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Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
October 2019

Arms Control Today October 2019

Edition Date: 
Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Cover Image: 

One Planet Is All You Get

October 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

A new simulation depicts the consequences of a U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange. (Image credit: Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University)Today, a new generation is mobilizing to demand dramatic action to address another existential threat: the human-induced climate emergency. The scientific consensus is that climate change causes and impacts are increasing, and little more than a decade is left to take the bold steps necessary to cut global carbon emissions in half and reverse the slide toward catastrophe.

The disarmament movement has achieved success in reducing nuclear dangers before, but there is no room for complacency. The nuclear threat has not gone away. Nuclear competition is growing. The risk of nuclear war is increasing.

Just as dramatic action is needed to avoid climate change catastrophe, immediate and decisive action is required to counter the growing threat of nuclear war before it is too late.

A qualitative global nuclear arms race is now underway. The world’s nine nuclear-armed actors are collectively squandering hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and improve their arsenals. Tensions between nuclear-armed states are on the rise. Key treaties are under threat.

With the loss of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in August, the only remaining treaty verifiably limiting the world’s two largest arsenals is the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in less than 17 months.

Washington and Moscow are pursuing the development of destabilizing types of weapons, including new lower-yield, “more usable” nuclear weapons. Each side still clings to Cold War-era nuclear launch-under-attack postures that increase the risk of miscalculation.

The use of nuclear weapons—even on a so-called “limited” scale—creates the potential for global catastrophe. A new simulation developed by scientists at Princeton University estimates that if, in a U.S.-Russian confrontation in the Baltics, one side resorts to the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons and the other responds, their current war plans could lead to an escalatory exchange involving 1,700 nuclear detonations against military and civilian targets. Within five hours, nearly 100 million people would be killed or injured.

Many more people would suffer and die in the weeks and months afterward. A new study of the longer-term climatic effects of a large-scale U.S.-Russian nuclear exchange estimates that the resulting fallout and fires would inject 150 million metric tons of soot and smoke into the earth’s upper atmosphere within two weeks, resulting in a drop in global temperatures of 9 degrees Celsius and a 30 percent drop in precipitation within 12 months. The resulting nuclear winter would wreak havoc on food production and lead to global famine.

Effective policies to address the nuclear threat must begin with the understanding that the only way to eliminate the threat of nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons. The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step in this direction, but it is not an all-in-one solution to reduce today’s nuclear dangers. Leading nuclear and non-nuclear states also need to take overdue, common-sense steps necessary to halt and reverse the arms race, reduce the salience of nuclear weapons, eliminate the most destabilizing types of weapons, and create the conditions for nuclear disarmament.

To start, all nuclear-armed states should reaffirm the 1985 pledge made by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The Kremlin has recently proposed that U.S. and Russian leaders reissue a joint statement along these lines, but Washington has demurred.

Nuclear-armed states should agree to adopt policies that reduce nuclear risks, such as no first use of nuclear weapons. Given the risks of escalation, there is no plausible circumstance that could justify legally, morally, or militarily the use of nuclear weapons to deal with a non-nuclear threat.

Washington and Moscow also should extend New START by five years as allowed by the treaty and immediately begin talks on a follow-on deal to set lower limits on all types of nuclear weaponry, including nonstrategic nuclear weapons; a new agreement dealing with ground-launched, intermediate-range systems; and new restrictions on destabilizing missile defense deployments and long-range hypersonic weapons.

Further U.S.-Russian progress on disarmament would pressure the other nuclear actors, including China, to agree to freeze the overall size of their smaller but still deadly nuclear arsenals and agree to joint nuclear risk-reduction measures, such as ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and join talks on nuclear disarmament.

The catastrophic consequences of failure on climate change and nuclear weapons are well documented, the steps necessary to mitigate the risks are well known, and the public demand for action is powerful. But the political will to take action is weak. To give future generations the chance to eliminate the nuclear danger, our generation must act decisively to reduce the threat of nuclear war and put us back on the path to global zero.


Over the long course of the nuclear age, millions of people around the world, often led by a young generation of clear-eyed activists, have stood up to demand meaningful, immediate international action to halt, reduce, and end the threat posed by nuclear weapons to humankind and the planet.

Women in Arms Control: Time for a Gender Turn?

October 2019
By Renata Dwan

On the face of it, women in the arms control field have had a good year, with gender equality featuring frequently in national and multilateral policy debates. Beyond the traditionally women-friendly humanitarian discourse, recent meetings of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) have seen side events and working papers on gender equality and perspectives ahead of the treaty’s 2020 review conference.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, briefs the Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation on April 2.  The United Nations has supported greater visibility for women in arms control. (Photo: United Nations)The first-ever side event on gender was held in the margins of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) meeting in Geneva this August. The fifth conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) the same month went considerably further, convening a thematic discussion on gender and adopting a decision on gender and gender-based violence issues. New studies on the role of women in nuclear and broader arms control garnered significant attention and debate.

At the heart of gender equality is the recognition that women, as well as men, have the right to participate in debates and decision-making on matters that affect their lives and well-being. There is also a practical benefit: business and crisis management studies have indicated that diverse teams tend to be more innovative and effective in anticipating problems and finding sustainable solutions. As new challenges confront the international security system, it cannot afford to keep women from the negotiating table.

Making Some Progress

Championing gender became hip in 2018. The International Gender Champions, a leadership network supporting gender equality, established a fifth chapter in The Hague, while two arms control-focused subgroups—the Disarmament Impact Group in Geneva and the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy in Washington—were set up to support and advocate for increased engagement on gender issues. Although gender is recognized as encompassing women and men, girls and boys, as well as nonbinary or gender-fluid persons, discussion of gender in arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament forums over the past year focused predominantly on women and their participation.

What explains this newfound interest? The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault that spread virally in late 2017 undoubtedly prompted international attention and awareness of the particular challenges that women face, especially in the workplace. It shined a spotlight on efforts, some long-standing, to mainstream gender issues in international and national policymaking, including the landmark Security Council resolution in 2000 on the issue of women, peace, and security (WPS), which called for the increased participation of women in peace and security decision-making. Sweden broke new ground in 2014 by becoming the first country to systematically apply a gender equality perspective in its foreign policy, and last year, Canada adopted a feminist international assistance policy.

In 2017, newly appointed UN Secretary-General António Guterres pledged to achieve gender parity in UN senior leadership appointments by 2021 and across the entire system “well before 2030.” The African Union, European Union, and NATO have established dedicated representatives for WPS issues with mandates to advance the integration of gender issues across their respective organization’s policies and actions.

Still Behind the Curve

Despite this progress, the fields of multilateral arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament, with the notable exception of small arms and light weapons issues, has remained relatively removed from the gender-mainstreaming trend. A 2019 study by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) found that gender inequality persists in disarmament diplomacy, with women comprising just 32 percent of participants in disarmament-related meetings over the past 40 years.1 In related but smaller forums, such as groups of governmental experts, the number drops to 20 percent. UNIDIR sought to understand whether this was a reflection of diplomacy trends more generally, so it compared this figure to other UN General Assembly bodies and found that the main committee dealing with disarmament and international security—the First Committee—had the lowest proportion of women present. The body with the highest proportion of women (49 percent in 2017) was the Third Committee, dealing with social, humanitarian, and cultural issues. So far, so gender stereotyped.

When UNIDIR looked within the different domains of disarmament diplomacy, the typecasting was more difficult to discern. A common observation, for example, is that women tend to engage more on weapons such as cluster munitions or anti-personnel mines, which were the focus of major international humanitarian campaigns. UNIDIR did not discover any significant difference between the proportion of women participating in nuclear-related forums such as the NPT preparatory committees compared to women delegates at the Convention on Cluster Munitions (roughly 33 percent each in 2018). This could reflect the fact that the disarmament diplomacy community is relatively small, with many of its representatives covering a broad swath of arms-related issues and forums. Certainly, other analysts have identified hierarchies within the community, with fields such as nuclear posture and deterrence policy described as being much more “insulated, male-dominated and unwelcoming” compared to the arms control and nonproliferation arena or the nongovernmental advocacy sector, which are perceived to be more open to including women.2

Canada convened a summit of women foreign ministers in Montreal in 2018. The meeting was a high-level of example of how networking and mentoring can support women in leadership positions. (Photo: Martin Ouellet-Diotte/AFP/Getty Images)Inevitably, the representation of women in multilateral arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament processes differs widely across regions. The statistics reveal, however, that gender equality in arms control cannot be neatly framed as a global North versus global South issue. The Latin America and the Caribbean regional group of states has the highest proportion of women delegates to multilateral forums, at close to 40 percent. African delegations have the lowest proportion of women delegates, but are among the most active in promoting gender perspectives in forums addressing small arms and light weapons from the WPS agenda to the ATT. There is a consistent correlation, however, between national income levels and gender-balanced delegations in arms control bodies, a pattern that underscores the increased emphasis being put on promoting gender equality as an integral part of poverty reduction and development.3

Perhaps the most revealing illustration of how far arms control lags in gender equality is the number of women in leadership positions. The proportion of male heads of delegation is consistently higher than the proportion of male representatives overall for every single one of the 84 multilateral disarmament forums UNIDIR studied. Thus, although the gap between women and men may be decreasing, it is not yet reflected in the number of women leading delegations. In 2018, for example, 76 percent of delegation heads in the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Conference on Disarmament (CD), and the NPT preparatory committee meetings were men, higher than the 66 percent overall proportion of male delegates. The corresponding 24 percent of women heads of delegations at these meetings was lower than the overall 34 percent of women delegates present. Furthermore, the chances of hearing women’s voices is also small. In 2018 just 21 percent of statements in the First Committee’s general debate were delivered by women. Women may be entering the arms control room, but they are not yet at the table, much less the podium.

