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

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
March 2019

Arms Control Today March 2019

Edition Date: 
Monday, March 4, 2019
Cover Image: 

CBO Predicts Increased Nuclear Arsenal Costs

March 2019
By Shervin Taheran

The United States will spend nearly half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal, according to a January report from congressional auditors. The estimate is 23 percent higher than a previous 10-year forecast conducted two years ago.

Projected costs for the still-under-development B-21 strategic bomber will contribute to a significant increase in U.S. nuclear weapons spending over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report includes the projected costs to sustain and modernize U.S. delivery vehicles, warheads, and their associated infrastructure. The $494 billion estimate includes spending by the Defense Department and the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration from this year through 2028. The CBO estimates that nuclear forces account for roughly 6 percent of the total 10-year cost of all national defense programs.

A 2017 CBO report estimated 10-year spending at $400 billion. (See ACT, March 2017.) The new estimate’s $94 billion increase reflects some spending that was not included in the date range of the previous report and inflationary adjustments, but about 40 percent of the boost reflects plans to increase spending on new weapons, cost growth in some existing modernization programs, and “more concrete” modernization plans for nuclear command-and-control systems.

The CBO report notes that the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review factored into the increased costs, and the report points to three particular new efforts that are projected to increase the total estimated costs by $17 billion over the next 10 years: a new sea-launched cruise missile; a nuclear warhead with a relatively low yield for submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and a plutonium pit production boost to at least 80 pits per year by 2030.

Notable Increases

Estimated costs of U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories and supporting activities came to $106 billion over the next 10 years, an increase of $19 billion over the 2017 estimate. Modernization costs for nuclear command, control, communications, and early-warning systems were estimated to grow by $19 billion, to $77 billion, over 10 years, although the CBO report indicates there is substantial uncertainty due to plans still being formulated.

The cost of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) jumped to $61 billion over 10 years, $18 billion more than the 2017 estimate, largely attributed to the ramp-up in development of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program and the inclusion of advancing development costs for a new re-entry vehicle and interoperable warheads for the new ICBMs.

Forecasted spending on U.S. ballistic missile submarines also increased significantly, with the report estimating
a total of $107 billion over 10 years, an increase of $17 billion from the previous estimate.

The CBO report estimates that the United States will spend $49 billion over 10 years on strategic bombers, but a footnote explains that this projection covers only partial costs of the B-52 bomber and the new B-21 bomber. If the full cost of B-52 and B-21 bombers were included, the footnote states, bomber costs would total $104 billion over 10 years, and the total cost of nuclear forces would be $559 billion.

Cost-Saving Alternatives

Many nuclear experts and policymakers have expressed concern about the rising costs, their impact on other national security priorities, and whether the spending plans are sustainable. To address some of these issues, the CBO released a Dec. 2018 update to a biennial report, “Options for Reducing the Deficit,” which identified savings of approximately $100 billion over 10 years by modifying the number of warheads and delivery systems, deferring modernization programs, and canceling some programs. This estimate is over 40 percent larger than the savings the CBO projected in its previous deficit-reduction report in 2016. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The difference reflects the CBO’s inclusion in the newer report of additional cost-saving options, such as cancelling the new ICBM in the GBSD program and replacing the interoperable nuclear warhead program with less expensive life extension programs, for savings of $30.4 billion.


The estimated cost of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons over the next 10 years has
increased 23 percent.

EU Trade Tool Seeks to Save Iran Nuclear Deal

March 2019
By Kelsey Davenport

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom established a trade mechanism in January designed to facilitate commercial transactions with Iran as the United States ratchets up pressure on Tehran. The new structure aims to allow European entities to maintain trade with Iran, but it remains unclear how the new arrangement will affect Iran’s commitment to the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (left), UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (center), and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met the press in Romania on Jan. 31 to announce the creation of a financial mechanism to enable European trade with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions.  (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced in September 2018 that the European Union would pursue a trade mechanism, known then as the Special Purpose Vehicle, to bypass sanctions imposed by the United States following its May 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). (See ACT, June 2018.) Originally described as a tool for preserving legitimate trade with Iran, including oil sales, the mechanism, now known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), will initially be limited to trade exempt from U.S. sanctions. INSTEX will operate like a barter system to coordinate payments for imports and exports, bypassing U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian banks and financial messaging services.

In a Jan. 31 statement announcing INSTEX, the French, German, and UK foreign ministers said the mechanism would focus “initially on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population,” such as pharmaceutical and agricultural goods and medical devices. They described INSTEX as a “first step” and committed to explore opening the mechanism to countries outside the EU interested in legitimate trade with Iran.

