Login/Logout

*
*  

"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
October 2018
Edition Date: 
Monday, October 1, 2018
Cover Image: 

CTBT Grows Amid Calls on N. Korea to Join


October 2018
By Shervin Taheran

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has gained some renewed attention as nations called on North Korea to join the treaty as a way to demonstrate its sincerity in declaring an end to its nuclear testing.

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo (2nd from right) looks on as the prime minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 25.  With the addition of Tuvalu, the number of signatory states grew to 184. Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. (Photo: CTBTO)Meanwhile, Thailand became the 167th country to ratify the CTBT. With the Sept. 25 signature by the island nation of Tuvalu, the number of signatories was brought to 184. But the treaty will not enter into force until it is ratified by the eight remaining nations listed in its Annex 2: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, and the United States.

At a ministerial-level meeting of the “Friends of the CTBT” states Sept. 27, the foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, who co-chaired the meeting, and of Belgium, Finland, Iraq, Japan, and the Netherlands called on North Korea to ratify the CTBT.

The meeting reinforced a message sent to North Korea in June by the foreign ministers of Belgium and Iraq urging a “legally binding and irreversible end” to its nuclear testing, such as through the signature and ratification of the CTBT, as part of a denuclearization agreement. Belgium and Iraq are co-presidents of the 2017 Article XIV Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT and will continue in this role until the next Article XIV conference in 2019.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini reaffirmed this sentiment in remarks at the meeting, urging North Korea to join the CTBT “without delay.” She noted that verifying the closure of the North Korean nuclear test site “could benefit” from the technical assistance of Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

There has not been much public discussion about what the technical verification of the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear test site would look like, and questions remain about the roles of the CTBTO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in such a process. At a Sept. 6 UN event marking the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo said that the organization is ready, if called upon, “to contribute to the process of verifiable denuclearization.”

Miroslav Lajčák, president of the UN General Assembly and Slovakia’s foreign minister, at the Sept. 6 event noted that North Korea’s decisions to suspend nuclear and missile tests were positive steps. Still, he said that signing and ratifying the CTBT “would lead to progress on the Korean peninsula.”

Thailand’s ratification is the last for a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “thereby reaffirming ASEAN’s long term goal of making the region of Southeast Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone,” said Virasakdi Futrakul, Thailand’s deputy foreign minister.

Thailand becomes 167th country to ratify the treaty.

UK Names Two Russians in Novichok Poisonings


October 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The United Kingdom charged two Russian nationals on Sept. 5 with the attempted murder in March of former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia using the nerve agent Novichok, bolstering its case that the Russian government instigated the crime.

In a police photo released September 5, Novichok poisoning suspects are shown on CCTV in Salisbury, UK, March 4. The two men, Russian nationals using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.  (Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images)According to the UK investigation, the two men, who traveled under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The accusation resulted from a months-long UK police investigation, including the analysis of more than 10,000 hours of CCTV videos.

The UK previously accused the Russian government, but had not identified individual suspects. (See ACT, April 2018.)

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in Parliament, said on Sept. 5 that the latest finding proves even more definitively Russian government culpability. She vowed to press for the creation of a new EU chemical weapons sanctions regime and to empower the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “attribute chemical weapons to other states beyond Syria.” The OPCW was granted the mandate to investigate the responsible party for chemical attacks in Syria in June. (See ACT, July/August 2018.)

European nations and the United States have taken steps in response to the attacks, which included expelling hundreds of Russian diplomats and enacting new sanctions. In November, the United States is expected to adopt still harsher sanctions against Russia for its chemical weapons use unless the government admits its guilt, forswears future use, and allows international inspectors to verify its assurances. (See ACT, September 2018.)

At a UN Security Council meeting on Sept. 9 called by the UK, several nations supported the UK’s conclusions and called for strengthening the Chemical Weapons Convention, the 1993 accord that bans chemical weapons. Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the allegations a “crazy cocktail of unfounded lies,” continuing a pattern of denial of Russian and Syrian chemical weapons use.

In an interview on Russia’s government-funded news channel RT, the two suspects claimed they had visited Salisbury twice as tourists to see the city’s famous cathedral. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the men were civilians. “We, of course, checked who these people are. There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you,” Putin stated at an economic forum on Sept. 12.

UK newspapers have reported that a UK-based investigative website, Bellingcat, independently has obtained documentation showing that the names appear to be cover identities linked to the Russian security services and that plane tickets to the UK were bought at the last minute, not as part of a long-planned vacation, as the men claimed.

