"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
May 2023
Edition Date: 
Monday, May 1, 2023
Cover Image: 

An Early Test for the TPNW

May 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has changed the global debate on the advisability, legality, and morality of the continued possession and modernization of nuclear weapons for the better. Since the treaty entered into force in 2021, states-parties have reinforced the taboos against nuclear use and threats of use, particularly in connection with Russian threats of nuclear weapons use in its war on Ukraine.

Video-capture of the April 11 test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar training ground in Russia that landed at the Sary-Shagan proving ground in Kazakhstan. (Image credit: Russian Defence Ministry)Nevertheless, nearly all of the world's nine nuclear-armed states continue to improve their nuclear arsenals, including by regularly conducting flight tests of missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons to maintain existing nuclear weapons capabilities, develop new nuclear weapons systems, or simply demonstrate their capacity to annihilate their adversaries.

In the past month alone, the United States tested an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that landed in the U.S.-controlled test range near Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and France fired off an M51 sea-launched ballistic missile from its Le Terrible strategic submarine in the Atlantic Ocean.

Days earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry announced a test of a new nuclear-capable ICBM that was launched from Russia and landed in the Sary-Shagan test range in Kazakhstan on land leased to Russia through a long-term bilateral agreement.

The latest Russian ICBM test appears to be the first time Russia has used the Sary-Shagan site for a nuclear weapons-related missile flight test since the TPNW entered into force. According to the ministry, the missile’s training warhead hit a mock target to advance “development of new strategic missile systems.”

The test raises fundamental questions about how Kazakhstan, a leading TPNW proponent, interprets the treaty provisions and how other TPNW states interpret the treaty’s prohibition regarding “assistance” to other states’ nuclear weapons programs.

According to TPNW Article 1, each state-party undertakes “never under any circumstances to....[a]ssist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in an activity prohibited” by the treaty, which bars development, testing, production, manufacturing, otherwise acquiring, possessing or stockpiling of “nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

But in response to Russia’s test, the Kazakh government has claimed that “the treaty bans only testing of nuclear weapons (nuclear explosive devices), but not missiles.” Kazakh officials say that the TPNW would need to contain an explicit prohibition on delivery systems for this to be a breach. They note that no nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices are being placed, tested, or utilized in any way on the territory of Kazakhstan and therefore “Kazakhstan remains in full compliance with its obligations under the TPNW.”

Although the treaty does not explicitly prohibit assistance with the development and testing of missiles designed to deliver weapons, it prohibits assistance with the development of “nuclear weapons,” and missiles designed to deliver nuclear warheads are part of a nuclear weapons system. A plain reading of the treaty and its negotiating history strongly suggests that facilitating tests of missiles designed to deliver nuclear bombs is inconsistent with the object and purpose, if not also the letter, of the treaty.

Kazakhstan is, without question, a strong proponent of a world free of nuclear weapons. After the Soviet Union collapsed, it inherited and later relinquished more than 1,000 nuclear weapons and forced a halt to Russian nuclear testing. Kazakhstan later helped establish the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. Even so, Kazakhstan must find a way to co-exist with its nuclear-armed neighbor Russia, which dominates Belarus and invaded Ukraine.

As a disarmament leader and chair-designate for the 2024 meeting of TPNW states-parties, Kazakhstan has a responsibility and an opportunity to seek adjustments to the 2015 bilateral lease agreement that governs Russia's use of the Sary-Shagan missile test range to ensure that it is not assisting Russia’s nuclear modernization program and its policy of nuclear intimidation in any way.

Noting that Russia has a missile test range in its own northern territory, Kazakhstan could propose, under article XXV of the lease agreement, that Sary-Shagan shall not be used as a test range to flight-test missile systems designed to carry nuclear weapons. The agreement, which lasts until 2025, allows for changes with the consent of both parties. It also specifies that the agreement will be suspended if the parties do not reach a mutual decision on lease terms.

Russia’s ICBM test at Sary-Shagan will be a topic at the meeting of TPNW states-parties in November. With little time to meet and a full agenda, TPNW states should create a working group to evaluate what types of “assistance” for nuclear weapons-related activities are prohibited and, perhaps most importantly, what actions would best support the goals of the TPNW.

Although the situation is challenging, it is vital that TPNW member states make it clear that they do not support activities that enable nuclear weapons modernization and arms racing, especially in this period of growing nuclear risk.

The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has changed the global debate on the advisability, legality, and morality of the continued possession and modernization of nuclear weapons for the better.

Biden’s New Policy: Can Human Rights Reshape U.S. Conventional Arms Transfers?

May 2023
By Rachel Stohl, Loren Voss, and Elias Yousif

The United States accounts for 40 percent of the global arms trade, a greater market share than the next four closest competitors combined, including Russia and China.1

In 2019, as part of a controversial arms deal with the Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates was approved to purchase General Electric engines for a version of the F-16 fighter jets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Lotz)Although many of the tens of thousands of weapons that Washington exports abroad each year flow to like-minded partners with commendable human rights records, many end up in the hands of governments engaged in conflict, accused of civil and human rights abuses, or found to be undermining U.S. interests. Such transfers have long cast a shadow on the U.S. commitment to international human rights and raised questions as to the wisdom and morality of enabling the predatory or destabilizing behaviors of questionable partners.

Two critical elements in the Biden administration’s new conventional arms transfer policy have the potential to chip away at this dilemma and reshape the U.S. approach to arms transfers, with an explicit emphasis on restraint and a higher human rights standard for arms transfer assessments.2 These are laudable ambitions, but achieving them will not be easy. Engendering an ethos of restraint in U.S. arm transfers will require confronting long-held misconceptions about the strategic risks of restricting transfers to questionable partners, while implementing a higher human rights standard requires a far more robust information ecosystem and analytical process for decision-makers.

Shaping Arms Transfers

An arms transfer policy is established by a presidential directive intended to outline the key aims and considerations that shape the whole-of-government approach to arms transfers. In addition to defining the priorities and criteria for security cooperation decision-making, the policy is a tone-setting document, sending a signal across the government and beyond regarding the spirit of the U.S. approach to arms sales and the role of arms sales in foreign policy and national security objectives.

Although the policy has been rewritten three times in the last nine years, prior to 2014 no update had been made since the Clinton administration in 1995. The Obama administration’s policy, which was the first rewrite in nearly two decades, was seen as an effort to align the U.S. approach to arms transfers with new geopolitical and geostrategic considerations in the post-Cold War world and to meet the imperatives of the global war on terrorism better.

The Trump administration’s 2018 policy emphasized counterterrorism and nonproliferation priorities that reflected a continued focus on efforts to defeat al Qaeda and associated groups, but it also made a dramatic shift toward a more economically oriented “Buy American” and “America First” approach. It placed economic security considerations front and center, even more than its predecessors, and sought to enable the U.S. government to sell more weapons more quickly with less restraint and less conditionality. The policy made an important contribution by addressing civilian harm for the first time by establishing that the executive branch had a policy of facilitating ally and partner efforts to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm. Nevertheless, the prioritization of economic considerations helped justify a number of arms sales that defied human rights and civilian protection concerns, as well as public and congressional opposition, including highly controversial sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in 2019.3

With the aim of distinguishing its human rights commitments from those of its predecessor, the Biden administration made clear that a revised policy that rightsized human rights considerations was one of its early priorities, something that was keenly anticipated by the arms control and human rights communities. Although there are many welcome updates in the new policy, the commitment to restraint and the announcement of a higher human rights standard that will apply to arms transfers are among its most notable developments.4

Relatedly, the administration promised that a change to the current U.S. position rejecting the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which establishes common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade, would result from a new conventional arms transfer policy. Unfortunately, the new policy has not clarified the U.S. position or resulted in renewed engagement with the ATT.

Definitions of Civilian Harm and Protection of Civilians

Civilian Harm includes conflict-related death, physical and psychological injury, loss of property and livelihood, and interruption of access to essential services.*

Civilian Casualties is a more narrowly focused term referring to deaths and injuries of civilians by armed conflict.

Protection of Civilians is a broader term that includes all efforts to reduce civilian risks from physical violence, secure their rights to access essential services and resources, and contribute to a secure, stable, and just environment for civilians over the long term.**

*Sahr Muhammedally, “A Primer on Civilian Harm Mitigation in Urban Operations,” Center for Civilians in Conflict, June 2022.

**U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, “Protection of Civilians Military Reference Guide, Second Edition,” January 2018.

The ‘If We Don’t Sell, Someone Else Will’ Paradigm

The Biden administration’s commitment to restraint in the U.S. approach to security cooperation is likely to be met with a familiar rebuttal: “If we don’t sell them arms, someone else will.” This well-worn refrain reflects a long-standing assumption in U.S. security cooperation policy that countries cut off from the U.S. arms trade will turn quickly to other suppliers, including U.S. adversaries, for their defense needs, thereby eroding a key source of U.S. global influence. Recent analysis suggests, however, that this argument, which frequently has been used to justify arms transfers to countries engaged in human rights abuses or behaviors contrary to U.S. interests, fails to account for the complex set of circumstances that shape decision-making by arms importers.5 If the Biden administration is serious about its commitment to restraint, it must dispel misconceptions embodied by the “if we don’t sell” myth that distort policy choices and encourage an ever more permissive approach to arms transfers.

