse 2,000 miles—a defender would be understandably hard pressed to avoid worst-case assumptions.

Equally worrisome is the danger of “target ambiguity”: the possibility that a hypersonic attack, even if conducted with missiles known to be armed only with conventional warheads, would endanger the early-warning and command-and-control systems a defender uses for its nuclear and conventional forces, leading it to fear the onset of a nuclear attack. This is especially dangerous in light of what James Acton, a security analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls the “entanglement” problem. Although almost everything involving nuclear decision-making is secret, the nuclear and conventional command-and-control systems of the major powers are widely assumed to be interconnected, or entangled, making it difficult to clearly distinguish one from another. Therefore, any attack on command-and-control facilities at the onset of crisis, however intended, could be interpreted by the defender as a prelude to a nuclear rather than a conventional attack and prompt the defender to launch its own nuclear weapons before they are destroyed by an anticipated barrage of enemy bombs and missiles.14

All this points to yet another concern related to the impact of emerging technologies on the future battlefield: the risk that nuclear-armed nations, fearing scenarios of just this sort, will entrust more and more of their critical decision-making to machines, fearing that humans will not be able to make reasoned judgments under such enormous time pressures. With hypersonic weapons in the arsenals of the major powers, military leaders may conclude that sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) systems should be empowered to determine the nature of future missile attacks and select the appropriate response. This is a temptation that can only increase as hypersonic weapons are themselves equipped with AI systems, a capability being developed at Sandia National Laboratories, enabling them to select and navigate to an array of potential targets.15 This convergence of advanced technologies is one of the greatest concerns of analysts who fear the loss of human control over the pace of combat. Paul Scharre, a program director at the Center for a New American Security, has warned of a “flash war” erupting when machines misinterpret radar signals and initiate catastrophic, possibly nuclear responses. “Competitive pressures in fast-paced environments threaten to push humans further and further out of the loop,” he wrote. “With this arms race in speed come grave risks,” including “a war that spirals out of control in mere seconds.”16

Inserting Speed Bumps

Given the risks posed by hypersonic weapons, especially when their deployment is paired with other technological developments, it is essential to consider measures for minimizing the dangers they pose to nuclear stability and the war-and-peace equation. This will take time: the technologies involved in these systems remain largely unproven, and the strategic rationale for their deployment has yet to be fully demonstrated. Meanwhile, military and government officials should slow the process of hypersonic weapons acquisition to provide strategists and policymakers adequate time to assess their potential utility and escalatory risks.

One approach for slowing things down would be an international moratorium on flight tests of hypersonic weapons.17 Such an arrangement might seem out of reach, but all major powers have reason to fear the early deployment of hypersonic weapons by their rivals. Therefore, a moratorium on testing, to allow time for other control measures to be considered, is well worth pursuing.

Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, speaks in Australia in 2016. Now the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Harris has warned that the United States is behind China in hypersonic weapons development. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)If leaders of the major powers are prepared to discuss constraints on developing and deploying hypersonic weapons, they could adopt a number of approaches. One would be to establish strict limits on deployable numbers of such weapons or prohibit their deployment altogether, moves that would eliminate most or all of the risks posed by these weapons. Again, although no doubt seeming a remote possibility, such measures would help shield all the major powers from an acute threat against which they possess few if any defenses. A possible venue for discussing such measures would be the strategic stability talks that were once held by U.S. and Russian officials. The first round of these talks convened in September 2017 in Helsinki, and a second round was scheduled for March 2018 in Vienna, but Moscow cancelled in light of growing bilateral tensions. Russia has recently expressed interest in resuming these talks, and it is reasonable to assume that hypersonic weapons limitations would be on the agenda.

Constraints on hypersonic weapons could also feature in any future U.S.-Russian discussion of strategic arms limitations. Under an ideal scenario, the two sides would agree to extend New START before it expires and then commence discussions on a successor agreement, one that would allow for advances in technology, such as the introduction of hypersonic weapons. Presumably, such talks would begin on a bilateral basis, but ideally China would be invited and would agree to join.

Achieving an outright ban on hypersonic weapons may not be a realistic outcome of such discussions, but it might be possible to consider limitations on how hypersonic weapons can be armed, positioned, and employed. The intent here would not be to proscribe the deployment of hypersonic weapons, but rather to prevent their use in ways that would facilitate the rapid escalation of conflict or the early use of nuclear weapons. The need for such measures has already been voiced by congressional refusal to fund conventionally armed strategic missiles.18 This has reduced some of the hypersonic risks, but not all. Still worrisome is the risk of ambiguity about the intent of attack and the entanglement problem. To address these concerns, other measures are needed.

One solution would be to preserve the INF Treaty or, if this is a lost cause, commence Chinese-Russian-U.S. negotiations on a new agreement to cover intermediate-range weapons of the sort now being developed by all three countries. Such an agreement could, like the soon-to-expire INF Treaty, prohibit all weapons of a certain type and range or set limits on the numbers and capabilities of any weapons that are deployed. One approach would be to set a limit on all deployed hypersonic weapons, whether air, sea, or ground launched. Another would be to limit their deployed numbers below a certain threshold, which would eliminate fears of a disarming first strike. Until such negotiations can be undertaken or while they are under way, the three powers should consider confidence-building measures aimed at reducing the risk of unintended escalation. Such measures could include information-sharing on the range and capabilities of proposed weapons and protocols intended to differentiate conventionally armed hypersonic weapons from nuclear-armed ones, so as to reduce the risk of warhead ambiguity.19

Admittedly, such negotiations seem distant, so Congress should intervene and impose its own speed bumps on the rush to deploy hypersonic weapons. In contrast to the measured pace of hypersonics development in the past, the Pentagon is rushing ahead with the design and testing of these weapons without careful thought to their strategic implications or escalation consequences.

“The development of hypersonic weapons in the United States,” argues Acton, “has been largely motivated by technology, not by strategy. In other words, technologists have decided to try and develop hypersonic weapons because it seems like they should be useful for something, not because there is a clearly defined mission need for them to fulfill.”20

Before Congress approves the funds the Pentagon is seeking for hypersonic weaponry, it should ask, What are these munitions needed for? Do they pose an unnecessary risk of escalation? Are there better alternatives?

The Defense Department will argue that it needs to ensure U.S. leadership in the burgeoning hypersonic arms race with China and Russia, but higher spending on predominantly offensive weapons does nothing to protect the United States from similar advances by its competitors. In fact, such spending might put the United States at greater risk by inducing adversaries to accelerate their own offensive programs. It is very difficult to defend against hypersonic weapons. The only sure way to protect the United States and its forces abroad from hypersonic weapons is to restrain them through arms control agreements.



1. On the arms control implications of hypersonics, see Amy F. Woolf, “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues,” CRS Report, R41464, January 8, 2019.

2. For background on hypersonic weapons and their characteristics, see Richard H. Speier et al., “Hypersonic Missile Proliferation: Hindering the Spread of a New Class of Weapons,” RAND Corp., 2017, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2100/RR2137/RAND_RR2137.pdf.

3. Woolf, “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles,” p. 6.

4. See Paul McLeary, “PACOM Harris: U.S. Needs to Develop Hypersonic Weapons,” USNI News, February 14, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2018/02/14/pacom-harris-u-s-needs-develop-hypersonic-weapons-criticizes-self-limiting-missile-treaties.

5. Ankit Panda, “China's Hypersonic Weapon Ambitions March Ahead,” The Diplomat, January 8, 2018.

6. For background on the Avangard system, see Michael Kofman, “Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Boost-Glide System,” Russia Military Analysis, January 11, 2019, https://russianmilitaryanalysis.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/russias-avangard-hypersonic-boost-glide-system/.

7. Anton Troianovski and Paul Sonne, “Russia Is Poised to Add a New Hypersonic Warhead to Its Arsenal,” The Washington Post, December 26, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-is-poised-to-add-a-new-hypersonic-nuclear-warhead-to-its-arsenal/2018/12/26/e9b89374-0934-11e9-8942-0ef442e59094_story.html.

8. See David Axe, “Is Kinzhal, Russia’s New Hypersonic Missile, a Game Changer?” Daily Beast, March 15, 2018, https://www.thedailybeast.com/is-kinzhal-russias-new-hypersonic-missile-a-game-changer.

9. Corey Dickstein, “Military Services to Work Together to Speed Hypersonic Weapon Development,” Stars and Stripes, July 25, 2018, https://www.stripes.com/news/military-services-to-work-together-to-speed-hypersonic-weapon-development-1.539431.

10. See James M. Acton, “Hypersonic Weapons Explainer,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), April 2, 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/04/02/hypersonic-weapons-explainer-pub-75957.

11. Aaron Gregg, “Military-Industrial Complex Finds a Growth Market in Hypersonic Weaponry,” The Washington Post, December 31, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/21/military-industrial-complex-finds-growth-market-hypersonic-weaponry/.

12. Peter Erbland, “Tactical Boost Glide (TBG),” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, n.d., https://www.darpa.mil/program/tactical-boost-glide.

13. James M. Acton, “Silver Bullet? Asking the Right Questions About Conventional Prompt Global Strike,” CEIP, 2014, pp. 113–119, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/cpgs.pdf.

14. Ibid., pp. 126–129.

15. See Troy Rummler, “Future Hypersonics Could Be Artificially Intelligent,” Sandia Lab News, April 25, 2019, https://www.sandia.gov/news/publications/labnews/articles/2019/04-26/hypersonics.html.

16. Paul Scharre, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018), p. 229.

17. Mark Gubrud, “Test Ban for Hypersonic Missiles?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 6, 2015, https://thebulletin.org/roundtable/test-ban-for-hypersonic-missiles/.

18. For a history of congressional action on hypersonics, see Woolf, “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles,” pp. 22–32.

19. Acton, “Silver Bullet?” pp. 134–138 and 142–144.

20. Acton, “Hypersonics Weapons Explainer.”

Michael T. Klare is a professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. This is the third in the “Arms Control Tomorrow” series, in which he considers disruptive emerging technologies and their implications for war-fighting and arms control.

