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

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
June 2020

Arms Control Today June 2020

Edition Date: 
Monday, June 1, 2020
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U.S. Aims to Extend Iran Embargo

June 2020
By Julia Masterson

The Trump administration is considering a range of options to prevent the October 2020 expiration of a UN embargo that restricts arms sales to and from Iran. If multilateral efforts to renew the embargo fail, the administration will likely attempt to argue that the United States remains a participant of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal so that Washington can exercise a Security Council provision to block the embargo’s expiration.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2018. He has vowed a "crushing response" if the arms embargo on Iran is extended. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)The embargo’s expiration date is included in Resolution 2231, which endorses and helps implement the 2015 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under a resolution provision, listed participants of the nuclear deal are granted the ability to invoke a sweeping “snapback” of all UN restrictions that were lifted or would be lifted by the agreement, including the embargo. The United States formally abrogated the JCPOA in May 2018, but Resolution 2231 was never amended to reflect the U.S. withdrawal and still names the United States as among the JCPOA participants that have the right to invoke the snapback mechanism.

Reinstating sanctions and restrictions through Resolution 2231 would extend the embargo indefinitely. Doing so, by also reimposing all other UN sanctions and restrictions on Iran, would likely collapse the JCPOA and tie the hands of a future U.S. president seeking to return to the multilateral nuclear deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 6 that “Iran would never accept the extension of an arms embargo” and warned that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Earlier this year, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also threatened that Iran would withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty altogether if referred to the Security Council over its nuclear program and faced with the reimposition of UN sanctions. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Whispers of the Trump administration’s plan to claim participation in the deal in order to exercise the snapback mechanism began in late 2019, when an internal legal memo that circulated within the State Department reportedly detailed “a legally available argument we can assert that the United States can initiate the snapback process” under Resolution 2231.

Washington “will exercise all diplomatic options” to extend the embargo, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 9, after receiving a congressional letter urging the administration to pursue diplomatic measures to prevent the embargo’s expiration. More than three-quarters of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed the May 4 bipartisan letter co-sponsored by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member. The House letter does not mention the JCPOA or the Resolution 2231 snapback process, but according to a May 4 statement by Engel, “[T]his letter, supported overwhelmingly by both parties in the House, represents an imperative to reauthorize this provision—not through snapback or going it alone, but through a careful diplomatic campaign.”

The administration has indicated it will pursue a standalone Security Council resolution establishing a new arms embargo on Iran first, but that measure will almost certainly be vetoed by one of the other four JCPOA participants who have permanent membership and veto power on the UN Security Council.

In that case, the United States has hinted its intent to invoke the snapback provision in Resolution 2231, which cannot be vetoed. The State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, confirmed in a May 13 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal that the administration drafted a standalone Security Council resolution to extend the embargo and is hoping it will pass, but said that “if American diplomacy is frustrated by a veto, however, the U.S. retains the right to renew the arms embargo by other means.”

The United States has not yet formally introduced its draft of a standalone resolution to the Security Council.
The Trump administration reportedly shared sections of that draft with European members of the nuclear deal
in February 2020.

According to Hook, “[T]he Trump administration’s preferred strategy is for the Security Council to extend the arms embargo while the U.S. continues to apply maximum economic pressure and maintains deterrence against Iranian aggression.” But, he said, if the United Nations “doesn’t renew the arms embargo against Iran, the U.S. will use its authority to do so.”

It is not clear whether the Trump administration’s move to reinstate sanctions through Resolution 2231 would succeed. Should the United States attempt to exercise the snapback mechanism and unilaterally block the expiration of the arms embargo, it is highly likely that the remaining parties to the nuclear deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the EU) will strive to delegitimize the U.S. legal argument in order to preserve the JCPOA.

Although the Europeans appear to share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s arms trade, they have made clear they do not support steps to extend the embargo that could lead to the JCPOA’s collapse. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said on April 30 that Europe does not consider the United States a participating member of the 2015 nuclear deal. A second European official said the same day that France, Germany, and the UK would not condone extending the embargo through the Resolution 2231 snapback clause because “the arms embargo is a legitimate part of the JCPOA.”

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, said on May 12 that the United States “has lost any right” to snapback UN restrictions under Resolution 2231. China’s UN mission bluntly tweeted on May 14 that the United States “failed to meet its obligations under Resolution 2231 by withdrawing” from the JCPOA and that “it has no right to extend an arms embargo on Iran, let alone to trigger snapback.” Together, statements from Russia and China make clear that Moscow and Beijing will counter any U.S. efforts to extend the embargo through a standalone resolution or through invocation of the snapback mechanism.

The Trump administration appears determined to prevent the expiration of the UN embargo, but if the United States fails to do so, many key restrictions governing arms sales to and from Iran will remain in place. Iranian arms sales to nonstate actors in Yemen and Lebanon will continue to be subject to U.S. and UN restrictions, even if the embargo expires as scheduled in October 2020.


United States Ends Sanctions Waivers

The Trump administration has announced it will terminate some key sanctions waivers that had allowed other nations to cooperate on certain projects with Iran outlined in the 2015 nuclear deal.

Companies working on modifications to Iran’s heavy water reactor at Arak have 60 days to wind down activities or face U.S. sanctions, according to a May 27 statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The waiver allowing Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent for its Tehran Research Reactor and to transfer out spent fuel was also terminated.