The global arms trade is far from an abundant buyer’s market, and an importer's historic preference for a given patron creates a degree of dependency that adds risks and costs to seeking alternative suppliers or diversifying its sources for materiel. Although countries have elected to incur those risks and costs in some cases, the factors shaping those decisions are far more complex than implied by “if we don’t sell.”

Simply sourcing a comparable capability can be challenging, especially for highly sophisticated systems such as advanced aircraft or air defense systems. Domestic production may be technically or financially beyond reach or logistically impractical, importers may face a coordinated policy of denial among allied exporters, and producers may be few in number or belong to incompatible geopolitical or ideological blocs. Similarly, integrating new systems into existing defense architectures introduces new burdens on importers, requiring costly capital investments in parallel or alternative logistics, training, sustainment, and doctrine.

In many cases, the nature of the importer's immediate security environment can add to the risks and costs of seeking alternative suppliers. For countries facing acute security threats, the time and potential readiness gaps associated with adopting and integrating alternative platforms or pivoting away from a primary supplier could jeopardize defense planning imperatives or interoperability with a preferred partner.

Beyond the practical concerns, important political and diplomatic considerations must be weighed for importers considering a transition to alternative suppliers. For the United States in particular, arms transfers are understood as signaling more general political support for a partner. For countries whose pivot to an alternative supplier might disrupt the broader relationship with the United States, the signal of interest divergence between the importer and Washington and the perceived loss of U.S. support could have serious consequences that extend beyond the particular arms in question.

Additionally, the “if we don’t sell” concept raises questions about another foundational premise in the U.S. security cooperation enterprise, namely that arms transfers are an important source of U.S. influence and leverage among recipient countries. If a country can so easily switch from one arms provider to another, it would seem unnecessary for an importer to make any sacrifices, accept any conditions, or bend to the will of a patron for the sake of preserving an essentially fungible arms relationship. In short, concepts surrounding “if we don’t sell” and arms as a means of influence, both of which are foundational principles in U.S. security cooperation, are in some ways incompatible, but continue to drive arms transfer decisions. Perhaps more importantly, the “if we don’t sell” premise betrays a troubling shallowness in many U.S. security partnerships. If a partner so casually would elect to turn to one of Washington’s strategic competitors for its defense needs or to develop deeper defense ties, that suggests a problematic misalignment of interest and perspectives that raises questions about the strategic value of the relationship in the first place.

In this context, assumptions embodied by the “if we don’t sell” concept risk inflating the likelihood and associated risk of a partner’s transition to an alternative defense supplier. Similarly, the argument offers very little space for the consideration of the potential benefits of disassociating from security relationships with countries that are engaged in abusive behaviors and have only a tenuous alignment of interests with the United States. In so doing, the argument distorts the sense of available policy options and risks incentivizing an ever more liberal approach to arms transfers without sufficient regard for the strategic returns or the consequences for civilian protection, good governance, and international peace.

Human Rights and Civilian Protection

Although international humanitarian law, human rights, and civilian harm mitigation have been featured in past policies, the Biden administration’s directive introduces a new approach for assessing and, in some cases, prohibiting a specific arms transfer on the basis of a stricter human rights standard.

The relevant section states,

[N]o arms transfer will be authorized where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit, facilitate the recipients’ commission of, or to aggravate risks that the recipient will commit: genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including serious acts of genderbased violence or serious acts of violence against children. This assessment shall include consideration of the available information and relevant circumstances, including the proposed recipient’s current and past actions, credible reports that the recipient committed any of the above violations, and other information related to the overall capacity or intention of the recipient to respect international law.

Compared to the two previously issued policies, this new prohibition makes three important changes. First, the level of certainty required to deny an arms transfer is reduced from “actual knowledge” to a “more likely than not” determination that the arms will be used to commit, facilitate the commission of, or aggravate the risk of international law violations. Second, the scope of negative impacts is expanded from the recipient using the arms transferred to commit violations of international law to include situations in which the arms transferred would facilitate the commission of or aggravate the risk that the recipient will commit violations of international law. Finally, the policy explicitly requires the inclusion of specific types of information in the assessment process.

Women visit the graves of people reportedly killed during the war in Yemen at a cemetery in Sanaa during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in April. Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. arms client, has been fighting the Houthis in Yemen since 2015. The war has killed thousands of people and sparked the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP via Getty Images)In order to determine whether an international law violation is more likely than not to occur, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Commerce, or a combination of departments, depending on the authority under which the proposed transfer would occur, will need to develop a more robust and expansive risk assessment regime. To carry out an effective assessment, government officials will need guidance on how to incorporate the new broader considerations into their deliberations, including whether an arms transfer will facilitate or aggravate the risk that the recipient will commit violations. This will require a significantly expanded analysis of the recipient’s security forces. For example, one could easily argue that providing a military unit with arms that would allow it to better control territory could aggravate risks if a separate domestic security force was known to detain and torture individuals because that separate force would have access to more civilians over a larger territory. Therefore, the assessment conducted by the relevant U.S. agency will need to include information and analysis on any risks in the state requesting the arms, not just the specific unit or force that would receive the proposed arms.

For a potential arms recipient to be judged more likely than not to misuse the weapons, the new policy stipulates that the assessment examine “the proposed recipient’s current and past actions, credible reports that the recipient committed any of the specified violations, and other information related to the overall capacity or intention of the recipient to respect international law.” These categories could be applied in a three-element test covering current and past actions, capacity, and intention. If the recipient state meets any of the elements, one could assess that the threshold is met.

Evidence of relevant past and current actions would include credible reports or allegations that operations were conducted with malice or reckless disregard or gross negligence toward civilians or other protected individuals. Such actions must be systematic or more than one-time events. In addition, the recipient state would be judged on whether it had taken effective steps to bring the responsible offenders to justice. If it had not, then the threshold likely would be met.

Critics opposed the Biden administration's $997 million sale of  AH-1Z attack helicopters and others weapons to Nigeria in 2022 because of the government's human rights record, among other reasons. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad J. Pulliam)In terms of the capacity category, the relevant security force or unit of that force would be judged on whether it had the capacity or had a significantly inconsistent capability to employ the requested arms in a lawful and effective manner. If it did not have the capacity or had a significantly inconsistent capability, the threshold likely would be met. Alternatively, if the security force was judged as not having the command and control structure needed to meet its legal obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law, then the threshold also would likely be met.

The final category concerns intention, specifically judging whether it is the deliberate purpose of the recipient state to employ the arms to commit or facilitate the commission of an act that is a violation of international law as specified in the policy. The review should be that of general intent rather than a specific intent to commit or facilitate commission of a certain action at a specified time. Additionally, the recipient state does not need to have knowledge that a certain action would be a violation of international law as long as there is intention to commit or facilitate the forbidden action, such as targeting civilians or torturing prisoners.

Incomplete Data

In order to conduct this assessment adequately, the relevant U.S. department will need information that, under current practice, is not always collected or made available in a systemic way. For example, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor annually produces a volume titled “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” which can provide some insight into human rights violations, but frequently does not have the level of detail needed to determine which specific forces commit violations or the causes of such violations.6 As a result, although the report would be helpful to the arms transfer policy analysis, it would not be sufficient.

The Defense Department’s 2022 Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan recognized this deficiency in information and reporting processes. It required the department to develop procedures and a framework to “to assess, monitor, and evaluate the ability, willingness, norms, and practices of allies and partners to implement appropriate civilian harm mitigation and response practices” and to ensure the assessments are used to shape and implement security cooperation programs, many of which include arms transfers. It also called for the formulation of guidance on responding to reports of civilian harm by ally or partner forces from governmental and nongovernmental sources. Nongovernmental organizations and civil society regularly collect and report on information that would be valuable to the type of assessment required by the new arms transfer policy.

All of this information, even if adequately collected by these disparate sources, needs to be readily accessible to the relevant individuals who review and approve arms transfers at each U.S. department that has arms transfer authority. It must be available for review on a regular basis, but not necessarily in every case.

Despite receiving billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi continues to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who has been waging war on domestic opponents since 2011. Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced, including this girl at the Sahlat al-Banat camp in northern Syria. (Photo by Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images)U.S. officials have said they were already frequently if not always applying a higher standard to arms transfer decisions than the previous “actual knowledge” standard. Even if true to some extent, this higher standard is not yet applied through a methodical, standardized process. The National Security Council should provide clear guidance on how to collect the relevant information and apply this standard, even if such guidance varies depending on the mechanism for transfer and the types of arms transferred. Additionally, the results of such analysis should be memorialized in a standard written document and made available for future reference in similar situations, such as tactical training for the same state or transfers to other states with similar risks.

Developing a standardized process for analysis by building out the three-element test and documenting the results in an easy-to-reference written document will set the stage for effective implementation of the new human rights standard. In order to successfully conduct the assessment, proactive steps must be taken to gather information from relevant U.S. agencies, the press, international organizations, and civil society and then ensure the resulting document is readily available to all U.S. officials who have a role in approving or denying arms transfers. Without such an approach, the much-touted human rights focus of the new policy likely will be only messaging with no noticeable difference in actual arms transfers.