Major powers are racing for hypersonic weapons, but are they considering the implications of these new systems?

The 2020 NPT Review Conference Starts Now: An Interview with Argentine Diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi

June 2019

The 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will begin April 27, 2020, just weeks after the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force. Held every five years, the review conferences offer the treaty’s members a formal opportunity to assess the treaty’s implementation and its states-parties compliance. The conferences provide an opportunity to discuss and seek agreement on steps to advance common goals and objectives related to the three pillars of the agreement, which involve the interconnected obligations of states-parties on nuclear nonproliferation, peaceful uses, and disarmament.

Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi will serve as president of the 2020 NPT Review Conference. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)NPT states-parties convened at the United Nations from April 29 to May 10 for the final preparatory committee meeting for the 2020 review conference. They agreed by an unusual mechanism to designate veteran Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi as president of the review conference, effective in the last quarter of 2019. The decision empowers Grossi to begin immediate consultations with NPT member states to prepare for the potentially contentious review conference. Grossi is Argentina’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, where he previously served as assistant director-general for policy.

The ambassador spoke with Arms Control Today on Thursday, May 9 at UN headquarters to describe his plans for the next year.

Arms Control Today: What is the value of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its review process, and is the 2020 review conference more important because it marks the 50th anniversary of the treaty’s entry into force?

Rafael Mariano Grossi: The treaty is the most important piece of international law that we have had regulating the nuclear order for the past 50 years. The importance of this treaty cannot be overstated.

For me, the review process is an interesting feature of the treaty. It is rare in international law to have treaties reviewed in this thorough way, where the element of accountability enters into play.

The reviews are not always easy because every review is a result of circumstance and circumstances change with time, so what meant something at some point in time might have changed. There are different provisions in any piece of international law, some that are more permanent, and some others, including some in the NPT, that have been maybe superseded with time. For example, the NPT includes references to peaceful nuclear explosions, things that with time fell nicely with no conflict into oblivion because of their anachronistic nature.

But other provisions remain relevant, and in this sense, it is important to have this review. The review process itself is also subject to discussion.

As for the 50-year milestone, anniversaries can have a meaning for some people. For me, as in human life, they are a good opportunity to take stock. In this case, 50 years is a sizable chunk of time where you can assess the impact of the instrument on international life and maybe position it toward the future.

ACT: The preparatory committee has agreed with your selection as president of the 2020 review conference. What is your diplomatic game plan in the lead-up to the review conference? How will you engage key states in the coming months?

Grossi: For me, the review conference starts next Monday [May 13]. Until tomorrow, we are busy with the [preparatory committee]. But as of Monday, we need to start preparing for the review conference.

I plan an initiative that is commensurate with the gravity of the times. It is necessary to have a very thorough process. It is necessary for me and for states-parties to have an opportunity to discuss outside the limits of the formal meeting what is possible and what is feasible, and this requires time and effort.

I have announced a very ambitious program of regional conferences, consultations, workshops, and symposiums. The names of the meetings don’t matter too much; these are opportunities to meet and discuss the NPT in different forms and configurations. It has never been done before. I’m planning to have at least eight or nine of these, apart from the bilateral meetings that are always expected from the president to have with the P5 [the five recognized nuclear-weapon states under the NPT] and others.

There will be an effort on peaceful uses, a topic which I believe has been if not marginalized, then less looked into. It is area that means a lot for the vast majority of the membership. Of course, we are going to be discussing disarmament and nonproliferation too.

What starts now is a very intensive phase in the lead-up to the conference, which made it so important to confirm my review conference presidency. Now this is done, so I can start working and engaging countries with the necessary authority.

ACT: Can you describe your planned meetings in more detail?

Grossi: There are few things that are new in the process. The first is that I will have a bigger, larger, more inclusive table than we have seen before. I mean by this that I will be inviting technical support organizations, national regulators, scientists and technologists, and nuclear power plant operators. I will be inviting people that are active in nuclear applications in all these countries.

Why? Simply because I feel that discussions around the NPT have been limited to diplomats like me or practitioners in nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy. This is very important and will continue, but we were missing voices from the discussion, those who at the end of the day are benefiting from the system, from the framework, from the modus vivendi that the NPT has set up.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford is leading the U.S. initiative "Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament." The initiative is based on the U.S. premise that global security concerns are preventing nuclear-armed nations from reducing their arsenals.  Washington will host the first working group meeting of the initiative in July. (Photo: Paul Morigi/CEIP)I see value in having this conversation, which has political significance. These people may be part of national delegations, and they should have a say in the sort of commitments, in the sort of compromise building that I am trying to strengthen at this moment. Later on will be a time for diplomatic negotiations and small groups and draftings and all of that, but you have to prepare the ground for that by trying to have this sort of wider conversation.

Another thing that will be new is a strong emphasis on reaching out, going out in the field. Meeting only in the UN hub cities of Vienna, New York, and Geneva give us a limited perspective of things. When we talk about proliferation or disarmament or how we use nuclear science technology or energy, it’s very different to have this discussion in North Africa or in Southeast Asia or in Central America than to have it here in New York. When you leave those hubs, everything changes, perspectives change, opinions change.

We are planning to have at least two conferences in Asia, three in Africa, at least two in Latin America, and maybe one or two for the Middle East, on top of the traditional meetings. This will be a very extensive exercise of preparation and consultation, which is badly needed.

Yet another new thing that I’m going to have is a cross-regional presence. When we go to Asia, I will have Africans and Europeans or Latin Americans coming as well, and vice versa. By showcasing lessons learned and successful partnerships, I want to demonstrate examples of things that can reinforce nonproliferation or show how things can be done in a way that is nonproliferation friendly.

ACT: How would you define a successful review conference? Is the ultimate goal to reach agreement on a final statement and an agreement on a forward-looking plan, or are there other possible outcomes, for example a high-level segment statement?1

Grossi: Apart from my personal preferences aSwedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom announced at the preparatory committee that Sweden will host a June 11 ministerial meeting to discuss moving toward nuclear disarmament with a stepping-stone approach. (Photo: Jussi Nukari/AFP/Getty Images)nd inclinations, we have a mandate to conduct a full review, and this is what I’m going to do. I’m aware of viewpoints and analyses, some of them very interesting, that suggest that it would be better for me to try to cut corners and save ourselves the aggravation of discussions that some consider pointless by trying to go straight for a minimalistic sort of outcome: We agree to disagree, then go home.

I disagree completely with this. This is not the mandate; the mandate is different. What one has to strive for is to have a full review and an agreed document. This is what this is all about: agreement. That being said, the dynamic of a diplomatic negotiation may take you in directions that may be different, and I would never exclude those possibilities.

There is the example of the 1995 review and extension conference, where a set of important decisions were taken.2 Frankly speaking, few know that there was no final document. People didn’t care in the end because the weight of these decisions was so great and the significance for the treaty and the package of decisions arrived at as a whole was so important. In the end, there was very little time to finalize a final document, and no one was shedding a tear about it.

So, the aim is to have a full review but, of course, with the disposition to explore possibilities that may lend themselves to good agreement among states.

You mentioned a high-level segment. Let me say that I don’t believe in segments for this type of conference. This is more appropriate for other types of conferences, like ones that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been conducting on nuclear applications or nuclear security.

In this case, the presence and support of high-level leaders, heads of state, for example, is what you need. If you talk about a segment, you are bureaucratizing something that I don’t think is appropriate in the case of the 50th anniversary of the NPT. Starting with the P5 and others, I have begun asking them to try and persuade their political authorities at the highest possible level to come to the review conference and use their presence to show the importance they all attach to the NPT. We need the visibility brought by the presence of those who believe that this treaty is not something of the past, that this treaty is not an obsolete thing, but rather something that is worth sustaining and protecting.

When asked how I define success, normally I say that I don’t like the question. I don’t like this exercise because it presupposes a defeatist state of mind. It’s like I’m going to play tennis with Roger Federer and I ask, How do we define success? Maybe if I get a point against him, I can consider this a win? No, I think it shows a defensive attitude that presupposes success is going to be almost impossible. Some might say, for example, that if we agree to disagree, but we’re civil, we don’t throw rotten tomatoes at each other, that can be success. No.

A successful outcome is something that might be difficult to define, but when you see it, you will recognize it. You will know that it is something that has strengthened the treaty as opposed to questioning it, challenging it, or diminishing it. That’s success for me.

ACT: If the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is terminated as expected and the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is not extended or replaced before the review conference, do you expect that states will accuse the United States and Russia of noncompliance with their NPT-related disarmament commitments?

Grossi: With issues of state policy, we need to be careful about making assumptions of things that may or may not be there in 11 months. I think that some of these processes are quite open, initiatives are being mentioned in this area, and final policy decisions have not been made in some of them. To me, to pass judgment at this point is not a good idea because what we are going to be able to say will be a function of a circumstance and the circumstance may be different a year from now.

ACT: Do you see the deteriorating situation around the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), threatening to hijack other business at the review conference? How might states-parties respond to the possibility that Iran could pull out of the JCPOA and even
the NPT?

Grossi: That would have a huge impact, of course. The so-called regional, or nonproliferation, cases or crises, however we wish to describe them, always influence discussions a lot. But it is too soon to assess them, again because situations can change. In 2016, for example, you would have had a very good or a relatively optimistic atmosphere on the JCPOA and a pessimistic one on North Korea perhaps. Now how do you see it? It’s different, isn’t it? In 2018, it would have been less positive with the JCPOA, better with North Korea. Now, it’s a bit uncertain with North Korea, but still with some hope, and the JCPOA seems to be suddenly deteriorating. In just two-and-a-half years, it’s been a bit kaleidoscopic the way in which each of these individual, singular situations have presented themselves in front of our eyes. So to start speculating about these things is to me a bit pointless, but we will, of course, be monitoring each and every one of those. They will very much be part of the debates.

ACT: How can you move forward the difficult debate on the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, which has been a goal that NPT state-parties committed to try to advance beginning with the outcome of the 1995 review and extension conference? What are the main issues that need to be settled, and who needs to be involved in sorting them out?