For INSTEX to become operational, Iran will need to set up a similar institution to coordinate payments in Tehran.

U.S. officials quickly dismissed and condemned INSTEX. At a Feb. 13–14 international ministerial summit on the Middle East in Warsaw hosted by the United States and Poland, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called INSTEX “an effort to break” U.S. sanctions against Iran and an “ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU, and create still more distance between Europe and the United States.” He called on Europe to “stop undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran” and to join the United States “as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed INSTEX on Feb. 14, saying that if it remains focused on humanitarian aid, INSTEX will “have nearly no impact” on the U.S. sanctions regime and U.S. goals to counter Iran.

Tehran welcomed the creation of INSTEX, said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Feb. 1, but he added that the mechanism comes “too late” and Iran has “not seen tangible results” from EU actions to preserve the nuclear deal. He called for the EU to accelerate its efforts so that Iran can “reap the economic benefits” of the nuclear deal.

Iran is likely referring to efforts to preserve oil sales, which INSTEX will not initially cover. U.S. sanctions that took effect in November require states importing oil from Iran to receive waivers from the United States or face sanctions. To be eligible for a waiver, states must make a “significant reduction” in oil purchases from Iran every 180 days. The United States granted waivers to eight states in November, but U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook said on Feb. 6 that “Iran’s oil customers should not expect new waivers to U.S. sanctions.” The current waivers expire in May.

Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, head of Iran’s Plan and Budget Organization, said in January that the country is already in “dire straits when it comes to exporting oil,” and Iranian officials have stated they will resume nuclear activities limited by the deal if implementing the agreement is no longer in Tehran’s interest.

Hook’s comment ruling out a second round of oil waivers is just one element of U.S. efforts to further isolate Iran and urge the remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU) to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

At the Warsaw summit, for example, Pence urged Europe to “withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal” and said leaders agreed that Iran poses the “greatest threat to peace and security in the Middle East.” The summit, however, does not appear to have eroded Europe’s commitment to the nuclear deal.

Although German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas did not attend the Warsaw summit, he defended the Iran nuclear deal at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 15 and said Europe would be “a step closer to open confrontation” without the nuclear agreement. Mogherini also skipped the Warsaw summit, but said at the Munich conference that the nuclear deal is “fundamental and crucial” to Europen security and is “a fundamental pillar for the nuclear nonproliferation architecture globally."

Iran was not invited to the Warsaw summit, and Zarif dismissed the meeting’s attempt to isolate Iran as “dead on arrival,” describing it as “another attempt by the United States to pursue an obsession with Iran that is not well founded.”

The United States may also be pressuring the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to visit sites in Iran where past activities related to nuclear weapons development may have occurred.

 IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano warned against pressing the international nuclear watchdog, saying on Jan. 30 that “if attempts are made to micromanage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counterproductive and extremely harmful.”

He said that “independent, impartial, and factual safeguards implementation is essential to maintain that credibility.”

Although Amano did not refer to any specific state, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the IAEA to investigate sites Israel identified as housing materials documenting Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities and follow up on information Israel took from Iran in 2018. U.S. officials reportedly told the Israeli government that the Trump administration would be more aggressive in pushing the IAEA to follow up on the information provided by Israel.

The documents Israel removed from Iran appear to relate to Iran’s past nuclear weapons development activities, and there is no indication from U.S. intelligence or the IAEA that Iran has resumed such activities. U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in the intelligence community's 2019 global threat assessment report that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.”


Iranian Space Launch Attempts Draw U.S. Criticism

Two Iranian attempts to put satellites in orbit earlier this year drew quick condemnation from the United States, which wrongly charged that the launches defied a UN Security Council resolution.

A Jan. 15 launch attempt failed to orbit a satellite, Iran acknowledged. But Tehran has not publicly described the second launch, which took place in late January or early February based on satellite imagery of the Imam Khomeini Space Center. It is unclear if the second launch went as planned, but historically Iran has announced its successful attempts.

The Jan. 15 launch used the Simorgh three-stage launch vehicle, which failed during a prior launch attempt in 2017. Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister of communication and information technology, said afterward that the first two stages of the rocket fired successfully, but the third stage failed to place the Payam satellite into orbit approximately 500 kilometers above the earth.

The second launch likely used the two-stage Safir launch vehicle, which Iran has successfully used to launch satellites in the past.

