"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
October 2017
Edition Date: 
Sunday, October 1, 2017
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October 2017 Digital Magazine

October 2017 Digital Magazine

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: Next Steps in Building a Better Nuclear Security Regime

October 2017
By Kenneth C. Brill and John H. Berhard

Lack of knowledge is not an impediment to nuclear terrorism. Lack of nuclear material is.

Information on how to manipulate nuclear material to produce an explosive device—an improvised nuclear device, which would produce a nuclear explosion and a mushroom cloud, or a radiation-dispersal device, which would spread dangerous radioactive material over a substantial area—is now available widely enough that the only way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear material or getting access to nuclear facilities.

An effective international convention on nuclear security is needed to address gaps in global nuclear security arrangements and build a credible global nuclear security regime. The 2016 entry into force of the 2005 amendment to the 1979 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material fills a gap in the convention, but the amended convention is far from being the nuclear security convention with common binding standards and a strong review mechanism that is needed. Nonetheless, it can be a useful step toward more effective and comprehensive governance in this field, if states-parties and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) make better use of it than they did the 1979 convention.

The purpose of the original convention was to enhance global nuclear security practices to support the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and prevent illicit acquisition and use of nuclear and other radioactive material,1 but its principal focus was on the security of nuclear material while being transported internationally, although it also addressed domestic transit and storage. It also established measures related to the prevention, detection, and punishment of offenses relating to nuclear material.

The original convention did not address the security of nuclear facilities. The amended convention rectifies that by making it legally binding for states-parties to protect nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage, and transport. It also provides for expanded cooperation between and among states regarding timely measures to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material, mitigate any radiological consequences of sabotage, and prevent and combat related offenses.2

Global nuclear security arrangements, despite the entry into force of the newly amended convention, remain a patchwork of largely voluntary measures and recommendations that are inadequate given the catastrophic consequences of a successful act of nuclear terrorism. The essential elements of an effective and sustainable global nuclear security regime to prevent nuclear terrorism are still missing. Current international nuclear security arrangements, for example, have no obligatory international process to assess how states are meeting their responsibility to secure these dangerous materials. Perhaps most importantly, there is no mechanism to provide a sustained review and promotion of necessary improvements in the nuclear security regime as a whole. Many assume the IAEA performs these functions, but its role is limited by the lack of a legal mandate to offer more than advice.

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a plenary session during the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 1, 2016. (Photo credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The amended convention creates an opportunity to develop a sustainable forum for the international community to address some of the existing gaps in global nuclear security arrangements in order to prevent acts of nuclear terrorism. The four nuclear security summits held between 2010 and 2016 provided high-level attention to nuclear security issues that led to a variety of political commitments and voluntary unilateral actions to improve nuclear security practices in states and regions. With this summit process having run its course, however, the time is right for states-parties to the amended convention to develop its heretofore essentially unused review process as a mechanism to regularly and methodically identify, assess, and address gaps in global nuclear security arrangements that could be exploited by terrorist groups and others desiring to use nuclear materials for illicit purposes.

Nuclear terrorism remains a continuing threat to global security, stability and prosperity. Heads of state and government at the nuclear security summits stressed the reality of the threat, and past and present IAEA directors-general and national experts have made the same point at meetings and conferences sponsored by the IAEA. Various terrorist groups have signaled an ambition to create mass casualties and disrupt the global order and economy, and the IAEA has documented some 2,500 cases involving the theft, loss of control, unauthorized possession, or illicit trafficking of nuclear and other radioactive material.3 For example, al Qaeda, which is rebuilding, has shown such interest and repeatedly demonstrated its ruthlessness in pursuit of its goals. Similarly, attacks in Europe and elsewhere sponsored and inspired by the Islamic State group over the last 18 months demonstrate that organization’s reach, capability, and determination to create as much damage and chaos as possible, even as it loses territory in Syria and Iraq.

Securing Nuclear Material

Even as nuclear terrorism remains a credible and urgent threat, the challenge of securing global supplies of nuclear material and nuclear facilities is growing. This stems from the projected growth globally of nuclear power plants in response to increasing needs for energy and the desire of a number of states to generate that energy without producing the pollution and carbon emissions associated with fossil fuel plants. The growth in nuclear power is expected to be greatest among states that do not have a long or, in some cases, any history of nuclear power or limited or no experience in securing nuclear materials.4

Additionally, some nuclear power newcomer states are located in regions with political and security challenges, which will complicate efforts to sustainably secure their nuclear material. The growth of nuclear power and the increased amounts of associated nuclear material are already promoting the development of innovative nuclear technologies and practices that may have an impact on how nuclear material and nuclear facilities that contain it have to be secured and checked. The emerging evolution in nuclear users, technologies, and practices must be factored into the development of a global nuclear security regime in a timely way, not after delays of years or decades or after the wake-up call of a serious nuclear security incident.

The increasing amounts of nuclear material outside the IAEA safeguards regime is a further source of concern. Some states with such nuclear materials have demonstrated a commitment to good nuclear security practices, but others have not. North Korea, for example, has a track record of irresponsible behavior, including engaging in illicit activities to supplement the regime’s financial resources. The behavior of such states puts a premium on the need for all other states to collaborate in sharing information about illicit nuclear activity and preventing the illicit transshipment of nuclear material that could be used by terrorist groups.

Activating a Dormant Mechanism

Although states-parties to the original convention may have been committed and active in meeting their national obligations, the treaty’s review mechanism, which was established to allow states-parties to discuss and assess treaty implementation issues, has been essentially dormant. The first and only such meeting to review the treaty was held in 1992.5 There were subsequent meetings of experts to discuss the need for amending the treaty and then negotiating the amendment that entered into force in 2016, but there have been no other meetings of states-parties to review the treaty’s implementation.

This lack of implementation review stands in sharp contrast to the way other important treaties dealing with threats stemming from complex technical issues, such as nuclear safety, nuclear nonproliferation, and the protection of the ozone layer, have reviewed treaty implementation and the changing treaty environment. The Convention on Nuclear Safety has held seven formal review conferences of contracting parties since the treaty entered into force in 1996.6 The parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) decided in 1995 to increase the number of meetings devoted to reviewing the treaty’s implementation, so there are now preparatory meetings in the three years leading up to review conferences, which are held every five years.7 The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer has held 22 meetings of states-parties and been updated six times since it entered into force in 1989.8

New York City police officers use a radiation detection device to monitor traffic August 11, 2007 in response to an unverified report of a terrorist plot to detonate a radiological device in the city. (Photo credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)A successful nuclear terrorism attack would have the potential to destabilize not just a city but also a nation and possibly the global economy, with incalculable human and financial costs. As a result, the international community needs to do all it can to prevent such an event because no response could undo the damage done. Existing international anti-terrorism conventions, including on nuclear terrorism, mainly focus on what to do after an attack. Yet, preventing a dynamic threat involving sophisticated technologies and determined terrorist groups requires an equally dynamic process, not a static or reactive approach and certainly not a moribund one. Global nuclear security arrangements, therefore, need to be subject to regular review and improvement to ensure they are attuned to evolving threats, technologies, and industrial practices. IAEA meetings and conferences on nuclear security and nuclear terrorism, as well as the nuclear security summit process, have begun to bring a dynamism that had been lacking in global nuclear security arrangements, but it is imperative that states-parties use the amended convention to sustain and further develop these nascent efforts.

Energizing the Amended Convention

Some states expressed concern that the nuclear security summit process would undercut efforts to bring the amended convention into force and that the summits or some outgrowth of them would supplant the IAEA’s role on nuclear security. Neither concern was realized. Instead, the summit process facilitated the amended convention ratification process, which allowed it to enter into force in 2016, and positioned the IAEA to play a stronger role on nuclear security.

Article 16 of the amended convention calls on the IAEA to convene a review conference five years after the entry into force, which will be 2021. The objective is to review the implementation of the convention and its adequacy in the light of the prevailing situation.9

The IAEA and states that place a priority on preventing nuclear terrorism need to take steps now to ensure that the review process of the amended convention is more robust and substantive than the essentially non-existent review process of the original convention.

This could be done in several ways. One approach would be to hold a review conference before 2021. Article 16 obliges the IAEA to convene the first review conference after five years, but it does not prevent it from doing so earlier. If the agency and a majority of the states-parties to the amended convention saw a need for and supported it, there is no decisive legal argument against holding a review conference sooner. Such an initiative could be started by the IAEA in its capacity as the convention depositary or by a group of states, such as those that signed the Joint Statement for Strengthening Nuclear Security Implementation, adopted at the 2014 Hague nuclear security summit and subsequently converted into IAEA document INFCIRC/869.

IAEA consultations with and among Vienna-based IAEA delegations would be a practical way to facilitate a process of building support for an earlier review conference, which could be held in 2019 or 2020. Undoubtedly, there would be resistance to this idea from at least some states-parties, citing, for example, the need for more time to implement the amended convention and the challenge of finding sufficient resources for it, nationally and in the IAEA. As a result, holding a review conference before 2021 would require active championing by the IAEA and leading states-parties.

Another approach that might draw broader and more immediate support would involve developing a preparatory meetings process, similar to the NPT approach. If the current Article 16 interval remains at least five years, it is vital that states-parties meet regularly between the review conferences to prepare the conferences and, equally importantly, to have opportunities for discussion of current issues affecting the convention and its implementation. More generally, the establishment of a forum that meets regularly and fairly frequently is essential to support momentum in improving nuclear security.

