Login/Logout

*
*  

"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
November 2018

Arms Control Today November 2018

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

Russia Charged With OPCW Hacking Attempt


November 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The European Union established a new mechanism for chemical weapons sanctions, days after several countries blamed Russian intelligence operatives for attempting to hack computers at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Four Russian intelligence agents were caught in April as they allegedly tried to hack into the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons using equipment in a car parked adjacent to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague. (Photo: OPCW)The sanctions framework approved by EU foreign ministers last month reflects an effort by the Europeans to bolster international norms against chemical weapons use at a time when the legal prohibition established by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has been violated by Russia and Syria, both states-parties to the accord.

Russian efforts to compromise independent investigations into its own chemical weapons use and that of Syria will be a key issue when CWC states-parties gather for the treaty’s fourth review conference in November. Russia has denounced an agreement to strengthen the OPCW’s ability to investigate and attribute blame for chemical weapons use, and Western governments say Moscow has sought to interfere with the work of the OPCW.

The Dutch Defense Ministry announced on Oct. 4 that, in April, it had disrupted an attempted Russian cyberattack on the chemical weapons watchdog agency. Dutch authorities stated that four agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency were spotted in a car filled with electronic equipment “installed for the purpose of infiltrating the OPCW’s network” parked adjacent to OPCW headquarters in The Hague. The Russian agents were detained and then expelled.

“Our exposure of this Russian operation is intended as an unambiguous message that the Russian Federation must refrain from such actions,” said Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld on Oct. 10.

At the time of the attempted breach, the OPCW was investigating a chemical weapons attack against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, United Kingdom, which the United Kingdom and other countries have accused Moscow of carrying out with use of the Russian nerve agent Novichok. (See ACT, April 2018.)

The UK seconded Dutch allegations of Russian efforts to hack into the OPCW and published additional accusations of attempted GRU cyberattacks to disrupt investigations of chemical weapons use.

The UK National Security Centre in an Oct. 4 statement identified a number of pseudonyms that GRU personnel used in cyberattacks around the world. Additional attempted Russian attacks included a so-called spear-phishing attack in March aimed at compromising UK Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and a similar May effort in which GRU agents impersonated Swiss federal authorities to target OPCW officials. Spear phishing refers to using deceptive emails that seem to be from a known or trusted sender in order to gain access to a computer or network.

“The GRU’s actions are reckless and indiscriminate,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Oct. 4. “This pattern of behavior demonstrates their desire to operate without regard to international law or established norms and to do so with a feeling of impunity and without consequences.”

Russia rejected the allegations, continuing a pattern of denial of chemical weapons use or possession.

“We are watching with regret how the U.S. authorities continue to poison the atmosphere of Russian-American relations by bringing ever new groundless accusations against Russia, which certain other NATO countries would hurry to repeat at the command from Washington,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov wrote on Oct. 4. “Russia is used to these U.S. methods but the purposeful fomenting of tensions in relations between nuclear powers and internationally is a dangerous path.”

The Europeans and the United States hastened to punish Russia for its alleged cybercrimes and chemical weapons use. On Oct. 4, a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania charged seven GRU agents with planning cyberattacks against various entities including the OPCW and the Spiez Swiss Chemical Laboratory, an OPCW-affiliated laboratory, which was analyzing Novichok agent, as well as U.S. and international anti-doping agencies and sports federations.

On Oct. 15, a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg adopted a new regime of restrictive measures against those who use or develop chemical weapons or those who assist to do so, regardless of nationality. The sanctions include a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze, according to an Oct. 15 press release.

No individuals have been sanctioned under the new mechanism, although the two GRU individuals identified by the UK as responsible for the UK poisonings in Salisbury and nearby Amesbury will likely be considered.

Members of the OPCW Executive Council, who met shortly after the announcement about the attempted Russian hack into the chemical weapons watchdog, and all CWC states-parties, who are scheduled to meet at the Nov. 21–30 CWC review conference, face pressure to find measures to counter the erosion of the norm against chemical weapons use and attempted Russian meddling into international investigations.

At the Oct. 9–12 OPCW Executive Council meeting, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States proposed adding Novichok to the list of chemicals specifically prohibited by name by the CWC.

