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June 2, 2022
March 2023
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Wednesday, March 1, 2023
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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. 

Saudi Arabia Aiming for Complete Nuclear Fuel Cycle

March 2023
By Luke Caggiano

Saudi Arabia plans to enrich its domestic uranium stocks to ensure its ability to complete “the entire nuclear fuel cycle,” the kingdom’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, told a mining and industry conference in Riyadh on Jan. 11.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi energy minister, shown here at a meeting of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries in Kuwait in December, has reaffirmed the kingdom’s plans to develop an entire nuclear fuel cycle.  (Photo by Jaber Abdulkhaleg/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)He said the process would include “the production of yellowcake, low enriched uranium and the manufacturing of nuclear fuel both for our national use and of course, for export,” Reuters reported.

The minister’s comments expanded on his 2019 commitment to enrich domestic uranium to fuel the country’s planned nuclear power program, which is expected to include building 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Companies from China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are competing for a contract to construct the first two reactors. But Saudi plans to complete the entire nuclear fuel process conflict with U.S. conditions for major cooperation on the kingdom’s nuclear program.

Before Saudi Arabia can receive nuclear assistance from the United States, both countries must sign a 123 agreement, as called for by section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954. The act establishes the terms and outlines the process for sharing U.S. nuclear technology, equipment, and material with another country.

The 123 agreement would include an additional protocol to Saudi Arabia’s limited safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing. An additional protocol would mandate stricter IAEA inspections and guarantee a more complete picture of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear activities. Enrichment and reprocessing restrictions would likely prohibit or strictly limit Saudi Arabia's ability to enrich uranium and reprocess spent nuclear fuel, which are two methods of creating fissile material for nuclear weapons.

But negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United States on a 123 agreement have stalled. In a 2020 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office attributed the impasse to “persistent differences between the parties over nonproliferation conditions, including U.S. insistence that Saudi Arabia conclude an additional protocol with [the] IAEA and that Saudi Arabia agree to restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing.”

Saudi leaders have made worrisome public statements regarding the country’s nuclear aspirations.

As a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from acquiring nuclear weapons. But, during an on-stage interview at the World Policy Conference in December in Abu Dhabi, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said that “[i]f Iran gets an operational nuclear weapon, all bets are off.”

His remarks echo the 2018 pledge of his predecessor, Adel al-Jubeir, that “if Iran acquires a nuclear capability, we will do everything we can to do the same.” (See ACT, June 2018.)

Saudi plans include producing yellowcake, low enriched uranium and nuclear fuel for domestic use and export. 

U.S. Faces Wins, Losses With Hypersonic Weapons

March 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The U.S. Defense Department wrapped up one of its hypersonic weapons programs, the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), with a successful final flight test in January. But overall, the Pentagon’s accelerated drive for hypersonic capabilities is facing sharp criticism from internal and congressional budget analysts.

Artist’s rendering of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapons Concept program which completed a final successful flight test in January. (Image by DARPA)“This month’s flight added an exclamation point to the most successful hypersonic air-breathing flight-test program in U.S. history,” boasted Walter Price, an Air Force deputy for the HAWC program, on Jan. 30.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force collaborated on the program, which produced two hypersonic air-breathing cruise missile designs that DARPA will continue to mature through the More Opportunities With HAWC program established in fiscal year 2023. (See ACT, June 2022.)

The January test featured the Lockheed Martin-designed missile, which launched from a B-52 bomber and flew at speeds greater than Mach 5 and for more than 300 nautical miles.

But at the same time, the Pentagon’s numerous hypersonic weapons programs received sharp criticisms and lackluster reviews.

Nickolas Guertin, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, faulted the Air Force for testing the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon prototype without an approved master test plan or an operational demonstration plan. His Jan. 31 report said that the system has encountered hardware and software problems, leading to delays.

The report also examined the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, which Guertin stated has yet to demonstrate an operational capability. The Navy plans to deploy CPS missiles on the Zumwalt-class destroyer in 2025 and the Virginia-class submarine in 2029. Ingalls Shipbuilding won a $10.5 million contract on Jan. 6 to equip the first two destroyers with missile launch tubes.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office concluded in a Jan. 31 analysis that the hypersonic weapons programs still must overcome significant technological challenges, such as mitigating extreme heat generated at high speeds in the atmosphere. The analysis compared hypersonic missiles to ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable warheads, finding that hypersonic weapons likely would prove less survivable in a conflict and one-third more expensive to procure and field than ballistic missiles of the same range.

