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June 2, 2022
May 2018
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Tuesday, May 1, 2018
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Freezing and Reversing North Korea’s Nuclear Advances

May 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

For most of the past year, North Korea’s provocative long-range missile launches and a high-yield nuclear test, combined with the reckless threats of “fire and fury” and “preventive war” from the White House, have raised tensions and increased the threat of a catastrophic conflict in the region. Some of us warned that nuclear war was closer than at any point since the Cold War.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shaking hands with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo in April. (Photo by The White House via Getty Images)Now, in an extraordinary turnaround, an uneasy détente has emerged. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced on Jan. 1 that he wants to ease tensions with South Korea, and high-level talks between officials of the two governments were held in advance of the Winter Olympics. Through South Korean intermediaries, Kim extended a summit offer to U.S. President Donald Trump, who, to the surprise of many, immediately accepted. Although Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree, the North Korean nuclear problem will not be resolved in one meeting, especially if he goes off-script, acts impulsively, or carries unrealistic expectations.

The direct dialogue is overdue, it is historic, and it carries high stakes. Trump and his entire national security team must understand that this diplomacy will require preparation, patience, and persistence. To succeed, they must maintain a principled but balanced approach closely coordinated with key allies in Seoul and partners in Beijing. Further, Washington will need to address Pyongyang’s own security and economic concerns.

So far, so good. The North Koreans have expressed a willingness to consider denuclearization if their national security can be guaranteed. Reportedly, the North Koreans have said that they will not demand the removal of all U.S. forces in South Korea. Further, Kim announced April 21 that he is suspending ballistic missile and nuclear testing, is closing the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and will “join the international desire and efforts for the total halt” to nuclear tests. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim reaffirmed their intentions at their successful—and historic—inter-Korean summit April 27.

Kim is clearly confident about his position going into the summit with Trump, and he appears to be preparing his people for potential additional steps toward denuclearization if U.S. leaders negotiate in good faith and can deliver on their promises.

The table is finally set for a meaningful, sustained dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang on verifiable denuclearization, normalizing diplomatic ties, and negotiating a formal end to the Korean War. Key near-term U.S. goals should be to solidify North Korea’s testing suspension, to bring about a halt to its fissile material production, to win the release of three captive U.S. citizens, and to discuss measures to further reduce tensions on the divided peninsula.

North Korea’s no-nuclear-testing pledge is very significant. The North already has a proven high-yield warhead design, but additional tests could be used to achieve military and technical advances. Leaders in Washington, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo, and elsewhere should seek to solidify Pyongyang’s nuclear testing suspension by securing its signature and ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, along with a confidence-building visit by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.

Solidifying a halt to further ballistic missile tests is also crucial because it can possibly stop the North Koreans just short of developing a reliable system to deliver their high-yield warhead. Halting production of fissile material and verifying the freeze is the next logical step, as it would put a ceiling on the potential number of nuclear devices North Korea could assemble.

If Trump could achieve all of this, it would be a major breakthrough, even if falls short of the more sweeping task of negotiating the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But Rome was not built in a day. To achieve the many additional steps toward the long-term goal of denuclearization of the peninsula and a durable peace regime, the Trump-Kim summit should also produce agreement on a balanced framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on these and possibly other issues.

Trump has said that he will not repeat the mistakes of the past negotiations; likewise, Kim said April 27 that he doesn't want a repeat of the past "where we were unable to fulfill our agreements." Indeed, previous agreements had been partially successful in curbing North Korea's capabilities, but fell apart in later stages of implementation.

These negotiations will demand even greater persistence, patience and political will. Kim’s nuclear and missile capabilities are more substantial and dangerous today, his bargaining power is greater, and the cost of failure is higher. And if Trump is foolish enough to withdraw from the successful 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, Kim will be more reluctant to make concessions.

Members of Congress, for their part, should demand clarity about the administration’s strategy and regular reports on the negotiations. Yet, they should refrain from demanding specific outcomes or immediate results. The stakes are too high and the opportunity too great for such games.

Now, after a period of reckless nuclear brinksmanship, the hard work of pursuing disarmament diplomacy begins. Can Team Trump pull this off? As the president often says, “We will see.” It will not come easy, but it is better than the alternatives.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


For most of the past year, North Korea’s provocative long-range missile launches and a high-yield nuclear test, combined with the reckless threats of “fire and fury” and “preventive war” from the U.S. White House, have raised tensions and increased the threat of a catastrophic conflict in the region.

Papal Condemnation of Nuclear Deterrence and What Is Next

May 2018
By Gerard Powers

At a major Vatican symposium last year, Pope Francis became the first pope to condemn explicitly not only the use of nuclear weapons but also the “the threat of their use, as well as their very possession.”1

The pope’s statement was praised by many of the 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates and 300 church leaders, diplomats, scholars, and civil society representatives at the symposium on November 10–11, 2017. His statement and the conference were intended, in part, to further the momentum of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which the Holy See had ratified on September 20, 2017, the first day it was open for signature. Predictably, critics have responded to the pope’s statement much as they did the treaty, dismissing it as naïve and utopian, a normative judgment largely irrelevant to the realities of the nuclear predicament.

Pope Francis addresses the crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, shortly after celebrating Easter Mass. (Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)The critics seem to have a point, at least for now, as massive nuclear modernization programs, faltering arms control measures, and nuclear brinksmanship harken back to the Cold War era. Yet, the Vatican tends to play the long game. Given its influence as a norm entrepreneur on nuclear weapons and a major transnational actor headed by an influential pope, the critics might want to pay attention.

Deterrence to Disarmament

The November statement is not a major change in the church’s position on nuclear weapons, as has been widely reported. Every pope in the seven decades since Hiroshima, as well as innumerable church documents, have sought to marginalize nuclear weapons and have insisted on the need for progress toward mutual, verifiable nuclear disarmament. The pope’s condemnation of nuclear use is consistent with the church’s long-standing position that the use of nuclear weapons almost certainly would be indiscriminate or disproportionate, risk escalation to nuclear war, cause irreversible harm to the environment, and would break the nuclear taboo, undermining prospects for nonproliferation and disarmament.

What is a departure of sorts is the pope’s condemnation of deterrence. In 1982, Pope John Paul II enunciated an “interim ethic” on nuclear deterrence: “In current conditions,” he said, “‘deterrence’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”2 Pope Francis has now made a prudential moral judgment, based on his reading of today’s very different signs of the nuclear times, that the strict conditions for the moral acceptability of deterrence are not being met. He has not abandoned his predecessor’s formula, but has applied it to current conditions and come to a different prudential moral judgment.

Although Pope Francis’ customary clarity in making this judgment has received considerable attention, it is not significantly different in substance from Vatican statements since the end of the Cold War. In his 2006 World Day of Peace message, Pope Benedict said that the view that states need nuclear weapons for their security is “not only baneful but also completely fallacious.”3 In 2010, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, referred to John Paul’s interim ethic and concluded that, because “nuclear deterrence is preventing genuine nuclear disarmament…the conditions that prevailed during the Cold War, which gave a basis for the church’s limited toleration of nuclear deterrence, no longer apply.”4 In a similar vein, a 2014 study document released by the Vatican concluded that because the disarmament condition for the moral acceptability of deterrence was not being met, “the very possession of nuclear weapons, even for purposes of deterrence, is morally problematic.”5

These and many other official statements have long made it clear that the nuclear powers could take no more comfort in the church’s position on nuclear weapons before the pope’s November statement than they can now. The interim ethic on deterrence was always a function of context, not time. The Holy See’s reading of the changing geopolitical signs of the times has led it to make a prudential moral judgment that time is up on the interim ethic.

One sign of the times is the judgment that the nuclear powers did not take full advantage of the historic opportunity afforded by the end of the Cold War. The Holy See has welcomed the deep cuts in U.S.-Russian nuclear stockpiles. Nevertheless, the “peace dividend” that was supposed to come with these deep cuts has not materialized. Arms control initiatives have stalled, the nuclear-weapon states have not upheld their end of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s (NPT) grand bargain, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has not gone into effect, and major nuclear powers have embarked on massive modernization programs.6 Therefore, the Holy See has concluded that nuclear deterrence has not been used as a step toward disarmament but has become an end in itself, a principal impediment to disarmament.

North Korea and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are emblematic of a second sign of the nuclear times. According to the 2014 Vatican study document, “[T]he structure of nuclear deterrence is less stable and more worrisome than at the height of the Cold War” due to continued nuclear proliferation and the increased risk of nuclear weapons use, including by terrorists and unstable nuclear-armed states.7 At the same time, nuclear weapons are increasingly irrelevant in the face of terrorism, cyberwarfare, intrastate conflicts, and other major security threats.

These developments have only reinforced the Holy See’s longstanding concerns about the morally problematic nature of deterrence theories based on a conditional intention to use nuclear weapons in indiscriminate and disproportionate ways and the injustice involved in wasting scarce resources on these weapons instead of devoting them to integral human development.

One cannot understand the Holy See’s position now or during the Cold War solely in terms of these ethical and policy considerations, however important they might be. In his November address, Pope Francis cited Pope John XXIII’s understanding of “integral disarmament,” which is far more capacious than conventional understandings of the term.8

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Holy See's secretary for Relations with States, signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, at the United Nations on September 20, 2017.  At the same time, he handed over the instrument of ratification. (Photo: Darren Ornitz/ICAN)Integral disarmament assumes that the long-term goal of abolishing nuclear weapons has to be part of a much larger cosmopolitan project of developing a global ethic of peace and solidarity that can ground a system of cooperative security. A realist approach that prioritizes a negative peace, defined largely in terms of military security and balance of power, is based on a mentality of fear and the false security of weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons are an impediment to the kind of cooperative security needed to build a positive peace based on a host of factors: socioeconomic development, political participation, respect for fundamental human rights, strong international norms and institutions, a spirit of dialogue, solidarity in international relations, as well as a change of hearts.9

Although the label would not seem to fit a tradition-bound Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See’s articulation of a moral judgment on nuclear use and deterrence, in the context of a wider vision of a radically transformed world based on conceptions of cooperative security and positive peace, makes the church what political scientists call a “norm entrepreneur.”

