"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
November 2018

Arms Control Today November 2018

Edition Date: 
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Cover Image: 

November 2018 Books of Note

Verifying Nuclear Disarmament
Thomas E. Shea, Routledge, 2018, 220 pages

Thomas E. Shea’s technical discussion of the procedures and institutional architecture necessary to verifiably dismantle nuclear warheads fills a critical gap in the existing literature on disarmament. Shea, a 24-year veteran of the safeguards department of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), approached verifiable dismantlement of nuclear weapons by focusing on the control of fissile material. In addition to describing the processes for inspection, dismantlement, and disposition of fissile materials, Shea proposes the creation of an International Nuclear Disarmament Agency (INDA), which would verify the elimination of nuclear weapons-specific facilities, conduct material accountancy, and certify fissile material controls. Shea explains how an INDA would complement existing international organizations, such as the IAEA, which would be involved particularly on fissile material disposition, facility conversion, and rearmament prevention. He offers a model agreement governing the relationship between an INDA and nuclear-weapon states. Another useful element lists disarmament activities alongside the proposed inspection activities. His work is particularly valuable in light of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires dismantling nuclear warheads but does not contain specific verification provisions. Shea’s book offers a path forward for realizing the political goals of nuclear disarmament.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia
Moeed Yusuf, Stanford University Press, May 2018, 320 pages

Moeed Yusuf, a scholar at the U.S. Institute of Peace, helpfully begins by discussing the theory and existing literature on nuclear crises and brokered bargaining before diving into three specific events in the Indian-Pakistani relationship: the Kargil crisis of 1999, the 2001–2002 military standoff, and the Mumbai crisis, which followed the 2008 terrorist attacks in India. He examines each case using the brokered bargaining model, which asserts that in a crisis scenario the antagonists engage in actions and signaling to deter or compel certain responses from the other side. Additionally, the states try to lure a third party to influence the outcome and de-escalate the crisis. Yusuf also looks at the overarching lessons from the three historical cases and discusses the implications of brokered bargaining for future crisis management. Yusuf focuses on crises in the Indian-Pakistani relationship, but the lessons and conclusions on regional crisis management have implications beyond South Asia. The last two sections of the book place the conclusions garnered from the case studies in the broader context of theory and practical application.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Verifying Nuclear Disarmament
Thomas E. Shea, Routledge, 2018, 220 pages

Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia
Moeed Yusuf, Stanford University Press, May 2018, 320 pages

The Nuclear Test Ban and the Verifiable Denuclearization of North Korea

November 2018
By Lassina Zerbo

On October 7, the U.S. Department of State issued a readout on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meetings in Pyongyang indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled.”1

A North Korean officer on May 24 explains to the invited international journalists the explosive demolition process undertaken to disable the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility. However, verification that the site is no longer usable for underground nuclear tests requires technical expertise and sophisticated analysis equipment. (Photo: News1-Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images)Subsequently, Pompeo was asked by reporters when international nuclear inspectors would be allowed onto the site. Pompeo replied, “[A]s soon as we get it logistically worked out, Chairman Kim said he’s ready to allow them to come in, and there’s a lot of logistics that will be required to execute that, but when we get them, we’ll put them on the ground.” Pompeo had no comment to a follow-up question on which organization would be invited to conduct inspections.2

Some argue the Trump-Kim summit statement in June was light on detail about how to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Denuclearization, the term itself, was not defined by the parties to this statement and may indeed have different interpretations. From my perspective as executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), it is a pity that nothing explicit was included related to ending nuclear testing, but the State Department readout on the matter is encouraging.

Verification is key to permanently ending nuclear test explosions in North Korea. At his press conference following the Singapore summit with Kim, U.S. President Donald Trump stated that denuclearization would be verifiable. This is important. Verifiable measures are at the heart of lasting nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. It must be based on the best available technologies, the best expertise, and the most rigorous protocols.

North Korea, in destroying facilities at its Punggye-ri test site on May 24, aimed to show its commitment to ending nuclear tests. Yet, the invited international journalists who witnessed the destruction from a distance are not experts able to characterize and establish a baseline of the current state of the site. So although the declared closure is welcome, those present lacked the skills and necessary specialized equipment to assess the activities that took place.

The CTBTO and its technological tools are uniquely placed to provide adequate verification and to monitor an end to nuclear tests in North Korea. On the technical side, the CTBTO can achieve this through its competencies and capabilities in remote monitoring via the International Monitoring System (IMS), as well as through expertise in in-field activities and data collection gained through the development of the On-site Inspection element of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) verification regime. The IMS is already up and running and has detected all six North Korean tests using seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide technologies at its global network of more than 300 facilities. After each test conducted by North Korea, CTBT states-signatories received raw data and analyzed products from the International Data Centre (IDC) in a timely and reliable manner.

The IMS is more than 90 percent complete, and the IDC data processing and analysis capacity continues to improve and evolve on pace with technological advancement. Two integrated field exercises have proven that the on-site inspection regime has reached an advanced state of readiness. Every nuclear test carried out by North Korea has been detected with precision and timeliness. Monitoring technologies and data have made vital contributions to disaster risk reduction and mitigation. In addition, there are countless other civil and scientific areas, such as climate change studies and earth and atmospheric sciences, where IMS data has proven to have immense value.

Ongoing dialogue and negotiations with Pyongyang have yielded important gains for regional and international security and stability. The CTBTO stands ready, within its mandate, to contribute to the process of verifiable denuclearization if called on by its states-signatories.

CTBTO Mandate

The CTBTO’s mandate is to verify compliance with the prohibition on nuclear test explosions established by the treaty. If requested, however, the CTBTO could make available its monitoring assets and expertise as part of any internationally led process to provide reliable verification of the irreversible dismantlement of the test site at Punggye-ri.

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, at the ninth Ministerial Meeting of the Friends of the  CTBT on September 27. (Photo: CTBTO)The CTBTO has the in-house expertise and equipment ready to deploy should states-signatories call for it. The organization has developed considerable proficiency in areas such as surveying and in-field measurement that could be of relevance to confirming the closure of the Punggye-ri site. In-field measurement techniques and equipment that can be deployed include gamma radiation monitoring and in-situ gamma spectroscopy, environmental sampling, passive seismological monitoring (micro-arrays), magnetic and gravitational field mapping, electrical conductivity measurements, ground penetrating radar, and airborne gamma spectroscopy and multispectral imaging.

Without verification, the international community could be left wondering whether the tunnels, equipment, and other related infrastructure could be reconstituted with little delay should negotiations on denuclearization and peace come to a halt or an agreement break down.

Specifically, concerning the verification of test-site closures, the CTBTO can potentially offer key operational verification tasks starting with a site characterization survey to ascertain and document the state of the site after its reported closure. The survey, including in-field measurements and environmental sampling, would also provide a baseline of the current state of the site.

Long-term verification could include periodic site visits to compare to the baseline, along with ongoing local seismic monitoring, and ongoing remote monitoring through the IMS. This is what the CTBTO is capable of doing. As the treaty is not yet in force, on-site inspections cannot therefore take place in line with its provisions, but the potential indeed exists for utilizing CTBT monitoring technologies and inspection expertise.

Joining the CTBT       

The path to the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula runs through the CTBT. Any final agreement with North Korea must include signature and ratification of the treaty. The opportunity to demonstrate to the world the value of the treaty and efficacy of the most sophisticated and far-reaching verification regime ever devised should not be missed.

North Korea is not yet a signatory to the treaty. If the country is serious about confidence building, at the very least it should match the United States’ signature without delay. There is really no downside to doing so. In fact, earlier this year, North Korea’s permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament announced that the North will “join international disarmament efforts for a total ban on nuclear tests.” This can logically mean only one thing: joining the CTBT.

Matching the United States by signing the CTBT would be a powerful indication of the willingness of North Korea’s leadership to move toward verifiable denuclearization. Taking this leap would also contribute to the regime integrating with the community of states who already adhere to an international no-test norm. It would contribute to bringing North Korea back onto the world stage as a responsible member of the international community.

Joining the CTBT could be a precursor to inviting the organization to view the test site. This would not be without precedent: other CTBT states-signatories have invited the CTBTO to conduct activities at other former nuclear weapons test sites. The former Soviet test site at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan has hosted a number of on-site inspection field tests and exercises. The CTBTO was invited to witness the closing of the French test sites of Moruroa and Fangatayufa in 1999.

On September 25, the CTBTO welcomed the ratification of the treaty by Thailand and the signing by Tuvalu. The CTBT now has 184 states-signatories and 167 ratifying states. The support and resolve by Thailand and Tuvalu taking such actions have strengthened global efforts to achieve a nuclear-test-free world. With each signature and ratification, there is a growing chorus of voices demanding an end to nuclear testing that becomes more and more difficult to ignore.

The de facto norm against nuclear testing underpinned by the CTBT is stronger than ever. It continues to be vital to international peace and security, and although it may feel as if some international institutions and regimes are starting to fray, global support for the treaty continues to rise. Yet, this momentum cannot be sustained without the unwavering support and commitment by states-signatories.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono co-chairs the ninth Ministerial Meeting of the Friends of the CTBT on September 27. The joint statement, organized by Japan, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands and endorsed by other states, urges North Korea “to sign and ratify the CTBT as a matter of priority.” (Photo: CTBTO)In order to achieve the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear tests, it is important to ensure that opportunities are identified and acted on. Regrettably, there have been missed opportunities over the years where the CTBT, along with the monitoring assets, expertise, and infrastructure available at the CTBTO, could have been used in important ways to advance international peace and security. During the high-level UN Security Council meeting on the nonprolifereration of weapons of mass destruction on September 26, CTBT supporters had the opportunity to make a strong case for the treaty and its entry into force. These are the stages and platforms where they should consistently and emphatically promote the urgency of the entry into force of the CTBT. These are the moments to seize and act on, not the moments to squander away due to politics.

Unique Opportunity

Current developments on the Korean peninsula may provide a unique opportunity for the CTBT. North Korea is one of the eight remaining CTBT Annex 2 states, whose ratifications are needed for entry into force.3 It is vital not to miss this opportunity to demonstrate to the world the value of the treaty and the efficacy of one of the most sophisticated and far-reaching verification regimes ever devised.

All states, particularly North Korea, should join in this historic journey to put an end to nuclear tests through the entry into force and universalization of the CTBT. Together, we will ensure nuclear tests become a relic of the past. By doing so, we will put in place one of the most practical and achievable elements of a nuclear-weapons-free world.4


1. Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. Department of State, “Secretary Pompeo's Meetings in Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea,” October 7, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/10/286482.htm.

2. Michael Pompeo, “Remarks with Traveling Press,” October 8, 2017, https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/10/286490.htm.