Preparatory meetings will be especially important to lay the groundwork for the first review conference, if it is not held until 2021. There are a variety of questions, procedural and substantive, to be addressed to ensure that the first review conference of the amended convention produces a sustainable process to steadily assess and improve global nuclear security. Ideally, there would be two preparatory meetings, one in 2019 and one late in 2020 or early in 2021.

The convention has no provision on intersessional or preparatory meetings ahead of the review conferences, but this does not preclude such meetings under international law. Yet, care would have to be taken in developing political support to initiate a process of preparatory meetings. The IAEA director-general could ask a representative group of states-parties to consult with him on what preparations would be needed for the first review conference to ensure its success. This informal consultation process could lead to a more formal set of preparatory meetings leading up to the first review conference. Alternatively, a group of states-parties, for example those that have signed on to IAEA INFCIRC/869, could urge the IAEA director-general to formally convene a meeting or a series of meetings to prepare for the first review conference of the amended convention.

Regardless of how it is done, establishing a preparatory process for review conferences held no more often than every five years will be essential for the review conferences to be effective in strengthening nuclear security and preventing nuclear terrorism.

Getting the Substance Right

Preparatory meetings and review conferences are only as good as their objectives and agendas. Article 16 provides a traditional and minimalistic description of the objective of the review conference, that is, it shall review the implementation of the entirety of the convention and its adequacy in light of the prevailing situation. It provides no guidance on how to fulfill the task, including no reference to the possibility of going beyond an article-by-article implementation review.

An effective feature of review processes in many treaties is the mechanism of reporting on national implementation measures. These reports are normally sent to the relevant organization or depositary, in this case the IAEA, for subsequent distribution to the states-parties. Consistent with this common practice, Article 14 requires states-parties to inform the depositary of how they are implementing their obligations and requires the depositary to communicate such information to all states-parties from time to time.10 To increase the value of this reporting, the review conferences, as well as the preparatory process leading up to them, should be used as fora for review and discussion of the reports. This would also encourage more states-parties to take an active part in the reporting system. For example, the IAEA reported that 79 of 80 states-parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety submitted national reports at the convention’s seventh and most recent review meeting.11

The reporting system could become even stronger and more useful if it were supplemented by self-assessment and peer review mechanisms, the results of which would be included in the reports, while respecting the need to protect any sensitive information from disclosure.

Although treaty review conferences generally focus on a review of the implementation matters, some, such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, are more dynamic. The protocol review conferences examine and make decisions to respond to the impact on treaty obligations of new scientific information. The IAEA and states-parties should be similarly dynamic in establishing a broader mandate and a more dynamic role for the amended convention’s review conferences and preparatory process, for example by conducting assessments of the international nuclear security regime in general with a view to improve and develop it or by examining how changes in nuclear power technologies and industrial practices affect states-parties’ convention obligations. This could lead to identification of gaps and proposals for how to address them.

Article 16 does not specifically deal with this question, but it does mention that a review of “the adequacy” of the convention is part of the objectives of the review conference, and likewise, the article concludes that the review is performed “in the light of the then prevailing situation.” There is, therefore, scope for an interpretation of Article 16 that leaves the door open for the amended convention’s review conferences to have a dynamic character, including assessing the accord’s effectiveness in meeting its goals, identifying gaps in the global nuclear security regime, and considering how to address them. Additionally, such an approach to the review conference’s agenda would generally be in line with the spirit of IAEA INFCIRC/869. States-parties that have signed on to INFCIRC/869 should take the lead in promoting this approach in order to strengthen and supplement the effectiveness of commitments already made.

In any event, a good case can be made that the convention’s lack of specificity on the review process means the states-parties are free to shape the agenda of the review conferences according to their wishes and needs in light of prevailing circumstances.

Involving All Relevant Parties

Because the IAEA convenes the review conferences, it is also authorized to make proposals concerning the preparation of a conference, including details about the number and duration of preparatory meetings, as well as the question of who may participate in them (e.g., whether states parties to the original convention and the amended one or only the latter should be allowed to participate). In that connection, it will also have to be considered and decided to what extent and in which capacity civil society and the nuclear industry can participate in the review conferences.

Hungary in November 2013 shipped out the last of its highly enriched uranium (HEU) under an effort backed by United States, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Hungary became the 12th country to completely eliminate HEU holdings since President Obama’s 2009 announcement of an international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world. (Photo credit: National Nuclear Security Administration)

One of the experiences from the nuclear security summit process was that the parallel industry and knowledge (civil society experts) summits offered valuable contributions to the official meetings and the overall goal of improving nuclear security. There were similarly positive experiences with the participation of nongovernmental representatives at the IAEA nuclear security conferences in 2013 and 2016. Industry and civil society have important roles to play in supporting and promoting effective nuclear security practices, so it would be appropriate to adopt rules that facilitate their participation in the convention’s review conferences.

Sustained Attention and Action

The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was negotiated in 1979 and entered into force in 1987. The amendment to the convention was negotiated in 2005 and entered into force in 2016. There have been a variety of developments related to the security of nuclear materials since 1979. Other international agreements related to nuclear security and terrorism, such as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and UN Security Council Resolutions 1373, 1540, and 1887, have been adopted; and a variety of like-minded state initiatives, such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the nuclear security summit process, emerged to promote political commitments and voluntary action. Yet from 1987 to the present, there has been only one implementation review conference for the states-parties of the one international agreement related to securing nuclear materials from those who would seek to illicitly acquire, traffic in, or use it.

With the amended convention now in force, it is time for the states-parties and the IAEA to pick up where the nuclear security summit process left off and move the global nuclear security agenda forward. The review mechanism of the treaty provides an opportunity and scope for continuing efforts to do so. Given the disappointing record of the original convention’s review mechanism, states-parties and the IAEA will need to provide strong and coordinated leadership and pursue an ambitious interpretation of the amended convention’s review process to identify and address gaps in nuclear security arrangements and, in so doing, contribute to preventing a catastrophic act of nuclear terrorism.



1. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, October 26, 1979, 1456 U.N.T.S. 124.

2. Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, July 8, 2005, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/No%20Volume/24631/A-24631-0800000280478876.pdf.

3. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Incident and Trafficking Database,” December 9, 2014, http://www-ns.iaea.org/security/itdb.asp.

4.&espn;In two statements in June 2017, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano noted the rapid growth in the number of new nuclear power plants, with the expansion mostly ;taking place in Asia but with developing countries, including in Africa, also embarking on nuclear power programs, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/statements/opening-remarks-at-international-conference-on-topical-issues-in-nuclear-installation-safety-safety-demonstration-of-advanced-water-cooled-nuclear-power-plants.

5. Jonathan Herbach, “Reinforcing the Three Pillars: How Nuclear Security Efforts Underwrite the Strength of the Non-Proliferation Regime” (paper, Nuclear Disarmament, Non-Proliferation, and Energy: Fresh Ideas for the Future symposium, April 28, 2015), p. 11, http://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/JDHerbach.pdf.

6. IAEA, “Convention on Nuclear Safety: Seventh Review Meeting,” July 14, 2017 http://www-ns.iaea.org/conventions/nuclear-safety.asp.

7. 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, ”Strengthening the Review Process for the Treaty,” n.d., para. 3, https://unoda-web.s3-accelerate.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/assets/WMD/Nuclear/1995-NPT/pdf/1995-NY-NPTReviewConference-FinalDocumentDecision_I.pdf.

8. For a description of annual meetings and changes made to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer since it entered into force, see UN Environment Programme, “The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer,” n.d., http://ozone.unep.org/en/treaties-and-decisions/montreal-protocol-substances-deplete-ozone-layer (accessed September 14, 2017).

9. IAEA Board of Governors and IAEA General Conference, “Nuclear Security - Measures to Protect Against Nuclear Terrorism: Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; Report by the Director General,” GOV/INF/2005/10-GC(49)/INF/6, September 6, 2005, p. 11.

10. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, art. 14, para 1.

11. Yukiya Amano, statement to the IAEA Board of Governors, June 12, 2017, https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/statements/introductory-statement-to-the-board-of-governors-12-june-2017.

Kenneth C. Brill is a former U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and founding director of the U.S. National Counterproliferation Center. John H. Bernhard is a former Danish ambassador to the IAEA and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and a former legal adviser in the Danish Foreign Ministry.

Global nuclear security arrangements remain a patchwork of largely voluntary measures and recommendations that are inadequate given the catastrophic consequences of a successful act of ncuclear terrorism. 

Why New Thinking is Needed on Negative Security Assurances

October 2017
By Marc Finaud

Since the Cold War, nuclear powers have pledged not to use or threaten to use their nuclear weapons against countries that do not possess such weapons. These so-called negative security assurances (NSAs) were intended as incentives (or rewards) for adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The individual pledges, however, contained caveats and conditions. One was the exclusion of the assurance toward non-nuclear-weapon states taking part in conventional attacks in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state, such as the typical Cold War scenario of a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Another exclusion logically targeted states not complying with NPT commitments, the states that secretly acquired or manufactured nuclear weapons. Further, there was some ambiguity with regard to deterring attacks with other types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD): chemical or biological weapons.

In recent years, the NSA exclusion related to conventional attacks by alliances has been dropped by the Western nuclear powers, given the demise of the Warsaw Pact. Yet, the condition linked to chemical and biological weapons use has re-emerged in a manner that may lead to a weakening of NSAs and result in a worrisome lowering of the threshold for use of nuclear weapons. For this reason, some new thinking on NSAs is needed.

