“Over the past 50 years, ACA has contributed to bridging diversity, equity, inclusion and that's by ensuring that women of color are elevated in this space.”
– Shalonda Spencer
Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation
June 2, 2022
May 2020
Edition Date: 
Friday, May 1, 2020
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Fulfilling the Promise of the NPT

May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball

As global leaders appropriately focus on the steps necessary to deal with the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic, they cannot afford to lose sight of the actions necessary to address the ongoing threat of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic nuclear war—the ultimate pandemic.

The sculpture “Good Defeats Evil” on the grounds of the United Nations headquarters depicts St. George slaying the dragon. (UN photo by Rick Bajornas)Twenty-five years ago, the world came together to extend and strengthen the bedrock agreement to reduce nuclear dangers: the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Now, tensions among the world’s nuclear-armed states are rising; the risk of nuclear use is growing; hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent to replace and upgrade the already bloated arsenals of the world’s nine possessors of nuclear weapons; and key agreements that have kept nuclear competition in check are in serious jeopardy.

The resurgence of the nuclear weapons threat is due, in large part, to the failure of national leaders to seize earlier opportunities to significantly reduce the nuclear threat and to pursue a more intensive dialogue on measures to move toward the common goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

On May 11, 1995, NPT states parties committed to the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.” Additional specific commitments were made at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences to advance implementation and compliance with the treaty.

These commitments represent a collective determination of how to fulfill the objectives of the NPT, including the disarmament obligations under Article VI. With few exceptions, these remain relevant, but they have largely been unfulfilled, such as the failure by the United States and China to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some are at risk of being reversed or lost entirely, such as the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

U.S. leadership has been key to the success of the NPT in the past. Today, the United States is, on balance, part of the problem not the solution. Senior Trump administration officials claim that the body of previous review conference commitments no longer applies. They downplay the urgency of today’s nuclear risks and argue unconvincingly that the “environment” is not right for progress on disarmament. They dismiss the CTBT without explanation and dither on whether to extend New START, arguing that China must somehow be involved in nuclear arms control before any further steps are taken.

Such excuses and blame-shifting by officials from the United States, and from other states, are unconstructive and irresponsible. Rejecting previous NPT commitments demeans the NPT process and casts doubt on the value of any new commitments.

The postponement of the 10th NPT review conference until 2021 offers an opportunity to shift course and to move further back from the nuclear precipice. Notwithstanding the different positions on Article VI, it is important that as many states as possible get behind the following measures in the run up to the 10th review conference, perhaps through a common statement:

  • an immediate decision to extend New START by five years, a U.S.-Russian commitment to follow-on negotiations to achieve further cuts in all types of nuclear weapons, combined with a pledge by the other nuclear-armed states to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals, and the start of a process for multilateral disarmament talks;
  • reaffirmation by all nuclear-armed states of their de facto nuclear testing moratoria and action by the eight remaining CTBT holdout states to ratify the treaty;
  • halting the introduction of new types of nuclear weapons, particularly “more usable” lower-yield warheads and starting negotiations on legally binding negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states;
  • a phaseout to Cold War-era “launch under attack” postures, which increase the risk of accidental nuclear war;
  • recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and the value of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in reinforcing the norm against nuclear use and the NPT; and
  • a joint declaration that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

In the absence of coherent and constructive nonproliferation leadership from the Trump administration, responsible states need to fill the void. Even if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected and becomes president in January, there may be very little time to craft a more enlightened U.S. approach ahead of the review conference.

Either way, now is the time to work together to build majority support for renewed action on concrete measures that advance disarmament and nuclear risk reduction goals. Sweden, and Germany and other states have made some strides toward a common framework on the next steps on nuclear disarmament. Leaders of the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons and key members of the Non-Aligned Movement also have role to play.

The world has been lucky that 75 years have passed since nuclear weapons were detonated in a conflict. If we are to reduce the nuclear threat and prevent the possible third use of nuclear weapons, we cannot afford to squander the opportunity to act while we still can.

As global leaders appropriately focus on the steps necessary to deal with the deadly effects of the coronavirus pandemic, they cannot afford to lose sight of the actions necessary to address the ongoing threat of nuclear proliferation and catastrophic nuclear war—the ultimate pandemic.

The Papal Vision: Beyond the Bomb

May 2020
By Maryann Cusimano Love

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have doubled down on their opposition to nuclear weapons. Pope Francis decried the use and possession of nuclear weapons in trips to Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 2019, bringing attention to dangerous failures in nuclear disarmament and arms control prior to this year’s now-postponed nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference and the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Pope Francis stands next to the Memorial Cenotaph during his visit to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on Nov. 24, 2019. (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)Religious actors bring three “I’s” to international affairs: institutions, ideas, and imagination.1 The Catholic Church uses its three I’s on nuclear disarmament issues as part of its “Resurrection Politics,” an effort to revive issues once considered moribund, and restore them to the international agenda. The church is working to change nuclear weapons policy and the normative framework by which nuclear weapons are judged, to strengthen the nuclear taboo at a time when it is undermined. As the world gets younger, more than half of the world’s people were born after the end of the Cold War. Pope Francis works to raise the voices of the hibakusha, Japan’s atomic bomb survivors, to teach about nuclear weapons to younger generations.

The Immorality of Nuclear Weapons

Seventy-five years after the end of World War II, nuclear weapons continue to feature prominently in national foreign policies. The United States and Russia are building new nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, and North Korea and the United States threaten nuclear attacks.

Speaking in Hiroshima in November 2019, the pope said future generations will condemn our actions.

The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral, as I already said two years ago. We will be judged on this. Future generations will rise to condemn our failure if we spoke of peace but did not act to bring it about among the peoples of the earth. How can we speak of peace even as we build terrifying new weapons of war? How can we speak about peace even as we justify illegitimate actions by speeches filled with discrimination and hate?2

At a time when the United States is withdrawing from arms control agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the pope has renewed attention and efforts to reduce nuclear dangers through the rule of law, dialogue, treaties and international institutions. “We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons [TPNW],” he said in Nagasaki during his November 2019 trip to Japan.3

Pope Francis called for placing the church’s opposition to nuclear weapons into the catechism, a teaching document of the church. “The use of nuclear weapons is immoral, which is why it must be added to the catechism of the Catholic Church. Not only their use, but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.”4

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the pope reaffirmed the church’s long-standing position calling for deeper disarmament, nonproliferation, and a ban against nuclear weapons. He echoed his remarks to the United Nations in 2015: “An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction and possibly the destruction of all mankind are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the [NPT], in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”5

The church’s concern with these issues is not new. Pope John XXIII helped to deescalate the Cuban missile crisis. Shortly afterward, he urged in “Pacem in Terris” in 1963 that “[n]uclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control.”6 The Limited Test Ban Treaty was concluded four months later.

The current church position is a return to the traditional Catholic position since the advent of the atomic age, favoring nuclear disarmament. Some have misrepresented Pope John Paul II as an ardent supporter of nuclear deterrence, but they are mistaken. In his 1982 speech to the United Nations, he urges deep support for disarmament 21 times. He only mentions deterrence twice, once negatively as the “balance of terror” and once dismissing deterrence as immoral as a permanent position, “certainly not as an end in itself.” Pope Francis is more plain spoken in his “certainly not.” Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II are in complete agreement that a negative peace is not sustainable, while a positive peace is possible. “Peace is our duty: our grave duty, our supreme responsibility,” Pope John Paul II said in 1982.7

Deeper disarmament requires building deeper relationships and dialogue, and the church understands this will take time. As Archbishop Tomasi, Secretary of the Holy See’s Dicastery on Integral Human Development, said recently at Catholic University, “There is no illusion that the number of weapons will disappear as if by magic or after moral and legal condemnation. Therefore, the Holy See is equally engaged in a step-by-step dialogue with nuclear-armed states whose commitment remains crucial to the achievement of any serious and realistic discussion of nuclear arms control.”8

The Church as Bridge Builder

How do religious actors affect international politics and nuclear disarmament? They bring the three I’s to global issues. Governments and scholars are most likely to address the first I, the vast networks of institutions that religious actors bring to bear on international politics. As the world’s largest and most geographically dispersed religion, Catholics have faith-based institutions around the world, including universities, parishes, schools, religious orders, learned societies, charities, hospitals, and Catholic peace organizations, such as the Catholic Peacebuilding Network. In addition to this vast array of civil society institutions, the Catholic Church has a state-based institutional lane, the world’s oldest diplomatic corps (pre-dating the existence of the sovereign state), and diplomatic relations with 183 states, as well as a diplomatic presence at intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations. Mobilizing and coordinating these transnational networks is not easy or automatic. These institutions are not fixed. They move and change, but can mobilize creatively to build peace.