Grossi: There are some new elements here, the first being the UN General Assembly decision to have a conference on the Middle East, which will take place November 18–22 here in New York.3 I have started consultations with the Arab Group and also with the presidency of that conference to indicate my disposition to listen and to prepare to establish the appropriate relationship between the November meeting and the NPT review conference. Some will believe there is no relation, others will pretend there must be a cause-and-effect relationship between them. What is clear, though, is that an ongoing, specific process does not mean the NPT review conference’s involvement has disappeared. On the contrary, just because you have another, specific process does not mean that we can say we have been unburdened from this responsibility. This is going to be a mutually reinforcing or otherwise process.

In terms of who participates, there is an internationally established definition of what countries are in the Middle East that comes from a listing agreed in Vienna, which includes a number of countries including Israel and Iran. It will be up to those organizing this conference to issue the invitations—I don’t think this has been done yet—and also the P5, of course, and agencies including the IAEA, probably the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials, maybe the European Atomic Energy Community. This would be the first ring, I suppose, of participants in that exercise, but of course it is the sovereign decision of those who are organizing
this effort.

ACT: How will you work to bridge divides on disarmament progress while still achieving a meaningful outcome?

Grossi: The first, perhaps more obvious role that I can see for the president of the NPT review conference is to remind everyone that there are expectations and obligations when it comes to disarmament. Again, to cite my example of success, you cannot have success without appropriate visions and decisions on disarmament. So, my role perhaps is to be a constant reminder to the powers that be that the mix indeed requires tangible, credible elements when it comes to disarmament. We do have a number of those described at previous conferences and other gatherings and meetings that may form the basis for that.

As I said in the beginning, the review is the result of circumstance. The review is not the treaty. What we need to have is the ability to extract from certain countries the willingness to do certain things.

I don’t intend to conduct a review of past reviews, even though there is always the temptation to do that. I don’t want to have an accountant’s approach to the review. We need to discuss these issues, but many of those commitments may have changed or might even require certain alterations when you look at the technical parts that are included. I would not like to tackle this review with a document in one hand and looking at countries A, B, and C and telling them, “Fifth line, you haven’t…; sixth line, you haven’t…; seventh line, you are ok.” That’s an accountant’s approach, and that’s not what we are required to do.

Of course, we will keep everything in mind, nothing is forgotten, nothing is hidden under the table, but the discussion must be efficient. The accountant may be right, but if you have the wrong conversation, you are wrong in the end.

ACT: There are some new disarmament-related proposals in the NPT context, including the new U.S. initiative titled “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.”4 Do you see NPT states-parties agreeing with the premise of this initiative? How will you take this into account in your consultations leading up to the review conference?

Grossi: I welcome this initiative. Everyone should welcome any initiative that has the objective of nuclear disarmament as a goal. I’ve seen the introductory notes and documents on the U.S. initiative, but I understand it is still a work in progress and the United States intends to have a process where working groups will be set up and a systematic discussion will take place.

I welcome that, much as I welcome any other disarmament-oriented initiative in the run-up to the conference. These are all elements that are bringing material that we can use. This is the clay that we are going to be using in 2020 to shape the consensus that we are going to strive for. To take an a priori approach to a particular initiative would be wrong.

ACT: The United States has apparently sent out a hold-the-date note for an early July meeting of the working group on the U.S. initiative to be held in Washington. There’s also a June 11 convocation of foreign ministers that Sweden has organized,5 so how do these fit into your overall game plan?

Grossi: My understanding is that the Swedish initiative is more oriented toward demonstrating high-level political support for disarmament. I see these as potentially complementary initiatives. As I understand it, the process on the U.S. initiative is meant to be a holistic discussion aimed at nuclear disarmament, whereas the Swedish initiative intends to look at ways in which high-level political support can be garnered and shored up with the 2020 review conference.

ACT: Another disarmament issue that will likely come up at the review conference is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)6. How will you seek to reconcile the views of states that believe the TPNW reinforces the NPT with those that say it creates a norm that is contrary to the NPT?

Grossi: There won’t be unanimity, and this is something we need to be very clear on. The NPT is a family of 190 countries, so such an impressive membership tells you immediately that it will be impossible to have a unanimous view on the TPNW approach. The TPNW is a very interesting new element in the disarmament landscape. It embodies a humanitarian approach, but many countries that have subscribed to this approach have not subscribed to the TPNW. To make these amalgamations is an exercise I would caution against. The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, or any weapons of mass destruction for that matter, is very important, but try to channel that into one or the other instrument is something that is going to be nonconducive to progress because we will clash with hard national interests and the whole purpose of something as noble as the humanitarian awareness may be lost.

All these elements are an array of instruments, principles, and ideas that we will have to put together in the mixer and see what we can take out of them. To try and impose on a multipolar community a specific channel is not the best. I wouldn’t say it’s wrong, it’s just not the best approach.

It’s pointless to engage in a discussion whether there is complementarity between two instruments. Those who have subscribed to the norm, of course they will say that there is complementarity, otherwise they would not have done this. For others is the complete opposite. Other countries may be waiting, others may be assessing. My country is assessing, for example. Others have assessed already and have come to an opinion about it. But to try to corral countries is not conducive. This is about the NPT, and we need to care for it.

ACT: How can civil society contribute to a successful 2020 review conference?

Grossi: I’m very keen on having a number of discussions that are necessary with something like the NPT. One is, of course, with civil society. I had a first meeting with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) yesterday here in New York, and I intend to continue in that. There are lots of good ideas there. I am also hoping to have a better format for NGO interaction with delegations come 2020.

There is also the gender discussion, which is very close to my heart. There is a vast area there where improvements can be made, can be done, resulting in better diplomatic results. I think it is proven that an improved, balanced representation in delegations leads to better processes and better outcomes as well. It’s not only a matter of human justice, but also efficiency in the way we do business. We must include youth groups as well, and I am considering this. A good example already exists with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Youth Group; new generations are of the essence. At the end of the day, we do this for them, we want a better world for them.



1. Some diplomatic meetings have featured short portions in which high-level national representatives, typically ministers or heads
of state, address the participants and then depart to allow working-level officials to conduct the meeting.

2. Participants of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely and to a strengthened review process and a series of forward-looking principles and objectives on nonproliferation and disarmament.

3. In 2018, the UN General Assembly First Committee adopted a resolution introduced by Egypt on behalf of the Arab League for the UN secretary-general to convene a conference on taking forward a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in 2019 and every year thereafter until a zone is achieved. Israel, Micronesia, and the United States voted against the resolution, and 71 countries abstained.

4. At the 2019 preparatory committee meeting, the United States described the initiative as “a new dialogue exploring ways to ameliorate conditions in the security environment that impede progress toward a future safely and sustainably free of nuclear weapons.” See Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament (CCND): Working Paper Submitted by the United States of America," NPT/CONF.2020/PC.II/WP.30, April 18, 2018; Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, "Operationalizing the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Initiative: Working Paper Submitted by the United States of America," NPT/CONF.2020/PC.III/WP.43, April 26, 2019.

5. Swedish Foreign Minister Margo Wallstrom announced the meeting to the preparatory committee on April 30, 2019. “Speech by Margot Wallström at the NPT Preparatory Committee in New York,” April 30, 2019, https://www.government.se/speeches/20192/05/speech-by-margot-wallstrom-at-the-npt-the-preparatory-committee-in-new-york/.

6. Opened for signature in September 2017, the TPNW bans the use, threat of use, development, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transfer, stationing, or installation of nuclear weapons. Its supporters argue that it reinforces states' commitments to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. To date, the treaty has been signed by 70 nations, ratified by 23, and needs 50 ratifications to enter into force.

Arms Control Today interviews Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi to learn his plans to prepare for the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

Strengthening Nuclear Security With a Sustainable CPPNM Regime

June 2019
By Samantha Neakrase

In late 2015, investigators discovered chilling surveillance video in the possession of a suspected terrorist alleged to have been involved in the November 2015 attacks in Paris.1 The Islamic State took credit for those attacks, and the video footage suggested it had been watching a high-ranking Belgian nuclear official who had access to secure areas of a Belgian nuclear research facility.2

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano (second from left) visits the Belgian Nuclear Research Facility SCK-CEN in 2018.  The site was one of those accessible to a Belgian official who was reportedly surveilled by terrorists in 2015. (Photo: SCK-CEN/IAEA)The video’s existence raised concerns that the group was seeking to acquire materials for a primitive nuclear device or a dirty bomb. Was there a plan to abduct the official and ransom him for nuclear or radioactive materials or to bribe or coerce the official to turn him into an unwilling insider?

Other evidence gathered in the same investigation pointed to additional terrorist plans to “do something involving one of [Belgium’s] four nuclear sites,” which include two nuclear power plants, a company that produces medical isotopes, and the nuclear research facility.3 Despite these concerns, authorities had not taken additional measures to protect the facility beyond cautioning employees to “increase their vigilance,” The New York Times reported.4

The intent of the terrorist surveillance remains unclear, but the discovery served as an important reminder that nuclear facilities and materials continue to be targets of interest to terrorists. There are many other incidents tracked by organizations such as Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Incident and Trafficking Database.5 The CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database, a tool launched in June 2013 to track incidents of theft or loss of nuclear and other radioactive materials, contains hundreds of incidents of loss, theft, and unauthorized possession of those materials in 2017 and 2018 alone. Three illicit trafficking incidents were reported in the database in 2017 involving nuclear materials, including one case involving the sale of plutonium-239 and plutonium-241.

More broadly, terrorist attacks continue across the globe, including by the Islamic State and others, and the threat is constantly evolving. New technologies, such as cyberweapons that could disrupt nuclear facility security systems, and access to greater financial resources enable terrorist groups to become more sophisticated.

These continuing threats and documented incidents show that nuclear terrorism is today’s problem. Addressing this threat is an urgent priority. Just as terrorists have not lost focus on their desire to acquire and use a nuclear or radiological bomb, neither can the international community, especially governments, lose focus on the need to prevent such a catastrophic event from happening. Protecting nuclear materials and nuclear facilities from the threats posed by terrorists and other nonstate actors is too important a mission to let slide into complacency and neglect.