The U.S. State Department condemned both launches and warned Iran against “continued defiance” of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which approved the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Neither the nuclear deal nor the resolution prohibits Iranian satellite launches. Resolution 2231 calls on Iran to refrain from activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, but the language is nonbinding and does not limit satellite launches.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Jan. 3 that rockets used to launch satellites “incorporate technologies that are virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Satellite launches can provide Iran with data relevant to ballistic missile development, but there are significant technical differences between satellite launch vehicles and long-range ballistic missiles, which must, for example, protect warheads during re-entry into the atmosphere.

Valdimir Ermakov, director of nonproliferation and arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, defended Iran’s right to launch satellites. He said on Feb. 12 that “UN Security Council resolutions do not prohibit Iran from independently” developing, testing, and producing space launch vehicles or ballistic missiles. —KELSEY DAVENPORT

European powers have developed a trade mechanism to enable commercial transactions with Iran
despite U.S. sanctions.

AI Arms Race Gains Speed

March 2019
By Michael T. Klare

The U.S. Defense Department plans to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to virtually every aspect of its operations “to ensure an enduring competitive military advantage against those who threaten our security and safety,” according to strategy document released Feb. 12.

A U.S. Air Force crew operates a Predator drone from a Middle Eastern air base.  The Defense Department is seeking to use artificial intelligence to analyze drone-collected imagery. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)In the unclassified version of its Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the Defense Department outlines many areas in which Pentagon officials believe AI can enhance the effectiveness of U.S. forces, particularly in battlefield logistics, equipment maintenance, target acquisition, and combat decision-making. In general, the emphasis is on relieving combat soldiers of onerous and time-consuming tasks, such as hauling heavy equipment and poring over drone-supplied video feeds in search of enemy combatants. “We will prioritize the fielding of AI systems that augment the capabilities of our personnel by offloading tedious cognitive or physical tasks and introduce new ways of working,” according to the paper (see ACT, this issue).

Underlying the Defense Department’s strategy is its belief that U.S. rivals are speeding ahead with AI initiatives of their own, requiring a redoubled U.S. effort to avoid being left behind in a rapidly emerging AI arms race. “Other nations, particularly China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes,” the new strategy asserts. “These investments threaten to erode our technological and operational advantages.” It is imperative, the strategy document adds, that the United States “adopt AI to maintain its strategic position [and] prevail on future battlefields.” The notion that the United States must seize the lead in AI development or lose a strategic advantage appears to be a driving force in the Defense Department’s push to devise and deploy new AI-empowered technologies.

That the United States and its rivals are now engaged in an AI arms race was given further reinforcement with the Feb. 6 release of “Understanding China’s AI Strategy,” a report by Gregory Allen of the Center for a New American Security. China’s leaders, Allen argues, believe that AI mastery will prove essential for economic and military power in the decades ahead and that China must acquire self-sufficiency in this field. “China’s leadership,” Allen says, “believes that China should pursue global leadership in AI technology and reduce its vulnerable dependence on imports of international technology.”

China’s leaders are aware, Allen notes, that their drive to attain global leadership in AI applications will provoke alarm in Washington and fuel the emerging AI arms race. Nevertheless, China views “increased military usage of AI as inevitable” and is accelerating its efforts to devise and deploy advanced AI-empowered systems. Allen cites Chinese Maj. Gen. Ding Xiangrong of the Central Military Commission, who asserted China’s intent to “narrow the gap between the Chinese military and global advanced powers” by taking advantage of the “ongoing military revolution…centered on information technology and intelligent technology.”

Recent developments in Russia suggest a similar mind-set. Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a Jan. 15 directive to craft a national AI strategy intended to better coordinate domestic efforts in the field and accelerate the development of AI technologies. As in China, mastery of AI is said by top Russian officials to be essential for Russia’s future economic and military predominance. These moves by Russia and China will only add to the impression of a burgeoning AI arms race.

The U.S. and other world power militaries are committed to seeking a competitive advantage in artificial intelligence.

OPCW Moves to Update Banned Chemicals List

March 2019
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Reacting to the use of a lethal nerve agent in the United Kingdom in March 2018, the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agreed on Jan. 14 to expand the list of banned chemicals defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It was the first time a change to the treaty’s Schedule 1 list of the most dangerous chemicals has been approved since the 193-nation pact prohibiting chemical weapons entered into force in 1997.

The change followed a chemical attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom in March 2018, and the OPCW’s subsequent confirmation that the chemical was a type of Novichok, a family of nerve agents. The United States and many other nations have accused Russia’s GRU intelligence agency of conducting the attack. (See ACT, April 2018.)

