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June 2, 2022
March 2023
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Russia Refuses Annual Vienna Document Data Exchange

March 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Foreign ministers representing the 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discussed regional security challenges created by Russia’s war against Ukraine during its annual meeting in Lodz, Poland, in December. (Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The failure to participate in the annual data exchange occurs as Russia is waging an illegal war against Ukraine, suspending its participation in the last treaty limiting Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and taking other steps to undermine the post-Cold War European security architecture.

Overseen by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna Document is a confidence and security-building mechanism that has allowed the 57 participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant events to prevent misinterpretation of these activities. It is one the few remaining mechanisms for political and military cooperation in Europe.

Moscow’s decision was first communicated on Jan. 16, 2022, in a letter signed by Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian arms control delegation in Vienna, to Siniša Bencun, the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE who at the time also chaired the organization’s Forum for Security and Cooperation.

Gavrilov said that Russia would not provide national information about its armed forces for 2023 as stipulated by Chapter I of the Vienna Document, essentially suspending its participation in the annual exchange that is supposed to be provided each year by Dec. 15.

Russia still has not provided the required data even though the new reporting year has begun, an official from an OSCE participating state told Arms Control Today on condition of anonymity.

In his letter, Gavrilov wrote that the Russian decision “was taken in response to the Czech Republic’s step to suspend the implementation of its commitments under [the Vienna Document] towards Russia and due to Ukraine’s interpretative statement about its refusal to participate in the 2023 [annual information exchange], as well as to send certain routine notifications provided by the Vienna Document.”

“We proceed from the assumption that if the Russian Federation exchanges its national [data] report, it will for sure end up in the hands of the above-mentioned participating states,” he added.

The letter also accused 29 of the participating states, including Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, of not providing certain notifications on time and alleged that the Netherlands excluded Russia from the list of notification recipients. In addition, Russia accused Bulgaria, France, and Poland of not inviting Russian representatives to their military bases.

As of February, 50 participating states provided the required information for 2023, the official from the OSCE participating state said, while Armenia, Mongolia, Poland, and Ukraine, provided information “on delay,” meaning they were late. The remaining two countries, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, have not submitted information for years.

When asked about Russia’s accusations, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Ned Price said in an email on Feb. 28 that, “the United States continues to fully adhere to all of its commitments under the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, including the provision of required notifications and other information to all Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating states, among them Russia.”

Price did not specifically address the issue of Russian compliance.

According to Western officials, Russian adherence to the document has long been eroding. As Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu said in August, “the Vienna Document 2011 remains formally in force, but there are no prospects for its practical implementation.”

“In the absence of trust between the parties, the verification mechanism actually becomes a source of intelligence information, which does not meet the spirit of the agreement," he said at the Moscow Conference on International Security.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine requested under Chapter III of the document that the OSCE send unarmed military and civilian personnel to its territory, starting in Odesa, to dispel concerns about military activity. OSCE military assessment personnel were denied entry to Crimea.

In 2021, Ukraine called for a meeting under Chapter III and requested that Russia clarify its military activities as Russian forces were building up near the Ukrainian border. Russia refused to respond to the inquiry and insisted that it had no obligation to do so but accepted a Swiss inspection in the territories of Voronezh and Belgorod.

In early 2022, before launching its full-scale war on Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer host visits to verify the data part of the information exchange or inspections of specified areas to observe military activities. It cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

Many recent Western proposals for modernizing the Vienna Document have focused on confidence- and security-building measures as a crisis response tool. Because of the deterioration of the European security architecture, efforts after 2014 were also geared toward the prevention of military incidents between NATO allies and Russia. The latest initiative came just before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine when Western nations offered arms control ideas to build a common security in Europe.

The West has long been concerned about Russian adherence to the Vienna Document. But Moscow’s decision to further cloak its military activities and conventional forces makes the situation worse by signaling a return to full scale strategic ambiguity as its forces and equipment are spent in Ukraine.

Russia has also increased its defense budget and mobilized its defense industry to support its war in Ukraine. On Dec. 21, Russia announced that it planned to carry out in 2023 its large-scale Zapad exercise, which typically takes place every four years and focuses on the Russian Western Military District and Belarus.

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

Thomas Hughes (1925–2023), Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball


Thomas Hughes (1925–2023)

(Photo courtesy of National Security Archive)Thomas Hughes, a long-time U.S. Department of State official in the 1960s who later became president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a founding member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association, died January 2 in Washington at the age of 97.

Growing up in Minnesota in the 1940s, he became involved with the Student Federalists, a movement promoting world government. As its national president, he traveled and spoke widely and attended the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. After graduating from Carleton College in 1947 with a degree in government relations, he spent the next two years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and then graduated from Yale Law School in 1952.

Hughes served briefly with the Air Force as a lawyer, then became a senior member of the staff of Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.). He later worked for Representative Chester Bowles (D-Conn.), who in 1961 was appointed deputy secretary of state in the Kennedy administration.

Bowles asked Hughes to join him as a senior adviser at the State Department and later appointed him to be director of the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. As director, Hughes was soon at the center of hot-button foreign policy concerns from China to the Soviet Union to the growing U.S. military presence in Vietnam.

Hughes and his team at the bureau were skeptical about the efficacy of the proposed buildup of U.S. forces planned by the Johnson administration shortly after the 1964 election. Hughes' analysis of the situation caught the attention and won the support of Humphrey, who had since become vice president. In February 1965, Humphrey wrote the president a private memorandum warning against getting "embroiled deeper in fighting with Vietnam over the next few months."

The memo was prescient. It predicted that "political opposition will steadily mount. It will underwrite all the negativism and disillusionment which we already have about foreign involvement generally—with direct spill-over effects politically for all the Democratic internationalist programs to which we are committed—AID, UN, disarmament, and activist world policies generally."

Hughes continued to serve as bureau director through the end of the Johnson years and into the Nixon administration. After leaving the State Department, Hughes in 1971 became president of the Carnegie Endowment, a role he held for two decades, enabling him to update and reshape the institution into one of the premier think tanks in the world.

