"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
November 2017
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
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Putin Slams U.S. on Nonproliferation Deals

November 2017
By Maggie Tennis

Russian President Vladimir Putin blasted the United States for failing to meet nonproliferation commitments and warned that Russia would have an “immediate and reciprocal” response if the United States withdraws from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during the annual Valdai Club conference of international experts in Sochi on October 19. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images)In the speech Oct. 19, Putin praised U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation in the 1990s and early 2000s, but blamed the United States for derailing that progress. Addressing the annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Putin cited the U.S. delay to 2023 in eliminating its chemical weapons stockpile, while noting that Russia completed its elimination Sept. 27. Further, he noted a shift and delays in the U.S. method for surplus plutonium disposal, which Moscow claims violates the 2000 Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA) between the two countries.

Putin questioned whether such delays are “proper” for “a nation that claims to be a champion of nonproliferation and control.” He cited additional grievances, including U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, failure to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and halting of implementation of a 123 agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation. President George W. Bush froze that agreement in September 2008, just four months after it was signed, in response to Russia’s war with neighboring Georgia. It was revived in 2010 as part of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic “reset” with Russia.

Putin called nuclear cooperation “the most important sphere of interaction between Russia and the United States, bearing in mind that Russia and the United States bear a special responsibility to the world as the two largest nuclear powers.”

In his remarks, Putin portrayed the United States as the unreliable partner in nonproliferation efforts. He cited Washington’s decision to push back the deadline for destroying the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal from 2007 to 2023, an effort that has been hindered by rising costs and stringent environmental restrictions. Under U.S. Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, the United States provided financial and technical support to help Russia in destroying its chemical weapons arsenal, which was completed 10 years after the original 2007 deadline set for both countries.

Putin also took aim at the troubled U.S. effort to eliminate surplus plutonium, which he called “perplexing and alarming.” He criticized the United States for canceling plans, made in agreement with Russia, to eliminate its weapons-grade plutonium by turning it into mixed-oxide fuel for nuclear power reactors.

Putin condemned the unilateral U.S. decision, saying that Moscow only learned about it after seeing a “budget submission to the Congress” seeking funding for an alternative disposal method. (See ACT, March 2016.) Alteration of the terms of the PMDA requires agreement by both parties, which the United States did not obtain when it decided to pursue the cheaper “dilute-and-dispose” method. Moscow suspended its participation in the PMDA in October 2016. (See ACT, Nov. 2016.)

Further, Putin noted apparent U.S. ambivalence toward extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), as permitted under the terms of the accord. “Now we hear that New START does not work either,” he said, seeming to reference a January phone call with President Donald Trump in which Trump called New START a “bad deal.” The Russians have declared a readiness to negotiate an extension of the treaty, but the U.S. position remains unclear.

Putin stated that Russia would not withdraw from the treaty, which runs through February 2021.

Putin dismissed U.S. allegations of Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty. He said that Russia might be “tempted” to violate the treaty if it did not possess air- and sea-based missiles, such as Kalibr cruise missiles, that match U.S. capabilities. The INF Treaty, which eliminated U.S. and Russian land-based cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, left both countries free to deploy air- and sea-launched missiles with that range.

“You can see how effective the Kalibr missiles are, from the Mediterranean Sea, from the Caspian Sea, from the air or from submarines, whatever you wish,” said Putin. “Besides Kalibr, with an operational range of 1,400 kilometers, we have other airborne missile systems, very powerful ones with an operational range of 4,500 kilometers.”

He warned that Moscow would offer an “immediate and reciprocal” response to a U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty, a step advocated by some Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Putin did not specifically address U.S. accusations that Russia has deployed a ground-launched cruise missile with a treaty-prohibited range. (See ACT, Oct. 2017.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking at an Oct. 20 nonproliferation conference in Moscow, criticized the United States for “refusing to specify” its allegations of Russia’s INF Treaty violations. The United States provided some specifics to Russia at a meeting of the treaty’s Special Verification Commission in November 2016, according to U.S. officials.

Lavrov expressed certainty that the “bilateral dialogue between Russia and the United States on strategic stability will continue,” but doubts that the bilateral format would be sufficient for negotiating future nuclear weapons reductions. (See ACT, Oct. 2016.) Russia has stepped up calls in recent years for multilateral arms reductions.

Lavrov emphasized the need to “prevent a spiral of confrontation” between Washington and Moscow over arms control from becoming “unstoppable.”—MAGGIE TENNIS

Russian leader warns of “immediate and reciprocal” response if the United States withdraws from the INF Treaty.

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey Raise Alarm

November 2017
By Kingston Reif

Deteriorating relations between the United States and Turkey have prompted a growing debate about the wisdom of maintaining U.S. tactical nuclear weapons at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey and, more broadly, about whether to remove all such U.S. weapons from Europe.