Novichok-related chemicals were not listed in the treaty’s Schedule 1, although the pact bans the use of any toxic chemical as a weapon, even if it is not included on that list.

Adding Novichok chemicals to Schedule 1 will strengthen the treaty by subjecting those chemicals to declaration and verification under the treaty, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands Sabine Nolke said on Jan. 14. The Russian mission to the Netherlands denounced the proposal as politically motivated.

Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States first proposed adding the chemicals to the treaty’s list in October 2018, and the 41-member OPCW Executive Council approved the proposal by consensus in January despite Russia’s reported disassociation with the decision. The treaty allows any party to object to the change within 90 days, and such an objection would lead to a vote by all treaty parties. If there is no objection, the change will enter into force 180 days following the January decision.

Russia submitted a proposal in late November to add five chemicals to the Schedule 1 list, but the council rejected the proposed change on Feb. 25. The OPCW Technical Secretariat determined that four of the five chemicals met its guidelines, but that the fifth may not. Russia refused to remove the fifth chemical from its proposal, according to Sumita Dixit, Canada’s deputy permanent representative to the OPCW. The Russian Embassy in the Netherlands blamed the rejection of its proposal on “politicized causes” in a Feb. 26 press briefing. Nolke tweeted the same day that Russia wanted to distract from the use of Novichok.

EU Sanctions

In the meantime, the European Union and the United States have taken their own steps to penalize the perpetrators of the UK chemical weapons attack.

On Jan. 21, the European Council imposed sanctions on the Russian agents allegedly responsible for the Novichok attack, as well as on the leader of the GRU.

On a separate chemical weapons matter, the council also sanctioned a Syrian research center and five individuals involved in Syrian chemical weapons use. The new sanctions bar travel to the European Union and freeze assets, and EU persons and entities are prohibited from doing business with the sanctioned targets.

“This sends a clear message that the world condemns chemical weapons use wherever it occurs,” said UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt the day the sanctions were announced.

The sanctions are the first taken under a new regime adopted by the European Council in October 2018, intending to penalize those nations involved with the development or use of chemical weapons regardless of nationality or location. (See ACT, November 2018.)

In December 2018, under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, the United States added the two GRU agents allegedly responsible for carrying out the Novichok attack to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, blocking their assets and generally prohibiting U.S. persons from conducting financial transactions with them.

Last August, the United States banned national security-related exports to Russia under the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act. (See ACT, September 2018.) The law stipulates that the United States must impose a still harsher second round of sanctions on Russia because U.S. President Donald Trump did not certify to Congress in November that Russia provided reliable assurances that it is no longer using chemical weapons.


Nerve agent attacks have led Chemical Weapons Convention parties to update the treaty's list ofmost dangerous chemicals.

U.S. Firearms Export Changes Meet Challenges

March 2019
By Jeff Abramson

The Trump administration proposed changes in February to how the United States approves exports of certain firearms, a move that triggered quick responses from some congressional leaders who argued that the approach would be dangerous and reduce oversight. They warned that semiautomatic and military-style weapons, as well as 3D-printed "ghost" guns, would more easily end up in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers if the rules were to take effect.

Japanese police confiscated this batch of 3D printed guns in 2014. The Trump administration is seeking to modify how the United States oversees exports of some firearms, including plans for 3D printed weapons. (Photo: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)Under the proposed rules, semiautomatic and nonautomatic firearms and their ammunition are deemed to "no longer warrant control under the United States Munitions List (USML)," a State Department-administered list of weapons. Instead, they would be transferred to a list administered by the Commerce Department, the Commerce Control List, an indication of the administration's view that these are "essentially commercial items widely available in retail outlets and less sensitive military items."

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored legislation Feb. 12 that rejected the rationale for the change and would prohibit the transfer to Commerce Department oversight. The proposed new rules would “defy common sense,” Menendez said in a statement. He added, “Small arms and associated ammunition are uniquely lethal. They are easily spread and easily modified and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world.”

The Senate measure also focused on the danger of 3D gun printing, with Menendez saying, “Every terrorist and criminal that wants to hijack an airplane with Americans onboard will more easily be able to smuggle 3D-printed, virtually undetectable guns aboard.” Because online plans for 3D-printed guns currently controlled by the USML are deemed an export, a move to the Commerce Department would likely deregulate their control. The Commerce Department is not expected to impose licensing restrictions on what 3D print advocates are trying to make open-source information. An administration decision last year to allow the organization Defense Distributed to publish 3D plans online met an outcry and has been delayed in ongoing court cases.