Many religious actors have worked tirelessly to rid the world of nuclear dangers and build peace, from the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) to the Soka Gakkai (Buddhist) organization. Yet, religious demographics mean that the Catholic Church is the only religious actor to have some presence in all nine nuclear-armed states, as well as the non-nuclear-weapon states, and it has extensive civil society and governmental-level networks. The Catholic Church has the population size of China but dispersed, with communities in every part of the world. When effectively coordinated with the Holy See’s international diplomatic presence and civil society groups, this institutional structure can bring a “pincer movement” of persuasion and pressure, externally and internally.9

The word “pope” or “pontiff” means bridge builder. At a time of increasing political polarization, domestically and internationally, the Catholic Church has much-needed institutional capacities that can be used to build bridges among nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states, civil society and governments, science and religion, conservatives and progressives, and older and younger generations. For example, Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy secretary general of NATO, and others praised the Catholic Church’s advocacy, particularly in reaching critical Republican swing senators, to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in December 2010. Today, Catholics are engaged with Russia in Track 2 diplomacy on an extension of New START. The Holy See has facilitated sensitive diplomatic negotiations in the past, including between the United States and Cuba, and helped to securing the release of Americans held in Iran. The church has the capacity to facilitate dialogue between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin for a New START extension or to facilitate a return to nuclear dialogue between the United States and Iran or North Korea.

Yet, often the most powerful contributions religious actors bring to peacebuilding are the other two I’s, ideas and imagination. Ideas are the religious norms applied to global issues, and popes have directed such efforts. For example, Pope John XXIII’s prepared the encyclical “Peace on Earth,” which guided the modern Catholic Church’s work on peace and justice, and Pope Francis circulated the encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (2015),” stressing a positive peace among peoples, God, and the planet and future generations, integral human development.

The final I (imagination) is what U.S. President George H.W. Bush once referenced as “the vision thing.” The power of religious inspiration envisions and creates a more positive peace. Religious imagination is accessible to all, not just scholars and scribes.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, speaks to the media at a Vatican symposium on nuclear disarmament on Nov. 10, 2017. Fihn joined 10 other Nobel Prize winners at the event, which highlighted the pope's ability to create connections between many sectors of society. (Photo: IPA/WENN.com/Alamy)Catholic ideas and imagination have always rested on the concept of a positive, just peace based on right relationships rather than a negative peace based on violence and threat of violence. The tradition of a just war tells us that positive peace is the goal and tells us how to limit war, protecting civilians and the environment from indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. The tradition of a just peace builds on that, offering moral and practical guidance on how to build a positive peace by expanding participation, strengthening right relationships, restoring persons and economies to build social cohesion, expanding reconciliation through truth telling and acknowledgement about the conflict, and other means to heal the wounds of war, in order to create a peace that is sustainable over time and the planet. Catholic theology and practice on a just peace has been expanding in recent decades, drawing from peacebuilding work of Jesus and building on the lessons the church has learned in peacebuilding around the world, from Northern Ireland to the Philippines. The church’s work on nuclear disarmament is animated by this vocation to build a more just and sustainable peace.

Together, these three I’s are worth more than the sum of their parts, combined in transnational networks for nuclear disarmament. These networks can work at the individual and community levels and at the elite level to persuade policymakers. As the nuclear taboo erodes, this breadth is important, reaching into the military.10

For example, Catholic countries have long led the campaign for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The first nuclear-weapon-free zone, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco, was created by Catholic-majority countries in Latin America. Catholic countries then led the creation of the NPT, using the language of their first nuclear-weapon-free zone as the core language of the NPT.

That work continues. The Holy See has played a helpful role in creating the TPNW, supporting the humanitarian impact conferences in Mexico and Austria (two Catholic-majority countries). The Holy See was the first to sign and ratify the treaty. Pope Francis’ urgent statements about the immorality of nuclear weapons, as well as the influence of the Catholic Church in supporting the TPNW, will likely help the TPNW reach the 50 states-parties needed for its entry into force. A majority of the 35 countries that already have ratified the treaty are Catholic-majority countries. Another 12 of the countries who have signed the treaty but not yet ratified are Catholic-majority countries, such as Ireland, and four more countries have Catholic pluralities, such as Guatemala. It is quite possible that Catholic activism on nuclear weapons may help to bring the TPNW into force.

Resurrection Politics

The church’s work on the TPNW is the latest example of resurrection politics, taking issues thought previously “dead on arrival” and restoring them to the international agenda. Resurrection politics succeeded in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the International Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions, the Jubilee movement for international debt relief to poor countries, and international efforts against human trafficking.

At first glance, bans from anti-personnel landmines to nuclear weapons may seem to have little in common. Landmines are cheap and readily available and were a weapon in wide use at the time they were banned. In contrast, only nine countries have expensive nuclear weapons. Although nuclear weapons have been detonated more than 2,000 times, only twice were they used in war. Yet in both cases, decades of advocacy on the issue in traditional forums had stalled, and advocates grew impatient with the stonewalling. Progress on the issue was blocked often by a handful of powerful countries, including the United States, who were part of the problem and did not want to fix it. The issues were framed in narrow technical terms, without much wider public engagement or understanding of the human costs. Advocacy on the issues was deemed a hopeless cause, a dead end.

Resurrection politics, moving a dead issue to life, follows a deliberate pattern. A diverse coalition of civil society actors and like-minded countries comes together. The coalition includes doctors, scientists, scholars, health care providers, the Catholic Church and other religious actors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with victims, and often retired military and government officials. The coalition shines a light on the human face of the issue, particularly the humanitarian impact on society’s most vulnerable: women and children. The groups reframe the issue, using powerful pictures and stories of victims, shaming and naming perpetrators. As the victims tell their stories of the human impact, doctors, scientists, scholars, health care providers, and retired military and government officials validate the narrative with facts, figures, and scholarly and academic analysis. The Catholic Church and religious actors practice solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, raising the moral questions and our obligations to protect life and help the vulnerable. Like-minded states pursue fast-track multilateral negotiations that do not allow powerful states to veto or block the process. Nonstate actors are invited to speak and participate in the negotiations of states. Together, these efforts delegitimize the status quo and make it more difficult for opposing states to justify their activities.

The nuclear ban closely followed the playbook of the ICBL. Advocates adopted a wide, “most first” strategy rather than a strategy of reaching agreement with the most powerful and most opposed states first. The ICBL differed from other treaty negotiations in a number of ways: the actors present, its focus on the humanitarian impact of the weapons, its methods, its contents, and its strategy. The nuclear ban, like the landmine ban, kept a clear focus on a simple message: ban the use, production, spread, stockpiling, and possession of the weapons; assist victims and survivors; and restore the impacted environment. The process in each case kept the focus on the humanitarian impact of the weapons, engaged victims, and mobilized a growing network of NGOs. In both cases, the coalition removed the issue from the existing, moribund international forums blocked by powerful states and pursued instead a fast-track process committed to negotiating a comprehensive ban regardless of whether the United States or other powerful states might initially join. In both cases, advocates avoided expanding the parameters of the ban, arguing that other issues could be addressed after the ban was born. By stigmatizing and delegitimizing the weapons, the processes unleash a pincer movement of pressure on opposing states from external actors and inside their own societies.

Although many in the arms control community take issue with the TPNW and voice concerns that it may undermine existing arms control and nonproliferation treaties, the Catholic Church does not see these as choices but as complementary and mutually reinforcing. Extending New START would bring immediate material protections from nuclear weapons today, and the entry into force of the TPNW will help shift the normative landscape regarding nuclear weapons in the future. The church works to build a pincer movement, of external and internal pressures to advance nuclear disarmament and reduce the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Policy Call to Action

The policy call to action by the Catholic Church for nuclear disarmament and arms control are in many ways the same song, but heard in a different key of greater urgency to the issues.

The deterioration of the nuclear taboo and the international arms control framework, the rise of new and less stable threats, and the return of the nuclear arms race gives greater urgency.11 The Catholic Church has long called for integral disarmament, seeing deep connections with development and environmental protection. The Catholic Church advocates for extending New START, strengthening the NPT, bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force, deep nuclear disarmament, banning nuclear weapons, safeguarding nuclear materials, the humanitarian arms control agenda, reducing the reliance and expenditures on nuclear weapons, action on climate change and environmental protection, and strengthening international law and institutions in order to advance structures of cooperation. The Catholic Church has also warned against policies that “normalize” nuclear weapons or use, such as nuclear brinkmanship, policies that envision nuclear use or seek to make nuclear weapons more usable, nuclear weapons modernization programs, and policies that protect weapons but not people.

As Austrian Foreign Ministry official Thomas Hajnoczi said in 2017, “We must eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.”

Religious actors work on long timelines. They do not fold up if they fail or succeed in reaching a particular policy objective. They will continue the work long after the next election or the next crisis. Through schools and universities, they also have an ability to reach younger and future generations, to change policies and norms, to build a more just peace.