Nuclear Ban Strategy

As a norm entrepreneur embracing integral nuclear disarmament, it is not surprising that the Holy See was willing to join its religious-moral voice to the legal-political strategy to delegitimize the nuclear status quo and democratize the nuclear debate through the humanitarian impact conferences and the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

At the third of these conferences in Vienna in December 2014, Pope Francis issued a major letter accompanied by a study document, a lengthy moral and policy argument for nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, he included a strong appeal for progress on nuclear abolition in his September 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, his January 2017 World Day of Peace message, and his March 2017 letter to the UN conference negotiating the prohibition treaty. These papal interventions complemented a host of interventions by Vatican officials, especially during the ban treaty negotiations.

The nuclear weapons prohibition treaty takes a page from the landmine treaty’s “coalition of the willing” strategy. These norm entrepreneurs—non-nuclear-weapon states, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, religious bodies, and nongovernmental organizations—have sought to reframe the nuclear debate, shifting the focus from national security to moral, legal, and humanitarian concerns. This reframing in normative terms reflects a strategic judgment that the current stalemate on nuclear disarmament could only be broken if new international mechanisms were found to stigmatize nuclear weapons and delegitimize the nuclear status quo.

The limitations of this strategy are obvious. It circumvented established processes, and its normative significance is in doubt given the opposition by nuclear-weapon states and most states under their nuclear umbrellas. While acknowledging these limitations, the Holy See, like others behind this strategy, concluded that it was a reasonable step in a complex and long-term process of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons. According to Pope Francis, the treaty “fill[s] a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions.”10

This strategy helps break through the stalemate in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. It will not encourage forum shopping, but rather complements the NPT, CTBT, and other treaties. The Holy See has been quite critical of the morally untenable double standard in the NPT, which perpetuates an unjust, unequal, and dangerous nuclear status quo.11 The prohibition treaty reinforces this critique and helps pressure the nuclear-weapon states to abide by their disarmament obligations under NPT Article VI.

The Holy See’s contributions to the treaty negotiations reflect its priorities.12 First, it successfully pressed for incorporating moral language (“the ethical imperative for disarmament”) into the preamble against the legal positivists who sought to exclude it. Second, it supported language about the “waste of economic and human resources” on nuclear weapons. Third, citing the relevance of nuclear weapons to the global common good, it supported the need for creating a new international authority other than the over-stretched International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to administer and implement the treaty. Fourth, the Holy See supported mention of the moral responsibility of states that had used or tested nuclear weapons to assist with victim assistance and environmental remediation, but recommended a voluntary international fund so as not to stimulate further resistance from nuclear-weapon states. Fifth, the Holy See suggested deleting “any” with respect to the catastrophic consequences and legality of the use of nuclear weapons in order to acknowledge the variety of types of weapons and their potential uses. Finally, the Holy See made a half-dozen different proposals to place nuclear disarmament in the broader context of general disarmament and a positive peace, but succeeded only in including peace education alongside disarmament education.

This last point, about the importance of peace and disarmament education, reflects the Holy See’s conviction that the nuclear debate has to be democratized. According to Pope Francis, filling a legal gap was even more important than the treaty’s inclusiveness, the product of “a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academies and groups of experts.”13

The humanitarian impact initiative and the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty process ensured that the normative concerns for the global common good expressed by the majority of states were not overridden, as they typically have been, by the national interests of the nuclear-weapon states. These processes also gave a greater voice to civil society, which will be so important in garnering public support for the ban treaty, especially in nuclear-weapon states.

Looking Ahead

The Holy See is in the unique position of being the world’s smallest nation-state and the world’s largest religious institution. Its role in the nuclear debate reflects the strengths and limitations of both roles. As a state, it is not surprising that its policy agenda is similar to that of other non-nuclear-weapon states, and that policy agenda is not likely to change significantly now that there is a prohibition treaty.

The Holy See will continue to routinely addresses issues before the IAEA, the Conference on Disarmament, and other international forums. It will continue to join other non-nuclear-weapon states in supporting full implementation of the NPT, including Article VI; a host of other arms control measures, such as the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty; and stronger mechanisms for the IAEA to prevent proliferation, strengthen nuclear safeguards, and enforce arms control agreements.

The Holy See’s most important and distinctive contributions, however, will be less in policy advocacy and more in its ongoing efforts as a religious institution to help ensure that morality is not an uninvited guest at an exclusive party dominated by realists. Amid the irresponsible nuclear saber rattling of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the ambitious programs to develop smaller, smarter, and more usable nuclear weapons, the Holy See will continue to do its part to complement the prohibition treaty and strengthen the nuclear taboo against use with its clear moral condemnations.

The longer-term and less direct impact will be on deterrence and disarmament. The pope’s moral condemnation of deterrence, which echoes the legal prohibition in the treaty, should be of concern to nuclear-weapon states because the credibility of deterrence depends in part on the moral credibility of the threats involved. Nuclear policies, at least in democracies, cannot survive in the long term if major religious bodies and the general public lose faith in their ultimate moral legitimacy.

Religious appeals on the moral imperative of long-term efforts of nuclear disarmament are not new, but the narrative has changed over the past 20 years as moral, legal, and policy arguments for nuclear disarmament have gone mainstream, with the prohibition treaty being the most recent example. The Holy See is helping to provide the moral vision of a possibility that can scarcely be imagined now. But more is needed.

The credibility of that vision will depend on addressing two dimensions of an ethics gap. First is to elaborate on the pastoral implications of the pope’s prudential judgment that nuclear deterrence is no longer morally acceptable. If nuclear weapons are illegitimate but nuclear disarmament is not achievable in the near future, what is the moral responsibility of Catholic politicians, soldiers, and citizens in nuclear-weapon states who approve defense budgets, work in the nuclear military, and vote for those advocating a strong nuclear deterrent?

Second, the policy debate on nuclear disarmament is now ahead of the moral debate. Catholic scholars, policy specialists, and religious leaders need to collaborate in developing an ethic of nuclear disarmament that is as sophisticated as the ethic of nuclear use and deterrence developed during the Cold War.14 Many questions should be considered, such as what forms of deterrence would be morally acceptable and effective if the world moved to a minimal deterrent, with its tendency to revert to the counter-population targeting that the church has unequivocally condemned, or if the world actually abolished all nuclear weapons, making possession of illicit nuclear weapons even more valuable, more usable, and more destabilizing? Would a world without nuclear weapons require the development of an ethic of “disarmament intervention” akin to humanitarian intervention to deal with rogue states attempting a nuclear breakout?

Nuclear Weapons and the ‘Mentality of Fear’

The following is an excerpt from the address by Pope Francis on November 10, 2017, to participants in the international symposium “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament,” held at the Vatican.

“In this symposium, you have met to discuss issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict. A certain pessimism might make us think that “prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament,” the theme of your meeting, appear increasingly remote. Indeed, the escalation of the arms race continues unabated; and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations. As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty; the promotion of peace; the undertaking of educational, ecological, and health care projects; and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place.

Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices. If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned, for they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race. International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms. Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity. Essential in this regard is the witness given by the hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear arms testing. May their prophetic voice serve as a warning, above all for coming generations!

Furthermore, weapons that result in the destruction of the human race are senseless even from a tactical standpoint. For that matter, while true science is always at the service of humanity, in our time we are increasingly troubled by the misuse of certain projects originally conceived for a good cause. Suffice it to note that nuclear technologies are now spreading, also through digital communications, and that the instruments of international law have not prevented new states from joining those already in possession of nuclear weapons. The resulting scenarios are deeply disturbing if we consider the challenges of contemporary geopolitics, like terrorism or asymmetric warfare.

At the same time, a healthy realism continues to shine a light of hope on our unruly world. Recently, for example, in a historic vote at the United Nations, the majority of the members of the international community determined that nuclear weapons are not only immoral, but must also be considered an illegal means of warfare. This decision filled a significant juridical lacuna, inasmuch as chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-human mines, and cluster bombs are all expressly prohibited by international conventions.  Even more important is the fact that it was mainly the result of a “humanitarian initiative” sponsored by a significant alliance between civil society, states, international organizations, churches, academies, and groups of experts.

[P]rogress that is both effective and inclusive can achieve the utopia of a world free of deadly instruments of aggression, contrary to the criticism of those who consider idealistic any process of dismantling arsenals. The teaching of John XXIII remains ever valid. In pointing to the goal of an integral disarmament, he stated, “Unless this process of disarmament be thoroughgoing and complete, and reach men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race, or to reduce armaments, or—and this is the main thing—ultimately to abolish them entirely.”

More moral clarity on these and other issues would reinforce and complement the legal arguments that must be marshalled for the prohibition treaty to gain broader adherence and for sustaining the decades-long process of negotiating and implementing a follow-on convention on nuclear disarmament.

If one of the goals and outcomes of the humanitarian initiative and the landmine ban treaty was to help democratize the nuclear debate, the challenge for the Catholic Church and other religious institutions and civil society actors is to revitalize engagement on an issue that has largely been ignored since the 1980s. As with anti-nuclear mobilization in the 1980s and the current Global Zero campaign, religious institutions will probably not be in the lead. Yet, they can use their vast institutional infrastructure of parishes, dioceses, schools, universities, religious orders, lay organizations, and media to mobilize and motivate around nuclear issues and give added weight to these initiatives.