The United States had been issuing sanctions waivers allowing these projects to continue since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran in May 2018.

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is required to modify the unfinished reactor at Arak so that when operational it would produce annually far less plutonium than is necessary for a nuclear weapon. If the reactor were finished based on the original design, it would have produced enough plutonium for about two nuclear weapons per year.

Iran said in 2019 it would revert back to the original design of the reactor if cooperative efforts, which primarily include China and the United Kingdom, cease.

The agreement allows Iran to import uranium enriched to 20 percent to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor and requires Iran to ship out the spent fuel. The parties to the agreement are required to assist Iran in obtaining the necessary fuel. Iran is also prohibited from enriching uranium to more than 3.67 percent uranium-235 for 15 years under the nuclear deal.

In past statements announcing the renewal of waivers for these sanctions, Pompeo has highlighted the nonproliferation benefits of the cooperative projects. In October, Pompeo said the United States was issuing the waivers because the projects “help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks,” and “prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

In the May 27 announcement, Pompeo said that Iran has “continued its nuclear brinkmanship by expanding proliferation sensitive activities” so he “cannot justify renewing the waiver for these JCPOA-related activities.”

It is unclear what activities Pompeo is referring to. While Iran has taken steps to violate the nuclear deal in response to Trump’s reimposition of sanctions, Tehran has not announced any new actions to reduce compliance with the accord since the United States last renewed the waivers March 30.

Pompeo said the Trump administration would extend for another 90 days the waiver allowing cooperative activities at the Bushehr power reactor to “ensure safety of operations.” The Bushehr reactor was operational prior to the JCPOA’s implementation.

Waivers for several other cooperative projects were terminated in 2019.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The United States may try to claim participation in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to ensure the continuation of a UN embargo against Tehran.

IAEA Nuclear Oversight Grew in 2019

June 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitored a growing amount of nuclear material in 2019, but persistent security and political challenges prevented the agency from understanding the full scope of nuclear activities in some nations. The agency circulated its annual report of its safeguards activity in April, disclosing that its personnel conducted 2,179 inspections in 183 states in 2019. It now oversees over 8 percent more nuclear material than the previous year. Overall, the material would be enough for more than 216,400 nuclear weapons, which the agency calls “significant quantities.”

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left) tours the agency's Nuclear Material Laboratory in January. The lab is one of the tools the agency uses to monitor nuclear activities around the world. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The annual safeguards implementation report reflects the global scale of the IAEA’s role in ensuring that nuclear materials in peaceful facilities are not diverted to military uses. It summarizes the agency’s activities to implement safeguards across member states and its conclusion about the status of nuclear materials in states where safeguards are conducted. The agency has given the report only to its member states. A copy of the document was provided to

The report also highlights difficulties in meeting those safeguards goals. In the case of Libya, for example, the IAEA was no longer able to confirm that there was “no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities” or any diversion of nuclear material. According to the report, the IAEA cannot verify “the actual status of nuclear material previously declared by Libya” at a particular location. It is likely that the country’s unstable security situation has made it difficult for IAEA inspectors to conduct their routine work.

The report also highlighted difficulties in understanding all nuclear activities in North Korea and Syria. The agency has not conducted any on-site inspections in North Korea since April 2009, when IAEA inspectors were asked to leave. But the agency intensified its efforts in 2019 to enhance agency readiness “to play its essential role in verifying” the country’s nuclear program once a political agreement is reached, according to the report.

The report concluded that there were “no indications of the operation” in 2019 of North Korea’s five-megawatts electric reactor, which produces plutonium for nuclear weapons, or at a facility that separates plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel. But there have been “indications consistent with the use of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility.”

In Syria, IAEA inspectors visited the nation’s Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, which contains less than one kilogram of weapons-grade uranium, and another site in Damascus in 2019, but the agency continues to press Syria to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into a building destroyed in 2008 that “was very likely” a nuclear reactor that Syria failed to declare to the IAEA.

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) requires its states-parties to implement a safeguards agreement with the IAEA to ensure that nuclear activities are peaceful. The safeguards agreements are to be negotiated within 180 days of ratifying the treaty, but the 2019 report noted that 10 states have not yet completed safeguards agreements with the IAEA.

Since 1997, IAEA member states have had the option to implement a more intrusive additional protocol to their safeguards agreement, which gives inspectors more information about a country’s nuclear program, expands access to sites, and allows for shorter-notice inspections. Of the 183 NPT states with safeguards agreements, 131 also implemented an additional protocol in 2019, an increase from the 129 states with additional protocols in 2018.

The IAEA concluded that, in 69 of the 131 states, “all nuclear material remained in peaceful activities” and that there was “no indication of undeclared nuclear material or activities” or any diversion of nuclear material. Libya was the only country that was included in that list for 2018, but not 2019.

For 62 of those states that implement a safeguards agreement and an additional protocol, the IAEA determined that “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful purposes” in 2019 but that “evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities” remain ongoing. Iran is one of the 62 countries.

The IAEA noted that some states that have negotiated additional protocols have yet to provide the agency with all of the required information under the agreement and that some states restricted access to inspectors, but that progress is being made in providing more timely information.

The safeguards report also said that three states did not allow inspectors to access certain areas within declared facilities, only one of those cases was resolved in 2019, and five states did not provide “timely access” for inspectors. The report did not specify the states.