Several states also expressed support for OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias to create a new OPCW attribution mechanism approved at the June special session of CWC states-parties, which would investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

Russia, in a statement by the foreign ministry, denounced the decision to provide the OPCW with the attribution authority, calling it the result of “political manipulations, direct bribery of a number of delegations, and blatant blackmail.” The June 28 statement said the action was outside the limited authority established by the CWC and “jeopardizes the integrity of the CWC.”

The previous attribution mechanism for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, was forced to shut down after Russia vetoed its continued operation at the UN Security Council. (See ACT, December 2017.) Subsequent attempts at the UN Security Council to restart attribution investigations were also blocked by Russia.

“The upcoming review conference provides an opportunity to reflect on the last five years of the work of this organization and set direction for the next five years,” Peter Wilson, UK ambassador to the Netherlands, said at the OPCW Executive Council meeting. “We must face up to the reality that our hard-won gains against the scourge of chemical weapons are being challenged like never before. We must stand together against chemical weapons use, and we must ensure that the OPCW and our new director-general have the tools they need to face the next five years.”

 

Russia has denounced international agreement to empower watchdog to attribute blame for chemical weapons use.

Israel Claims Secret Nuclear Site in Iran


November 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed what he described as a secret nuclear warehouse in Iran and publicly called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to visit the site, putting pressure on the international watchdog agency that could hamper its independence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the United Nations, uses a visual aid to highlight his allegations about a “secret atomic warehouse” in Tehran. His comments were misleading, according to two U.S. intelligence officials cited by Reuters. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)Netanyahu’s allegations come as the United States is pressuring countries to support its sanctions on Iran and as the remaining P4+1 parties (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) to the July 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran are taking steps to work around the coercive U.S. measures and preserve the accord. (See ACT, October 2018.)

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 27, Netanyahu described the facility in central Tehran as a “secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.” Netanyahu called on IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano to “do the right thing” and inspect the warehouse “immediately” before Iran finished clearing it out.

Amano pushed back in an Oct. 2 statement, saying that the agency does not take any information at “face value.” Although Amano did not mention Netanyahu directly, he said that all material, including that received from third parties, is subject to a rigorous and independent assessment. Further, Amano said that IAEA nuclear verification work “must always be impartial, factual, and professional” and that the agency’s independence is “of paramount importance.”

Netanyahu’s remarks garnered headlines around the world, but it remains unclear whether the facility is of interest to the IAEA. Still, Netanyahu’s comments could complicate work by the agency. IAEA inspectors should visit the facility if their assessment determines that an inspection is warranted. Yet, if inspectors visit the site now, it may appear as if the IAEA is acting at Israel’s behest, which would jeopardize the agency’s credibility and independence.

Brandishing a picture of the facility, Netanyahu charged that Iran removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material from the warehouse in August. It is not clear if Netanyahu was referring to uranium, plutonium, or another radioactive material. Possession of undeclared uranium or plutonium would violate Iran’s safeguards agreement and the multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but radioactive materials used for a variety of purposes, including medical and industrial activities, are not subject to the same restrictions.

U.S. intelligence officials also disputed Netanyahu’s description of the facility and said his comments were misleading. One intelligence official quoted by Reuters on Sept. 27 said that the facility has been known to the U.S. intelligence community for some time and is full of documents, not nuclear equipment. The officials said that “so far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out” of the nuclear deal any faster. Iranian officials immediately denounced Netanyahu’s accusation as a farce, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Sept. 30 that Netanyahu is “desperately seeking to find a pretext to create hype” about Iran’s nuclear program.

This is the second time Netanyahu has publicly revealed what he describes as secret information tied to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In February 2018, Israel stole archival material from a facility in Iran that appears to document activities related to the country’s nuclear weapons development and shared the information with several states and the IAEA.

Netanyahu publicly revealed that the raid took place and released some details from the stolen material at a press conference in April, just weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions, despite Iran’s compliance with the provisions of the deal. Israel is one of the few states that encouraged Trump to withdraw from the accord.

In his Sept. 27 speech, Netanyahu claimed that the IAEA “has still not taken any action” following up on the archival material and “has not demanded to inspect a single new site.”