1. Maryann Love, Global Issues: Beyond Sovereignty. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

2. Pope Francis, “Meeting for Peace: Address of the Holy Father,” November 24, 2019, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20191124_messaggio-incontropace-hiroshima.pdf.

3. Pope Francis, “Address of the Holy Father on Nuclear Weapons,” November 24, 2019, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20191124_messaggio-arminucleari-nagasaki.pdf.

4. Pope Francis, press conference, November 25, 2019.

5. Pope Francis, “Address of the Holy Father,” September 25, 2015, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150925_onu-visita.html.

6. Pope John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris: Encyclical of Pope John XXIII on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty,” April 11, 1963, sec. 112.

7. Pope John Paul II, “Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the General Assembly of the United Nations,” June 7, 1982, sec. 8, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/pont_messages/1982/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19820607_disarmo-onu.html.

8. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Remarks at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, January 30, 2020.

9. Maryann Love, Global Issues: Beyond Sovereignty (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2020).

10. Catholics make up the largest religious denomination in the U.S. military, and many chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and of President Donald Trump’s key military and senior advisors are or have been Catholic, such as Generals John Kelly and Jim Mattis.

11. The Arms Control Association report Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016–2019 found erosion of respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally recognized obligations and commitments. Maryann Love, Global Issues: Beyond Sovereignty (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2020). Nina Tanenwald likewise argues we are witnessing an undermining of the nuclear taboo. See Nina Tanenwald, “The Legacy of the Nuclear Taboo in the Twenty-First Century,” in The Age of Hiroshima, ed. Michael D. Gordin and G. John Ikenberry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), pp. 276–293.


Maryann Cusimano Love is an associate professor of international relations at Catholic University. She published Global Issues: Beyond Sovereignty in 2020 and serves on the boards of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network and the Arms Control Association.


The Catholic Church pursues a multipronged, long-term effort to achieve nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

Nuclear Security: The IAEA Faces the Future

May 2020
By Jessica Bufford

In 1972, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) published a thin booklet titled “Recommendations for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.” It was the agency’s first publication on nuclear security, narrowly targeted at protecting nuclear material from theft or sabotage. Nearly 50 years later, nuclear security is a robust field covering a range of security issues and supported by a wide professional community. This was evident as the IAEA convened its third International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS), on February 10–14, 2020.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi (right) speaks at the opening of the NuSec Talks series at the agency's third International Conference on Nuclear Security on Feb. 11. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)As the world’s biggest conferences on nuclear security, the ICONS meetings offer an opportunity for policymakers and practitioners to review global nuclear security efforts, share best practices, and raise awareness about new technologies and challenges. Global leaders gather during the ministerial segment, issuing a declaration that will guide future IAEA work in the nuclear security space. In the technical segment of the conference, experts from around the world share experiences through presentations, side events, and informal networking opportunities. For nuclear security wonks, the ICONS conference is the place to see and be seen. Now that the 2020 conference is over, it is important to reflect on what was decided, what was said, and what was learned and to look forward to what comes next.

The Ministerial Segment

On the conference’s opening day, as participants prepared to hear ministerial statements, the energy and attitude in the halls of the IAEA were overwhelmingly positive, upbeat, and optimistic. The final ministerial declaration was adopted without any reservations from the floor—an important change from 2016, when the negotiation process and the declaration itself were divisive. More than 50 ministers attended the conference this year, representing the highest level of participation of any ICONS.1 Ministerial statements outlined progress made since the 2016 conference and new commitments to further nuclear security globally. IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi thanked states for expressing their dedication to nuclear security and emphasized his own prioritization of nuclear security.2

The ministerial declaration represents a modest but positive step forward.3 New language appeared recognizing that nuclear security “may enhance public confidence in the peaceful use of nuclear applications” which “contribute to Member States’ sustainable development.”4 This important addition highlights the broad scope of nuclear security and recognizes that heightened nuclear security can support development. Unfortunately, language cautioning states to ensure that “measures to strengthen nuclear security do not hamper” peaceful nuclear activities remained in the text, underscoring the tension between nuclear security and peaceful uses.

More positively, a number of other issues, such as reaffirming the central role of the IAEA and recognizing the contributions of industry to nuclear security, which had not been included in the 2016 declaration, were reintroduced in the 2020 declaration. Additionally, language encouraging the sharing of experiences, best practices, and lessons learned is stronger than in previous declarations. According to reports from the negotiating process, the co-chairs used a transparent, inclusive, and consensus-based approach to negotiations, which was instrumental to the successful adoption of the ministerial declaration. Multiple consultations over months worked to incorporate different perspectives, and the result was evident: the declaration had something for everyone, a sign of effective negotiation and good compromises.

Maintaining high-level attention will be a challenge for nuclear security in the coming decade. The nuclear security summits demonstrated that engaging leaders led to greater funding domestically and internationally for nuclear security, higher prioritization of nuclear security in many countries, and greater engagement at technical levels. Through the nuclear security summit process, for example, more than 1,500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium were eliminated or consolidated, including the total elimination of HEU from 13 states.5 Keeping that high-level attention over the long run will be a challenge, as leaders routinely must juggle challenges from many sectors, not to mention respond to emerging global crises, such as the pandemic the world is facing now. The next ICONS is scheduled for 2024, but some have raised concern about waiting so long before another high-level statement of some kind. With creativity, regional organizations or states may find opportunities to keep up momentum.

Slovenian police protect a ship-loading operation at the port of Koper on Nov. 21, 2010. Highly enriched uranium removed from a Serbian research reactor had been transferred to the port on its way to Russia for disposition. Under the nuclear security summit process, 13 nations eliminated their holdings of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium. (Photo: Greg Webb/IAEA)As the ministerial statement finished on the second day, the meeting’s 2,000 participants began to share information and best practices on day two. More than 50 technical sessions covered topics from legal frameworks to detection architecture to emerging technologies. These presentations allowed experts and government officials to share experiences, strengthening the international nuclear security regime through information exchanges. One unique aspect of ICONS is its assembly of experts from vastly different areas and communities into one conference. Participants could go from a session on reactor conversions and technical discussions about fuel specifications to brainstorming ways to improve education and information sharing through Nuclear Security Support Centers. Block chain was discussed alongside biometrics and alternative technologies for radioactive sources. Physical protection and border patrol experts rubbed shoulders with cybersecurity gurus, as people moved in and out of conference rooms, following the ebb and flow of presentations and coffee breaks.

In addition to the technical sessions, a record 30 side events gave participants a chance to learn more about educational programs for the next generation of experts, regional initiatives to strengthen nuclear security, and programs by intergovernmental organizations to facilitate information exchange. Representing more than 130 countries and 35 international organizations, ICONS participants exploited opportunities to catch key partners and colleagues in the hallways or the coffee shops to talk business. As one participant observed, more work gets done in one week of ICONS than in a normal two-month period.

Promoting Diversity

Diversity in nuclear security, a growing priority for many organizations and government offices in the field, emerged as a key theme of the conference. Through the declaration, ministers committed “to promote geographical diversity and gender equality” and encouraged member states to “establish an inclusive workforce within their national security regimes.” This is an important step forward for a male-dominated field that has struggled to increase female participation. An estimated 20 percent of the overall nuclear workforce is female, and that number is likely to be smaller in nuclear security.6 During the technical program, four side events highlighted the role of women in nuclear security, including a session organized by the IAEA and opened by Grossi. Plenty of male-dominated panels were scattered throughout the schedule, but the number of women walking the halls of the conference was encouraging.

Numerous other efforts highlighted unconventional voices throughout the conference. The IAEA broke new ground with its NuSec talks, modeled on TED Talks and featuring younger members of the community from diverse countries. These young leaders spoke about their personal experiences and perspectives on nuclear security. The United States, Nigeria, and the Netherlands hosted an event focused on the faces of nuclear security, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative displayed portraits of nuclear security practitioners throughout the conference space as part of the new Voices of Nuclear Security project.7

Outcomes and Next Steps

Despite many positive outcomes at the 2020 conference, much work remains. The emphasis on connections between nuclear security and sustainable development broadens the scope of work and necessitates more work to integrate nuclear security into these activities at a practical and technical level. More coordination within states and at the IAEA between frequently stovepiped communities is essential. For example, the ministerial declaration referenced norms related to minimizing the use of HEU, but Russia’s commercial HEU production activities could challenge those norms. Future developments in nuclear energy, including potential growth as more states explore nuclear power programs, also may lead to more material and facilities that will need protection over the long term, increasing demands on nuclear security.

Participants attend a 2014 IAEA Seminar on promoting the entry into force of the amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The amendment came into force two years later and is scheduled to be reviewed in 2021.  (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Policymakers should increase engagement with industry representatives. Some industry representatives participated as exhibitors, but very few presented in the technical programs. Although nuclear security is the responsibility of states, nuclear operators and industry participants are responsible for implementing security. Incorporating industry participants into nuclear security policy discussions will be essential to strengthening nuclear security in the coming years, as well as to providing valuable ground truth for concepts developed in conference centers and meeting rooms.