At the Carnegie Endowment, Hughes also served as the chair of the editorial committee for Foreign Policy magazine and supported the establishment of new projects, including the Carnegie Endowment's program on arms control, which became an independent membership organization, the Arms Control Association, in 1972. Hughes was among the founding board members of the association, serving into the late 1990s and providing support, advice, and inspiration for its director and for the organization long after he retired from active involvement.


Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

(Photo courtesy of Women in International Security)Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg passed away at age 74 on November 30 in Washington after a distinguished career as a scholar and researcher on the intersection of science, technology, and arms control in global security. Shedied after a long fight against a range of illnesses.

Through top-notch scholarship and quiet persistence, Husbands shattered a number of barriers for women in her field. Born in Puyallup, Washington, near Tacoma, she earned a doctorate in political science from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University.

From 1982 to 1986, Husbands was deputy director of the Committee for National Security, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization; and for much of her career, she was an adjunct professor in Georgetown University's security studies program. She was best known, however, for her work as a senior project director at the National Academies of Science (NAS), which she joined in 1986.

From 1986 to 1991, she was director of the NAS project on democratization and a senior research associate for its Committee on International Conflict and Cooperation. Later, she served for 15 years as the NAS director of the Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) and its working group on biological weapons control.

As an NAS staff researcher and study director, Husbands was the linchpin for numerous NAS workshops, studies, and reports on U.S. nuclear weapons policy, nuclear war, biosecurity, and the international security implications of climate change.

For example, in 1990 she co-edited the two-volume work Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, which examined the behavioral and social phenomena underlying the execution of nuclear decision-making and policy, including the behavior of decision makers during crises, the pressure of public opinion, the causes of war among great powers, and the processes of international security negotiation.

In 1997 she coordinated the pathbreaking CISAC study “The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” which recommended the use of nuclear weapons be limited to a core mission of deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others. The study also called for a program of progressive constraints to reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 1,000 total warheads each and then, if security conditions permit, to a few hundred warheads, provided adequate verification procedures were put in place.

Husbands later served as the NAS representative on the multinational biosecurity working group of the InterAcademy Partnership network, which involved extended trips to engage with other scientific colleagues working on international security challenges in Europe, Russia, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. She anchored NAS workshops and studies on the biosecurity implications of developments in the life sciences, especially as they relate to the Biological Weapons Convention. She also was involved in the 2015 study by a NAS task force into "potential risks and benefits of gain-of-function research" on infectious diseases following an alarming outbreak of the avian flu.

Husbands was a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association from 1999 to 2002. She also was a strong supporter of Women in International Security (WIIS). As a member of that organization’s advisory board, she was part of a WIIS summer symposiums series that brought together young leaders from around the world to discuss the complex dynamic between globalization and security. Donations to the Dr. Jo L. Husbands Memorial Fund will support the WIIS Next Generation Scholars Program.

Thomas Hughes (1925–2023), Jo L. Husbands-Rosenberg (1948–2022)

Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia

March 2023

Examining a Complex Nuclear Dynamic

Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia
By Ashley J. Tellis
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Reviewed by Manpreet Sethi

Southern Asia is a region with a complex nuclear dynamic. Three nuclear-armed states—China, India, and Pakistan—lie geographically next to each other. They suffer from long-standing territorial and ideological disputes. Each has its own thinking on how to establish nuclear deterrence. The buildup in capability by one of them, China, is directly linked to its threat perceptions of the United States, an extraregional power, although its responses impinge on others in the region. The countries form not just two adversarial dyads, but a nuclear chain where there is also perceived collusion between actors. Meanwhile, unlike the rough parity of Soviet and U.S. forces during the Cold War, the nuclear players in Southern Asia today are at disparate levels in terms of conventional, space, and cybercapabilities, as well as nuclear capabilities.

This complicated regional nuclear dynamic is challenging to understand and navigate. Yet, Striking Asymmetries by Ashley Tellis, a keen watcher of nuclear developments in Southern Asia, has managed to grasp and explain the nuclear intricacies of and between the three nuclear countries in the region. Given his long-standing scholarly eye on Asia, including a stint as senior adviser to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and later as an adviser to the U.S. Department of State during negotiations on the Indian-U.S. nuclear deal, Tellis has a good perch from which to explain insightfully the ideational and material evolution of the Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs since 1998.

True to expectation, the book is an erudite, systematic presentation of vast amounts of information. It undertakes an in-depth assessment of nuclear developments in each of the three countries over more than two decades. Following a uniform frame of analysis, the author patiently examines each country on the same three parameters: doctrine at declaratory and operational levels; material components, such as fissile material stockpiles, nuclear weapons designs and inventories, delivery systems, command and control arrangements and strategic defenses; and operational posture and force employment options. The first three chapters will be a go-to source for the vast literature that is laboriously mined and painstakingly listed in the 900-plus endnotes.

Exhaustive Scan

Tellis’ scan of the environment establishes that a qualitative and quantitative transformation in nuclear forces is underway in all three countries within the larger context of their difficult political interactions. Pakistan, sensing a disparity with India in conventional military power, views its nuclear capability as the equalizer. Nuclear weapons have assumed a centrality in Pakistan’s national security, serving as a shield for the country’s cross border terrorism provocations while averting the prospect of a conventional war with India. Pakistan projects an ability to handle escalation at each level by building capability that has evolved from the concept of credible minimum deterrence to full-spectrum deterrence.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ballistic missile defense program and its ability to use strategic missiles with conventional warheads provides the rationale for China to buttress its own deterrence by expanding its nuclear arsenal and improving its penetrability and survivability. These developments are expected to result in China attaining nuclear superiority over India.

In contrast to the flurry of nuclear activity in Pakistan and China, Tellis assesses that India is following a path of “strategic conservatism.” New Delhi has moved steadily to fulfill its decision to build a modest nuclear arsenal, despite a two-front nuclear threat. It maintains the arsenal at a relatively relaxed posture and is focused on developing and deploying elements that can ensure survivability. A no-first-use policy whose credibility comes from a commitment to assured retaliation has freed India from the need to develop large numbers of nuclear warheads and highly accurate nuclear delivery systems. India maintains that the benefit of nuclear weapons lies more in their possession than their use and hence has shown no desire for nuclear arms racing.