3. Although 184 states have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, eight Annex 2 states (China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and the United States) need to complete their ratification procedures before the treaty can enter into force.

4. Lassina Zerbo, Address to the Ninth Friends of the CTBT Ministerial Meeting, New York, September 27, 2018, https://www.ctbto.org/fileadmin/user_upload/public_information/2018/Ministerial_Meeting/Ninth_Friends_of_


Lassina Zerbo is the executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.



The head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization offers his agency's capabilities to verify
the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Designing Denuclearization Regimes: Agreement, Declarations, Objectives, and Inspections

November 2018
By Geoffrey Forden

How should a country plan a new denuclearization verification regime? Should it concentrate on accounting for fissile material, should it try to “verify” a declaration of the program’s history, or, as some analysts have suggested,1 should it simply redirect the weapons scientists toward peaceful purposes after dismantling the weapons infrastructure and monitor their activity?

Iraqi officials present the entire 11,807-page “currently accurate, full and complete” Iraqi declaration of weapons of mass destruction programs and dual-use facilities on December 7, 2002 in Baghdad. This is an example of the kind of extensive documentation that can be used to help verify denuclearization. (Photo: Ahmed Al Rubayyh/Getty Images)Enough historical examples have occurred to permit a review of the lessons learned from past denuclearizations and try to draw some conclusions on what has and has not worked. This article highlights the denuclearization of South Africa and Iraq as exemplars at opposite ends of the cooperation spectrum. What is perhaps most surprising is that even with the wide gulf in cooperation provided by each country, there is a consistent theme to both denuclearizations: the necessity to develop a “coherent technical picture” of their nuclear weapons program.

To do so requires using inspections to search for the evidence necessary to construct and to verify a coherent understanding of the country’s nuclear weapons and related infrastructure. Contingency plans for inspections with the goal of developing a coherent technical picture can be worked out in advance, but what is actually implemented can only be decided after an agreement has been negotiated. From such an agreement flows the requirements for any declarations the country being denuclearized must submit, as well as the objectives of the inspection regime. Only after the objectives are clear can the right contingency plan for the inspections be implemented.

Historical Examples

Although all inspection regimes are unique, a case study of them reveals a striking number of similarities in how verification is achieved. To illustrate this, consider South Africa and Iraq, although there are considerably more. The denuclearization of South Africa started out as a fairly standard comprehensive safeguards inspection done when a nation accedes to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and signs a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).2 The initial declarations the IAEA received October 30, 1991,3 were the standard materials accounting declarations; and although the inspectors had their suspicions4 of why South Africa had such a large quantity of highly enrichment uranium (HEU) in metal form, they kept those suspicions to themselves. Naturally, that changed in March 1993, when President F.W. de Klerk announced that South Africa had produced a limited number of nuclear weapons. All of those had been dismantled, and their HEU had been demilitarized5 and returned to South Africa’s civilian Atomic Energy Commission.

As usual for the IAEA inspectors during that period and corresponding to their mandate, the initial emphasis was given to material accountancy.6 When South Africa admitted that they had had a nuclear weapons program, the inspectors were given a series of “detailed briefings on the various phases of the program”7 and a new list of associated facilities. These newly declared facilities were mostly associated with the weaponization of South Africa’s fissile material rather than its production and included facilities for the manufacture of the first demonstration nuclear device,8 the laboratories for the development of the neutron generators, and the complex where most of the final arsenal was assembled,9 among others.10

From the start, the IAEA had difficulties confirming South Africa’s fissile material balance. This was due to the developmental status of the aerodynamic enrichment process South Africa was employing, which led to an unexpectedly large amount of material “held up” in the enrichment cascades,11 and to the IAEA’s unfamiliarity with this technique.12 Countrywide material balances had to be abandoned, and IAEA efforts in this area shifted to understanding the Y-plant (South Africa’s enrichment facility designed to produce HEU) material balances based on daily operational logs of the facility.13 With these records and the examination of fragments of the non-nuclear components surviving South Africa’s “do-it-yourself” denuclearization,14 the IAEA was finally able to declare that the “HEU produced by the pilot enrichment plant are consistent with the declared scope of the nuclear weapons program.”15 Full verification of South Africa’s uranium-material balance did not occur for 18 years.16

If South Africa was a model of cooperation after the president revealed the existence of its nuclear deterrent, Iraq is at the extreme other end of the cooperation scale. Nevertheless, these inspections shared a recognition that verification cannot be absolute either because of practical issues such as humans making mistakes or because the country being inspected has willfully tried to conceal significant pieces of its program.

U.S. President George W. Bush, during a 2004 tour of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is shown nuclear-related materials and equipment surrendered by Libya. Under pressure from the United States, Libya dismantled its nuclear weapons infrastructure in 2003–4. More than 55,000 pounds of Libyan nuclear equipment and documents were shipped from Libya and to Oak Ridge. (Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)Iraq tried to conceal every aspect of its nuclear weapons program, including denying it had ever had any nuclear material. That was a patently false claim since its Russian-supplied, HEU-fueled research reactor had been under IAEA safeguards for years.17 Over the next seven years, the IAEA patiently tracked down evidence, typically to refute the most significant portions of the most recent version of the Full Final and Complete Declaration issued by Iraq. Arguably the most important discoveries were contained in the so-called Haider House Chicken Farm, which concealed a cache of documents including CDs containing information from the Iraqi group responsible for weaponization.18 This trove of documents might not have ever been found had not Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s son-in-law, defected to the West. That defection prompted Iraq to try to appear proactive by turning the documents over to the IAEA.

Of course, it is politically unacceptable that the success or failure of an inspection regime hinge on such unpredictable events. Be that as it may, these weaponization documents and the other information gathered through careful inspections over the years allowed the IAEA to state that, “over the many years[, the IAEA inspections] yielded a technically coherent picture of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program” and that “there are no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons.”19

In both cases, inspections yielded a “technically coherent picture” that was accepted as the truth because no significant evidence was found to contradict it. This should be a reminder that deciding when to declare a successful denuclearization is a technical and political decision because there will always be inconsistencies of some nature. It helps, of course, that the Iraq Survey Group, which went into Iraq after the 2003 Iraq War with the ability to jail and question Iraqi scientists involved with weapons of mass destruction, concluded that “the aggressive UN inspections after Desert Storm forced Saddam to admit the existence of the [nuclear] program and destroy or surrender components of the program.”20

Central to this methodology is the gathering of as much corroborative or, potentially, contradictory information as possible. Ideally, this information should come from as many different sources as possible, minimizing the chances that the country being denuclearized could create false information meant to divert the inspectors. Declarations of the program’s history are very helpful in this and in other aspects, and negotiations should seek to obtain those if at all possible. Inspection planners should be aware, however, that some information might be too politically sensitive to be released, for example South Africa’s suppliers. Yet, it is possible to verify the dismantlement without such complete declarations.

Planning for an Inspection Regime

Planning for the verification of a country’s denuclearization should take the lessons discussed above into account from the start. The nuclear weapons program may be so complex that verifying denuclearization can be expected to be a long and intricate process, so complex that some analysts have advocated giving up on verification and propose that the “best” approach is to dismantle what is known and then have Western scientists work shoulder to shoulder with scientists from the denuclearized country. This, they maintain, is the best way of assuring the world that they are not working on banned activities.21

Such an approach would be a radical departure from past denuclearizations and was not applied even to South Africa, where there was a considerable amount of trust. This article takes a different position and advocates a method similar to past successful denuclearizations. The planners, however, should be fully cognizant that a strict fissile material balance is unlikely to be achieved on a politically meaningful timescale. Instead, inspections should be planned from the beginning with a goal of establishing a politically and technically acceptable understanding of the country’s nuclear weapons program. This understanding, or “picture,” needs to be tested by inspections that search out contradictory information to convince the international community there are no significant omissions or discrepancies.

Peaceful denuclearization is a complicated process that can only move forward to the extent that the inspecting party and the country being denuclearized can agree on terms for the process. The entire process is controlled by the agreement negotiated between these two parties. This agreement sets objectives for the inspections and their day-to-day function. For instance, the inspecting party clearly might find it advantageous to remove the existing nuclear weapons as soon as possible, while the country being denuclearized might insist on retaining its weapons until adequate security guarantees are put in place. Another important aspect of the agreement is establishing rights and responsibilities of the inspectors during inspections. Contingency plans for a satisfactory inspection regime can be created for both these cases and everything in between, but each inspection contingency plan must start from some assumptions about the final agreement.

Importantly, without a document to which inspectors can point, each facility is free to set new and more limiting constraints on the inspectors. This can start a process of “obstructionism creep” where each new constraint acts as a precedent for all future inspections.

Hopefully, one of the points of the agreement is that a country being denuclearized provides a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program and its history.22 This declaration has multiple purposes. First, it should offer an initial and, hopefully, final account of the weapons program that can be used as a benchmark against which to compare data gathered from the inspections. The most important comparison should be looking for significant inconsistencies and contradictions. There are many physics and engineering relationships between components inside a nuclear weapon and inside a nuclear weapons program, and these would likely be impossible to counterfeit if enough of them were utilized. It was exactly these inconsistencies that allowed the UN Special Commission to detect the existence of Iraq’s biological weapons program despite Iraq’s determined efforts to completely conceal it.23

A second factor that is in some sense just as important is that declarations allow inspectors to discuss topics with experts from the country being denuclearized without too much worry about revealing information that would actually help that country with its bombs, something that might be called “proliferation by inspection.” Sticking strictly to concepts, techniques, and devices mentioned in the declaration can greatly reduce this danger, even if it does not eliminate it completely.

Once the agreement has been negotiated, inspectors can develop objectives for the inspection regime. They can start this even before the declarations are received or select the set of objectives from a contingency library. The actual objectives used are dependent on the agreement. For instance, the inspection objectives will clearly be different for a regime that allows open-ended inspections as opposed to one that limits the number of visits or even sets the inspection regime to a single visit to a single site.

International inspectors in Iraq conduct a gamma-radiation test at the remains of a research reactor in Tuwaitha in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Photo: IAEA Action Team)Placing inspection objectives into the business school framework that other major businesses use may be instructive. The inspection agency’s vision is that they will denuclearize the country; their mission statement is that they will provide the international community with the confidence needed to remove sanctions and accept the country back into the international community; the objectives are the major steps the inspectors will take to accomplish their mission and build the necessary confidence. Many people have used the shorthand of “verification” for this step, but that ignores the inspectors’ other objectives, such as reducing the threat the country’s nuclear weapons present by removing them, isolating them in a remotely monitored storage area, or effectively “de-alerting” the weapons, or dismantling their fissile material production capacity.