Looking Back

In 1995, in order to facilitate the indefinite extension of the NPT, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 984, which took note of the unilateral declarations made by the five nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), which happened to be its five permanent members. China has consistently maintained a no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons, implying that it would use them only to deter a nuclear attack. For the other nuclear-weapon states, national doctrines have included various conditions similar to each other, albeit differently drafted. Those conditions have even been made legally binding in the protocols to the various nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties.1

One of those conditions, which reflected a Cold War strategic context, involved the case of conventional attack by a non-nuclear-weapon state against a nuclear-weapon state in alliance with another nuclear-weapon state. For instance, France reserved its right to use nuclear weapons against East Germany in a scenario of a massive conventional attack by the Warsaw Pact led by the Soviet Union, which enjoyed overwhelming conventional superiority over NATO. In 2010 the United States decided to take into consideration the dramatic changes since 1995, including the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and the manifest technological and military superiority of NATO over Russia. Accordingly, it crafted a simpler NSA in the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report,” declaring that the United States would “not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons” against non-nuclear-weapon states “that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.”2

In its “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015,” the United Kingdom made a similar declaration, noting that “[t]his assurance does not apply to any state in material breach of those nonproliferation obligations.”3 On February 19, 2015, French President François Hollande stated that “France will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the [NPT] which comply with their international nonproliferation commitments in terms of weapons of mass destruction.”4

Nuclear Weapons Against Conventional Weapons

The three Western nuclear-weapon states thus have renounced the traditional Cold War condition applying to non-nuclear-weapon states taking part in conventional attacks in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state. This is a realistic and welcome development that takes into account the changed strategic environment and contributes to lowering the risk of nuclear war.

Does this mean that the scenario of use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack has completely disappeared? Not really, if one looks at Russia. Its 2010 military doctrine, reaffirmed in 2014, states that the Russian Federation “shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the State is in jeopardy.”5

As compared with the traditional Cold War alliance-related condition, the exception of conventional attack is much broader, although it could trigger nuclear retaliation only in the extreme case of danger to the “very existence” of the state. Some commentators have dubbed this concept “escalate to de-escalate,” meaning an early use of nuclear weapons in case of conventional attack, although such an analysis does not rely on solid foundations and has been denied by several experts.6

Marines participate in a simulated chemical weapons attack lie along a street during a mass casualty drill December 20, 2001. The major nuclear-weapon powers, other than China, have carved out potential exemptions to their negative security assurances in the case of an adversary using chemical or biological weapons. (Photo credit: Kurt Fredrickson/US Marines/Getty Images)In any case, the linkage between nuclear and conventional weapons remains a decisive part of a strong deterrent for Russia. This is not unrelated to its threat perception coming from the United States and NATO, including from anti-ballistic missile systems and long-range, conventional precision-guided weapons.

As a result, the risk of nuclear war may have become higher than during the Cold War, as assessed by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.7 The situation would appear even worse when looking at the other conditions introduced by the nuclear-weapon states into their NSAs—those related to chemical and biological weapons use.

Major Setback

In the past, the United States maintained deliberate “strategic ambiguity” on its possible use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a chemical or a biological attack against its territory or forces. The 2002 NPR Report mentioned five states without nuclear weapons but with suspected biological or chemical programs (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria) that would be eligible for nuclear strikes.8 In National Security Presidential Directive 17 in 2002, President George W. Bush stated that “the United States [would] continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force—including potentially nuclear weapons—to the use of [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies.”9

In a sense, the 2010 NPR Report introduced by President Barack Obama could appear as real progress toward raising the threshold of use of nuclear weapons. Indeed, regarding chemical weapons, the United States considered that “any state eligible for the [negative security] assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response—and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable.” Hence, the United States renounced any policy of nuclear retaliation against chemical attacks, which made a lot of sense strategically and militarily. This was consistent with the general premise of the NPR that the United States “would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.”10

This step forward, however, was undermined by two steps backward. First, the 2010 document added to the previous provision an important caveat:

“In the case of countries not covered by this assurance—states that possess nuclear weapons and states not in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations—there remains a narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or [chemical or biological] attack against the United States or its allies and partners. The United States is therefore not prepared at the present time to adopt a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons, but will work to establish conditions under which such a policy could be safely adopted.”11

This statement considerably weakened the step forward made regarding the Cold War alliance-related condition, despite an attempt to be reassuring by stating, “That does not mean that our willingness to use nuclear weapons against countries not covered by the new assurance has in any way increased.”12 Although the United States officially did not exclude the use of nuclear weapons in a scenario involving a chemical attack by Iraq against U.S. forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in the “redlines” mentioned by Obama in 2006 in case Syria used chemical weapons, there was no reference to nuclear weapons use but also no hypothesis of an attack against U.S. forces or interests.

Secondly, with regard more specifically to biological weapons, the same document stated that “[g]iven the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat.”13

This exception only applies in case of unpredicted developments. Even raised as a flag, however, it weakens the progress made in the new formulation. Moreover, it was unnecessary to state this exception explicitly because any nuclear-weapon state has the right to modify unilaterally its assurance, as shown by the changes made by the United States in 2010.

The same analysis can be made regarding the UK and the French revised assurances. The UK stated in its 2015 review that “[w]hile there is currently no direct threat to the UK or its vital interests from states developing weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical and biological capabilities, we reserve the right to review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make[s] it necessary.”14 The 2015 French presidential statement excluded from the French NSA the states that do not “comply with their international nonproliferation commitments in terms of weapons of mass destruction.”15 For instance, this means that Syria, having breached the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), could become a legitimate target for French nuclear weapons even if France was not attacked. Finally, as stated above, the Russian doctrine still considers that Russia could use nuclear weapons “in response to the use of…other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies.”16

Unfortunate and Paradoxical

The linkage between nuclear weapons and biological or chemical weapons is quite unfortunate and paradoxical. It may be motivated as an incentive or pressure for all states to become party to and compliant with the existing multilateral disarmament instruments, the CWC and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Yet, just a handful of states remain outside such treaties with practically only Egypt, Israel, North Korea, and Syria standing out as significant absentees because of their actual or potential capabilities.17

Not in the most far-fetched scenario could chemical attacks endanger the vital interests of nuclear-weapon states and justify the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation. During the Persian Gulf War, France then categorically excluded such a use of nuclear weapons18 while the United States and the UK maintained ambiguity. Since 1995, under Presidents Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, France also has maintained some ambiguity as to possible nuclear retaliation to a chemical or biological attack.19 Now, France explicitly adds noncompliance with the CWC or the BWC, not just chemical or biological attacks, as reasons justifying the use of nuclear weapons.

The case of biological weapons could be argued to be different and susceptible to unpredictable developments. Therefore, the United States and the UK reserve the right to review their nuclear posture in case such developments occurred that endangered their vital interests. Here again, even the most pessimistic scenarios of massive use of biological agents—by state or nonstate actors—could hardly be deemed as warranting the use of nuclear weapons. No state currently claims to possess biological weapons because they globally appear as “repugnant to the conscience of mankind,” as stated in the BWC. If such biological weapons were developed and used by state or nonstate actors, how conceivable would it be to identify the source and authors of an attack and target them with nuclear weapons and within what time frame, considering the slow spread of some pathogens?

If the nuclear doctrine of nuclear-weapon states understandably includes nonproliferation or even counterproliferation dimensions, establishing linkages between nuclear, conventional, chemical, and biological weapons can lead only to confusion, misunderstandings, or higher risks of nuclear catastrophe. The threshold for use of nuclear weapons is already being lowered by the maintenance of nuclear tactical weapons and the increasing resort to lower-yield warheads or means of delivery, such as cruise missiles, that can be conventional but easily mistaken for nuclear weapons. There is no need for making the situation worse.

A Russia Topol intercontinental ballistic missile is displayed August 22 during an army military- technical forum near Moscow. Russia says it reserves “the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)All nuclear-armed states possess sufficiently powerful conventional military capabilities to handle conventional, chemical, or biological threats against themselves or their allies. Such challenges should be addressed only within existing multilateral frameworks. It is a paradox that the United States included biological threats as a possible reason for reviewing its nuclear posture while remaining, since 2001, opposed to any multilateral verification of the BWC that could help strengthen the international response to the risk of deliberate use of disease as a weapon.

In addition, a major hurdle in the condition regarding noncompliance with any nonproliferation commitment, whether in nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, would be how and by whom such breaches would be determined. The issue of evidence of WMD programs has been a recurring nightmare in the case of Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. Even if a legitimate role can be assumed for the UN Security Council, what would happen if one of the permanent members were an ally of a suspected violator, as is currently the case with Russia and Syria? If determination is left to the individual nuclear-weapon state, is this opening the door to unilateral, uncontrollable actions? Moreover, what if a state has not made any “international nonproliferation commitments,” such as Israel, which is not a party to the NPT, the CWC, the BWC, or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

New Thinking Needed

Two major developments require new thinking on the issue of NSAs. One is the new NPR announced by the Trump administration. If the Obama administration took the opportunity of the 2010 NPR to shift the U.S. assurances, the new U.S. leadership would be wise to reconsider the existing doctrine, not in toughening the conditions for nonuse of nuclear weapons but to elevate the threshold for use to a higher level. One could count on the power of example to influence not only the assurances of the Western nuclear powers, as in 2010-2015, but also to encourage Russia to revisit its own assurance in a similar direction and discourage India to move away from its current no-first-use policy, as it seems tempted to do.20

The second major development will be the new five-year review cycle of the NPT, which has opened in May 2017 in Vienna and will culminate with the review conference in New York in 2020. By then, it is likely that the new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will have many signatories despite the opposition of the nuclear-weapon states. Some NPT states-parties such as Germany, sharing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons but seeking the participation of the nuclear-weapon states in the negotiation process, can be expected to push for an expansion of existing NSAs as a mediation tool. Few options actually could rally the approval of the nuclear-weapon states and offer sufficient improvements to the non-nuclear-weapon states, at least to make them hesitate before joining the ban treaty, at the same time.