On Feb. 26, Menendez sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo placing a hold on the proposed rules change, but whether the administration will honor the hold remains to be seen. It could choose to publish the final rules this month, when the 30-day clock for congressional review that began Feb. 4 expires. Such changes typically then have a six-month implementation phase-in period.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) co-sponsored a measure with Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) on Feb. 9 that would also block the change. In his statement about the rules, Engel warned that Congress would lose its oversight role, which is needed "so we can step in and make sure these weapons aren’t sent to bad actors, including terrorists, drug cartels, human rights abusers or violent criminals."

In 2002, Congress amended notification requirements so it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML Category I when they were valued at just $1 million, but no such notifications exist for items on the Commerce Control List.

Data compiled by the Security Assistance Monitor indicates that the Trump administration requested Congress to approve at least $746 million in firearms sales to a total of 14 countries in 2018, more than two-thirds of which was for Saudi Arabia. The value of transfers that would be subject to the new rule is not clear as that data cannot be disaggregated from the automatic and other firearms that would remain on the USML.

The rules were considered during the Obama administration as part of a broader export control effort that transferred portions of the larger USML to Commerce Department control. Changes to firearms and ammunition in the first three USML categories were never formerly introduced, in part due to a different sensibility related to gun violence.

The Trump administration first introduced the rules for public comment in May 2018, garnering thousands of public responses. (See ACT, June 2018.)

These military-style weapons, although more tightly controlled in many other countries, have been sold domestically and used in many mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Human rights and gun control groups have backed the legislative efforts to stop the change. Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign, stated on Feb. 8, "While the corporate gun lobby is no doubt thrilled to be able to take their products to a wider audience, we need to be taking steps to reduce gun violence at home, rather than exporting it.”


The Trump administration is trying to change bureaucratic oversight rules for U.S. exports of selected conventional weapons.

MOX Program Suffers ‘Irreversible’ Blow

A U.S. federal appeals court delivered a further blow Jan. 8 to efforts to salvage a U.S. program to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called the U.S. decision to cancel construction of a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant in his state a "colossal mistake" and “shortsighted.” (Photo: Adem Altana/AFP/Getty Images)The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a district court injunction that prevented the U.S. Energy Department from pursuing its plans to end the controversial MOX fuel program. (See ACT, December 2018.)

Adding to the court ruling, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Feb. 8 cancellation of contractor CB&I AREVA MOX Services’ license to continue with the project.

Tom Clements, director of the nuclear facility monitoring group Savannah River Site Watch, hailed the “irreversible step” to cancel the license and applauded the decision to end the “wasteful, mismanaged project.”

At one time, the United States intended to dispose of surplus plutonium from its nuclear weapons program by using the material to manufacture fuel for civilian nuclear power plants.  After years of ebbs and flows on that policy decision, the Energy Department decided in October 2018 to terminate plans for the fuel fabrication plant and pursue a “dilute and dispose” plan instead. Nearly $6 billion has been sunk into the canceled project, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated last year. The termination also resulted in more than 1,000 employee layoffs by the end of January, according to local news reports.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a MOX fuel project supporter, called the decision to terminate the program a “colossal mistake” and “shortsighted.”

There are now plans to turn the incomplete MOX fuel facility into a production center for plutonium pits, the fissile core of the first stage of a modern nuclear weapon, to implement the Trump administration’s directive to increase pit production.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

MOX Program Suffers ‘Irreversible’ Blow

Saudi Arabia Seen to Build Missile Factory

Satellite imagery suggests that Saudi Arabia has built its first facility to produce ballistic missiles, according to U.S. open-source analyses completed in late January. Such a factory would augment Riyadh’s existing arsenal of Chinese-supplied, intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Images of the al-Watah missile base analyzed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey indicate that Saudi Arabia has expanded the facility to include a rocket-engine production and test facility, although it is unclear if the facilities are actually producing missiles at this point. The plant’s characteristics indicate that the Middle Eastern power is pursuing ballistic missiles with solid-fueled rocket engines, which can be launched more quickly than liquid-fueled systems. Analysts asked by The Washington Post to study the images concurred with the Middlebury team.

The existence of a Saudi ballistic missile production facility and the uncertain future of the Iran nuclear deal raises concerns that Riyadh may be pursuing capabilities needed for a covert nuclear weapons program. Saudi Arabia is currently negotiating a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States and has been reluctant to forgo uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing for fuel production or agree to more stringent international oversight as part of the deal.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in March 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible."