The CPPNM Regime

One of the most important tools in the fight against nuclear terrorism is the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). A 2005 amendment to the convention entered into force in 2016, making it the only legally binding treaty requiring countries to protect nuclear materials and facilities.6 Opened for signature in 1980, the CPPNM today has 155 states-parties, while only 102 have ratified the amendment.

This foundational international treaty is even more important now that the nuclear security summits, the biennial gatherings of more than 50 heads of government that were held between 2010 and 2016, have ended. The summits were convened to focus attention on nuclear terrorism, encourage action and commitments to prevent nuclear theft and sabotage, and strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. Unfortunately, high-level attention has waned since the summits, but 2021 provides an opportunity to reinvigorate global nuclear security efforts at the review conference for the amended CPPNM.

Article 16 of the amended CPPNM requires the IAEA, the treaty’s depositary, to convene a review conference five years after the amendment’s entry into force. States should use the review conference to create a forum for parties to engage in regular dialogue on how the treaty is being translated into on-the-ground nuclear security progress, monitor and identify gaps in implementation, review progress, promote continuous improvement, and discuss emerging nuclear threats. Parties can turn the amended CPPNM into a living, breathing tool for dialogue and progress and demonstrate their commitment to building a strong, effective, and sustainable CPPNM regime.

Perhaps the most important outcome of the 2021 review conference would be a decision to hold regular review conferences in the future with intervals of not less than five years, as allowed by Article 16. Because the terrorist threat will continue to evolve, the treaty must also be dynamic and evolve. This will require parties to meet regularly to discuss how the treaty’s implementation must change to reflect changes in the threat environment, advances in states’ ability to protect materials and facilities, development of best practices, and emerging technologies. The treaty’s own language, that the purpose of the review conference is to review the implementation of the treaty “in the light of the then prevailing situation,” acknowledges this reality. Continuity of the review process, particularly opportunities for regular dialogue on nuclear security, will enable the treaty to maintain its long-term relevance.

After the CPPNM entered into force in 1987, one review conference was held five years later, but the participants did not exercise their option to call for further review conferences. Repeating this history for the amended CPPNM would ignore the valuable opportunity the treaty offers to review this essential tool. Parties should instead agree at the 2021 review conference to hold review conferences regularly as a standing arrangement, instead of waiting for a request of the majority of parties to do so on an ad hoc basis. Without a decision at the 2021 review conference, there is a risk that it will be the last, as was the case with the original CPPNM.

Ideally, treaty parties would agree to hold review conferences every five years, as permitted by the treaty. It is difficult to imagine that a five-year review cycle would not be warranted given that significant changes in the threat environment, technology, and the tools to address threats are likely. In reality, allowing flexible frequency may be appropriate to account for other international conferences and events, such as the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS), and to respond to developments in the global security environment. For instance, if ICONS is held every three years, it may make sense for a review conference on the amended CPPNM to be held every six years. Whether parties agree to a fixed period of five or six years, parties could agree that they would be able to adjust the date of the subsequent review conference to account for factors that would affect its timing. At a minimum, parties at the 2021 review conference should set the date for the following review conference and require that each successive review conference will set a future review conference date. In other words, states would agree to hold review conferences in perpetuity, but not on a predetermined schedule. To avoid review conferences being set too far into the future and to reflect the reality of fast-evolving threats, however, parties should agree that the time between review conferences will not exceed a set period, such as seven or eight years.

There is precedent for regularizing a treaty review process when regular review conferences are not required by the treaty. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), for example, contains similar review conference language to the CPPNM and the amended version. At each of the early NPT review conferences, parties requested the convening of the next review conference in five years’ time. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, the parties agreed to continue holding such review conferences every five years.

A Unique Forum for Sustained Dialogue

Regular review conferences are an integral part of many treaty regimes to ensure the treaty’s viability in light of changing circumstances.7 This is even more important when the treaty’s purpose is to address a threat that will continue to evolve. Review conferences can strengthen a treaty regime by developing a common understanding of key provisions and help states set goals for implementation. Given that most major treaties have regular review conferences, it would be an odd omission for a treaty as vital to global security as the amended CPPNM not to be supported by regular review conferences. When it comes to addressing one of the most dangerous threats worldwide, why should the amended CPPNM be treated differently? To the contrary, a regular, substantive review conference for the amended CPPNM will provide unique benefits not available in any other forum. Regular review conferences will have a different character and purpose from other nuclear security forums, such as ICONS or the annual amended CPPNM points of contact meetings that are convened by the IAEA.

The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., was the last in the summit series. A regular review conference for the amended CPPNM could provide nations with a forum to discuss nuclear security issues. (Photo: Ben Solomon/U.S. State Department)First, the review conference is the only legally mandated forum for enduring nuclear security dialogue. ICONS, which is approved by IAEA member states in an annual nuclear security resolution, was first held in 2013 and is currently on a three- or four-year cycle. Although ICONS covers a range of nuclear security-related topics and informs the work of the IAEA in the area of nuclear security, it is not based on a concrete set of legal obligations. The point of contact meetings, while also useful technical meetings, are not specifically mandated under the treaty and have only been convened since 2016. The legal basis for the review conference provides a stronger mandate for sustained dialogue on nuclear security and greater durability than other conferences and meetings that rely on the continued interest and resources of IAEA member states.

Second, the amended CPPNM can offer a different level of interaction than ICONS and point of contact meetings. ICONS features a one-day ministerial session attended by relatively few actual ministers, and the bulk of ICONS is dedicated to technical sessions attended by diplomats, technical experts, academics, and representatives from nongovernmental organizations. The point of contact meetings are attended by technical experts, usually regulators. In contrast, the appropriate level of participation for the review conference would be senior officials who can go beyond technical discussions and discuss policies and priorities for nuclear security. They would be knowledgeable about nuclear security and empowered to make decisions.

Third, the purpose of the review conference and its agenda should be different from ICONS and point of contact meetings, neither of which provide for a high-level, multiday dialogue on forward-looking policies and priorities for nuclear security. At the ICONS ministerial, senior officials make national statements and issue high-level principles for nuclear security, but the meeting is quite limited in scope. At the technical sessions, experts give presentations on a range of nuclear and radiological topics. The point of contact meetings similarly are much more limited in scope. These one- or two-day meetings focus on the technical aspects of implementation of the amended CPPNM, but do not assess nuclear security progress or set priorities for the future and are not aimed at taking forward-looking action to strengthen the CPPNM regime. In contrast, the review conference provision is broad and flexible enough to provide for a multiday, substantive, policy-level discussion of a range of themes and topics relevant to the treaty, such as the threat environment, nuclear security progress, gaps and challenges to implementation, and priorities for future progress.

Finally, the review conference can be a forum for countries to commit to nuclear security progress and further strengthen implementation of their treaty obligations. Just as nuclear security is never finished and requires continuous improvement, implementation of the treaty requires constant attention and committed action. Parties could pledge to host peer reviews, participate in international workshops and trainings, implement IAEA nuclear security guidance, and share best practices and lessons learned. Commitments made at the review conference would be more specific and tailored to each country’s own circumstances than the broad commitments made in the ICONS ministerial declaration; the point of contact meetings have no decision-making or commitment-making component.

A Vision for the Review Conference

The amended CPPNM provides almost no guidance for the review conference, only stating that it will “review the implementation of this Convention and its adequacy as concerns the preamble, the whole of the operative part and the annexes in light of the then prevailing situation.” This minimal guidance allows parties to design a review conference with outcomes that are most likely to achieve the objectives of a strong, effective, and sustainable treaty regime. States should be ambitious and take advantage of this singular opportunity.

The review conference should have a robust, substantive agenda designed to allow for an in-depth dialogue on themes or topics derived from the treaty’s operative text and preamble, a more effective approach than taking a narrower provision-by-provision approach. These themes could be incorporated into a plenary agenda and supported by additional breakout sessions to facilitate in-depth discussions about topics relevant to subsets of countries or specific regions.

One theme could cover the IAEA’s role in nuclear security. Such a dialogue would be productive and appropriate given the agency’s role as the treaty depositary and convener of the review conference. The discussion could build awareness of and promote significant IAEA nuclear security resources, including its Integrated Nuclear Security Support Plans and its peer reviews such as the International Physical Protection Advisory Services, which support member states’ implementation of the treaty’s provisions. Promoting implementation of IAEA nuclear security guidance would also be a positive step toward building common, international nuclear security standards and would be consistent with the treaty’s reference to “internationally formulated recommendations” in the preamble and the fundamental principles in the operative text. Countries could also share success stories of IAEA assistance in implementing nuclear security, which could encourage additional financial and political support for the IAEA’s important nuclear security mission.

Emerging technology is ripe for discussion, including offensive use of technology that could lead to theft or sabotage and defensive use of new technology to protect materials and facilities. As technology evolves, so must the assessment of those technologies as potential security assets and risks. Cybertools, for example, can be used to enhance security as technology becomes more sophisticated and reliable, but they can also be used to defeat digital security systems designed to protect nuclear materials and facilities.8 Building awareness of cyber capabilities and the need to develop measures to prevent or mitigate cyber-mediated theft and sabotage would be a significant contribution to nuclear security.

In another thematic discussion, countries could consider whether physical protection includes protection against cyberattacks. There are strong arguments for doing so. Cyberweapons are just one of many types of weapons or tools, such as guns, bombs, or other traditional weapons, that could be deployed to defeat physical security measures, and efforts to defend against cybertools link directly to physical protection. A flexible definition of physical protection means the CPPNM regime will remain relevant as the threat evolves and as adversaries adapt their tools to defeat security.

The review conference should devote time to discuss the risk environment. Review conferences should not occur in a vacuum but in light of current, evolving, and predicted future threats. Consistent with Article 16’s reference to reviewing implementation “in light of the then prevailing situation,” a discussion of the risk environment would be an opportunity to assess how implementation and interpretation of the treaty need to adapt to reflect contemporary and emerging threats and to maintain the treaty’s relevance as a long-term tool for nuclear security.