As proposed by Germany and a few other Western states at the 2016 UN open-ended working group on multilateral nuclear disarmament,21 one option could be to negotiate a legally binding instrument, as a protocol to the NPT or a separate treaty, limiting the conditions of NSAs to two: a beneficiary “must not be in material breach of the NPT and not attacking a [nuclear-weapon state] while itself acting in consort with another” nuclear-weapon state.

The other option for nuclear-weapon states would be to radically shift their nuclear doctrine to the “sole purpose” approach, tasking nuclear weapons only to deter nuclear attacks, thereby reinforcing global stability and the security of states that have foregone nuclear weapons. It would exclude any nuclear response to a conventional, chemical, or biological attack (presumably also a cyberattack). The threshold of use of nuclear weapons would be made more consistent with their historical purpose, and the whole world would obviously feel much safer in the interim period prior to the elimination of all nuclear weapons.


1. UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones,” n.d., http://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/nwfz/ (accessed March 7, 2017).

2. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. viii, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf (hereinafter NPR Report).

3. “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015,” Cm 9161, November 2015, http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/555607/2015_Strategic_Defence_and_Security_Review.pdf.

4. French Embassy to the United Kingdom, “France Will Not Lower Its Nuclear Guard, Vows President,” March 2, 2015, http://www.ambafrance-uk.org/France-will-not-lower-its-nuclear.

5. Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” June 29, 2015, para. 27, https://www.rusemb.org.uk/press/2029

6. See Olga Oliker, “Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine: What We Know, What We Don’t, and What That Means,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2016, http://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160504_Oliker_RussiasNuclearDoctrine_Web.pdf.

7. Conn Hallinan, “We May Be at a Greater Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe Than During the Cold War,” Foreign Policy in Focus, July 20, 2016, http://fpif.org/may-greater-risk-nuclear-catastrophe-cold-war/.

8. William M. Arkin, “Secret Plan Outlines the Unthinkable,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2002.

9. Arms Control Association, “U.S. ‘Negative Security Assurances’ at a Glance,” September 2012, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/negsec?print.

10. NPR Report, p. 16.

11. Ibid, p. 16.

12. Ibid, p. 16.

13. Ibid, p. 16.

14. “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015,” para. 4.69.

15. French Embassy to the United Kingdom, “France Will Not Lower Its Nuclear Guard, Vows President.”

16. Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation,” June 29, 2015, https://www.rusemb.org.uk/press/2029

17. States not party to the Biological Weapons Convention are Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Haiti, Israel, Kiribati, Micronesia, Namibia, Niue, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, and Tuvalu. States not party to the Chemical Weapons Convention are Egypt, Israel, North Korea, Palestine, and South Sudan.

18. Hans Kristensen and Joshua Handler, “Nuclear Counterproliferation in the Middle East,” Middle East Report, No. 197 (October–November 1995), http://www.merip.org/mer/mer197/nuclear-counterproliferation-middle-east.

19. See President Chirac’s speech Jan. 19, 2006: “[t]he leaders of States who would use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part. And this response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.” See also Oliver Meier, “Chirac Outlines Expanded Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, March 2006, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_03/MARCH-Chirac

20. “India May Abandon ‘No First Use’ Nuclear Policy: Expert,” The Times of India, March 21, 2017.

21. UN General Assembly, “Open-Ended Working Group Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations: Security Assurances,” A/AC.286/WP.26, April 21, 2016.

Marc Finaud, a former French diplomat, is a senior program adviser at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. During his diplomatic career, his assignments included missions to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Conference on Disarmament, and the United Nations.

Caveats linked to chemical and biological weapons use have re-emerged in a manner that may result in a lowering of the threshold for use of nculear weapons.

Lawrence Weiler: Looking Back at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

Interviewed by Daryl Kimball and Terry Atlas
October 2017

This interview is also being published in Russian by the Moscow-based Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS) in its journal Nuclear Club (Yaderny Klub). As part of a cooperative arrangement, the September issue of Arms Control Today features an interview with Ambassador Roland Timerbaev conducted by CENESS Director Anton Khlopkov. Timerbaev was a key figure in the Soviet delegation to the Nonproliferation Treaty negotiations and subsequently played a part in six NPT review conferences.

Lawrence Weiler was special assistant to the director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and a U.S. negotiator on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and other arms control measures during his government service under six U.S. presidents. As that landmark accord approaches its 50th anniversary next year, Weiler, now 96, recalled its creation and assessed its impact in a June interview with Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball and ACT Editor Terry Atlas.

The NPT established the rules for safeguarded development of civilian nuclear technology and became the bedrock for the intricate structures of nuclear arms control that made it possible for the United States and Russia to sharply reduce their nuclear arsenals. Still, there is debate about whether the NPT has lived up to its promise, particularly in terms of the nuclear-weapon states fulfilling their Article VI commitment 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, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Many non-nuclear-weapon countries, which pledged under the NPT to forgo nuclear weapons, say the Article VI obligation has not been met by the nuclear powers, one of the factors that fueled their push for the newly completed treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“Most can agree that progress [under the NPT] has been slower than we had hoped and that nuclear weapons still threaten our civilization,” said Weiler. “Progress has been made, though the goal is still in front of us. Keep your fingers crossed and never give up.”

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


ACT: Looking back over the past 50 years, has the NPT accomplished what you, as one of the negotiators, envisioned at the time? At the most basic level, what did you hope it might achieve?

Weiler: Well, it’s not just what the treaty accomplished, it’s what the people who signed the treaty and those who followed have accomplished. In my judgment, the treaty is a product of three things: First, the obvious one was a desire to keep the spread of nuclear weapons from happening, which people worried about. Related to that but somewhat separate for the arms controllers was the concern about keeping the number of people that you had to get together to agree on anything from increasing. In other words, to prevent the whole business of arms control from becoming too complicated because there were too many people involved with nuclear capabilities. That’s sort of the architects looking at the building. Those first two they’re related, but they’re separate.

Lawrence Weiler in 2017. (Photo credit: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)The third one was the awareness of the fact that if you were ever going to get the Russians to talk about controlling strategic weapons, you had to get the Russians to not worry about the future of Germany. Even before, the German issue was central to the Russians. In other words, they weren’t about to talk about [limiting] strategic systems with the United States until the nuclear future of Germany was settled. It was not a coincidence that the date that the NPT was signed was the date that the United States announced that we and the Soviet Union had agreed to discuss strategic weapons. That was the same day. It was not a coincidence.

The third issue you’re talking about is the possibility of a multilateral nuclear force in Europe and whether Germany was going to possess or be allowed to possess such weapons.

Yes, the multilateral nuclear force (MLNF) discussion,1 which was a kooky idea and was so regarded by many in the government. But the government was pursuing it because of the desire of European allies to be somehow part of the nuclear equation. It was clear that the Russians had some hesitations about talking about strategic defensive systems. They were coming around, and [U.S. Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara had tried to talk with them earlier and didn’t succeed. One critical decision was President Lyndon Johnson’s decision that he was going to kill the MLNF.2

How do you feel the NPT has performed, that is, has it delivered on the promise that you envisioned?

Basically yes, but not completely because we didn’t get every country signed up. I think we knew by the time the negotiations were over that we weren’t going to get India. At least that was my judgment. We didn’t and didn’t get the others that you know about. But you can’t get everything in life, and it seems to me that’s a philosophy that negotiators, that deciders ought to keep in mind. You mustn’t always be satisfied only if you get the perfect outcome. We should be happy that we don’t have 25 or so countries with nuclear weapons, as President John Kennedy talked about. And we began then with Russia the first successful negotiations on strategic arms, the so-called killer weapons.


That has gone slowly with some mishaps. We didn’t get [multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles] in the first strategic arms limitation agreement, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty part has been nullified. The U.S. decision in the George W. Bush administration to withdraw from the ABM Treaty has had a very serious effect on U.S.-Russian relations. The Obama administration placed a limited interpretation on our ABM-related policy, and what the Trump administration will do remains to be seen.

Can I just add one other thing? The NPT was a great training exercise. It was really the first time that you got a large number of nations involved in actually negotiating a document. That was important because it was an educational thing for a lot of people, including the Americans and the Russians. Oh, one of the things to add to what’s happened since the NPT is that you have the precedent of nuclear-free zones. That’s one consequence of the NPT that should be noted.

Looking back, what, as a negotiator, do you see as some of the shortcomings?

Were there things that the treaty could have done differently? Nothing comes readily to mind. It was an outline of goals, as well as arrangements. I wish we could have done something more on positive and negative assurances, and we tried very hard. There were some informal discussions that came up later in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty negotiations, but they were mostly at the lower level. That’s one thing that, perhaps, I wish could have been developed more.

Why do you think those were not developed more?

Well, the tensions were still high. Neither government was ready then to move on formulations of what they would or would not do and negative and positive assurances. This proposed assurance would adversely affect the Russians, and that proposed alternative would adversely affect the Americans, as it was conceived of at that time. I don’t think that was a major issue particularly. It took some time, but it wasn’t a major issue.

How would you describe the geopolitical situation at the time, and how did that affect the relationships among the negotiators?