That has been difficult to do for the past three decades as the nuclear issue moved to the margins of international affairs and understandably receded in the public consciousness. With the exception of the United States, Japan, and Scotland, even episcopal conferences have tended to leave the nuclear issue to the Holy See.

With the prohibition treaty and a return to nuclear tensions and massive modernization programs, some of the ingredients for new anti-nuclear mobilization are in place. The Vatican symposium, a convening of Catholic leaders from Europe and the United States in London in 2016,15 a joint statement by European and U.S. bishops’ conferences in 2017,16 and other developments suggest that the church is poised to re-engage in a significant way. It is not naïve to hope that, as it does so, it can have the kind of influence it had on President Ronald Reagan and his advisers.17 Catholic and other religious voices in Europe could also reinforce opposition to NATO’s current nuclear modernization programs.

The large, high-profile Vatican symposium showed that Pope Francis is moving the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament back to the center of the church’s international agenda. The challenge for the church is to close the ethics gap and strengthen its capacity to continue to inject morality into the nuclear debate and democratize that debate. As with other entrepreneurial endeavors, that will require a new generation of religious leaders, scholars, and professionals with the competence and interest to contribute to the policy and ethical debate on nuclear disarmament.



1. Pope Francis, Address to international symposium “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament” (The Vatican, November 10, 2017), https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/november/documents/papa-francesco_20171110_convegno-disarmointegrale.html (hereinafter Vatican symposium).

2. “Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the General Assembly of the United Nations,” June 7, 1982, https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/pont_messages/1982/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19820607_disarmo-onu.html.

3. Pope Benedict XVI, “In Truth, Peace,” December 8, 2005, https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20051213_xxxix-world-day-peace.html.

4. Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Lecture at the Woodstock Theological Institute at Georgetown University, March 16, 2010. For a summary of the talk, see Thomas Reese, “Vatican Questions Nuclear Deterrence,” May 12, 2010, http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/vatican-questions-nuclear-deterrence.

5. Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, “Nuclear Disarmament: Time for Abolition,” December 8, 2014, p. 4, www.fciv.org/downloads/Holy%20See%20Contribution-Vienna-8-DEC-2014.pdf (hereinafter study document).

6. Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Statement at the High-Level Meeting of the 68th Session of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament, September 26, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/2013/documents/rc-seg-st-20130926_mamberti-nuclear-disarmament_en.html.

7. Study document, p. 3.

8. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963.

9. Pope Francis, Letter to president of UN conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, March 23, 2017, https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20170323_messaggio-onu.html.

10. Vatican symposium.

11. Study document, pp. 8-9.

12. See Drew Christiansen, “The Vatican and the Ban Treaty,” Journal of Catholic Social Thought, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2018): 89-108.

13. Vatican symposium.

14. For a more detailed explanation of this gap, see Gerard F. Powers, “The Nuclear Ethics Gap: Finding Our Way on the Road to Disarmament,” America, May 17, 2010, p. 11.

15. The event was titled “Colloquium on Catholic Approaches to Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament” and was held at the University of Notre Dame London Centre and the Millbank House on May 24-25, 2016. See Catholic Peacebuilding Network, “Colloquium on U.S.-European Approaches to Nuclear Disarmament,” n.d., https://cpn.nd.edu/news-events/past-events/london-2016/ (accessed April 8, 2018).

16. Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich and Bishop Oscar Cantú, “Nuclear Disarmament: Seeking Human Security,” Justitia et Pax Europa and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, July 6, 2017, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/nuclear-weapons/nuclear-disarmament-seeking-human-security-2017-07-06.cfm.

17. Lawrence J. Korb, “The Vatican Tries to Reduce the Revived Global Threat of Nuclear War,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
December 13, 2017, https://thebulletin.org/vatican-tries-reduce-revived-global-threat-nuclear-war11346.

Gerard Powers is director of Catholic peacebuilding studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. From 1987 to 2004, he was an adviser on nuclear issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis has made a judgment that the strict conditions for the moral acceptability of deterrence are not being met.

The Art of the Summit

May 2018
By Leon V. Sigal

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States,” President-elect Donald Trump tweeted a day after leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech in 2017. “It won’t happen.”

By stopping nuclear and missile testing just short of having a proven thermonuclear weapon and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to deliver it to all of the United States, Kim has made it possible for Trump to achieve his wish, but only if he is prepared to sustain negotiations and live up to his commitments. By contrast, if Trump follows advice to confront Kim at the summit with an ultimatum to disarm or else, North Korea could resume testing.

People watch a television news report showing pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a railway station in Seoul on March 9. Donald Trump agreed on March 8 to a historic first meeting with Kim Jong Un in a stunning development in America's high-stakes nuclear standoff with North Korea. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)Whether Kim may be willing to disarm and what he will want in return is a matter of mere speculation. Concrete proposals for reciprocal steps and diplomatic give-and-take is the only way to find out.

If Trump wants a successful summit, he will seek a statement of principles in which Kim commits to denuclearization and to take some specific steps toward that end. Kim may be willing to make such a commitment to denuclearize, Trump’s ultimate goal; but in return, he will want Trump to pledge an end to enmity. That has been North Korea’s aim ever since 1988, when Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, anticipating the Soviet Union’s collapse, reached out to reconcile with the United States, South Korea, and Japan in order to avoid overdependence on China.

For Pyongyang, that aim was the basis of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the September 2005 six-party joint statement. For Washington, the point of these agreements was suspension of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea shuttered production of fissile material and stopped test launches of medium- and long-range missiles for nearly a decade and did so again from 2007 to 2009. Both agreements collapsed, however, when Washington did little to implement its commitment to reconcile and Pyongyang reneged on denuclearization.

That past is prologue. The most urgent step now is to induce North Korea to suspend production of fissile material. Without it, a North Korean commitment not to proliferate would not be as valuable. Remote monitoring may prove of some use at known production facilities, but delaying suspension to negotiate detailed verification would allow time for more plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) to be produced in the interim. A starting point would be for North Korea to declare how much potential bomb fuel, that is, plutonium and HEU, it has produced and how many nuclear weapons it has. That declaration would be subject to subsequent verification. Beyond a shutdown of fissile material production, Trump might seek a halt to new deployments of intermediate- and intercontinental-range missiles, which also can be monitored remotely.

In return, Kim will want evidence that Trump is willing to reconcile. The Trading With the Enemy Act sanctions imposed before the nuclear issue arose could be relaxed yet again, and energy assistance, unilaterally halted by South Korea in 2008, could be resumed. Verification will require more steps to end enmity, including a commitment to diplomatic recognition starting with an exchange of liaison offices, a pledge by Washington to begin a peace process in Korea, and more energy aid. South Korea could halt its development of a new 300-kilometer-range ballistic missile and allow reciprocal inspections of sites the North suspects host nuclear weapons.

Such a standstill agreement would enable Trump to claim the success he wants. If he demands too much, however, he could torpedo the summit.

The odds of persuading North Korea to go beyond another temporary suspension and dismantle its nuclear and missile production facilities are slim without firm commitments from Washington and Seoul to take more far-reaching steps toward political and economic normalization, engage in a peace process to end the Korean War, and negotiate regional security arrangements, among them a nuclear-weapon-free zone that would provide a multilateral legal framework for denuclearization.1

Dismantling production facilities and disarming will take years, as will convincing steps toward reconciliation. Only then will it become clear whether Kim is willing to give up his weapons.

If negotiations fail to stop North Korea from arming, the United States and its allies can continue to rely on deterrence. Yet, some steps each side takes to bolster deterrence raise the risk of deadly conflict, as shown by the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in retaliation for the South firing on a North Korean naval vessel the previous November and the subsequent exchange of artillery fire in the West Sea.

So even then, the United States will need to complement deterrence with diplomatic engagement to reduce the risk of war, just as it took the Cuban missile crisis to get the United States and the Soviet Union to negotiate in earnest.


1. For a version of a comprehensive settlement, see Morton Halperin et al., “General Roadmap and Work Plan for Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea,” NAPSnet Special Reports, April 10, 2018, https://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/general-roadmap-and-work-plan-for-nuclear-diplomacy-with-north-korea/.

Leon V. Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York and author of Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy With North Korea (1998).

How the Trump-Kim meeting can go well—or badly.

Q&A: Prospects and Perils at a Trump-Kim Summit

May 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are due to meet by early June in a historic, high-stakes summit.

They make an odd couple: a self-confident U.S. president, largely inexperienced in international affairs and distracted by federal investigations, who is looking to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear threat; and an authoritarian North Korean leader, undercut by severe international sanctions, who is seeking to ensure the survival of the dynastic regime established 70 years ago by his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. In the past year, they have traded insults, such as “little rocket man” and “dotard,” and threatened each other with nuclear devastation, demonstrating just how much is on the line at this summit, which would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of communist North Korea.

How will they interact face to face? What will they decide about the future of North Korea’s nuclear weapons systems, now capable of striking much or all of the United States? Can they set aside decades of enmity between the two countries to avoid repeating the past failures?