Forty-four states are implementing safeguards but not additional protocols. The IAEA noted that, for these states, “declared nuclear material remained in peaceful activities” and conducted 146 inspections at sites in these countries.

States that are not party to the NPT can also conclude safeguards agreements with the IAEA. India, Israel, and Pakistan have all negotiated safeguards agreements for specific locations.

The IAEA conducted 93 inspections at locations under safeguards in those three countries in 2019, a slight increase from the 78 inspections the prior year. The agency also recorded an increase in the nuclear materials under safeguards in those countries, from 3,938 kilograms in 2018 to 4,260 kilograms in 2019.

The IAEA also conducts safeguards inspections in the five nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), which are not required to implement safeguards under the NPT. All five, however, have negotiated what are called “voluntary offer” safeguards and additional protocols with the IAEA, which covers more than 35,000 significant quantities of nonmilitary nuclear materials and facilities. The agency conducted 79 inspections at sites in the five nuclear-weapon states in 2019.

In addition, the report contains information about IAEA efforts to address new technical challenges. According to the report, the IAEA continued to work on safeguards applications for new types of facilities, including small modular reactors and geological repositories for spent fuel. One of the new technologies successfully tested in 2019 is an unattended monitoring system for cylinders of uranium gas at enrichment facilities.

The report also documents IAEA sampling and deployment of technologies used for conducting safeguards inspections. According to the report, the IAEA collected 442 uranium samples, 40 plutonium samples, and 405 environmental samples in 2019. The report noted that the total installation of surveillance cameras was 1,425 by the end of 2019, including new underwater cameras for spent fuel ponds, and that inspectors tested new software for reviewing data collected by IAEA surveillance systems.


IAEA Iran Inspections Increased in 2019

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted more inspections in Iran in 2019 than the prior year, according to an annual report on the agency’s application of safeguards.

The IAEA’s annual safeguards implementation report noted that Iran received 432 inspections during 2019, an increase from 385 the previous year. The IAEA also conducted 33 complementary access visits in Iran in 2019, according to the report, which accounted for about 20 percent of 149 total complementary access inspections conducted in 183 states throughout the year.

Complementary access provisions allow inspectors to visit sites on short notice and are included in an additional protocol to a state’s safeguards agreement that many have adopted. In addition to allowing complementary access inspections, the additional protocol provides the agency with expanded access to sites and information about a country’s nuclear program.

Iran is provisionally implementing the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement as part of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA concluded that Iran, along with 61 other states implementing safeguards agreements and additional protocols, had not diverted any nuclear materials from peaceful activities during 2019, but stated that “evaluations regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities” remain ongoing.

The IAEA has used similar language to describe Iran’s nuclear program in its quarterly reports on the country’s implementation of the JCPOA.

Kazzem Gharibabdi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said on May 6 that the report highlights Tehran’s cooperation with the agency. But he warned that cooperation is “not the only option” available to Iran, and the country may revise its safeguards commitments in light of Iran not receiving sanctions relief envisioned by the JCPOA after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions.

Iran has not complied with all agency requests to visit undeclared facilities, according to a February report on Iran by the IAEA. The safeguards implementation report did not provide any details on the agency’s outstanding access requests.

The report also noted that the IAEA Iran team comprised of 269 inspectors in 2019, down slightly from 276 the previous year, and spent 20.4 million euros implementing Iran’s safeguards and JCPOA-related monitoring provisions.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The International Atomic Energy Agency issued its annual safeguards report.

U.S. Continues Intermediate-Range Missile Pursuit

June 2020
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Defense Department is moving forward with plans to acquire conventional ground-launched missiles that fly distances previously banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The progress follows two demonstration tests of such missiles last year, but the next steps in the development process and how much the Pentagon plans to spend on the missiles is unclear. Whether U.S. allies and partners will agree to host the missiles once they are built also remains to be seen.

The USS Annapolis submarine test launches a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile off the coast of California in 2018. The Trump administration is proposing to acquire Tomahawks to launch from land which would have previously been banned by  INF Treaty. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The two 2019 tests included a prototype ground-launched ballistic missile last December (see ACT, January/February 2020) and a ground-launched variant of the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missile in August, just two weeks after the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2019.)

The treaty required the United States and Russia to eliminate permanently all their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Since 2014, the United States has accused Russia of violating the agreement by producing and fielding an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.

The fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February includes $125 million for the Marine Corps to purchase 48 Tomahawk missiles. The budget documents did not include further information about the purchase or whether the Marine Corps planned to buy additional missiles in future years.

Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty allows the naval branch to assess the feasibility and utility of firing the Tomahawk missile from a ground launcher. The missile has an estimated range of between 1,250 and 2,500 kilometers.

Berger suggested the missile could be used to “contribute to sea control and sea denial,” but other Marine Corps officials have said the missile would be evaluated for attacking targets on land.

A February report by the Congressional Budget Office questioned whether the Tomahawk missile would be a suitable candidate for a new ground-launched system.

The “Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, a relatively slow missile with no low-observable features, has become less effective at penetrating defended airspace,” the report stated.

Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, Marine Corps deputy commandant for combat development and integration, provided lawmakers with some additional details about the Marine Corps plans for longer-range, ground-launch systems at a March 11 congressional hearing.