Explaining Slow Progress

Many complex factors explain the slow rate of gender mainstreaming in disarmament diplomacy. Structural, societal, and psychological factors play important roles, and unraveling these can reveal deep-seated and often culturally based beliefs about the innate abilities and roles of men and women.

Nevertheless, three themes recur in every study or discussion as critical obstacles to advancing gender in disarmament diplomacy: the characteristics of the arms control field itself, the practical challenges of work-life balance in diplomacy in general and disarmament diplomacy in particular, and the lack of role models for women in this domain.

Arms control is a field that places a high premium on technical expertise and, in some national and multinational systems, encourages specialization and life-long careers. This fosters, some argue, a focus on technical instead of policy questions that might encourage broader engagement or linkages with other international security topics. In multilateral arms control forums, considerable emphasis is placed on commitment to established positions, military experience in some cases, and authority borne of deep knowledge of the relevant historical processes and technical aspects of a subject. These traits can encourage caution or even resistance to outsiders and thinking that questions or challenges established approaches or ways of working. Most people in the field today would agree that the arms control endeavor faces serious challenges and may require fresh thinking, but there is a prevailing culture of status quo that sees diversity as something to be tolerated rather than enthusiastically embraced. An arms control meeting’s side event on gender, for example, typically draws few senior white men and illustrates how gender inclusion in arms control is regarded by some to be at least irrelevant and at most distracting.

The practical demands of diplomacy for families and work-life balance are not specific to arms control, but constitute a serious obstacle for many women. Arms control meetings, particularly treaty review conferences, are weeks- or months-long affairs, and frequent travel abroad for extended periods poses practical and emotional child care challenges. In multilateral settings, meetings typically start at 10 a.m., involve a two-hour lunch break, and finish at 6 p.m., a rhythm that does not reflect the school day in any country. Negotiations over the final days routinely continue beyond midnight and are so engrained in the culture of disarmament diplomacy that there is almost a spirit of competitiveness to go, and a sense of failure for the delegate unable to make it, to the bitter end. Although these practical barriers are not specific to gender, an unequal division of family tasks is still the reality for many women around the world. Moreover, the perception that a woman may be the primary child care provider or household manager can often play into recruitment and appointment decisions by senior managers.

The third theme raised by many women to explain the slow progress of gender mainstreaming in disarmament is the lack of women role models, particularly at senior levels. Multiple studies have underscored the importance of formal and informal role models, mentoring, and networks in national and international institutions and subject fields to support and encourage younger women to enter and more importantly stay in the arms control environment. This is particularly the case given the still-limited visibility of women in the field and the uncertain or at least unclear career path that such a specialized field can present for an early or midcareer professional.

Getting Past a Step-by-Step Approach

At the rate of current progress, it will take another two decades to reach gender parity in disarmament diplomacy and almost another five decades, until 2065, before gender balance among heads of delegations will be achieved. Moreover, the assumption that gender perspectives and issues will naturally evolve onto the agenda of new or emerging arms control issues is not borne out by fact. Although retrofitting gender into established conventions, such as the Mine Ban Treaty, is currently underway, there has been no sustained consideration of gender in current discussions on possible new governance arrangements involving cybersecurity, lethal autonomous weapons systems, or outer space.

Looking to tertiary educational strategies or national civil service reform to bring women into arms control or assuming that a woman in the room constitutes gender awareness or perspective will not suffice. The arms control community needs a conscious effort to build awareness of, support for, and targeted actions to mainstream gender across the field. Five possible areas for engagement would help achieve this goal.

Focus on Leadership

Although women were permitted entry into the professional levels of national foreign services relatively late, they are enthusiastically joining these services and international organizations around the world. Indeed, gender balance has been achieved among entry-level positions in organizations such as the United Nations and many national foreign services. Furthermore, academia has achieved considerable progress in adding women to traditionally male-dominated subjects such as physics. Today’s challenge has moved from attracting women to disarmament diplomacy to retaining women in the field. For this to happen, women need a viable career path.

Numerous examples show how conscious efforts to promote women's leadership can achieve progress at national levels. For example, in Sweden, home of the feminist foreign policy, the government in the 1970s introduced gender equality steps, such as generous parental leave arrangements, to encourage women into the workforce. Yet, as late as 1996, only 10 percent of Sweden’s ambassadors were women. Twenty years later, 40 percent are women after special measures were introduced to increase the number of women applicants for management positions. A gender-parity strategy, one that sets objectives and targets and establishes and tracks baselines, enables ministries to identify patterns and put in place practical, targeted steps to enhance gender balance. These can include, as in Australia or Korea, management targets; preferences for women where there are two equally qualified applicants (Norway); addressing gender pay inequalities (Switzerland); or the creation of a dedicated unit to prevent and combat discrimination (France). Management in international security, export controls, and arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament sections of ministries should be part of any such baselines reviews and targets.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference, shown here in September, typically meets for five days, each ending late in the evening. Rethinking how such diplomatic meetings are organized could help to improve the delegates' work-life balance and enable greater participation of women, who often face an unequal division of family tasks at home. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)At the multilateral level, the United Nations has signaled its commitment to and support for greater visibility for women in arms control. Women have been appointed to leadership positions, including as the high representative for disarmament affairs, the head of the Office of Disarmament Affairs in Geneva, and the CD secretary. The secretary-general has established quotas for women’s participation in Groups of Governmental Experts. This has had an immediate effect on participation. Although experts groups in 2018–2019 on nuclear disarmament verification and outer space saw participation of less than 7 percent and 17 percent, respectively, the number of women participating in the upcoming experts group on information and communications technology and international security is 44 percent. A similar effect is expected for next year’s group regarding ammunition.

Address Work-Life Balance

Practical steps could go a long way to making the arms control and disarmament environment more family friendly and open to women’s and men’s participation. New technologies, for example, are woefully underutilized today, but they could allow a reconsideration of “essential” travel. Tools to enable remote participation, such as video conferencing, online streaming of events, working group chat rooms, or the online approval of procedural issues could make meeting participation far more convenient. Other measures might examine schedule needs. Are seven working days of general debate, stretching over a weekend, actually needed when delegations are simply reading a prepared statement? Perhaps such general statements could be posted online in advance to give delegations the opportunity to read and assess each other’s positions more thoroughly before holding in-person thematic or subject-specific discussions. Such changes could also ease the financing challenges facing the United Nations and many disarmament forums, such as the BWC, where some member states fail to pay their dues.

Other practical steps could include avoiding late-night negotiations and, in instances where they are required, providing adequate advance warning so that delegates can pursue child care options. Scheduling departmental or team meetings, where possible, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. is a step that many civil services have tried to institutionalize, along with flexible work arrangements to enable staff to work from home or manage family obligations.4 Using alternate heads of delegations’ arrangements could help share the administrative burden and boost women’s exposure opportunities as well. Encouraging women members of delegations to deliver thematic statements could help everyone become accustomed to hearing to women’s voices in arms control forums.

Promote Mentorship Networks

Mentorship is a strong feature of the arms control community, traditionally in the context of a senior man identifying, coaching, or promoting a junior man who will learn from and ultimately succeed the veteran diplomat in his functions. In this environment, networks of “old hands” play an outsized role in formal and informal diplomacy. Women can benefit equally from such networks and support. Several women-focused networks, such as Women in International Security (WIIS)’s next-generation program, have been established in arms control today, and more are emerging. So far, these have mostly targeted younger women.

Informal networks and mentoring can also serve midcareer and senior women by supporting their active participation and helping them manage the weight of expectations that many feel when assuming a leadership role in arms control. One example at the highest echelons was the summit of women foreign ministers that Canada and the EU cohosted in 2018, but other, more workaday options include womens' WhatsApp groups in disarmament forums to encourage each other to contribute, regular meetings of gender-balanced bureaus to help meeting chairpersons ensure that gender perspectives are considered in the planning and conduct of meetings, and structured mid- and senior-career mentoring programs in national and international organizations. Maintaining and circulating lists of women experts in specific arms control topics is another way in which networks can address gender balance, as well as perceptions of the role of women in expert forums.