Two experts on U.S.-North Korean diplomacy share some of their views looking ahead to a Trump-Kim meeting. Jenny Town is assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and managing editor of the website 38 North. Frank Jannuzi is president and CEO of the Mansfield Foundation and a former policy director for East Asian and Pacific affairs for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Photo credits: The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Mansfield Foundation)Arms Control Today in mid-April asked two experts on U.S.-North Korean diplomacy to share some of their views looking ahead to a meeting. Jenny Town is assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and managing editor of the website 38 North, which analyzes North Korean developments. Frank Jannuzi is president and CEO of the Mansfield Foundation and a former policy director for East Asian and Pacific affairs for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

What should the goals and objectives of the proposed Trump-Kim summit be? What can the two heads of state reasonably expect to accomplish in one meeting?

Town: This is not going to be a one-time, problem-solved event, but can create the top-down mandate for negotiations on a common goal and a mutual understanding of how that process will proceed. Especially important will be gaining mutual agreement on the pacing for this process to avoid frustration early on.

Jannuzi: The main goal for the United States should be to reaffirm or, more accurately, “establish” that North Korea is prepared to abandon its nuclear weapons completely and verifiably in exchange for peace, sanctions relief, and security assurances. I don't think “irreversible” denuclearization has ever been a realistic goal, as the scientific capacity to produce nuclear weapons, once learned, cannot be forgotten.

Kim will almost certainly hand over the three detained Americans, either at the summit or shortly thereafter, as a gift to Trump, who will bring them to the White House for a photo op, crediting his pressure tactics for their release. Trump will not offer and Kim does not expect any sanctions relief. Kim does not expect to receive any “gifts” beyond the great gift Trump is already giving him by agreeing to a face-to-face meeting as equals.

What does the administration need to do to prepare Trump for an encounter with Kim, and how might Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser affect the administration’s approach?

Town: In the next few weeks, efforts should be focused on setting clear objectives and realistic expectations for the summit. I’m sure the administration is developing what a desired road map for this process might be and briefing Trump on areas where there is flexibility and where there is not. There is no shortage of ideas out there on what should be included in a comprehensive agreement, and there are past agreements to draw from. Certainly, both sides are likely studying these past agreements; assessing what new conditions exist that didn’t before, such as North Korea’s advancements in weapons of mass destruction technologies; and mapping out new priorities for what will need to be addressed in a new agreement and including roles for various actors.

Jannuzi: To paraphrase former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry's admonition on how to engage North Korea, we must all deal with the United States as it is, rather than as we might wish it to be. Trump will represent the United States at this summit, and he probably will not be prepared for it. He does not read, and it is not clear that he will listen to any advice. At the summit, Trump will have many opportunities to freelance answers to complex questions and improvise slap-dash solutions to decades-old challenges. The Trump administration will likely spend weeks doing "damage control" after the summit, walking back the president's words and "contextualizing" them for their North Korean counterparts.

If Pompeo and Bolton have a chance to influence Trump at all, they will probably play constructive roles. In his testimony before the Senate, Pompeo indicated both a willingness to talk to North Korea and a healthy skepticism about whether the North Koreans can be relied on to fulfill the terms of any deal. Pompeo will need to keep his skepticism in check for now. There will be plenty of time later to address the dogged questions of phasing, verification, and reciprocity that will make any deal difficult to implement. As for Bolton, Trump will likely use him as a foil, trotting him out whenever he wants to remind the North Koreans that some in his inner circle would prefer to bomb their territory. Trump will play good cop to Bolton's bad cop, painting himself as the reasonable negotiating partner looking for a “deal” in comparison to the Bolton “pit bull” itching for a rumble.

How can the two sides create a framework for sustained negotiations on steps toward denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula?

Town: While there are several bilateral summits going on, this issue certainly will need multilateral cooperation to solve. It is crucial to have buy-in from the key stakeholders, not only for what they bring to the table but also to avoid intentional disruptions to the process for being left out.

Jannuzi: I think the Trump administration seeks a “declaratory” outcome from this summit, not a substantive outcome or sustained process. Trump will declare that, as a result of his pressure tactics and brilliant negotiating skill, North Korea has promised to denuclearize. He will muse publicly about getting a Nobel peace prize and ask the media to praise his historic accomplishment. Fox News will oblige him. Kim will declare that his nuclear weapons have accomplished their purpose and delivered peace and security. He will bask in the warmth of the respect and international legitimacy implied by his summit with Trump. Both leaders will leave all of the “details” to be worked out later by their teams.

Substantive talks, which will likely be delayed until after the U.S. midterm elections, will prove long and difficult, if they take place at all. The United States has no discernible, realistic road map to accomplish denuclearization and so will have to draft one over the summer that can be presented to the North Koreans for their evaluation and response. In the meantime, I expect the two sides [to] meet at the working level, focusing on very modest interim steps, such as sustaining a missile and nuclear test freeze in exchange for no new sanctions or punitive measures by the United States.

What role do you see South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping playing in facilitating a positive outcome?

Town: China and South Korea are key players in the process. Xi’s support for negotiations and belief that Kim is ready to go down this road seems to be already set. Whether Moon walks away from his meeting with Kim at Panmunjom with that same perspective could influence whether the Trump-Kim summit even happens.

Jannuzi: Moon will ensure that the Trump administration has a clear understanding of the results of the Moon-Kim summit, and he will encourage Kim to hand Trump what he most wants: a “win.” Xi will warn Kim not to waste this opportunity to transform the U.S. posture from hostility to cooperation, and he will likely pledge some relaxation of sanctions enforcement if North Korea promises to denuclearize.

What pitfalls from past U.S.-North Korean experiences must be avoided so that we do not sink back into a cycle of escalation?

Town: The key point to learn from past agreements is that the devil is in the details. Making sure that once an agreement is on paper, the details are specific, nothing is taken for granted, and verification measures are explicit. Multilateral coordination will be essential to prevent disruptions and loopholes. Moreover, coordination among domestic policy institutions will be important to avoid various actors taking uncoordinated actions that undermine or derail the process.

Jannuzi: The United States should understand that denuclearization and peace are processes that require time and patience. Washington will surely encounter difficulties implementing any agreement. Rather than see each problem as proof of North Korean bad faith, Washington should be prepared for a sustained diplomatic effort that will likely take decades to accomplish its ultimate objectives.

Unfortunately, this is not the approach the Trump administration has in mind. It says that it wants to front-load any agreement to avoid the “mistakes of the past,” including the phased, reciprocal nature of the 1994 Agreed Framework. It wants a process of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, known as CVID, that is completed in months, not years. This is not realistic. The Korean peninsula has been divided for 70 years, and the North Koreans have been pursuing nuclear weapons for decades. They will not abandon them quickly or cheaply, and it will require CVIPS (complete, verifiable, and irreversible peace and security) in exchange for CVID.

Two experts look ahead to a pivotal meeting.

Improving U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Policy

May 2018
By George Lewis and Frank von Hippel

Since President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, the U.S. government has spent an average of $10 billion per year in today’s dollars on ballistic missile defense systems whose effectiveness is limited at best and whose deployment threatens the future of nuclear arms control with China and Russia.

Now, under pressure due to North Korean development of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Congress and the Trump administration are on the verge of throwing additional tens of billions of dollars into the same black hole. Indeed, the congressional appropriation for ballistic missile defense in fiscal year 2018 is the largest ever.

A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block 1B interceptor is launched from the USS Lake Erie during a test in the mid-Pacific on May 16, 2013. The SM-3 Block 1B intercepted the target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii. The ship, equipped with the second-generation Aegis BMD weapon system, detected and tracked the target using the onboard SPY-1 radar, visible to the left of the base of the plume. (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)U.S. policy needs an overhaul. The problems with current U.S. policy fall into two realms: the political reactions of China and Russia and the technical emphasis on missile interception above the atmosphere. This article explains the problems and proposes an alternative approach.

The current U.S. focus is on North Korea’s ballistic missiles. China and Russia, however, see U.S. ballistic missile defense systems as a potential threat to their nuclear deterrents. Their scientists understand that current U.S. systems can be countered with penetration aids, commonly known as countermeasures; but their policymakers worry that eventually these U.S. systems could become effective, especially if a U.S. first strike decimated their deterrent missiles. As a result, China is increasing the number of ballistic missile warheads that can reach the United States; Russia is unwilling to join the United States in further nuclear weapons reductions; and China and Russia are developing alternative warhead-delivery systems, such as hypersonic boost-glide weapons, that will further fuel a nuclear arms race.

The U.S. approach to ballistic missile defense emphasizes interception above the atmosphere, the longest portion of an ICBM warhead’s trajectory. Unfortunately, interception can be made particularly difficult here, posing high technical hurdles to success. Due to the absence of air resistance, lightweight countermeasures can be deployed that are indistinguishable from the warhead or can conceal its exact location from the defender’s detection systems.

Instead of continuing to apply the current flawed approach, an alternative policy consisting of more effective ballistic missile defenses against North Korea and diplomacy and arms control should be pursued. First, although countermeasures against above-the-atmosphere (exoatmospheric) defenses are within North Korea’s technical reach, the country is so small that interception of its ICBMs during the boost phase may be possible using fast interceptors based on or over international waters. Such an approach would not have the reach to threaten ICBMs currently based deep within China or Russia. Second, war with North Korea would be catastrophic for the people of North and South Korea, Japan, and quite possibly the United States. Although North Korea’s threats are appalling, there is little evidence that its leadership is suicidal. Diplomacy should be pursued to create a common understanding of the danger and avoid war in the near term, creating time for a long-term strategy for nuclear risk reduction in the region. Similarly, nuclear arms negotiations must begin with China and be revived with Russia. These negotiations almost certainly will have to include limitations on ballistic missile defenses.