Laboratory tests by the OPCW confirmed on Sept. 4 the UK’s finding that Novichok was also the chemical agent that killed Dawn Sturgess and injured Charlie Rowley on June 30 in Amesbury. Sturgess and Rowley appear to have been poisoned accidentally by picking up a discarded perfume bottle that held the remains of the nerve agent used on the Skripals.

The two Russians are also “prime suspects” for the Amesbury incident given the link between the two events, May said in her Parliament remarks. The UK has issued Interpol red notices and domestic and European arrest warrants, although the men cannot be arrested and brought to trial as long as they remain in Russia.

The Skripal assassination attempt was “not a rogue operation,” says UK Prime Minister May.

ATT Tackles Diversion, Not Controversy


October 2018
By Jeff Abramson

States-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are working to improve implementation even as they continue to avoid controversial conversations about specific arms transfers.

Morning commuters and delegates arriving for the fourth conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), held in Tokyo, were met by campaigners holding “missing” posters illustrating real-life cases of weapons that have been diverted into the illicit trade. (Photo: Control Arms)During opening remarks Aug. 20 at the fourth conference of ATT states-parties in Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono identified as “two imminent challenges” the universalization of the treaty and its effective implementation. In doing so, he welcomed the addition of five new treaty members since the 2017 conference of states-parties, bringing the total to 97 once the treaty takes effect in November for Brazil, the most recent to ratify.

The treaty establishes common standards for international trade in conventional weapons and seeks to reduce the illicit arms trade. Measures include required consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, as well as reporting on national implementation measures and annual arms transfers.

To address implementation issues, a special focus was placed on weapons diversion. During the five-day meeting, treaty members endorsed a three-tier approach to sharing information and welcomed documents on relevant existing instruments and possible measures to prevent and address diversion.

Reporting remains a challenge. The Control Arms coalition’s ATT Monitor found that 73 percent of states-parties had met their obligations to submit an initial report on national implementation measures. As of June, 48 states had submitted separate, annual arms transfer reports out of 89 required to do so for a 54 percent reporting rate, a decline from the previous year’s 65 percent.

States agreed to continue a working group on transparency and reporting and endorsed an outreach strategy to improve compliance with reporting requirements.

As with previous annual conferences, states generally avoided discussion of controversial arms transfers, particularly ones to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. (See ACT, October 2017.) Those countries are leading a coalition fighting the Houthi in Yemen that has been criticized for frequently striking civilians and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis. States that are still supplying arms to the Saudi-led coalition risk going down in history as being complicit in war crimes in Yemen, Amnesty International said in a Sept. 17 statement.

Next year’s conference of states-parties is planned for Geneva on Aug. 26–30 and will be led by Jānis Kārkliņš of Latvia.

A special focus was placed on weapons diversion.

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

A UN report found the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon four times from January to July 2018, as the international community issued strong warnings against future chemical weapons attacks in a prospective Syrian assault on the Idlib province. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, has issued 15 other reports, finding that chemical weapons were used in 34 attacks in Syria as of January 2018, most of which were attributed to the Assad regime.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime’s Feb. 4 air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest around a stove at a field hospital. (Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)The report blamed the Syrian government for weaponized chlorine use in Karm al-Rasas, near Douma, on Jan. 22 and Feb. 1; in Saraqeb on Feb. 4; and in Douma on April 7. Investigations of the April 7 attack are ongoing, and the report could not confirm if another agent in addition to chlorine was used. (See ACT, May 2018.) The Syrian American Medical Society and the investigative website Bellingcat reported five chemical weapons attacks in January and February and two in March. (See ACT, April 2018.)

France, the United Kingdom, and the United States publicly declared that they will launch airstrikes against governmental targets if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons in Idlib province, where about 3 million civilians are imperiled.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

Pentagon Sees Chinese Missile Advances


The U.S. Defense Department annual report on China’s military power says that Beijing is developing new nuclear weapons delivery systems and is moving to deploy a new missile defense interceptor. The report, released Aug. 16, said China is developing two air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may be nuclear weapons capable. That missile has been flight-tested five times, according to an April report in The Diplomat. This development is significant because air-launched ballistic missiles cannot be intercepted in the boost- or midcourse phase.