Tackle Unconscious Bias

There is not a woman in the field who does not routinely navigate a “manel”; appear on participant lists by name while her male counterparts’ formal titles are included; grimace as she is introduced as a woman rather than an expert; groan at weapons’ terminology in all its cocked, thrust, and penetrative glory; make clothing choices depending on where her delegation is sitting; consider whether her tone is sufficiently friendly to avoid being “pushy” or “aggressive”; or have strategies for small talk at receptions that give no hint of availability. Many men are genuinely dumbstruck when they are made aware of the mundane realities of being a woman in arms control. At a most basic level, gender awareness-raising should be a mandatory part of basic training and on-the-job training for all diplomats and disarmament officials.

Other steps that can help tackle unconscious bias include greater use of gender disaggregated data, that is, systematically tracking and making available data about the gender composition of delegations, speakers, chairs, and topics in formal statements, as the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs has done for some meetings. Making chairpersons and bureaus gender aware can also contribute to the tone and focus of discussions, as well as their practical organization.5

Creating a gender-equal culture is ultimately about assigning value to diversity and change, and that requires fundamental shifts to the culture of the arms control community. As the organizers of the 2019 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace nuclear conference concluded, achieving gender-balanced panels means reaching out to younger and more diverse experts. Rethinking longevity as a priority value for advancement in arms control and contemplating career breaks for women and men to prioritize child care may be required. Embracing empathy and negotiation skills may encourage a little less emphasis on attributes such as toughness or risk-taking, which are associated wrongly with men. It may also mean accepting the participation of women who have built their careers in other fields of international security. Acknowledging linkages between arms control and other domains and pursuing opportunities to integrate arms control into broader international security, peace, and gender agendas may not only advance women’s participation in disarmament but encourage new perspectives and thinking on arms control. As discussions on new technologies have illustrated, broadening the field does not automatically “gender” the field without conscious efforts being made to do so.

Bring Gender Into Substantive Discussions

The gender debate in arms control, with notable exceptions in the areas of small arms, landmines, cluster munitions, and the language of the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, remains largely a debate about women’s participation. This can appear to some as technical, an issue more for human resources than for arms control, hence the view of some of gender as a potential “bridge-building” topic in the NPT. Some observers also concluded that the prioritization of gender in this year’s ATT states-parties meeting “distracted” delegates from discussing more “fundamental” and “political” issues.

To achieve the full and meaningful participation of women, gender mainstreaming must go beyond numbers to encompass the assumptions and ways in which the world defines, makes, and implements control over weapons. It means asking who controls a weapon, who is affected by it, and how. It means looking at the ways in which security, power, and authority are defined. Mainstreaming gender in disarmament diplomacy, according to Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, means offering a feminist perspective on the root causes of conflict and redefining security away from military strength. In this context, gender mainstreaming is a transformative agenda that seeks to influence not just who speaks but the substance and tools of arms control.6 It is not an issue for or by women, but a much broader normative reorientation of the agenda.

This is and will be controversial. At a minimum, introducing a gender perspective into arms control can expand the way in which arms control is perceived and pursued. Gender analysis frameworks can offer new ways of formulating the objectives and targets of specific weapons regulation while gender-disaggregated data and budgets can open new avenues to assess their impact and effectiveness. As the community grapples to navigate the security implications of dual-use technologies and how to regulate intangible algorithms, exploring new ways of understanding and framing weapons regulation may offer new pathways for the profession to advance progress. Might feminism revive arms control?



1. Renata Hessmann Dalaqua, Kjølv Egeland, and Torbjørn Graff Hugo, “Still Behind the Curve: Gender Balance in Arms Control, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Diplomacy,” UN Institute for Disarmament Research, 2019, http://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/still-behind-the-curve-en-770.pdf.

2. See Heather Hurlburt et al., “The ‘Consensual Straitjacket’: Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security,” New America, March 2019, https://www.newamerica.org/political-reform/reports/the-consensual-straitjacket-four-decades-of-women-in-nuclear-security/.

3. For more, see Naila Kabeer and Luisa Natali, “Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Is There a Win-Win?” IDS Working Paper, No. 417 (February 2013); World Bank Group, “World Bank Group Gender Strategy (FY16–23): Gender Equality, Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth, n.d., http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/820851467992505410/pdf/102114-REVISED-PUBLIC-WBG-Gender-Strategy.pdf.

4. For a more comprehensive discussion, see Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” The Atlantic, July–August 2012.

5. For example, see International Gender Champions Disarmament Impact Group, “Gender and Disarmament Resource Pack for Multilateral Practitioners,” January 2019, http://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/gender-disarmament-resource-pack-en-735.pdf.

6. For example, Karin Aggestam and Annika Bergman Rosamond, “Re-politicising the Gender-Security Nexus: Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy,” ERIS, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2018): 30–48.

Renata Dwan is director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. The author thanks Renata Hessmann Dalaqua for her insights and comments.

Progress on gender mainstreaming will require focused efforts.

The Nonproliferation Gold Standard: The New Normal?

October 2019
By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski

Negotiations on an agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia for cooperation on “peaceful” nuclear technology have moved slowly for years, in large part because Saudi officials have insisted the nation retain an option to enrich uranium. They say this material will be used as fuel for the nuclear reactors Saudi Arabia plans to build, but uranium enrichment is one of two key technologies that open the door to manufacturing nuclear weapons, the other being reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) meets U.S. President Donald Trump in the White House on Mar. 20, 2018. During his Washington visit, bin Salman told CBS news that "if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)Saudi Arabia insists it will not accept the so-called gold standard, a promise to refrain from enriching or reprocessing, to which neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed in its bilateral agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with the United States.

Saudi Arabia and its Washington supporters have cast the gold standard as an extreme, impractical, and unnecessary proposal. So strong was Saudi opposition that many in the nonproliferation community came to view the gold standard as an overly ambitious goal. In the last two years, however, crass Saudi behavior has begun to change minds. An official Saudi expression of interest in acquiring nuclear weapons if Iran follows that path; the brazen killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a commentator for The Washington Post; and the humanitarian costs of indiscriminate Saudi bombing of Yemen have all contributed to former gold-standard opponents believing it is appropriate not just for Riyadh but across the board.

This does not mean that the White House will strike a deal with the gold standard or that Congress will have the strength to insist on it, but now, opponents will have some explaining to do.

In the most recent chapter of this saga, Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the first royal family member to hold the job, explicitly told an energy conference in Dubai in September that the kingdom plans a nuclear program that includes uranium enrichment. Everyone knows what this means. As the subhead of a September 9 Al Jazeera story says, “It opens up [the] possibility of military use of uranium.”1

Abdulaziz knows full well the concern his remarks will produce in Congress, where everyone remembers the remark of his half-brother, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that Saudi Arabia intends to match Iran in nuclear technology and if it comes to that, to match it bomb for bomb, and the crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s ghastly murder. None of this seems to have inhibited Saudi officials in their belief that all that matters is their connection with the Trump White House.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced his desire to meet the prince to discuss Saudi nuclear plans and a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement, also known as a 123 agreement, for the section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that requires such agreements before the United States can provide civilian nuclear support to foreign nations. A September 4 letter to Saudi Arabia set out the baseline for any U.S.-Saudi agreement as requiring an additional protocol to the safeguards agreement Saudi Arabia has with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such a protocol empowers the agency to conduct more intrusive oversight of a nation’s nuclear activities and is something Saudi Arabia should have signed long ago, as most countries have. The letter also demanded that “the terms of the 123 Agreement must contain a commitment by the kingdom to forgo any enrichment and reprocessing for the term of the agreement.”2 This stipulation may cover U.S.-origin nuclear materials and technology only, but the language sounds like a demand that the kingdom forgo enrichment and reprocessing of any material for the duration of any nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.

Past Avoidance of the Gold Standard

If so, this is real news. Historically, the United States has found the desire to increase nuclear sales to be more important than pursuing strict nonproliferation measures. The U.S. nuclear industry has argued that imposing the gold standard would make it impossible for it to compete with its nuclear supplier bugaboos, Russia and China. One collection after another of “geostrategic” thinkers has asserted that increasing U.S. nuclear exports was vital for national security, including for spreading the nonproliferation gospel, and that U.S. nuclear salesmen could not succeed if hobbled by unpopular nonproliferation conditions.3

The problems did not start with the Trump administration. In 2009 the Obama administration had a brief success in getting the UAE, then planning a four-unit nuclear power project, to sign a gold standard agreement, as did Taiwan later. Other potential customers, however, balked, and the Obama administration stopped insisting on the gold standard.