Grossi, who took the IAEA helm in December 2019, may also drive significant changes related to nuclear security at the agency. During the opening of the conference, he characterized the IAEA role in nuclear security as “indispensable” and committed to strengthening the agency’s assistance in nuclear security as a priority for his tenure. His commitment also was visible by his presence at the conference, speaking at side events and receptions and appearing at least four times during the first day of the technical session, even after the ministers had departed. His engagement has energized staff at the IAEA, and the overall atmosphere is optimistic.

The coming year also will see a change in the director of nuclear security because Director Raja Adnan is slated to retire. As the IAEA is still in the selection process for the new director, member states should be encouraging Grossi to seek an experienced, politically savvy, and energetic manager. Nuclear security will need an engaged advocate, skilled diplomat, and vocal networker to live up to the promises Grossi has already made, using the limited resources available.

One disappointing feature of the conference was seeing the clear lack of progress on resourcing the IAEA Division of Nuclear Security. The ministerial declaration will provide important guidance on the next Nuclear Security Plan, which outlines how the IAEA will spend funding from the Nuclear Security Fund (NSF), but member states will need to do more to realize Grossi’s goal of “mainstreaming” nuclear security into the overall work of the agency. Extrabudgetary contributions support most of the division’s activities and professional staff, but donor governments apply constraints and rarely provide multiyear funding. Because of these budget uncertainties and externally imposed constraints, the division faces significant risks and continuity challenges when planning their activities. Donors made significant contributions to the NSF during the 2020 conference, totaling more than $20 million,8 but this level of funding from member states is not guaranteed in future years. More regular budget funding would strengthen nuclear security. In a world of zero real-growth budgets for the IAEA, however, some states believe that increasing funding for nuclear security will decrease funding for other areas, such as technical cooperation.

The CPPNM Review Conference

The first review of the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) will take place in 2021 and provides the next major opportunity for the nuclear security community to gather and reflect on progress made and work still to be done. Preparing for the review has come with challenges because the review process as outlined in Article 16 of the amended CPPNM is sparse. It says only that the depositary (the IAEA) is obligated to convene a meeting of states-parties five years after the amendment’s entry into force to “review the implementation of this Convention and its adequacy as concerns the preamble, the whole of the operative part, and the annexes in the light of the then prevailing situation.”9 Unlike the Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), where treaty negotiators left extensive instructions for the review process, CPPNM states-parties and the IAEA are creating a new review process with almost no guidance. In December 2018, participants in the CPPNM Points of Contact meeting requested that the IAEA convene a meeting of legal and technical experts to discuss preparations for the review. Two meetings held in 2019 proved to be invaluable in starting the review process. In these meetings, states were able to find suitable dates to hold the review, identify potential topics for inclusion on the agenda, and lay the foundation for key procedural decisions to be made at the preparatory meeting.

Yet, several important issues remain unresolved. First, at the review conference in 2021, state-parties will need to address follow-on review conferences. Only one review conference is mandated in Article 16, but regular review conferences provide an opportunity to review implementation of physical protection measures in light of an ever-changing environment. Such reviews also serve as important opportunities for information exchange, particularly because reviews of the amended CPPNM have a legal basis but other events like ICONS or the Point of Contact meetings are voluntary and not guaranteed to continue. Other major treaty regimes such as the CNS or the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have robust review processes, and the amended CPPNM should be no different.10 States-parties should agree to hold regular review conferences, with each conference determining the date of the next one in order to deconflict with other related events.

Second, states-parties still need to agree on participation in the review process. Although the 2021 review was triggered by the entry into force of the amendment, more than 70 percent of the text is the same between the amendment and the original convention. As a result, some states that are party to the CPPNM but not its amendment are asserting that they have a right to fully participate in any discussions about any common text. The role of international organizations and nongovernmental organizations also has not been decided. Participation should be inclusive to reflect a diversity of views and encourage universalization, but it also should be fair, recognizing different levels of commitment to the amended CPPNM.

Lastly, states need to be preparing for the substance of the review in 2021. The Meeting of Legal and Technical Experts discussed potential outlines of national statements, but governments must do their homework and reflect nationally on their implementation. The amended CPPNM has a broad scope, and its review will require reflection on nuclear security regulations, relevant criminal codes, security measures at facilities, detection architectures at borders, information sharing mechanisms, and transportation arrangements. Implementation of these obligations requires participation of a broad range of stakeholders, and an effective national review will need to include all of these communities. This kind of preparation will be essential for a robust and substantive review and cannot be left to the last minute. States should consider using regional forums to exchange good practices on preparations for the review in 2021, identify important developments, and bring collective success stories and commitments to the broader group of states-parties.

Nuclear security has come a long way since that first short booklet in 1972. The 2020 ICONS demonstrated that nuclear security is a growing field with a strong community of practitioners. The conference also made clear that there is much work ahead. The amended CPPNM review conference in 2021 represents an immediate opportunity to continue forward momentum. Looking further into the future, the community must continue to work together to raise the importance of nuclear security and promote ongoing improvements as national capabilities and threats to nuclear and radiological material evolve.


1. Inna Pletukhina, “International Community Meets to Reaffirm Common Commitment for Strengthening Nuclear Security,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), February 10, 2020, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/international-community-meets-to-reaffirm-common-commitment-for-strengthening-nuclear-security.

2. “Director General's Statement at International Conference on Nuclear Security: Sustaining and Strengthening Efforts,” IAEA, February 10, 2020, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/statements/director-generals-statement-at-international-conference-on-nuclear-security-sustaining-and-strengthening-efforts.

3. Samantha Neakrase, “ICONS 2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly ... Actually, Mostly Good,” Atomic Pulse, March 5, 2020, https://www.nti.org/analysis/atomic-pulse/icons-2020-good-bad-and-ugly-actually-mostly-good/.

4. 2020 International Conference on Nuclear Security, “Ministerial Declaration,” n.d., https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/20/02/cn-278-ministerial-declaration.pdf.

5. Michelle Cann, Kelsey Davenport, and Jenna Parke, “The Nuclear Security Summit: Accomplishments of the Process,” Arms Control Association and Partnership for Global Security, March 2016, p. 1, https://www.armscontrol.org/files/The-Nuclear-Security-Summits-Accomplishments-of-the-Process.pdf.

6. “Gender and Nuclear Security: Challenges and Opportunities,” WINS Special Report Series, July 2019.

7. For more information on Voices of Nuclear Security, see https://www.facebook.com/NuclearVoices/.

8. Inna Pletukhina, “Countries to Provide US$ 20 Million to IAEA Nuclear Security Fund,” IAEA, February 17, 2020, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/countries-to-provide-us-20-million-to-iaea-nuclear-security-fund.

9. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities, July 8, 2005, https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/18/08/accpnm-unofficial-consolidated-text.pdf (unofficial consolidated text).

10. For more information on the preparations for the 2021 review conference, see Samantha Neakrase, “Strengthening Nuclear Security With a Sustainable CPPNM Regime,” Arms Control Today, July 2019.


Jessica Bufford is a program officer for the Materials Risk Management program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.




A major international conference seeks to maintain attention on efforts to improve nuclear security.

Learning From the 2015 NPT Review Conference

May 2020
By Thomas Countryman


As the 10th review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) approaches, the issue of establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East continues to loom large, as it has for more than 25 years. The treaty’s 1995 review and extension conference adopted a resolution calling for such a zone, but no real progress has been made toward the goal, and the topic remains contentious. The issue prevented the 2015 review conference from reaching a final agreement, and that experience offers lessons for this year’s meeting.

The 2015 NPT Review Conference holds it final plenary on May 22, 2015, without reaching a consensus agreement. (Photo: Eskinder Debbie/United Nations)As the U.S. delegation entered the 2015 review conference, it anticipated the likelihood that the Middle Eastern zone issue would be the crucial subject for the final days of negotiations. The delegation believed that, despite lack of progress in arms control since conclusion of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the review conference could succeed in producing a consensus final document that would strengthen the NPT, provide impetus to the process of regular meetings of the five permanent members of UN Security Council, and, ideally, rejuvenate U.S.-Russian discussion of security issues.

The United States recognized that this could well require it to compromise with Egypt, which represented the Arab League and Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), on the portion of a final document related to the Middle Eastern zone. Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States had indisputably not succeeded in their commitment, made at the 2010 review conference, to convene an initial conference of a process leading to the zone. After the absence of consensus on an agenda for the conference caused the conveners to miss the target of the end of 2012, they convoked senior Arab and Israeli diplomats in a series of meetings in Glion, Switzerland, in 2013 specifically to seek a compromise on an agenda. Because all sides had shown some degree of flexibility at those meetings, the Obama administration tried to consider alternative approaches to get the process restarted, including a more direct role for the UN secretary-general. The U.S. readiness to consider a compromise also reflected its genuine desire to close the review conference successfully with a consensus document.

