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October 2017
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Sunday, October 1, 2017
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Senate Approval Threatens INF Treaty

October 2017
By Maggie Tennis

Legislation that could undermine the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty moved closer to becoming law Sept. 18, when the U.S. Senate passed its defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2018. The bill includes a provision that would establish a program to begin development of a missile system that could violate the treaty.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters in the Senate subway Sept. 18 before the Senate takes up the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018. (Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)The Senate measure provides $65 million for a nuclear-capable, road-mobile ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range prohibited by the treaty. The House passed its version of the bill July 14, which authorizes spending $25 million for a non-nuclear intermediate-range GLCM, a system that would also violate the treaty. Further, the House bill would require the president to submit a report on Russian INF Treaty compliance within 15 months of enactment and would prohibit funding for an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) if Russia continues to violate the INF Treaty.

The INF Treaty required Russia and the United States to eliminate permanently their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty does not prohibit activities related to research and development of this category of weapons.

Since 2014, Washington has accused Moscow of violating its commitment “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a GLCM having a range prohibited under the INF Treaty. In the past year, the Pentagon has alleged that Russia is fielding a noncompliant system, which Moscow denies.

In an effort to increase pressure on Russia in light of the alleged violation, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) proposed legislation in February to authorize funds for developing a GLCM system with a prohibited range. These measures provided much of the text for the section in the authorization bills on the treaty.

Many Senate Democrats opposed the INF Treaty provision in the underlying bill, and two Democratic members unsuccessfully sought amendments.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) filed an amendment that would authorize funds for R&D, test, and evaluation of military capabilities to counter Russian violations of the treaty but remove the specific reference to a GLCM from the bill’s funding table.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) offered two amendments to modify the INF Treaty provision. One would “prohibit the use of funds for actions not permitted” under the treaty, such as developing and testing a new GLCM.

Warren filed a second, bipartisan amendment co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) to require “a report on the military and security ramifications” of the new Russian GLCM. The report also would have mandated an assessment of the willingness of NATO and allies in Europe to “host a ground-launched intermediate-range missile with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers” and “whether such a missile is the preferred military response” to Russian treaty violations before funds could be authorized to develop such a system.

In a press release, Warren said the United States “cannot risk a new round of nuclear escalation without seriously studying the potential impacts of developing these dangerous weapons.” She criticized the Republican initiative in the underlying bill that “would cost American taxpayers millions of dollars, while laying the groundwork for our withdrawal from a vital treaty that has ensured global security for three decades.”

Lee said the proposed amendment would “set the precedent that the U.S. should not immediately react to an adversary’s treaty violation by violating the same treaty ourselves. That’s not how working in good faith in the international community is done.”

The three amendments were among the vast majority of amendments not debated or voted on in the Senate due to a stalemate over four controversial proposals to the authorization bill.

The Senate version of the defense bill passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 89–8. It will go to a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions and then to the White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law.

Although the Sept. 7 White House Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate bill “objects” to the INF Treaty-related provisions as too prescriptive, it nevertheless states that the Trump administration would support R&D on such prohibited missile systems.

Asked about the ramifications of the Senate vote, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sept. 19, “We need to understand what it means and analyze that information. Russia maintains its commitment to all international agreements.”

The INF Treaty marked the first time the United States and the Soviet Union had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and conduct extensive on-site verification inspections. As a result, the two countries destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

Arms control experts warn that U.S. pursuit of a new GLCM could alienate European allies anxious about a prospective new nuclear arms race affecting their terrorities. Thomas Graham Jr., who was President Bill Clinton’s special representative for arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament, warned recently in The National Interest that developing a noncompliant missile system could “release all limits on Moscow’s intermediate-range nuclear forces that have strengthened U.S. and allied security for three decades.”

“Congress risks making matters worse by opening the door to Russian deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe.”—MAGGIE TENNIS

Defense authorization bill includes money to develop treaty-banned missiles.

States Condemn Cluster Munitions Use

October 2017
By Jeff Abramson

Reacting to the ongoing civilian toll from cluster munitions use in Syria and elsewhere, states-parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions at their annual meeting in Geneva renewed their condemnation of “any use” of such indiscriminate weapons.