Objectives must be practical given the agreement. One cannot dismantle the country’s fissile material production capacity under an agreement that only allows a single visit to single site because there is no certainty that there are no other such facilities. Under a single-site/single-visit inspection regime, the priorities must be carefully conceptualized and will certainly be different than an open-ended inspection regime. Of course, the vision and mission of the inspection agency also will likely be very different under such an agreement.

The inspections performed by the agency are a major part of the inspectors’ tool box. Each inspection should work to contribute to one or more of the objectives. Historical experience shows that a complete understanding of a country’s nuclear weapons program is impossible in practice. There will always be practical problems in establishing the facts about how much fissile material was produced, how many nuclear weapons were built, or even how many centrifuge plants the country has. These problems could arise from benign issues such as the fact that all human beings make mistakes or serious ones such as a wide-scale program of deception.

Because of this, inspection agencies should acknowledge these limitations at the start and plan on contributing to the inspection objectives by verifying a technically coherent picture of the weapons program. For instance, if the primary objective is the removal of all nuclear weapons from the country, secondary objectives that contribute to this primary objective include establishing how many weapons were produced. It is too much to hope for that this could be established through accounting for the fissile material produced and where it was shipped on a politically meaningful timescale. Instead, the inspections should look for corroborating information, such as production and shipment records for fissile material and estimates of fissile material used in each weapon from sizes of casting molds.

Fissile Material Accounting

Should an inspection regime concentrate on accounting for fissile material? Fissile material accounting can play an important role in any inspection regime, but there are a number of practical limitations. First, it is likely to take much longer than is politically acceptable. The time necessary for material accounting increases exponentially as the complexity of the weapons program increases. Verifying a complete material balance for South Africa took at least 13 years, until an industrial-scale machine was developed to measure isotopic content of barrels of enrichment tails.24 Further, a country being denuclearized might refuse to reveal its sources of imported materials. If that is consistent with the agreement and it might be for a number of reasons, then establishing a global material balance becomes much more difficult because of the uncertainty created by not being able to verify both sides of the deal.

Given these difficulties, inspectors should utilize fissile material production for what it can contribute to the technically coherent picture but not expect it to be the final answer.
Some examples:

  • Measure isotopics from environmental samples and samplings from tails and other “waste products” to look for consistency with weapons
    designs and other declarations. Inspectors should not expect a quantitative constraint arising from fissile materials on a politically meaningful timescale.
  • Check production records from known or declared production plants with shipment records
    from weapons assembly facilities. Are they consistent? Do the assembly records use all of the material known to be produced, or are assembly plants missing? Is more material needed to produce the number of weapons than has been shipped to the assembly plant (are there more fissile material production centers)?
  • Check employment records at known production plants for unexplained long periods of absence, which might signal experts leaving to work at other plants.25

Should the inspection team work to verify a declaration of the program’s history? Arriving at a technically coherent picture inherently involves an understanding of the history of the weapons program. It is possible to reconstruct this history as the inspections progress, which is essentially what the IAEA team did with Iraq’s first nuclear declaration, but it is much easier to have some basis from which to start. For instance, any program will inevitably make false starts or other digressions that will have wasted resources and time and created lasting infrastructure that can mislead inspectors. Iraq’s attempts to weaponize aflatoxin is a perfect example, although one even Iraq did not recognize as a dead end until after the inspections started.26

Starting from scratch will take much longer and could involve much more intrusive inspections than might otherwise be necessary. Of course, the country being inspected could simply deliver detailed briefings on the program, as did South Africa.27 Briefings have the advantage of being interactive, and the inspectors can ask questions and seek clarifications right then. Declarations have the advantage that they can form part of the inspectors’ tool kit and can be used as starting points for discussions at various facilities while avoiding the “proliferation by inspection” trap.

Should a nuclear weapons program’s infrastructure be eliminated without verification and the outside world only rely on “monitoring” the day-to-day activities of former weapons scientists after they have been redirected into other, peaceful work? If this is the only practical way of eliminating a country’s known nuclear weapons infrastructure, then it might be the preferred process.28

It does not address the issue of an unknown weapons infrastructure, and it places the inspecting agency in a similar situation to what the IAEA faced with Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before Operation Desert Storm.29 In this case, working day to day with the “redirected” weapons scientists, as has been suggested,30 should be avoided at all costs. Redirecting scientists after the country’s nuclear weapons program has been dismantled is a key component of preventing it from being reconstituted, but every day the foreign scientists collaborate with the “redirected” scientists without verifying the absence of any covert infrastructure is a day when the country being denuclearized has its cooperation endorsed without evidence.


Practical difficulties will almost certainly prevent any inspection from gaining complete certainty that a country has denuclearized. In the end, it will be a judgement call—both technical and political—as to how much corroborative evidence is necessary. The chances of success can be maximized by accepting these limitations at the very beginning and planning for them. This article has suggested a workflow for that planning process that emphasizes using as much information about the procedures in conjunction with material balance.

Formulating the agreement with the country being denuclearized, specifying the required information from the declarations, designing the objectives to be accomplished during inspections, and executing those inspections should all be oriented toward constructing a technically coherent picture of the weapons program. That picture can be used to seek evidence supporting it and contradicting it. If the contradictions are not significant while the major outlines of the program are supported by the evidence, then the completeness of the denuclearization can be approached in an objective fashion.

Not only will this workflow result in a systematic approach to verification, it will also involve stakeholders throughout the government in the discussion necessary to making the technical and political decisions about how much verification will be necessary.


1. Siegfried S. Hecker, Robert L. Carlin, and Elliot A. Serbin, “A Technically-Informed Roadmap for North Korea’s Denuclearization,” Center for International Security and Cooperation, May 28, 2018, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/hecker_carlin-serbin_denuc_rlc.pdf.

2. Adolf von Baeckman, Garry Dillon, and Demetrius Perricos, “Nuclear Verification in South Africa,” IAEA Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 1 (1995): 42–48; International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Agreement of 16 September 1991 Between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection With the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” INFCIRC/394, October 1991.

3. David Albright and Andrea Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Its History, Dismantlement, and Lessons for Today (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016).

4. Von Baeckman, Dillon, and Perricos, “Nuclear Verification in South Africa,” p. 48.

5. “Demilitarized” means that various highly enriched uranium components in South Africa’s gun-type weapon had been reshaped into very different configurations, partially concealing their use in nuclear weapons. Albright and Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program, p. 197.

6. Garry Dillon and Demetrius Perricos, “IAEA 1991-1995 Safeguards Criteria: Experience Gained in the Verification of the Completeness of the Inventory of South Africa’s Nuclear Installations and Material,” in International Nuclear Safeguards 1994: Vision for the Future (Vienna: IAEA, 1994), pp. 231–241.

7. Ibid., p. 238.

8. These were the Building 5000 complex. The “demonstration device” was re-engineered with increased environmental production and safety features from a design built by South Africa’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Albright and Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program, p. 101.

9. The so-called Armscor/Circle facility.

10. Albright and Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program, p. 239.

11. Ibid., p. 68.

12. Ibid., p. 231.

13. The South African AEC insisted on keeping secret the names of its suppliers and did not originally provide shipping records to the IAEA.

14. Albright and Stricker, Revisiting South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program.

15. IAEA General Conference, “The Denuclearization of Africa: Report by the Director General,” GC(XXXVII)/1075, September 9, 1993; UN Security Council, S/1997/779, October 8, 1997.

16. B. Rollen et al., “Validation of IQ3 Measurements for High-Density Low-Enriched-Uranium Waste Drums at Pelindaba,” in Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Facility Operations-Safeguards Interface, 2004.

17. Garry Dillon and Jacques Baute, “An Overview of the IAEA Action Team Activities in Iraq,” n.d., www.iaea.org/inis/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/33/034/33034358.pdf.

18. UN Security Council, S/1997/779, October 8, 1997.

19. Ibid., para. 21.

20. Mark Hosenball, “Held: Iraq’s Scientist,” Newsweek, June 19, 2005; Charles Duelfer, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” September 30, 2004, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/iraq_wmd_2004/.

21. Hecker, Carlin, and Serbin, “Technically-Informed Roadmap for North Korea’s Denuclearization,” p. 9.

22. Writing declarations is a complicated and difficult process that can initially contain many errors and omissions. For this reason, negotiators from the inspecting country might want to consider offering classes to technical experts from the country being denuclearized. In no case should the inspectors offer to assist in writing the actual declarations.

23. Rod Barton, “The Application of the UNSCOM Experience to International Biological Arms,” Critical Reviews in Microbiology, Vol. 24, No. 3 (January 1, 1998): 219–233.

24. B. Rollen et al., “Validation of IQ3 Measurements for High-Density Low-Enriched-Uranium Waste Drums at Pelindaba.”

25. The examples of developing a technically coherent picture are illustrative, not exhaustive, and some of the specifics listed here might be impractical.

26. Dany Shoham, “Iraq’s Biological Warfare Agents: A Comprehensive Analysis,” Critical Reviews in Microbiology, Vol. 26, No. 3 (January 1, 2000): 179–204.

27. Baeckman, Dillion, and Perricos, “Nuclear Verification in South Africa.”

28. Because of the way the negotiations developed, the choice might be between elimination with no verification or no elimination. This then might be the best practical method of denuclearization.

29. Some might point to the IAEA Model Additional Protocol as a sufficient improvement in the inspection regime, and the author agrees. Yet, it is difficult to imagine a country refusing to allow the verification of the dismantlement of its nuclear program and still signing an additional protocol.

30. Hecker, Carlin, and Serbin, “Technically-Informed Roadmap for North Korea’s Denuclearization.”


Geoffrey Forden is a physicist and principal member of the technical staff at the Cooperative Monitoring Center at Sandia National Laboratories. This article describes objective technical results and analysis. Any subjective views or opinions that might be expressed in the paper do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Energy or the U.S. government. Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA0003525.


There are historical lessons that can help in designing a denuclearization verification regime.

Unmet Promise: The Challenges Awaiting the 2020 NPT Review Conference

November 2018
By Sérgio Duarte

On July 16, 1945, the first experimental detonation of a nuclear device, known as the Trinity test, was conducted in the Nevada desert. Less than a month later, the vast power of this new technology was employed twice in war. Since then, nuclear weapons have continued to proliferate, bringing the current number of possessor nations to nine, as the international community has sought to slow or reverse that course.

Sérgio Duarte speaks at the August 2017 Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs held in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo: Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs)This article describes the multilateral process that resulted in the adoption 50 years ago of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the treaty’s gradual acceptance by the overwhelming majority of the international community despite the permanence of divergences about its objectives and concerns about its credibility. What follow is a discussion of the role played by the successive five-year review conferences and an argument that the “enhanced review process,” adopted in 1995, has contributed to clarifying positions and concerns but has not yet produced consensus on a binding commitment by all parties to achieve the common objective of nuclear disarmament. The unfinished task before the 2020 NPT Review Conference is to help pave the way to a world without the threat of nuclear weapons.