Well, it was a time when we were sort of optimistic. The ACDA was created.3 It was a substantial organization. In my judgment, the NPT would not have been negotiated successfully, at least not at that time, if you hadn’t had the ACDA established. The European section of the Department of State at that time—and this was reflected in other parts of the executive branch—was really opposed to taking on the problem and antagonizing our European allies. They knew it would run into the business of the MLNF, and it did antagonize our allies. There was no question about it. It antagonized the Germans. The Germans wanted to use it to bargain in German reunification talks. They also thought it was a threat to NATO.

William Foster, chief U.S. negotiator on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, signs the NPT July 1, 1968, as President Lyndon Johnson (far right) and Lady Bird Johnson (far left) look on. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk is seated next to the president, and a number of ambassadors are seated at the far end of the table, including Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin (fifth from right among those seated).  (Photo Courtesy of Larry Weiler)The ACDA staffed the negotiations, backstopped the negotiations, fought internal battles, and so it was a terrible thing for arms control when they reintegrated the ACDA back into the State Department during the Clinton administration. I wish some form of it were re-established again. That would make prospects for the future much brighter.

How about the relationship with the negotiators when working on the NPT? You had Western countries, the United States, the Soviet Union, Soviet bloc, and representatives of other parts of the world. What were the relationships among negotiators?

It got difficult with some of them. The Indians weren’t particularly happy. The Germans really weren’t happy, and we had extensive negotiations with the Germans in Washington, as well as in Geneva. There was a general concern among the Japanese about whether the inspection arrangements would interfere with their nuclear power development. We were sent on a mission, about six of us, to talk to the Japanese about how any inspection that came out of the treaty would not interfere with their anticipated use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The Russians and the Americans had a problem, and they worked on it. I would say that the Russians and the American delegates got closer together in a personal sense. In one case, an American and a Russian on a Sunday fixed up a box of edibles and some drinks and took a sailboat out on Lake Geneva. They stopped on the shore and had a picnic, the two of them, and worked out one of the problems. Each one of them sent the outcome to his government as the other guy’s proposal, and it was approved. Now that’s not necessarily something I advocate, but it developed a much better working relationship by going through that experience. We had a lot of people involved. We had two different delegations. There were no recesses, other than going to the UN General Assembly. One group went, and then they came back, and the other group went.

You’re describing one key turning point that involved U.S.-Soviet negotiators working closely together. What would you say were one or two of the other key turning points during the NPT negotiations?

Well, the first is the question of prohibiting transfer, that was dealing with the Russian concern about our transferring to the Germans or, as the Russians insisted, no transfer to anyone whatsoever. The word “whatsoever” or “howsoever,” which I had never seen in a legal document before. That related to the MLNF type of thing, and related to that was also the Russian concern about our forward base systems. I know that Butch Fisher [of ACDA] and I took a trip around parts of Europe to look at our installations to see that the treaty that resulted didn’t interfere with them and that we still retained control.

I’m not sure of this, but I think the Russians were a bit pleased to learn of the PAL system that McNamara put in—permissive action links so that the deployed American nuclear weapons on allied aircraft could not be armed without a signal from a distant place. That whole business, which is related to the nontransfer, bothered the Russians. I remember arguing privately with them that we’re not going to destroy NATO in order to get this agreement, so let’s don’t argue. Let’s get on with the negotiation.

One of the key pillars of the treaty is the peaceful uses provision, Article IV, which was not part of the initial U.S. and Soviet drafts back in 1965 or so. The draft introduced at the Conference on Disarmament, or the ENDC [Eighteen-Nation Committee on Disarmament] as it was called in 1967, included an article on peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which was based on proposals from non-nuclear states. How did that factor into the negotiation?

Well, we didn’t have it in the first draft. I’m not absolutely sure why it wasn’t there, except that you don’t like to do things that complicate a negotiation and the negotiation was aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear capability. It became very clear that you had to deal with the consequences of preventing that spread and, that is, you had to deal with the restrictions, if any, on the non-nuclear parties. We were fortunate to have the International Atomic Energy Agency already in existence. As a negotiator, sometimes you get lucky. Certainly, it was clear to me and it was clear to most of us when we got started that you’re going to have to deal with that issue. It turned out to be a very difficult provision because the Europeans wanted to have the Euratom inspection arrangement take care of it. They felt that Euratom was the first step on the way toward reunification of Europe and this would interfere. We didn’t anticipate that when we hit that argument.

We knew there were going to be problems, and there were problems. In the final draft, that was one left to be worked out later, which they did, subsequently. That turned out to the longest one, I think, in many ways to be settled but was essential for the treaty. It became very clear that without settling that, you wouldn’t have a treaty. There was a feeling that was palpable in the room in Geneva. The countries that did not have nuclear weapons did not want this negotiation to be a negotiation deciding who are the haves and the have-not nations. This was bigger than nuclear weapons. They didn’t want this to be some arbitrary fundamental decision separating the different parties of the world—part psychological, part economic. I don’t think you would have ever had the treaty without it.

Tell me about one of those have/have-not issues, which is addressed by Article VI. That provision calls on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ending the arms race, to nuclear disarmament, and to general complete disarmament. How did the negotiation of that provision factor into the dynamics that you’re describing?

Everyone had thought that, at some point, there would be a treaty setting the goals, and [Soviet leader Nikita] Khrushchev had made popular the “general disarmament” phrasing. When Khrushchev came in [during 1953], Soviet policy changed. The May 10, 1955, Soviet proposal was the first serious Soviet arms control proposal, and it was looked upon at the time as something like the sunrise coming up. I remember the time when he came out for “general and complete disarmament,” the phrase we’re talking about. He was talking about the dangers of the arms race.      

Do you think at the time that this language was significant and a commitment? Was it so vague, with no deadline, as to be essentially meaningless or at least not a real obligation?

No, I thought about it. That was the easiest way to express a future goal. I always have reservations about the general disarmament in defense including general conventional disarmament, but it was accepted. It’s not a simple statement. There are aspects to that phrase, and that phrase was carefully constructed.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart signs the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at Lancaster House, London, on July 1, 1968, watched by the Soviet Ambassador (left) and the US Ambassador (right).(Photo credit: Jim Gray/Keystone/Getty Images)“To pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to…”—that’s a little squidgy room there, you see? In other words, as negotiated it said, “You’re going to work towards that.” Now, that’s because there were some general reservations about how committed you should be at this stage. It’s got not just the nuclear bit, but it’s also got this general disarmament in it. There were various factors that worked into that. I hate to say we gave ourselves some squidgy room there, but it was more complicated than a blanket statement that “we will get general and complete disarmament.” My own view at the time was that you shouldn’t worry too much about the ultimate end. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. By the way, for those seeking the end of the road in negotiations, have they ever heard of the “Gromyko proposal”?4

The U.S. negotiating team and the U.S. government at the time, what were you all thinking were the steps that would lead in that direction? I mean, what did you all have in mind about what would fulfill that obligation?

Well, we had in mind the next big step. It was to discuss the killer weapons with the Russians. You must remember, we’d been at this for a long, long time, and nothing had ever happened until the Kennedy administration. Then you had three agreements. You had the Hotline Agreement. That was a big thing. It wasn’t an arms control thing, but it was very important, assuring communications, sort of recognition of the sensitivity of the world in terms of nuclear weapons. Then Partial Test Ban Treaty. Also the UN Outer Space resolution.

Fissile material production cutoff.

No, we never did get to the cutoff.

I’m saying at the time was that one of the things that was being discussed.

Oh yes, yes. The next big step would be negotiating with the Russians about missiles and long-range bombers. The possibility was coming up because two things happened. Satellites gave us target data, but they also gave us national technical means of verification, the opportunity to have verification without intrusion in some ways.

Let’s fast forward 25 years from 1968 to the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference. You all as negotiators, in your infinite wisdom, determined that the treaty shall last 25 years and that there shall be a review conference concerning a possible extension.

It was not in our infinite wisdom. It was the final concession we made in order to get a treaty. 

Okay, looking back on the conference and the decisions that led to the indefinite extension decision, what is your view about whether the commitments that were made then have been faithfully carried out?

That’s a hard question because progress is hard, particularly in this area. You don’t have two people sitting down trying to draft a paper. You have many countries, you have changes in leadership in the countries. You have changes in the structure of the world. Now this can be looked on as excuses, but I wish we had made much more progress. I think most American leaders wish we had made more progress.

Just to follow up, do the non-nuclear-weapon states have reason to be disappointed or disillusioned with the NPT and the deal that they have committed to under the treaty?

Yeah. They have reason to be disappointed in the fact that more progress hasn’t been made, but that’s not a function of any deficiencies in the treaty. It’s not as much progress as the treaty commitment called for, as they see it. The effort has been made and hasn’t been as successful as one would have hoped, as American governments would have hoped. I think that the members of the NPT ought to take into account that while we haven’t done things in the exact order that they might have constructed, it’s constructing a path to nuclear disarmament.

Things are happening and have happened that are progress toward that goal. Number one, we’ve learned how to negotiate. We’ve gone through the process. We developed a cadre of people who were capable of doing that. The NPT now has a multitude of supporting institutions. Then you’ve got, for all practical purposes, a global nuclear test ban with one exception, and you’ve got a fissile material production cutoff with one or two exceptions. We’ve had a massive reduction in the total number of nuclear weapons on both sides. It’s incredible that we managed to come down to the current levels, which are still high but it’s a little hill compared to a mountain top where we were. If you think about it, we have covered much of what was usually in the first state of old three-stage disarmament plans. In practical terms, U.S.-Russia strategic-weapon treaty levels will hold under New START until 2021. The immediate issue is the conflict with North Korea, that will determine the direction for the future.