Opening on April 27, the prospects for the 2015 review conference advancing the zone were not promising. The Egyptian delegation met the Israeli observer delegation on the second day of the review conference, the only occasion of which I am aware when the countries’ experts directly discussed the zone bilaterally. Egypt, however, gave no indication it wanted to find language that Israel and the United States would be able to accept. At the time, several heads of Arab national delegations objected to the hard-line Egyptian approach, within private Arab discussions and directly with the U.S. delegation. These officials were promptly put back in line as the Egyptian delegation went over their heads to their foreign ministers. The Egyptian-Arab approach essentially ignored the agreed procedure for writing language on this issue in Subsidiary Body 2, a group that dealt with regional issues of nonproliferation, and whose Spanish chairman, in accordance with the usual division of labor at a review conference, was working to develop a text to recommend to the conference president. The U.S. delegation knew that Egypt was working with a small group of delegations (some nonaligned states, and Russia) to develop their own text.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller led the U.S. delegation to the 2015 NPT Review Conference. (Photo: CTBTO)In anticipation of the need to compromise with Egypt, the White House recalled how negatively Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reacted to the Egyptian-U.S. compromise at the end of the 2010 review conference, despite the U.S. delegation having kept Israeli officials closely informed of that negotiation. The White House decided, as the review conference entered its final week in May, to dispatch me to Jerusalem to ensure that the Israeli government could not claim again to be surprised and, if necessary, for me to receive directly Israeli criticism of the eventual compromise. Notably, in May 2015, conclusion of nuclear negotiations with Iran, which were successfully reached just two months later, was a far higher priority than the review conference for U.S. leadership.

In New York, the review conference working groups successfully developed sound compromises on text for the NPT’s three pillars: disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. This achievement was impressive because many had feared that it would not be possible to find compromise language on key topics such as making a positive reference to the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons. Overall, these compromises, on everything but the Middle Eastern zone, were strengthened by the fact that both nuclear-weapon states and non-nuclear-weapon states appeared willing to accept them as a consensus text, even though it did not fully reflect their primary concerns or meet their maximum demands. In other words, it was potentially a good compromise by all parties in the interest of preserving a consensus process.

So, as in 1995 and 2010, the success of the review conference came down to the final 24 hours and to small-group negotiations over language concerning the Middle Eastern zone. These talks on the review conference’s penultimate day primarily involved Egypt; the United States; review conference president Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, (who largely excluded the UK); and the Russian delegation. On a number of secondary points in the Egyptian text, the U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and Ambassador Adam Scheinman, and the Egyptian delegation were able to find compromises, including resorting to the authority of the UN secretary-general to get a process started. The U.S. delegation, however, was unable to accept an early deadline, proposed for March 2016, for holding an initial conference on the zone. Even more problematic was Egypt’s insistence on deleting from the mandate the key phrase that had made compromise possible in 2010, that the conference be held “on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at.” In the U.S. view, then and today, this phrase was necessary not only to make an initial conference acceptable to Israel, but also for the credibility of any process that followed an initial conference.

Taous Feroukhi, president of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, speaks at a conference event on April 27, 2015. Some of her actions frustrated the U.S. delegation to the conference. (Photo: Cia Pak/Scannews/IAEA)Feroukhi ended the meeting shortly before 1:00 a.m. and asked that all sides be ready to resume talking later that morning. The U.S. delegation was therefore more than surprised when Feroukhi issued a “final draft text” just an hour later. Moreover, this text removed all the small compromises on secondary issues agreed by the United States and Egypt and simply reverted to the original Egyptian text, which could not be interpreted as a sign of good faith.

A few hours later, as the final day of deliberations began, Feroukhi tried hard with the U.S. delegation to find either a language compromise without reinserting “freely arrived at” or a procedural solution, such as the United States registering its concern in the plenary or elsewhere in the review conference documents but not actually blocking consensus. The White House confirmed the delegation’s instructions to hold firm on the key phrase and on objecting to the 2016 deadline, even if this meant blocking consensus on an otherwise acceptable text, an instruction which the U.S. delegation relayed clearly to Feroukhi. The delegation also advised her that because a “final text” had been tabled without agreement by the United States, the most responsible thing would be for the president simply to announce to the plenary that there was no agreement on a final text.

As the final session of the review conference approached on Friday afternoon, the U.S. delegation briefly considered whether to sit back at first in order to see whether another delegation might block consensus, as there were many rumors that key NAM states were unhappy with what they considered weak language on the disarmament pillar. This was impractical due to Feroukhi’s procedures, which jumped over the first agenda item, “general debate,” to go directly to consideration of her draft text. Sitting back would also have been inconsistent with traditional U.S. leadership within the NPT process. In the end, the United States was joined by Canada, Czech Republic, and the UK in objecting to the language on the zone.

I was still back in Jerusalem at this time, and I suddenly found myself to be very popular among Israeli officials. I took some satisfaction that we had avoided creating another irritant in the always irritated relationship between the Obama White House and Netanyahu. Yet, I felt a stronger sense of disappointment that the United States had missed an opportunity of greater importance to the security of the planet, a chance to strengthen shared nonproliferation and arms control goals.

I hope to learn the explanations and motives of the other actors in the endgame. For example, I cannot say whether Feroukhi believed or was convinced by Egypt and perhaps Russia that the United States would not follow through on its declared readiness to block consensus over this single issue. As the representative of Algeria, Feroukhi may have felt an obligation to present the Arab-drafted language in a draft document to be issued under her name.

The decision to insist on its original text represented, for the Egyptian delegation, a gamble with no serious downside. If the United States could be pressured by other states into accepting the Egyptian version, it would have been a significant victory for Egyptian diplomacy. If not, it could be explained not as Egypt’s failure, but as the United States again defending Israel in opposition to the rest of the world.

It is more difficult to understand the Russian role. In 2011 and 2012, the efforts of Russia, the UK, and the United States to convene an initial conference had been in harmony much more than they had been in friction. After missing the original 2012 target, the three continued close consultation, even as differences in approach became more clear. After an initial meeting of the three in the first week of the 2015 review conference, however, the Russian delegation worked on its proposed compromise language only with the Egyptian delegation. Perhaps the continuing U.S.-Russian dispute over Ukraine contributed to this strategic decision, although Moscow and Washington were cooperating well in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Without consulting the UK, the United States, or the Spanish chair, who ultimately produced a text that the United States probably could have accepted if the conference president had ever offered it, Russia produced a working paper that made an effort to bridge the inevitable gap between U.S. and Egyptian positions.

Moscow doubtlessly had and still has a genuine interest in moving ahead with the possibility of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. I strongly suspect, however, that Russia saw in those final 24 hours of the review conference a win-win possibility for themselves.

Helping to bring a compromise text to conclusion could have been trumpeted, with justification, as a success of Russian diplomacy. If compromise on the zone issue were not possible, however, then it would serve Russia’s interests well to have the United States take the blame for blocking a consensus document to which Moscow had several strong objections, particularly within the disarmament pillar. I do not know what role the Russian delegation played in persuading Feroukhi to reverse herself and issue an uncompromising draft in the wee hours, but it stood with her and Egypt later in the morning in refusing any return to the “freely arrived at” language.

The United States can hope that the secretary-general’s successful convening of a November 2019 meeting to discuss the zone will serve to remove this issue from the long list of issues that may disrupt the review conference. If that is not the case, then I have one piece of advice for the 2020 review conference president: Start early!

Egypt, if it chooses to press the issue, will continue to see a tactical negotiating advantage in delaying discussion of zone-related text until nearly all other issues are decided. After all, this tactic has worked for them at past review conferences just as often as it has failed. If there is hope for a consensus outcome in 2020, and I still have such a hope, the other states should wish to see, and this year’s conference president should seek to require, that the United States and Egypt begin their negotiations at the very beginning of the review conference or even earlier.

Thomas Countryman is the chair of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors. He served 35 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, retiring in 2017 as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. He participated on the U.S. delegation to the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

A U.S. delegation member recalls how the fate of the 2015 NPT Review Conference came down to its final 24 hours.

The NPT in 1995: The Terms for Indefinite Extension

May 2020
By Daryl G. Kimball and Randy Rydell

The fifth review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), held from April to May 1995, like previous review conferences sought to assess implementation and compliance with the treaty’s obligations and to explore ways to address shortcomings.

The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference opened on April 17, 1995, with remarks from (left to right): Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, conference president Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, and conference secretary general Prvoslav Davinic of the former Yugoslavia. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference also had another formal purpose. Article X of the NPT called for a conference of states-parties to be held 25 years after the treaty’s entry into force in order “to decide whether the [t]reaty shall continue in force indefinitely, or shall be extended for an additional fixed period or periods.”