The question of nuclear weapons nonproliferation was considered by the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) from 1965 to 1968 in response to a request by the UN General Assembly. By then, five nations had successfully obtained a nuclear weapons capability, and there was considerable and well-grounded concern that others would follow.1

Multilateral Process

Established in 1962 to succeed the short-lived Ten-Nation Disarmament Committee, the ENDC was composed of five members from the Warsaw Pact (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union), five members of NATO (Canada, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States), and eight nations (Brazil, Burma, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, and the United Arab Republic, later succeeded by Egypt) that did not belong to either military alliance. Its permanent co-chairs were the representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union. France chose not to occupy its seat on the committee, although it maintained unofficial consultations with other members.

The UN Charter does not mention nuclear weapons, as it was concluded about three weeks before the Trinity test. The first General Assembly resolution, however, adopted on January 24, 1946, established a commission “to deal with the problems raised by the discovery of atomic energy and other related matters” and to make specific proposals on the control of atomic energy and on “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons.”

The emerging ideological confrontation between the two major powers and their rivalry and mutual mistrust prevented agreement on the substance of the issue during the following years, and the commission was finally abandoned without producing any tangible result. Still, the hopes and fears raised by the discovery of nuclear energy led to the establishment the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957. Upon ratifying the statute of the fledgling organization, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower said that “the splitting of the atom may lead to unifying the entire divided world.”2 Unfortunately, his optimistic prediction did not come true.

In 1958, Ireland introduced at the United Nations the first of what became known as the “Irish Resolutions” calling the attention of the international community to the possibility of further proliferation. The international community agreed that preventing the spread of atomic weapons, fostering peaceful uses of atomic energy, and nuclear disarmament were desirable common objectives. General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX), adopted by consensus on November 19, 1965, called on the ENDC to “give urgent consideration” to the question of nuclear nonproliferation and to reconvene “with a view to negotiating an international treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.” This resolution also set forth the main principles on which such a treaty should be based.

a. The treaty should be void of any loop-holes which might permit nuclear or non-nuclear Powers to proliferate, directly or indirectly, nuclear weapons in any form;

b. The treaty should embody an acceptable balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations of the nuclear and non-nuclear Powers;

c. The treaty should be a step towards the achievement of general and complete disarmament and, more particularly, nuclear disarmament;

d. There should be acceptable and workable provisions to ensure the effectiveness of the treaty;

e. Nothing in the treaty should adversely affect the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to ensure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories;

The last of those principles was inserted at the insistence of Latin American nations that were already negotiating what became the successful establishment of the world’s first zone free of nuclear weapons in 1967 through the Treaty of Tlatelolco, a move originally frowned on but later supported by the nuclear weapon states.3

Separate, but Identical Drafts

Even before the adoption of Resolution 2028, the United States and Soviet Union were talking to each other on developing their own proposals for a nonproliferation instrument. Initially, each introduced its own draft text at the ENDC; on August 24, 1967, the two co-chairs presented separate but identical drafts4 that included some changes and additions with respect to earlier formulations. The two proponents explained that they had sought to reflect concerns raised by non-nuclear states, particularly the members of the Group of Eight.

The Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament meets in Geneva’s Palais des Nations on March 18, 1969. (Photo: United Nations)The objective of nuclear disarmament was mentioned in the preamble of each draft. The identical texts kept the original language of the previous draft articles dealing with the obligations of nuclear and non-nuclear states, the recognition of the rights of all parties to the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and amendments to and review of the operation of the treaty. The final language of the provisions on safeguards on fissionable materials for peaceful purposes would be defined by ongoing negotiations outside the ENDC. A new Article V dealt with the availability of “benefits” deriving from “peaceful applications of nuclear explosives” through “appropriate international procedures.” The question of peaceful nuclear explosions was the subject of intense and inconclusive debate and disagreement at the ENDC and elsewhere for several years until it became clear that the explosive technology had in fact no useful civil applications.

In response to the concerns of members of the group of eight countries, a new draft article was introduced containing an undertaking by all parties to the treaty to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” This became Article VI of the new instrument, and its formulation still generates controversy. The right to conclude regional treaties on the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones was recognized in a new Article VII. Article X provided for the convening of a conference after 25 years to decide, by a majority of the parties, on an indefinite extension or additional fixed periods.5 The right of parties to withdraw from the treaty under specific conditions was also recognized in Article X.6

Several ENDC members proposed a number of additional amendments to the identical texts. The question of security assurances was among the main concerns of non-nuclear-weapon states, but was not mentioned in the drafts. The Soviet, UK, and U.S. delegations informed the ENDC of their intentions to introduce a resolution at the Security Council on that matter.7

To a large extent, the logic of the Cold War determined the positions adopted by different ENDC members. Members belonging to the Warsaw Pact and NATO generally supported the drafts, as well as the decisions of the co-chairs on procedure. They participated actively in the discussions and presented suggestions that contributed to a better understanding of the issues involved, particularly regarding verification of compliance and the thorny question of peaceful nuclear explosions.

Countries from the Group of Eight proposed changes to bring the text under examination more in line with the principles contained in Resolution 2028. The absence of a clear prohibition on deploying nuclear weapons in territories of third states and the sharing of nuclear forces were seen as at odds with principle (a). The lack of provisions to curb quantitative and qualitative aspects of proliferation by nuclear-weapon states was similarly criticized. Given the built-in asymmetry of a text intended to apply to unequal parties, that is, possessors and nonpossessors of nuclear weapons, non-nuclear-weapon countries also wanted to ensure a fairer balance of mutual responsibilities and obligations. Accordingly, the renunciation of nuclear weapons should be matched, in their view, by a strong commitment to disarmament, consistent with principles (b) and (c). With different emphases, some delegations also argued unsuccessfully against what they felt were undue restrictions on certain aspects of nuclear technology.

No Consensus

Some of the proposals for changes were not accepted by the ENDC co-chairs. A revised draft that amalgamated the previous texts and incorporated some other suggestions by ENDC members was converted into a single joint draft by the co-chairs and introduced on March 11, 1968. Predictably, the new text failed to obtain the agreement of the ENDC membership. In view of the lack of consensus on substance and on the follow-up procedure, the co-chairs decided on their own authority to send a document titled “Report of the Conference of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament”8 to the General Assembly on behalf of the conference. An annex to the report contained the draft treaty as accepted by them. An addendum9 listed all proposals and amendments presented during the discussions.

The report was placed before the UN General Assembly First Committee at its March-June 1968 session. A number of delegations sponsored a draft resolution endorsing the text annexed to the report. Three revised versions of the draft resolution were subsequently submitted, and on May 3, the two ENDC co-chairs agreed to certain revisions of the draft treaty itself, which were accepted by the co-sponsors of the draft resolution.


The First Committee adopted this new draft resolution recommending the endorsement of the draft nonproliferation treaty as revised. Among Western European states, France, Portugal, and Spain abstained on this vote. On June 12, 1968, General Assembly Resolution 2373 (XXII), co-sponsored by 48 states, was adopted by a vote of 95 to 4, with 21 abstentions. This time, France, Portugal, and Spain voted in favor. Brazil, Burma, and India were among those abstaining. Voting against were Albania, Cuba, Tanzania, and Zambia. The resolution commended the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and requested that it be opened for signature and ratification.

At present, 191 states are members of the NPT, making it the instrument with the greatest adherence in the field of arms control.10 Yet, the 50-year history of the treaty shows more confrontation and disagreement than cooperation between its armed and unarmed members. The Non-Aligned Movement and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have militantly advocated the need for compliance with the commitments, particularly those contained in Article VI, to which the nuclear-weapon members of the treaty subscribe. A recurrent point of discord is that the five NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states act as if the treaty will last forever in its present form, thus legitimizing their perpetual possession of such arms.

In the last couple of decades or so, the word “disarmament” seems effectively to have disappeared from the lexicon of some of the nuclear-armed states. They continue to affirm their right to keep their nuclear arsenals for as long as they consider necessary for their own security interests and “as long as nuclear weapons exist,”11 a self-serving tautology for everlasting possession. Such a posture entails a grave threat to all members of the international community, including the nuclear-weapon states themselves, and constitutes in fact a powerful incentive to proliferation.

In fact, in recent years, sections of the public in some developed non-nuclear-weapon states have been openly advocating the acquisition of an independent nuclear weapons capability. Episodes of alleged clandestine programs in that direction by a few other countries have been resolved by a combination of political, diplomatic, and sometimes military means.

Review Process

The deep divisions among NPT parties are underscored by the fact that five out of the nine quinquennial treaty review conferences held since the treaty’s inception have failed to produce a consensus final document on the status of treaty implementation. Further, important agreements reached on two such occasions—the 13 “practical steps” of 2000 and the plan of action of 2010—still await implementation.

Algerian Ambassador Taous Feroukhi (on screen), president of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, closes the conference May 22, 2015 with delegates failing to produce a consensus outcome. The next review conference is planned for 2020.  (Photo: Eskinder Debebe/United Nations)The 1995 review and extension conference succeeded in extending the NPT indefinitely and adopted a decision to strengthen the review process. A preparatory committee meets in each of the three years prior to the review conference to consider principles, objectives, and ways to promote full treaty implementation and to make recommendations to the conference. According to the decision, review conferences should look at past experience and identify areas and means through which further progress should be sought. In practice, however, the outcomes of the preparatory committee’s sessions and review conferences held since have not gone much beyond recording the disagreement over substantive issues.

Unfortunately, the gulf between nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon parties over compliance and other issues has widened considerably over the decades and still prevents meaningful dialogue. This trend was particularly noticeable at the 2005 review conference, which was unable to agree on an agenda and program of work until well into the middle of the third of its four weeks’ duration, due to lack of flexibility and unwillingness to negotiate on the part of some key states. The most recent review conference, in 2015, was equally unable to adopt a final document despite much effort. The hardening of positions since the beginning of the 21st century also explains the absence of any mention of disarmament in the outcome document adopted by the 2005 World Summit held at UN headquarters.12

Challenges and Prospects

The 2020 review conference will take place in a particularly uncertain international environment due to two recent major developments: the U.S. abandonment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and the possibility of advancing toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as a result of the June 12, 2018, meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Also relevant for the outcome of the 2020 conference is the strong sentiment of frustration among several Middle Eastern states with the difficulties surrounding the proposed establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in that part of the world.13

Still, the NPT can be considered successful in helping contain the spread of nuclear weapons. Several reasons explain the decision by the vast majority of the members of the international community not to develop their own nuclear arsenals. Much has been written on this subject, which falls beyond the scope of this article. Obviously, a large number of states do not possess the scientific, industrial, and financial capability to undertake the effort to build a credible nuclear arsenal. Further, the nuclear-weapon possessors exert constant pressure on prospective proliferators against such moves and have extended positive security assurances to some of them.