The Marine Corps will work with the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office “to continue design and development of a mobile launch platform in order to prototype and field a Marine Corps ground-based, long-range, land attack cruise missile capability for employment by its rocket artillery units,” he said. “Prototype launchers will undergo firing and endurance testing through fiscal year 2022, with the aim of fielding a battery of launchers to an operational unit in fiscal year 2023.”

Smith did not say how much the Marine Corps is requesting in fiscal year 2021 and beyond for the launch platform. A Defense Department spokesman told Arms Control Today in February that money appropriated in fiscal year 2020 “will complete the maturation of a conceptual cruise missile launcher.”

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in December 2019. He later told the committee that the United States can now assess ground-launched cruise missiles once banned by the INF Treaty. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)The Pentagon requested $96 million in its fiscal year 2020 budget to develop three types of ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. (See ACT, May 2019.) These included a ground-launched cruise missile and two types of ballistic missiles. The final fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations bill approved by Congress in December provided $40 million less than the request. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has provided far less information about the status of its plans for developing a ground-launched ballistic missile capability.

Department officials told reporters in March 2019 that the department was seeking a ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, April 2019.) The officials estimated that the new missile would not be ready for at least five years.

The Pentagon is not requesting new funding for either of the ballistic missile line items Congress funded in fiscal
year 2020.

One possible candidate for the weapon is the Army’s Precision Strike Missile, which the service is developing to replace the aging Tactical Missile System and “attack critical and time sensitive area and point targets.”

The range requirement for the missile is up to 499 kilometers, but that was dictated by the INF Treaty. Army officials have stated the missile could eventually fly as far as 700 kilometers. That range, however, would be far shorter than the 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers department officials previously identified as the goal for a new intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The Army is requesting $123 million for the Precision Strike Missile in fiscal year 2021. The service aims to begin fielding the missile as soon as 2023.

Other ground-launched weapons being pursued by the Army with ranges slated to exceed 500 kilometers include the long-range hypersonic weapon and the strategic long-range cannon. The budget request seeks $801 million for the hypersonic weapon, a massive increase of nearly $400 million above the fiscal year 2020 appropriated level, and $65 million for the cannon program.

The Army’s budget request does not include funding to continue development of a mobile, land-based, medium-range missile, citing an “Army realignment of funds to higher priority programs.” The fiscal year 2020 budget request contained $20 million in initial funding for the program, but Congress only provided $5 million.

The Pentagon’s request to develop missiles formerly prohibited by the INF Treaty was a controversial issue in Congress last year.

The final version of the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill prohibited the use of current-year funds to procure and deploy missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty, but does not prohibit their development and testing, as the House of Representatives’ version of the bill had initially proposed. The bill also required the Pentagon to report on the results of an analysis of alternatives that assesses the benefits and risks of such missiles, options for basing them in Europe or the Indo-Pacific region, and whether deploying such missile systems on the territory of a NATO ally would require a consensus decision by NATO.

Basing new ground-launched missiles in Europe and East Asia is likely to prove challenging. Despite their concerns about Russia and China, U.S. allies have not appeared eager to host the missiles.

A senior Defense Department official told reporters on Feb. 21 that the administration has not “actually spoken to the allies about basing” such missiles “on their territory, at this time.”

The Pentagon is moving to develop once-banned missiles even as U.S. allies are not eager to host them.

U.S. Arms Deals Continue During Pandemic

June 2020
By Jeff Abramson

As the Trump administration designated the defense industry as essential, notifications of potential new international arms sales have continued during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, however, the firing of the State Department's inspector general and push for new arms sales raised controversy.

The most high-profile concerns, however, focus on a deal that has not yet been formally notified to Congress for new weapons for Saudi Arabia. In a May 27 CNN commentary, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he had not received sufficient answers as to why the deal, details of which were not yet public, was needed and that, “Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.” The following day, The New York Times reported that the deal valued at $478 million would include 7,500 precision-guided missiles and licenses to allow Raytheon to expand manufacturing capacity in Saudi Arabia.

Menendez linked his concerns to a congressional effort to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2019, which was given greater attention when President Donald Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general on May 15. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Trump on May 18, saying, “It is alarming to see news reports that your action may have been in response to Inspector General [Steve] Linick nearing completion of an investigation into the approval of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

After Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that weapons sales to the countries needed to proceed on an emergency basis in May 2019, bypassing the 30-day notification period, both chambers passed resolutions of disapproval that the president vetoed last July. (See ACT, September 2019.) Members of Congress had asked for the inspector general to start an investigation into the arms sales.

Overall, between March 30 and May 28, Congress was notified of potential foreign military sales of approximately $7.5 billion. If annualized, that pace of $45 billion for sales notifications would be lower than the nearly $70 billion in sales that were notified in 2019.

The recent notifications included two possible attack helicopters sales, valued at either $1.5 billion or $450 million, for a bid request issued by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, as well as $2.3 billion to refurbish 43 Apache attack helicopters in Egypt and $556 million to sell 4,569 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to the United Arab Emirates that were declared excess defense articles in 2014. Potential sales to Hungary, Taiwan, and India, valued at $230 million, $180 million and $155 million, respectively, were notified during the period, which also included Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, and South Korea as possible clients.

As expected, the May 20 notification of the potential sale of 18 heavy-weight torpedoes to Taiwan for $180 million elicited Chinese opposition.


The Trump administration has pressed forward with foreign military sales, triggering calls of concern from some U.S. lawmakers.