A Syrian man shows a cluster bomb, that releases or ejects smaller submunitions, in the northern Syrian town of Taftanaz, in the Idlib province, on November 9, 2012. (Photo credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)Research published by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor before the annual meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) identified use of cluster munitions by Syrian forces in joint operations with Russia that had resulted in at least 837 casualties during attacks in 2016. Syria is not a signatory to the treaty, which prohibits all use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of such weapons.

“This meeting is taking place against the backdrop of alarming reports of the toll on civilians caused by the use of cluster munitions in current armed conflicts,” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said in prepared remarks, which were presented by a spokesperson, Anja Kaspersen, at the Sept. 4 opening session of the three-day meeting. Although absent from a draft report on the conference, states-parties added language similar to previous meetings that “condemned any use by any actor” in their final report.

Aside from Syria, at least another 20 casualties were recorded in Yemen in 2016 during Saudi-led coalition attacks. All told, the report identified at least 971 cluster munition casualties in 2016, more than double the 417 recorded in 2015. The count includes casualties in a total of 10 countries due to cluster munition remnants that exploded after their initial combat use, in some cases decades later. This continues to occur in Laos, where the United States dropped hundreds of millions of submunitions in the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War. The report identified 51 casualties there in 2016.

Since the 2016 annual meeting, Benin and Madagascar have ratified the treaty, bringing the accord to 102 states-
parties and 17 signatories. On Sept. 5, Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch, head of the South Sudanese delegation, announced that his country had decided to accede to the CCM and the Chemical Weapons Convention, where it would become the 166th state-party.

The United States, which is not party to the cluster munitions convention, did not attend the annual meeting. No cluster munitions appear to be part of any military sales under consideration by the United States, including the notional $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia announced by President Donald Trump in March, and there are no indications of U.S. use of cluster munitions since 2009. In 2016 the last manufacturer of cluster munitions in the United States announced it was ceasing production of the weapons. (See ACT, October 2016.) —JEFF ABRAMSON

The civilian toll grows in Syria, Yemen. 

U.S., Russian Strategic Stability Talks Begin

The United States and Russia held a first round of strategic stability talks Sept. 12 in Helsinki, reportedly agreeing to continue implementing the nuclear weapons limits under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The specific agenda was not disclosed. “The discussions provided both sides with an opportunity to raise questions and concerns related to strategic stability and also to clarify their positions on that matter,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington afterward. Neither side provided any information about further talks.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (r.) greets U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon Sept. 11, ahead of Shannon’s strategic-stability talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Helsinki. (Photo credit: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. delegation was led by Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and the Russian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. 

Joining Shannon in the U.S. delegation were representatives from the White House and defense and energy departments. The Russian delegation also included representatives from the across the government. 

The talks come amid deep divisions on a host of bilateral issues, including arms control. (See ACT, September 2017.) A State Department official was quoted by the Russian news agency Tass before the talks as saying that the aim is to exchange views, dispel misinformation and misperceptions, and “work toward creating a more functional relationship.” Ryabkov told reporters afterward that the two sides agreed to continue implementing New START, which sets a limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems effective February 2018.—KINGSTON REIF

U.S., Russian Strategic Stability Talks Begin

Turkey Snubs NATO with Russian Arms Deal

A Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile launcher is displayed Aug. 22 at a military conference near Moscow. (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)NATO member Turkey turned to Russia to buy an advanced anti-aircraft missile system, a deal estimated to be worth $2.5 billion that has caused unease among its alliance partners. Turkish newspapers on Sept. 12 quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying that Ankara has paid a deposit for the Russian S-400 air defense system. The purchase denies a major deal for Western contractors and will put in place a system that is not compatible with NATO air defenses. Russian media presented the deal, which would also provide Turkey with the technology to produce its own advanced air defenses, as a rebuke to Western governments.

The purchase comes at a time of growing strains between Washington and Ankara as Erdogan cracks down on political opponents and the United States sends arms to Kurdish militias in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists. Complicating matters, the deal may run afoul of U.S. sanctions against Russia. Politico reported on Sept. 14 that Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote to President Donald Trump that the deal would trigger mandatory U.S. sanctions against Turkey under legislation signed into law in August.—TERRY ATLAS

Turkey Snubs NATO with Russian Arms Deal

Nuclear Fuel Bank Established

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Aug. 29 achieved a long-sought nonproliferation goal of establishing an international storage facility for low-enriched uranium (LEU). (See ACT, October 2015.) The IAEA LEU Bank Storage Facility at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Öskemen, Kazakhstan, can store up to 90 metric tons of LEU for nuclear energy generation. The bank was established to acquire nuclear reactor fuel for countries without enrichment infrastructure or an ability to obtain the fuel from the commercial market or other countries. By ensuring reliable supplies, the bank makes it possible for countries to develop civilian nuclear power programs without the need for enrichment capability, a technology that also can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