Strategic Stability in the Region

Notwithstanding the varying pace and nature of nuclear transformation in the region, Tellis finds that strategic stability is relatively robust in the two dyads. In the case of China and India, he attributes this to a common belief that nuclear weapons are useful for deterring nuclear attacks and coercion, not war-fighting. As a result, neither country has felt the need to revise its no-first-use doctrine, despite debates within their strategic communities, or to keep the weapons at high readiness levels. Even in conflict scenarios on the historically disputed border and territories, Tellis concludes that China and India have shown no proclivity to threaten nuclear use against each other or draw attention to their nuclear muscle.

By contrast, the Indian-Pakistani nuclear equation suffers from the risk of conventional war caused by Pakistan’s “continuing nuclear shadowed campaign of terrorism against India.” The crises caused by these terrorist attacks inevitably raise the possibility of escalation, although mutual vulnerability and reasonably robust second-strike capabilities offer a level of deterrence stability.

As the map shows, China, India, and Pakistan are so proximate to each other that a nuclear exchange would affect them all. (Image by Arun Ganesh, National Institute of Design Bangalore)Interestingly, Tellis finds that all three countries are inclined toward conservative operational postures based on their underlying belief in deterrence by punishment. Despite the buildup of some capabilities that can help China and Pakistan adopt a strategy of deterrence by denial, neither country has abandoned the conviction that the fundamental utility of nuclear weapons lies in deterring nuclear attacks. This “enduring element” is a significant factor contributing to strategic stability in the region.

Tellis, however, also identifies three potential developments that could upset regional strategic stability: the introduction of missile defenses that could interfere with the ability of nuclear weapons to cause unacceptable damage; the development of offense-driven counterforce capabilities that could target retaliatory nuclear forces, thereby increasing temptation for preemption; and the growth in transparency through developments in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, data aggregation and analyses, and cyberintrusion.

Although these developments, individually or in combination, could threaten stability, the author’s prognosis underplays some features that are unique to the region. For instance, China and India have undertaken some missile defense efforts, but seem to have rejected the possibility of erecting national missile defense systems for their large landmasses. Point or area defenses have been considered for ensuring survivability of their arsenals or command and control systems. Mutual vulnerability, therefore, remains a consideration.

Further, with regard to nuclear counterforce and increasing transparency, none of these countries could launch a guaranteed nuclear first strike that would be sufficient to disarm the adversary. After all, the United States has not found it prudent to take that risk against North Korea despite having an overwhelmingly superior ISR capability, highly accurate missiles, and a nuclear arsenal estimated to be close to 100 times bigger than North Korea’s arsenal.

Another relevant factor in Southern Asia that has not been given due consideration in the book is geographic contiguity. The proximity of China, India and Pakistan means they cannot escape the effects of even a modest nuclear exchange. Therefore, a decision to use nuclear weapons will be affected by considerations other than those based only on availability of better counterforce or ISR capabilities. In fact, it can be argued that more than the deliberate use of nuclear weapons underwritten by improved capability, the region could stumble inadvertently into nuclear war because of some risk-prone strategies being pursued, ostensibly to enhance deterrence. For instance, China’s deployment of dual-capable missiles, including their commingling, and Pakistan’s signaling of an early use of tactical nuclear weapons are developments with a high potential for inadvertent escalation due to miscalculation.

Asymmetries in Understanding Deterrence

The main premise of Tellis’ book is that nuclear transitions in Southern Asia are creating striking asymmetries that, when juxtaposed with difficult political relations among the dyads and the overarching Chinese-U.S. competition, could pose new dilemmas. In the concluding chapter, Tellis focuses particularly on how the emergence of China as a “daunting strategic danger” might affect India on two specific issues and counsels the United States on how these could be leveraged to its benefit.

Should France, which produced this Barracuda class nuclear attack submarine, provide India with nuclear-powered submarines to balance its military asymmetries with China? That’s one issue raised by author Ashley Tellis’ book. (Photo by Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)The first issue is “India’s biggest nuclear deficiency,” which the author identifies as the “absence of reliable high-yield weapons in its inventory.” Based on data from India’s 1998 nuclear tests and subsequent assessments by scientists, he questions the weapons design base and argues that India does not have the “cutting-edge sophistication that would be needed for [weapons] reliability in real world conditions.” In order to validate advanced nuclear designs, Tellis believes India will feel the need to do a fresh round of testing and recommends that when this happens, the United States should not apply sanctions or suspend or terminate the Indian-U.S. nuclear deal. For the author, this would be “the best U.S. contribution toward enhancing geopolitical stability in the wider Asian region at a time when Chinese assertiveness will be increasingly harder to deter.” Given that China looms large on the U.S. threat radar, Tellis’ proposal is unsurprising, but it is not supported by any historical instance where the United States facilitated nuclear weaponization or testing even for its closest allies. It is doubtful that the suggestion will find traction with U.S. nonproliferation loyalists.

Meanwhile, Tellis’ questioning of the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrence on the basis of the difference between atomic and thermonuclear weapons ignores basic Indian deterrence philosophy. The argument that only the threat of thermonuclear weapons could deter China because only megaton weapons can cause unacceptable damage to megacities tends to overlook the regional reality of high-density populations. A salvo of strategically dropped fission weapons will cause a degree of damage that no rational leader can find acceptable. Relatively sparsely populated Soviet and U.S. cities may have necessitated thermonuclear weapons to signal massive retaliation. Today, intelligent targeting can derive maximum damage potential from a nuclear weapon. Over the years, advances in real-time computational power, algorithmic sophistication, and data analysis have aided weapons improvements. Further, given India’s three decades of experience in fusion and plasma physics, it is unlikely that an adversary would want to risk checking out its thermonuclear weapons. Nuclear deterrence practiced through the idea of punishment fortunately is less demanding than the yardstick of denial strategies.

Tellis’ second recommendation involves helping India overcome the limitations of its sea-based deterrent so that it can put its weapons at sea to counter the growing vulnerability of its land forces to China’s highly accurate ballistic missiles. The author doubts India’s capability to develop a “powerful yet compact naval reactor” and a very quiet strategic nuclear submarine. He suggests that as with the Australia-UK-U.S. agreement that enabled the United States to reach out to an ally to balance their common adversary (China), a French-Indian-U.S. agreement could be crafted to help a friend (India) with the same objective. The transfer of French technology to India with regard to six conventional Scorpene submarines is already under way, but Tellis’ recommendation for the United States to “mid-wife” French nuclear propulsion technology seems somewhat unrealistic.