What do we need to do over the next many years to make sure that the NPT regime remains viable?

The treaty, in part, is a disarmament measure, a restriction. It’s important that the restriction be maintained. It’s also presumably a definition of the obligations. There, I can’t think of anything that can be done with the treaty. The main concern should not be about the “viability” of the treaty. I think that changes the whole nature of the discussion. It’s how much progress has been made toward a promise that was made—not as much progress as many advocated but probably more progress than some skeptics anticipated. We now really need to look at cyberwarfare.


Well, the more nuclear weapons you get around, the more options you have for mistakes being made, more options you have for them being stolen. The more weapons, the more accidents will happen. One bit of the great progress that’s been made is that we haven’t had a nuclear war, for God’s sake.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the United Nations April 27, 2015 in New York. The parties failed to reach a consensus agreement on a substantive final declaration as a result of disagreements, including over establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. The next formal review conferences is planned for 2020.(Photo credit: Timothy A. Clary /AFP/Getty Images)The world is changing. People talk to each other as human beings. At the time of the NPT negotiations, it was an occasion when senior Soviet, American, and Chinese officials got together. Today, they meet all the time. The subject may not be exclusively nuclear weapons, but they’re meeting as human beings. They’re getting to know each other. Remember, one of the objectives of the NPT was to keep things from getting worse and to provide for people to be able to get together. But I’m disappointed that we haven’t done more.

One of the things that’s about to happen is the conclusion of negotiations on a convention to prohibit nuclear weapons. I want to ask for your reflections on the potential impact of that treaty on the broader nuclear nonproliferation risk reduction and disarmament effort.

I’m not sure what consequences it will have. I think it’s going to irritate the leaders of all the nuclear countries. I’m not sure that it might not end up being of benefit, however. I think one of the things that needs to be looked at is the whole issue of nuclear use, that is, the issue of no first use. The idea would be that if you had a worldwide treaty that all the leaders would sign, then anyone who ever ordered the initiation of nuclear weapons use would automatically be considered an international outlaw. Just have it as part of a treaty so this becomes an accepted part of international thinking.



1.  The Kennedy administration explored with NATO allies the idea of a multilateral nuclear force, under which U.S. nuclear missiles would be placed on submarines or surface ships manned by NATO crews. The concept was to provide a more credible deterrent against Soviet attack in Europe and, by giving NATO allies some control over nuclear weapons, reduce the likelihood that other countries, particularly West Germany, would seek a nuclear weapons capability of their own. See Steven Pifer et al., “U.S. Nuclear and Extended Deterrence: Considerations and Challenges,” Brookings Arms Control Series, No. 3 (May 2010), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_nuclear_deterrence.pdf.

2. The multilateral nuclear force died for several reasons, including its inability to add to extended deterrence measures and the threat that it would violate the requirement for a centrally controllable, unified strategic nuclear arsenal. Further, U.S. officials anticipated that the European allies would not support such a plan once they realized the United States would retain its veto over launch and that NATO nations would be expected to share the costs of maintaining the multilateral nuclear force. See David N. Schwartz, NATO’s Nuclear Dilemmas (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1983), pp. 94–95.

3. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was created in 1961 under President John Kennedy and charged with “formulating, advocating, negotiating, implementing and verifying effective arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament policies, strategies, and agreements.” In 1999 it was merged into the State Department. For a history of the ACDA, see John Holum, “Looking Back: Arms Control Reorganization, Then and Now,” Arms Control Today, June 2005.

4. In the 1960s, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko proposed a plan under which the United States and Soviet Union would eliminate most nuclear-weapon delivery systems, retaining only a “limited” number to provide a “nuclear umbrella” deterrent until the completion of disarmament. For more, “U.S. Bars Talks on Moscow Plan,” The New York Times, June 17, 1964.

NPT at 50

REMARKS: The OPCW at 20: Adapting the Prohibition Regime to Address Emerging Challenges

October 2017
By Ahmet Üzümcü

Ahmet Üzümcü (Photo credit: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)This year marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the founding of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Today, the convention remains the foundation of the international community’s commitment to eliminate the scourge of chemical weapons.

Impressive progress has been made in 20 years. More than 95 percent of 72,000 tons of declared chemical warfare agents have been destroyed under the OPCW’s verification. The Russian Federation will complete the destruction of its stockpile before the end of this year and the United States by 2023.

In parallel to our achievements, we have faced formidable challenges. In 2013, the OPCW began an unprecedented mission to remove Syria’s chemical weapons. With the support of the United Nations, the European Union, and more than 30 states-parties, 1,300 metric tons of chemical weapons material were removed from Syria and destroyed. This was an impressive achievement.

Unfortunately, that did not mark the end of our work in Syria. Amid persistent and credible allegations that chlorine was being used as a chemical weapon, I established a fact-finding mission in April 2014 that has examined a significant number of incidents and substantiated several cases of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons, an incident involving sarin, and another involving sulfur mustard. This behavior flies in the face of every civilized norm and is in direct violation of the convention.

Moving forward, our success should not be measured strictly in weapons destroyed but also in weapons prevented from being built.

One thing that is very clear: the challenges of tomorrow will be very different from those of yesterday. The continued use of chemical weapons, the mounting threat of chemical terrorism, and the evolution of science and technology are all shaping our future.

The threat of chemical terrorism is a real concern and one that cannot be easily addressed with current approaches to nonproliferation. Countering this threat will require action on many fronts using all available tools, including multilateral coordination and legislative means.

We take this threat seriously. Our Open-Ended Working Group on Terrorism is tasked with identifying opportunities for enhanced interaction and coordination with relevant international bodies. A sub-working group focuses particular attention on the problem of nonstate actors. We also have an active partnership with the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, which helps us and more than a dozen other international organizations practice and coordinate responses to biological and chemical weapons threats. Together with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the OPCW co-chairs the working group on preventing and responding to weapons of mass destruction terrorist attacks with chemical or biological weapons. On the legal front, ensuring that all our states-parties have effective legal and other regulatory measures in place and supporting internal structures to administer them are critical. These provide the foundation for preventing nonstate actors from gaining access to materials that could aid the development of chemical weapons.

Advances in science and technology will be one of the drivers shaping our future as we all work to ensure that such developments are only for the benefit of humankind. This makes it necessary for us to have the ability to detect new chemicals and establish if they are relevant to the convention. Similarly, we need to acquire a deeper understanding of the growing interaction between chemistry and biology, which also gives rise to the ability to produce potentially dangerous chemicals through new techniques and methods. Advancements in chemistry cannot, of course, be constrained. But it is imperative to monitor them closely to utilize them for improving verification and protection measures.

In a world that sometimes finds it difficult to reach a common ground on crucial issues, the convention and the work of the OPCW demonstrate what can be achieved if we remain steadfast in supporting global norms for the common good.


Success should not be measured strictly in weapons destroyed but also in weapons prevented from being built.

Trump, Kim Make Nuclear Crisis Personal

October 2017
By Terry Atlas and Kelsey Davenport

Tensions between the United States and North Korea moved into dangerous new territory last month, as two inexperienced national leaders engaged in name-calling backed up by threats of nuclear conflict.

It remains unclear whether the tension that has been increasing for months, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defied international pressure to halt his nuclear weapons program, will drive a serious effort for negotiations or trigger, intentionally or by accident, military action that could cause tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths on the Korean peninsula and perhaps beyond.

North Koreans in the capital, Pyongyang, on Sept. 22 (local time) watch a report on leader Kim Jong Un’s statement denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump as a “rogue and a gangster” who will “pay dearly” for his threats against their country. (Photo credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
Complicating matters is the fact that the two key decision-makers, Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, are untested in such diplomatic crisis situations and have shown tendencies to provoke further confrontation.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump belittled Kim as “rocket man” and used the podium of the world’s pre-eminent peacemaking institution to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies.” In doing so, the Los Angeles Times reported, Trump ignored appeals from his national security team not to make the situation more dangerous and the path to negotiations more daunting by insulting the young dictator.

Kim quickly responded in kind and, for the first time, personally issued a statement directed at a U.S. president, saying that Trump barks like a “frightened dog” and is a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” which is a senile or weak-minded individual.

In a sign of further defiance, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was quoted Sept. 21 as telling journalists in New York, where he was attending the UN session, that Kim is considering whether to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean, which would be the first atmospheric nuclear test explosion since China conducted one on Oct. 16, 1980.

Ri was likely referring to launching an intercontinental ballistic missile paired with a nuclear warhead into the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate North Korea’s capabilities. That would be a profoundly provocative action, with environmental and health implications from the radioactive fallout, and defy the norm against atmospheric nuclear tests established by the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty.

Trump fired back at Kim using his favored communications weapon, Twitter, writing that “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!” Less provocatively, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sept. 22 on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “we will continue our efforts in the diplomatic arena, but all our military options are on the table.”

Yet, any military option comes with significant risks, particularly with South Korea’s capital, Seoul, within range of North Korea artillery just north of the Demilitarized Zone, which may dismiss it as a viable solution.

Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told The American Prospect in August, “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis subsequently said, without providing any details, that the United States has military options that would not put Seoul at risk.

The Trump administration has paired its threats with additional sanctions targeting North Korea. Trump issued an executive order Sept. 21 that targets banks and companies that continue to do business with North Korea. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Washington has the tools to “cut off banks from the banking system in the United States.”

“For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile program,” Trump said in announcing the measures.