Rose Gottemoeller, the Obama administration’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, said she disliked the term “gold standard” because it implied other arrangements were less protective. They are. In 2013 she told the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry’s trade association, that “nuclear exports are a key strategic asset.” She quoted wildly optimistic estimates from international nuclear organizations of nuclear business as more than $500 billion over the next 10 years “with the potential to generate more than $100 billion in U.S. exports and thousands of new jobs.” She assured the industry group that the Obama administration created a “Team USA” and a new position, director of nuclear energy policy, to help sell nuclear technology abroad. It was all music to their ears.4

With regard to the gold standard, U.S. Department of State officials always preferred case-by-case negotiation of nuclear agreements so they could balance regional interests with global ones such as nonproliferation. Regional bureaus almost invariably won out. Nonproliferation conditions were often replaced by what the department liked to call their “functional equivalents,” which they hardly ever were.

Construction on Unit 4 of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant is shown underway in December 2017 in the United Arab Emirates, where leaders agreed to forgo enrichment and reprocessing in a U.S.-UAE nuclear cooperation agreement. The United States is reportedly seeking similar terms with Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp.)Then came the Trump administration and its exceptional chumminess with Saudi Arabia, which described plans to build 16 nuclear power plants. Although unlikely to happen, the Saudi plan dangled the possibility of a $100 billion sale, attracting industry moths to flame, such as IP3 International, a firm heavy with retired generals and admirals, none of whom apparently had any nuclear background. What they did have was powerful White House connections, and IP3 is now pushing for a U.S. nuclear comeback by way of nuclear exports to the Middle East, expanding the goal beyond Saudi Arabia to a U.S. nuclear “Marshall Plan” for the entire region.

With these mouthwatering prospects, the Trump White House was ready to relax nonproliferation standards and especially ready to give Saudi officials what they wanted in a nuclear export agreement, specifically, no prohibition on Saudi uranium enrichment. Trump officials repeated the old arguments that it was better to be in the nuclear trade to have a say in the international rules and, besides, how could you ignore the possibility of billions in sales to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East generally. The fix appeared to be in, but then three things happened.

Trump Administration Changes Strategy

First, during an April 2018 U.S. visit, the Saudi crown prince, the nation’s effective ruler, told a CBS interviewer emphatically that if rival Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would get one too and quickly: “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”5 This policy put Saudi interest in “peaceful” uranium enrichment in a rather different light. No party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) had ever spoken this way, and the prince’s impetuous comments suggested the possibility that matching Iran on nuclear weapons might mean getting there first.

That was apparently too much even for the Trump administration and for many in Congress. In May 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Saudi officials “have said they want a peaceful nuclear energy program, and we have told them we want a gold-standard section 123 Agreement from them, which would not permit them to enrich. That is simply all I’ve asked of Iran, as well.”6 The mention of Iran reflects the realization that it is inconsistent to demand Tehran refrain from enriching while giving the green light to Saudi Arabia at the same time. In a June hearing of the House Science Committee, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) pressed Perry on conditions on exports to Saudi Arabia. Perry testified they would include acceptance of enhanced IAEA inspection under an additional protocol. He also promised to share with the committee “810” authorizations, which cover intangible nuclear technology transfers. The Energy Department had kept several such authorizations for transfers to Saudi Arabia from Congress in violation of the law. Perry also said it was the U.S. position that South Korean reactor technology has a sufficient U.S. component that Saudi Arabia would need a U.S.-Saudi 123 agreement to receive Korean reactors.7

Concern over Saudi Arabia escalated in October 2018 when the crown prince was deeply implicated in the Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The murder and subsequent brazen official Saudi lying by their ambassador in Washington, Khalid bin Salman; Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir; and the crown prince himself made clear that Saudi Arabia could not follow international rules reliably or be trusted with nuclear technology.

The third development relates to Israel, which has aligned more closely with Saudi Arabia as part of a U.S.-Israeli-Saudi phalanx to reduce Iran’s influence. After hearing the crown prince’s expression of nuclear interest, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told President Donald Trump in March 2019 that Israel wanted Saudi Arabia to forswear enrichment and reprocessing, that is, agree to the gold standard: “If you do go ahead [with a U.S.-Saudi agreement], at least don’t let Riyadh enrich its own uranium.”8

These new developments appear to have convinced key U.S. nuclear export promoters that they could no longer barrel their way past the gold standard. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and retired Army General Jack Keane proposed in July 2019 that all countries in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, should abide by the gold standard and, if they do, they should all be equally eligible for nuclear power plants.

“The U.S. could begin supplying fuel rods for nuclear reactors throughout the Arab world. Dozens of nations already operate under similar nuclear frameworks,” they wrote. “Under this proposal, Iran could become a legitimate nuclear-power nation with all the benefits of following international rules. But under no circumstances would it be permitted to enrich nuclear material for the purpose of building a weapon.”9

Their generosity is tempered by their expectation that Iran will refuse the offer, and it does not encompass a gold standard requirement for Israel. Graham was quoted in August saying, “I’m not talking about Israel. They’re in their own sort of…category.”10 That is, they already have bombs. Even with these qualifications, it is an extraordinary proposal considering who it is making it.

No senator has been more on board with the U.S.-Israeli-Saudi front to crush Iran than Graham, and no firm has argued more vigorously against tough nonproliferation requirements, most especially for Saudi Arabia, than IP3, of which Keane is a director. Not only that, but Graham co-sponsored a bill with a Democratic senator to prohibit the Export-Import Bank from financing nuclear exports to Saudi Arabia unless it complies with the gold standard.11

There is undoubtedly another element in this shift by the exporters: the realization that the United States no longer has the capacity for major nuclear exports. The last major nuclear vendor, Westinghouse, had Japanese owners for years. It recently went through bankruptcy and is now a Canadian company and a shadow of its former self. The main export of power reactors to Saudi Arabia will likely come from South Korea, which is building the four units for the UAE. Significantly, IP3, which styles itself as an “integrator” of nuclear projects, is now looking to piggyback on a South Korean-Saudi deal. Broad congressional support for U.S. participation in expanding nuclear energy use in the Middle East is no longer possible without agreements that incorporate the gold standard.

Why Nuclear in Saudi Arabia?

This leaves the question whether it makes sense to export any power reactors to the Middle East, unsettled as it is, and to Saudi Arabia in particular. The technology will always be tempting to would-be bombmakers. Even the gold standard is just a promise after all. Can a murderous medieval dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia be trusted to keep such a promise? How would the Washington respond if Riyadh reneged? The lack of constructive answers suggests that it is best to discourage all nuclear technology transfers to the region and the United States should not participate in exports.

The region also has a history of attacks on nuclear facilities. The recent missile attack against the kingdom’s massive refineries at Abqaiq suggests additional vulnerabilities and risks. Nuclear power reactors are generally designed to cope with aircraft crashes, but accurate missiles with sizeable warheads are another matter.

Finally, nuclear technology does not make economic sense in view of the availability of sunshine and natural gas. The UAE has announced that it will now concentrate on renewable energy projects, whose costs have decreased dramatically while nuclear costs have roughly doubled since the UAE bought its nuclear power plants. Plus, Abu Dhabi has ready access to enormous supplies of natural gas. For these reasons, the UAE has no plans to build any additional reactors.

Nevertheless, if there are to be nuclear exports to the Middle East, a gold standard provides welcome protection, and it should be a standard provision of nuclear cooperation agreements. Just two years ago, no one in Washington would have bet the gold standard for civilian nuclear energy cooperation would survive as a serious proposal, but now its value is broadly understood, and the burden of proof lies with those who oppose it.


1. “Saudi Arabia Wants to Enrich Uranium but the U.S. May Not Like That,” Reuters, September 9, 2019.

2. Ari Natter, “U.S. Says Saudis Must Forgo Enrichment for Nuclear Sharing Deal,” Bloomberg, September 18, 2019.

3. See, e.g., Energies Futures Initiative, “The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler,” August 2017, https://energyfuturesinitiative.org/s/EFI-nuclear-paper-17-Aug-2017.pdf; CSIS Commission on Nuclear Energy Policy in the United States, “Restoring U.S. Leadership in Nuclear Energy,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 2013, http://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/130614_RestoringUSLeadershipNuclearEnergy_WEB.pdf.

4. Rose Gottemoeller, “Geopolitics and Nuclear Energy: The View From the State Department” (remarks before the Nuclear Energy Institute, Washington DC, May 15, 2013), https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/us/209768.htm.

5. “Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Says His Country Could Develop Nuclear Weapons,” 60 Minutes, March 15, 2018, https://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs_evening_news/video/aeuk1o7dQ9giEQdPIqjewrAhU7wjA_8f/saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-says-his-country-could-develop-nuclear-weapons/.