German Politicians Renew Nuclear Basing Debate

June 2020
By Oliver Meier

A senior member of the German Parliament has revitalized the debate over whether the nation should host U.S. nuclear weapons on German soil. “It is about time that Germany in the future excludes the deployment” of nuclear weapons on its territory, said Rolf Mützenich, the leader of the Social Democrat (SPD) group in the Bundestag, in a May 2 interview with Der Tagesspiegel. The German Social Democrats are coalition partners of the conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU). The SPD leadership backed Mützenich's comments.

A U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft refuels in 2017. Germany is exploring acquiring 45 F-18s from the United States, 30 of which would be nuclear capable. (Photo: Trevor McBride/U.S. Air Force)The discussion followed a mid-April decision by the Defense Ministry to replace Germany’s current fleet of Tornado aircraft, some of which are dual-capable with 90 Eurofighter Typhoon and 45 U.S. F-18 fighter aircraft. Thirty of the F-18s would be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons.

Under nuclear sharing arrangements, NATO allies jointly discuss, plan, and train nuclear missions. According to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey host up to 150 U.S. B-61 nuclear gravity bombs on their territory. These countries, except Turkey, provide their own aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons in times of war. Details of the arrangements remain shrouded in secrecy, but 20 U.S. nuclear weapons are estimated to be deployed at Büchel air base in western Germany.

The Tornado replacement has been controversial for years. Washington has been lobbying Berlin to follow the example of other host nations and buy U.S. F-35 aircraft as the future nuclear weapons carrier.

France prefers a European approach, and it is jointly developing with Germany and Spain the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that will have a nuclear capability in the French Air Force. Germany’s selection of the F-18 was thus a political compromise which Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer presented as a “bridge solution” until the FCAS becomes operational after 2040. Germany plans to retire the Tornado between 2025 and 2030.

Kramp-Karrenbauer may have mishandled the process by not sufficiently consulting with SPD members in the parliament. She has conceded that the Bundestag would not need to make a decision until 2022 at the earliest and said that there would thus be “space for a debate” on the dual-capable aircraft decision in the campaign for the September 2021 parliamentary elections and negotiations on a new coalition government thereafter.

In a May 7 article in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, Mützenich took up that invitation, saying that he would like “an open and honest debate about the rationale for nuclear sharing.” Social Democrats “are not calling for the immediate denuclearization of NATO,” but want to discuss the need “to spend billions on the procurement and maintenance of U.S. aircraft whose sole purpose is to drop American nuclear bombs,” he wrote.

Katja Keul, spokeswoman on disarmament policy for the Green party, told Arms Control Today in a May 14 interview that the Greens “do not want to put Germany on a path of continued involvement in technical sharing arrangements by committing to the procurement of a new nuclear-capable aircraft now.” Based on current polls, many expect the Greens to be part of Germany’s next government.

Keul, like other proponents of change, separated Germany’s role as a host nation from the continued participation in NATO political bodies associated with nuclear sharing, such as the Nuclear Planning Group. By contrast, those who have argued in favor of preserving the nuclear status quo have often conflated technical and political dimensions of sharing arrangements, equating the end of forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons with a denuclearization of the alliance or even the end of deterrence.

The idea that NATO’s consultative mechanisms provide Berlin with influence on the policies of its nuclear allies has always been a key rationale for German involvement in them.

But Mützenich argued that this concept of Mitsprache is no more than a “long-held pious hope,” arguing that “non-nuclear powers do not have any influence on the nuclear strategy, let alone when it comes to the deployment options of nuclear powers.” He cited the U.S. withdrawals from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as well as the “reorientation of U.S. nuclear weapons as a means of conducting warfare,” as examples of recent Trump administration decisions that contravene European interests.

Roderich Kiesewetter, CDU spokesman for the Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Arms Control Today on May 12 that NATO’s unique nuclear sharing arrangements are important because they “guarantee trust in the extended nuclear umbrella and thus avoid nuclear proliferation in the European theater.” But he added that “it would be naive to believe that a U.S. president would grant Europeans influence on U.S. nuclear strategy or a more general say on the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in conflict.”

By contrast, Richard A. Grenell, U.S. ambassador in Berlin, in a May 14 opinion piece in Die Welt claimed that “Germany’s participation in nuclear share ensures that its voice matters.”

In dozens of commentaries, conservative decision-makers, analysts, and pundits have accused withdrawal proponents of weakening NATO cohesion. In an obvious aside to his party colleague Mützenich, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned on May 4 that one-sided steps “weaken our alliances.” Georgette Mosbacher, the U.S. ambassador to Poland, in a May 15 tweet suggested that “if Germany wants to diminish nuclear capability and weaken NATO, perhaps Poland—which pays its fair share, understands the risks, and is on NATO’s eastern flank—could house the capabilities.”

In fact, there is broad agreement in Berlin that “it is important to bring this debate to the European level and to discuss it with NATO partners,” Gabriela Heinrich, deputy leader of the SPD Parliamentary Group, told Arms Control Today on May 13.

But different preferences exist on the direction and structure of a discussion with alliance partners. Keul said the Greens want “Germany to push for a new consensus in NATO that would pave the way for the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. That would be our plan A.” She cautioned that “because such a consensus will be difficult to achieve, our plan B would be to ask for understanding that Germany will end the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory once the Tornado reaches the end of its lifetime.”