The information shared publicly confirms what the IAEA and the U.S. intelligence community already concluded, that Iran had an organized illicit nuclear weapons program that it abandoned in 2003, although some activities continued. The IAEA reported in 2015 that it had no evidence of nuclear activities with military dimensions after 2009.

Netanyahu’s allegation that the IAEA has done nothing appears to be at odds with the U.S. assessment.

During the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on Sept. 11–14, Nicole Shampaine, an official at the U.S. mission in Vienna, told the board that the United States supports the agency’s “careful assessment of the newly acquired archive materials.” She said any “concern” related to undeclared nuclear activities or material must be pursued and the United States has “full confidence” in the IAEA and its inspectors “to do so appropriately.”

If any of the archival material indicated that Iran pursued illicit nuclear activities after the nuclear deal was concluded, it is likely that the Trump administration would have accused Iran of violating the agreement and its safeguards obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), given Trump’s animosity toward the accord.

The U.S. State Department released a report in April that concluded Iran is in compliance with its NPT obligations and, through 2017, with the Iran nuclear deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s charge draws pushback from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

U.S. Restricts Nuclear Trade With China


November 2018
By Kelsey Davenport

The U.S. Energy Department announced new policy guidance regarding China that is designed to prevent Beijing from illegally diverting technologies and materials from civil nuclear activities to military programs.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry issued new policy guidance intended to prevent China from illegally diverting technologies and materials from civil nuclear activities to military programs. (Photo: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)The United States “cannot ignore the national security implications” of Chinese efforts to acquire nuclear technology “outside of established processes,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in an Oct. 11 press release. The new policy guidance was described as necessary to strike “an appropriate balance between the long-term risk to U.S. national security [interests] and economic interests.”

Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, outlined U.S. concerns about China’s policy of “military-civil fusion” in July, noting that Beijing is working “to eliminate all barriers between its civilian and defense industrial sectors to promote the free flow” of technology and expertise.

China has “announced, in advance” that they will use anything acquired through civil nuclear cooperation for military purposes if it advances Beijing’s objectives, he said.

The new U.S. guidelines will provide a framework for assessing licensing requests, according to the press release. A presumption of approval will still apply to certain requests for the sale of commercially available technology or extending existing authorizations, but there will be a presumption of denial for exports to China related to small modular reactors, new technology transfers, and any requests to direct economic competitors of U.S. entities.

Currently, U.S. nuclear trade with China is governed by a 30-year nuclear cooperation agreement negotiated in 2015 under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Nuclear cooperation agreements require states to meet certain criteria before licenses are issued for the exportation of U.S.-origin nuclear material, reactors, and related technologies.

There will also be a presumption of denial for licensing exports related to the China General Nuclear Power Company. China General Nuclear Power was indicted in April 2016 for “conspiracy to unlawfully engage and participate in the production and development of special nuclear material outside the United States, without the required authorization,” according to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department.

In his July speech, Ford linked the indictment to efforts by China to advance its small modular reactor program. Small modular reactors are less costly and can be incrementally expanded. The small size also means that these systems can be built in less accessible areas and require less land. A number of countries have expressed interest in pursuing small modular reactors for energy generation.

China appears to be ramping up efforts to expand its nuclear exports. In September, Beijing released its draft Atomic Energy Law and invited comments on the provisions. According to an accompanying press release, the draft law is necessary to fill regulatory gaps, clarify policies, and promote the development of China’s nuclear industry.

The draft law contains a section detailing nuclear export requirements and, according the release, encourages and supports Chinese entities participating in the global market.

The stated concern is diversion to military programs.

India Closes on Russian Missile System Deal


November 2018
By Shervin Taheran

India defied threats of U.S. sanctions by finalizing a $5.4 billion deal to purchase five batteries of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft system, following an Oct. 5 summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Russia Business Summit in New Delhi on October 5.  (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States previously said the deal could trigger penalties against India under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), an action that would complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to expand U.S. trade and diplomatic relations with India. For that reason, some senior administration officials, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have argued for granting India a sanctions waiver in this case.