The Importance of Implementation

Although the new policy is a step in the right direction of ensuring U.S. foreign policy reflects the country’s values and goals, the actual positive effect or lack thereof should be measured by its implementation. A policy on its own does not guarantee change. A Government Accountability Office report in 2019 compared conventional arms transfer policies from the Trump administration and the Obama administration and found that the two directives did not result in any notable changes to processes for reviewing proposed arms sales.7 If the Biden administration wants its policy to be more than strategic messaging, additional guidance and new processes are needed. Realizing the high-minded aspirations of this new directive will require critical reflections on ill-conceived strategic concepts, as well as more concrete guidance on applying the new human rights standard.

Time will tell if the changes in rhetoric will take root in practice and shape the practicalities of the U.S. arms trade. In particular, it will be important to watch for concrete changes in terms of arms trade decisions, human rights due diligence, and decisions to suspend, curtail, or condition certain arms transfers.



1. Pieter D. Wezeman, Justine Gadon, and Siemon T. Wezeman, “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2022,” SIPRI Fact Sheet, March 2023, p. 2, https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/2023-03/2303_at_fact_sheet_2022_v2.pdf.

2. Executive Office of the President, “Memorandum on United States Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, National Security Memorandum/NSM-18,” February 23, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2023/02/23/memorandum-on-united-states-conventional-arms-transfer-policy/; John Chappell and Ari Tolany, “Unpacking Biden’s Conventional Arms Transfer Policy,” Lawfare, March 2, 2023, https://www.lawfareblog.com/unpacking-bidens-conventional-arms-transfer-policy.

3. Jesus Rodriguez and Matthew Choi, “Trump: Saudi Arabia Would Turn to Russia, China If U.S. Ends Arms Sales Over Missing Journalist,” Politico, October 11, 2018; Zachary Cohen and Betsy Klein, “Trump Vetoes 3 Bills Prohibiting Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia,” CNN, July 24, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/24/politics/saudi-arms-sale-resolutions-trump-veto/index.html.

4. Restraint was also a theme and explicit criterion in the Carter administration’s 1977 conventional arms transfer policy.

5. Elias Yousif, “If We Don’t Sell It, Someone Else Will: Dependence & Influence in US Arms Transfers,” Stimson Center, March 30, 2023, https://www.stimson.org/2023/if-we-dont-sell-it-someone-else-will-dependence-influence-in-us-arms-transfers/.

6. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” n.d., https://www.state.gov/reports-bureau-of-democracy-human-rights-and-labor/country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/ (accessed April 19, 2023).

7. U.S. Government Accountability Office to Senator Robert Menendez, “Conventional Arms Transfer Policy: Agency Processes for Reviewing Direct Commercial Sales and Foreign Military Sales Align With Policy Criteria,” GAO-19-673R, September 9, 2019, pp. 7–8, https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-19-673r.pdf.


Rachel Stohl is vice president of research programs at the Stimson Center and director of the Conventional Defense Program. Loren Voss is a nonresident fellow in the program. Elias Yousif is a research analyst in the program.

The new policy is a step in the right direction but implementation is the real test.

The ATT at 10: The View From Mexico

India, one of the world's five largest arms importers, is among the countries that have not joined the Arms Trade Treaty. This Rafale fighter jet, which participated in a U.S.-India military exercise in West Bengal in April, is among the weapons acquired from France. (Photo by Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images)
May 2023
By Alejandro Alba Fernández

Ten years ago, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was adopted by the UN General Assembly with the promise to establish common standards for the international trade in conventional arms in order to reduce the terrible human consequences caused by the illegal, irresponsible transfers of these weapons.

Tragically, in the years since the treaty came into force, the illicit arms market has not been contained. On the contrary, diverse research indicates that the trade has grown as unauthorized actors across the globe continue to profit from weapons at great human cost. The diversion and illicit trafficking of arms remains a serious problem that affects international peace and security, destabilizes countries and regions, cripples development, and causes excessive violence and unacceptable human suffering.

On this anniversary, it is worth asking whether the ATT has fulfilled its objectives. Although significant progress has been achieved in the institutional consolidation of the treaty, there is still a long way to go to assess its overall success. As recent years have demonstrated, there is a worrying inertia in terms of new states acceding to the treaty and states-parties meeting their reporting and transparency commitments. To fulfill the treaty’s promise and meet the pressing challenges of a world awash in conventional arms, states-parties and other supporters must place greater emphasis on improving practices and transparency in the arms trade, including strengthening schemes for preventing diversion, improving export risk assessments, and ensuring mechanisms for the verification of authorized uses and end users.

National Control Systems

One method of measuring overall ATT compliance is the establishment of national control systems. Article 5 of the treaty obliges states-parties to maintain such systems, which must include a national arms control list and clearly identified, competent national authorities and designated focal points to facilitate and expedite the exchange of information on matters related to implementation.

Although most ATT members have reported having national control systems, little is known about how they work, whether they are effective, and whether they are regularly updated. For example, the updates of national authorities involved in implementing the treaty and the national contact points are useful for addressing practical aspects of cooperation and information exchanges. Even so, more attention on this matter is needed.

National control systems must be effective and applicable to all arms imports and exports in such a way that they prevent the authorization of treaty-prohibited transfers.1 To ensure this objective, exporting countries, before authorizing a transfer, must establish risk assessments that allow them to evaluate in an objective, nondiscriminatory manner the potential of that weapon to undermine peace and security or to be used to commit crimes of international concern. Exporting countries, in collaboration with the importing state, also must take measures to mitigate any risk of this nature.2

Risk Assessments

State-parties must carry out risk assessments before authorizing a treaty-covered arms transfer and perhaps afterward if new, relevant information comes to light. In some cases, legal arms transfers have ended up in the wrong hands in conflicts in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Yemen, and other countries and are an indicator that exporting countries need to do more to improve their risk assessments.

Although this evaluation is one-sided—carried out by the exporting state—it cannot be a mechanical exercise, and the role of the importing state should be better defined. The assessment must be exhaustive, objective, and on a case-by-case basis. It must include information provided by the importing state and analyze all relevant factors, including compliance with international law and international humanitarian law by the importing state, diplomatic reports on the security and political situation in the importing country, and an evaluation of the potential that the weapons may be used to carry out illegal acts or to facilitate serious acts of violence. In this regard, risk assessments should give greater consideration and weight to the provisions of Article 7.4, which establishes criteria to avoid transfers that facilitate gender-based violence.3 This is extremely relevant because, in armed conflict, women and girls are disproportionally affected by arms violence.

Carried out seriously and under the parameters required by the ATT, risk assessments could lead to the denial of an arms transfer. The treaty refers to information that is provided by the importer, but nothing prevents a third state from providing additional information that helps to properly inform risk assessments. This is especially important when dealing with data that document detected or suspected diversion that has affected the state providing the information.

Preventing Arms Diversion

ATT states-parties involved in arms transfers are obliged to prevent their diversion.4 Although this is a fundamental obligation, it is not uncommon that weapons that were legally transferred to one country later appear in another, fueling conflict and violence.

The Conference of the States Parties is the vehicle for promoting information exchanges and practices to prevent, mitigate, address, and eradicate arms diversion among ATT members. Dialogue among the parties characterized by good faith, respect, and collaboration is the basis for achieving the ATT objectives.

It is a cause of concern, however, that despite the fact that there is an online platform for the exchange of information among ATT member states and states that have signed but not ratified the treaty, it largely has been disregarded. Some members argue that before using the platform, it is necessary to determine the type of information that can be shared. Others stress that technical and confidentiality criteria, which so far have not been addressed, must be considered first. The result is that this mechanism has not been effective for the exchange of information that is necessary to analyze and combat cases of illegal arms transfers.

The Diversion Information Exchange Forum, active since 2022, is the most recent promise within the ATT framework to prevent and combat arms diversion. The forum is the first mechanism of its kind that seeks the exchange of technical and operational information to identify and combat suspected or detected cases of diversion and illegal arms trafficking.

To strengthen trust among members, only the participation of states-parties and signatories is contemplated for now due to the sensitivity and confidential nature of the information that is meant to be shared in the forum. Civil society has questioned this format, and in the near future, the forum should consider including other stakeholders that have very relevant research and information that could contribute to analyzing cases. Given the creativity of arms traffickers, it is necessary for the conference to monitor constantly the effectiveness of its mechanisms and encourage the parties to adapt their national regulations and laws as necessary to prevent, combat, and reduce the risks of diversion; tighten risk assessments; and improve mitigation measures in the process of authorizing arms transfers.

Strengthening Reporting

States-parties are obligated under Article 13 to submit initial and annual reports on arms exports and imports. In recent years, however, compliance has weakened: Fewer annual reports have been submitted, fewer have been submitted on time, several countries have not submitted their annual and initial reports at all, more states have made their reports nonpublic, and more states are excluding information considered sensitive for security and commercial reasons and are reporting aggregate data that make independent analysis difficult.5

These are alarming trends given that a fundamental treaty obligation is not being fulfilled adequately. This has consequences for the analysis of flows of arms transfers globally and regionally, the building of trust among treaty states-parties, international cooperation, and the effective implementation of the treaty. In terms of the risk assessments exercise, the information contained in these reports can help to support decisions to grant or revoke arms transfer licenses and even facilitate the identification of possible cases of arms diversion. In addition, weak reporting related to the ATT undermines its overall compliance vis-à-vis other arms control instruments.