Last but certainly not least, most of the latecomers to the NPT concluded that their security was better protected by not embarking on a nuclear weapons development program and therefore decided to join the treaty. The recognition of the inalienable right of all its parties to pursue peaceful nuclear energy activities was certainly important in making that decision. Some non-nuclear-weapon states have developed national programs in that direction, including uranium enrichment under IAEA safeguards.

Nuclear-weapon states and a number of non-nuclear ones that depend on security arrangements based on the possible use of nuclear weapons have been persistently proposing and supporting the adoption of measures to enhance verification procedures needed to determine the absence of declared and undeclared nuclear activities. Some of these proposals envisage unorthodox methods that would, in effect, turn existing voluntary agreements into compulsory commitments subject to sanctions and intervention.

NPT parties undoubtedly recognize the important contribution of the treaty, not only for their individual security but also for strengthening the confidence of the international community as a whole in the existing norms-based regime and in the need for its improvement. The exacerbation of divergences is not in the interest of any of the parties and would result in gradually discrediting the NPT as a valid and reliable international legal norm.

Obstacles to Progress

In one way or another, all existing instruments in the arms control field deal with nonproliferation by prohibiting nuclear weapons only where they do not exist (outer space, the Antarctic, the seabed, nuclear-weapon-free zones). Yet, none of the instruments in force so far establishes legally binding, time-bound, and effectively verifiable provisions aimed at the elimination of nuclear arsenals. This is considered by many parties the main flaw of the existing regime.

The nuclear weapons possessors keep arguing in favor of a step-by-step approach that, in their view, would facilitate progress toward nuclear disarmament, but there has been no effort to state in clear terms the objective of the proposed steps or to define the timelines along which such steps should be undertaken.14 There has not been a clearly articulated sequence that would lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons within a reasonable, realistic horizon.

For this reason, the promise of nuclear disarmament contained in the NPT remains unfulfilled, and the task of achieving agreement on meaningful measures leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons is still unfinished.15 The strengthened review process established by the 1995 conference has contributed to the identification of areas of divergence and clarification of the concerns of different states. The bottom line is that nuclear-weapon states remain convinced that their exclusive possession of such armament protects their security, while non-nuclear ones see the existence of nuclear weapons as a threat to their own security and that of humanity as a whole.


As the arms race continues, it is imperative to find a solution to this conundrum. The 2020 review conference is the proper forum to start work on reducing those differences and enlarging the areas of coincidence. The practice of merely recording divergent views should be discontinued. The third session of the preparatory committee on April 29–May 10, 2019, must recognize the achievement of nuclear disarmament as the common objective and recommend that the review conference adopt a clear commitment by all parties to that end. Such a commitment would provide the basis for further action.

The adoption on July 7, 2017, of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was designed to provide effective ways of filling the gap between nonproliferation and disarmament norms. Promoted by several states in the General Assembly since 2015 and drawing on the fruitful and patient work of some governments and NGOs over a number of years, the mere idea of negotiating this treaty elicited fierce opposition from nuclear-weapon states since it was first proposed several years ago.

The adverse reaction of nuclear-weapon states and their allies to the prohibition treaty may delay attainment of the number of ratifications needed for its entry into force. Nevertheless, the coming into being of this treaty, adopted by 122 states, and the progress of its signature and ratification process represent an eloquent rejection of nuclear weapons by the majority of the international community. It seeks to reinforce the trend to delegitimize these weapons and consolidate a specific norm against their use, based mainly on humanitarian considerations.

In fact, the prohibition treaty should not be seen as an opponent of the NPT; nor does it contradict the idea of progressing by sequential, organically complementary steps. Rather, it supports this notion by providing a path for the phased fulfillment of the obligations contained in NPT Article VI.

In the present climate of persistent insecurity, to which the continuing armaments race to a large extent contributes, total global expenditures on instruments of war stand at higher levels than the estimated resources that would be needed for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN. New and more powerful nuclear weapons systems and advanced warfare technologies under development increase global insecurity and the chance of war between the major powers. The risk of a nuclear conflagration remains high, and its effects will not be confined to the belligerents. At the same time, local conventional conflicts in peripheral areas undermine prospects for social and economic progress.

In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a five-point plan for nuclear disarmament that advocated for, among other measures, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the negotiation of a convention to prohibit the manufacture, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons. In his recently unveiled disarmament agenda titled “Securing Our Common Future,” Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the “existential threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity must motivate us to accomplish new and decisive action leading to their complete elimination.”

All states should heed these calls for action. There exists the necessary tools, including the UN Charter, the CTBT, five nuclear-weapon-free zones, and other important instruments such as the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty.

After half a century, the NPT remains an essential element for the completion of this task. It does not provide a definitive answer to the concerns of the international community. Indeed, it is but a part, a crucial part, of the continuing search for stability and security that can only be attained by means of generally recognized, collectively elaborated, and legally binding norms that apply equally to every state.

Exceptionalism does not fit in today’s interdependent world. Established norms and principles of international law and respect for generally accepted standards of behavior among nations are the essential foundation for the achievement of an international order that ensures lasting peace and security for all. Nuclear disarmament, one of mankind’s highest aspirations and a stated goal of the NPT, must not be put on hold for another 50 years.



1. Proliferation continued after the Trinity experiment. The Soviet Union carried out its first successful nuclear test explosion in 1949; the United Kingdom followed suit in 1952, China in 1954, France in 1966, India in 1974, and Pakistan in 1998. Although officially not confirming or denying, Israel is believed to have acquired nuclear weapons in 1979. In the opposite direction, South Africa relinquished its nuclear arsenal. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine negotiated with the Soviet Union the return of the nuclear weapons stationed on their territories.

2. Dwight Eisenhower, Remarks at ceremony following ratification of the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency, July 29, 1957, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=10850.

3. The creation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco thus preceded the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and did not derive from it. It was first proposed in 1961 by the Brazilian delegate at the UN General Assembly and shortly afterward endorsed by other Latin American states. The establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones was a response to the belief that the absence of nuclear weapons enhances the security of states in a region. Principle (e) of UN General Assembly Resolution 2028 (XX) intended to affirm the right of states in a region to govern and define the requirements of the process of establishing their nuclear-weapon-free zones. Nuclear-weapon states have interpreted and qualified their pledges in the protocols on the nonintroduction of nuclear weapons that they are requested to sign, which in practice defeats the purpose of keeping the zone free of all nuclear weapons.   

4. The U.S. draft took the number ENDC/192, and the Soviet draft took the number ENDC/193.

5. At the review and extension conference in 1995, agreement that the NPT would remain in force indefinitely was found to exist.

6. In 1993, North Korea gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty. It subsequently suspended this action and finally announced withdrawal in 2003. Several parties believe the move was not warranted under international law. The question is now of academic interest because the UN Security Council took no action and North Korea developed its own nuclear arsenal.

7. On June 19, 1968, after the endorsement of the NPT by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council adopted Resolution 255 with 10 votes in favor and five abstentions (Algeria, Brazil, France, India, and Pakistan).

8. UN General Assembly, “Report of the Conference of the Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament,” A/7072, March 19, 1968.

9. UN General Assembly, A/7072/Add.1, March 19, 1968.

10. Only India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and South Sudan are not parties to the NPT.

11. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Statement by President Barack Obama on the Release of Nuclear Posture Review,” April 6, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/statement-president-barack-obama-release-nuclear-posture-review.

12. UN General Assembly, “2005 World Summit Outcome,” A/RES/60/1, October 24, 2005.

13. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Final Document,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), 1995, annex (“Resolution on the Middle East”).

14. The 2000 NPT Review Conference agreed on “13 practical steps for the systematic and progressive effort to implement Article VI of the Treaty.” Only steps 2 and 5 can be said to have been fulfilled, although not in their entirety. The 2010 NPT Review Conference recommended 64 specific “actions,” but no timetable was defined for implementation, and in any case they remain as a mere declaration of intention.

15. See Hans Blix, “When Disarmament Goes Backward,” Arms Control Today, September 2018.


Sérgio Duarte, a former UN high representative for disarmament affairs, is president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He was president of the 2005 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.



It is time for a clear commitment by all parties to the common objective of achieving nuclear disarmament, says
a former UN disarmament chief.

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

November 2018
Reviewed by Michael Klare

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War
By Paul Scharre
W.W. Norton, 2018, 436 pp.

What are the consequences—military, political, moral, and legal—of giving machines the capacity to select targets and destroy them without direct human guidance? This is the profound question Paul Scharre addresses in his informative and thought-provoking book, Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War.

Part a primer on the fast-advancing technology of artificial intelligence (AI) and part a soul-searching reflection on its potential application to the conduct of war, Scharre’s book is essential reading for anyone seeking to grasp the monumental changes occurring in the realm of military technology.

Scharre, a former Army Ranger who now heads the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, begins by describing the essence of autonomy in warfare and the technologies bringing it closer to widespread use. Autonomy is the ability of machines to perform a task or function on their own, without human supervision. Autonomous weapons, by extension, are machines with the capacity to perform military operations in this manner; as he puts it, they are defined “by their ability to complete the engagement cycle—searching for, deciding to engage, and engaging targets—on their own.”

Some weapons possessing this capacity are already in service. These include, for example, the Aegis Combat System, a complex array of radars, missiles, and computers intended to protect U.S. warships against enemy planes and missiles. When set in the “auto-special” mode, Aegis can automatically launch its missiles against what it has identified as hostile planes or missiles. Human operators have the ability to abort a strike, but otherwise Aegis operates on its own. The Israeli Harpy armed drone is another example. Once launched, it can hover over a designated area, hunt for enemy radars, and strike them on its own volition.

According to Scharre, these are just harbingers of what he expects will be a massive intrusion of autonomous weapons systems on the battlefield of the future, with such devices assuming ever-greater responsibility for life-and-death decisions. The U.S. military, along with those of many other countries, are pouring vast sums into the development of such systems, ensuring that future commanders will have many more autonomous weapons, with an expanding range of capabilities, to incorporate into their arsenals. “As machine intelligence advances,” he writes, “militaries will be able to create ever more autonomous robots capable of carrying out more complex missions in more challenging environments independent from human control.”