Current U.S. Systems

For the purposes of discussing interception, it is convenient to divide the flight of an attacking ballistic missile into three phases. Boost phase involves the first minutes during which the payload is being accelerated by its rocket booster. Midcourse, after the booster burns out and its payload coasts through space on a ballistic trajectory, is in the vacuum of space and is the primary focus of current U.S. efforts against longer-range ballistic missiles. Terminal phase involves the last tens of seconds during which a missile or warhead plunges back through the atmosphere toward its target. Currently deployed U.S. ballistic missile defense systems target only the midcourse and terminal phases, although there has been interest in boost-phase interception since the 1950s.

Raytheon’s Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle is basically a flying infrared telescope pointed and steered by thrusters. (Photo: Raytheon)U.S. ballistic missile defense systems are comprised of sensors, interceptors, and command-and-control systems that link the two. The ballistic missile tracking system starts with data from early-warning satellites in high-altitude orbits that detect the infrared emissions from missile-booster plumes and provide data on their launch points and approximate trajectories. Thereafter, radars are used to track the warheads. The long-range interceptors that defend the United States are guided primarily by five large, long-range, early-warning radars located in California, Cape Cod, Greenland, the United Kingdom, and Alaska, plus the Cobra Dane radar in the Aleutian Islands, which was originally built in the 1970s to observe the flight tests of Soviet ballistic missiles.

All these radars have been upgraded to allow them to track ballistic missiles accurately enough to guide exoatmospheric interceptors. The wavelengths of their signals are too long, however, to measure the shapes of the objects that they are tracking in enough detail to discriminate between an actual attacking warhead and other similar-sized objects. In 2008 the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) deployed the sea-based X-band radar. Based in Honolulu, this radar system can sail to any desired location in the Pacific region. Although specifically built for target discrimination, it could be fooled by decoys or other midcourse countermeasures and has other serious deficiencies. Shorter-range interceptors are guided by their own shorter-range radars, although they can be cued by early-warning satellites and also potentially use data from other radars.

Currently, the United States has five deployed ballistic missile defense systems: the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD), Aegis BMD ships, Aegis Ashore, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and Patriot systems.1 The current focus for U.S. homeland defense is the GMD system, whose deployment was initiated by the G.W. Bush administration to defend all U.S. states against ICBMs. By the end of 2017, a total of 44 interceptors were deployed, 40 at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at the Vandenberg Air Force Base missile flight-test site in California.

Each interceptor carries a homing exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV). Guided by the long-range radars, the booster propels the EKV into outer space toward its incoming target at a speed of about six kilometers (3.8 miles) per second. The EKV uses its infrared seeker and divert thrusters to maneuver itself into a direct, high-speed collision with its target.

Thus far, the GMD system has succeeded in killing its target warhead in only half of the 18 interception tests. Most of the failures have been due to quality control issues resulting from the rush to meet the politically motivated 2004 deadline for declaring the system operational. The problems with the EKV are so severe that the MDA has decided to replace the deployed EKVs with the Redesigned Kill Vehicle, starting in 2022.

The GMD system has cost about $40 billion to date, or $1 billion per deployed interceptor,2 but was assessed in June 2017 by the Department of Defense’s operational test and evaluation office to have only “demonstrated the capability to defend the U.S. Homeland from a small number of intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) or intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats with simple countermeasures.”3 This ambiguous statement does not mean the GMD system would be effective in actual use.

The Navy currently has about 85 Aegis destroyers and cruisers each equipped with four-faced SPY-1 phased-array radar systems and about 100 vertical launch tubes. In addition to ballistic missile defense interceptors, the launch tubes can carry anti-aircraft missiles, land-attack cruise missiles, and anti-submarine weapons. Thus far, more than 35 Aegis ships have been upgraded to be able to perform ballistic missile defense missions. The number is increasing at a rate of about four per year—two via upgrades of existing ships, two by new construction. By the mid-2030s, it is likely that the entire fleet will be capable of ballistic missile defense activities.

The Aegis missiles are variants of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3). These are exoatmospheric interceptors with infrared-homing kill vehicles similar to but much smaller than the GMD interceptors. SM-3 Block I interceptors have a burnout speed of about three kilometers per second with a maximum intercept range of a few hundred kilometers, which is too low to defend a large area such as the United States. By 2019, however, the Navy plans to begin deployment of a new higher-speed Block IIA interceptor being co-developed with Japan. With a burnout speed of about 4.5 kilometers per second, it could defend the entire United States from a small number of offshore and onshore locations, using the long-range GMD radars for determining approximate intercept points. Congress has recently mandated that the Block IIA missile be tested against an ICBM by the end of 2020 “if technologically feasible.”4

The Navy also has developed a land-based version known as Aegis Ashore. One such facility is operational in Romania, and a second is being built in Poland. Both projects were launched early in the Obama administration when there was concern that Iran, like North Korea, might acquire nuclear weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles. These Aegis Ashore bases have infuriated Russia, which claims that they could be used to forward-base cruise missiles in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Yet, the United States is not reconsidering their deployment, despite the constraints Iran has accepted on its nuclear program and its self-imposed 2,000-kilometer-range limit on its ballistic missiles.5

The United States operates an Aegis Ashore test facility in Hawaii that could be converted into an operational facility to defend against North Korean ICBMs. Japan, which operates six Aegis ships and plans two more, has recently announced its intention to build two Aegis Ashore facilities to guard against North Korean missiles. The United States has recently begun deploying Standard Missile-6 interceptors on Aegis ships, which can intercept shorter-range missiles in their terminal phase.

The THAAD and Patriot systems are terminal-phase ballistic missile defense systems designed to intercept attacking missiles in the atmosphere as they descend toward their targets. The THAAD system also can operate just above the atmosphere. Patriot missiles are intended for use against shorter-range missiles and aircraft. Although the areas that THAAD and Patriot batteries could protect would be much too small for them to be used to defend the entire United States, THAAD missiles could be used as a second layer of defense for metropolitan areas. It is deployed in South Korea and Guam.

Reliability Versus Operational Effectiveness

The GMD intercept test May 30, 2017, cost $244 million.6 It would be extremely costly to conduct enough intercept tests to cover the full range of possible battle conditions, including credible countermeasures. Therefore, intercept tests for midcourse systems essentially are highly scripted demonstrations to validate simulations. When they fail, it is usually because of a quality-control failure in the hardware. The GMD system has failed half of its 18 intercept tests. The Aegis system has done better, with an 82 percent success rate in SM-3 Block I intercept tests, but the Block IIA has failed in two of its three intercept tests.

Establishing that a given ballistic missile defense system can work reliably against targets under ideal conditions (e.g., during the day with the sun behind the kill vehicle illuminating a target unaccompanied by serious penetration aids) is only the first step toward establishing the operational effectiveness of the system. The fundamental question is how well these systems would work in actual combat conditions when unexpected circumstances and enemy countermeasures must be addressed.

The experience of the Patriot Advanced Capability-2 system highlights the difference between reliability on the test range and operational effectiveness in battle. Although it was reportedly successful in all 17 of its prewar intercept tests, it failed nearly completely during the 1991 Persian Gulf War in 44 engagements against Iraqi Scud missiles that had characteristics quite different from the targets against which it had been tested.7

Midcourse Countermeasures

The challenge of exoatmospheric countermeasures has been part of the public discussion of ballistic missile defense for 50 years. In the absence of air resistance, light and heavy objects travel on indistinguishable trajectories in outer space. Warheads can be concealed in clouds of radar-reflecting chaff or inside aluminized balloons, and decoys can be constructed of very lightweight materials. The temperatures and therefore the infrared signatures of objects also can be manipulated in outer space by varying their surface coatings or by adding small battery-powered or chemical heat sources inside.

All five of the original nuclear-weapon states have developed countermeasures for their long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.8 Many countermeasures are simple enough such that a 1999 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that

[m]any countries, such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq probably would rely initially on readily available technology—including separating [re-entry vehicles (RVs)], spin-stabilized RVs, RV reorientation, radar absorbing material (RAM), booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, and simple (balloon) decoys—to develop penetration aids and countermeasures…. These countries could develop countermeasures based on these technologies by the time they flight test their missiles.9

A 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences found, however, that the MDA had abandoned significant efforts to deal with countermeasures.

Based on the information presented to it by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the committee learned very little that would help resolve the discrimination issue in the presence of sophisticated countermeasures. In fact, the committee had to seek out people who had put together experiments…and who had understood and analyzed the data gathered. Their funding was terminated several years ago, ostensibly for budget reasons, and their expertise was lost. When the committee asked MDA to provide real signature data from all flight tests, MDA did not appear to know where to find them.10

Details about the testing of U.S. interceptors against countermeasures are highly classified, but there is no public indication of change in the fundamental fact that, because of their susceptibility to countermeasures, ballistic missile defense systems requiring exoatmospheric interception can promise little in the way of effective defense. Building and deploying them wastes billions of dollars that could be used more effectively on other activities, including potentially more effective types of ballistic missile defense.

One way to force the MDA to acknowledge the countermeasure problem would be to establish an independent testing team to equip target missiles with penetration aids considered within the reach of North Korea. Indeed, a congressionally mandated 2010 study of countermeasures by JASON, a high-level independent technical review panel, recommended such an approach. The MDA tried to suppress the report.11

Stimulating Offensive Buildups

In addition to high costs and doubtful effectiveness, exoatmospheric ballistic missile defense systems can have serious adverse effects on U.S. security. One is to undercut Russia’s willingness to reduce further the number of its nuclear warheads or consider taking its missiles off hair-trigger alert.

In the wake of the Cold War, Washington and Moscow agreed to deep cuts in their deployed strategic weapons. Even after the United States began deploying its GMD system in 2004, the two countries were able to reduce weapons levels further, to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). This last reduction was possible only because the U.S. GMD system initially had very limited objectives and was deployed slowly. The goal of 30 interceptors was achieved only in 2010, and the total number reached 44 only at the end of 2017.