Voluntary contributions from IAEA member states totaled $150 million, which will fully fund the effort for 20 years. The donors include the European Union, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and a nonprofit organization, the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Payments from recipient countries will be used to replenish the facility’s LEU supply. In order to become a recipient, a country must meet stringent IAEA criteria for ensuring the safety and security of supplies.—SAMANTHA PITZ

Nuclear Fuel Bank Established

Bahrain Arms Sale Undoes U.S. Restraint


Shiite protesters in Bahrain clash with riot police following a funeral April 5, 2016. (Photo credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Sept. 8 of nearly $4 billion in proposed foreign military sales to Bahrain, including 19 F-16V fighter aircraft and upgrades to 20 other F-16s already in the Bahraini air force. The notification marks the official intention of the Trump administration to proceed with a third major arms sale, each to different countries, that the Obama administration had held up due to human rights concerns. In May, the administration provided notification of a sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia and in August proposed selling Super Tucano light aircraft to Nigeria. Once notified, Congress has 30 days to review potential sales before the administration can proceed, but deals are often delayed during a preceding informal stage when leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee can vet arms deals.

On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up any further arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal disputes, notably one with Qatar. Corker indicated during a Sept. 12 nomination hearing that this would apply to future sales because the Bahrain deal had been cleared previously during the informal review period. Further, Corker said arms sales to Bahrain and human rights should be delinked, and the nominee to become U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, career diplomat Justin Hicks Siberell, stated that “enhancing our security cooperation with Bahrain does not diminish the enduring emphasis we place on human rights issues.” Siberell added, “We continue to be concerned with government actions against nonviolent political and human rights actors.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

Bahrain Arms Sale Undoes U.S. Restraint

States Avoid Discussing Controversial Arms Trade

At the third annual conference since the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force in 2014, states-parties again generally avoided formal discussion of controversial arms transfers, especially those to Saudi Arabia. As in past years, civil society members encouraged states to specifically discuss and, in many cases, halt arms transfers into conflict zones, including transfers to the Saudi-led coalition active in the Yemen war. The treaty requires the establishment of national export control systems, as well as assessments of whether exported arms could facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

Speaking on behalf of the Control Arms coalition on Sept. 11, Yemen-based Radhya al-Mutawakel of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that 19 states-parties and three signatories had agreed to sell or deliver weapons to Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Yemen war. In calling for all arms transfers affecting that conflict to stop, she added “Sadly, many ordinary Yemenis have come to know some of your countries through the weapons that have destroyed their homes and killed their families.”

In analyzing all statements, the nongovernmental group Reaching Critical Will identified just one country, Costa Rica, that specifically mentioned Yemen. A total of 106 countries attended the five-day meeting in Geneva, including 79 of 92 states-parties and 23 of 41 signatories. Discussion primarily centered on treaty working groups, funding, and other administrative matters, as well as linkages between the treaty and sustainable development goals. States-parties provisionally agreed to meet next year in Japan during Aug. 20–24. 

Separately, the European Parliament on Sept. 13 again adopted a nonbinding resolution for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, reiterating a decision made in February 2016 and stating that such transfers are “non-compliant” with the EU’s Common Position on Arms Export Controls. Many of the countries identified as providing arms are EU members. (See ACT, October 2016.) — JEFF ABRAMSON

States Avoid Discussing Controversial Arms Trade

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77

Stanislav Petrov, a little-known Russian whose decision averted a potential nuclear war, died in May at 77, a family friend disclosed in mid-September. 

As a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Petrov was on duty Sept. 26, 1983, when the early-warning satellite system he was monitoring detected what appeared to be five approaching U.S. nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov was faced with a critical choice that had to be made immediately: treat the warning as a false alarm or alert his superiors, who likely would launch a counterattack. Petrov went with false alarm, later explaining he reasoned that if the United States really were to start a nuclear war, it would do so with more than five missiles. He was correct. The satellites had mistaken the reflection of sun off clouds for attacking missiles.