The Development Race

Military leaders are keen to increase the role of autonomous weapons systems for the same reason they are likely to embrace any major technological innovation: they anticipate autonomy will offer an advantage in combat. Such systems, it is widely believed, will assist in the identification and elimination of enemy assets, whether personnel or equipment, in high-intensity engagements. “Robots have many battlefield advantages over traditional human-inhabited vehicles,” Scharre asserts. Unmanned vehicles “can be made smaller, lighter, faster, and more maneuverable.” They can stay on the battlefield longer without rest and “can take more risk, opening up tactical opportunities for dangerous or even suicidal missions without risking [friendly] human lives.”

The U.S. Army showcased “maneuver robotics and autonomous systems” at a live-fire event August 22, 2017 at Fort Benning, Ga. (U.S. Army photo/Patrick Albright, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs)Aside from this obvious lure, several other factors are driving the race to develop and deploy autonomous weapons systems. These include the incredible progress being made on AI in the civilian sphere, visions of a future battlespace in which the speed and complexity of action exceeds human comprehension and the ability to respond, and fears of an arms race in AI and autonomous weapons systems, with the United States potentially being left behind.

AI is crucial to the further development of autonomous weapons systems as it invests them with a cognitive ability until now only exercised by humans, including the capacity to distinguish potential targets from background clutter and independently choose to eradicate the threat. In a striking shift from current military procurement practices, most of the critical advances in AI and machine learning are coming not from the established arms industry but from startups located in technology centers such as Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

These tech firms are responsible for the image-identification systems and other technologies that make feasible self-driving cars; and once you have built a self-driving car, it is not a great leap to make a self-driving, self-firing tank or plane. Needless to say, this has military planners almost giddy imagining all the possible battlefield applications.

Pentagon officials are especially keen to explore these potentialities because they envision a future battlespace characterized by extremely fast-paced, intense combat among well-equipped adversaries. This reflects the onward march of technology and the assessment, spelled out in the December 2017 “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” that we have entered a new phase of history in which geopolitical competition with China and Russia has replaced terrorism as the principal threat to U.S. security.

Any future military engagement with one or both of these countries would, it is widely assumed, entail the simultaneous use of countless planes, missiles, tanks, and ships in a highly contested battle zone. In such encounters, human operators may not be able to keep track of and destroy all potential targets within their portion of the battlespace, and so the temptation to let machines assume those critical tasks can only grow.

This leads to the next key factor, a fear of an arms race in AI, with U.S. adversaries conceivably jumping ahead in the burgeoning contest to deploy autonomous weapons systems on the battlefield. As Scharre ruefully indicates, the United States is not the only country that possesses the tech centers capable of generating AI advances and of applying them to military use. In fact, other countries, including China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Israel, are moving swiftly in this direction.

Just how far they have proceeded is a matter of considerable speculation, with some analysts claiming that China and Russia, in particular, have achieved great strides. Yet, even if those assessments are exaggerated, as may be the case, they are sufficient to undergird Pentagon assertions that more must be done to ensure U.S. leadership in the AI and autonomous weapons field. At this point, Scharre observes, “the main rationale for building fully autonomous weapons seems to be the assumption that others might do so,” putting the United States at a disadvantage. This, he writes, risks becoming a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Moral and Legal Dimensions

As Scharre makes very clear, the deployment and use of fully autonomous weapons systems on the battlefield will entail a revolutionary transformation in the conduct of warfare, with machines conceivably being granted the ability to decide on their own to take human life. There is, of course, some uncertainty as to how much autonomy future weapons will be granted and whether they will ever be fully “untethered” from human supervision.

The U.S. Navy is continuing research on the Sea Hunter, a prototype for what could become a new class of surface-warfare vessels able to travel thousands of miles over open seas for months at a time without a single crew member aboard. The experimental anti-submarine drone warship developed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). (Photo: DARPA)As Scharre demonstrates, however, the technology to empower killing machines with an ability to operate independently is emerging rapidly, and the use of this technology in warfare appears almost inevitable. This sparks important moral and legal questions: moral in the sense that investing machines with the capacity to take a human life potentially absolves their operators’ responsibility for any injustices that might occur and legal in that the use of lethal autonomous weapons could violate international humanitarian law.

In addressing the moral dimensions, Scharre draws on his extensive experience as a U.S. Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one of his most arresting passages, he describes an incident in which he and some fellow soldiers, while positioned atop a mountain ridge on the Afghan-Pakistani border, observed a girl perhaps five or six years old, herding goats nearby. In the stillness of the mountain air, they could hear her talking on a radio—a clear indication she was scouting their position for a Taliban force hiding nearby. Under the rules of war, Scharre explains, the young girl was an enemy combatant, putting his unit at risk, and so could have been shot. Yet, he chose not to, acting out of an innate moral impulse. “My fellow soldiers and I knew killing her would be morally wrong. We didn’t even discuss it.” Could machines ever be trained to make this distinction? Scharre is highly doubtful.

War is an ugly, brutal activity; and humans, despite numerous efforts over the centuries, have failed to prevent its regular recurrence. Yet, humans have sought to impose some limits on killing, believing that basic morality or religious principle forbids bloodletting of certain kinds, such as the killing of unarmed civilians or wounded enemy soldiers. Efforts have been made to formalize these natural inhibitions in law or religious scripture, but it has often proved difficult to inscribe precisely what is deemed acceptable and what is not. Yet, as Scharre notes, there are situations in which it is self-evident to humans that certain behaviors should not be allowed to occur. However smart the machines are made, he argues, they are never likely to acquire the capacity to make such judgments in the heat of battle and so require some human oversight.

This same conundrum applies to the legal dimensions. International humanitarian law, as codified in the Geneva Protocols of 1949, decrees that parties to war must distinguish between enemy combatants and civilians when conducting combat operations and not deliberately target the latter. It also affirms that any civilian casualties that do occur in battle not be disproportionate to the military necessity of attacking that position. Opponents of the deployment of lethal autonomous weapons systems argue that only humans possess the necessary judgment to make such fine distinctions in the heat of battle and that machines will never be capable of possessing such critical judgment and so should be banned entirely.1

Scharre says it is theoretically possible to design machines smart enough to comply with international humanitarian law, but acknowledges that the risk of misjudgment will always be present when machines make life-and-death decisions, hence invalidating their use without human supervision.

The Risk of Escalation

Most of Scharre’s discussion concerns the potential use of lethal autonomous weapons systems on the conventional battlefield, with robot tanks and planes fighting alongside human-occupied combat systems. His principal concern in these settings is that the robots will behave like rogue soldiers, failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants in heavily contested urban battlegrounds or even firing on friendly forces, mistaking them for the enemy. Scharre is also aware of the danger that greater autonomy will further boost the speed of future engagements and reduce human oversight of the fighting, possibly increasing the danger of unintended escalation, including nuclear escalation.

Two aspects of increased autonomy appear to have particular relevance for nuclear escalation and arms control: the temptation to endow machines with greater authority to make launch decisions of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or other nuclear munitions in the event of a major great-power crisis and the potential use of AI-empowered systems to suss out the location of ballistic missile submarines and mobile ICBM launchers, hence boosting the risk of a first-strike attack in such a situation.

An illustration of the Israeli-produced Harpy unmanned aerial vehicle, a “fire and forget” autonomous system that detects, identifies, and attacks enemy radars. The manufacturer, Israel Aerospace Industries, says the Harpy provides a “continuous, persistent lethal threat to enemy air defense systems.” (Illustration: Israel Aerospace Industries)As the speed of military engagements accelerates, Scharre writes, it will become ever more difficult for humans to keep track of all the combat systems, enemy and friendly, on the battlefield, increasing the temptation to give machines more control over maneuvering and firing decisions. Highly intelligent machines could help relieve them of this pressure by monitoring all that is occurring and taking action when deemed necessary, in accordance with previously inserted computer protocols, to ensure a successful outcome.

Machines can make mistakes nevetheless, and the protocols may not account for unexpected turns on the battlefield, leading to erroneous and disastrous outcomes, such as a decision to employ nuclear munitions. Just as worrisome, machines would never know when to slow the pace of fighting to allow negotiations or even to call a halt. “Unlike humans,” Scharre writes, “autonomous weapons would have no ability to understand the consequences of their actions, no ability to step back from the brink of war.”

Another worry is that dramatic increases in AI-driven image identification will be combined with improved drone technology to create autonomous systems capable of searching for and conceivably destroying ground-based mobile missile launchers and submerged submarines carrying ballistic missiles. Most major nuclear powers rely on mobile missile systems to ensure their ability to retaliate in the event of an enemy first strike, thereby bolstering deterrence of just such an attack. With existing technology, it is almost impossible to monitor the location of an adversary’s ground-based mobile launchers and missile-carrying submarines in real time, making a completely disarming first strike nearly impossible.

Some analysts, including Scharre, worry that future AI-powered drones (ships, aircraft, and submersibles) will possess the capacity to achieve such monitoring, making a first strike of this sort theoretically possible. Indeed, Scharre describes several projects now underway, such as the Pentagon’s Sea Hunter vessel, that could lead in this direction. Even if such systems do not prove entirely reliable, their future deployment could lead national leaders to fear an enemy first strike in a crisis and so launch their own weapons before they can be destroyed. Alternatively, the other party, fearing precisely such a response, may fire first to avoid such an outcome.

As Scharre laments, policymakers have devoted far too little attention to these potentially escalatory consequences of fielding increasingly capable autonomous weapons systems. Although the record of attempts to control emerging technologies through international agreements is decidedly mixed, he argues that some constraints are essential to ensure continued human supervision of critical battlefield decisions. Humans, he concludes, act as an essential “fail-safe” to prevent catastrophic outcomes.

No one who reads Army of None carefully can come away without concluding that the global battlespace is being transformed in multiple ways by the introduction of AI-powered autonomous weapons systems and that the pace of transformation is bound to increase as these machines become ever more capable.

As Scharre persuasively demonstrates in this important new book, progress in autonomous weaponry is occurring much faster than attempts to understand or regulate such devices. Unless there is a concerted effort to grapple with the potential impacts of these new technologies and develop appropriate safeguards, we could face a future in which machines make momentous decisions we come to regret.


1. For a comprehensive summary of these arguments, see Human Rights Watch, Making the Case: The Dangers of Killer Robots and the Need for a Preemptive Ban, December 9, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/12/09/making-case/dangers-killer-robots-and-need-preemptive-ban.


Michael Klare is a professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association.

Paul Scharre’s book is essential reading for anyone seeking to grasp the monumental changes occurring in the realm of military technology.

Memo: Clinton and Yeltsin on the Nuclear ‘Football’

November 2018

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, during their March 1997 summit in Helsinki, discussed over dinner their common burden of having an always-close-by nuclear “football,” a briefcase containing documents and communications gear necessary to initiate nuclear war.