Galvanized by the threat of North Korean nuclear-armed ICBMs, the United States is now embarking on a much larger and more rapid expansion of ballistic missile defense systems. Congress has recently approved funds to deploy an additional 20 GMD interceptors by 2023 and to plan for a further increase to at least 104 interceptors.12 Planned qualitative improvements to the GMD system include the deployment of multiple, small kill vehicles on GMD boosters and a new discrimination radar.13 More importantly, in terms of numbers of long-range interceptors, the number of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors with their theoretical capabilities to intercept strategic missiles could climb to between 300 and 400 or more by the 2030s, with deployments on 80 to 90 ships and at Aegis Ashore sites.

The congressional mandate that the SM-3 Block IIA interceptors be tested against an ICBM will almost certainly increase Russian and Chinese perceptions of threat to the deterrent value of their strategic ballistic missile forces. Congress has acknowledged this problem by requiring that the Pentagon assess whether testing the SM-3 Block IIA against ICBMs would undermine the nuclear deterrence capabilities of nuclear-armed adversaries other than North Korea.14

When it signed New START in April 2010, Russia stipulated that a buildup of U.S. missile defenses could be grounds for Moscow to withdraw. At that time, Russia had nearly 50 times more strategic nuclear ballistic missile warheads than the United States had strategic-capable interceptors. Even without taking into account losses from a hypothetical U.S. first strike, that ratio will soon fall into the single digits. At best, therefore, the expansion of the GMD system and the large-scale deployment of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors on Aegis ships would lock the United States and Russia into the current New START levels for the indefinite future.

Personnel at the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, work at the test-control facility during an interceptor flight June 22, 2014. A long-range ground-based interceptor was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target launched from the U.S. Army’s Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)The U.S. ballistic missile defense buildup may already be provoking China to augment its strategic offensive forces. China has been increasing the number of its ICBMs, begun deploying submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and is developing ICBMs with multiple warheads, actions widely viewed as being at least in part a response to the U.S. ballistic missile defense program. China also may be moving away from its historical practice of deploying its missiles separately from their nuclear warheads to protect against accidental or unauthorized launch, and Russia and China are developing alternative delivery systems, including hypersonic boost-glide vehicles that cannot be intercepted by current or planned U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. Furthermore, they could respond to U.S. actions by accelerating their own missile defense programs, increasing the danger of a destabilizing, three-sided offense-defense competition.

Despite the availability of countermeasures to the systems that the United States is deploying today, the ultimate driver of Russian and Chinese offensive counters to the U.S. ballistic missile defense program is that it is completely open-ended. There is no indication of when or if the process of expanding and layering of defenses will end.

Boost-Phase Missile Defense

Boost-phase missile defense offers a technical fix to the problem of North Korean ICBMs and provides a potential avenue to address some Russian and Chinese concerns. Although ballistic missile defense advocates are reluctant to admit how easily midcourse defenses could be defeated, some tacitly acknowledge the problem by promoting boost-phase defenses. Countermeasures are much less of a problem for boost-phase interception than for midcourse interception because, for instance, a decoy would have to have a full-size operational rocket booster.

The technical challenge is that the boost phase is only a few minutes long. Therefore, the defense must be deployed close to the attacking missile’s launch site, although obviously it cannot be stationed within the target country’s airspace. For surface- or air-based interceptors or drone-borne lasers, these constraints limit the feasibility of defenses against ICBMs to launches from small countries, such as North Korea. One benefit is that such boost-phase defenses would be much less threatening to land-based ICBMs deep in the interiors of large countries such as Russia or China and therefore would be less likely to trigger an offense-defense competition.

Currently, the MDA’s only boost-phase program is an effort to deploy electrically driven lasers on high-altitude drones.15 Such a system faces many technical challenges and, even if they are overcome, would not be operational until the mid-2020s.

Given the urgency of the North Korean threat, an approach that uses small, high-acceleration, high-speed interceptors on drones or ships could provide a boost-phase capability earlier. One notional system would deploy such interceptors on Predator drones based in South Korea. The drones would patrol roughly 100 kilometers off North Korea’s east and west coasts. A preliminary analysis indicates that two such interceptors could be carried on a Predator B drone.16

If developed as an expedited Defense Department program using existing technologies, such a boost-phase defense could potentially be operational within three years. Its advantages would include reducing political pressures to expand the GMD system, with its counterproductive effects on the future of nuclear arms control with China and Russia. Although North Korea might eventually be able to build faster-burning, solid-fueled boosters that would be more difficult for this boost-phase system to counter, it takes many years to master the technology of large solid-fueled boosters, buying time for diplomacy.

It is not as clear that such an alternative system would reduce the demand for SM-3 Block IIA interceptors. Although they could be used to defend U.S. territory, they are justified primarily as defenses against shorter-range missiles aimed at U.S. allies and carrier battle groups. Boost-phase defenses would be less effective against shorter-range missiles because they have shorter boost times.

Preventing deployments of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor from halting or even reversing progress in reducing nuclear weapons will thus likely require quantitative limits on its deployment. The current political environment would seem to rule out a formal treaty imposing such limits, but a recognition by the United States of the long-term consequences of unlimited SM-3 Block IIA deployments might lead it to some restraint in deployment. Although the SM-3 Block IIA has some significant advantages over the SM-3 Block IB, a mixed force comprised mostly of SM-3 Block IBs would also have advantages, in particular a significantly lower cost that could allow the acquisition of greater numbers of interceptors.

If reduced numbers of SM-3 Block IIA interceptors were combined with other measures, such as limits on testing against long-range missiles, it might significantly reduce Russian and Chinese concerns and their responses to deployment. Interceptor speed and testing limits were discussed with Russia during the Clinton administration as a way to deal with Russia’s concerns about U.S. theater missile defenses, and it was agreed that interceptors having a burnout speed of less than three kilometers per second, that is, the speed of the SM-3 Block I interceptors, would be of little concern if they were not tested against targets with the speeds of strategic missiles.17

The confluence of Iran’s announcement on constraining its missile ranges and the congressional mandate to examine the implications of SM-3 Block IIA interceptor deployments on other countries’ deterrent capabilities may present an opportunity to reconsider its deployment. An imporant first step would be to reverse the congressional requirement to test the interceptor against an ICBM.


The best alternative to continuing on the current trajectory of the U.S. ballistic missile defense program would be a combination of diplomacy and arms control. In the 16 years since President George W. Bush withdrew the country from the ABM Treaty, the United States has spent about $150 billion in today’s dollars on ballistic missile defenses.18 That expenditure has produced systems susceptible to countermeasures that are within the technological reach of North Korea. It has also revived the arms race with Russia and provoked a Chinese offensive buildup.

Perhaps it is time to try something else. The alternative approach that made it possible to end the Cold War nuclear buildup was arms control, starting with the ABM Treaty. Perhaps that would be a good place to start again. In fact, the United States has not moved far from the limits of the ABM Treaty and the 1997 theater missile defense demarcation agreement with Russia. The United States has fewer than 100 long-range interceptors and has not yet begun to deploy theater missile interceptors with burnout speeds greater than three kilometers per second. Perhaps it is not too late.



1. “FY16 Ballistic Missile Defense Systems,” n.d., p. 408, http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2016/pdf/bmds/2016bmds.pdf.

2. David Willman, “Pentagon Successfully
Tests Missile Defense System Amid Rising Concerns About North Korea,” Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2017.

3. “FY17 Ballistic Missile Defense Systems,” n.d., p. 279, http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2017/pdf/bmds/2017bmds.pdf.

4. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, H.R. Rep. No. 115-404, sec. 1680 (2017) (Conf. Rep.) (hereinafter 2018 defense authorization conference report).

5. Nasser Karimi and Jon Gambrell, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Limits Range for Ballistic Missiles Produced Locally,” Associated Press, October 31, 2017.

6. Justin Doubleday, “Pentagon Delays First Salvo Test of GMD System,” Inside Defense SITREP, June 1, 2017.

7. George N. Lewis and Theodore A. Postol, “Patriot Performance in the Gulf War,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 8 (2000), pp. 315–356; Jeremiah D. Sullivan et al., “Technical Debate Over Patriot Performance in the Gulf War,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 8 (1999), pp. 41–98.

8. Andrew M. Sessler et al., “Countermeasures: A Technical Evaluation of the Operational Effectiveness of the Planned U.S. National Missile Defense System,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 2000, pp. 35–37, 145–148, http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nwgs/cm_all.pdf.

9. U.S. National Intelligence Council, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015,” September 1999, https://fas.org/irp/threat/missile/nie99msl.htm.

10. National Research Council, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” National Academies Press, September 2012, pp. 10, 21, 131.

11. JASON, “MDA Discrimination,” JSR-10-620, August 3, 2010, https://fas.org/irp/agency/dod/jason/mda-dis.pdf (unclassified summary). The report gives no indication that any solution to the discrimination problem has been found.

12. 2018 defense authorization conference report, sec. 1686.

13. John Keller, “Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Refine MOKV Missile Defense to Kill Several Warheads With One Launch,” Military Aerospace Electronics, April 5, 2017, http://www.militaryaerospace.com/articles/2017/04/missile-defense-to-kill-several-warheads-at-once.html.

14. 2018 defense authorization conference report, pp. 1032–1033.

15. Mostlymissiledefense, “Chronology of MDA’s Plans for Laser Boost-Phase Defense,” August 26, 2016, https://mostlymissiledefense.com/2016/08/26/chronology-of-mdas-plans-for-laser-boost-phase-defense-august-26-2016/.