Whether there are takers for this idea in Washington or Paris or not, New Delhi would have its own set of reservations. In a global environment constrained by technology denials and export controls, India’s strategic nuclear submarine program has been based on a clear-headed approach of self-reliance in program management, platform design, and integration of diverse technologies with demonstrated levels of indigenization. This approach naturally gives the program the flexibility to progressively improve platform design and systems. The suggestion to establish another line of strategic platform production with its concomitant supply chain complexities at this juncture may not be an optimal solution for a country that has many demands on its fiscal resources.

The book performs yeoman’s service in comprehensively collating and analyzing nuclear evolution in Southern Asia. The author examines the nuclear landscape, highlights the transitions, and offers solutions for the future as he deems fit while keeping U.S. national interests in mind. Checkmating China is the primary U.S. national security concern in contemporary times, and Tellis offers some imaginative ideas. His suggestions, however, are unlikely to find widespread appeal in the U.S. nonproliferation community. Meanwhile, from an Indian perspective, they reflect a deterrence-by-denial approach to deterrence, which India has rejected.

In fact, if the nuclear players in Southern Asia continue to maintain their current common understanding that nuclear weapons are best suited for deterrence by punishment, they would be able to escape the trap of the war-fighting approach where credible deterrence demands demonstrated sophistication of warhead designs, increased reliable yields, counterforce accuracies, and damage limitation strategies. Nuclear transitions are inevitable with technological progression, but it looks likely that Southern Asia will adapt these advancements to its own understanding of deterrence and specific regional realities.

Manpreet Sethi is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi.


Unlike the rough parity between Soviet and U.S. forces in the Cold War, China, India, and Pakistan are at disparate levels in terms of conventional, space, cyber, and nuclear capabilities.       

Russia Suspends New START

March 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision last month to suspend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), further weakening the last remaining treaty limiting U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on Feb. 21 that he would suspend New START, the only remaining Russia-U.S. arms reduction treaty, marks the latest body blow to the international arms control regime. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)“I am compelled to announce today that Russia is suspending its participation” in New START, Putin said in a state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on Feb. 21. To resume treaty activities, the United States would need to cut off support for Ukraine and bring France and the United Kingdom into arms control talks, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Putin’s decision as “deeply unfortunate and irresponsible,” but emphasized that “we remain ready to talk about strategic arms limitations at any time with Russia irrespective of anything else going on in the world or in our relationship.”

Less than a month earlier, the U.S. Department of State assessed in an annual report that Russia has failed to comply with New START due to its refusal to permit on-site inspections and to reschedule a required treaty meeting.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the report on Feb. 8, claiming that “any positive signals or concessions on issues raised by the United States in the context of compliance with New START will be unjustified, untimely, and inappropriate until Washington reviews its hostile policy towards Russia and abandons its line of building up threats to our national security.”

The U.S. assessment primarily found issue with on-site inspections. “In refusing to permit the United States to conduct inspection activities on Russian territory, based on an invalid invocation of the ‘temporary exemption’ provision, Russia has failed to comply with its obligation to facilitate U.S. inspection activities, and denied the United States its right to conduct such inspection activities,” the report said.

The two countries suspended on-site inspections at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. They had been in communication about a potential resumption of the inspections since mid-2021, but could not come to an agreement.

Moscow further extended the suspension in August 2022 with its decision, based on a provision in the treaty’s protocol, to prohibit inspections at Russian facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.) Russia cited challenges over reciprocal access to U.S. facilities for inspections.

Moscow and Washington scheduled a meeting of the treaty’s implementation body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, for late November in Cairo, during which the two sides were expected to address and potentially resolve the inspection issue. But a day before the meeting, Russia unilaterally postponed the session as a result of a decision made “at the political level.” (See ACT, December 2022.)

New START’s protocol requires that a commission meeting occur no later than 45 days after the requested date, but Russia continues to refuse to reschedule the meeting due to U.S. rhetoric and actions related to the war in Ukraine. As a result, the U.S. State Department found Russia to be noncompliant with the treaty on a second count.

Russian Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles drive through Red Square in Moscow in preparation for a military parade in May 2019. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)Cara Abercrombie, coordinator for defense policy and arms control at the U.S. National Security Council, said on Feb. 1 that Russia’s noncompliance with New START “threatens the viability of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control moving forward.” The treaty expires on Feb. 5, 2026, and a successor arms control arrangement does not exist at this time. This has deepened concern among experts that, in three years, the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals might go unconstrained for the first time since 1972.

Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists estimated on Feb. 7 that, in a scenario with no arms control, Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces would approximately double in size “if both countries uploaded their delivery systems to accommodate the maximum number of possible warheads.”

“The United States would have more deployable strategic warheads, but Russia would still have a larger total arsenal of operational nuclear weapons, given its sizable stockpile of nonstrategic nuclear warheads, which are not treaty-accountable,” they wrote.

In addition, the U.S. report noted a concern, rather than a determination of noncompliance, with Russian adherence to the treaty’s central limit of no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.

“The continued lack of U.S. inspection activities in Russia poses a threat to the U.S. ability to adequately verify Russian compliance with the treaty limit on deployed warheads,” the report said. It added, however, that Russia likely remained under the New START warhead limit at the end of 2022.

New START requires Moscow and Washington to exchange data on their strategic nuclear arsenals twice a year. Until now, despite the disputes, the two countries have expressed their ongoing adherence to the treaty’s central limits, data exchanges, and notifications. But Putin’s decision to suspend the treaty will halt the data exchanges and prompt further concern about the number of Russian strategic warheads.

The U.S. report determined that, overall, Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty does not threaten U.S. national security interests and that there does not exist “a strategic imbalance” between the world’s two largest nuclear weapons possessors.

The Biden administration has not said whether that assessment has changed in light of Russia’s suspension of the treaty, but Blinken stressed on Feb. 21 that “We’ll be watching carefully to see what Russia actually does.”