Significantly, China’s central bank agreed to cooperate and directed financial institutions throughout China to curtail their loans and other business with North Korea and the North Korean government.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, Ri said it was a “forlorn hope to consider any chance that [North Korea] would be shaken an inch or change its stance due to the harsher sanctions by the hostile forces.” Ri also called out Trump’s “reckless and violent” words and said that, by insulting North Korea, he made the “irreversible mistake of making our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more.”

The Trump administration is seeking to use increasing pressure from tightening economic sanctions, influence from China, and the threat of military action to force North Korea to negotiate denuclearization. “It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future,” Trump declared in his address to the UN General Assembly.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans participate in a state-organized, anti-U.S. rally in Pyongyang on Sept. 23.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)In recent years, diplomacy has not gained traction. U.S. President Barack Obama tried to use UN Security Council demands and sanctions to increase pressure on North Korea while waiting for Kim Jong Un to take steps toward denuclearization, a policy called “strategic patience.” The Obama administration’s insistence on onerous preconditions and misreading of North Korean signals in favor of talks, however, failed to produce results. (See ACT, March 2015.)

As a result, North Korea’s nuclear program raced ahead to produce additional nuclear material for warheads and increasingly powerful missiles. Now, under the Trump administration, North Korea is able for the first time to reach much of the U.S. mainland with its ballistic missiles, although the accuracy and reliability is questionable.

Since taking office, Trump has redoubled sanctions pressures and demanded China step up and said on Aug. 8 that the North would feel the “fire and fury” of the United States if the regime continued its threats and destabilized the Korean peninsula and East Asia. Kim responded with further missile tests and, on Sept. 3, North Korea claimed a hydrogen bomb test vastly more powerful than previous underground tests.

On the diplomatic front, Trump so far has been dismissive of the freeze-for-freeze proposal favored by China and Russia in which North Korea would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests and the United States would suspend more provocative elements of its large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea.

Trump may have narrowed his leverage further with his denunciations of the Iran nuclear deal, indicating that he may walk away from that accord and seek to impose new, tougher restrictions on Iran. That may signal to Kim that any deal, even if it is endorsed by the UN Security Council as the Iran deal is, may not be upheld by the United States, meaning that nuclear weapons are needed for regime security. James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence, has said that he does not foresee a scenario in which North Korea relinquishes its nuclear weapons.

That would mean accepting negotiations focused on achieving some level of nuclear arms control and reduced tensions, coupled with U.S. nuclear deterrence policies. If so, Trump may have a choice between becoming the U.S. president who acquiesced to North Korea as a nuclear weapons power or as the U.S. president who went to war to prevent that outcome. Neither of the two U.S. defense treaty allies with the most at risk, South Korea and Japan, seem politically prepared for a serious military conflict with North Korea. —TERRY ATLAS AND KELSEY DAVENPORT

North Korea’s Sixth Test Its Largest Yet

The Sept. 3 nuclear test explosion at North Korea’s underground Punggye-ri test site produced a magnitude 6.1 seismic event, according to specialists at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna.

The analysis was made on the basis of information from 41 primary and 90 auxiliary seismic stations that are part of the CTBTO International Monitoring System (IMS). Signals from the nuclear test were also detected by two hydroacoustic stations and one infrasound station. The IMS consists of 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations, of which 42 and 107 stations, respectively, are certified.

The IDC detected a second event that occurred 8.5 minutes after the initial blast, at approximately the same location, but two units of magnitude smaller. That event, along with a magnitude 3.4 seismic event detected on Sept. 23, have been assessed by the CTBTO and national authorities to have been caused by geologic disturbances created by the Sept. 3 nuclear test explosion.

At a magnitude of 6.1, the Sept. 3 nuclear test was by far North Korea’s largest. On Sept. 14, the CTBTO published a chart listing the range of body wave magnitudes and estimates of yield, which ranged from 140 to 450 kilotons TNT equivalent. Such a blast would be roughly 10 to 30 times the strength of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, which was about 15 kilotons. The largest previous North Korean nuclear test was in the 20-kiloton range.

Analysts Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu estimated the yield of the test was roughly 250 kilotons, according to their analysis published in the blog 38 North.

North Korea claimed the device was a hydrogen bomb designed to be carried by a long-range missile. Whether such a North Korean device could be fitted into a warhead small enough and light enough for such a missile is not clear, according to Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In a Sept. 7 interview in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hecker said the explosive power of the Sept. 3 blast “was consistent with a hydrogen bomb—that is, a fusion-based bomb. However, it could also have been a large `boosted’ fission bomb, in which the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium were used to enhance the fission yield.” More testing, Hecker said, would make it possible for North Korea to arm a long-range missile with ahigh-yield warhead.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Comparison of Seismic Signals From the Six North Korean Nuclear Tests

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization's International Data Centre estimates the seismic wave produced by the Sept. 3 explosive nuclear test was equivalent to a magnitude 6.1 earthquake. The seismic signals (shown to scale) of the six declared North Korean nuclear tests, as observed at the International Monitoring System station AS-59 in Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan, show the latest explosion produced a much higher yield than the previous five tests


For now, it is a war of words. That could change. 

Iran Nuclear Deal 'Sunset' Gets Scrutiny

October 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

Europeans leaders are seeking to shore up support for the Iran nuclear deal amid criticism from the United States over the duration of provisions that deny Iran the capability to make nuclear weapons or avoid detection if attempting to do so secretly.

With Iran judged to be in compliance, President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have focused their criticism of the July 2015 nuclear accord on Iranian activities not barred by it, such as developing missiles and stoking conflicts in the Mideast, and on the deal’s provisions phasing out of some nuclear constraints imposed on Iran. Trump’s hints at abandoning the deal have alarmed key European allies, who have sought to reassure him with the uncertain prospect of addressing issues outside the agreement, while continuing the current deal.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the UN General Assembly Sept. 20. The nuclear deal “constitutes a recognized multilateral agreement, and any failure on the part of the United States in implementing it would constitute an international wrongful act and would be objected to by the international community,” he said.  (Photo credit: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)As with most arms control agreements, the nuclear deal negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran contains measures that expire over time. Other aspects that create barriers to building nuclear weapons remain in place indefinitely. European and Russian officials have pointed to the permanent provisions, said that the deal is contributing to regional and international security, and urged continued implementation of the agreement.

After a ministerial meeting of the P5+1 and Iran at the United Nations, Federica Mogherini, EU foreign policy chief and chair of the P5+1 group, said on Sept. 20 that all parties agreed there were “no violations” of the accord. Further, Mogherini said that there was no discussion at the meeting of reopening the agreement, signaling the kind of opposition Trump can expect from European allies.

The international community “cannot afford dismantling an agreement that is working,” and “as Europeans, we will make sure that the agreement stays,” she said.

Trump has signaled he will take steps this month that could lead to the unraveling of the nuclear deal. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump denounced the deal as an “embarrassment” and said that Washington cannot abide by an agreement if it “provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.” Given that the nuclear deal allows Iran to maintain a limited nuclear program for peaceful purposes, it is likely Trump was referring to a nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spelled out the concern about expiration dates more clearly in remarks to the press Sept. 20. Tillerson said “the sunset clause” is a “very concerning shortcoming” of the deal. “One can almost set the countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons programs, its nuclear activities,” he said at a press conference, “and that’s something that the president simply finds unacceptable.”

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called into question the duration of the nuclear deal in his Sept. 19 speech, saying it is necessary to “fix it or nix it,” adding that fixing the deal included “getting rid of the sunset clause.”

Both Tillerson and Netanyahu were misleading in giving the impression that the deal expires with a single sunset clause, when the duration terms are complex and some provisions are intended to restrict Iranian actions permanently.

Several of the key limitations on uranium-enrichment activities phase out between 10 and 15 years after implementation of the accord, which occurred in January 2016. For instance, starting in January 2026, Iran is free to enrich uranium using advanced centrifuges and install and operate a greater number of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Currently, Iran is restricted to using 5,060 IR-1 machines to enrich uranium. In January 2031, the 300-kilogram limit on Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will expire, and Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium to levels greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235.

The expiration of these limits will shorten Iran’s potential breakout time, the time it would take to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, to less than the current 12 months. Yet, additional barriers remain in place—some will expire subsequently, others are permanent—that are intended to prevent or deter Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

For instance, continuous monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production manufacturing sites and uranium mines and mills by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors continue for an additional five and 10 years, respectively, providing intelligence on Iran’s actions. Other restrictions, such as the specific prohibition on “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device,” remain in place in perpetuity. This commitment prevents Iran from pursing activities in the future relevant to building a nuclear weapon but claiming the purpose was for conventional military applications.

Iran also may be permanently subject to the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms permitted under the additional protocol to Iran’s safeguards agreement. The additional protocol gives the IAEA more information about and access to nuclear-related facilities in Iran.

Currently, Iran is implementing its additional protocol on a voluntary basis. Under the nuclear deal, Iran must seek ratification of the additional protocol within eight years of the deal’s adoption, by October 2023. Once
ratified, the additional protocol is permanent. At the IAEA annual general conference in Vienna, the European Union said on Sept. 18 that “early ratification by Iran” of the additional protocol is “essential.”

Iran also committed under the nuclear deal to implement the modified Code 3.1 safeguards provisions, which require a state to report on a new nuclear-related facility as soon as the construction decision is made. Implementation of this measure will give the IAEA early notice of construction affecting Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Taken together, these additional restrictions and transparency measures provide the international community with a powerful set of tools to detect and deter an Iranian attempt to pursue nuclear weapons development well beyond the initial 15-year period now at issue. Further, Mogherini noted that the text of the deal “reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

European members of the P5+1 and Iran, while clearly stating that the current nuclear deal must remain in place, have not dismissed future negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programs or other activities in the region. Iran has made clear that any future negotiations would require reciprocal concessions.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he agreed with Trump that the deal is “not sufficient,” but said that stopping the deal would be a bad option. He said the best way to address concerns is to sustain the nuclear deal and work to build on the existing deal.