It is too early to draw definitive conclusions about these trends. The global pandemic may have affected the ability of states to submit reports. Developing countries in particular still face difficulties in submitting treaty-required reports. In some cases, only a single official is filing reports to comply with a number of other international and regional arms control regimes besides the ATT, or officials charged with reporting responsibilities lack capabilities. There are also challenges to collecting information from diverse governmental agencies and, in some instances, a lack of political commitment to their obligation to submit reports.

More attention should be devoted to the subject of reporting and to the development of measures that can address legitimate concerns and solve structural problems. The treaty’s working group on transparency and reporting is developing initiatives and tools to encourage reporting and to improve the quality of reporting by including more useful and relevant information in them. Some tools developed by the working group are an outreach strategy led by the conference president that would engage states-parties and drive home the importance of meeting their ATT reporting obligation, a voluntary peer-to-peer project to help states-parties with the preparation of reports, a guidance document on the annual reporting obligation, and an online reporting tool posted on the ATT website.

The working group recently updated the reference templates for the initial and annual reports. These updates are timely and pertinent because they seek to resolve inconsistencies, errors, doubts, and omissions in the submitted reports. Although use of these templates is voluntary, because the treaty establishes the obligation to report without specifying the manner of reporting, they are widely used and facilitate the work of members. The working group also promotes the use of the information exchange platform located on the ATT website and the possible development of an online database that could facilitate the search and cross-checking of information contained in the reports that are submitted in compliance with the treaty.

It is essential to continue efforts to support and encourage timely, meaningful reporting and to support states-parties that face difficulties in meeting their obligations. The ATT Voluntary Trust Fund is a valuable resource that can support projects aimed at developing and improving reporting capacities. States-parties not in compliance with the reporting requirements should consider using the fund.

Also, the Diversion Information Exchange Forum can facilitate the exchange of practical and operational information that helps to deal with detected or suspected diversion cases. For regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean, where there are no formal channels for exchanging information among national governments to prevent diversion and the regional mechanisms focused on illicit arms trafficking have had few results, the forum represents an opportunity to exchange information among the countries at the regional and subregional levels.

Toward Greater Participation

As the number of conflicts around the world continues to increase, many major arms exporting and importing countries are not yet parties to the treaty. Notable absences include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Some of the countries that have joined the treaty in recent years are Afghanistan, Andorra, Canada, China, Lebanon, the Philippines, and São Tomé and Príncipe, which is encouraging given the geographic diversity and the countries’ profile in the arms trade. Currently, the treaty has 113 states-parties; 28 states that have signed the treaty but have not ratified it; and 54 states that remain outside the regime.6

Only eight years after the treaty entered into force, a significantly high number of countries have ratified it as states-parties, and that is definitely a positive accomplishment. For the ATT to achieve its objectives, however, the participation of all states is required.

Moreover, in recent years, the trend of new treaty accessions has decreased (fig. 1). Although there were more than 30 annual ratifications in the early years, in the last two years the growth was very modest, with one country in 2021 and two in 2022.7

This should not be interpreted as a lack of support for the treaty. It is logical that, in the early years, a large number of countries would join the new regime. Yet, this trend means that achieving new ratifications and accessions in the future will require more focused actions, a medium- or long-term perspective, and sustained efforts to address the reasons and challenges that have prevented more accessions.

For example, some countries do not consider the treaty a priority instrument or do not see the potential benefits of joining it. Others believe that membership would imply disproportionate burdens because they must fulfill other reports for several other arms control regimes. Some countries believe that before joining the treaty, they must establish or develop their national arms control systems and the legal framework that ensures their implementation. Other states simply believe that the treaty does not respond to their strategic interests.

It is striking that the Asia-Pacific and African regions, the two that suffer the most from the armed violence associated with diversion and illicit arms trafficking, historically report the lowest numbers of ATT states-parties.8 Achieving universal treaty membership requires particular attention to these regions.

States-parties should increase efforts at expanding treaty membership. Germany and South Korea, the current chairs of the working group on universalization, have proposed a constructive approach to develop medium- and long-term plans, focus outreach efforts and resources on underrepresented regions, and enlist treaty-supportive states to advocate for more accessions and ratifications in their regions. Special attention also should be given to engaging major exporters and importers, which set the trends in the global market, as well as to using the support of regional and subregional organizations.

Over the years, several international actors and civil society organizations have played a crucial role in favor of universalization through awareness campaigns and providing legal and technical assistance to countries that are considering joining the ATT. These efforts should receive more visibility and support by states-parties in political and financial terms. Above all, the best way to get more accessions is to demonstrate that the treaty works.


The Mexico Example

Mexico faces a great problem with the illegal entry of roughly half a million weapons annually through its northern border. Most of the weapons end up in the hands of criminal groups, inflicting untold suffering on the population. Combating diversion and illicit arms trafficking is a priority that Mexican foreign policy addresses in various international forums, most notably the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

The treaty has helped Mexico to visualize and raise awareness about challenges and consequences of diversion and illicit trafficking of conventional weapons, promote standards for responsible international arms trade, and take advantage of its provisions on international cooperation to exchange information and consult on best practices in an effort to prevent and combat these illicit trafficking cases. In this regard, Mexico's general evaluation of the treaty is positive, although it recognizes the challenges the treaty faces and is therefore involved actively and purposefully
in improving the treaty’s operational processes.

Mexico played an active role in the adoption of the treaty, its entry into force, and the efforts in favor of universalization and effective implementation. The first conference of states-parties, chaired by Mexico in 2015, established the general basis of the bodies that monitor
the application of the ATT.

Mexico’s role in the ATT is reflected in the activism of its delegations; in the continuous work that it carries out along with other actors, including governments and civil society organizations, to promote its effectiveness; and in its participation in the treaty governing bodies. It has held relevant positions within the institutional structure of the treaty, such as the regional vice presidency of the Eighth Conference of States Parties, chair of the forum on the exchange of information on diversion, the co-chair of the working group on transparency and reporting, and member of the ATT Voluntary Trust Fund selection committee.

As co-chair of the working group, Mexico promoted the creation of the forum, believing that this will help to create the necessary conditions for open and direct exchanges among the members. It is essential to ensure that this mechanism is effective.

Mexico has also underlined the responsibility that states have to ensure that the weapons that transit through their territories are not used to commit serious crimes and that the states are not in violation of their obligations under international law. It has promoted the treaty’s synergies and complementarities with other international and regional arms control regimes, such as the UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Traffic in Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Protocol on the Control of Firearms, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives.

Although Mexico has a strict national arms control system and systematically submits its reports to the ATT, more can be done to ensure full compliance with its obligations in the domestic domain. These steps would include more transparency in the way the country implements the ATT and manages the licensing process. It would be useful to know how the country carries out its risk assessments, what factors are taken into account, and whether it has experienced challenges in preparing its reports and improving the quality of information they contain. Mexico should encourage more of its technical, licensing, and enforcement officers to participate in the Conference of States Parties and its preparatory meetings, so that they can share experiences in the detection of illicit transfers and diversion of arms that end up in the hands of criminal groups.

Mexico must continue contributing to the efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the ATT because it is a case study in all the elements needed to achieve a more responsible international arms trade. That is not an easy task, given the obscure interests pursued by the different actors involved in diversion and illicit arms trafficking, but it is a moral and ethical imperative for the innocent victims who suffer every day from the impacts of armed violence.—ALEJANDRO ALBA FERNÁNDEZ


1. Pursuant to Article 6 of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), arms transfers that violate UN Security Council resolutions or other international obligations or that take place with the knowledge that the weapons could be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, or other war crimes typified in international agreements are prohibited. Arms Trade Treaty, April 2, 2013, 3013 U.N.T.S. 269, art. 6.

2. Ibid., art. 7.

3. Ibid., art. 7.4.

4. Ibid., art. 11.

5. For trends in ATT reporting, see Arms Trade Treaty Baseline Assessment Project, “Taking Stock of ATT Reporting,” Stimson Center, August 2022, https://www.stimson.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Report_Taking-Stock-Web.pdf.

6. Arms Trade Treaty, “Treaty Status,” n.d., https://thearmstradetreaty.org/treaty-status.html?templateId=209883 (accessed April 25, 2013).

7. Dumisani Dladla, “Arms Trade Treaty: Status of Participation,” February 15, 2013, https://thearmstradetreaty.org/hyper-images/file/ATT%20Secretariat%20-%20Status%20of%20Participation%20(15.02.2023)/ATT%20Secretariat%20-%20Status%20of%20Participation%20(15.02.2023).pdf.

8. As of May 31, 2020, the regions with the lowest number of ATT members were Africa (27 of 54 countries), Asia (eight of 14), and Oceania (five of 14). Europe (39 of 43 countries) and the Americas (26 of 35) have a higher regional proportionality of states-parties. See “State of the Arms Trade Treaty: A Year in Review June 2019–May 2020,” ATT Monitor 2020, n.d., https://attmonitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/EN_ATT_2020_State-of-the-ATT.pdf.