Another item to be addressed at the review conference could be Article 14, which requires states to submit information to the IAEA on “the laws and regulations which give effect to” the convention. An important outcome for the 2021 review conference would be for all states to submit their reports at or before the meeting and to discuss best practices in reporting, including a possible reporting template. States could go beyond their Article 14 obligation by making nonsensitive portions of their reports public, as some countries have done already. They also voluntarily could provide broader information on their nuclear security programs and the steps they are taking to continuously improve security.9 In fact, Article 5 encourages information sharing among parties for the purpose of “obtaining guidance on the design, maintenance, and improvement of its national system of physical protection of nuclear material.” Sharing information on nuclear security practices, while protecting sensitive information, provides valuable opportunities for states to learn from one another and build confidence in the security of their nuclear materials. Releasing information to the public also helps to build confidence in nuclear security, which “may contribute to the positive perception, at a national level, of peaceful nuclear activities, globally,” according to the resolution on nuclear security adopted by the 2018 IAEA General Conference.10

2021 and a Unique Opportunity

The amended CPPNM invites states to be ambitious by providing a broad, flexible basis on which to design a robust agenda for nuclear security dialogue. This is vital for building on significant nuclear security achievements and preventing international complacency over nuclear terrorism. This can be achieved with a robust and meaningful, outcome-oriented review conference in 2021. The 2021 review conference will be an important, and perhaps the only, opportunity to establish the building blocks for a strong, effective, and sustainable CPPNM regime for combating nuclear threats, now and in the future. Seizing this opportunity requires vision, ambition, and strong leadership. This is too great a chance to squander when the collective mission to prevent nuclear terrorism is so consequential.



1. Alissa J. Rubin and Milan Schreuer, “Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016, p. A1; Milan Schreuer and Alissa J. Rubin, “Video Found in Belgium of Nuclear Official May Point to Bigger Plot,” The New York Times, February 18, 2016.

2. Milan Schreuer and Alissa J. Rubin, “Video Found in Belgium May Point to Bigger Plot,” The New York Times, February 19, 2016, p. A4.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. For a list of other incidents, see Matthew Bunn, Nickolas Roth, and William H. Tobey, “Combating Complacency About Nuclear Terrorism,” Project on Managing the Atom Policy Brief, March 2019, https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/2019-03/NuclearSecurityPolicyBrief_2.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3OcJ37tRb4y-Qpk1PCtFChMXE8lWrzrhLTT9VA1_3-IWh1Sg6ZK8EvEj8. For the database, see “CNS Global Incidents and Trafficking Database,” April 25, 2019, https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/cns-global-incidents-and-trafficking-database/.

6. The CPPNM covers only physical protection of nuclear materials in international transport, but the 2005 amendment significantly expands the treaty’s scope to require protection of all nuclear materials against theft and of nuclear facilities against sabotage. See Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), October 26, 1979, 1456 U.N.T.S. 24631, art. 2. Compare this to article 2A of the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM. See International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Nuclear Security - Measures to Protect Against Nuclear Terrorism: Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” GOV/INF/2005/10-GC(49)/INF/6, September 6, 2005. There are two other international legal instruments relevant to fighting nuclear terrorism: the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which requires states to criminalize and cooperate in the prosecution of acts of terrorism, and UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

7. Jonathan Herbach and Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, “More Work to Do: A Pathway for Future Progress on Strengthening Nuclear Security,” October 2015, Arms Control Today.

8. Another example is drones, which have the potential to enhance security by providing additional eyes and ears to supplement guard force capabilities at facilities and in transport convoys. They can also be used by bad actors to carry out surveillance or attacks.

9. For states that already feel a heavy reporting burden, the Consolidated National Nuclear Security Report offered as a template by the Dutch government at the 2016 nuclear security summit can be a useful tool. See “Consolidated National Nuclear Security Report,” n.d., https://static1.squarespace.com/static/568be36505f8e2af8023adf7/t/570511498259b5e516e16689/1459949897436/Joint+Statement+on+Consolidated+Reporting+Appendix.pdf; Nuclear Security Summit, “Joint Statement on Consolidated Reporting,” April 5, 2016, http://www.nss2016.org/document-center-docs/2016/4/1/joint-statement-on-consolidated-reporting.

10. IAEA General Conference, “Nuclear Security: Resolution Adopted on 20 September 2018 During the Seventh Plenary Meeting,” GC(62)/RES/7, September 2018.


Samantha Neakrase (formerly Pitts-Kiefer) is senior director for materials risk management at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. She has been writing and presenting on the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material regime for several years, including for the 2016 International Atomic Energy Agency International Conference on Nuclear Security.


Holding regular review conferences for the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials would serve to keep nuclear security in the spotlight.

Richard Lugar (1932–2019), A Special Kind of Conservative

June 2019
By Edward P. Levine

Richard Lugar, a six-term Republican senator from Indiana, died April 29 at the age of 87. He was known popularly for three achievements: being “Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor” in Indianapolis; co-founding the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program; and helping to end U.S. support for South Africa’s racist regime and for electoral fraud in the Philippines. Those were all great accomplishments, but equally great was the example he set, as a person and as a public servant, of simple human decency.

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former  Sen. Richard Lugar on Nov. 20, 2013 in Washington. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)President Nixon’s approval was both an honor and a media albatross around Lugar’s neck. He appeared to accept both with equanimity. Lugar was, at heart, a moderate conservative. Both words were important, and the arms control community would ignore the second one at its peril.

The Nunn-Lugar story is instructive. When Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) reached out to Lugar, he provided crucial bipartisan leadership, but he also persuaded Nunn to settle for less initial funding in the 1991 Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act.

Neither Lugar’s success nor his hard work ended there. Yes, he enjoyed the fame and attention that the Nunn-Lugar program brought him. Pictures from his annual inspection trips to odd sites in the former Soviet Union capture a pure joy at seeing what U.S. help could accomplish in safely building down Soviet nuclear weapons; there was a perpetual Boy Scout quality to these adventures. Still, he had to work each and every year, especially under President George W. Bush, to get robust funding for the CTR program. In the world of Senate politics, this meant not just showing off new pictures and artifacts from each of those trips, but also asking powerful colleagues for a favor each year, and so owing favors to them in return. Lugar's willingness to pay back those favors, year after year, was a measure of his commitment to nuclear arms reduction and to keeping former Soviet scientists and technical personnel from becoming proliferation vectors for weapons of mass destruction.

Lugar was not an ideological believer in arms control. From his work on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he knew that monitoring, let alone enforcing, Soviet (and later Russian) compliance was a continuing challenge. As a conservative in both temperament and ideology, Senator Lugar supported downsizing U.S. nuclear forces and our conventional forces in Europe, so long as the Soviet Union and its allies did the same.

Avoiding the use of chemical weapons was also consonant with his conservatism. He was not, however, inclined to give up on a national missile defense, or to foreswear all nuclear testing when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) came to a vote in 1999. Democrats who looked at arms control as a binary, yes-or-no choice may have felt that a Republican supporter of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) would surely be with them on the CTBT as well. Republicans, however, were more likely to see arms control on a spectrum and to define their positions on that spectrum as “this far and no farther.” If Lugar finally came around to mild support for the CTBT, long after speaking and voting against it, that was likely because advances in verification technology and stockpile stewardship had rendered his earlier concerns less urgent and because it became more difficult to oppose a treaty that the United States had dutifully implemented for over 20 years. As some Republican arms control experts whom he respected put it, the treaty was finally “a bad idea whose time has come.”

Richard Lugar was an uncommonly decent and soft-spoken man. He was nearly incapable of displaying anger; or rather, he showed anger so subtly that the object of his ire might never realize it. I know that, as a Senate Intelligence Committee staff member briefing Senator Lugar on certain sensitive programs, I sometimes enjoyed his pleasant questioning without realizing until much later that he had disagreed with
my analysis.

Even colleagues could mistake Lugar’s affability for agreement. Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was surprised when Lugar maneuvered successfully to prevent him from controlling the committee’s report on the CWC. Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was reportedly surprised and angered when Lugar, after agreeing to take up five Helms amendments to the resolution of advice and consent on the CWC, proceeded to help defeat all of those amendments. The story at the time was that after the CWC resolution was approved in 1997, Lott told Lugar, “You will never get another treaty through the Senate.”

That story may be apocryphal, but Lugar did pay a high price for his foreign policy stands: the loss of his Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship to Helms. When Helms asserted his claim to the chairmanship in 1995, based on seniority, he had to give up the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee—to Lugar, as it happened. It was a measure of Lugar’s sometimes infuriating decency, or perhaps of the favors he still owed in return for CTR funding, that he did not use his new position to retaliate against Helms, whose home state was vitally dependent upon congressional support for the tobacco industry.

 U.S. Senators Sam Nunn (left) and Richard Lugar turn two keys to initiate the destruction of a former Soviet nuclear missile silo in Ukraine on October 23, 1996. (Photo: Shutterstock)When the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was sent to the Senate in 2010, Lugar became its chief Republican supporter. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and he worked closely together to ensure that the committee’s hearings featured Republican witnesses and military officers who had been promoted to their positions by President George W. Bush. Lugar obtained changes in the proposed resolution of advice and consent that addressed many issues raised by treaty skeptics, and even treaty opponents had to admit that the resolution went the extra mile to meet their concerns. The treaty’s fate remained in doubt almost until the day that floor debate began, however, and while people rightly credit Kerry for being willing to roll the dice, Lugar’s steady support for holding that floor debate and vote during a lame duck session was vital to the treaty’s success.

Finally, working for a senator is never easy; the policy stakes are high and timeframes are demanding, so staff often see a senator at his or her worst. One measure of Senator Lugar’s immense decency was how long key staff members stuck with him. In an institution where the norm is to spend a few years and then move on, several staff stayed for a decade or more. Andy Semmel was his legislative assistant for national security affairs for nearly 15 years. Ken Myers, Jr. was his chief committee staff member for nearly 30 years, and Ken Myers III (Kenny) was with him for 14 years. When Kenny’s twin children were born, Lugar called the hospital room to congratulate Kenny and his wife. “I hear that you named the boy Ken IV,” said Lugar. “Does that mean I have to hire him, too?”