The 2017 law provides for imposition of secondary U.S. sanctions against firms or countries that make a “significant” purchase from sanctioned entities in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. The S-400 contract is with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export agency, which is the subject of U.S. sanctions.

In September, the United States imposed sanctions on China for purchases of the S-400 system. Another buyer, NATO-ally Turkey, has not been penalized yet, although the United States and other NATO members have raised objections to the purchase because the system is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) China was sanctioned after receiving the weapons system from Russia, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Oct. 25 that Turkey will aim to begin installing the Russian air defense systems by October 2019.

A clause in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows the president to issue a waiver to CAATSA sanctions. Trump administration officials, before the formal Indian-Russian S-400 agreement, had been vague on the prospects that the president would grant India a waiver. When asked directly on Oct. 11, U.S. President Donald Trump failed to offer a direct answer, but said that India will find out “sooner than you think.”

India has repeatedly asserted its desire to retain independence and variety in its national defense resources. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at an Oct. 25 conference that Mattis “understood” India’s need to purchase the system, following their meeting during a defense ministers conference in Singapore.

The S-400 system is an advanced, mobile, surface-to-air defense system of radars and missiles of different ranges, capable of destroying a variety of targets such as attack aircraft, bombs, and tactical ballistic missiles. Each battery normally consists of eight launchers, 112 missiles, and command and support vehicles.

As a historically nonaligned country, many of India’s weapons systems are Russian, but it is also continuing to purchase U.S. weapons and equipment.

Senior U.S. administration officials have noted that they do not want the CAATSA sanctions to alienate strategic allies who may still rely on Russian equipment for historical reasons. In a July 20 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis supported the amendment to the 2019 NDAA to provide waivers for allies who are “transitioning to closer ties” with the United States. Waivers can avert “significant unintended consequences” toward U.S. strategic interests, he wrote.

Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said on Aug. 29 that, “on CAATSA, Mattis did plea for an exemption for India, but I can’t guarantee a waiver will be used for future purposes.” The Pentagon would still be significantly concerned if India purchased major new military systems from Russia, he said.

Other countries considering purchasing the S-400 system are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In June, the French newspaper Le Monde noted a leaked letter by Saudi King Salman to French President Emmanuel Macron threatening “military action” if Qatar is allowed to deploy the S-400 system, which is viewed as a threat to Saudi security.

 

Will the U.S. follow through on its sanction threat against New Delhi?

NATO Displays Military Might


British Army Royal Engineers take part in a patrol exercise October 25 in Telneset, Norway, ahead of Trident Juncture 18, NATO’s largest exercise since the Cold War. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Amid growing tensions with Russia, NATO held its largest exercise since the Cold War, involving about 50,000 military and support personnel from 31 NATO and partner countries, 250 aircraft, 65 naval vessels, and up to 10,000 military vehicles. The Oct. 25–Nov. 7 exercise, called Trident Juncture 18, was conducted in central and eastern Norway; the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, including Iceland; and the airspace of Finland and Sweden. About 20,000 U.S. forces participated. In September, Russia held what it described as its largest military exercise since 1981, involving some 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft, and 900 tanks along with some participation by Chinese forces. The Russian exercise was a bit of saber-rattling, directed toward the United States and NATO, and a demonstration to Russians of how their leader, President Vladimir Putin, has restored great-power status after years of decline and disarray following the end of the Soviet Union. The NATO exercise provided a chance to showcase sustained allied unity, something that is in question in the Trump era, and to reinforce deterrence against an emboldened Russia.—TERRY ATLAS

NATO Displays Military Might

DOE Terminates Troubled MOX Project


After years of delay and controversy, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Oct. 10 formally terminated the mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility project at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The termination note sets in motion a yearlong winding down of construction, an outcome long fought by South Carolina lawmakers and other backers of the project intended to turn surplus weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. (See ACT, September 2018.) Sharply rising costs, long construction delays, and doubt about the financial feasibility of the project led U.S. officials to favor a less costly alternative known as dilute and dispose. The NNSA, a semi-autonomous agency in the Energy Department, is proposing to adapt the MOX fuel facility into a site for producing plutonium cores, a plan that critics say is excessively costly compared to expanding current pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In a last-ditch appeal, a group of South Carolina officials, including the state’s two senators, met on Oct. 18 at the White House with President Donald Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, and other senior officials.—TERRY ATLAS