Alejandro Alba Fernández, a member of the Mexican Foreign Service, served as chair of the Arms Trade Treaty Diversion Information Exchange Forum in 2022 and co-chair of the treaty’s Working Group on Transparency and Reporting from 2019 to 2021. The author's opinions are his own and may not reflect the positions of the government of Mexico.

In its first decade, the Arms Trade Treaty has established itself but new memberships have slowed and the illicit arms market continues to flourish.

OPCW at the Crossroads: A Talk With the Chair-Designate of the Fifth Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference

May 2023

This discussion with Henk Cor van der Kwast took place on March 21 and was hosted by the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition and the Arms Control Association in advance of the Fifth Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Review Conference, scheduled for May 15–19. Paul Walker, coalition chair, asked questions and fielded those from the audience. This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Henk Cor van der Kwast, shown here in 2021, is the chair-designate of the Fifth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention, scheduled for May 15 at The Hague.  (Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA)Paul Walker: You've recently come from the 102nd CWC Executive Council meeting. It was quite lively and had some interesting statements by a couple dozen of the state-parties. There's also been the open-ended working group, headed by the Estonian ambassador, Lauri Kuusing, who has been active in considering what results we want out of the fifth review conference.

Henk Cor van der Kwast: I think it's very important to have these talks because the review conference will be difficult. I have no illusion on that, and I don't want to hide it. At the same time, it's quite important because the fourth review conference, in 2018, did not end with a result. So, I think that puts more pressure on us to have a result this time with which the [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] OPCW can act in the future and address its new tasks.

The OPCW is at a crossroads. We have had quite a number of good developments, and I am referring to the destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile in the United States later this year and to the new Centre for Chemistry and Technology, which gives us a lot of possibilities for further cooperation, for verification, but also in a wider international cooperation. Another thing is the addition of [central nervous system-acting] agents to the OPCW list. I'm also referring to the [OPCW] reports on [chemical weapons use by] Syria. I think the last one on Douma was quite an important one. It was an excellent report by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team. I'm also referring to chemical use cases in the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and the Russian Federation, where Novichok was used. It's important to address those cases and give follow-up to that.

The last point I want to mention from the international framework is the current situation we have in the UN Security Council. What we see is that the Security Council is paralyzed because of one member using its veto more than ever. I've forgotten how many times, but it's quite a number. It's not serious dealing with international politics. At the same time, we've seen that Russia is trying to use the United Nations as a podium for other things. We will have a presentation this week on the abduction of children, whereby the Russians want to give what they call their side of the coin, and they use the UN for that. Having said that, I think it is at the same time fairly important not to have this as a sort of anti-Russian discussion, but to have the central question be, How can we strengthen the OPCW with the new challenges? What I see as most important is that there is a balance between verification on the one hand and international cooperation on the other hand.

The CWC, after all, is an arms control organization, and that should be the starting point. We should see how we can help other states by implementing the convention in the first place, protecting their borders, and protecting them against possible threats of chemical weapons. There are also good developments in that field. The issue of chemical weapons and terrorism, which was shared by the ambassador of South Africa, is a very good example where we have initiative from one group, which is really helping the organization further.

With regard to the presence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the review conference, we are still in discussion with the OPCW Technical Secretariat about how we can enlarge the possibilities for having NGO presentations. It's always a little bit difficult to get the OPCW from the pattern they have used over the last four and a half years to a more open pattern because for the right reasons, they're fairly careful, which is good. But we insist that it's very important to have a good and open exchange.

Walker: Terrorism and terrorist use of chemical weapons has been a big topic of discussion. It’s obviously related to the Russian assassination attempts in 2018 and 2020 and to the innumerable alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrians, but also by ISIS. Will there be any specific resolution proposed at the review conference, perhaps strengthening national implementation or looking more closely at trade and precursor chemicals or other issues, to try to limit the availability of toxic chemicals to national and subnational groups?

Van der Kwast: Yes. There’s a bit of drive, as it was explained to me by several members of the African group, particularly because of ISIS, [which] is very active in northern Africa. There is a serious fear that that might be something that could be used. The other thing is protection. For us, the most important thing is implementation of the convention. Training programs can help, but most important is things like border control. How can we help you to do that? How can we exchange information as different states? Having read the report by the committee on terrorism, I think there are a number of good recommendations, which we can work on. I think it's also important because the report comes from the African group, which is very active at the moment in the OPCW. It's important to continue that engagement. It would be important to have a number of recommendations included in the review conference conclusions.

Walker: Is the goal of the conference to have a final consensus document and an actual vote on a final report or just a chairman's report?

Van der Kwast: That's the central question. My intention is to see how much we can do, and I will do the utmost to have a consensus report, because if you have a consensus report, the effect is the best. Having said that, it's important to realize that if we would have a very meager consensus report—for instance, if there would not be a fairly clear reference to Syria—I mean, what's the value of such a report? So, it is for member states to decide that. As most of you will know, there has been a [preparatory study] on the different possible outcomes of the CWC review conference. I thought that was a good report, and I welcomed it very much because it gave the different options. There are a number of states who say, “Well, there is only one option, and that's the consensus report.” I think there are indeed different possibilities, but we have to concentrate absolutely on a consensus report first and to see how far we get.

I am, for the moment at least, somewhat hopeful. What we have seen so far is, thanks to Ambassador Kuusing, who has done a marvelous job, very transparent, a lot of consultations with all groups sitting down, trying to incorporate as much as he could from the different groups. So, what we have on the table now as a report from the open-ended working group is quite good, but the job is not finished. We will still have some creative talks, and we'll have to see how that is balanced.

Walker: Will the size, quality, and capability of the inspectorate be raised? This is a concern as the end of the declared chemical weapons stockpile destruction winds down. The inspectorate, which used to be over 200 inspectors, now is down to 100 or so. Going forward, we need a strong and capable inspectorate that can surge quickly for challenge inspections and the like. Has that issue been raised?

Van der Kwast: Yes, that has been raised by different countries, as well as by the secretariat. As you say, there's a serious shortage, and it will only get worse. That is also related to the fact that there is a tenure policy of seven years, which often in practice means that if somebody is here for five or six years, they start looking around and if they get a good offer, they disappear to somewhere else. Particularly for inspectors, it's quite important because it takes time to train them. So, one of the things is to see whether we could have a more flexible tenure policy for inspectors, because it's so fundamental.

The other issue related to that is geographical distribution. That's a question that is brought up particularly by the Latin American group. They want to see something there also in the review conference. We have already discussed this in the open-ended working group. We will continue to do so and see if we can find certain solutions for that. We should get more people from those regions, but we should maintain quality because merit is fundamental for people in the OPCW.

Walker: If the review conference does not generate a consensus strategic outcome document, there will not be another opportunity until 2028, leaving potentially a gap of 14 years without a strong strategic document. That is an important point to make with regard to finding consensus at the end of the meeting.

Van der Kwast: I share that absolutely.

Walker: When chemical weapons use is alleged, the CWC is reliant on states-parties to request an investigation or clarification. There is no route available for an alleged use to be addressed if states-parties do not raise the issue directly. Will there be any consideration given at the review conference to finding a means for such issues to be discussed formally and even actions taken by the OPCW Technical Secretariat.

Van der Kwast: It's a very good point. This was raised in relation to the cases in Iran, where the schoolgirls were poisoned and there was also, according to the authorities, a clear link with chemical gases. It was discussed by different states-parties, but obviously, it's very difficult if Iran, one, is not going to do it itself or put the question on the table and, two, is not willing to work together with the OPCW. There have been a number of declarations by different states on this, but it is a sensitive issue. I haven't heard from states who want to bring this up, but I wouldn't be surprised if anybody does because it is an important point.

Walker: To make the new Chemical Technical Center successful, a long-term, stable central budget will be required. To build the center, we relied on 35 to 40 million euros in voluntary donations. As part of a stable budget, states-parties will need to agree on the activities the new center will conduct. How are those conversations going?

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) considers its new chemical technical center, set to open this month in The Hague, as a pathbreaking opportunity to expand training, verification activities and international cooperation in its mission to eradicate chemical weapons. (Photo courtesy of OPCW)Van der Kwast: We absolutely agree that they should not come primarily from voluntary donations but rather mainly from the central budget. At the same time, that might be difficult. I think the good thing is that we have the ChemTech Center, and it has been paid for completely by donations from different states.… [S]tates have given opportunities for the organization to work it out, and I think that's the right order because then you cannot see a situation whereby states that have donated more would direct the direction of activities of the center. That's a good starting point.

But it's important to have a good budget. There we see two developments. First, the intention by many member states, and the organization as well, to have training in the center. There is broad understanding that it is of great value for the organization, for the implementation of the convention, but also for further developing possibilities for states to deal with threats and to follow up on what their chemical industry is doing.