6. Steve Mufson, “Pompeo: Saudis Must Not Enrich Uranium If It Seeks Civilian Nuclear Cooperation,” The Washington Post, May 24, 2018.

7. Matthew Daly, “Energy Chief Perry OKs Deal to Share Nuke Tech With Saudis,” Associated Press, March 28, 2019.

8. “Netanyahu Said to Ask Trump Not to Sell Saudis Nuclear Reactors,” Times of Israel, March 9, 2018.

9. Lindsey Graham and Jack Keane, “Call Iran’s Bluff With an Offer of Nuclear Power,” The Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2019.

10. Erin Banco and Asawin Suebsaeng, “Team Trump Turns to Lindsey Graham to Cut an Iran Deal,” The Daily Beast, August 1, 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/team-trump-turns-to-lindsey-graham-to-cut-an-iran-deal.

11. Preventing Nuclear Proliferation in Saudi Arabia Act of 2019, S. 2338, 116th Cong. (2019).

Victor Gilinsky is program advisor for the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC) in Arlington, Virginia. He served on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1975 to 1984. Henry Sokolski is executive director of NPEC, served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993, and is the author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future (2019).

Saudi Arabian actions have made more likely the prospect that the United States will require stringent nonproliferation conditions on any transfers of nuclear materials or technology. 

Global Flashpoints and the Risks of Escalation

October 2019

The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes
By Michael E. O’Hanlon.
Brookings Institution, 2019, 258 pp.

Reviewed by Michael T. Klare

How will a great-power nuclear war erupt? How can its outbreak be prevented? These questions have bedeviled nuclear strategists and peace advocates since the dawn of the Atomic Age and are gaining fresh urgency as tensions among China, Russia, and the United States intensify.

Theorists generally assume that such a horrific cataclysm would occur when the major powers have amassed large nuclear arsenals, have primed these weapons for early use, and have reached a fever pitch of hostility. Under these conditions, it is feared, any outbreak of armed hostilities could lead swiftly to a clash of major conventional forces and, were one side or another to face overwhelming defeat, the early use of nuclear weapons.

Historically, it was believed that such incidents would arise along NATO-Soviet borders or in the North Atlantic, where the warships of the major powers often crossed paths. To avert a nuclear catastrophe, global leaders labored over the years to reduce tensions among the major powers through U.S.-Soviet summits, UN sessions, intense diplomacy, and so forth and to reduce the size and alert status of their nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, less effort has been directed at identifying potential flashpoints and reducing the risk of uncontrolled escalatory spirals.

This lack of attention is especially critical in the current era of great power competition, says Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in his new book The Senkaku Paradox: Risking Great Power War Over Small Stakes. He claims that although the probability of a deliberate, full-scale military assault by one of the major powers against another is extremely low, significant risks remain for minor aggressions to escalate quickly. There is considerable potential for a limited Russian intrusion into one of the Baltic republics or a Chinese seizure of a Japanese-claimed island in the East China Sea to spin out of control, possibly triggering the use of nuclear weapons.

Under existing U.S. military doctrine, he explains, any assault on a NATO country or a U.S. treaty ally, however trivial, should automatically prompt a full-scale military drive to reverse the intrusion and punish the aggressor. Such an endeavor would require a full-scale mobilization of U.S. and allied forces and still might not succeed, or if it did, it might so alarm enemy officials that they might resort to launching nuclear weapons. Fearing such an outcome, U.S. leaders might allow the original intrusion to stand, thereby jeopardizing U.S. alliances and inviting further aggression, with every likelihood that all-out war would eventually follow.

This, he explains, is what constitutes the “Senkaku paradox”: In the event of a limited enemy aggression, say in the uninhabited Senkaku Islands of the East China Sea, “a large-scale U.S. and allied response could seem massively disproportionate.” On the other hand, “a nonresponse would be unacceptable, and inconsistent with American treaty obligations.” What is needed are credible responses that fall between the extremes of acquiescence to aggression and military escalation.

O’Hanlon proposes an “asymmetric defense” consisting of economic penalties and limited military actions. These could include sanctions aimed at critical nodes of the aggressor’s economy, such as energy, banking, and transport, along with air and missile strikes against key logistical targets, such as pipelines, port facilities, and oil tankers. At the same time, the United States and its allies would reinforce defense positions near the initial conflict. The aim of all this would not be to reverse the original intrusion but rather to demonstrate that any further aggression would be met with intensified economic hardship and a brutal confrontation with U.S. and allied armies.

In assessing U.S. strategic options, O’Hanlon focuses on three potential flashpoints: the Baltic region, the East China Sea, and Taiwan. Of all conceivable war-igniting scenarios involving the great powers, he suggests, the most likely are a Russian attempt to seize a sliver of eastern Estonia or Latvia, where Russian speakers are in the majority; a Chinese occupation of one of the Senkaku Islands, claimed both by China, which calls them the Diaoyu’s, and Japan; and a Chinese naval blockade of Taiwan to thwart any Taiwanese move toward independence.

A Japan Coast Guard vessel sprays Taiwanese fishing boats with water near the Senkaku islands in September 2012. The dispute over the islands' sovereignty  could create risks that a small conflict could escalate quickly. (Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun/AFP/GettyImages)In any of these scenarios, O’Hanlon claims, U.S. military policy would presuppose a rapid and harsh response. Yet, any U.S. drive to dislodge Russian or Chinese forces from those locations would require a major commitment of force and, given recent improvements in those countries’ combat capabilities (especially through the acquisition of high-tech weaponry), might not prove easy to accomplish. A U.S. victory would be the most likely outcome, but could prompt Russia or China to employ nuclear weapons. Far better, he argues, to counter such assaults with asymmetric moves, such as attacks on vital energy infrastructure located outside the Russian or Chinese heartland, along with the reinforcement of positions in areas near the original intrusion.

O’Hanlon deserves credit for seeking credible alternatives to all-out war as a response to low-stakes challenges of these sorts. His emphasis on economic tools of coercion, as opposed to full-scale military mobilization, merits close attention by U.S. strategists. He also performs an important service by shining a spotlight on those potential flashpoints. Clearly, unless greater effort is made to understand and defuse the sources of friction in all three, other efforts to avert catastrophe could come to naught.

That said, many of his recommendations deserve careful scrutiny. Would Russian or Chinese leaders consider attacks on their energy facilities and logistical chokepoints as acceptable retribution? Perhaps such moves would incite them to undertake even harsher countermeasures of their own. To punish China for any future misbehavior in the East China Sea or in waters off Taiwan, for example, he proposes blocking Chinese oil imports from the Persian Gulf, a venture that he estimates will require four to six U.S. aircraft carriers and supporting vessels and would likely initiate a major naval conflict in the Indo-Pacific region. Although certainly superior to the immediate onset of full-scale war, asymmetrical moves of this sort do not necessarily promise a pacific outcome. Surely, O’Hanlon could have devoted more attention to preventative and diplomatic endeavors, such as confidence-building measures and power-sharing arrangements, such as for the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

Indeed, the deeper lesson to be drawn from The Senkaku Paradox is the difficulty in envisioning any outcomes from future U.S.-Russian or U.S.-Chinese military encounters that do not risk a nuclear escalation. Modern conventional weapons are capable of inflicting immense damage on vital military infrastructure, including, conceivably, nuclear command-and-control facilities, so it is easy to envision Russia or China responding with battlefield nuclear weapons.

Asymmetric responses are a welcome contribution to the discussion of alternative options, but a far more thorough reassessment of U.S. strategy is required, aimed at reducing U.S. risk of military entanglement in far-off hotspots and putting more space between conventional combat and the onset of nuclear war.

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



Michael E. O’Hanlon considers how to lower the risks of small conflicts escalating into major, even nuclear wars.

Readers Continue the 1974 Wohlstetter-Warnke Debate

October 2019

Paul S. Warnke’s article “The Wohlstetter-Warnke Debate in Foreign Policy,” (ACT, July/August 2019) seriously misstates Albert Wohlstetter’s views in his two 1974 Foreign Policy articles (“Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” and “Is There a Strategic Arms Race? (II): Rivals but No ‘Race’”).

Warnke claims that Wohlstetter expressed concern that “spending on offensive forces [was] insufficient to meet the growing Soviet threat.” Wohlstetter’s articles did not say that strategic defense spending was insufficient, but instead said, “the implications [of the data presented in his articles] for our strategic budgets will by no means be simple.”