Republican members of Congress criticized Russia for violating the treaty and the Biden administration for “naively” agreeing to the treaty’s extension in 2021.

“This episode…highlights why we must continue to modernize our existing nuclear deterrent and adapt our future forces to meet the dual threats of Russia’s increasing aggression and China’s massive nuclear buildup,” according to a Jan. 31 statement by four Republican lawmakers—House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Ala.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (Miss.), Rep. Doug Lamborn (Colo.), and Sen. Deb Fischer (Neb.).

Meanwhile, three Democratic senators—Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (R.I.), and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (Va.)—responded to the U.S. assessment by highlighting their past support for Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control.

In a Feb. 1 statement, the trio also warned that “compliance with New START…obligations will be critical to Senate consideration of any future strategic arms control treaty with Moscow.”


The move, which the United States called “irresponsible,” further weakens the decades-old arms control regime. 

South Korea Walks Back Nuclear Weapons Comments

March 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea walked back comments from its president suggesting that the country may need to pursue a nuclear deterrent to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s advancing weapons program. International backlash to the comments suggests that South Korea would pay a high price if it decided to develop its own nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s advanced civil nuclear structure would allow it to quickly develop nuclear weapons. A view of South Korea’s first nuclear plant at Wolsong-Myeong, South Korea. (Photo by Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images)President Yoon Suk Yeol told officials in the South Korean Defense and Foreign Affairs ministries on Jan. 11 that if the threat posed by North Korea “gets worse,” it is possible that “our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own.” He added that if the decision were made to develop nuclear weapons, Seoul could build them “pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.”

South Korea had a nuclear weapons development program, but gave it up, and in 1975 joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits states-parties from developing nuclear weapons. After joining the NPT, South Korea built an extensive civil nuclear program and now exports nuclear reactors.

From 1979 to 2000, South Korea conducted experiments with uranium and plutonium that it failed to declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as required by its treaty commitments. Seoul said the work was part of its ambitious civil nuclear program and not weapons related. Although its advanced civil nuclear infrastructure would allow Seoul to quickly develop nuclear weapons, it would need to withdraw from the NPT, a move with significant security and economic repercussions.

South Korean officials quickly walked back Yoon’s comments. South Korean Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se said on Jan. 29 that discussing the development of nuclear weapons is “inappropriate” and undermines the long-held goal of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

He noted that U.S. nuclear weapons in the region can be used quickly against North Korea if necessary and that South Korea “should not simply think that deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula will strengthen” its capability to respond to North Korean nuclear weapons.

Yoon also appeared to downplay his remarks, saying in a Jan. 18 interview at the World Economic Forum that Seoul’s “rational option is to fully respect the NPT.”

John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council spokesperson, rejected the idea that Seoul will develop nuclear weapons. In a Jan. 12 press briefing, he said South Korea has “made clear that they are not seeking nuclear weapons” and reiterated the U.S. commitment to the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

Yoon’s comments reflect a growing South Korean interest in domestic nuclear weapons. Polling data suggest that 70 to 75 percent of the population favors developing such weapons.

But the polls “do not adequately explain to the people the high price South Korea will pay for building nuclear weapons,” a former South Korean official said in a Feb. 13 email to Arms Control Today. South Korea should expect “diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and a rupture in the [South Korean-U.S.] alliance” if it goes down that road, he said.

If Yoon’s comments were intended as a trial balloon for future nuclear weapons development, “the balloon was popped spectacularly,” the former official said, but if they were intended to push the United States to provide South Korea with greater military support, “it might have some success.”

The Biden administration is working closely with Seoul to restore confidence in U.S. defense commitments after President Donald Trump called the alliance into question. Kirby said on Jan. 12 that the United States will seek “improvements in extended deterrence capabilities” jointly with South Korea.

Comments by Yoon earlier in January suggested that his administration is interested in a greater role in U.S. nuclear planning and extended deterrence commitments to South Korea. Although U.S. President Joe Biden said on Jan. 3 that the United States is not participating in joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said on Jan. 11 that Washington is willing to "drastically expand” information shared with Seoul and take its views into account. He also said the two allies were planning tabletop exercises for February that are focused on “extended deterrence under the scenario of North Korea’s nuclear attacks.”

After meeting Lee on Jan. 31, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the United States will increase the number of fighter jets, bombers, and other advanced weapons systems deployed in South Korea. Austin and Lee also agreed to expand South Korean-U.S. military exercises and to continue the “timely” deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region.

Pyongyang responded by saying that the United States is “going to ignite an all-out showdown” with North Korea and that expanding military exercises “will result in turning the Korean peninsula into a huge war arsenal.” It promised to use its “powerful deterrence” to root out the U.S. hostile policy and the military threat posed by the United States and “its vassal forces.”

This is not the first time Yoon raised the prospect of nuclear weapons in South Korea. During his presidential campaign, he suggested that the United States could redeploy tactical nuclear weapons that it removed from South Korea in 1991, but the Biden administration quickly rejected the idea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shown in file footage on South Korean television in May after his country fired off one in a year-long series of ballistic missile tests. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)Yoon’s comments come amid increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula and a significant expansion in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. North Korea conducted an unprecedented 69 ballistic missile tests in 2022, and South Korea responded to several of them by launching its own systems. North Korea also flew drones into South Korea in December, prompting the South to respond by sending its own drones into North Korea.

The expansion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program appears poised to continue in 2023.

On Feb. 18, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which state-run media said was part of the government’s “persistent and strong” plan to counteract South Korean-U.S. military drills. The next day, the United States responded to the test by flying B-1B strategic bombers over the Korean peninsula in coordination with the South Korean air force. The flights prompted North Korea to launch two short-range ballistic missiles on Feb. 20.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said on Feb. 20 that Pyongyang will continue to use the Pacific Ocean as a “shooting range” in response to U.S. military actions in the region.

Kim Jong Un declared in a Jan. 1 speech that Pyongyang plans to increase exponentially its stockpile of nuclear warheads, including the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons, and to develop a new ICBM for a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability. (See ACT, January/February 2023.) The focus on expanding tactical nuclear weapons, which have a lower yield than strategic nuclear weapons and are more likely to be deployed on shorter-range missiles or artillery, is directed at South Korea in particular.