The last point is also important because we see a development over the last 10 to 15 years whereby more factories that are producing chemicals are moving to developing countries, sometimes with disastrous results. It's important that we will have inspections there as well and follow-up and also that the states will be in a position to control that and oversee that. The center also can have a role in educating groups from different countries, and that could help on geographical representation. If we would have special trainings for certain regions, that could help enormously. We'll have to see how the budget develops. For the moment, there is a clear will to see how we can use the center as much as possible.

Walker: The American Thoracic Society has great concerns about the rise in the use of riot control agents worldwide and the limited knowledge about their health effects. The OPCW Scientific Advisory Board has defined conditions for the safe use of riot control agents and recommended to remove certain agents from the not-controlled list. Are you aware of any efforts by states-parties and the review conference to revisit riot control agents as a category, implement the science board recommendations, or investigate the use and toxicity?

Van der Kwast: I agree that it's an issue that deserves more attention. It has been mentioned to me by one or two countries, but not as a quite important issue. I would definitely encourage nongovernmental organizations to see how we could make a point that this is on the agenda as well, because it's absolutely an issue.

Walker: There have been repeated delays in the U.S. chemical weapons destruction program, along with every other country, particularly Russia. The U.S. program, scheduled to be finished in 1994, is now looking at 2023. Are you confident that it will meet the September deadline? If they don't make it, the concern is that there could be political fallout during the review conference, particularly as part of national statements.

Van der Kwast: I think you're absolutely right. I have to say personally also, having been involved before when I was head of the Department for Nonproliferation on this, in 2008-09 we were told that it was rapidly progressing and there was a lot of progress that has not materialized. So, it's important that it happen this time. Otherwise, it will be very bad for the review conference, for the reputation of the United States as the main upholder of this treaty. On the other hand, I have positive signs. We've had presentations regularly by people from the defense ministry, including last week, and that presentation looked very good. But as we all know, you can make presentations, and Americans are particularly good at that, look very good without the results.

Despite accomplishments, CWC member states face serious challenges in the struggle to eliminate chemical weapons.

Russia Prepares Belarus to Host Nuclear Weapons

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia could transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus as soon as July in a move facilitated by Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confer at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 6. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)“The United States has been doing this for decades,” Putin argued on March 26, referring to the NATO nuclear sharing arrangement in which six European bases across five NATO countries host about 100 U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

In 2021, Lukashenko strongly endorsed the possibility of hosting Russian nuclear weapons if the United States and NATO deployed nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe. On March 31, he reaffirmed, “We will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary, including through the nuclear arsenal” and might “introduce, if necessary, strategic weapons.”

NATO strongly denied the comparison with its arrangement. “Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments.”

Poland, a neighbor of Belarus, threatened that the Belarusian-Russian plan “will certainly lead to the announcement of additional sanctions [and] the level of sanctions will be much more severe for the Lukashenko regime,” according to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Last year, Poland communicated its willingness to host U.S. nuclear weapons. (See ACT, November 2022.)

Putin has yet to detail exactly when or where Russia would relocate the nuclear warheads themselves. But Boris Gryzlov, the Russian ambassador to Belarus, suggested in April that the tactical nuclear weapons “will be moved to the western border of our union state,” before shifting to the new Belarusian storage facility following its projected July 1 completion date.

The Pentagon said that it saw no sign that Putin had “made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around.”

Putin also announced in March that 10 Belarusian combat aircraft have been reequipped to carry nuclear weapons.

Russian and Belarusian officials have confirmed that Russian-made Su-25 fighter jets in service with the Belarusian air force would be retrofitted for this purpose. The Federation of American Scientists identified on April 19 that Belarus' Lida Air Base, located 40 kilometers from Lithuania's southern border, is the most likely candidate for housing the Russian nuclear warheads and the retrofitted aircraft.

Lukashenko said that Belarus completed reequipping its aircraft in August. Russia said that it began training Belarusian crews on April 3 and completed the training on April 14.

Ukraine called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on March 31 to discuss the nuclear issue. “The Kremlin is ready to threaten the world with nuclear apocalypse,” remarked Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN ambassador.

China, a close Russian partner, also condemned the Belarusian-Russian deal. Geng Shuang, China’s UN ambassador, said, “We call for the abolition of the nuclear-sharing arrangements and advocate no deployment of nuclear weapons abroad by all nuclear weapons states, and the withdrawal of nuclear weapons deployed abroad.”

Experts doubt that if actually under construction, the Belarusian storage site would be ready to host nuclear weapons by July or at all.

Andrey Baklitskiy of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research told NBC News on April 2 that the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus “would not give Russia any capability it did not have before.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia potentially could transfer tactical nuclear weapons as soon as July when a special storage facility in Belarus is constructed. 

New U.S. ICBMs May Be Delayed Two Years

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers, although the Pentagon aims to shorten the lag time by adjusting the program’s acquisition plan.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile program, shown in a U.S. Air Force illustration, may be delayed two years because of supply chain issues. (U.S. Air Force illustration)The Sentinel program “may miss its goal of initial deployment in May 2029 by as much as two years, according to information presented at a high-level Pentagon review last month,” Bloomberg first reported on March 23.

The Air Force said in a statement to Bloomberg that it has “identified and is ready to execute acquisition strategy changes to reduce risk and optimize schedule, wherever possible.” Deborah Rosenblum, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 28 that the $96 billion program remains a top priority for the Pentagon.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall sparked initial speculation in November about potential delays when he told a defense event in Washington, “I am concerned about the schedule, specifically for Sentinel.”

The Pentagon requested $3.7 billion for continued research and development and $539 million for initial procurement of the Sentinel system for fiscal year 2024. The Air Force aims to purchase a total of about 650 Sentinel ICBMs and deploy 400 of them to replace Minuteman III ICBMs. In April, the Defense Department began to solicit proposals for a new reentry vehicle to carry the nuclear warhead for the Sentinel missiles.

In its 2024 budget proposal, the Biden administration requested $56.5 billion for nuclear weapons-related activities at the Defense Department, which oversees nuclear weapons delivery vehicles, and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees nuclear warheads. Overall, the Pentagon is seeking a total budget of $842 billion, a 3 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation, and the NNSA is seeking $18.8 billion, a 10 percent increase from the 2023 appropriation. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The Pentagon’s request was informed by the fact that the United States is facing for the first time “two major nuclear powers, whose vital national security interests are in competition” with the United States, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 29. “Both China and Russia have the means to threaten U.S. national security…but war with either is neither inevitable nor imminent.”

Two nuclear weapons capabilities endorsed by the Trump administration but denounced by the Biden administration were cut in the new budget request. This reflects the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated that the Biden administration would not proceed with plans for the development of a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) or the life extension program for the megaton class B83-1 gravity bomb. (See ACT, January/February 2023; December 2022.)

Funding for the SLCM and its associated nuclear warhead, the W80-4, was eliminated in the request, although Congress could reverse this later. For fiscal year 2023, Congress appropriated $25 million for the SLCM and $20 million for the warhead despite no such request from the administration.

In a marked change from his predecessor, Gen. Anthony Cotton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, did not explicitly express support for a nuclear-armed SLCM in a February letter to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The SLCM offers “additional options and supports an integrated deterrence approach,” he wrote, but “I support funding to assess the full range of possible options to address this challenge in a rapidly changing security environment with the backdrop of multiple nuclear adversaries.”

As for the B83-1 gravity bomb, the NNSA requested $31 million, but those funds would go to sustainment efforts to ensure the bomb’s safety and reliability rather than a life extension program.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget includes a $5.3 billion request for the B-21 Raider bomber, shown here at the unveiling ceremony in December. The high-tech stealth bomber can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to be able to fly without a crew on board. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s other nuclear modernization programs continue apace. The Air Force requested $5.3 billion for R&D and construction of the B-21 Raider dual-capable strategic bomber, an increase from the fiscal year 2023 authorization of $4.9 billion. The Pentagon unveiled the bomber in December, and it will have its first flight test later this year. The Air Force plans to purchase at least 100 bombers.

The Air Force also requested $978 million for the new nuclear-capable Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapons system, which includes $67 million for a second year of procurement. The service aims to buy about 1,000 LRSO missiles, with initial deployment in 2030.

The Navy asked for $6.1 billion for R&D and procurement of what ultimately will be a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a decrease of $1 billion from the 2023 appropriation.

The request would procure “the second Columbia-class submarine, our nation’s most survivable leg of the strategic triad, and [keep] us on track for the delivery of the first vessel in” 2028, Erik Raven, undersecretary of the Navy, said in a March 13 congressional briefing.

Although not a host for nuclear delivery systems, the Army has been developing a conventional, ground-launched midrange missile, a capability previously prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This capability, known as the Typhon system, features modified Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) and Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Army received the first of four planned Typhon systems on Dec. 2.

For 2024, the Typhon program transitioned fully into the procurement phase, with the Army requesting $170 million for the procurement of 58 new Block V Tomahawk missiles.

Meanwhile, the NNSA budget seeks continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 warhead, and the W-80 air-launched cruise missile programs at $450 million, $1.1 billion, and $1 billion, respectively.

The Federation of American Scientists reported on Jan. 9 that the deployment of B61-12 bombs to the six bases in Europe, which house an estimated 100 U.S. nuclear bombs under the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement, appears imminent, if it has not begun already.