Warnke claims that Wohlstetter “questioned the wisdom of practicing restraint with an adversary that appeared bent on achieving strategic superiority” and that Wohlstetter wrote his two articles with the specific purpose of undermining “SALT I and Nixon’s policy of détente with the Soviet Union.” These statements are not true. Wohlstetter made clear that his purpose was to provide concrete information to “help thoughtful national choice or [help] agreement with adversaries.” He also said, “Agreements with adversaries can play a useful role,” and “I favor a U.S.-Soviet reduction to equal lower totals.” Wohlstetter added that the desirability of specific arms control agreements “is quite independent of the question as to whether the U.S. totals [of nuclear weapons] have increased exponentially or at all.”

The information provided by Wohlstetter included data on the accuracy of U.S. intelligence predictions, trends in the number and destructive power of U.S. nuclear forces, and trends in U.S defense spending. Wohlstetter’s objective was to enable what today might be called “evidence-based” foreign policy.

Even after Wohlstetter’s 1974 articles, Paul C. Warnke’s (Paul S. Warnke’s grandfather) preconceived notions were so entrenched that in his 1975 “Apes on a Treadmill” article in Foreign Policy, he wrote, “He [Wohlstetter] cannot, of course, mean that the United States is backing up while the Soviet Union presses on. Both continue to amass nuclear weapons in quantities and varieties inexplicable on any military basis.” However, Wohlstetter did mean exactly that and showed the decline in the total number of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons with the data presented in figure 2 of his second article. Though space did not permit it to be shown, the graph of the number of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons also showed a decline. Given the many factors involved in maintaining secure nuclear forces, this decline was not necessarily a bad thing. However, Wohlstetter believed that foreign policy should be based on facts and not prejudices. Similarly, Warnke (the grandson) should base his analysis on Wohlstetter’s actual views and statements. Warnke’s current analysis falls far short of this mark.

Gregory S. Jones worked with Albert Wohlstetter for more than 20 years and provided many of the figures and tables used in Wohlstetter’s two articles. Jones currently publishes proliferationmatters.com.



Gregory S. Jones’s letter defending the conclusion and methodology of Wohlstetter’s 1974 Foreign Policy articles misfires on several accounts, mischaracterizing both the significance of Wohlstetter’s findings and argument of Paul C. Warnke’s “Apes on a Treadmill” article.

First, Jones asserts that Wohlstetter wrote his articles with the objective of providing concrete, neutral data to inform “evidence-based” foreign policy. Contrary to Jones’ appraisal, Wohlstetter was engaged in selective analysis, cherry-picking measures of Soviet missile numbers while overlooking other variables of comparable importance. For instance, Wohlstetter disregarded the fact that the Johnson and Nixon administrations regularly overestimated indicators of Soviet multiple-warhead systems and intercontinental ballistic missile accuracy—qualitative characteristics that, together with quantitative ones, form a fuller understanding of an adversary’s strategic capability. Wohlstetter also failed to capture that the United States significantly outpaced the Soviet Union in the total number of ballistic missile warheads, as it started to arm its long-range missiles with multiple warheads in the early 1970s. Wohlstetter thus lost the forest for the trees, providing a partial picture of what was a more complex, multivariate strategic competition.

Second, Jones misjudges the ultimate purpose of Wohlstetter’s articles: to compel the United States into an arms buildup at the expense of negotiated restraint. While Wohlstetter did not explicitly oppose the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) agreement in Foreign Policy, he opposed its limitations in other forums and writings. An outspoken supporter of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) programs, he found fault with SALT I’s limitation on ABM technology. As for the agreement’s restrictions on offense strategic weaponry, he believed that future arms control agreements should impose equal numerical limits on U.S. and Soviet forces. This criticism of SALT I shone through Wohlstetter’s inflation of Soviet capabilities and corresponding depreciation of U.S. ones.

Finally, Jones misfires in contending that Warnke’s “preconceived notions” of the superpower’s strategic standoff had blinded him to Wohlstetter’s conclusions. The quotation on which his critique relies is a prime example of litotes: Warnke was saying one thing when he meant exactly the opposite, as a way of emphasizing the absurdity of Wohlstetter’s claim that the United States was losing the arms race. Exposing this absurdity not only inspired the article’s titular metaphor, it was its central premise. The two superpowers were both racing ahead, maybe not always stride for stride, but at never-ending paces that defied any real military or political logic.

Paul S. Warnke is a congressional nuclear security fellow for Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and the grandson of Paul C. Warnke.


Paul S. Warnke’s article “The Wohlstetter-Warnke Debate in Foreign Policy,” (ACT, July/August 2019) seriously misstates Albert Wohlstetter’s views in his two 1974 Foreign Policy articles (“Is There a Strategic Arms Race?” and “Is There a Strategic Arms Race? (II): Rivals but No ‘Race’”).

Janne E. Nolan (1951–2019) Mentoring a Generation of National Security Experts

October 2019
By Jane Vaynman 

Janne E. Nolan left a legacy of ideas, scholarship, mentees, and humor that few will forget following her passing on June 26, 2019. In conversations on national security, she was a presence when she was in the room and when she was not, her work being constantly interwoven into the fabric of our collective knowledge on nuclear security, bureaucracy, foreign policy, and domestic politics.

I met Janne at the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she was a member of the faculty and I was associate director of the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies. Our professional connections expanded at George Washington University (GWU), through the Nuclear Studies Research Initiative, and at Janne’s Nuclear Security Working Group dinners and quickly grew to a friendship. Over white wine and oysters, Janne’s preferred setting for all Track II discussions, she was a mentor, a confidant, and a co-conspirator.

Janne was a mentor who gave different advice than everyone else, advice rooted in trusting your own voice. At GWU, Janne once spoke to a group of pre- and postdoctoral fellows about how to conduct “policy-relevant research.” This topic comes up constantly for young academics and the advice is usually the same: pick questions that policymakers want to understand, present your work in a way that policymakers can understand, and write ever shorter pieces. Janne, however, told a different story. She argued that policymakers often do not know what they need, and no one knows what will be relevant tomorrow. So, she advised, aim first and foremost to be an expert in your subject matter, focusing on the thing that you think is important. Then, convince others that they should be paying attention to it too. Finally, be patient because the world will come knocking on your door when you are the one expert on an issue no one valued until a war broke out.

She described what happened with her book, Trappings of Power: Ballistic Missiles in the Third World. She had been working on issues regarding intermediate-range missiles for some time and had been warning of the threat of their proliferation to smaller countries. At the time, however, the dominant perception was that the policymaker focus should be on strategic arsenals. Her work was dismissed, and she was counseled that she was working on the wrong question. But just as she was finishing her book in 1990, the Gulf War started, and everyone was very interested in Iraqi Scud missiles and Scud missiles more broadly. As she put it with typical Janne-style humility, she got lucky in publishing her book at that exact moment. Being policy relevant can sometimes be a matter of timing, so you should not let other people or the trends of the time dictate what is relevant. Your work is making the case for what should be relevant.

More personally, Janne was once elated to discover that I am what she would later call a “Jackson-Vanik baby.” The Jackson-Vanik amendment tied Jewish emigration out of the Soviet Union with trade status by the United States, and it helped my family and I to leave the USSR in 1988. Janne had worked on issues related to the amendment during her time on the staff of Senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.), but she had never met anyone who had benefited directly from the law. I showed Janne a clip from a 1989 episode of “Nightline” that featured my parents, waiting in Italy with two little kids, talking about their desire to make a life in the United States. Perhaps she felt that her earlier work had directly affected my success and my work in the nuclear field. If so, she was exactly right. I would be a very different person today if my family had not come to the United States. I like thinking about how Janne helped me get here before I even knew her.

In a world often divided between policymakers and academics, left and right, emerging voices and wise elders, Janne was nonpartisan. Her mix of colleagues and friends, often coming together at dinners or over drinks on the sidelines of some conference, were a vibrant and ever evolving whirlwind. I hope we all continue to create that kind of space in work and play. I will be there, at least every now and then with a black dress and pearls in Janne’s honor.

Jane Vaynman is an assistant professor of political science at Temple University. 
Janne Nolan served on the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association from 1994–2019.

Janne Nolan steered many up-and-coming specialists on both their personal and professional paths.

Recalling the Senate Review of New START

October 2019
By Brian P. McKeon 

Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. Senate approved the ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which limits deployed strategic weapons and launchers possessed by the United States and Russia. With 71 senators voting in favor, it was a rare act of bipartisanship in Washington. Key to this cross-party support was a commitment by President Obama to modernize aging nuclear warhead production facilities in the Department of Energy. Some observers believed a consensus had emerged in favor both of arms control and “nuclear modernization” that would provide a period of stability in nuclear policy-making.1 That promise appears to be fading, and a review of the 2010 ratification process could serve the current president and Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepare  to sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague on April 8, 2010.  (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)New START expires in February 2021, and the Trump administration has suggested it will let it lapse to pursue a more ambitious agreement involving the United States, Russia, and China. At a July 2019 congressional hearing on U.S.-Russian arms control, not a single Republican member voiced support for extending New START.2 Many Democrats in Congress are concerned that the Trump administration made insufficient efforts to preserve the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty before withdrawing from it in response to Russia’s violations of the agreement, oppose the new low-yield nuclear weapon requested by the president, and wonder whether current plans to sustain and modernize the nuclear deterrent, with costs projected to exceed $1 trillion in the next three decades, are affordable.3

The consensus was always fragile. Perhaps its fraying was inevitable, but it is worth recalling the events that brought a moment of bipartisan harmony in nuclear policy-making.