During a military parade on Feb. 8, North Korea displayed an unprecedented 17 ICBMs, including a mockup of what is likely the new solid-fueled system that Kim said is under development. Solid-fueled systems can be launched more quickly than their liquid-fueled counterparts. North Korea tested a large solid-fueled rocket motor in 2022.

The other ICBM displayed was the Hwasong-17, which is capable of carrying multiple warheads and targeting the entire United States.


After South Korean President Yook Suk Yeol raised the possibility of an indigenous nuclear weapons program in response to North Korea, others called the remarks inappropriate.

IAEA Presses for Safety Zone in Ukraine

March 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) traveled to Russia and Ukraine in early 2023 to continue discussions on establishing a safety zone around Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, but officials from the two countries do not appear optimistic that negotiations will succeed.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in January visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant which was the site of a nuclear disaster in 1986 and is still undergoing decommissioning. Grossi launched an IAEA expert mission to support Ukraine’s civil nuclear infrastructure, which is at risk in the war zone.  (Photo by Ruslan Kaniuka/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)Russia attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March 2022 and continues to occupy the Ukrainian facility in violation of international law. (See ACT, April and June 2022.) Shelling in and around the plant over the past year repeatedly has cut power to the facility and damaged buildings at the site, raising the risk of a nuclear accident. (See ACT, September 2022.) Russia and Ukraine deny responsibility for the attacks on the site. To mitigate the risks of a radiation release, Ukraine shut down the six reactors at the facility.

Meanwhile, to help prevent a nuclear accident and assist Ukrainian personnel operating the facility, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi established a permanent IAEA presence at the site in September and is trying to negotiate a protection zone around the facility. In December, Grossi expressed hope that such a zone could be established by the end of 2022.

After meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9–10, Grossi said that he discussed current plans for the zone in detail with senior Russian officials and that he remains hopeful that a zone will be established.

In his Feb. 9 statement, Grossi reiterated that the current situation at Zaporizhzhia is “very precarious” and said that “we cannot lose any more time.” Before traveling to Moscow, he said that “more determined efforts are required from all sides” to reach an agreement. He also noted that recent shelling around the plant prevented a new IAEA team from rotating into the site.

Alexei Likhachev, head of the Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, met Grossi during the Moscow trip and said the talks “will give us a chance to get a step closer” to creating a safety zone.

Rosatom stationed personnel at Zaporizhzhia and reportedly plans to connect the power plant to the electric grid in Crimea. But Ukraine’s nuclear regulator said in January that it will only allow Zaporizhzhia to resume generating power after the plant has been returned to Ukrainian control and inspected to ensure that the reactor units can operate safely.

Prior to Grossi’s trip, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Jan. 30 that negotiations over the zone are “not progressing easily.” He said Moscow is waiting for Kyiv to respond to its proposals for the zone and accused Ukraine of “just stalling.”

Although Ukrainian officials support the creation of a zone, Petro Kotin, the head of Ukraine’s nuclear energy company Energoatom, said on Jan. 4 that he does not think that establishing it is “realistic” at this point and predicted that the Ukrainian military will need to retake the site by force. He called for sanctions against Rosatom until the Russians “end the illegal capture of civilian facilities.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine is asking for the resumption of control of Zaporizhzhia and the “complete withdrawal” of all Russian troops and Rosatom personnel from the facility.

After meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Jan. 19, Grossi said that although the negotiations on the zone are “very complex,” everyone agrees that the nuclear power plant “needs to be protected.”

While in Ukraine, Grossi also announced that the IAEA established a permanent presence at the three other operational nuclear power plants in Ukraine and at Chernobyl. IAEA personnel will provide “technical assistance and advice” and assess needs at the nuclear power plants, Grossi said.

Grossi said the IAEA is “here to stay” in Ukraine “for as long as we are needed.”

He noted that the establishment of the IAEA presence at the sites “marks a major milestone in our efforts to help Ukraine ensure nuclear safety and security during this tragic war.”

Ukrainian and Russian officials do not seem optimistic that negotiations on the safety zone will succeed.

IAEA Chief Sounds Alarm on Iran Nuclear Progress

March 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) detected uranium enriched to just shy of weapons-grade levels at a facility in Iran, but Tehran denied that it had made a decision to increase its enrichment levels.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shown in file photo, denied that Iran is enriching uranium beyond 60 percent U-235. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Bloomberg first reported on Feb. 18 that samples taken by IAEA inspectors included uranium enriched up to 84 percent uranium-235. Uranium enriched to that level is just shy of the 90 percent level commonly defined as weapons grade, but still could be used for building a weapon. But news reports suggested that Iran is not accumulating uranium enriched to this higher level. The IAEA did not confirm the reports, but said on Feb. 19 that it is “discussing with Iran the results of recent agency verification activities.”

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), denied that Iran is enriching uranium beyond 60 percent U-235. He said on Feb. 19 that “the existence of uranium particles above 60 percent in the enrichment process does not mean” Iran is enriching above that level. Iran began enriching uranium to 60 percent U-235 in April 2021. (See ACT, May 2021.) Uranium enriched to that level technically can be used for nuclear weapons, but the device would be large and bulky.

Although it is possible that Tehran did not intend to enrich uranium to 84 percent U-235, the Iranian government has threatened to increase uranium enrichment to 90 percent U-235 as part of its campaign to build leverage during the impasse in negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran over restoring the JCPOA stalled in August and show no sign of resuming despite Iran’s expanding nuclear program. (See ACT, October 2022.)

Prior to the reports regarding the 84 percent-enriched U-235, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi urged a resumption of diplomacy to restore limits on Iran’s nuclear program, warning that the nuclear situation will “get worse” without dialogue.

Speaking at Chatham House on Feb. 7, Grossi said it is not his place to say if the diplomatic process to restore the JCPOA is “alive or dead,” but acknowledged that the loss of visibility into Iran’s nuclear program is worrying. Grossi said he needs to visit Tehran soon to discuss the monitoring issues.