Airmen from the U.S. Air Force 39th Security Forces Squadron search Senior Airman Dwaine Barnes during a security exercise January 15, 2016, at Incirlik Air Base. The exercise tested security forces ability to respond to insider threats and to practice other security missions. (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Krystal Ardrey)Although Turkey is a NATO member and Incirlik is a key base of operations for the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State group, developments over the past year and a half have soured relations and raised security concerns at the base. Those arguing for the removal from Incirlik note that although the bombs do not appear to be in imminent danger of theft or unauthorized use, the risks of storing the weapons in Turkey have nevertheless increased significantly. They also note that maintaining the status quo is unacceptable in light of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and actions.

In an Oct. 14 tweet, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, said the United States “should remove nukes from Turkey” and “reduce dependence on use of its bases.” Turkey under Erdogan is an “ally in name only,” he added.

According to open-source estimates, the United States may store as many as 50 B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik. Those make up one-third of the approximately 150 nuclear weapons thought to be housed in five nations in Europe as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements.

The original rationale for deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe was to deter and, if necessary, defeat a large-scale attack by the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has drastically reduced the number of weapons on the continent, but still deploys a smaller number to extend deterrence to NATO allies and as a political signal of the U.S. commitment to the security of alliance members.

The Defense and Energy departments are in the process of an extensive rebuilding of the B61, at a cost that may exceed $10 billion. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Unlike the other bases in Europe that host U.S. B61s, Incirlik does not have dedicated nuclear-capable fighter aircraft that can deliver the weapons. Moreover, Turkey does not train its pilots to fly nuclear missions. In the event NATO were to make a decision to use the weapons now stored in Turkey, the United States or another NATO member would fly its own aircraft to pick them up.

As a matter of policy, the Defense Department does not comment on the presence of nuclear weapons in Turkey or anywhere else in Europe. The Air Force, in its fiscal year 2015 budget request, noted the presence of “special weapons” at “storage sites in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.” Since 2000, NATO has invested $80 million in “infrastructure improvements” and as of 2014 planned to invest an additional $154 million “for security improvements.”

The security environment has raised concerns. In March 2016, the U.S. military ordered the families of U.S. military personnel to leave southern Turkey, primarily from Incirlik, due to terrorist activity in Turkey and the conflict in nearby Syria.

In July 2016, following a failed coup attempt, the Turkish government arrested several high-ranking Turkish military officers at Incirlik and cut power to the base for nearly a week. In the year since, Erdogan has cracked down on opposition groups and independent media and strengthened ties with Russia. In addition, Turkey has arrested several U.S. citizens accused of abetting the coup and in October detained a Turkish employee at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul.

Other NATO members also have had troubled relations with Turkey recently. For example, Germany in July removed its soldiers from Incirlik after Ankara refused to allow German lawmakers to visit the troops at the base.

The presumed presence of U.S. nuclear bombs raises the stakes. A former senior NATO official told Stars and Stripes in July that “if there are nuclear weapons stored in Turkey, they should be removed given the instability, both in the country and across the border in Syria and Iraq.” If removed, the weapons could be sent back to the United States or to another country in Europe that has the requisite facilities to store B61s and aircraft capable of delivering them.

So far, neither the United States nor NATO’s military command have given any indication that withdrawal of the weapons has been seriously considered. Leaders of the 28 member countries of NATO, at their July 2016 summit meeting in Warsaw, reaffirmed the security role played by U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. (See ACT, September 2016.)

James Townsend, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration, told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 23 interview that decisions about U.S. force posture in Europe should not be impacted by “the politics of the day.”

The United States should not pursue a unilateral change to NATO’s nuclear posture “due to politics or even military expediency unless we do so with the Russians giving us something in return,” he added.

NATO may fear that removing the weapons from Incirlik not only would raise questions about the alliance’s commitment to Turkey’s security, likely exacerbating current political tensions, but also prompt uncomfortable debates about the merits of nuclear sharing inside the other host nations.

Indeed, the deployment of U.S. B61s is controversial in some of these countries.

For instance, Martin Schulz, the German Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, said in August that were he to win the Sept. 24 election, he would advocate for the removal of the estimated 20 B61s stored in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party ultimately prevailed, but the Social Democrats remain the second-largest political party in Germany.

In an article urging the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe published in the journal Survival in September, Steve Andreasen, a former White House official in the Clinton administration, argued that continuing “NATO’s nuclear status quo will come at an increasingly high financial and political cost, and high security risk.”

Recent developments involving Turkey highlight “the need for NATO to move to a safer, more secure and more credible nuclear deterrent—including withdrawing, and not replacing, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe,” he wrote.—KINGSTON REIF

Is it time to remove the nuclear bombs stored at Incirlik?