The linkage between modernization and New START was made before the treaty was concluded. In the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) authored a provision requiring the administration to provide a nuclear weapons plan to Congress when the treaty was submitted to the Senate, to include 10-year budget projections on “the plan to: (1) enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile of the United States; (2) modernize the nuclear weapons complex; and (3) maintain the delivery platforms for nuclear weapons.”4

Senior Obama administration officials soon joined the debate. In January 2010, Vice President Joe Biden previewed the president’s budget in a commentary in The Wall Street Journal. Noting the warning of the Strategic Posture Commission, chaired by former secretaries of defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, which in 2009 lamented the deterioration of the weapons complex, Biden wrote that the proposed budget “both reverses this decline and enables [the administration] to implement the president’s nuclear security agenda.”5 In a speech the following month, he argued that these investments were “not only consistent with our nonproliferation agenda; [they are] essential to it. Guaranteeing our stockpile, coupled with broader research and development efforts, allows us to pursue deep nuclear reductions without compromising our security.”6 The president’s budget requested a nearly 10 percent increase for the weapons activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)—raising it to $7 billion—and an increase of more than $5 billion over a five-year period.

In the report of the Nuclear Posture Review, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates took a similar tack. He wrote that funds he transferred to the Department of Energy for weapons work would allow the United States to sustain and support its nuclear deterrent while enabling future arms control reductions by “allowing us to hedge against future threats without the need for a large non-deployed stockpile.”7

Twice in 2010, while New START was under Senate consideration, the Obama administration reported on proposed investments for the weapons complex. The first report in May promised some $80 billion over 10 years.8 The second, submitted in November at the behest of Kyl, pledged another $5 billion over the ensuing decade, for a total of $85 billion.9

To push the treaty across the finish line, the president put his full weight behind the budget promises. Two days before the Senate vote on the treaty, Obama pledged to four key senators on the Appropriations Committee that he “recognize[d] that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term. That is my commitment to the Congress—that my administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am president.”10 The president’s personal assurance achieved its purpose: 12 Republican senators joined 59 Democrats to approve the treaty’s ratification.

What did both sides gain? Kyl, who ultimately opposed the treaty, and other Senate Republicans succeeded in leveraging the treaty to secure long-term commitments designed to restore the health of the Energy Department enterprise. During much of 2010, Kyl was able to persuade Republican senators to stay neutral on the treaty, forcing the administration to deal with him. For its part, the administration gained progress on a central pillar of the president’s ambitious nuclear weapons agenda, which he had outlined in April 2009. He was able to do so consistent with that vision, which called for the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” but also promised that as long as nuclear weapons existed, the United States would “maintain and safe, secure and effective arsenal.”11

The bipartisan compromise advanced strategic stability and the health of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. New START remains in effect, with the United States and Russia abiding by its limits, and both taking full advantage of the verification regime. The nuclear complex enjoyed a decade of relative stability in funding. Although the Budget Control Act in 2011 slowed the rate of budget increases for a time, since 2010 the NNSA weapons budget has increased by more than 60 percent and is on track to receive more during fiscal years 2011–2020 than originally promised by the Obama administration.12

The current administration would do well to consider this history and the continued importance of linking arms control and nuclear modernization. Supporters of arms control will surely be reluctant to buy into a long-term nuclear modernization plan that does not involve a realistic plan for mutual restraint between the two countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, namely the United States and Russia. At the same time, supporters of the nuclear deterrent should appreciate the benefits of predictability and stability for the complicated undertaking that is the nuclear enterprise.



1. Whether there was an actual consensus is debatable, given that less than one-third of the Republican caucus—12 of 41 senators—voted for the Treaty.

2. Arms Control Association Board Chair Thomas Countryman and the author were witnesses at the hearing. U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “Russia and Arms Control: Extending New START or Starting Over?” July 25, 2019, https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearings?ID=CC4C4917-AD41-4EF2-A99A-B2C69B2D7ECB.

3. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of maintaining the nuclear deterrent and modernizing it over three decades would total $1.2 trillion in 2017 dollars, of which more than $800 billion would go to operate and sustain the nuclear forces and about $400 billion to modernize them. U.S. Congressional Budget Office, “Approaches for Managing the Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017-46,” October 2017, https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/reports/53211-nuclearforces.pdf.

4. National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Public Law 111-84, October 28, 2009, sec. 1251.

5. Joseph R. Biden Jr, “The President’s Nuclear Vision,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2010.

6. Office of the Vice President, The White House, “Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University,” February 18, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-vice-president-biden-national-defense-university.

7. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. i, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf.

8. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) sponsored the legislation that was eventually passed into law requiring this report. The report was classified, but the White House released an unclassified fact sheet. “The New START Treaty - Maintaining a Strong Nuclear Deterrent,” n.d., http://www.airforcemag.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/Reports/2010/May%202010/Day18/NewSTARTsection1251factsheet.pdf.

9. “November 2010 Update to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2010 Section 1251 Report: New START Treaty Framework and Nuclear Force Structure Plans,” n.d., https://www.lasg.org/budget/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf.

10. 156 Cong. Rec. S10850 (daily ed. Dec. 12, 2010) (letter from President Barack Obama to Sen. Lamar Alexander [R-Tenn.]).

11. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague as Delivered,” April 5, 2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-prague-delivered.

12. Kingston Reif and Shervin Taheran, “U.S.-Russian Arms Control Talks to Begin Amid Uncertainty,” Arms Control Association, May 24, 2019, https://www.armscontrol.org/blog/2019-05-24/us-russian-nuclear-arms-control-watch-may-2019.


Brian P. McKeon is a senior director at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington. He served as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden from 2009 to 2012. While in that position, he coordinated the administration’s efforts to seek Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The linkage between New START ratification and the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal offers useful lessons for today.

REMARKS: The Arms Trade Treaty Builds Humanitarian Norms

October 2019
By Gilles Carbonnier

Today, millions of people live in the shadow of war and other forms of armed violence. Years and sometimes decades of conflict have devastating, far-reaching humanitarian consequences, not just the direct effects of attacks on individuals and communities but the indirect consequences that disrupt and destroy basic services. Beyond the immediate death and destruction, we see forced displacement, often on a massive scale; deteriorating services; increasing dangers for those working to provide lifesaving assistance; and persistent violations of international humanitarian law. And behind all of this lies a ready supply of arms and ammunition—the fuel for the fire.

(Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)When I started my career with the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] in the early 1990s, I worked in El Salvador, at a hopeful time when we expected peace to bring violence to an end. But years after the armed conflict ended, the continued widespread availability of weapons has fueled levels of armed violence that are today among the highest in the world.

In Libya, to take another example, large parts of the arms stockpile remain outside any control. The armed conflict is exacting a heavy toll on the Libyan people, who suffer death, injury, disability, and displacement.

Respect for the Arms Trade Treaty is critical to ending these cycles of armed conflict and other situations of violence and preventing the ensuing human suffering.

The Arms Trade Treaty places strict controls on the flow of weapons to belligerents and other armed actors. These rules are founded on the duty to uphold international humanitarian law, enshrined in Article 1 common to the Geneva Conventions, which marked their 70th anniversary this month. Like the Geneva Conventions, the Arms Trade Treaty aims to protect people, save lives, and reduce suffering based on the universal principle of humanity.

These rules are not an abstract norm. They are a practical tool in the interests of all to protect lives and, ultimately, in the interests of international and regional peace, security, and stability.

Indeed, preventing the diversion and misuse of weapons goes hand in hand with maintaining peace, security, and stability. The two endeavors are interconnected. Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law can undermine regional and international peace and security.

While I’m convinced of the enormous benefit of the Arms Trade Treaty, we can never take its relevance for granted. To remain useful and effective, the treaty’s provisions must be applied diligently at the national level; and its application recorded, reported, and monitored on the ground, where they matter most.

Five years after the treaty entered into force, states must now engage in detailed conversations on the practical application of the treaty. This year, the ICRC contributed to discussions on the risk that transferred arms will be used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender-based violence.

In-depth exchanges like these must continue, no matter how difficult. Acknowledging achievements in applying the treaty, as well as the challenges, is essential to enhancing its implementation and realizing the goal
of universal acceptance.