Iran began reducing IAEA access to its nuclear facilities in February 2021 as part of an effort to push the United States into returning to the JCPOA.

There will be “instability” if the agency “cannot tell the world that the nuclear program in Iran is completely for peaceful use,” Grossi said. The IAEA also has raised concerns that the monitoring gap will make it difficult to reconstitute a record of Iran’s nuclear activities and verify certain limits if the JCPOA is restored. (See ACT, October 2022.)

An IAEA report on Feb. 1 also underscored the challenges the agency faces in monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities. It said that IAEA inspectors noticed a change in the configuration of IR-6 centrifuge cascades enriching uranium to 60 percent U-235 during a Jan. 21 visit to the Fordow enrichment facility that was “substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran." Iran's failure to notify the IAEA of the change in advance is "inconsistent" with Iran's safeguards obligations, the report said. It noted that the agency must be made aware of such changes so it can adjust its procedures to "ensure effective verification."

Iran has disputed the IAEA report that the cascades were modified. The head of the AEOI, Mohammad Eslami, said the Feb. 1 report was “based on a mistake by an inspector” and that the issue has been “practically resolved.”

But France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States said in a joint statement on Feb. 3 that they judged the situation based on the impartial IAEA reports and not on Iranian intentions. They said Iran’s failure to provide the “required notifications undermines the agency’s ability to maintain timely detection at Iranian nuclear facilities” and noted the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium at the Fordow enrichment facility.

Iran first announced its intentions to enrich uranium to 60 percent U-235, a level close to weapons grade, at Fordow in November. (See ACT, December 2022.) Before that, Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities to this level were limited to an aboveground facility at the Natanz site. Enriching uranium to this level at Fordow was a significant escalation because the facility is hardened to withstand military strikes. Under the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium at Fordow, but it resumed enrichment at that site in violation of the deal’s limits in 2019.

Grossi said in January that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 reached 70 kilograms and its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent U-235 reached 1,000 kilograms. This material is enough for “several nuclear weapons,” Grossi said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also raised concerns about the diplomatic impasse and the importance of restoring the JCPOA. In a Feb. 6 interview with The Wall Street Journal, he said he is not aware of a JCPOA alternative that would avoid Iran developing nuclear weapons and that critics of the deal “don’t value enough” the dangers posed by a nuclear-armed Iran.

But resuming negotiations is more challenging now because of Iran’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, including the provision of drones, and its crackdown on domestic protesters. The United States and Europe currently are more focused on these issues than Iran’s nuclear advances. Borrell said he has told Tehran that its domestic repression and support for Moscow make it “much more difficult” to reach a deal to restore the JCPOA.

The United States and its European partners in the JCPOA allege that the drone transfers violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA. Resolution 2231 prohibits Iran from transferring missiles and drones capable of delivering nuclear weapons and certain technologies relevant for building those systems without Security Council approval.

Iran has admitted to transferring some drones to Russia, but it denies that the sale violates Resolution 2231. Although Borrell said he received assurances from Iran that it does not intend to sell ballistic missiles to Russia, which the United States and Europe would view as a serious escalation of Iranian support for Russia, drone transfers appear to be continuing. The two countries are also collaborating on an Iranian drone production facility in Russia.

The agency detected uranium enriched to just shy of weapons-grade levels at a facility in Iran but Tehran denied it had decided to increase its enrichment levels.

U.S., Marshall Islands Sign Deal on Nuclear Testing Impacts

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

After months of wrangling, negotiators from the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on a new Compact of Free Association agreement that will govern relations between the two nations for the next 20 years.

A satellite image of the craters caused by U.S. nuclear testing in 1946–1958 on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. When well water was detected as radioactive in 1977, islanders were forced to leave. They are still unable to safely return.  (Photo by Gallo Images/Orbital Horizon/Copernicus Sentinel Data 2021 via Getty Images)Joseph Yun, special envoy for compact negotiations, signed the MOU for the United States and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kitlang Kabua signed for the Marshall Islands on Jan. 12 in Los Angeles. That same day, the United States also signed an MOU for a new compact with the island nation of Palau. On Feb. 10, the United States signed a similar MOU with the Federated States of Micronesia.

The funding provisions for the current agreements with the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia expire in September 2023 and for Palau in September 2024.

The extension of the compacts will guarantee the United States exclusive military rights over large areas in the Pacific region at a time of increasing tension and competition with China. The three island nations were formerly U.S. territories that came under the direct control and administration of the United States during World War II. Combined, they cover a maritime area larger than the continental United States, include some 1,000 islands and atolls, and have a population of approximately 200,000 people, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS).

The MOUs outline key agreements expected to be reflected in the final compacts. Negotiations on an updated compact between the United States and the Marshall Islands, the details of which must still be hammered out, have been particularly contentious. (See ACT, November 2022.)

The new compact with the Marshall Islands will extend U.S. military basing rights at the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Site on Kwajalein Atoll and U.S. security rights across the island chain. It also seeks to update and expand U.S. financial and technical assistance to the Marshall Islands, including for the health and environmental damage caused by the 67 atmospheric nuclear test explosions conducted between 1946 and 1958.

After World War II, the U.S. military forcibly displaced thousands of people in the Marshall Islands to allow for nuclear weapons testing and other military activities, which have severely damaged the health and environment and livelihoods of the Marshallese.

The U.S. nuclear test explosions totaled about 108.5 megatons, which is the equivalent of one Hiroshima-size bomb every day for 20 years and more than 100 times the total explosive power of all the atmospheric tests carried out at the Nevada Test Site. The nuclear tests caused severe and widespread fallout, including at levels that resulted in immediate, observable harm, such as hair loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and burning of the skin, and a greatly elevated longer-term cancer risk.

The Bikini and Enewetak atolls suffered the most severe direct physical devastation from the testing. Land, lagoons, coral reefs, and the oceanic environment remain contaminated over six decades later. A large radioactive waste disposal site, the Runit Dome in Enewetak Atoll, was created for radioactive waste from Marshall Islands testing and from the Nevada Test Site. It is leaking, and the Enewetak lagoon contains about 100 times more plutonium than the inventory under the Runit Dome.