China displayed the DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), an enhanced version of the DF-31A, for the first time in 2017 at the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary parade, the Defense Department report notes. China “appears to be considering” additional launch options for the DF-41 ICBM, which is still under development after being tested 10 times, including rail-mobile and silo-based launch options, the report notes. The report also cited Chinese development work on a new nuclear-capable bomber, with an estimated range of at least 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles), that could debut within a decade.

The HQ-19 midcourse missile defense interceptor, which was still being tested in 2016, “may have begun preliminary operation in [w]estern China,” the report states. The system is designed to intercept medium-range missiles, likely from regional countries such as India and North Korea.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Pentagon Sees Chinese Missile Advances

U.S. Space Force to Cost Billions


The initial cost to stand up President Donald Trump’s envisioned Space Force would be $3 billion, according to an Air Force estimate reported Sept. 18 by Defense News. That expense would be part of the total cost of $13 billion over five years for the new branch of the U.S. military, according to the report. The Air Force document, which sets out a plan to transition Air Force space functions to the new command, objects to the White House proposal to create a new high-level post, assistant secretary of defense for space, to oversee the transition, according to Defense News. (See ACT, September 2018). The Air Force document estimated costs for headquarters elements, Space Force elements, additional personnel to staff a new U.S. Space Command, and construction of a new combatant command.—TERRY ATLAS

U.S. Space Force to Cost Billions

India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances


India's Agni-5 missile is displayed during a dress rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 23, 2013. (Photo: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), still under development, is expected to be inducted into the strategic arsenal after one more test, which could occur as soon as October. The Agni-5 has been tested six times, most recently in June. (See ACT, March 2018.) It is a three-stage, road-mobile missile able to carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers. India reportedly has been working to develop multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) for the missile, Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in The Diplomat, which would provide India with a second-strike capability. Analysts believe India is developing the long-range missile to bolster its nuclear deterrence with China. The Agni-5 will need to be tested several more times after it has been inducted before it can be operationally deployed.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances

Arms Flow Despite Yemen Deaths


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided a diplomatic clash with Saudi Arabia by certifying to Congress that the kingdom is taking “demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure” from its airstrikes in Yemen. In doing so, Pompeo overruled State Department specialists after he was warned that alienating Saudi leaders by failing to make the certification could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales, according to a Sept. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal.

The German government confirmed on Sept. 21 that it is proceeding with delivery to the Saudis of counterfire radar systems for artillery. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government deal early this year called for halting weapons sales to any side fighting in Yemen's civil war, although it reportedly excluded already approved exports. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Spain’s new center-left government reversed itself shortly after saying in early September that it had canceled the planned delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs purchased by Saudi Arabia in a 2015 deal under the former conservative government. Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Sept. 13 the government will honor the 2015 contract and noted that such so-called precision munitions can reduce dangers to civilians. Halting of the deal had raised concerns in Spain over the risk to a more lucrative contract, signed in July, for state-owned shipbuilder Navantia to supply warships to the Saudis, according to Reuters.

In a late August report, a panel of UN investigators reported that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had taken actions that may amount to war crimes, including conducting airstrikes that have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, torturing detainees, raping civilians, and using child soldiers as young as eight. The report also cited Houthi rebels as committing possible war crimes, including shelling civilians and blocking delivery of humanitarian aid.—TERRY ATLAS

 

Arms Flow Despite Yemen Deaths

Trump Eases Rules for Cyberattacks


Sailors work together during an April 2017 U.S. Cyber Command exercise at Fort Meade, Md. (Photo: U.S. Cyber Command)U.S. President Donald Trump opened the path for the United States to use cyberweapons against adversaries, easing restrictions put in place by his predecessor. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said on Sept. 20 that the new classified rules will give the Defense Department more authority to use digital weapons to enhance deterrence and to punish foes, with fewer bureaucratic restraints on U.S. action. Bolton’s briefing for reporters came as the administration rolled out its first broad cybersecurity strategy, intended to address cyberthreats to vital infrastructure such as the energy grid and banking networks. Although the United States has considerable offensive cybercapabilities through the U.S. Cyber Command, the country is also widely vulnerable to similar retaliation because of dependence on many vital electronic networks that could be disrupted, compromised, or brought down. Previous U.S. rules on unleashing cyberweapons involved consultation among a range of governmental agencies in an effort to ensure that the possible blowback was considered beforehand. The new rules, in Bolton’s description, ease what had been a lengthy, complicated authorization process.—TERRY ATLAS

Trump Eases Rules for Cyberattacks

The Case for a U.S. No-First-Use Policy


October 2018
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove” delivers an eerily accurate depiction of the absurd logic and catastrophic risks of U.S. and Russian Cold War nuclear deterrence strategy, but for one key detail: President Merkin Muffley was wrong when he said, “It is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.” But it should be.