Although the treaty provided that the extension would be determined by a majority vote, the parties felt that such a key decision should, if possible, be reached by consensus. Achieving that consensus proved to be one of the most difficult challenges in the history of multilateral diplomacy.1

The 1995 conference began with considerable uncertainty regarding the nature of any extension. Non-nuclear-weapon states, particularly developing countries belonging to the Nonaligned Movement, expressed disappointment with the lack of progress toward nuclear disarmament and feared that a decision to extend the treaty indefinitely would by default enable the nuclear-armed states to hold on to their nuclear arsenals in perpetuity and avoid any accountability in eliminating them.

At the conference, Indonesia and South Africa proposed tying the treaty’s indefinite extension to a decision to strengthen the treaty review process. They also linked it to the establishment of a set of principles and objectives on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament to hold NPT states-parties, particularly the nuclear-weapon states, accountable to their commitments. Although only a majority of states-parties was required to approve the indefinite extension, the agreed package of decisions obtained enough support that such a vote was not required. In short, there was a consensus that a majority existed for the indefinite extension.

The “Package Deal”

The conference resulted in three decisions and a resolution that the parties heralded as a “package deal.” The integrated nature of the package deal—a feature insisted upon by Indonesia, South Africa, and many other states—gave the review process a sharper focus and clarified its ends. Certain positive steps by the nuclear-weapon states before the conference, including a consistent pattern of strong U.S. support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), likely contributed to the successful outcome.

Decision 1—Strengthening the Review Process

This decision provided for five-year review conferences, each preceded by three sessions of a Preparatory Committee of states-parties. These conferences would have three main committees, which could have “subsidiary bodies” on specific issues. It also clarified that in the future the review process would examine “principles, objectives, and ways,” including those in Decision 2, and would “look forward as well as back.” As Canadian Ambassador Christopher Westdal put it, the goal was “permanence with accountability.”

Decision 2—Principles and Objectives

The second decision set forth some “principles and objectives” for assessing progress in the following areas: universality; nonproliferation; disarmament; nuclear-weapon-free zones; security assurances; safeguards; and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

For example, the decision laid out a “program of action” for disarmament, including:

  • the completion of negotiations on the CTBT by September 1996;
  • negotiations on a fissile materials treaty;
  • the “determined pursuit” by the nuclear-weapon states of “systematic and progressive efforts” to reduce nuclear arsenals; and
  • “further steps” to assure non-nuclear-weapon states-parties against the threat of nuclear attack.

Five years later at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, states parties went a few steps further, setting forth 13 “practical steps” relating to disarmament.2 The 2010 NPT Review Conference adopted a consensus final document that identified 22 agreed “Actions” to pursue nuclear disarmament.3

At the 1995 conference, states-parties also clarified that the treaty’s “inalienable right” to peaceful uses of nuclear energy must be applied “in conformity with Articles I, II as well as III of the [t]reaty,” which relate to nonproliferation and compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. They expanded support for the principle that new nuclear “supply arrangements” should require full-scope IAEA safeguards “as a necessary precondition” (i.e., safeguards over all nuclear materials of the importing, non-nuclear-weapon state). India and Pakistan—both NPT nonparties—had been seeking to avoid this precondition, which was later ignored by many nuclear supplier states after the U.S. initiative in 2005 to allow for expanded nuclear cooperation with India.

Decision 3—Indefinite Extension

The crucial third decision was based on a simple declaratory statement that, “as a majority exists” among the parties to extend the treaty indefinitely, the treaty shall continue in force indefinitely. The decision’s preamble contained language “emphasizing” the other decisions, which further affirmed the linkages in the package deal.

Resolution on the Middle East

The last key component of the package deal was the Resolution on the Middle East, which, inter alia, endorsed the creation of a Middle Eastern “zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction,” (WMD) including “their delivery systems.” The NPT’s indefinite extension without a vote would not have been possible without addressing this issue—a long-standing goal of the Arab states and many other parties.

A quarter-century later, global support for the NPT is strong, but its long-term viability cannot be taken for granted, especially if the agreed goals and objectives from 1995 are not achieved.


1. Portions of this summary include excerpts from Rydell’s article “Looking Back: The 1995 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review and Extension Conference,” in the April 2005 issue of Arms Control Today. See also Jayantha Dhanapala and Randy Rydell, Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider’s Account (UNIDIR, 2005), https://www.unidir.org/publication/multilateral-diplomacy-and-npt-insiders-account.

2. See https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt2000/final-documents

3. See https://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2010/

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control Association. Randy Rydell serves on the Arms Control Association board and is a former senior adviser to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs.


The fifth NPT review conference was pivotal to the treaty’s legacy.

OPCW Blames Syria for 2017 Attacks

May 2020
By Julia Masterson

The new investigative team for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded in its inaugural report April 8 that Syria's air force was responsible for a series of chemical weapons attacks using sarin and chlorine in March 2017.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley holds up photos of victims of the Syrian chemical attack during a meeting of the UN Security Council on, April 5, 2017. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team began its work in June 2019 with a mandate to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use in Syria, which has continued throughout the Syrian civil war and despite the destruction of the vast bulk of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile following its accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 2013.

The OPCW began investigating instances of chemical use in Syria in 2014 through its Fact-Finding Mission, which was created as an impartial body mandated to confirm only the use or nonuse of chemical weapons. In 2015 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2235 establishing the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to attribute responsibility for the chemical attacks identified by the mission.

But after the JIM implicated the Syrian government in four of the six chemical incidents it investigated, Russia vetoed the extension of the UN Security Council mandate in 2017. (See ACT, December 2017.)

In response, the majority of OPCW states-parties sought new ways to continue investigative work and hold CWC violators accountable. In 2018, two-thirds of the OPCW Conference of States Parties voted to establish the investigative team. Now, the team continues the attribution work of the JIM under the sole authority of the OPCW, seeking to name the perpetrators responsible for the chemical attacks identified by the mission but not previously investigated by the joint UN-OPCW body. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

The team’s first report focuses on chemical attacks on March 24, March 25, and March 30, 2017, in the rebel-held town of Ltamenah, Syria. Through interviews with witnesses, analyses of flight data, and other investigative methods, the team concluded that the Syrian air force released sarin on March 24 and March 30 and chlorine on March 25 from military airplanes and helicopters.

The team also identified a key chemical component linking the sarin dropped over Ltamenah to sarin produced by the Syrian government. During a 2017 JIM investigation into chemical weapons use in Khan Shaykuhn, Syria, inspectors compared recovered chemical munitions to samples retained in OPCW labs after Syria’s chemical weapons destruction and identified the shared presence of an impurity called phosphorus hexafluoride. The OPCW established that Syria uses phosphorus hexafluoride in its production of methylphosphonyl difluoride, which is a precursor chemical of sarin and creates the volatile nerve agent when combined with isopropyl alcohol and hexamine.

According to a JIM report released in October 2017, the OPCW regards the impurity as a “marker chemical” for methylphosphonyl difluoride produced in Syrian labs. During its investigation into the Ltamenah attacks, the team compared a sample of a munition recovered from the March 30 attack to the methylphosphonyl difluoride in Syria’s stockpile and found a strong correlation, indicating that the sarin used in Ltamenah was created using chemicals originating in the Syrian stockpile.

The team confirmed that the attacks could only “occur pursuant to the orders from the highest levels of the Syrian Arab Armed Forces” and that the commander in chief of the armed forces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was the “lead decision maker.” The team also learned during its investigation that senior Syrian military officials involved with the country’s chemical weapons program were ordered March 21, 2017, to “prepare items for use in the defense of the Hama,” the area within which Ltamenah is located.

Following release of the report, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in an April 8 press release commended the team’s work and called on “other nations to join our efforts to promote accountability for the Syrian regime and uphold the norm against chemical weapons use.”

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic preventing an in-person meeting of the OPCW Executive Council, the German Foreign Ministry urged in an April 15 statement that the council meet at the earliest possible opportunity to “take up the case” of Syrian noncompliance.

Despite widespread support for the OPCW team, efforts by some nations to undermine the OPCW’s credibility and question its findings continue. In an April 9 statement broadcast by the Syrian Arab News Agency, the Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Ministry disputed the team’s findings and said that Syria “condemns, in the strongest terms, what has come in the report of the illegitimate so-called Investigation and Identification Team, and rejects what has been concluded in it, in form and content.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry also denounced the team’s findings, claiming on April 9 that the report’s authors are “accomplices in the consistent violation of the basic principles and procedures of objective and unbiased investigations stipulated in the CWC.” According to Wyn Bowen, a former weapons inspector who now heads the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, “Moscow’s statements and actions around the OPCW appear to constitute a concerted effort to undermine the CWC and norms against chemical weapons development, ownership, and use.”