Kiesewetter pointed out that “it matters who is the sender of messages on nuclear issues across the Atlantic.” He suggested that, “to avoid the impression of unilateralism, the five nuclear host nations should first among themselves discuss what their position on the future of nuclear sharing is.” Then, Kiesewetter said, “we should also consult with central and eastern European countries what package of non-nuclear defense and deterrence measures might provide complimentary reassurances and can be an effective deterrent to Russia.”

Like others, Keul believes that “the future of nuclear sharing should certainly be on the agenda of the NATO experts group” established by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at end of March. Kiesewetter agrees that “we need an informed debate, including by experts, on the future of nuclear sharing arrangements.” The group, co-chaired by former U.S. diplomat A. Wess Mitchell and former German Defense Minister Lothar de Maizière, is to discuss NATO’s political role. Heinrich suggested that it would also be “useful if the experts include civil society in their deliberations.”

Heinrich said that “there is no pressure to bring the debate on nuclear sharing to a quick conclusion,” predicting that it would be an issue in the next federal election. Another waypoint in the debate might be the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe. Mützenich stated that he is opposed to “replacing the U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Büchel with new atomic warheads,” referring to U.S. plans to deploy new B61-12 weapons sometime after 2022.

Some leaders question the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on German territory.

South Korea Tests New Missile

June 2020
By Julia Masterson

South Korea has furthered the development of its missile forces this spring, conducting two tests of the new Hyunmoo-4, which boasts an 800-kilometer range and an estimated payload capacity of 2 metric tons. The payload capacity is greater than any current missile in the nation’s arsenal. Although South Korea conducted both tests in March, news of the tests did not emerge until early May. South Korean media reported that just one of these flew successfully, and South Korean officials have not publicly confirmed or commented on the tests.

South Korea displays a Hyunmoo-2 missile system in 2017. The missile has served as the basis for a new missile with greater range and payload capacity. (Photo: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)The launches were conducted at the South Korean Agency for Defense Development’s Anheung test site. The missile’s specifications are unconfirmed, but analysts have estimated that the Hyunmoo-4 is solid fueled and similar in design to the Hyunmoo-2 missile, although with a considerably larger payload. The Hyunmoo-4’s payload capacity is made possible by a 2017 revision to U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines that eliminated a payload cap of 500 kilograms for missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers.

When South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in January 2001, it negotiated an agreement with the United States dictating that it would limit its ballistic missiles to a 300-kilometer range and a 500-kilogram payload. (See ACT, March 2001.)

Under the MTCR, members commit to control exports of missiles and related technology capable of delivering that payload a distance of 300 kilometers or more. South Korea’s adherence to MTCR guidelines marked an expansion of a 1979 U.S.-South Korean memorandum of understanding under which South Korea’s missile program was limited to missiles with a range of 180 kilometers and a 500-kilogram payload in exchange for U.S. assistance in ballistic missile development.

In 2012, Seoul and Washington reached a new deal whereby South Korea could extend the range of its missiles up to 800 kilometers while keeping the 500-kilogram payload. The new agreement also granted South Korea the option to increase the payload beyond 500 kilograms for shorter-range missiles. For example, a missile with a maximum range of 500 kilometers could carry a 1,000-kilogram payload, and a missile with a 300-kilometer range could carry a 2,000-kilogram payload.

The extended 800-kilometer range was sought by Seoul and Washington as an appropriate measure to offset the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile development. (See ACT, November 2012.) But the revision did not go unnoticed by regional nonproliferation experts, who protested that the expanded range was counterproductive to long-term ballistic missile nonproliferation efforts. The amendment was seen as an MTCR exemption due to the fact that although South Korea’s missiles are indigenously built, U.S. assistance has bolstered South Korea’s ballistic missile development and U.S. assistance was offered in exchange for South Korea’s pledge to temper its missile program.

The U.S. Defense Department announced in August 2017 that Washington would again revisit the guidelines constraining South Korea’s missile program in order to shore up Seoul’s defense against Pyongyang. Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said at the time that “there is currently a limit on the warhead size and missiles that South Korea can have and, yes, it is a topic under active consideration.” In December 2017, in part motivated by North Korea’s sixth nuclear test that September, U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in formally agreed to lift the payload caps on Seoul’s ballistic missiles. The 800-kilometer-range limit remains in place. (See ACT, December 2017.)

Experts have recently speculated that although the Hyunmoo-4 meets the 800-kilometer-range limit, the missile’s booster could be used to develop a longer, medium-range missile with a lighter payload in the future.

South Korea undertook the Hyunmoo-4 test at a similar time to when North Korea conducted a set of short-range missile tests. North Korea launched its first missile test of 2020 on March 1 and proceeded to conduct three additional tests that month. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Pyongyang did not comment on the Hyunmoo-4 test, but did condemn a South Korean military exercise conducted May 6, a day prior to South Korea’s belated announcement of the Hyunmoo-4 test. In a May 8 statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, a spokesperson for North Korea’s armed forces criticized South Korea of warmongering and said the drill did “not help the efforts to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula.”

Amid these tensions, Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. officials met virtually on May 12 and 13 for the 12th round of trilateral defense talks. According to a May 13 Pentagon statement, the representatives discussed the ongoing threat posed by North Korean nuclear and missile provocations and reaffirmed their commitment to trilateral security.