The NNSA also requested $390 million for an entirely new controversial warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the W93. The United Kingdom is pursuing a parallel nuclear warhead replacement program based on the W93 design. The Pentagon, meanwhile, requested $126 million for the warhead’s associated Mk7 aeroshell.

As for arms control and nonproliferation efforts, the NNSA requested $212 million, a 7.8 percent decrease from 2023 funding.

The NNSA is also in the midst of producing plutonium pits for nuclear weapons, an effort that has experienced significant delays in achieving the congressionally mandated goal of producing 80 pits per year by 2030. But Jill Hruby, NNSA administrator, reaffirmed to Congress on March 28 that the NNSA “remains firmly committed to achieving 80 [pits per year] as close to 2030 as possible.”

For 2024, the NNSA requested $921 million for pit production at Savannah River Site in South Carolina and $1.8 billion for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency set out its plan to continue efforts “to counter growing and more complex threats” and to improve the reliability and lethality of the Navy’s Aegis weapons system, including the SM variants.

On April 3, the agency announced the successful interception of a medium-range ballistic missile by two SM-6 interceptors fired simultaneously from an Aegis-equipped ship. The test marked the first interception of this class of missile in the terminal phase of flight by the SM-6 and the third successful test of an Aegis vessel using the SM-6.

For 2024 the agency requested a total of $1.8 billion for Aegis missile defense systems, including R&D on Aegis software and hardware, the development of land-based SM-3 missiles, and the procurement of 27 Aegis SM-3 Block IB missiles and 12 Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missiles for deployment at sea on Aegis ships and on land at the Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland.

Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill, the agency director, said on March 14 that his organization is “very excited about where we are today” with the Poland site. “We completed construction, which was the major tip over into combat system installation and testing. That testing is going on now” and is scheduled to finish by this fall.

The agency also requested $2.1 billion for Next Generation Interceptor missiles, which are intended to replace the current Ground Based Interceptor missiles that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system. The agency plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 ground-based missiles with 20 next-generation missiles no later than 2028, bringing the fleet total to 64.

The Biden administration’s request also includes continued funding of $351 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, a slight decrease from the 2023 appropriation of $352 million. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus.

The new U.S. Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program may face a delay of two years due to supply chain issues and an absence of skilled engineers. 

U.S. Scraps Purchase of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Vehicle

May 2023
By Shannon Bugos

The United States has canceled the planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system due to a lackluster testing record. But other Pentagon hypersonic weapons programs remain on schedule, with the Army planning to field the first U.S. hypersonic weapons system this fiscal year.

A lackluster testing record doomed the U.S. Air Force's hypersonic boost-glide system known as ARRW (Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon), shown on its first captive carry flight on a B-52 bomber over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. in 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Okula)“The Air Force does not currently intend to pursue follow-on procurement of ARRW [the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon] once the prototyping program concludes,” Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, told a congressional hearing on March 29.

Less than a week before, the Air Force conducted the ARRW system’s second all-up-round test flight, with a B-52H bomber releasing a prototype missile, but did not specify if it was successful as the first test was last December. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall admitted to Congress on March 28 that the March 13 test failed.

The Pentagon has requested $150 million in research and development funding for the ARRW system in fiscal year 2024, a 30 percent increase from 2023. The program will wrap up after two more all-up-round test flights in order to gather data to inform future programs. The Air Force intended to begin procurement in 2023, but decided against it in light of three test failures in 2021. (See ACT, June 2022.)

Kendall said that the Air Force will focus instead on a program to which it is “more committed,” the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile (HACM), for which it requested $382 million for 2024.

Hypersonic boost-glide weapons programs remain underway for other services. The Army plans to deploy the first operational prototype battery of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system, also known as Dark Eagle, by the fall of 2023. The Pentagon requested $944 million for continued R&D and $157 million for procurement in 2023.

Since 2021, the Army has trained with the first LRHW training battery at Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington state. (See ACT, November 2022.) In February, the service practiced deploying the system from Washington to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Army planned to conduct a test of the LRHW system from Cape Canaveral on March 5, but aborted the test due to a battery failure during preflight checks.

The LRHW system shares a common hypersonic boost-glide vehicle with the Navy, which led its development.

The Pentagon requested $901 million for R&D on the Navy’s program, Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS), and $341 million for the procurement of an initial eight all-up-round tests in 2024. This fiscal year marks the first year of CPS weapons system procurement funding.

The missiles are scheduled for deployment on Zumwalt-class destroyers in 2025, and the Navy plans to deploy the CPS system on Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Pentagon aims to
test-fire CPS missiles from the USS Zumwalt in December 2025. The Navy’s first CPS weapons system all-up-round test failed in June 2022.

The Navy also requested $96 million in 2024 for its other main hypersonic weapons program, the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Increment II (HALO), which marks a 37 percent decrease from 2023. HALO missiles are intended for deployment on F/A-18 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) requested funds for its ongoing R&D on hypersonic weapons systems, including $82 million for the Tactical Boost Glide system, more than double the previous year, and $30 million for the MoHAWC weapons system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, half of the system’s 2023 budget.

In total, the Defense Department asked for $11 billion for hypersonic weapons programs in 2024.

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on March 1 to accelerate the advancement of U.S. hypersonic weapons systems in order “to avert an industrial resource or critical technology item shortfall that would severely impair national defense capability,” he wrote in a directive to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The United States pursues not only offensive hypersonic weapons systems but also defensive capabilities to defend against Chinese and Russian hypersonic systems.

DARPA asked for $29 million, $10 million more than in 2023, for the Glide Breaker program, which is intended to strike hypersonic weapons systems from long-range distance.

The Missile Defense Agency requested $209 million for the development of a regional interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic weapons in their glide phase. The United States and Japan have discussed a potential partnership on this project, which would aim to deliver the Glide Phase Interceptor in 2034.

The agency also requested $69 million for the low earth orbit Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, scheduled for launch in late 2023 with on-orbit demonstrations and testing in 2024. The agency plans to transfer the responsibility for the space sensor to the Space Force after successful demonstrations as part of its Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system architecture.

This architecture includes layers in low and medium earth orbit to track a range of advanced missile threats, including hypersonic weapons. The 2024 budget requests for those layers came in at $1.3 billion and $538 million, respectively.

The Space Development Agency transitioned into the Space Force in October 2022. As a result, the space agency’s “Tracking Layer” is now synonymous with the Space Force’s low earth program. The 2024 funds will go toward the development of the Tranche 1 Tracking Layer, comprising 35 satellites that are slated to begin launching in 2024.

On April 2, the space agency launched 10 satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California into low earth orbit as part of Tranche 0. Two of the 10 are tracking satellites for hypersonic weapons systems. The agency plans to launch the remaining 18 Tranche 0 satellites in June.

The planned purchase of the Air Force’s hypersonic boost-glide system was canceled due to a lackluster testing record.  

U.S., South Korea Agree to Strengthen Nuclear Coordination

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and South Korea announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning amid growing support in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter the threat from North Korea.

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 26. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)U.S. President Joseph Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to create the U.S-South Korean Nuclear Consultative Group during Yoon’s visit to Washington on April 26. According to a declaration issued by the two leaders, the group will “discuss nuclear and strategic planning” and manage the North Korean nuclear threat.

The declaration states that the United States “commits to make every effort to consult with [South Korea] on any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean peninsula,” consistent with U.S. nuclear policy, and will “maintain a robust communication infrastructure” for consultations. The two countries also will plan for South Korean “conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency.”

Yoon has long sought greater South Korea’s involvement in the U.S. nuclear planning process. He suggested in January that Seoul may pursue its own nuclear weapons in the absence of stronger U.S. extended deterrence commitments and has called for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. (See ACT, March 2023.)

The Biden administration has made clear it will not redeploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea but the declaration says the United States will “enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets.”

Yoon reaffirmed South Korea’s commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the joint declaration, but it remains unclear if his country’s new role in U.S. extended deterrence planning will quell growing support among the South Korean public for a domestic nuclear weapons program.

Prior to the Biden-Yoon summit, North Korea demonstrated its advancing nuclear weapons capabilities by testing its first solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in April and displaying at least ten tactical nuclear warheads. The developments came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during an April 10 meeting of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, called for a more “practical and offensive” nuclear deterrent to respond to South Korean-U.S. military exercises “simulating an all-out war against” his country.

The new solid-fueled, three-stage ICBM, which North Korea calls the Hwasong-18, was tested from a mobile launcher near Pyongyang on April 13. North Korea launched the missile on a lofted trajectory, and it flew about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Kim oversaw the missile test, which was intended to “confirm the performance of the high-thrust solid-fuel engines for multi-stage missiles,” according to an April 14 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA reported that Kim expressed “great satisfaction” with the launch and that the Hwasong-18 will “extensively reform the strategic deterrence components.”

A solid-fueled ICBM capability offers several advantages over the liquid-fueled ICBMs that North Korea tested in the past. Solid-fueled systems are more mobile and easier to conceal and can be launched more quickly than liquid-fueled systems. Liquid-fueled ICBMs are generally fueled shortly before launch, providing more time for an adversary to detect and respond to the launch. North Korea has tested solid-fueled systems in the past, but the Hwasong-18 is the first ICBM.