A scene from Stanley Kubrick's classic 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove.” (Photo credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures)Fortunately, the nuclear “doomsday machine” has not yet been unleashed. Arms control agreements have led to significant, verifiable reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, the two countries have ceased nuclear testing, and they have tightened checks on nuclear command and control.

But the potential for a catastrophic nuclear war remains. The core elements of Cold War-era U.S. nuclear strategy are largely the same, including the option to use nuclear weapons first and the maintenance of prompt-launch policies that still give the president unchecked authority to order the use of nuclear weapons.

Today, the United States and Russia deploy massive strategic nuclear arsenals consisting of up to 1,550 warheads on each side, as allowed under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. These numbers greatly exceed what it would take to decimate the other side and are far larger than required to deter a nuclear attack.

Worse still, each side maintains the capability to fire a significant portion of its land- and sea-based missiles promptly and retains plans to launch these forces, particularly land-based missiles, under attack to guard against a “disarming” first strike. U.S. and Russian leaders also still reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first.

As a result, President Donald Trump, whom Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly described as having the intellect of a “fifth- or sixth-grader,” has the authority to order the launch of some 800 nuclear warheads within about 15 minutes, with hundreds more weapons remaining in reserve. No other military or civilian official must approve the order. Congress currently has no say in the matter.

Continuing to vest such destructive power in the hands of one person is undemocratic, irresponsible, unnecessary and increasingly untenable. Cavalier and reckless statements from Trump about nuclear weapons use only underscore the folly of vesting such unchecked authority in one person.

Making matters worse, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review expands the range of contingencies and options for potential nuclear use and proposes the development of “more-usable” low-yield nuclear weapons in order to give the president the flexibility to respond quickly in a crisis, including by using nuclear weapons first in response to a non-nuclear attack.

The reality is that a launch-under-attack policy is unnecessary because U.S. nuclear forces and command-and-control systems could withstand even a massive attack. Given the size, accuracy, and diversity of U.S. forces, the remaining nuclear force would be more than sufficient to deliver a devastating blow to any nuclear aggressor.

In addition, keeping strategic forces on launch-under-attack mode increases the risk of miscalculation and misjudgment. Throughout the history of the nuclear age, there have been several incidents in which false signals of an attack have prompted U.S. and Russian officials to consider, in the dead of the night and under the pressure of time, launching nuclear weapons in retaliation. No U.S. leader should be put in a situation that could lead to the use of nuclear weapons based on false information.

Retaining the option to use nuclear weapons first is fraught with unnecessary peril. Given the overwhelming conventional military edge of the United States and its allies, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat. Even in the event of a conventional military conflict with Russia, China, or North Korea, the first use of nuclear weapons would be counterproductive because it likely would trigger an uncontrollable, potentially suicidal all-out nuclear exchange.

Some in Washington and Brussels believe Moscow might use or threaten to use nuclear weapons first to try to deter NATO from pressing its conventional military advantage in a conflict. Clearly, a nuclear war cannot be won and should not be initiated by either side. The threat of first use, however, cannot overcome perceived or real conventional force imbalances and are not an effective substitute for prudently maintaining U.S. and NATO conventional forces in Europe.

As the major nuclear powers race to develop new nuclear capabilities and advanced conventional-strike weapons and consider using cybercapabilities to pre-empt nuclear attacks by adversaries, the risk that one leader may be tempted to use nuclear weapons first during a crisis likely will grow. A shift to a no-first-use posture, on the other hand, would increase strategic stability.

Although the Trump administration is not going to rethink nuclear old-think, leaders in Congress and the next administration must re-examine and revise outdated nuclear launch policies in ways that reduce the nuclear danger.

Shifting to a formal policy stating that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons and that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack would be a significant and smart step in the right direction.

 

 

Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove” delivers an eerily accurate depiction of the absurd logic and catastrophic risks of U.S. and Russian Cold War nuclear deterrence strategy, but for one key detail: President Merkin Muffley was wrong when he said, “It is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.” But it should be.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - October 2018