Russia’s endeavors to systematically discredit the OPCW may pose a problem as the international community seeks to hold perpetrators identified by the team accountable for their actions. Given the chemical signature confirming that the sarin used March 24 and 30, 2017, was produced in a Syrian lab and the flight data attributing all three incidents to Syrian military aircraft, the team’s report leaves little room for doubt about the role of the Syrian government in the March 2017 chemical attacks.

The team’s mandate extends to some 33 chemical incidents in Syria that were identified in prior investigations by the Fact-Finding Mission and where perpetrators were not named by the JIM. The April 8 report marks the first of several attribution reports by the new investigative body.

Investigators identified Syria's air force as responsible for March 2017 sarin attacks against rebel-held communities in Syria.

Future of Open Skies Remains Bleak

May 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States could officially submit its intent to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty by the end of September, despite strong support for the treaty in Congress and from allies and former U.S. officials.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington on March 5. He has reportedly recommended a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have decided to move forward with a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, the Guardian reported on April 5. The report indicated that a statement of intent would be forthcoming soon, with an official notification to withdraw coming likely by the end of September. Per the treaty text, the U.S. decision would take effect six months after the official notice.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested on April 23 that, “based on contacts with the Americans” and other states-parties to the treaty, the United States has decided to withdraw from the treaty. Russia’s response to the move will “depend on the wording of this decision, on what it exactly means,” Lavrov added.

On April 7, four leading congressional Democrats released a statement urging the Trump administration not to withdraw. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) were joined on the statement by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“This decision would have far-reaching, negative repercussions for our European allies, who rely on this treaty to keep Russia accountable for its military actions in the region,” they wrote. “During a time when we need to push back against Russian aggression, we cannot continue to undermine our alliances—which is exactly what U.S. withdrawal from this treaty would do.”

On April 6, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) made public a March letter to President Donald Trump, Pompeo, Esper, and National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien expressing their recommendation that the United States remain party to the treaty.

Schulz, Perry, and Nunn argued that concerns about Russian compliance with the treaty “can and should be solved through professional, pragmatic diplomacy, not by abandoning treaty commitments.”

The United States asserts that Russia is violating the agreement by “imposing and enforcing a sublimit of 500 kilometers over the Kaliningrad Oblast” and by establishing a 10-kilometer corridor along Russia’s border with the Georgian border-conflict regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, according to the latest State Department report on arms control compliance. 

According to an April 8 report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, a treaty flight by Estonia, Lithuania, and the United States in February over the Kaliningrad enclave flew for more than 500 kilometers for the first time since Moscow imposed the sublimit in 2014.

Pompeo and Esper are proceeding with the process to withdraw even though a meeting of top officials on the National Security Council (NSC) on the issue has not taken place, according to an April 12 report in The Hill. NSC meetings on the future of the treaty had originally been planned for February and March, but were canceled.

According to a House aide cited by The Hill, the apparent “decision to withdraw prompted strong objection from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Poland.”

A State Department official told the news outlet that the administration is “currently reviewing the costs and benefits associated with our participation and considering all options under the treaty to achieve our national security objectives.”

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan stated on April 22 that “all options” remain on the table with regard to the treaty’s future.

Signed in 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. The treaty entered into force in January 2002 and currently has 34 states-parties, including the United States and Russia. Since 2002, there have been nearly 200 U.S. overflights of Russia and about 70 overflights conducted by Russia over the United States, although flights were suspended at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic and at press time there was no indication that flights would resume in May.


The Trump administration appears close to announcing a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, possibly by the end of September.

Pandemic Disrupts Security Meetings

May 2020
By Julia Masterson and Shannon Bugos

The global spread of the novel coronavirus has thrown into disarray the schedule of numerous international convenings on arms control and nonproliferation planned for this year.

Argentine diplomat Gustavo Zlauvinen, the president-designate of the 2020 review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, speaks to the UN Security Council on Feb. 26. He announced in April that he was seeking to postpone the review conference until January 2021. (Photo: Evan Schneider/UN)One of the largest conferences that has been postponed is the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which will now take place no later than April 2021. (See ACT, April 2020.) Previously scheduled to begin April 27 at UN headquarters in New York City and last a month, the conference usually involves dozens of side events and the participation of hundreds of government officials from the 191 states-parties to the treaty, nongovernmental organizations, and meeting support personnel.

In a message dated April 17 to NPT states-parties, the president-designate of the review conference, Gustavo Zlauvinen, said, “Unfortunately, the lack of clarity surrounding when the current circumstances will end, combined with the number of General Assembly-mandated meetings that have been postponed, as well as the already heavy schedule of meetings for 2021, has led to significant constraints on the availability of rooms and conference services for the foreseeable future.”

Zlauvinen said that, “in light of those constraints, the only option that meets the requirements of States Parties between now and August 2021 is to hold the Review Conference at UN Headquarters from 4–29 January 2021.” He said he will seek a formal decision from states-parties to hold the review conference on those dates. Other options, he said, would require “significant downsizing, both in terms of the number of weeks for the Conference and the number of parallel meetings.”

The fourth conference of nuclear-weapon-free zones and Mongolia, scheduled to be held April 24, 2020, at the United Nations in New York, was also postponed. The group has met prior to NPT review conferences since 2005 to “analyze ways of cooperating that can contribute to achieving the universal goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Participation in the conference is open to states-parties of the five extant free zones and Mongolia, which declared itself a nuclear-free territory in 2000. (See ACT, October 2012.) According to UN General Assembly Resolution 73/71, the conference planned for 2020, when held, will focus specifically on enhancing “consultations and cooperation” among the nuclear-free states. The April 24 conference has not been rescheduled.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), located in Vienna, postponed its third Science Diplomacy Symposium likely until November. The CTBTO, which operates the International Monitoring System and data center to verify compliance with the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), holds this symposium every two years in order to highlight the CTBT’s contribution to international peace and security. The 2020 symposium aims to spotlight the value of increasing access to and use of scientific advice in policymaking and collaboration and cooperation between scientists and policymakers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) postponed the 35th meeting of its Advisory Group on Nuclear Security scheduled to be held April 20–24 in Vienna. The group is comprised of experts who collaborate with the IAEA director-general to strengthen IAEA efforts to deter, detect, and react to nuclear and radiological terrorism. The group meets two times each year.

In the conventional arms space, Carlos Foradori of Argentina cancelled the April working group and preparatory meetings for the 6th Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force in 2014 and currently has 104 states-parties. The conference is still scheduled for August 17–21. As president of the conference, Foradori made the decision based upon UN guidelines and said he will develop “a plan that will allow our work to continue remotely in the intersessional period to ensure necessary decisions can be taken by [the conference] guiding the work of the next … cycle.”

Meetings regarding emerging technologies have also been modified due to pandemic-related public health restrictions, including the Berlin Forum on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, originally scheduled for April 1–2, 2020. Instead, the German Foreign Ministry opted to convene the meeting virtually, drawing participation by 300 governmental and nongovernmental representatives of 70 countries worldwide. A statement published April 2 by the ministry reminds that, “in times of crisis, it is crucial that we continue to address urgent issues through international cooperation.”

The forum met to exchange ideas on guiding principles for a future framework governing the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Participants discussed definitions of the human role in the use of lethal force and norms surrounding these systems. According to a readout of the virtual meeting published by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the ministry intends to detail key points from the forum and to hold a follow-up conference in November 2020.

The majority of international events and conferences scheduled for late May or later have not yet officially addressed whether they will still take place. The second part of this year’s session of the Conference on Disarmament, for instance, remains scheduled to begin May 25. A meeting of the group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems
is still planned for June. But the United States has shifted the 46th Group of Seven summit on June 10–12 to a video conference due to coronavirus concerns. The heads of state summit was originally intended to take place at Camp David, Maryland.

The coronavirus has forced the delay or cancellation of a wide range of arms control and nonproliferation meetings in the months ahead.

Coronavirus Affects U.S. Nuclear Forces

May 2020
By Kingston Reif

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation, the Defense Department is taking special measures to ensure the continued readiness of U.S. nuclear forces.

Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. 6th Fleet, center, reviews dive procedures in the control room the ballistic missile submarine USS Florida in the Mediterranean on Oct. 15, 2019. To maintain readiness, U.S. ballistic missile submarine crews were taking special measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  (Photo: Drew Verbis/U.S. Navy)Department officials have expressed confidence that these steps have helped to ensure that the virus does not compromise the ability of the nuclear arsenal to perform its intended mission.

But over time, the rising human and financial toll inflicted by the disease could exacerbate the affordability and execution challenges facing the government’s ambitious plans to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Adm. Charles Richard, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters March 17 that “our strategic nuclear forces remain ready to execute the nation's strategic deterrence mission” and “to this point, we have had no impact to our ability to accomplish our mission.”

In the ensuing weeks, Pentagon officials have detailed some of the protocols that have been put in place to safeguard the health of U.S. military personnel that operate nuclear delivery systems.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on April 14 that the crews of 12 deployed ballistic missile submarines “are going into isolation” for 14 days and “are being tested prior to setting sail, as tests become available.”