The report concluded that, “Given their cost, hypersonic weapons would provide a niche capability, mainly useful to address threats that were both well-defended and extremely time-sensitive (requiring a strike in 15 minutes to 30 minutes).”

“If time was not a concern, much cheaper cruise missiles could be used. If targets were time-sensitive but were not protected by defenses that effectively intercept incoming ballistic missiles in the middle of their flight, less costly ballistic missiles with maneuverable warheads could be used,” the report added.

The United States has accelerated its pursuit of hypersonic weapons systems in recent years to keep pace with China and Russia, according to defense officials. China is believed to have deployed a hypersonic glide vehicle system, the DF-17, in 2020. Russia deployed two capabilities, the Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missile and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

The United States is developing only conventional hypersonic systems, while China and Russia are seeking dual-capable systems having conventional and nuclear capabilities.

On Jan. 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin dispatched a Russian frigate armed with a third new hypersonic weapons system, the sea-based Tsirkon cruise missile, on a voyage through the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean, marking the system’s first deployment.

Moscow also purportedly has made recent advancements with other new nuclear weapons delivery systems, such as the nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed torpedo Poseidon.

Russia has built the first set of production torpedoes and will “soon” deliver them to the Belgorod submarine, according to a Jan. 16 report by Tass, a state-owned Russian news agency. The Belgorod first entered service in July 2022. The status of the associated nuclear warheads remains uncertain.

Despite a successful test flight of one system, the Pentagon’s accelerated drive for hypersonic capabilities faces sharp criticism from critics. 

Japan to Purchase U.S. Tomahawk Missiles

March 2023
By Luke Caggiano

Japan plans to purchase several hundred U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles as the country looks to strengthen its military capabilities amid heightened tensions with China and North Korea. Japan included more than $2 billion to buy and deploy the missiles in its record-setting defense budget for its fiscal year beginning April 1, The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 23.

Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu (L to R), Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin participate in a news conference at the U.S. Department of State on January 11, days ahead of a White House meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The missiles, which can hit targets up to 1,600 kilometers away, will bring Chinese and North Korean military bases within Japanese striking range.

Possessed exclusively by the United Kingdom and the United States, the Tomahawk system most recently saw action in 2018 when 66 missiles were used to strike chemical weapons facilities
in Syria.

Japan is expected to deploy the missiles beginning in 2026 aboard its Aegis naval destroyers. They will supplement Japan’s indigenous Type 12 surface-to-ship missile, which is currently being upgraded. The improved Type 12 missile systems are expected to be ready by 2026 and will be capable of striking sea and land targets up to 1,200 kilometers away, a significant increase from the missile’s original range of 200 kilometers.

The Tomahawk missile purchase follows the release of Japan’s new national security strategy, which highlights China as “the greatest strategic challenge in ensuring the peace and security of Japan” and assesses North Korea’s military activities as posing “a grave and imminent threat.”

With these threats as a reference, the new strategy calls for the development of a “counterstrike capability” in the event of an attack on Japan. According to the strategy, weapons such as the Tomahawk missile may be used to strike enemy missile bases “as long as it is deemed that there are no other means to defense against attack by guided missiles.”

The development of a counterstrike capability marks a significant change in the defense-oriented policy that Japan adopted following World War II.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised the planned purchase on Jan. 11 during a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Yasukasu Hamada.

The United States “strongly endorse[s] Japan’s decision to acquire a counterstrike capability,” Austin said, “and we affirm that close coordination on employing this capability will strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Hayashi also highlighted plans to further strengthen U.S.-Japanese cooperation in outer space and cyberspace.

“We agreed on the importance of deepening our cooperation in the areas of space and cyber, the promotion of technological cooperation, [and] the further strengthening of information security,” he stated. “The fact that we were able to agree on the announcement of the applicability of Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty on attacks on others in outer space was a significant achievement in terms of the reinforcement of deterrence capability of the alliance as a whole.”

Blinken noted that the attacks include those “to, from, or within space.”

The treaty article states that, in the event of “an armed attack against either party in the territories under the administration of Japan [both parties] would act to meet the common danger.” The decision to extend it to outer space was likely motivated by China’s recent development of anti-satellite weapons. The new understanding between Tokyo and Washington brings Japanese satellites under U.S. protection, making Japan the first non-NATO U.S. ally to gain this security assurance.