Loyalty went both ways for Dick Lugar. When President Barack Obama took office, Lugar’s one request was that Kenny become head of the CTR program—perhaps in repayment for all of those annual trips Kenny had to organize and take with his boss. Lugar had made a special effort to make Senator Obama feel welcome on the Foreign Relations Committee, and that personal touch paid off. Kenny went on to serve as director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency for over six years, a record for DTRA directors.

Senator Lugar had a certain strategic patience, in life as in arms control. He loved his tree farm, where he planted walnuts. It takes perhaps six years to get walnuts from a tree, and up to a decade to get high production. His staff told me that he had really planted those trees for the next generation. In truth, he did that in his approach to arms control and nonproliferation as well. He helped to plant several farms that the rest of us now struggle to tend, that we may enjoy their fruits.

Edward P. Levine, a former senior professional staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairs the board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. He is also a member of the Nuclear Security Working Group.

Richard Lugar (1932–2019), A Special Kind of Conservative

REMARKS: Restoring Confidence in Arms Control

June 2019
By German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas

The dual strategy of deterrence and détente is most likely what the former director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, the bold thinker, strategist, and foreign policy expert Egon Bahr, meant when he said, “For Germany, America is indispensable; Russia is immovable.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke May 21 at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.  (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)For me personally, it’s a given that this also means that even today, we have to cultivate a dialogue with Russia, even though Russia is making no secret of the fact that it’s building up its nuclear and conventional arsenal, as well as, increasingly, its cyber capabilities.

Talks like that with my counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Russia resuming compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, thus ensuring the preservation of a treaty so important to Europe, on European security and, naturally, on Ukraine and the Minsk process, are not always very enjoyable.

However, the German government and Europeans are convinced that confidence and a readiness to engage in dialogue ultimately form the basis of any international order.

Confidence, or more accurately a leap of faith—particularly in us Germans—was also the basis for European integration, which transformed former enemies into a family of states. I’d like to remind you of this in light of the European elections this coming Sunday.

It follows that the ultimate objective of our policy must be to restore the confidence that has been lost: confidence that international rules are valid, that treaties will be reliably adhered to, and that a promise made today won’t be revoked by a tweet tomorrow.

We’re striving for this around the world—and not alone. For example, we’re striving for it in a “group of friends” founded by us and consisting of 24 states in which we discuss the fundamental issues of a modern conventional arms control architecture, as well as in the Structured Dialogue through which we’ve anchored this issue in the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe].

Or, as it were, at the highest level, in the United Nations.

For the first time since 2012, Germany put nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and arms control back on the UN Security Council agenda in early April. I found it encouraging that all Security Council members spoke in favor of strengthening the nuclear order on the basis of the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty.

I firmly believe that greater transparency of nuclear arsenals and the development of control mechanisms are possible. They’re also the basis for further reducing nuclear arsenals. And without any loss of security!

First and foremost, it is the largest nuclear-weapon powers, the United States and Russia, which are called upon to take action. However, with its increasing military might and growing ambitions, China must assume greater responsibility in the security sphere and get involved in shaping tomorrow’s arms control architecture.

Academic advisers are of invaluable help, especially in lengthy and complex processes such as arms control.

They are guides, critics, and intellectual sparring partners for politicians [and] diplomats, as well as the military. In their research and in exchanges with experts and politicians around the world, they search for ways and means which we don’t yet know or don’t recognize.

With Germany’s steadily growing responsibility for security in Europe and the world, with the return of military threats and confrontation to Europe, [and] with the emergence of new powers and international terrorism, as well as with the development of new technologies, this need is changing and evolving rapidly.

The officers at the Command and Staff College here in Hamburg will tell you that the nature of war will continue to change in the coming years. In the not too distant future, robotics and artificial intelligence will revolutionize military systems.

That means that those technologies on which we as industrialized nations rely could turn against us in the security sphere: largely autonomous killer robots could become reality.

The German government therefore wants to enshrine the principle of effective human control over all lethal weapons systems at the international level, thereby taking a major step toward the global prohibition of fully autonomous weapons.

Excerpted from a speech by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at a May 21 event organized by the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg.

Germany’s foreign minister seeks a return of international order.

Trump Arms Control Plans Draw Criticism

June 2019
By Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran

Amid growing concern about the future of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control efforts, the Trump administration is still evaluating a potential extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and appears to lack a clear plan to achieve a newly announced goal of negotiating more comprehensive agreements with Russia and China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) greets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 14. The two agreed that the United States and Russia will hold meetings to discuss a broad range of arms control issues. (Photo: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)A decision on whether to extend New START is one that President Donald Trump “will make at some point next year,” said Tim Morrison, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefense at the National Security Council, in May 29 remarks at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the risks of the treaty expiring in February 2021 with nothing to replace it. They also have provided few details on how they would persuade Russia to limit broader categories of weapons and China to participate in arms control talks for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters following a May 14 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Sochi, Russia, that the United States and Russia “agreed that…we will gather together teams that will begin to work not only on New START and its potential extension, but on a broader range of arms control issues that each of our two nations have.”

It remains unclear when such talks will begin, how frequently they will take place, who will lead the negotiating teams, what the Trump administration would be willing to offer for concessions from Russia and China, and whether New START would be extended in the absence of progress on a more comprehensive deal.

New START, which caps deployed U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 missiles and bombers each, allows the two sides to extend the pact for up to five years until 2026 without requiring U.S. Senate approval.

U.S. officials, notably National Security Advisor John Bolton, have criticized New START because it limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons only. Before joining the Trump administration, Bolton was a frequent and vocal critic of New START, castigating the agreement as unilateral disarmament.

“What we need to focus on is the comprehensive nuclear threat,” Morrison said. “The higher priority is the totality of the Russian and Chinese [nuclear] programs, because we have so much time left on the clock for New START.”

New START Review Ongoing

Several issues would affect the administration’s treaty extension decision, said Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 15. They include Russia’s development of new types of strategic weapons systems and modernization of its large stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, its “record of being a serial violator and selective implementer of the arms control obligations and commitments that it undertakes,” and “China’s lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization program” and unwillingness to discuss nuclear weapons issues with the United States.

Thompson and David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, largely refused to provide the administration’s views on what the implications would be for U.S. security without New START. Trachtenberg testified alongside Thompson at the May 15 hearing.

Asked by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Democrat on the committee, whether Russia could target the United States with “hundreds or perhaps thousands of additional nuclear warheads” in the absence of the treaty, Thompson replied, “That is a great question for Russia.”

The testimony from Thompson and Trachtenberg on New START disturbed the Democratic committee members.

“Extending New START would be, in my mind, an easy decision,” said Menendez. “It's very difficult to understand why the administration would discard the robust constraints, transparency, and verification measures of New START with nothing to replace them.”

Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) strongly criticized any treaty extension. “Under present circumstances with [Russia’s] cheating and other things that they do, I'm opposed to extension,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in an extension, but it has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. (See ACT, March 2019.)

“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks,” Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the United States, said on May 6 at the University of Pennsylvania. “Serious issues must first be settled.”

These concerns have not been well received by the White House. “We shouldn’t presuppose that the Russians are interested in extending the treaty,” Morrison said. “If they were, they wouldn’t be creating false narratives about U.S. compliance with the treaty.”

Broader Talks Scrutinized

The Trump administration’s desire to negotiate new arms control agreements with Russia and China has drawn criticism.

Russia has expressed a willingness to begin a dialogue with the United States on arms control and strategic stability, but it has its own list of concerns about U.S. policies and weapons systems, including missile defense systems, cyberweapons, weapons development in space, and advanced conventional arms.

The Trump administration has shown no indication that it would be willing to limit these weapons in an agreement with Russia or China. Even if it were willing to do so, it is highly unlikely an agreement could be reached before New START expires in less than two years.

Trump told reporters on May 3 that he had already spoken to China about a trilateral nuclear arms control deal and that “they very much would like to be a part of that deal.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on May 6, however, that China “will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

China is estimated to possess about 300 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. In contrast, the United States and Russia are believed to possess more than 6,000 warheads each. China has never been a party to any agreement that limits the number or types of its nuclear weaponry.

In a May 6 interview in Finland, Pompeo acknowledged that a trilateral deal involving China and that covers all types of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons might be “too ambitious.” He noted that there are “just a couple years left before New START expires” and that it may be necessary to address the expiration of the treaty “on a bilateral basis.”

Asked at the May 15 hearing why he believed that China would want to engage in disarmament talks with the United States and Russia given Beijing’s much smaller nuclear arsenal, Trachtenberg replied that he could not “get into the mind of the Chinese leadership.” He said that “China should accept the responsibilities of a major power in the world today” by “engaging with respect to its nuclear arsenal.”

Menendez welcomed the administration’s interest in expanding the scope of arms control, but warned that “the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs.”

New START Bills Proposed

Democrats and one notable Republican have proposed several pieces of legislation in support of extending New START.

On May 9, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s top Republican, introduced a bill titled “Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces.” The bill expresses the sense of Congress that New START should be extended by five years unless Russia is determined to be in material breach of the agreement or the treaty is replaced by a pact that contains equal or greater verifiable constraints on Russian nuclear forces.

The legislation also would require several briefings and reports, including an intelligence assessment of how the expiration of New START would affect the size and posture of Russian nuclear forces and the additional intelligence capabilities the United States would need to compensate for the loss of the treaty’s extensive transparency and on-site monitoring provisions.

The bill mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduced in March by Menendez and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) titled “New START Policy 5 Act of 2019.”

In addition, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill on May 2 called “Save Arms Control and Verification Efforts (SAVE) Act” that calls for extending New START and would specifically prohibit any funding to increase the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear arsenal above the treaty limits through Feb. 5, 2026, if the president does not extend or attempts to withdraw from the treaty.

Opponents of New START have also introduced legislation on the treaty. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill on May 13 that would prohibit the use of funding to implement an extension of New START or any successor agreement unless the agreement includes China and covers Russia's entire inventory of strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) introduced companion legislation in the House.