16. Richard L. Garwin and Theodore A. Postol, “Airborne Patrol to Destroy DPRK ICBMs in Powered Flight,” n.d., https://fas.org/rlg/airborne.pdf

17. Amy F. Woolf, “Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Demarcation and Succession Agreements: Background and Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, 98-496 F, April 27, 2000.

18. U.S. Missile Defense Agency, “Historical Funding for MDA FY85-17,” n.d., https://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/FY17_histfunds.pdf.


George Lewis, a physicist, is a visiting scholar at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell University. Frank von Hippel is a senior research physicist and professor emeritus of public and international affairs at Princeton University, where he co-founded the Program on Science and Global Security.

Why a new approach is needed now.

DOCUMENT: Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula

May 2018

The following is the an English translation from the South Korean government of the full text of a joint declaration signed and issued by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of their April 27 summit at the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom.

During this momentous period of historical transformation on the Korean Peninsula, reflecting the enduring aspiration of the Korean people for peace, prosperity and unification, President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea held an Inter-Korean Summit Meeting at the “Peace House” at Panmunjeom on April 27, 2018.

The two leaders solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (R) take part in a welcoming ceremony April 27 at the start of their historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom. (Photo: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/AFP/Getty Images)

The two leaders, sharing the firm commitment to bring a swift end to the Cold War relic of longstanding division and confrontation, to boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity, and to improve and cultivate inter-Korean relations in a more active manner, declared at this historic site of Panmunjeom as follows :

1. South and North Korea will reconnect the blood relations of the people and bring forward the future of co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans by facilitating comprehensive and groundbreaking advancement in inter-Korean relations. Improving and cultivating inter-Korean relations is the prevalent desire of the whole nation and the urgent calling of the times that cannot be held back any further.

  • South and North Korea affirmed the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord and agreed to bring forth the watershed moment for the improvement of inter-Korean relations by fully implementing all existing agreements and declarations adopted between the two sides thus far.
  • South and North Korea agreed to hold dialogue and negotiations in various fields including at high level, and to take active measures for the implementation of the agreements reached at the Summit.
  • South and North Korea agreed to establish a joint liaison office with resident representatives of both sides in the Gaeseong region in order to facilitate close consultation between the authorities as well as smooth exchanges and cooperation between the peoples.
  • South and North Korea agreed to encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity. Between South and North, the two sides will encourage the atmosphere of amity and cooperation by actively staging various joint events on the dates that hold special meaning for both South and North Korea, such as June 15, in which participants from all levels, including central and local governments, parliaments, political parties, and civil organizations, will be involved. On the international front, the two sides agreed to demonstrate their collective wisdom, talents, and solidarity by jointly participating in international sports events such as the 2018 Asian Games.
  • South and North Korea agreed to endeavor to swiftly resolve the humanitarian issues that resulted from the division of the nation, and to convene the Inter-Korean Red Cross Meeting to discuss and solve various issues including the reunion of separated families. In this vein, South and North Korea agreed to proceed with reunion programs for the separated families on the occasion of the National Liberation Day of August 15 this year.
  • South and North Korea agreed to actively implement the projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 Declaration, in order to promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation. As a first step, the two sides agreed to adopt practical steps towards the connection and modernization of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilization.

2. South and North Korea will make joint efforts to alleviate the acute military tension and practically eliminate the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula. Alleviating the military tension and eliminating the danger of war is a highly significant challenge directly linked to the fate of the Korean people and also a vital task in guaranteeing their peaceful and stable lives.

  • South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict. In this vein, the two sides agreed to transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone in a genuine sense by ceasing as of May 1 this year all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets, in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line.
  • South and North Korea agreed to devise a practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone in order to prevent accidental military clashes and guarantee safe fishing activities.
  • South and North Korea agreed to take various military measures to ensure active mutual cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts. The two sides agreed to hold frequent meetings between military authorities, including the Defense Ministers Meeting, in order to immediately discuss and solve military issues that arise between them. In this regard, the two sides agreed to first convene military talks at the rank of general in May.

3. South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Bringing an end to the current unnatural state of armistice and establishing a robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is a historical mission that must not be delayed any further.

  • South and North Korea reaffirmed the Non-Aggression Agreement that precludes the use of force in any form against each other, and agreed to strictly adhere to this Agreement.
  • South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.
  • During this year that marks the 65th anniversary of the Armistice, South and North Korea agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States and China with a view to declaring an end to the War, turning the armistice into a peace treaty, and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.
  • South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. South and North Korea shared the view that the measures being initiated by North Korea are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agreed to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard. South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The two leaders agreed, through regular meetings and direct telephone conversations, to hold frequent and candid discussions on issues vital to the nation, to strengthen mutual trust and to jointly endeavor to strengthen the positive momentum towards continuous advancement of inter-Korean relations as well as peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

In this context, President Moon Jae-in agreed to visit Pyongyang this fall.

Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula

REMARKS: ‘I’m For This Summit’

May 2018
By Bill Richardson

The planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is good, important, and impressive, but it comes with a lot of risks. If the summit doesn’t succeed, the problem isn’t going to be a return to the status quo, where there was enormous tension, but something worse.

Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and Democratic governor of New Mexico, gives a keynote address at the Arms Control Association annual meeting April 19. (Photo: Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)My concern is that the United States must be prepared, that the president must be prepared, and I worry sometimes that he’s not very prepared. I’ve been to North Korea eight times, and the North Koreans are disciplined, they’re prepared, they’re very inflexible, and they’re very formal. When you negotiate with them, they have their talking points, they vent, they’re hostile. They want you to listen to them, to show respect. Then, you respond. The key is on the sidelines, the informal. That’s where you make a personal connection. That’s where, maybe, you make a deal with them on detainees, on return of remains of U.S. servicemen, on an issue relating to food. It’s always informal. They don’t make it at the negotiating table. For that, Trump needs to be patient, restrained, and prepared.

The North Koreans’ idea of negotiating is not about a quid pro quo. While for us it is a quid pro quo, a compromise, the North Koreans feel they have divine guidance tied to the grandfather, father, and now Kim. Their idea of a concession is to give you a little time until you arrive at their position.

Further, denuclearization means a different thing to each country. To some in Washington, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means Kim hands over his missile systems and his nuclear weapons, and he allows inspections to check that the regime is keeping its word. To the North Koreans, it means mutual steps, including requiring the United States to take down the nuclear umbrella over allies South Korea and Japan. Need to make a distinction between halting and ceasing their nuclear program, which is on the table, and disarming their existing arsenal, which I doubt is really on the table.

The danger of this summit comes from unrealistic expectations. The North Koreans are not going to hand over the keys to their kingdom. I believe that Trump is taking a gamble, but it is the correct gamble. I am for this summit. I am also for the meeting that the CIA Director Mike Pompeo had with the North Korean leader. Kim’s meeting with Pompeo has paved the way, I believe, for a positive summit. Trump has invested a lot in this summit, and so has Kim. The summit has to produce some results.

I think what we need is to keep expectations manageable. What is realistic? One, the return of the three detained Americans. I think that is a deliverable that would happen at the summit. Two, something that is very important to me, the return of remains of our soldiers from the Korean War. I brought seven remains back as an envoy for President George W. Bush in 2007. There are about 5,300 still in North Korea, and there are a lot of families out there that want to see these remains come home. Three, hopefully some South Korean-North Korean family reunifications and movement on human rights, which are doable. I hope that happens. Finally, on the nuclear side, I think we’ve got to set up a process of negotiation. The deal that the North Koreans will likely agree to includes halting and ceasing their nuclear and missile programs, in return for significant adjustments to the U.S. presence on the peninsula, including military exercises, sanction relief, and engagement. I’ve seen talk of a timeline of 2020, which may be a bit unrealistic. During this process of negotiations, a freeze on nuclear and missile tests needs to be in effect. I think sanctions have been working, and I give credit to China. I think they have been serious this time.

I think Kim has an endgame. I don’t know what it is. He is a rational actor who has been underestimated. I think, in the end, the North Koreans want something of acceptability in the international community, and they’ve always wanted direct negotiations with the United States. They got that. That’s why it’s so important for this summit to succeed.

Bill Richardson, a former UN ambassador and Democratic governor of New Mexico, has been an envoy to North Korea on multiple occasions. This is adapted from remarks April 19 at the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

The planned Trump-Kim summit is good, important, and impressive, but it comes with a lot of risks, says former U.S. envoy Bill Richardson.

‘Denuclearization’ Poses Summit Challenge

May 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have agreed to negotiate “denuclearization” at their planned summit, but different expectations for what that means could complicate or even derail their talks.

Stepping back from the personal insults and threats of nuclear devastation hurled at one another just months ago, the two leaders have surprised the world with gestures to ease the way to what would be the first-ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a leader of isolated, communist North Korea. Most notably, Kim announced on April 21 that North Korea will “discontinue” nuclear tests and long-range missile tests, close its nuclear test site, not transfer nuclear weapons and technology to other countries or groups, and refrain from using nuclear weapons unless threatened.

In a photo provided by the White House, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown shaking hands with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who secretly flew to Pyongyang during Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for the anticipated summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump. (Photo: The White House via Getty Images)Those steps by the Kim regime, however welcome, fall short of what the United States has considered to be denuclearization. The Trump administration regards denuclearization as meaning North Korea “no longer having nuclear weapons that can be used in warfare against any of our allies,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on April 22.

Although administration officials have not been specific, they likely want Kim to dismantle his considerable nuclear weapons infrastructure, which includes warheads, delivery systems, production of fissile material, and weapons research laboratories that together have been a source of national pride and regime security. Measures to ensure that North Korea is not cheating would require elaborate verification provisions and monitoring by international inspectors.