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Congress last month approved the transfer of an additional $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Defense Department funds to missile defense programs amid on ongoing administration review of U.S. missile defense strategy and growing concern about North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile capabilities. Of that amount, $136 million would support increasing the number of ground-based long-range missile defense interceptors in Alaska by up to 20 beyond the currently planned 40.

A ground-based interceptor missile sits inside its underground silo August 23 at the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jennifer Beyrle)The additional money, which had originally been earmarked for Army operations and maintenance accounts, would also fund missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. The Defense Department submitted the reprogramming request to Congress on Sept. 7.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $7.9 billion for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, a decrease of $334 million from the current level but an increase of $470 million from the projection in the final Obama administration submission. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Donald Trump said at an Aug. 10 news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he would “be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with” missile defense. It remains to be seen if the administration will submit a so-called supplemental request to lawmakers for additional missile defense funds beyond its request for fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1.

The House and Senate versions of this year’s defense authorization act would permit expanding the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska. The two chambers are currently in negotiations to produce a final bill by early December.—KINGSTON REIF

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

The Trump administration notified Congress of the largest piece thus far of the controversial $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia first announced in May. The Oct. 8 notification covered 360 interceptor missiles, 44 launchers, seven radars, related components, and support for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, with an estimated value of $15 billion. Aimed at intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the THAAD system would support the “long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” according to the notification. The notification came just days after reports that Riyadh had agreed to buy Russian S-400s, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, calling into question whether the Saudis are playing Russia and the United States against each other.

Yemeni children gather at a bomb crater from a reported air strike October 7 by the Saudi-led coalition that allegedly hit a health center in the northern province of Hajjah. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia have drawn extra attention due to the Saudi-led coalition’s conduct of its war in Yemen, which has resulted in many direct and indirect civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia and its allies have prevented ships carrying humanitarian aid from reaching Yemeni ports. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who voted in June to block the sale of $500 million in precision-guided munitions to the Saudis, threatened to block the nomination of Jennifer Newstead as legal adviser in the State Department. During confirmation hearings, Young pressed Newstead on the Saudi actions in Yemen. Young said that the Saudi obstruction of humanitarian aid violates Rule 55 of customary international humanitarian law (as listed by the International Committee of the Red Cross) and undercuts “our national security interests and our moral values.” —ARSEN MARKAROV

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

The Executive Council of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 12 selected Fernando Arias to become the organization’s next director-general. Arias is Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously served as Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The 41-member Executive Council will recommend the Spanish ambassador to the larger OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. Once formally elected at that session, Arias’ four-year term leading the OPCW, the implementing organization of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will begin on July 25, 2018.

Ambassador Fernando Arias (Photo credit: OPCW)

Arias was selected from a pool of seven candidates, including arms control notables such as Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, and Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, September 2017.) Arias has said his vision for the OPCW includes preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, incorporating new technology, fighting terrorism, and engaging in public outreach.

The field of candidates narrowed over several months as individuals withdrew their names following poor showings in a series of informal straw polls conducted within the Executive Council. By Oct. 7, only two candidates remained: Vaidotas Verba, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the OPCW, and Arias.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) holding an annual plenary in October sought to address challenges facing the 30-year-old accord, including emerging technologies and regional proliferation. MTCR members agree to control exports of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the voluntary regime began in 1987, its membership has grown from seven to 35 countries.

The meeting, co-chaired by Iceland and Ireland, discussed intangible-technology transfers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “catch all” controls, regional proliferation, and outreach to non-MTCR countries, according to an Oct. 20 joint statement.

Members also renewed their commitment to exercising “extreme vigilance” in restricting technology transfers that could contribute to North Korea’s missile program, according to the statement. For the meeting, the United States prepared a proposal that exports of certain UAVs, now tightly restricted as being equivalent to cruise missiles, be treated more leniently, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters report. That reflects an interest by the Trump administration and UAV manufacturers in pursuing increased U.S. drone exports, Reuters said. A State Department official praised the MTCR in an Oct. 25 email to Arms Control Today but provided no details about the confidential discussions.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

The Syrian government is responsible for the April 4 sarin nerve-gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed almost 100 people, including many women and children, international investigators concluded in a report sent Oct. 26 to the UN Security Council. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia casts a veto of a UN Security Council resolution to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, on October 24 at the United Nations.  (Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)The report went to the council two days after Russia vetoed renewal of the mandate for the international investigative group that produced it. The authorization for the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), unanimously created by the council in 2015 and renewed in 2016, is due to expire in mid-November. Russia left open the possibility that it would reconsider its position, depending on the outcome of the report on Khan Sheikhoun. Russia, which supports Syria’s Assad regime, has frequently tried to deflect blame to anti-government forces. Last year, the JIM found that the Syrian government was responsible for at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas. The new JIM report also concluded that Islamic State militants had carried out an attack using sulfur mustard agent in Um-Housh, in Aleppo Province, on Sept. 16, 2016.—TERRY ATLAS

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack


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