Petrov’s decision was all the more remarkable because it occurred during a particularly tense period, shortly after the Soviet Union had shot down a civilian Korean jetliner that had passed over its territory, killing all 269 passengers and crew. Rather than being praised, Petrov was reprimanded for allegedly faulty documentation during the key moments. Soviet officials treated the incident as a secret, which it remained until well after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Petrov received international praise, earning the 2013 Dresden Peace Prize and a 2006 award from the Association of World Citizens. A 2014 documentary, “The Man Who Saved the World,” told his story.

In response to news of Petrov’s death, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted, “Times of nuclear tension call for careful restraint. You may not know Stanislav Petrov, but at height of the Cold War, he saved the world.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77

Prohibit, Do Not Promote, Nuclear Weapons Use

October 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

At an emergency UN Security Council briefing on Sept. 4 following North Korea's sixth and largest nuclear test explosion, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lectured Pyongyang's leaders that "being a nuclear power is not about using those terrible weapons to threaten others. Nuclear powers understand their responsibilities."

Days later, in his inaugural address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, U.S. President Donald Trump called North Korea's leader "rocket man" on "a suicide mission." Trump warned, "We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if it threatens U.S. allies in the region. North Korea's foreign minister replied by saying Trump's insult makes "our rockets' visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more."

As two of the world's most irresponsible nuclear actors traded nuclear threats, the leaders of the world's non-nuclear-weapon states took an important, responsible step in the opposite direction. On Sept. 20, the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons opened for signature, with 50 states signing on the first day.

The treaty, which was negotiated by more than 130 states, is a good faith effort to meet their responsibility as signatories of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue effective measures on disarmament and help end the arms race. The prohibition treaty further reinforces the commitments of these states against the use, threat of use, development, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transfer, stationing, or installation of nuclear weapons. It reinforces states' commitments to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Although the prohibition treaty by itself will not eliminate any nuclear weapons, the treaty can help to further delegitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen the legal and political norm against their use. Steps aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic nuclear weapons use are necessary and should be welcomed, especially as the war of words between Trump and Kim Jong Un escalates.

Unfortunately, the United States and the world's other major nuclear weapons actors have continued to criticize and belittle the effort as "a distraction" that undermines more effective nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation measures. Instead of further deepening the growing divide between nuclear-armed states and the non-nuclear-weapon-state majority, U.S. officials should consider using more conciliatory language and tactics.

With the prohibition treaty now a reality, its supporters, skeptics, and opponents must put aside their disagreements and find new and creative ways to work together to strengthen the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime.

Just as importantly, the Trump administration must get its own nuclear policy act together. Trading insults with North Korea's leader and threatening to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal do not constitute effective disarmament and nonproliferation measures. Team Trump also needs to get behind initiatives that help meet unfulfilled U.S. NPT-related disarmament responsibilities. Failure to do so may not only undermine long-term support and confidence in the U.S. leadership role, but the NPT itself.

To start, President Trump should refrain from making further nuclear threats and reaffirm the 1985 statement by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." He should agree to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its verification provisions by five years, to 2026, which would ease tensions, reduce fears of a new nuclear arms race, and help reduce the skyrocketing cost of nuclear weapons.

The administration should also reject congressional pressure to build new nuclear weapons in response to Russia's deployment of ground-based cruise missiles prohibited by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia's missile deployments are a problem but do not significantly alter the military balance, and the treaty's Special Verification Commission should be reconvened to resolve the dispute.

The Trump administration should also reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the CTBT. For more than two decades, the United States has led global efforts to verifiably halt nuclear testing. The United States and China have signed, but not yet ratified, the treaty, thus blocking its entry into force. U.S. and Chinese leaders, in concert with the heads of other states that have detonated nuclear explosions, should reaffirm support for the CTBT through a joint declaration before the 50th anniversary of the NPT in 2018.

Supporters of the prohibition treaty have a responsibility too. They must push the United States, China, and Russia to agree to adopt concrete disarmament measures. Treaty supporters could also help reduce tensions over North Korea by issuing a joint call for Washington and Pyongyang to cease making nuclear threats and push the UN secretary-general to convene emergency diplomatic talks.

The prohibition treaty is a reality. Responsible international leaders and actors now must put aside their disagreements and find new and creative ways to come together to prevent nuclear catastrophe.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.


The prohibition treaty is a reality. Responsible international leaders and actors now must put aside their disagreements and find new and creative ways to come together to prevent nuclear catastrophe.


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