The U.S. ally aims to strengthen its military capabilities amid heightened tensions with China and North Korea. 


OPCW Confirms More Syrian Chemical Weapons Use

March 2023
By Mina Rozei

International investigators confirmed a fifth instance in which Syria used chemical weapons against civilians.

Detection equipment used by staff of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which has confirmed yet another incident of chemical weapons use by army forces in Syria. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)In a Jan. 27 report, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Syrian military dropped two yellow chlorine cylinders on two apartment buildings in Douma, Syria, on April 7, 2018.

The report found that exposure to the chlorine gas killed 43 people and injured many more. It draws on information gathered by the OPCW fact-finding mission, which had found “reasonable grounds” to believe that chemical weapons were used.

The IIT subsequently was tasked with confirming the mission’s findings, identifying the perpetrators of the attack, and assessing competing claims by Syria and Russia that the attack was staged by Syrian opposition forces.

The team concluded that it has “reasonable grounds to believe that chlorine gas was used at both relevant locations in Douma, and that the cylinders were the origin of the chlorine gas released at both locations.” It refuted claims by the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad that the attack was staged and that Damascus has not engaged in chemical weapons use.

Using chemical weapons has become something of a pattern for the Assad regime. They were first deployed by army forces in Ghouta in 2013 and twice in Douma in 2018 prior to the April 7 attack.

“These findings are unfortunately not surprising,” Bonnie Jenkins, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told a UN Security Council briefing on Feb. 7. “This is indeed the fifth separate instance of chemical weapons use the IIT has attributed to the Assad regime—all clear violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC]. These are in addition to the four chemical weapons attacks previously attributed to the Assad regime by the UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism.”

Jenkins called for “accountability of those responsible for the numerous chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Assad regime, including the one in Douma.”

The Assad regime has denied OPCW staff access to inspect its chemical weapons stockpile several times. At the Security Council briefing, Jenkins again urged Damascus to comply with this treaty obligation.

OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias affirmed that the report corroborates Syrian chemical weapons use while refuting “all other alleged scenarios.”

He cited the high standards followed by the OPCW and its investigative bodies as further validation of their findings.

“The report is now in your hands,” he told the Security Council, adding that it will be up to the UN and the international community to take further steps if deemed necessary.

The case underscores the continued relevance of the CWC, which bans all production, storage, and use of chemical weapons. Although the treaty has been ratified by all but four states since its entry into force in 1997, it faces challenges in ensuring that its provisions are enforced.


Investigators confirmed the fifth instance of CW use against civilians in the Syrian war. 

Ukraine Landmine Use Under Scrutiny

March 2023
By Jeff Abramson

The Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged a report by Human Rights Watch alleging that Kyiv used banned anti-personnel landmines and said the report would be “duly studied.” But the ministry did not specifically deny or admit any violations of the Mine Ban Treaty.

TM-62 anti-vehicle mines found last year during a mine clearance mission near Bervytsia, a village liberated from Russian forces, in the Kyiv Region of Ukraine. (Photo by Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)Ukraine “took note” of the report, “which will be duly studied by the competent authorities of Ukraine,” the ministry said in a Jan. 31 statement. It insisted that Ukraine “fully implements its international obligations while Russian occupants commit the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Ukraine is one of 164 states-parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, which bars the use of “victim-activated” anti-personnel landmines that detonate due to the presence, proximity, or contact of a person, and mandates their destruction from national stockpiles.

The report documented multiple instances of the use of banned rocket-fired anti-personnel PFM mines, also called “butterfly” or “petal” mines, around the city of Izium in 2022. The use occurred while the area was under Russian control and was in delivery range of Ukrainian forces who were seeking to regain the territory.

Human Rights Watch called on Ukraine to investigate the landmine use and noted that, in 2021, Ukraine had reported a stockpile of more than 3 million mines that had yet to be destroyed under its treaty obligations.

The report also flagged earlier findings that Russia used landmines in many locations in Ukraine, but noted that its researchers have not verified any claims of Russia using PFM mines.

Ukraine, in its most recent response and in statements at the treaty’s annual conference last year, reiterated support for the treaty and criticized Russian use of landmines. Russia is not party to the treaty, and its use of landmines in Ukraine has resulted in a spike in annual casualties caused by the weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2023.)