The Trump administration has expressed interest in new strategic arms control talks, but specific suggestions remain unknown.

Iran Threatens to Breach Nuclear Deal

June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran will no longer adhere to certain limits of the 2015 agreement that restricts its nuclear activities, the government announced on May 8, threatening to breach other restrictions if the states party to the agreement do not deliver the deal’s envisioned economic benefits.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, shown here at a February meeting in Russia, announced May 8 that Iran would no longer be bound by certain limits under the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Sergei Chirikov/AFP/Getty Images)The announcement came exactly one year after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and began to reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement. Over the past year, U.S. President Donald Trump and other administration officials have escalated their use of bellicose language as they implement their strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described Iran’s proposed steps as a reduction in compliance with the deal and emphasized that Tehran is not withdrawing from the JCPOA. He said Iran made this decision because it has received little economic benefit under the deal despite its continued compliance. Rouhani said Iran has no interest in waging war but “will not give in to bullying.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the announcement as ambiguous and said the United States will “have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are” before responding. A State Department press release on May 8 called the decision “a blatant attempt to hold the world hostage” and said Washington would build on its pressure campaign.

The remaining five parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) urged Iran to continue complying with the agreement, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed the “irresponsible behavior” of the United States for creating an “unacceptable situation.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the three European countries party to the deal rejected “any ultimatums” from Iran and said they would continue to assess Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA based on whether the country is meeting its nuclear commitments. The statement did not indicate what actions the European Union and the three European states might take if Iran does breach the deal.

Iran’s announcement by the Supreme National Security Council said Tehran would begin to store more heavy water and low-enriched uranium (LEU) than the nuclear deal allows. Specifically, the JCPOA permits Iran to stockpile no more than 130 metric tons of heavy water and 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 3.67-percent uranium-235.

Any breach of the JCPOA limits would violate the deal, but the initial steps Iran announced do not pose an immediate proliferation risk. Heavy water is used to moderate certain types of reactors that can produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and Iran is far from completing such a reactor.

If Iran exceeds the stockpile limit on LEU, it would reduce the time needed for Tehran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, known as the breakout time, but the 3.67-percent enrichment level is significantly below the 90-percent level considered to be weapons grade. Iran’s current breakout time is estimated at about 12 months. Prior to the JCPOA, it was two to three months.

Iran’s May 8 statement noted that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation” of the JCPOA.

Tehran attributed its decision to the systematic campaign by the United States to deny Iran sanctions relief provided by the deal. Most recently, the Trump administration announced on April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers permitting states to buy limited amounts of oil from Iran, cutting off Iran’s largest export commodity and a key source of currency.

Following that decision, on May 3, the United States announced it would end several waivers for nuclear cooperation activities, including provisions that allowed Iran to store excess heavy water overseas and ship out enriched uranium. Waivers for several other nuclear cooperation projects were granted and will proceed for now.

Rouhani implied that the U.S. decision to target the sale or storage of enriched uranium and heavy water was forcing Iran into breaching the limits. Although the JCPOA allows for Iran to sell excess heavy water and enriched uranium, the country has other options for staying below the caps set by the JCPOA.

The additional steps that Iran threatened, which would begin 60 days after the May 8 announcement if the remaining JCPOA parties are not able to facilitate further oil sales or establish banking relations, pose a more significant proliferation risk. Those steps include restarting work on Iran’s heavy-water reactor and enriching uranium to 20-percent uranium-235.

Uranium enriched to 20 percent is still far below what is considered to be weapons grade, but significantly less work would be required to enrich that material to the 90-percent level than is needed to enrich uranium from 3.67 percent to 20 percent, further shortening Iran’s breakout time.

Restarting construction on the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak would not pose a short-term risk, as the reactor is years away from operating, but would still create concerns because the facility’s original design was capable of producing enough plutonium for approximately two nuclear weapons every year.

The nuclear deal required Iran to modify the reactor to produce much less plutonium annually, to refrain from separating any plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel, and to ship out all spent fuel for 15 years. If Iran begins construction based on the modified design, it poses far less of a proliferation risk.

The remaining JCPOA parties have tried to preserve the economic benefits envisioned by the agreement, but efforts have been slow. Despite EU efforts to block the implementation of U.S. sanctions on European companies, the threat of U.S. sanctions and the risk of penalties has pushed most entities out of Iran. It is unclear if the EU, China, and Russia will be able to meet Iran’s demands.

The EU and Iran have set up a dedicated financial channel to facilitate transactions that are not subject to U.S. sanctions. When Mogherini first announced that such a mechanism would be created, she said it may be used to facilitate oil sales, but now European officials have stated that it will be limited to humanitarian trade. Although the mechanism has been set up, it is not yet functioning and is unlikely to be expanded to include oil trade within Iran’s 60-day timeline.

China appears to be the only state willing to risk U.S. sanctions by continuing to purchase oil from Iran. Beijing has been Iran’s largest oil customer, and China received a waiver from the United States in November to continue purchases for 180 days. The waiver ended May 2 and was not renewed, but an oil tanker owned by a Chinese bank left an Iranian port with 2 million barrels of oil on May 17. It is unlikely that this single shipment will be enough for Iran to refrain from following through on its threat to breach certain JCPOA limits, but it may indicate a willingness by some states to continue purchasing oil from Tehran.

If Iran does follow through on its threat to violate the deal, it will likely further escalate tensions between the United States and Iran.

National Security Advisor John Bolton announced in a May 5 statement that the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and a bomber task force were being deployed to the U.S. Central Command region in response to a number of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.” Bolton said the move will “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

U.S. officials said Iranian-backed forces were behind May 12 attacks on oil tankers docked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, but offered little public evidence to support that assessment.

U.S. allies and members of Congress briefed on the intelligence have disagreed with Bolton’s characterization of it. British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, who serves as deputy commander of coalition forces fighting the Islamic State, said on May 15 there is no increase in the threat from Iran.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on May 21 that intelligence presented does not indicate that Iran is “taking unprovoked and offensive measures” against the United States and its allies.

Trump has repeatedly said that he does not want war with Iran, but tweeted on May 19 that “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

Rouhani responded to Trump’s May 20 rhetoric, saying that the “situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that “economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran.’”

One year after the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran says it will not abide by some of the agreement’s limits.

Kim Missile Tests Draw Muted U.S. Reaction

June 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump played down North Korea’s decision to test a new short-range ballistic missile in May, and administration officials said the United States remains committed to negotiations with Pyongyang over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Neither Washington nor Pyongyang, however, appears willing to show a more flexible approach to talks, making it unclear when negotiations might resume.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (right) waves with China's Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Li Zhanshu following a September 2018 military parade which featured a missile that North Korea apparently tested May 4. (Photo: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea’s May 4 flight test of the new mobile missile marked the country’s first ballistic missile launch since it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the test, and the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported his “great satisfaction” with the drill. The missile, designated the KN-23, was tested again May 9.

The solid-fueled KN-23 can travel about 400 kilometers and appears to be the same system displayed in a 2018 North Korean military parade, according to missile analysts. Although North Korea has developed and deployed ballistic missiles with similar ranges, the KN-23’s features provide Pyongyang with new capabilities. The use of solid fuel makes the missile easier to transport and quicker to launch because the missile can be stored with the fuel loaded. North Korea’s other short-range ballistic missiles are mostly liquid-fueled systems that typically need to be fueled at the launch site.

The missile also flies at a lower trajectory and appears to be capable of maneuvering in flight, according to analysts and U.S. officials, making it more difficult to intercept using ballistic missile defenses. Development of a missile with this trajectory and maneuvering capability may be a response to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic missile defense systems that the United States deployed in South Korea in 2017.

North Korean media condemned a recent THAAD training exercise in South Korea on May 10, calling it “a military provocation” and saying that if the United States “truly wishes for peace on the peninsula,” it should “stop all acts of hostility” toward North Korea.

The May missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit any ballistic missile development or testing by North Korea, but the launches do not violate the voluntary moratorium on long-range ballistic missile testing that Kim announced in April 2018.

The Trump administration has touted the lull in missile testing and the announced moratorium as positive outcomes of the diplomatic process, and its response to the May tests has been subdued.

Trump said on May 10 that he did not consider the missile tests a “breach of trust” between himself and Kim and said the relationship remains strong. Trump said he knows that North Korea wants to negotiate but may not be ready to resume talks right now.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the missile tests did not pose a threat to the United States or its allies in the region. Pompeo said that there is still “an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome” on denuclearization, but did not provide any detail on the U.S. approach to advance diplomacy.

Kims' decision to test the new missile was likely intended to send signals to the Trump administration, as well as a North Korean audience. After returning from the Hanoi summit without sanctions relief, Kim may have felt compelled to shore up domestic support and silence critics in North Korea that were skeptical of his approach to negotiations by demonstrating his resolve and continued commitment to North Korea’s security.

Components of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system arrive at Osan Air Base in South Korea in March 2017. The ballistic missile tested recently by North Korea may be designed to avoid interception by such defenses. (Photo: U.S. Forces Korea/Getty Images)The decision to resume missile testing without breaching the April 2018 moratorium may also have been designed to demonstrate that Kim’s ultimatum for negotiations is serious. Kim said in April that the United States must change its negotiating approach by the end of the year or face a “bleak and very dangerous” situation. Specifically, he called on the United States to pursue a new “methodology” for talks, likely a reference to North Korea’s rejection of the Trump administration’s preference for a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The test followed new U.S.-South Korean military drills that replaced larger, annual exercises that North Korea regularly criticized as provocative. Trump canceled those maneuvers in March, but Kim still denounced the scaled-down exercises in April and warned that North Korea was likely to respond to the exercises in kind.

Although the missile test may have been intended to signal North Korea’s resolve, it does not appear to have altered Trump’s approach to negotiations. It remains unclear how the administration plans to bridge the divide between the U.S. and North Korean negotiating positions.