The deal does not preclude negotiating an extension to the limits or a deal on other measures that would provide disincentives to the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran in the future. “Different issues can be discussed in different formats,” said Mogherini.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New York Times on Sept. 21 that if “you want to have an addendum, there has to be an addendum on everything.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. officials make misleading statements critical of the accord's duration.

Fifty States Sign Nuclear Weapons Ban

October 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The day after President Donald Trump used his first address to the UN General Assembly to denounce the Iran nuclear deal and to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea, 50 countries signed a landmark treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted July 7 at the United Nations in New York, with 122 non-nuclear-weapon states voting in favor, Singapore abstaining, and the Netherlands voting against. The nuclear-armed states did not participate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Michel Temer of Brazil is the first to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons when it opened for signature Sept. 20 at the United Nations. (Photo credit: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)At the ceremony for the opening for signatures on Sept. 20, UN Secretary-General António Guterres heralded the treaty as a “milestone” and “the first multilateral disarmament treaty in two decades.”

Brazil was the first to sign, and Ecuador became the 50th signatory in the evening. By the end of the day, three signatories—Guyana, the Holy See, and Thailand—had also ratified it. The treaty enters into force once 50 states sign and ratify it. Three countries prominent during the treaty negotiations—the Marshall Islands, Sweden, and Switzerland—were among those absent from the list of initial signatories. (See ACT, September 2017.)

“We welcome the treaty as a long-awaited and essential step towards [nuclear weapons] elimination, and we do so foremost with the victims of these weapons in mind—those who died following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, after later nuclear testing, and those who still suffer today,” International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer declared at the ceremony. Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, emphasized the role of nuclear weapons survivors from Japan in pressing for the treaty.

Nuclear-armed states and NATO members strongly oppose the treaty. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sept. 18 called the treaty “close to irresponsible” and said that it could undermine the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist in a letter that signing the treaty could hurt U.S.-Swedish military cooperation and U.S. military support in the event of war, according to the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

NATO asserted in a Sept. 20 statement that the alliance could not support the treaty and discouraged other countries from doing so. “Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and stability,” according to the statement. “Indeed it risks doing the opposite by creating divisions and divergences at a time when a unified approach to proliferation and security threats is required more than ever.”

Still, speakers at the ceremony, including Fihn and Maurer, appealed to nuclear-armed states to join the prohibition treaty. Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis urged them to “join this date with history.”

Calls to sign the treaty stretched beyond the UN complex in New York. On Sept. 20, two activists in Australia scaled the roof of a foreign ministry building in the capital, Canberra, and unfurled a banner urging their government to sign the nuclear ban treaty.

In response to division over the treaty, Guterres advocated “dialogue, bridge-building, and practical steps” to advance nuclear disarmament. Fihn, however, saw the division as a sign of progress, comparing the controversy to civil rights battles over the abolition of slavery and the women’s suffrage movement. “Ground-breaking steps forward do not start with consensus agreements,” she said.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Secretary-General António Guterres herals the treaty as a "milestone," even as nuclear powers remain opposed.

Trump Administration Silent on CTBT

October 2017
By Shervin Taheran

At the UN Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) held Sept. 20, the sole U.S. representative sat silently as senior officials from other nations expressed support for the landmark 1996 accord.

The Trump administration, working without an undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, did not match the high level of representation exhibited by other governments and international organizations. Speakers included foreign ministers and other senior officials, such as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, and Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

The U.S. silence is particularly notable because the Trump administration is conducting a Nuclear Posture Review, which may include the question of whether the country can adequately maintain its nuclear arsenal without test explosions. The last U.S. nuclear explosive test was Sept. 23, 1992, and many experts have concluded that testing is not necessary to maintain a reliable nuclear stockpile.

The Trump administration has yet to comment publicly about the CTBT, which the United States signed in 1996 but has not ratified. It has commended the CTBTO International Monitoring System and capabilities for detecting nuclear test explosions, notably in the April 7 joint communiqué on nonproliferation and disarmament by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven.

Although the Trump administration has requested full funding for the CTBTO, in line with previous years, some Republicans in Congress are aiming to “restrict” that funding. (See ACT, March 2017.)

The United States is one of eight countries, known as the “hold-out states,” that must ratify the treaty
before it can enter into force. The others are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. Of the eight, India, North Korea, and Pakistan have not taken the first step of signing the treaty.

Many nations at the session, informally known as the Article XIV conference, after the article in the treaty that advocates its convening, commended last year’s first UN Security Council resolution to specifically support the CTBT. A total of 42 countries, including Israel, co-sponsored Resolution 2310, which came 20 years after the treaty was opened for signature. (See ACT, October 2016.)

Yet, a reference to the resolution was absent in the final declaration of the conference, causing Mogherini to note, “We welcome the positive developments since the 2015 Article XIV conference . . . the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2310, which reaffirms the vital importance and urgency of achieving prompt entry into force of the treaty and its universalization. The European Union would have preferred to see a direct reference to this resolution in the final declaration.”

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature the same morning as the Article XIV conference (See "Fifty States Sign Nuclear Weapons Ban," this issue), where the new accord was frequently mentioned in remarks by officials from countries supporting the new treaty.

Noting concerns among some of the member-states and signatories that the prohibition treaty is in conflict with the CTBT, Alexander Marschik, political director of the Austrian Foreign Ministry, said that the prohibition treaty text “recognizes the vital importance of the CTBT and its verification regime as a core element of the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation architecture.”

“Its formulations regarding testing were very carefully drafted to ensure they are fully compatible with the CTBT,” he added. “Moreover, there is reason for hope that the success of the new prohibition treaty negotiations will create a positive impulse for our common objective here: the entry into force of the CTBT and the cessation of nuclear testing.”

China and Egypt were the only two “hold-out” states to speak at the conference, and neither offered a clear path on if or when they would ratify the CTBT. China’s statement only alluded to, but did not name, North Korea, the only country now conducting nuclear explosive testing.

Russia also took the opportunity to call out only the United States among the eight “hold-out” states, saying the “U.S. position,” as well as the doubtful effectiveness of the Article XIV process, could “undermine the hope” that the CTBT would eventually enter into force. “We have the impression that some states are satisfied with the current circumstances.”

The Article XIV conference was led by newly elected co-presidents Belgium and Iraq, which took over from Kazakhstan and Japan. Belgium and Iraq will continue in that role for two years until the next Article XIV conference, unless the treaty comes into force thereby eliminating the need for the conference.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

The United States withholds comment while the new administration reviews nuclear weapons policies.

Air Force Nuclear Programs Advance

October 2017
By Kingston Reif

The U.S. Air Force in August awarded roughly $2.5 billion in contracts to four major defense companies to continue the initial development of new fleets of air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The contracts come as the Trump administration continues to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has yet to endorse the new ALCM program, known as the long-range standoff weapon.

The administration’s first budget request released in May proposes to continue the Obama administration’s costly plans to rebuild the U.S. nuclear triad and its supporting infrastructure. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report in February estimated that the United States will spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons during fiscal years 2017 to 2026. (See ACT, March 2017.) That is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year estimate of $348 billion, which was published in January 2015.

The budget office’s latest projection suggests that the cost of nuclear forces could far exceed $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

It remains to be seen whether the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review will make changes to the Obama administration’s nuclear upgrade plans. The review is slated for completion later this year.

Mattis told reporters on Sept. 13 that he is evaluating “each element” of the U.S. nuclear triad “very critically.” He said the administration would not retain weapons “just because we had them 30 years ago.”

The Air Force awarded two $900 million contracts to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Co. “to mature design concepts and prove developmental technologies” for the new cruise missile, according to an Aug. 21 service press release. The contracts cover a 54-month period of development after which the Air Force will choose one of the contractors to complete development and begin production.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff weapon to replace the existing ALCM. The service says a new ALCM is needed because the existing missiles are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and losing their ability to penetrate sophisticated air defenses. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52H bombers, as well as the planned B-21.

Mattis has not yet expressed a position on the program. He told reporters on Sept. 13 that the contracts “maintain” building the new ALCMs “as an option” but a final decision on whether to proceed “will come out of a Nuclear Posture Review.”

The Air Force selected Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. to proceed with development of the Minuteman III replacement, known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) system. The contracts are “valued at no more than $359 million each” and cover of period of approximately 36 months, according to an Aug. 21 service press release.

The GBSD missile is slated to replace the Minuteman III missiles and their supporting infrastructure and remain in service through the 2070s. An independent Pentagon cost estimate conducted last summer found that the cost of the new ICBM program could be more than double the Air Force’s initial estimate. (See ACT, March 2017.)

The Air Force argues that a new ICBM is necessary because the Minuteman III, which is slated for retirement beginning in 2030, is becoming too expensive to maintain. But some analysts claim that the life of the Minuteman III can be extended at less cost than buying new missiles.

But some analysts claim that there could be more cost-effective alternatives to buying new missiles.

For example, in a report published on Sept. 21, Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that extending the life of the existing Minuteman III missiles could delay the need for the ground based strategic deterrent “by more than a decade” and “would likely cost somewhat less than the current program of record.” —KINGSTON REIF

Contracts worth about $2.5 billion awarded to advance missile program


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