South Korea debuted a new missile with a longer range and greater payload capacity.

Moon: U.S., North Korea Progress Unlikely

June 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Moon Jae-in appeared to rule out progress in negotiations between the United States and North Korea until after the U.S. presidential election in November, but expressed his hope that inter-Korean projects will move forward.

Speaking on the third anniversary of his inauguration on May 10, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said there was little progress in U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks. (Photo by Kim Min-He/Getty Images)In a May 10 speech marking his third anniversary in office, Moon said continued communication between Pyongyang and Washington demonstrates the “trust and will for dialogue” on both sides. He said that it was unclear when the U.S.-North Korean process will achieve results, but he expects the current “slump” in negotiations to continue due to the “political schedule,” likely referring to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

The Trump administration continues to maintain that denuclearization of North Korea is a priority, but talks between the United States and North Korea have remained stalled since October 2019 and North Korean officials have said that Pyongyang is no longer interested in negotiations. (See ACT, May 2020; November 2019.)

In a May 3 interview, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration “will continue to work on” denuclearization of North Korea and creating a “brighter future” for the North Korean people, but did not provide any details on the U.S. strategy for resuming negotiations.

Pompeo was responding to questions about the whereabouts and health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim was not seen publicly for three weeks in April, prompting rumors about his health and speculation about who would succeed Kim in the event of his death.

Before Kim appeared publicly again May 1, Pompeo said on April 30 that the United States was “prepared for whatever eventuality there is” and that the goal of verifiable denuclearization would remain unchanged, “whoever is leading North Korea.”

Moon also said that communications between North Korea and South Korea continue but are “not smooth.”

Despite the challenges, Moon said he still hopes to pursue the proposal he laid out in January to advance inter-Korean projects. In a Jan. 7 speech, Moon said that if Seoul and Pyongyang can “identify realistic ways to implement projects to reconnect inter-Korean railroads and roads, it will not only lead to international cooperation but also provide a big boost to the resumption of inter-Korean tourism.”

He also mentioned a proposal for “joint quarantine cooperation” to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moon said the quarantine proposal did not breach U.S. sanctions, which has been a source of tension between South Korea and the United States.

During talks between North and South Korea in 2018 and 2019, Moon proposed several inter-Korean projects that required U.S. sanctions waivers. But the Trump administration maintains that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea denuclearizes.


South Korea’s president said there is “trust and will for dialogue,” but it appears no talks are scheduled.


GAO Seeks Light on Nuclear Cooperation Talks

June 2020
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. State Department may not have notified Congress regularly about its efforts to negotiate a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, raising questions about whether the Trump administration has been as transparent as required, according an April report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry speaks in Washington in November 2019, shortly before he left office. Two months earlier, Perry sent a letter to Saudi energy officials demanding that the nation agree to abstain from nuclear fuel cycle activities in exchange for receiving U.S. technical cooperation.  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)“State officials stated that they consistently provide information to Congress, but the limited information they provided to us does not support this position,” the GAO report said.

The 1954 Atomic Energy Act (AEA) requires that the State Department, the lead agency for negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements, with assistance from the Energy Department, keep Congress “fully and currently informed of any initiative or negotiations” for those agreements. The GAO report stated that it is “unclear” whether the relevant agencies have done so in the case of Saudi Arabia.

The GAO determined that formal negotiations on a 123 agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia took place in 2012 and March 2018. Named after the section of the AEA requiring it, a 123 agreement sets the terms and authorizes cooperation for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

The auditors identified eight further interactions in which the two countries discussed nuclear cooperation and another five interactions in which a discussion was likely. These additional interactions include bilateral meetings in Washington and Riyadh throughout 2018 and 2019 and a September 2019 letter from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to his Saudi counterpart, parts of which Bloomberg reported on at the time. (See ACT, October 2019.)

The GAO requested information from the State and Energy departments, as well as the National Security Council and National Nuclear Security Administration. But the report stated that, “[o]verall, the agencies provided us with limited information in response to some categories we requested and did not provide information in other categories.” Furthermore, the exact roles played by these various agencies in the U.S.-Saudi negotiations “remain unclear” because the GAO did not receive “information to clarify or corroborate such roles.”

Saudi Arabia solicited bids in 2017 from companies in China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States for its first two nuclear power reactors, but the kingdom has yet to award a contract. Riyadh plans to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. (See ACT, April 2018.)

When contacted by the GAO for information specifically on dates or details of congressional briefings on U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation negotiations, the Energy Department did not respond, and only after reviewing a draft of the GAO report in January 2020 did the State Department provide a list of briefings more broadly on U.S. nuclear cooperation initiatives since 2013. Still, “State officials declined to discuss the details of any congressional briefings” with the GAO, leaving the office unable to “establish the extent and substance of information the agencies provided to Congress on U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation negotiations.”

Of the information that was provided to the GAO, neither the State nor Energy departments “provided documentation within the time frame of our review to support” their claims that they kept Congress informed of U.S.-Saudi negotiations. In order to receive any information, current and former congressional staff interviewed by the GAO said that they learned of developments in the negotiations from the media or representatives of the nuclear industry. One former congressional staff committee member told the GAO that, “since late 2017, the agencies have only provided information to Congress about the negotiations in response to forceful measures, such as holds on nominations or legislation.”