As described in a recently declassified U.S. memorandum, the two leaders compared experiences of having briefly surrendered nuclear authority while undergoing medical operations. Clinton talked about the U.S. procedures for passing power temporarily to the vice president. Yeltsin recalls that, at the time of his 1996 heart surgery, he briefly passed authority, and his nuclear briefcase, to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The following is an excerpt from the official U.S. memorandum of conversation, released by the Clinton Presidential Library, in which Yeltsin jokes about the brief handoff to the prime minister:

President Yeltsin: Chernomyrdin did not have very long to play with these toys.

The President: Well let's hope none of us ever have to play too much with those toys.

President Yeltsin: I have actually taken part in an exercise with the Russian “football” at one point that involved launching a warhead onto the Kamchatka Peninsula.

(The President then describes the plot of the movie “Crimson Tide” and how it has demonstrated some of the dangers of being on a nuclear-hair trigger, although he says his people have told him that the plot of “Crimson Tide” could not actually happen.)

President Yeltsin: What if we were to give up having to have our finger next to the button all the time? We have plenty of other ways of keeping in touch with each other. They always know where to find us, so perhaps we could agree that it is not necessary for us to carry the chemodanchik (Russian term for their equivalent of the “football”).

The President: Well, I'll have to think about this. All we carry, of course, are the codes and the secure phone.

President Yeltsin: Yes, you and I are the only leaders who have to do this.

(The President calls on [U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe] Talbott to comment.)

Talbott: Mr. President, given the responsibilities of your office and President Yeltsin's, it makes more sense for the two of you to have these devices with you at all times rather than to have the function assigned to a computer somewhere or to anyone else.

The President: Well, if we do the right thing in the next four years, maybe we won't have to think as much about this problem. This issue of nuclear reduction is very important. If we were able to get to the place where our successors could go even lower than 2,000 nuclear weapons on all sides, then we would have to come to some understanding with the Chinese and the Indians and others, because it's absolutely crazy for countries as poor as those to have to waste so much money on nuclear weapons.

(It was on that subject that the dinner ended.)

In a recently declassified U.S memorandum, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin discussed their common burden of having an always-close-by nuclear “football.”

Trump to Withdraw U.S. From INF Treaty

November 2018
By Kingston Reif

President Donald Trump announced in October that he plans to “terminate” the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, raising concerns about the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere and the future of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with John Bolton, U.S. national security adviser, at the Kremlin on October 23. (Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/AFP/Getty Images )Trump’s sudden decision follows a years-long U.S.-Russian dispute about whether Moscow has developed and deployed a prohibited missile, known by its apparent Russian designation 9M729, and comes amid fears expressed by some government officials and defense policy experts that China, which is not a party to the INF Treaty, is gaining a military advantage in East Asia by deploying large numbers of treaty-noncompliant missiles.

Still, critics of Trump’s withdrawal plan argue that it recklessly removes all constraints on the deployment of Russia’s illegal missiles, lets Russia off the hook for its violation, and goes against the wishes of allies in Europe and elsewhere who want to preserve the treaty. They also claim that the administration has not exhausted all diplomatic, economic, and military options to pressure Russia to return to compliance and that the military can counter China by continuing to field air- and sea-launched cruise missiles that do not violate the accord.

The president’s decision to withdraw from the treaty appears to have come together quickly and demonstrates the strong influence of his national security adviser, John Bolton, a forceful, longtime critic of the INF Treaty and New START.

“Russia has violated the agreement; they have been violating it for many years,” Trump said after a Oct. 20 campaign rally in Elko, Nevada. “And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to.”

“We’ll have to develop those weapons,” Trump said, referring to the intermediate-range missiles prohibited by the treaty, “unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say, ‘Let’s really get smart, and let’s none of us develop those weapons.’”

“[B]ut if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” he added.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Since 2014, Washington has accused Moscow of violating its commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) having a range prohibited under the INF Treaty. The Trump administration later identified the missile as the 9M729. In 2017, the Pentagon alleged that Russia began fielding the missile.

Moscow has denied both charges and accused the United States of violating the treaty, most notably by deploying missile defense interceptor platforms in eastern Europe that Russia claims could be used for offensive purposes. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the compliance dispute have been limited and unsuccessful.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the U.S. plan to withdraw from the treaty could lead to a new arms race and said that any nation that hosts U.S. intermediate-range missiles will “put their own territory under the threat of a possible counterstrike.”

Yet, some Russian officials were less harsh in their criticism. After a meeting Oct. 22 between Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, the Russian Security Council issued a statement expressing “its readiness for the joint work aimed at eliminating mutual grievances relating to the implementation of this treaty.”

Trump’s announcement pitted him, once again, against an array of international friends and rivals. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that Beijing opposes a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty.

U.S. allies in Europe and Asia also criticized the decision. The European Union declared in a statement that the United States should “consider the consequences of its possible withdrawal from the INF [Treaty] on its own security, on the security of its allies and of the whole world.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “ending the treaty would have many negative consequences.” Likewise, Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, called a U.S. withdrawal “undesirable.”

Soviet inspectors and their U.S. escorts stand among Pershing II missiles dismantled in accordance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in January 1989. (Photo: U.S. Defense Department)Trump’s withdrawal plan is proving controversial in Congress, drawing a glimmer of bipartisan criticism. In an Oct. 24 letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the ranking members on the House armed services and foreign affairs committees, respectively, said a U.S. withdrawal from the treaty “would risk an arms race, would jeopardize the security of our allies in Europe and Asia, and would significantly undermine U.S. leadership on arms control.”

Some Republican lawmakers also expressed opposition. “I hope we’re not moving down the path to undo much of the nuclear arms control treaties that we have put in place,” retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Oct. 21. “I think that would be a huge mistake.”

Other Republicans backed Trump, including his new close ally Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who said withdrawal is “absolutely the right move” because “the Russians have been cheating.”

Lawmakers cannot prevent the president from withdrawing from the agreement, but they could withhold funding to develop new land-based intermediate-range missiles.

The Republican-controlled Congress in September approved the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2019 budget request of $48 million for research and development on and concepts and options for conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty.

But the opposition of Democratic lawmakers to withdrawing from the treaty could lead to debate over whether to continue to fund such research if Democrats retake either chamber in the November midterm elections.

Even if the United States were to develop the weapons, they would need to be deployed on the territory of allies neighboring Russia and China. So far, no country has said that it would be willing to host such missiles.

Last December, before Bolton joined the administration, the State Department announced an integrated diplomatic, economic, and military strategy designed to pressure Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. (See ACT, December 2017.) But it is not clear what parts of the strategy have been executed and whether the administration presented Russia with a diplomatic proposal to resolve the compliance stalemate.

When asked at an Oct. 23 press conference in Moscow following meetings with Putin and other top Russian officials whether there were options to preserve the treaty, Bolton said that “the treaty was outmoded, being violated, and being ignored by other countries.” He likened the decision to the George W. Bush administration’s decision in 2002 to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Bolton said the United States will deliver to Russia “in due course” a formal withdrawal notification. Once that is done, the treaty requires the United States to wait six months before it can actually leave the agreement.

In the likely event that the INF Treaty collapses, the only remaining U.S.-Russian arms control agreement would be New START, which expires in 2021 but can be extended by up to five years through agreement by both parties.

Bolton, while in Moscow, reiterated that the United States does not yet have a position on whether it favors extending the agreement. (See ACT, September 2018.) If New START is allowed to expire without a replacement, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972.

Trump cites Russian cheating while international allies and rivals decry his action.

U.S., North Korea Agree to Intensify Talks

November 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States and North Korea agreed in October to intensify negotiations after a months-long impasse following the historic June summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief may complicate the diplomatic process.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un hosts a working lunch with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang on October 7.  (Photo: U.S. Department of State)North Korea has sent mixed signals about its potential terms for nuclear-related concessions. After initially pressing for a declaration formally ending the Korean War, which would be a largely symbolic U.S. political concession, Pyongyang is shifting to indicate it wants to receive tangible financial benefits sooner than envisioned by the Trump administration.

North Korea has signaled that its initial moves toward denuclearization, such as dismantling its nuclear test site and a rocket launch facility, should bring relief from tight U.S. and UN economic sanctions. The Trump administration maintains that sanctions should remain intact as a main source of pressure. “The sanctions will stay in place until denuclearization occurs,” Trump said in remarks to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25.

During an Oct. 7 trip to Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim, where the two sides agreed to hold more frequent, higher-level working group meetings. Pompeo told the media on Oct. 9 that he hoped this process would “deliver some good outcomes” at a second Trump-Kim summit.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described Kim’s meeting with Pompeo as “productive and wonderful” and said that the two discussed detailed “proposals for solving the denuclearization issue and matters of concern of both sides.”

The meeting appears to indicate that talks are back on track after faltering over disagreements between North Korea and the United States on the next steps following the Singapore summit. The Trump administration wanted to see North Korea take additional steps toward denuclearization while North Korea emphasized that a declaration ending the Korean War should be the next step. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The stalemate led Trump to cancel Pompeo’s scheduled visit to Pyongyang in August. Pompeo indicated in September that Washington’s position on pursing a declaration and its willingness to engage in a step-by-step process shifted, helping pave the way for his Oct. 7 visit.

Pompeo confirmed that he discussed the prospect of a second Trump-Kim summit during his visit, but did not provide any details as to the location or timing. U.S. State Department officials have been quoted in the press saying the summit will not take place before early 2019.

Heightened disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief, however, may complicate negotiations going forward.

In initial statements after the June 12 summit, North Korea downplayed its interest in sanctions relief and focused on a peace declaration as the next step that the United States could take to create an environment more conducive to further denuclearization steps. Yet, in recent statements, Pyongyang has criticized the continued U.S. pressure campaign and begun to put more emphasis on the importance of sanctions relief earlier in the process.

A KCNA commentary published on Oct. 20 stated that although Pompeo’s visit was a “great achievement,” U.S. talk of sustaining sanctions is “heard so much” and “unpleasant to the ear.”

The piece urged the United States to “act in the elementary give-and-take principle” and said Americans should stop asserting that pressure is the “main card” in the U.S.-North Korean relationship.

North Korea is not alone in advocating for sanctions relief. Russian and Chinese officials raised the prospect of revisiting UN sanctions in recognition of steps taken by Pyongyang to halt nuclear and long-range missile testing during a Sept. 27 Security Council meeting on North Korea.

When officials from North Korea, Russia, and China met in Moscow on Oct. 9, the trilateral statement issued after the meeting said that “taking notice of the significant, practical steps for denuclearization taken by [North Korea], the three parties reached a consensus on the need for the [UN Security Council] to activate the process of adjusting sanctions upon [North Korea] in time.”