Under the first compact with the Marshall Islands in 1986, a nuclear claims tribunal was established and mandated that the United States place $150 million in a trust fund to pay for the nuclear-related claims and awards. But the compact released the United States from legal liability for all further claims related to the nuclear testing program and its long-term impacts. The tribunal later concluded that the United States should pay $2.3 billion in claims.

This difficult experience has led the Marshall Islands negotiators to urge the United States to provide more financial and technical support to address ongoing health, environmental, and economic issues resulting from the Cold War-era testing in their homeland.

In a Sept. 29, 2022, joint declaration, the United States said it “remains committed to addressing the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ ongoing environmental, public health…and other welfare concerns.”

Yun said that, under the new MOU, the United States would pay “nuclear-affected communities’ health, welfare and development,” including building a new hospital, the Associated Press reported on Jan. 12.

Yun also said the amounts will be far greater than what the United States had provided in the past and that the Marshallese would be given control over how that money is spent.

Pursuant to past Marshall Islands compacts, the United States provided grant assistance worth approximately $661 million and $309 million on nuclear test-related assistance and compensation, respectively, between 1987 and 2003. During the second compact term, from 2004 to 2023, U.S. grant assistance and trust fund contributions totaled $722 million and $276 million, respectively, according to the CRS.

According to a copy of the U.S.-Marshall Islands MOU obtained by Arms Control Today, key agreements in the document include U.S. assistance of $50 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2024, $200 million over 20 years for joint health care programs and a new joint strategic health initiative, and funding for technical assistance and expertise to cope with the climate impacts that threaten the existence of the low-lying islands and for environmental programs.

In addition, the MOU provides for $10 million for improving accessibility to documents and information relating to the U.S. nuclear testing program, $5 million for a museum and research facility on that testing program, and $700 million for a “repurposed trust fund for priorities determined by the Marshall Islands in accordance with procedures to be mutually agreed.”

With the MOUs concluded, separate agreements regarding the services to be provided under U.S. law by U.S. federal agencies to the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Micronesia will be negotiated and become part of the final compact arrangements. The final compacts must be approved by the U.S. Congress.

The agreement will govern relations between the two nations for the next 20 years.

Pentagon Seeks to Facilitate Autonomous Weapons Deployment

March 2023
By Michael Klare

The U.S. Defense Department released an updated version of its directive on developing and fielding autonomous weapons systems that seems designed to facilitate the integration of such devices into the military arsenal.

The Sea Hunter, a prototype submarine-hunting drone ship that can cross the open seas without a human crew for months at a time, is among the autonomous weapons systems being tested by the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo)The original version of directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapons Systems,” was published in 2012. Since then, the Pentagon has made considerable progress in using artificial intelligence (AI) to endow unmanned combat platforms with the capacity to operate autonomously and now seems keen to accelerate their deployment.

The new version of the directive was released on Jan. 25 and appears intended to make it easier to advance such efforts by clarifying the review process that proposed autonomous weapons systems must undergo before winning approval for battlefield use.

“Given the dramatic advances in technology happening all around us, the update to our autonomy in weapon systems directive will help ensure we remain the global leader of not only developing and deploying new systems, but also safety,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks in announcing the new version.

When the original version was released 10 years ago, the development of autonomous weapons was just getting under way, and few domestic or international rules governed their use. Accordingly, that version broke new ground just by establishing policies for autonomous weapons systems testing, assessment, and employment.

Chief among these instructions was the mandate that proposed autonomous weapons “shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” In consonance with this edict, the directive decreed that any proposed system be subjected to a rigorous review process intended to test its compliance with that overarching principle and to ensure that the system’s software was free of any glitches that might hamper its performance or cause it to act in an improper manner.

The meaning of “appropriate levels of human judgment” was not defined in the 2012 version, but its promulgation has allowed senior U.S. officials to insist over the years that the United States is not building self-governing lethal devices, or “killer robots” as they are termed by opponents.

In 2012, those requirements seemed a reasonable basis for regulating the development of proposed autonomous weapons systems. But much has occurred since then, including a revolt by Google workers against the company’s involvement in military-related AI research. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) In addition, there have been efforts by some states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to impose an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

Such developments have fueled concerns within academia, industry, and the military about the ethical implications of weaponizing AI. Questions have also arisen about the reliability of weapons systems using AI, especially given the propensity of many AI-empowered devices to exhibit racial and gender biases in their operation or to behave in unpredictable, unexplainable, and sometimes perilous ways.

To overcome these concerns, the Defense Department in February 2020 adopted a set of ethical principles governing AI use, including one requirement that the department take “deliberate steps to minimize unintended bias in AI capabilities” and another mandating that AI-empowered systems possess “the ability to detect and avoid unintended consequences.” (See ACT, May 2020.) With these principles in place, the Pentagon then undertook to revise the directive.

At first reading, the new version appears remarkably similar to the first. The overarching policy remains the same, that proposed autonomous weapons systems must allow their operators “to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force,” while again omitting any clarification of the term “appropriate levels of human judgment.” As with the original directive, the new text mandates a high-level review of proposed weapons systems and specifies the criteria for surviving that review.

But on closer reading, significant differences emerge. The new version incorporates the ethical principles adopted by the Defense Department in 2020 and decrees that the use of AI capabilities in autonomous weapons systems “will be consistent with” those principles. It also establishes a working group to oversee the review process and ensure that proposed systems comply with the directive’s requirements.

The new text might lead to the conclusion that the Pentagon stiffened the requirements for deploying autonomous weapons systems, which in some sense is true, given the inclusion of the ethical principles. Another conclusion is equally valid: that by clarifying the requirements for receiving high-level approval and better organizing the bureaucratic machinery for such reviews, it lays out a road map for succeeding at this process and thus facilitates autonomous weapons systems development.

This interpretation is suggested by the statement that full compliance with the directive’s requirements will “provide sufficient confidence” that such devices will work as intended, an expression appearing six times in the new text and nowhere in the original. The message, it would seem, is that weapons designers can proceed with development of autonomous weapons systems and ensure their approval for deployment so long as they methodically check off the directive’s requirements, a process facilitated by a flow chart incorporated into the new version.

A new directive lays out a road map for putting these new weapons into the field. 


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