For its part, Pyongyang views denuclearization as a two-sided process that includes U.S. nuclear weapons that are part of Washington’s core defense commitment to allies South Korea and Japan.

This definitional mismatch increases the likelihood that both sides are entering talks with unrealistic expectations.

The Trump national security team has not publicly detailed its approach, but past U.S. administrations have called for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear program to achieve the goal of a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. This concept, known as CVID, was a principal U.S. demand during the multiparty negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program from 2003 to 2009, known as the six-party talks.

UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea similarly describe denuclearization. Dating back to 2006, when the council passed Resolution 1718 in response to North Korea’s first nuclear test, the body declared that North Korea “shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

CVID also has roots in the January 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which Pyongyang and Seoul agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” The U.S. decision to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea in 1991 helped pave the way for the joint declaration the following year.

For Pyongyang, reportedly, denuclearization must include the removal of U.S. nuclear and strategic assets from South Korea, a commitment not to deploy nuclear and strategic assets during military exercises, and a guarantee that the United States will not conduct a nuclear attack. It is not clear what if any inspections North Korea would insist on to verify the absence of nuclear weapons and strategic assets from the peninsula.

North Korea is also looking for other, related changes, including a peace treaty, lifting of international sanctions, and some form of guarantee against U.S. efforts for regime change.

North Korea’s nuclear-related conditions are less specific and onerous when compared to past instances when it has defined denuclearization. In July 2016, North Korea said that the “denuclearization being called for” applies to the “whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.” (See ACT, September 2016.)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) embrace after signing the Panmunjom Declaration during their Inter-Korean Summit on April 27 at the Peace House in Panmunjom, South Korea.  (Photo: Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images)Specifically, North Korea called in 2016 for disclosure of any U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, guarantees the United States will not redeploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, assurance it will not conduct a nuclear strike on North Korea, and withdrawal of U.S. troops authorized to use nuclear weapons. Although the United States does not deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, South Korea and Japan are covered by the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent, and strategic assets are used in joint military drills.

Trump has claimed incorrectly that North Korea’s agreement to talk about denuclearization and its April 21 pledge constitutes an agreement to denuclearize. In response to the announcement, Trump tweeted that “we haven’t given up anything and they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, and no more testing!” Another tweet said that “only time will tell” if things will work out with Pyongyang.

North Korea has not made any public commitment to give up existing nuclear weapons, which Kim in his statement to ruling party officials called a “powerful treasured sword for defending peace.” North Korea is estimated to have assembled 10 to 20 nuclear warheads and to have the fissile material for an estimated 30 to 60 nuclear weapons, as well as advanced chemical and biological weapons programs.

Kim’s pledge is a new and positive commitment, but North Korea has hinted previously it would be willing to take such limited steps. In his new year’s address, Kim laid the groundwork for a suspension, stating that North Korea had completed its nuclear and missile programs.

How North Korea’s shorter-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles fit into the denuclearization negotiations is also an open question. Although the promised moratorium on testing intercontinental ballistic missiles may satisfy the United States, it is unlikely to be enough for regional allies, notably Japan, given that North Korea’s short- and medium-range missile systems put that country within range.

Japanese President Shinzo Abe, during an April 17 meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, emphasized the importance of negotiations covering all missile systems, as well as other weapons of mass destruction, such as North Korea’s large stockpiles of chemical weapons.

According to an April 18 White House statement, Trump and Abe raised the bar for the negotiations, stating that North Korea “needs to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles programs.”

Trump and Kim may have different views as to what precisely is up for negotiation.

Chemical Attack Kills Dozens in Douma

May 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

At least 42 Syrians were killed April 7 by an apparent chemical weapons attack in Douma, spurring a fresh round of international outrage amid continuing diplomatic gridlock at the UN Security Council.

The World Health Organization estimated that 500 people were injured in the attack in what had been the rebel-held city near Damascus. France released an official assessment April 14, concluding “beyond any possible doubt” that a chemical weapons attack occurred and stating that Syrian government forces were responsible for using the banned weapons.

Syrian pro-government forces sit amid destroyed buildings in Douma on the outskirts of the Damascus on April 20, during an army-organized media tour. (Photo: LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)Victims reported the distinct scent of chlorine gas, a banned choking agent. But medical responders reported that victims’ symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, were consistent with exposure to a prohibited nerve agent. The United States estimates that Syria has used various types of chemical weapons at least 50 times, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on April 13. (See ACT, April 2018.) The Syrian Archive launched a database on April 24 documenting 212 alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012.

Although Russia and Syria continued to deny chemical weapons use, calling this latest reported attack “bogus,” most of the international community was quick to condemn the attack and call for independent, international investigations.

Members of a fact-finding team, dispatched by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), arrived April 14 in Damascus, where they were initially told by Syrian and Russian authorities that they could not proceed to Douma due to security issues. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on April 19 that the delay was being used by Syrian forces to try to “remove incriminating evidence.” The OPCW team was permitted to go to one site in Douma on April 21 and another on April 25.

There is currently no group to independently determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks, after Russia blocked the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) from continuing its investigations. (See ACT, November 2017.) Before it was shut down, the JIM found the Assad regime responsible for four chemical weapons attacks and the Islamic State group guilty of two.

The UN Security Council met five times in the week following the Douma attack to discuss the incident and attempt to mandate investigations. Russia introduced three resolutions: one to create a new accountability investigative body whose findings would be subject to UN Security Council approval before release; one to support an OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria that would be restricted to pre-determined sites; and one to condemn the April 13 missile strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities conducted by the United States, United Kingdom and France.

None of Russia’s resolutions received enough votes to pass, as the United States and other powers rejected the Russian moves as ploys to avoid responsibility for its role in Syria.

Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, responded angrily on April 13 to the failure of the Russian resolutions. “We proposed adopting a brief resolution in support of the OPCW inspection mission in Douma that the United States, Britain, and France irresponsibly blocked, thereby demonstrating their lack of interest in an investigation,” he said. “The only thing they care about is overthrowing the Syrian government and, more broadly, deterring the Russian Federation.”

The United States introduced a resolution on April 10 that would have created an investigative body with a one-year mandate to determine responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria. Thirteen of the 15 UN Security Council members voted for the U.S. resolution, but it was killed by a Russian veto. “The record will not be kind to one permanent member of this council,” Haley told the Security Council on April 10 in response to the veto.

“Unfortunately, Russia has chosen the Assad regime again over the unity of this council. We have said it before that Russia will stop at nothing to shield the Assad regime, and here is our answer,” she said.

Haley cited the lack of diplomatic progress on accountability in justifying the decision to take military action. On April 13, France, the UK, and the United States launched more than 100 missiles, striking three Syrian facilities described as associated with its chemical weapons program. One was said to be a research and production facility in the Damascus area, and the other two were storage facilities west of Homs.

The three countries also circulated a resolution April 14 at the Security Council to counter chemical weapons use and address diplomatic and humanitarian concerns, which did not receive an immediate vote.

Given the council gridlock, Olof Skoog, Sweden’s permanent UN representative, suggested that UN Secretary-General António Guterres present the council with a proposal to create an investigative body to determine culpability for chemical weapons use in Syria. Forty-seven civil society organizations in an April 13 letter called on Guterres to appoint such a team.


Russian veto blocks action by the UN Security Council.

Administration to Review New START

May 2018
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration plans to conduct an interagency review on whether to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, according to two Trump administration officials.

Robert Soofer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 11 that the review would begin soon and assess the “pros and cons” of extending the treaty. Expiration of the accord in 2021, without a replacement, would remove numerical caps on U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since the 1970s.

Anita Friedt, acting assistant secretary of the state for arms control, verification, and compliance, discusses New START at the Arms Control Association's annual meeting April 19.  (Photo: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)Anita Friedt, acting assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, told the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting April 19 that an extension “is something we’re looking at” but that there is no target date for the completion of the review. Friedt added that the administration will take into account Russian compliance with other arms control agreements when weighing whether to extend New START. The United States has accused Russia of being in violation of several arms control treaties and commitments, most notably the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Signed in 2010, New START requires the United States and Russia each to reduce strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed delivery systems, and 800 deployed and nondeployed delivery systems by Feb. 5, 2018, a deadline that both countries met. The treaty also includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions to help ensure compliance with these limits.

New START is set to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, although, under its terms, it can be extended by up to five years without further approval by the U.S. Senate or Russian Duma if both presidents agree. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

But U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized the treaty and, in a January 2017 phone call, responded negatively to a suggestion from Russian President Vladimir Putin that their countries work to extend the treaty, according to Reuters. In a March 1 interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Putin said Russia is willing to have a dialogue with the United States about extending New START. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Friedt noted that if the treaty expires with nothing to replace it, “then we will have less insight” into Russia’s nuclear forces. But she hinted that the administration will take its time before making its decision. An early extension would not “necessarily help” improve the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship, she said. “We have until 2021, and I think we should look at it
very carefully.”

Some Republican members of Congress, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), have expressed concern about a potential extension given Russia’s violation of other arms control agreements and development of new nuclear weapons delivery systems not limited by New START. “Given that set of circumstances, I think we should take a serious second look at extending” New START, he said at an April 11 Senate hearing.

The House-passed version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act would have prohibited the use of funds to extend New START unless Russia returns to compliance with the INF Treaty. (See ACT, September 2017.) The final version of the authorization bill signed by Trump in December did not include that provision.

The issue is whether to extend beyond 2021 the treaty capping nuclear arsenals.


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