On Feb. 3, the president of the Mine Ban Treaty, Thomas Göbel of Germany, issued a statement that he is engaging with Kyiv and is “confident that we can continue to fully rely on Ukraine’s cooperation in this respect, as announced by Ukraine in its reaction to the report.”

The United States said it welcomed “Ukraine’s announcement it will investigate these allegations, and we appreciate Ukraine reaffirming its commitment to respect its obligations and commitments under international law,” the Voice of America reported on Jan. 31.

The United States, which is not a party to the treaty but has a policy of not exporting banned landmines anywhere other than to the Korean peninsula, has been providing Ukraine with Claymore anti-personnel mines that require an operator to detonate them. Such “command-detonated” mines are not prohibited by the treaty.


The Ukraine Foreign Ministry said it would study a report alleging that Kyiv used banned anti-personnel landmines but did not deny violating the Mine Ban Treaty.

NPT Nuclear-Weapon States Meet in Dubai

March 2023

The five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), known as the P5, met in Dubai on Feb. 2–3 to discuss reducing the risk of nuclear war.

The meeting, part of the P5 process, took place at the expert level rather than the more senior ministerial level. But each side brought interagency delegations representing their foreign and defense ministries, as well as military forces, which suggests they were serious about engaging on nuclear issues. They agreed to meet again although a date has not been set.

The United States currently chairs the P5 process, which has slowed substantially since Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022. In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued nuclear threats and on Feb. 21 announced he was suspending Russian participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last remaining formal limit on Russian and U.S. strategic weapons.

The five countries last met during a side event at the NPT review conference in August and a short meeting in October.—GABRIELA ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

NPT Nuclear-Weapon States Meet in Dubai

March 2023 Books of Note

March 2023

Saving the World from Nuclear War: The June 12, 1982, Disarmament Rally and Beyond
By Vincent J. Intondi
March 2023

Vincent J. Intondi’s book reexamines the historic rally in June 1982, which demonstrated support for the UN second special session on disarmament by calling for nuclear disarmament and a transfer of federal spending from military budgets to programs meeting human needs. The author puts people of color, gays, and women in the spotlight by showcasing their participation as key organizers of the landmark event. Drawing on archival material and interviews with organizers and activists, the author casts new light on the nuclear disarmament movement and challenges the common assertion that its origins lay largely within the white and middle-class communities. He analyzes what factors led the demonstration to be so successful and the catalysts that brought together people from across the political spectrum, including celebrities and atomic bomb survivors, in common cause.

The book reflects on the rally’s legacy, the path forward and the lessons that can be learned from June 12, 1982. Intondi notes that the movement in the 1980s was organized through fear and hope. He makes the case that nuclear disarmament should be combined with other issues and highlights how 1980s-era activists came to understand that communal challenges from the AIDS epidemic to the war on drugs are connected to nuclear weapons. As Intondi underscores, the activists realized that it did not matter to achieve social justice if they were dead from nuclear war, and that truth still holds today.—GABRIELA ROSA HERNÁNDEZ


Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America

By Joshua Frank
Haymarket Books
January 2023

Author Joshua Frank focuses on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation along the Columbia River in Washington state, the largest U.S. plutonium manufacturing complex, as a case study of the catastrophic impact that the nuclear weapons industry has had on humans, communities, cultures, workers, and ecosystems. His detailed yet conversational narrative records the experiences of the nuclear industry’s victims at the site. This history ranges from the colonization of indigenous land to decades-long exposure to radioactive waste.

The book also explores several controversies surrounding the clean-up plan for the site, the most expensive environmental remediation project to date. Frank portrays a conflict that has managers and profiteers of the project, including companies such as Bechtel, on one side and whistleblowers, concerned scientists, and indigenous leaders on the other. The author questions whether the benefits of using nuclear power as a means of combating climate change outweigh the costs, considering the massive carbon emissions associated with nuclear mining, the risks of nuclear facilities coming under attack, and the possibility of nuclear proliferation leading to weaponization. Lastly, Atomic Days warns of Hanford’s uncertain future, which Frank speculates could be a “Chernobyl-like disaster-in-waiting.” He calls for immediate action to address the issue.—CHRIS ROSTAMPOUR

Saving the World from Nuclear War: The June 12, 1982, Disarmament Rally and Beyond
By Vincent J. Intondi
March 2023

Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America
By Joshua Frank 
Haymarket Books
January 2023


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