According to KCNA, Kim said that the Hwasong-18 will “radically promote the effectiveness of [North Korea’s] nuclear counterattack posture” and make the country’s “offensive military strategy” more practical.

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Hwasong-18 test “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing” the region. Watson called on North Korea to “immediately cease its destabilizing actions and instead choose diplomatic engagement.”

Japan, South Korea and the United States responded to the test with military drills and a trilateral pledge to strengthen defense cooperation and information sharing.

South Korea and the United States conducted aerial training involving B-52 strategic bombers the day after the Hwasong-18 test. The exercise demonstrated the alliance’s “combined defense capability” and “extended deterrence in the defense of the Korean peninsula,” according to an April 14 statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

Japan and the United States also held a bilateral air exercise on April 14.

Three days later, Japan, South Korea and the United States conducted a missile defense drill focused on tracking and sharing information about North Korean missile launches. The South Korean navy described the drill as “an opportunity to strengthen security cooperation…against North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats.”

North Korean official Ri Pyong Chol criticized the military exercises in an April 17 statement and accused the United States of raising tensions and simulating a “pre-emptive nuclear strike and an all-out war.” Ri, vice-president of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, described the Hwasong-18 test as self-defensive and said the use of B-52 strategic bombers in the region is nuclear blackmail. He warned Washington against further actions that “endanger the security environment of the Korean peninsula.”

China also blamed the United States for driving regional tensions. In an April 13 press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that the U.S. “deployment of strategic weapons” and “massive military drills near the peninsula” have a “negative impact.” The United States needs to “act as soon as possible to address the legitimate concerns” of North Korea and “create conditions” to alleviate tensions and resume dialogue, he said.

The United States called out China and Russia for failing to condemn North Korea’s ballistic missile launches, which violate UN Security Council resolutions.

During a Security Council meeting April 17 on the Hwasong-18 launch, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the council’s failure to take action against North Korea “undermines the credibility of this council and the entire international nonproliferation regime.” Thomas-Greenfield did not specifically reference China and Russia, but said that two council members continue to “draw false equivalences between [North Korea’s] unlawful ballistic missile launches and lawful, defensive, pre-announced” South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises.

In that meeting, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said that Moscow opposes Security Council meetings “for the purpose of propaganda and exerting pressure.” He said that the situation on the Korean peninsula is “tense indeed” but that the United States is "directly involved in the stepping-up of the escalation.”


The allies announced steps to give Seoul more input into U.S. nuclear planning as support grows in South Korea for a domestic nuclear weapons program to counter North Korea. 

China Deploys New Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles

May 2023
By Luke Caggiano

China is equipping its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that are capable of targeting the continental United States, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

China is ahead of schedule in equipping its Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles capable of striking the continental United States. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein/AFP via Getty Images)The deployment comes earlier than expected. Previous U.S. reports estimated that China would deploy the JL-3 missile along with the country’s next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the Type 096, which is believed to be still under construction. (See ACT, June 2021.)

China’s six Jin-class ballistic missile submarines “are now being equipped with the new third-generation JL-3 SLBM” capable of reaching the continental United States, said Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, during a March 8 congressional hearing.

The JL-3, which was tested first in November 2018, has an estimated range of more than 10,000 kilometers and is expected to be capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads. The new missile is a significant improvement over its predecessor, the
JL-2, which has a range of about 8,000 kilometers. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

The JL-2 is also capable of striking the United States, but the missile’s limited range would require China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy to sail farther into the Pacific Ocean where Chinese submarines are more vulnerable to U.S. anti-submarine defenses.

According to the Pentagon’s 2022 report on Chinese military power, the JL-3’s extended range allows the Chinese navy to target the United States from the safety of “bastion” waters near China’s coast, such as the South China Sea and Bohai Gulf. This new capability will enhance the survivability of China’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, the report says.

The Type 096 submarine is expected to be much quieter than the existing Jin-class, or Type 094, submarines, which the Defense Department considers to be China’s first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. Given the estimated 30- to 40-year service life of China’s ballistic missile submarines, the Type 094 and the Type 096 are expected to operate concurrently, which could bring China’s total number of ballistic missile submarines to 8 to 10 over the coming years, according to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The Pentagon also has confirmed that China’s Jin-class submarines are “conducting continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” for the first time. (See ACT, January/February 2023.) The patrols will ensure that at least one Chinese nuclear-armed submarine will be at sea at all times.

China has long adhered to a policy of minimum deterrence by which it maintains a relatively small nuclear force capable of a retaliatory second strike. But China’s recent expansion of its nuclear capabilities indicates that the country deems its current nuclear deterrent insufficient and intends to achieve strategic parity with the United States perhaps achieving 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Sooner than expected, China is equipping its nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines with advanced JL-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that are capable of targeting the continental United States.  

IAEA Begins to Reinstall Cameras in Iran

May 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began reinstalling cameras at certain nuclear facilities in Iran under an agreement the agency reached with Tehran in March.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in an April 1 interview with PBS NewsHour that the agency is “starting with the installment of cameras” and the “reconnection of some online monitoring systems.” He said the process will take a few weeks and will increase the agency’s visibility into Iran’s nuclear program. He described the reinstallation of the surveillance equipment as a “deescalation” of the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.

A 2015 view of Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Much of it is built underground and protected by a thick concrete wall.  (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images via Getty Images.)After Iran in June 2022 removed surveillance cameras from certain facilities and the monitor that tracked uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant in real time, Grossi has raised concerns about the gap in IAEA monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. He warned that the reduction in transparency would pose challenges for establishing baseline inventories in certain areas of the program, such as centrifuge component production. (See ACT, March 2023; July/August 2022.)

Iran suspended IAEA access to certain facilities in February 2021 as part of its campaign to push the United States to lift sanctions, but agreed to allow cameras to continue surveilling those locations. (See ACT, March 2021.) Tehran said it would turn over the data collected from the cameras to the IAEA if the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was restored. Since Tehran switched off the cameras in June, there has been no monitoring of these facilities.

Iran agreed to reinstall certain surveillance equipment during Grossi’s last visit to Tehran, on March 4. In the agreement, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) committed on a “voluntary basis” to allow the IAEA to “implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities.”

But after the agreement was announced, the AEOI and IAEA offered different interpretations about what would be included under the agreement, raising questions about whether it would be implemented. (See ACT, April 2023.)

Despite Grossi’s confirmation that implementation is progressing, it is unclear how much the IAEA will benefit from the increased monitoring. Grossi did not say if Iran will permit the agency to install an online enrichment monitor at the Fordow enrichment facility. This was where the agency in January detected uranium enriched to a level of 84 percent uranium-235, well above the 60 percent U-235 level that previously was declared. (See ACT, March 2023.)

Under the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium at the Fordow facility for 15 years, so the IAEA did not install an online enrichment monitor there as it did for Natanz, where Tehran is permitted to enrich under the deal.

Grossi also did not comment on whether the IAEA will have access to the recordings from the cameras or whether Tehran will turn over the data only if the JCPOA is restored or a new agreement is negotiated.

The prospects for any diplomatic agreement between the United States and Iran appear bleak. Officials from Iran and the European countries that are partners in the JCPOA (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) met in Norway in March, but the discussions on Iran’s nuclear program and the JCPOA do not appear to have led to any breakthrough.

In an April 17 interview with Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, reiterated the Biden administration’s preference for resolving the nuclear crisis diplomatically, but said that the JCPOA is on life support.

In an April 18 ministerial statement, the Group of Seven industrialized countries (G-7) also expressed support for a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis and referred to the JCPOA as “a useful reference.” They urged Iran to meet its nonproliferation obligations and voiced concern about the country’s nuclear advances, which have “no credible civilian justification and bring it dangerously close to actual weapon-related activities.”

The challenges are exacerbated by the political pressure on the United States and the Europeans not to engage with Iran due to its brutal crackdown on domestic protesters and support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Although the United States and the Europeans have warned Iran against continued military support for Russia, Politico reported on April 12 that Tehran is looking to obtain the chemical compounds needed for missile rocket fuel from Moscow and Beijing. The transfer of such chemicals would violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA and prohibits Iran from importing or exporting missiles and related components without Security Council approval.

The G-7 called on Iran to “stop supporting the Russian military in its war of aggression” and to “cease transferring armed [unmanned aerial vehicles], which have been used in Ukraine.”

Regional tensions also may complicate a return to diplomacy. In an unusual move, the U.S. Navy publicly confirmed the deployment to the Middle East of a submarine capable of carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Navy Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said on April 6 that the deployment was intended to “help ensure regional maritime security and stability.” It follows a U.S. airstrike on Iranian-backed forces responsible for killing a U.S. contractor in Syria.

Israel continues to pressure the United States not to return to the JCPOA and is now pushing China to restrain Iran’s nuclear advances.

Beijing helped mediate an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March and hosted the two countries’ foreign ministers on April 6, but has shown no signs of using its influence to reduce nuclear tensions. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he urged Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to “exert his influence on Iran to stop the progress on the nuclear program” during an April 17 phone call.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began reinstalling cameras at certain nuclear facilities in Iran under an agreement the agency reached with Tehran in March.


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