The GAO said that U.S.-Saudi negotiations on a nuclear cooperation agreement have stalled due to two main unresolved issues.

First, Saudi Arabia has not agreed to sign an additional protocol to its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement. A party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Riyadh has had a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA since 2009, but has not signed an additional protocol, which provides the IAEA with a broader range of information on nuclear and nuclear-related activities. The fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included a provision that countries that want to sign a 123 agreement with the United States must first sign and implement an additional protocol.

Second, Saudi Arabia has not agreed to U.S. demands to refrain from enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium, politically and militarily sensitive activities that can be used to make nuclear weapons. (See ACT, December 2019.) The report also said that the United States might be “willing to accept a temporary restriction on enrichment and reprocessing in its negotiations with Saudi Arabia.”

In addition, the GAO report stated that Saudi Arabia has been resisting nonproliferation conditions required by the AEA, which lists a total of nine nonproliferation conditions in Section 123. Although “Saudi officials accepted ‘the vast majority’ of the conditions” in the 2012 negotiations, the report said, the areas of disagreement from 2012 “remained unresolved as of January 2020.”

The GAO report ultimately recommends that Congress eliminate broad interpretations of the AEA’s requirement to keep Congress fully informed by amending the act to “require regularly scheduled briefings, for instance, on a quarterly basis, and specify expectations for the content of such briefings” on nuclear cooperation initiatives and negotiations. The report also recommends that the secretary of state commit to holding those regularly scheduled, substantive congressional briefings.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and committee member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) requested this GAO report in March 2019. Following the report’s release, the senators said that “it is clear Congress must reassert its critical role in reviewing nuclear cooperation agreements to ensure these agreements do not pose an unnecessary risk to the United States.”

The Government Accountability Office reports that the Trump administration has failed to provide Congress with regular information.

Security Council Fails on Global Ceasefire

June 2020
By Greg Webb


The UN Security Council has been unable to support Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a worldwide ceasefire as COVID-19 ravages the globe. The United States reportedly scuppered a May 8 council resolution that would have supported the ceasefire but referred to the World Health Organization (WHO), a target of President Donald Trump’s criticism.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks outside UN Headquarters on March 9. His call for a global ceasefire to allow the world to address the coronavirus pandemic has met with limited success. (Photo: EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)The council began to consider ways to back Guterres after his March 23 proposal. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” he said.

The draft resolution that followed initially included a direct mention of support for WHO, but after U.S. objections, that language was watered down. The new draft resolution “emphasizes the urgent need to support all countries, as well as all relevant entities of the United Nations system, including specialized health agencies.” Even that formulation could not find U.S. support, Reuters reported, as it too obviously referred to WHO.

“This would have been a much more effective appeal for a ceasefire if it had come a month ago. Now it feels a bit lame and late,” Richard Gowan, the UN director for the Crisis Group, told Reuters. “The council has lost some credibility as the weeks have gone by, mainly thanks to U.S. obstructionism.”

Despite the ceasefire call, major conflicts have continued in several regions. Violence in Afghanistan, for example, continues even after a Feb. 29 U.S.-Taliban peace agreement appears to have reduced Taliban attacks on U.S. and allied forces.

“On average, we see more than 100 people killed daily, which includes between 20 to 30 civilians,” Mir Afzal Haidari, a member of the Afghan parliament’s defense committee, told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The annual cost of the war in Afghanistan is more than $5 billion annually, which means that we end up spending at least $13 million every day.”

On May 12, gunmen attacked a maternity hospital in Kabul, killing at least 16 people, while another assault the same day left 24 dead at a funeral in the Nangahar province, NPR reported.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia said it was adhering to a self-declared April 10 ceasefire in Yemen that appears to have quieted but not eliminated violence. Refugees in the war-torn nation have continued to be victims of air strikes, the Norwegian Refugee Council reported on May 25.

Meanwhile in North Africa, Libya’s internationally recognized government rejected a ceasefire called by its opponents in the nation’s civil war, The Guardian reported on April 30. The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said it did not trust the Libyan National Army of renegade leader Khalifa Haftar, according to The Guardian.

Nearly a month after UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire, the council was stymied by a dispute over the World Health Organization.

Russia, China Skip Syrian Chemical Weapons Meeting

June 2020
By Julia Masterson

Russia and China boycotted a May 12 meeting of UN Security Council members and high-ranking officials of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held to discuss the findings of the OPCW’s April 2020 report that blamed the Syrian Air Force for three incidents of chemical weapons use in a rebel-held Syrian town in March 2017. (See ACT, May 2020.)

The meeting was originally intended to be held as a formal session to examine the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which calls for the verified destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and preceded the international effort to destroy Syria’s declared stockpile. Instead, council president Estonia opted to hold the meeting in a closed setting using teleconference communications. Syria, although not a council member, was invited to participate in the discussion.

Russia did not join the dialogue and criticized the private setting of the meeting. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said holding a meeting to discuss Resolution 2118 and the OPCW report behind closed doors contradicted “the slogans of openness and transparency of the Security Council” and “undermine[d] the prerogatives of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.” China abstained from the meeting without comment.

The United Kingdom criticized Russia’s absence, saying Moscow was politicizing the discussion of chemical weapons use in Syria and seeking to undermine the OPCW’s work.—JULIA MASTERSON

Russia, China Skip Syrian Chemical Weapons Meeting


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