Saudi Arabia already possesses ballistic missiles that it purchased from China. Riyadh displayed one system, the DF-3 with a range of 3,000 kilometers, at a parade in 2014. Beijing reportedly took steps to ensure that the missiles could not be used to deliver nuclear warheads. The al-Watah base was likely built in 2013 to house these systems.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Saudi Arabia Seen to Build Missile Factory

Report Blows Whistle on Saudi Nuclear Talks

Trump administration efforts to promote the sale of civilian nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia drew renewed congressional scrutiny in February. The U.S. House Oversight Committee released a Feb. 19 report describing White House efforts to rush the sale of nuclear power reactors while underplaying the legal obligations of the Atomic Energy Act, which requires the negotiation of a bilateral agreement to ensure nuclear technology is not misused.

Hashim Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City of Atomic and Renewable Energy, arrives for a 2016 White House visit. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)The report describes the concerns of White House national security staff that the administration undertook “unethical and potentially illegal” actions in 2017 to see through a sale of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. The report points particularly to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former National Security Council staff director Derek Harvey, among several other named former officials or associates of President Donald Trump, including his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to adopt the “gold standard” of these agreements, known as 123 agreements for the section of the law that applies to them, has worried nuclear nonproliferation experts. Nations adopting that standard, such as the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and Taiwan in 2013, agree to forgo enriching uranium or reprocessing plutonium and to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to confirm the peaceful nature of their nuclear activities. Concerns about Saudi Arabia grew after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year that Saudi Arabia would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did and after the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (See ACT, December 2018.)

Meanwhile, members of Congress have continued to scrutinize the 123 agreement negotiations by introducing legislation that would increase congressional oversight. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs nonproliferation subcommittee, has offered bills to give Congress a more active role in approving 123 agreements. A Feb. 12 bipartisan resolution by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) says that any agreement with Saudi Arabia should adhere to the gold standard.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Report Blows Whistle on Saudi Nuclear Talks

Pentagon Seeks ‘Ethical Principles’ for AI Use

Hoping to encourage artificial intelligence (AI) experts to support U.S. military programs, the U.S. Defense Department is pursuing plans to develop “ethical principles” for AI use in warfare, Defense One first reported in January. Defense Department leaders asked the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory group that includes Silicon Valley executives, to deliver a set of recommendations in June.

The effort to develop principles follows the expression of concerns by AI specialists over how their expertise would be used in defense programs. In May 2018, for example, more than 4,000 Google employees signed a petition urging the company to discontinue its work on Project Maven, a Pentagon-funded AI effort to evaluate drone footage of suspected terrorists and their hideouts. The employees expressed concerns that their work in the civilian sector would be used in a military manner.

Google subsequently announced that it would not renew the Maven contract and promised never to develop AI for “weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.”

Google’s actions have raised concerns at the Defense Department, where senior officials plan to enlist top U.S. software engineers in the design of AI-enhanced weapons and other military systems.

The Defense Innovation Board, an independent federal advisory committee established in 2016 to assist the secretary of defense, is chaired by Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The board has begun a series of public and private meetings around the country with scientists, academics, legal experts, and others to collect a range of views on the subject.—MICHAEL T. KLARE

Pentagon Seeks ‘Ethical Principles’ for AI Use

U.S. Approves Missile Defense Sale to Japan

The Trump administration gave its final approval Jan. 29 for a $2.2 billion sale of missile defense systems to Japan. Congress received notification of the deal, including two Aegis Ashore missile interceptor batteries, from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, triggering a 30-day opportunity for Congress to object, which happens rarely. The sale notification was delayed by the 35-day U.S. government partial shutdown, which slowed the Foreign Military Sales approval process, including a necessary green light from the U.S. State Department.

The sale reflects expanding U.S. support for Japan’s multilayered missile defenses, which already include multiple U.S.-provided Aegis systems on Kongo-class destroyers. Japan’s cabinet approved missile defense expansion plans in December 2017. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The Aegis Ashore systems are slated to feature the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA missile interceptor, which is currently completing testing. (See ACT, December 2018.) The interceptor uses hit-to-kill technology to defeat short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The scope of intended targets may increase because the Trump administration's 2019 Missile Defense Review calls for testing the interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile-class target in 2020.

The defense sale includes supporting equipment, software, U.S. construction and logistical services, and six vertical launchers.—SASHA PARTAN

U.S. Approves Missile Defense Sale to Japan


Subscribe to RSS - March 2019