The ICRC is conscious that arms transfers take place in a competitive environment. We also observe that arms transfers are just one way that partners support each other in the web of relationships that characterize contemporary armed conflicts. But respect for international humanitarian law must be factored into arms transfer decision-making at every level, regardless of how complex the situation is. Humanitarian imperatives must never be trumped by economic, security, and diplomatic interests. It is vital that the humanitarian perspective, particularly respect for international humanitarian law, is systematically placed at the center of decision-making as required by the Arms Trade Treaty.

We build and defend the norms that uphold our humanity. This conference provides an opportunity to share experiences and identify lessons learned. An opportunity to find practical and meaningful measures to turn the words of the treaty into deeds and to make a real difference for millions of vulnerable people. The ICRC stands ready to support you in this endeavor.

Adapted from remarks by Gilles Carbonnier, vice president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking to the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty in Geneva on Aug. 26.

A senior Red Cross official promotes respect for international humanitarian law. 

North Korea Opens Door to Nuclear Talks

October 2019
By Daryl G. Kimball and Julia Masterson

North Korea may be willing to resume working-level talks with the United States on denuclearization and peace issues, according to a Sept. 9 statement from North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui. The new offer was conditioned on a readiness by the Trump administration to adjust its negotiating stance, which North Korea has blamed for the long-delayed negotiations.

Choe Son Hui, North Korea's vice foreign minister (second from right), arrives for talks with U.S. officials one day before the June 12, 2019, summit between the United States and North Korea in Singapore. Choe recently expressed interest in resuming working-level talks. (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)“We have willingness to sit with the U.S. side for comprehensive discussions of the issues we have so far taken up at the time and place to be agreed late in September,” Choe said. But she cautioned that if the U.S. side offers no new “calculation,” then “DPRK-U.S. dealings may come to an end.”

Just three days earlier, Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, reiterated Washington’s interest in resuming working-level talks and President Donald Trump’s commitment to a diplomatic solution.

“Since [the] summit meeting in Singapore, the president has maintained a strong and focused commitment to the search for a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. He refuses to accept that 66 years after the end of fighting in the Korean War, we have yet to find a successful path to transforming relations and establishing a permanent peace,” Biegun said in a Sept. 6 speech at the University of Michigan. “The president has also been clear that doing so will require the daunting task of eliminating the growing threat of weapons of mass destruction on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea’s apparent willingness to resume talks follows an exchange of letters between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the Sept. 10 departure of John Bolton as Trump’s national security adviser. While in the White House, Bolton advocated for dramatic denuclearization actions by North Korea before making any U.S. concessions. After his resignation, he forecast that the negotiations with North Korea were “doomed to failure.”

The remarks highlighted one area of disagreement between Bolton and Trump.

“I think John really should take a look at how badly they’ve done in the past, and maybe a new method would be very good,” Trump said Sept. 20 in answer to a question about Bolton views.

Trump’s comments drew immediate praise from veteran North Korean diplomat Kim Myong Gil, who has been elevated to serving as North Korea’s chief delegate in working-level negotiations with the United States.

“I welcome President Trump’s wise political decision to approach the DPRK-U.S. relations from a more practical point of view,” he said, describing Bolton as a “burdensome troublemaker, who handled everything sticking to an outdated framework.”

If they take place, U.S.-North Korean talks would mark the first substantive exchange of views and proposals since the failed February 2019 summit in Hanoi between Trump and Kim. That meeting followed their first summit in Singapore in July 2018, when the two leaders agreed to a joint declaration to work toward denuclearization and a peace regime. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) Following the Singapore meeting, North Korea has not flight-tested any long-range ballistic missiles or conducted any nuclear explosions, and Trump has abided by his pledge to scale back joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

Democratic members of Congress have sharply criticized Trump’s lack of urgency to reach an agreement to halt North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as his willingness to ignore several North Korean flight tests of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which violate UN resolutions.

In a Sept. 6 letter to the White House, the eight highest-ranking Democrats in the U.S. Senate urged Trump “to recognize that North Korea’s series of ballistic missile tests clearly contravene United Nations Security Council resolutions and are being used to advance their operational capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons.”

The senators urged Trump “to undertake a more pragmatic, verifiable approach to pursue denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

In his Sept. 6 address, Biegun appeared to call for faster action and acknowledged North Korea’s ongoing efforts to improve its nuclear capabilities.

“We are aware that this diplomatic opening is fragile. We fully understand the consequences if diplomacy fails, and we are clear-eyed about the dangerous reality of ongoing development by North Korea of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them across the region and the world,” he said.

Biegun also outlined the Trump administration’s overall vision for the talks and indicated that the United States recognizes that progress is possible through reciprocal actions that help advance the goals set out by the two leaders in Singapore in 2018.

“Through direct engagement, we must create space and momentum for diplomacy,” Biegun said. “Once we begin intensive negotiations, we can directly discuss actions that each side can take to create more and better choices for our leaders to consider. Neither the United States nor North Korea has to accept all the risk of moving forward.”

Stagnant U.S.-North Korean nuclear talks could resume if Washington agrees to moderate its demands.

Iran Announces Third Nuclear Breach

October 2019
By Julia Masterson

Iran will no longer adhere to limits on its nuclear research and development activities, as it once agreed in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Sept. 4. Just three days later, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that technicians had begun introducing uranium hexafluoride to cascades of 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges, exceeding the number of machines permitted in a cascade by the R&D terms of the nuclear agreement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, shown in September, proposed establishing a $15 billion line of credit to incentivize Iran's compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. (Photo: Philippe Wojazer/AFP/Getty Images)If confirmed, the move would constitute Iran’s third breach of the six-party nuclear deal in retaliation to the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement in May 2018 and Washington’s reimposition of U.S. sanctions that had been lifted. Iran’s latest step away from the nuclear accord follows its May and July 2019 decisions to enrich and accumulate uranium beyond the thresholds designated by the JCPOA. According to the agreement, Iran can store no more than 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride enriched up to 3.67 percent uranium-235, and it may not enrich uranium to levels higher than that for 15 years after the implementation day.

The nuclear accord limits Iran to operating 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges and permits R&D work on a very limited number of IR-4, -5, -6, and -8 centrifuges, as long as the work does not result in an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Tehran’s September decision to breach the agreement’s centrifuge R&D limits poses risks that Iran could increase the output of its centrifuges, should it begin to operate and withdraw enriched uranium from the more advanced designs.

The latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report confirmed that Iran has installed or is in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, and 33 IR-6 modeled centrifuges. Although prepared for testing, the IAEA indicated that as of Sept. 8, no uranium hexafluoride had been introduced into these centrifuges.

Until now, Iran had been complying with the R&D restrictions. A May 2019 IAEA report said that “no enriched uranium has been accumulated through enrichment R&D activities, and Iran’s enrichment R&D with and without uranium has been conducted using centrifuges specified in the JCPOA.” Should Iran begin to enrich and accumulate uranium using advanced centrifuge models or test the centrifuges installed at the Natanz pilot fuel-enrichment plant, then Iran’s actions would signify a further breach of the nuclear accord.

The September IAEA report also verified that Iran has taken steps toward configuring cascades, or chains of centrifuges used to optimize enriched uranium output, at the Natanz plant. The report cited a Sept. 8 letter from Tehran to the agency expressing a plan to install two cascades: one of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges. Both cascades were under development prior to the JCPOA’s implementation, but Iran was obligated to remove them from the Natanz plant under the terms of the 2015 agreement.

Iran’s latest potential breach of the JCPOA comes one month after its Aug. 5 plea to European leaders to do more to compensate the Iranian government for assets lost through the imposition of U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, September 2019.) In May the Trump administration announced it would not renew the sanctions waivers previously granted to countries importing Iranian oil in a strengthened effort to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear and missile provocations and to disengage from regional conflicts.

At the Group of Seven summit in France in August, French President Emmanuel Macron offered a proposal to extend Iran a $15 billion line of credit guaranteed by future Iranian oil sales in return for Iran’s return to compliance with the JCPOA and commitment to negotiations on regional security and the future of Iran’s nuclear program.

On Sept. 3, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said that talks on the credit arrangement were underway but U.S. approval would be crucial. “All this (pre)supposes that President [Donald] Trump issues waivers,” he told reporters.

Earlier this year, the Europeans established INSTEX, a state-owned trade intermediary to facilitate trade in nonsanctioned goods with Iran. When the U.S. oil sanctions waivers were eliminated in May 2019, oil imports were halted. Only China and Syria continue to buy Iranian oil, albeit at a lessened rate, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.

Without the reissuance of U.S. sanctions waivers, France and other countries are unlikely to move forward due to the cost of the U.S. Treasury Department sanctions on the institutions and businesses involved in the French plan.

Iran has begun to test advanced centrifuges as it furthers its noncompliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. 


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