DOE Terminates Troubled MOX Project

UN Tracks Progress on Disarmament Agenda


UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched an implementation plan in early October for his disarmament agenda, which was first released in May. (See ACT, June 2018.) Guterres’ sweeping vision raised the question of whether he would be able to accomplish his many goals. The implementation plan tracks all 111 action steps outlined in the disarmament agenda. Five steps have been completed, including supporting the high-level fissile material cutoff treaty preparatory committee, which released its final report in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) Twenty-one actions have not been started yet, 28 are in development, 41 are in progress, and 16 are ongoing. “We are grateful for the expressions of support we have received and commitments some governments have made to champion specific actions,” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, told the UN General Assembly First Committee on Oct. 8. “These champions have committed to financially support, or politically support in a leadership capacity, activities in connection with the agenda.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Tracks Progress on Disarmament Agenda

Murder Puts Heat on Saudi Arms Deals


A protester dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman demonstrates with members of the group Code Pink on October 19 outside the White House in the wake of the killing of Saudi Arabian Jamal Khashoggi. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)U.S. President Donald Trump said any U.S. penalties in response to the Saudi killing of dissident journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi should not include curtailing planned and potential U.S. arms sales, even as some U.S. lawmakers and human rights advocates have advocated that they should. The United States is Saudi Arabia’s largest arms supplier, and Trump cited varying inflated figures for the dollar value and U.S. jobs at stake, as well as noting the importance of maintaining the historic alliance with a country that is an oil power and bulwark against Iran. Even so, Saudi arms deals may face tougher scrutiny in Congress, where opponents critical of Saudi conduct of its war in Yemen unsuccessfully sought last year to block the sale of $500 million in precision-guided munitions to the kingdom. The European Parliament on Oct. 25 overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding measure for its member states urging them to halt sales of weapons and surveillance technology to the Saudis, which may have little practical impact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Oct. 22 vowed to halt German arms exports to Saudi Arabia until the Khashoggi case is “cleared up,” but officials were uncertain whether that applies to existing or only future sales. Like Trump, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was wary of actions that could cost domestic jobs, hurt the economy, and complicate relations with a key Middle Eastern ally.—TERRY ATLAS

Murder Puts Heat on Saudi Arms Deals

U.S. Officials Hint at Militarizing Space


Vice President Mike Pence left open the door for increased military activities in space and declined to say whether there should continue to be a ban on nuclear weapons in space. However, in an Oct. 23 interview with The Washington Post, Pence noted that, “at this time,” there were no plans to amend the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids countries from deploying in Earth orbit “nuclear weapons or other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.” Pence said the treaty gives nations a “fair amount of flexibility” on military activities in space. On the same day, a senior State Department arms control official, Yleem Poblete, told the UN General Assembly First Committee that Russia has been increasing its military activities in space and that the United States “will prepare to meet and overcome” any such challenges.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Officials Hint at Militarizing Space

High Standards at Issue for Saudi Nuclear Pact

 

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told reporters Sept. 26 that negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the United States on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement have slowed but are continuing. More recently, the diplomatic repercussions from the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may impact U.S. policy and the complicate the ambitions of companies such as Westinghouse Electric for a U.S. role building nuclear power plants in the kingdom. State Department officials have said that the administration is pressing Saudi Arabia to commit to forgoing the ability to make nuclear fuel and to ratify stricter verification under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s additional protocol. The United Arab Emirates committed to this so-called gold standard in 2009 to obtain its civil nuclear pact with Washington. Perry, who is leading negotiations with Saudi Arabia, has not been so firm in his public statements, and Saudi Arabia has resisted these restrictions. (See ACT, April 2018.). Members of Congress continue to encourage the strictest standards for any agreement with Saudi Arabia, including pushing State Department officials on this issue at a Sept. 18 hearing, and have pressed for a floor vote on a bipartisan-approved Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution calling for the “gold standard.” (See ACT, September 2018.)—SHERVIN TAHERAN

High Standards at Issue for Saudi Nuclear Pact

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - November 2018