The Trump administration continues to reiterate its preference for a comprehensive agreement that would require North Korea to agree to the end goal of the negotiations and dismantle its entire nuclear weapons infrastructure before receiving any U.S. sanctions relief.

In a May 19 Fox News interview, Trump again denounced North Korea’s preference for an incremental approach to denuclearization and provided some further insight into the differences that caused the abrupt end of the Hanoi summit in February. Trump said he wanted North Korea to dismantle five nuclear sites, whereas Kim was only willing to close one or two sites, and that offer was “no good.”

This detail supports commentary from U.S. and North Korean officials that Trump wanted a more comprehensive “big deal,” while Kim sought a more limited agreement on the Yongbyon nuclear facility. (See ACT, April 2019.)

The U.S.-North Korean relationship was further strained by the U.S. Justice Department’s May 9 announcement that the United States had seized a North Korean vessel, the Wise Honest, for its role in evading U.S. and UN sanctions. According to the May 9 press release, the vessel, which had been detained a year earlier in April 2018, had been involved in illicitly transporting coal and heavy machinery since 2016.

North Korea condemned the U.S. seizure as an “illegal and atrocious act of robbery” and said that Washington was acting in “complete denial of the basic spirit” of the Singapore summit declaration agreed by Trump and Kim at their first meeting in June 2018. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) North Korea said the United States should “return the vessel without delay” and consider “what kind of consequences will be caused by its gangster-like behavior.”

The Trump administration has consistently stated that it will enforce all sanctions on North Korea during negotiations. Nothing in the Singapore summit joint statement specifically states that Washington should refrain from sanctions enforcement.

The U.S.-North Korean stalemate has also slowed the inter-Korean process, but the two Koreas have begun preparations for a fourth summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim.

Moon also downplayed the impact of the missile launches on North Korea’s negotiations with the United States and the inter-Korean process. He said it does not violate the Panmunjom agreement between North and South Korea and characterized the test as an expression of “discontent” by Pyongyang. He said North Korea is “being careful not to disrupt the atmosphere for talks.”


Recent North Korean missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions, but President Trump appears eager to maintain talks.

NPT Meeting Looks to 2020 Review Conference

June 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Despite some procedural successes, the final preparatory meeting before the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) foreshadowed difficult times ahead. The 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee ended its session May 10 after two weeks of debate that prevented participants from reaching consensus on recommendations for the treaty’s 10th review conference next year, the 50th anniversary of the pact’s entry into force.

Syed Hussin of Malaysia speaks with reporters on May 10 at the close of the third preparatory meeting for the 2020 NPT Review Conference. (Photo: United Nations)The debate highlighted the nonproliferation crisis in Iran, which announced midway through the meeting that it would cease to abide by some of the restrictions imposed by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s announcement came one year after the United States withdrew from the deal and after recent U.S. moves to reimpose sanctions waived by the deal and to levy additional punitive measures. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that Iran could take retaliatory measures in 60 days should the remaining five parties to the JCPOA fail to thwart U.S. sanctions on Tehran’s oil and banking transactions.

The dispute between the two countries bled into the conference room, where Iran and the United States engaged in bitter “right of reply” exchanges and Iran made veiled threats in response to the U.S. pressure campaign.

The United States “continues to exert maximum pressure to dismantle the JCPOA and [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231,” said Iran’s opening statement, referring to the council decision to endorse the nuclear deal. “These pressures, if continued, will be detrimental not only to the stability and security in the Middle East region, but to the NPT. ... Such policies will not be left unanswered and Iran will adopt appropriate measures to preserve its supreme national interests.”

Should Iran decide to withdraw fully from the JCPOA or even from the NPT itself as some Iranian press reports in early May suggested Iran was considering, the 2020 review conference will face another nonproliferation crisis.

North Korea’s nuclear program took a backseat to the woes of the JCPOA at the preparatory committee meeting, although many states, including in a joint statement delivered by France on behalf of 70 states, urged North Korea to turn its words committing to denuclearization into action and rejoin the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

The pace of progress toward nuclear disarmament by the NPT’s recognized nuclear-weapon states concerned a majority of states, dozens of which called on Russia and the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before it expires in 2021.

States also remained split on how to advance the creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and on attending a November UN conference in New York on the topic. The United States declared it would not participate in that meeting, Russia encouraged all nuclear-weapon states to take part, and the United Kingdom stated it was still deliberating whether to attend.

These numerous fault lines led to the preparatory committee meeting’s failure to adopt recommendations for next year’s review conference. Consensus on the recommendations drafted by meeting chair Syed Hussin of Malaysia was doomed after several nuclear-weapon states and some of their allies objected to language sought by a majority of NPT states-parties. The draft recommendations were issued instead as a working paper submitted by Hussin, who also issued an eight-paragraph reflection on the meeting.

The meeting was more successful in clearing several procedural hurdles. It adopted an agenda for the 2020 review conference and agreed that Argentine diplomat Rafael Mariano Grossi will serve as president of next year’s meeting pending his formal nomination in the last quarter of 2019. Grossi’s selection as president has been delayed by Venezuela, which chairs the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which recommends the next president. But Venezuela will relinquish the NAM chair later this year, opening the door for Grossi’s selection.

Grossi took the decision as an immediate authorization, and he told the preparatory committee at the final session of the meeting that he would begin his work the next business day by launching extensive consultations with diplomats and other relevant actors in every region.


U.S. Swedish Proposals Address Nuclear Disarmament

As many states lamented the lack of progress on nuclear-weapon states’ disarmament commitments at the 2019 preparatory committee for the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and Sweden advanced two proposals to discuss disarmament.

The first proposal is a U.S. initiative titled “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND). It was first introduced as “Creating the Conditions for Nuclear Disarmament” in a working paper to the 2018 preparatory committee, but the name was changed after Washington heard concerns about the word “conditions,” Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a Washington conference in March.

That paper contends that the international security environment is not conducive for further progress on disarmament and states that a number of conditions would need to be met “to facilitate the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons,” including the denuclearization of North Korea, Iran’s verified compliance with its nonproliferation commitments, the recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and compliance by all states with all international agreements.

The concept has since evolved, according to more recent remarks by Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, to a UK conference last December and to the Conference on Disarmament in March. The Netherlands also hosted an academic colloquium to further consider the idea in April.

Ford announced last December that the United States would create a working group and subgroups to discuss the topic, consisting of representatives from 25 to 30 regionally and politically diverse states. At the 2019 preparatory committee, Ford reported that the United States will host the first plenary meeting for the working group in Washington in July. Following their creation at the plenary, the subgroups would meet periodically and report to the 2020 review conference on their progress.

Reactions to the CEND approach at the preparatory committee were mixed. Some states, including Japan and the United Kingdom, expressed support for the approach explicitly, and the South Korea said it would attend the working group plenary meeting.

Iran rejected the approach, and other nations warned against adding conditions to implement NPT commitments, claiming that progress on disarmament is necessitated, not impeded, by a difficult security environment.

“We reject the notion that nuclear disarmament is preconditioned on a certain set of circumstances,” the Philippines argued. “This endeavor is a matter of collective responsibility, particularly between and among the nuclear-weapon states, and it must not be made conditional on the interests of a few.”

The second proposal came from Sweden, which introduced an initiative to build support around key disarmament “stepping stones” in a working paper to the preparatory committee. The goal of the approach is to find “common ground” steps on “concrete progress,” Sweden told the meeting.

The working paper recommends that the 2020 review conference agree on a document that reaffirms the NPT as the cornerstone for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, the validity of previous NPT commitments, the expression that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” an improved NPT process, and realistic measures for disarmament based on a “stepping stone” approach that could reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, rebuild habits of cooperation, reduce nuclear risks, and enhance transparency.

Sweden will host a ministerial-level meeting on June 11 on mobilizing political support for an “ambitious yet realistic agenda.” New Zealand voiced its support for the Swedish approach, stating that it applies “pragmatism to the process for implementation of the established disarmament agenda.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

The final preparatory meeting for the 2020 NPT Review Conference made administrative progress while foreshadowing difficult discussions next year.

NATO Ministerial to Discuss INF Treaty

June 2019
By Shervin Taheran

NATO defense ministers will meet June 26 to prepare defense and deterrence measures “to ensure the security of the alliance” if Russia does not come back into compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, according to a European official speaking with Arms Control Today.

The meeting will come just weeks before the United States is expected to withdraw from the treaty, alleging that Russian deployment of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile constitutes a treaty violation. NATO believes the missile can strike targets in Europe. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The INF Treaty bans the testing and deployment of land-based missiles that can fly distances of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. The agreement, concluded by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, significantly eased tensions in Europe over Soviet and U.S. deployments of these systems, which can reach their targets rapidly and with little warning. The likely termination of the treaty on Aug. 2 opens the door to the possible redeployment of INF Treaty-range missiles in Europe, which experts say could increase escalation risks and the potential for miscalculation in a crisis.

In an April 4 press statement following a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Washington, the ministers discussed “Russia’s ongoing violation” of the INF Treaty, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO “has no intention” to deploy “ground-launched nuclear missiles in Europe.” This does not preclude deploying conventionally armed INF Treaty-range missiles in NATO countries, which is what the Trump administration has announced it is seeking to develop. (See ACT, May 2019.)

The United States is “moving forward with developing ground-launched INF [Treaty]-range missile capabilities,” senior administration officials reiterated on May 15 to Congress. The work is “designed to be reversible should Russia return to compliance by verifiably destroying its INF Treaty-violating missiles, launchers, and associated support equipment,” said David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in written testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He also noted that the system ultimately developed would be “driven by our assessment of military requirements and in consultation with Congress and with our allies
and partners.”

Although the annual congressional funding process is ongoing, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee already released its version of the fiscal year 2020 budget, which effectively eliminated the requested funding for the three new INF Treaty-range missiles that the administration announced it would be pursuing following its withdrawal from the treaty. The House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), is expected to follow suit in the annual defense authorization process, but Senate Republicans are expected to support the administration’s plans.

NATO defense ministers are set to discuss how to handle the impending termination of the INF Treaty.


Subscribe to RSS - June 2019