The Air Force has also adjusted “operations in the nuclear missile fields,” Gen. David Goldfein, the chief of staff of the service, told Air Force Magazine on April 15.

Goldfein said that the crews for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are now spending 14 days or more at their posts, compared to two or three days at a time previously. All of the roughly 400 deployed U.S. ICBMs are maintained in a state of launch-ready alert, meaning they can be launched within minutes of a decision by the president to do so.

“We’re operating in what we call the new abnormal, operating with the virus,” Goldfein said. He told reporters during a virtual press conference on April 22 that no ICBM or nuclear bomber crews have tested positive for the virus.

The Pentagon announced that day that it is instituting a tiered system for testing personnel for the virus, with top priority given to personnel supporting “critical national capabilities like…our nuclear deterrent.”

“I’m knocking on wood right now [but] so far our measures are working,” Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, deputy commander of Global Strike Command, told Politico on April 23. “We're still flying sorties, the ICBM forces are still on 24 hours, we’re still doing training.”

As of the end of April, the Defense Department reported nearly 7,000 total cases of the coronavirus among department personnel, dependents, and contractors had tested positive for the coronavirus, with hundreds of new cases being reported every day.

The Pentagon in late March stopped reporting the number of positive cases at individual bases and installations. As of early April, more than 150 bases in 41 states had positive cases, including nearly every base that hosts U.S. nuclear delivery systems, according to an April 9 Newsweek report.

The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported 40 active cases of the virus at the agency as of the end of April. Nearly all NNSA production facilities had reduced to a minimum mission-critical level of operations as of mid-April, Exchange Monitor Publications reported on April 10. Mission-critical employees include the personnel needed to assemble nuclear weapons and components, maintain key infrastructure, or provide security.

Although U.S. nuclear forces personnel to have largely avoided the virus, the threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease is straining the defense industrial base and is likely to prompt schedule delays to major defense acquisition programs.

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters on April 20 that the Defense Department is “seeing the greatest impacts in the aviation supply chain, ship-building, and small space launch.”

She added that the department projects “about a three-month slowdown at slower rates in terms of execution” for major acquisition programs and is “just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”

Lord said the Pentagon is planning to ask Congress for “billions and billions” in additional funding as part of a future emergency stimulus package for fiscal year 2020 to address possible schedule delays.

Congress provided the Defense Department with $10.5 billion in emergency supplemental funds as part a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump in March. The additional funding brought total appropriations for national defense in fiscal year 2020 to $756.5 billion.

The potential impact of workforce and supplier slowdowns on the Pentagon’s nuclear delivery system modernization programs remains to be seen.

“We are confident the services, along with industry partners, are able to keep production related to modernization of our nuclear forces on track, while taking appropriate precautions to keep their workforces safe and healthy,” Richard said in March.

But the Congressional Research Service warned in March that the risks of delays at shipyards could be particularly problematic for the program building a new fleet of Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, due in part to the “tight schedule for designing and building the lead boat.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force is slated to award a contract to Northrop Grumman to begin development of a new ICBM system via the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program before the end of the summer. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, said on April 16 that the Air Force might actually award the GBSD development contract earlier than planned.

At the NNSA, major warhead and infrastructure modernization programs are continuing as planned, a congressional source told Arms Control Today.

In the longer term, many prominent defense experts believe that the financial havoc wreaked by the coronavirus will prompt reductions in military spending. Such cuts could increase the financial burden of the Trump administration’s nuclear modernization plans.

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization, an increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level.

Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, predicted on April 6 that “we are going to see enormous downward pressure on defense spending because of other urgent American national needs like health care that the pandemic is going to raise.”

Pentagon officials, however, maintain that nuclear modernization will remain a top priority even amid declining defense budgets.

“As the budget comes down, there will be more tough choices ahead,” Roper said. “My worry—concern—is less about any program in the nuclear triad. It’s more outside of that: Where would we find that bill payer?”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Pentagon has announced new health protocols for its personnel staffing U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

Iran Announces Nuclear Goals

May 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

Iran’s nuclear agency announced that it has developed a new type of centrifuge and described an ambitious plan for expanding its uranium-enrichment program, but it is unclear if or when Tehran’s leaders will take steps to scale up the country’s enrichment capacity.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran speaks to the media in June 2018. In April, he said Iran would continue its uranium enrichment activities. (Photo: Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA)In a March 27 announcement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said that a new generation of centrifuge machines will be unveiled at the Natanz enrichment facility “in the near future.”

Under the terms of the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is permitted to design new centrifuges, but must seek approval before building prototypes and testing new models.

It does not appear that Tehran sought or received authorization to build the new centrifuges from the Joint Commission, the body set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation of the deal. Iran announced in September that it would no longer be bound by the JCPOA’s restrictions on centrifuge research and development and has taken steps since then to breach the accords’ limits on installing and operating advanced machines. (See ACT, October 2019.)

Breaching the research and development limitations on centrifuges was the third step Iran took to reduce compliance with the JCPOA in response to the U.S. decision to violate the nuclear deal by reimposing sanctions and withdrawing from the accord in May 2018. (See ACT, June 2018.)

Iran may have intended to display the new centrifuge during an April 8 ceremony marking the country’s National Nuclear Technology Day, an annual event during which officials recap accomplishments over the past year and set priorities for the nuclear program. But Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the AEOI, announced that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decided to delay the April 8 ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AEOI head Ali Akbar Salehi delivered a speech on April 8 marking National Nuclear Technology Day and outlining the priorities for the country’s nuclear program in the coming year. Salehi said that Iran would accelerate R&D projects and continue enrichment activities over the next year. He did not provide any details, but Kamalvandi claimed on April 8 that Iran can produce up to 60 advanced centrifuges each day.

Kamalvandi also said that achieving an enrichment capacity of 250,000 separative work units (SWUs) is attainable but that Iran’s goal is one million SWUs.

An SWU is the measure of work required to enrich uranium. Under the JCPOA, Iran is limited to enriching uranium with 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, which equates to less than 5,000 SWUs, for 10 years.

It is unclear why Iran would set such a high goal for its enrichment program or what the time frame is for achieving one million SWUs. Iranian officials consistently state that Tehran is willing to return to compliance with the JCPOA if its sanctions relief demands are met.

The terms of the JCPOA limit Iran’s uranium enrichment through 2031, and even after that, it is not clear that Tehran will need to produce one million SWUs to meet its need for enriched uranium fuel.

Iran’s current nuclear power reactor is fueled by Russia, and the JCPOA requires the parties to the deal to ensure Iran can access fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Future nuclear reactors under construction at Bushehr have lifetime fueling contracts with Russia.

Additional priorities that Salehi spelled out in his April 8 address include the continued construction of the two new reactor units at Bushehr and modification of the Arak reactor as required by the 2015 nuclear deal. Modifying the Arak reactor to a design that produces significantly less plutonium is required by the JCPOA.

The U.S. State Department announced on March 30 that it was renewing sanctions waivers allowing certain nuclear cooperation projects outlined in the nuclear deal to continue for another 60 days. The announcement did not specify the projects, but it is likely that the Arak reactor modification project is covered by the waivers, and it noted that the United States “can adjust these restrictions at any time.”

Construction of the two new units at Bushehr, however, is not covered by U.S. sanctions waivers. In May 2019, the State Department announced that activities to expand the Bushehr site “will be exposed to sanctions.” It does not appear that the U.S. announcement has stopped Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom from continuing to work on the new units at Bushehr.

In November 2019, Salehi and Alexander Lokshin, deputy head of Rosatom, participated in a ceremony when concrete was poured for the base of the second reactor unit.


Inspections Continue in Iran Despite Virus

International inspectors will continue to have access to Iran’s nuclear facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Tehran confirmed in March.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (left) greets Iran's ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi at a Jan. 30 reception. The IAEA and Iran have pledged to maintain the agency's inspection activities in Iran. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)As of mid-April, Iran had confirmed more than 75,000 cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Despite limitations on travel, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on March 20 that “there are no limitations” for inspectors traveling to Iran and throughout the country monitoring the nuclear program.

The IAEA said in an April 7 press release that “safeguards inspections worldwide are continuing but with some travel disruption.” The release did not specifically mention Iran.

In addition to on-site inspections, the IAEA uses remote monitoring technologies, such as cameras and online enrichment monitors, to track Iran’s nuclear activities.

In a March 23 video, the IAEA noted that it continues to use satellite imagery to implement safeguards and it can continue to monitor stockpiles of nuclear material remotely.

In the video, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that “safeguarding nuclear materials all over the world will not stop for a single minute.”

The IAEA is providing more than 40 countries with kits and resources to test for the coronavirus. Gharibabadi said on April 3 that the IAEA was sending equipment to Iran that will be useful in containing the country’s outbreak.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran announced it would unveil a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges.


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