The United States has consistently maintained that sanctions will not be lifted until the denuclearization process is complete. It remains unclear if the United States will make any exceptions to allow joint projects between North Korea and South Korea to go forward.

South Korea reaffirmed its commitment to abide by all UN sanctions during the Sept. 27 Security Council meeting, but President Moon Jae-in has also raised the prospect of easing measures if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization rather than waiting until the end of the process to lift restrictions.

After an Oct. 15 meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Moon said that “if North Korea’s denuclearization is judged to enter an irreversible phase, its denuclearization should be further facilitated by easing UN sanctions.” Moon said on Oct. 19 that the Security Council is the appropriate forum for discussing easing sanctions and humanitarian assistance if North Korea takes the appropriate steps toward “irreversible” denuclearization, but he did not provide any details about what that would constitute.

Moon has clearly stated his interest pursing infrastructure projects to link North and South Korea and resuming operations at Kaesong, a joint development complex, as part of the inter-Korean process. These actions will require sanctions waivers.

It is also unclear what next steps the United States is looking for North Korea to take on denuclearization. The Trump administration asked for a declaration detailing the scope of North Korea’s nuclear program after the Singapore summit, but it is unclear if the United States is still pursuing this path.

Moon announced after the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in September that North Korea was willing to allow inspectors at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

After his meeting with Kim, Pompeo confirmed that North Korea invited inspectors to visit its nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled, with the visit to occur “as soon as we get it logistically worked out.”

North Korea voluntarily pledged to halt nuclear testing in April and in May demolished with explosives test tunnels at the site. Yet, after initially saying that members of the press and experts could observe the closure, North Korea limited the invitation to select media outlets. As a result, there has been no independent expert confirmation of the extent of North Korea’s actions.

Pompeo did not specify if the inspections will be conducted by the United States or a multilateral team or if the group will include representatives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which has protocols for conducting on-site inspections after suspected nuclear tests.

North Korea has not provided any details in its public statements regarding expert inspections.

The Pyongyang declaration issued by Kim and Moon said North Korea would dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which houses the reactor and reprocessing facility that North Korea uses to produce separated plutonium for nuclear weapons and a uranium-enrichment facility, in return for “corresponding measures” by the United States.

Neither South Korea nor North Korea provided much detail on what measures Pyongyang is seeking, and Pompeo did not provide any additional details on the prospects for actions to be taken at Yongbyon after his talks in Pyongyang.



Disagreements over the timing of sanctions relief may complicate the diplomatic process.

Congress Funds Low-Yield Nuclear Warhead

November 2018
By Kingston Reif

Congress voted to fund a Trump administration proposal to develop of a small number of low-yield nuclear warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) despite strong opposition from Democrats.

The Trump administration wants a new low-yield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which critics warn could lower the threshold for nuclear use. Above, the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Tennessee returns to its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., following a routine patrol mission. (Photo: U.S. Navy)The disapproval of Democratic lawmakers, particularly in the House, presages a contentious fight over whether to deploy the weapon if Democrats retake that chamber in the midterm elections.

Congress approved $87.5 million for the warhead as part of the fiscal year 2019 energy and water and defense appropriations bills. President Donald Trump signed both bills into law as part of two larger appropriations packages on Sept. 21 and Sept. 28, respectively.

Fiscal year 2019 began on Oct. 1. Before this year, Congress had not passed more than one appropriations bill before the start of the fiscal year since 2007.

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report released in February called for the development of two additional low-yield nuclear capabilities primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use or threat to use tactical nuclear weapons on a limited basis to stave off defeat in a conventional conflict or crisis, a strategy known as “escalate to de-escalate.” (See ACT, March 2018.) Russia possesses a larger and more diverse arsenal of such weapons than the United States.

In addition to the low-yield SLBM warhead, the administration wants to develop a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) that could be available for fielding within the next decade.

According to the NPR report, the development of the two options “is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear war-fighting.’” Rather, expanding U.S. tailored response options will “raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” according to the report.

Critics maintain that the report misconstrues Russian nuclear doctrine and that additional low-yield options are unnecessary.

The fiscal year 2019 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Energy Department, included $65 million for modification of a small number of 100-kiloton W76-1 SLBM warheads so that they detonate at a less powerful yield. The Defense Department requested $22.6 million for developing the low-yield variant. (See ACT, April 2018.) The department plans to spend a total of $48.5 million on the effort over the next five years.

Congress provided $1 million in fiscal year 2019, the same as the budget request, to begin an analysis of the performance requirements and costs to pursue development of the new SLCM.

Democrats in the Senate and House offered several amendments to this year’s national defense authorization bill and energy and water and defense appropriations bills that would have curtailed funding for and required more information from the Trump administration about the low-yield warhead.

For example, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in May offered an amendment to the energy and water bill in the Senate appropriations committee that would have eliminated the $65 million requested by the NNSA for the low-yield SLBM warhead. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 12–19. Three Democratic senators joined every Republican in opposing the amendment.

In June, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to the energy and water bill on the House floor that also would have eliminated the NNSA request for the low-yield warhead. The amendment failed by a vote of 177–241, with all but 15 Democrats supporting the amendment.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee who would become chairman if the Democrats win back the House, has been one of the most vocal congressional critics of the low-yield warhead and the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons policy more broadly.

“I think that the Republican Party and the [Pentagon’s] Nuclear Posture Review contemplates a lot more nuclear weapons than I and most Democrats think we need,” Smith said at a conference in Virginia in September.

“We also think the idea of low-yield nuclear weapons are extremely problematic going forward, and when we look at the larger budget picture, that is not the best place to spend the money,” he added.

The defense appropriations law supports and, in several cases, increases funding above the Trump administration’s proposed budget request for programs to sustain and rebuild nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and their supporting infrastructure.

The law provides a $200 million increase above the budget request of $3.7 billion for the program to build a fleet of 12 new ballistic missile submarines. The law also funds an additional $50 million above the budget request of $615 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $69 million above the request of $345 million for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.

The energy and water law provides $11.1 billion for nuclear weapons activities conducted by the NNSA, an increase of about $90 million above the budget request and $500 million more than last year’s appropriation.

On missile defense, Congress approved $11.3 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, an increase of $1.4 billion from the budget request of $9.9 billion. The additional funds include $126 million for enhanced discrimination capabilities, $85 million to support using lasers to intercept missiles in their boost phase, and $46 million for hypersonic missile defense efforts.

The defense law does not include funding to begin developing a space-based ballistic missile defense interceptor layer. The fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Defense Department to pursue such a layer regardless of whether the long-delayed missile defense review recommends such an action. (See ACT, September 2018.)

The reasons for the delay in the completion of the review, originally expected to be released in February, are unclear.

The defense law provides $617 million more than the budget request to support and accelerate offensive and defensive hypersonic research and prototyping efforts to maintain U.S. technology superiority and ability to fight and win a possible future war with Russia and China. The speed, flight altitude, and maneuverability of such weapons result in less warning time than in the case of higher-flying ballistic missiles and make them much more difficult to target with missile defenses. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Congress also approved the Pentagon’s budget request of $48 million for research and development on and concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Trump announced in October that he plans to withdraw the United States from the treaty due to Russia’s violation and to counter China, which is not a party to the agreement.

The energy and water law includes $1.4 billion for core NNSA fissile material security and nonproliferation efforts, an increase of about $150 million from the budget request. The additional funding supports stepped-up efforts to secure and eliminate radiological materials that could be used in a so-called dirty bomb and to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium to produce molybdenum-99, a medical isotope.


Trump signs defense-related spending bills.

Nuclear Ban Treaty Reaches 19 States-Parties

November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons gained seven additional signatories and four additional states-parties at a second signing ceremony Sept. 26, the United Nations-declared International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

Myanmar’s Union Minister for International Cooperation U Kyaw Tim signs the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on behalf of his country, also known as Burma, on Sept. 26 at the United Nations. (Photo: ICAN / Darren Ornitz Photography)Two countries signed the treaty shortly after the ceremony, bringing the total number of states-parties to 19 and signatories to 69 as of Nov. 1. The treaty enters into force after ratification by 50 states.

“I love seeing states sign and ratify #nuclearban treaty,” Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), wrote on Twitter. “Each one of these states is chipping away at the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and moving us closer to a world without nuclear weapons.”

The treaty, adopted in July 2017 and opened for signature two months later, includes prohibitions on the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of nuclear weapons for all states-parties. It also stipulates that states-parties must provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and environmental remediation for land affected by nuclear weapons.

“When the treaty was opened for signature one year ago, the secretary-general noted that it was the ‘product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,’” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, stated at the recent ceremony. “The number of signatures and ratifications to date shows that these concerns remain paramount in many states’ minds.”

Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Brunei, Guinea-Bissau, Myanmar, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, and Timor-Leste signed the treaty at the signing ceremony; Gambia, Samoa, San Marino, and Vanuatu ratified it. Twenty-one of the 69 treaty signatories are from the African continent, 13 from Asia, 13 from North America, 10 from South America, seven from Oceania, and five from Europe, including the Holy See. The Oceanic region has the most states-parties (five), while Africa has the fewest, with only one.

The pace of signatures and ratifications is similar to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which had 71 signatories and 14 states-parties a year after it opened for signature.

Close to 50 non-nuclear-armed countries expressed support for the treaty during the initial week of the UN General Assembly First Committee meeting. However, nuclear-armed countries and many of their allies scorn the treaty, as reflected in several of their statements and a strong joint denunciation by China, France, Russia, the UK and the United States. Proponents of the treaty “do not offer solutions to these security challenges, or even acknowledge that they play a role in states’ thinking about deterrence and disarmament…. Instead, they seem to believe that we can skip to the final step of this process—simply banning nuclear weapons—and trust that the details will work themselves out,” Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee on Oct. 10.

Several states have recently published reports on their investigations into national consequences for treaty accession. Sweden, which launched such an inquiry a year ago, has said that it would publish the results by Oct. 31. The Swiss government decided in August against signing, although there is continuing action in the legislature favoring signature. (See ACT, May 2018.) Norway, a NATO member covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, released its review in early October. Kjølv Egeland, a fellow at the Norwegian Academy of International Law, tweeted on Oct. 9 that the report concludes that Norway signing the treaty is “off the table for now,” given that it would contradict nuclear deterrence policy.

Civil society groups, such as the Norwegian Academy of International Law, have issued reports considering the implications of joining the treaty. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Sweden, an ICAN partner organization, published a compilation of essays urging Swedish ratification and examining the treaty’s relationship to Swedish security arrangements and trade. On Oct. 29, Norwegian People’s Aid, a member of ICAN’s steering committee, released the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, assessing the compliance of 197 states with the treaty.

But nuclear-armed states and their allies remain steadfastly opposed.


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