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

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
October 2021
Edition Date: 
Friday, October 1, 2021
Cover Image: 

China, Pakistan Press BWC on New Guidelines


October 2021
By Shannon Bugos

China and Pakistan in September encouraged more than 180 countries to adopt a set of guidelines designed to guard against the development and proliferation of biological weapons.

Li Song, Chinese ambassador for disarmament, addresses a special session of the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva on Sept. 8. China and Pakistan encouraged more than 180 countries to adopt new guidelines designed to prevent the proliferation of biological weapons. (Photo by Chinese UN Mission)“Broad acceptance of responsible biological research and development of corresponding codes of conduct will bring out the full potentials and benefits of research in this field and help to prevent its misuse or abuse,” said Li Song, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations and disarmament ambassador, in a Sept. 3 statement.

Li officially introduced “The Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists” during a Sept. 2 meeting of experts convened under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). China and Pakistan aim to have “all stakeholders” endorse the guidelines during the BWC’s ninth review conference and commit to “voluntarily incorporat[ing] elements from the guidelines in their practices, protocols, and regulations.” The review conference was initially scheduled to begin in November, but was pushed to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Chinese side has submitted the guidelines to the BWC review conference for endorsement,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Sept. 6. “The conclusion of the Tianjin Guidelines demonstrates that, in the face of global issues, effective solutions can be found as long as we uphold the spirit of inclusiveness, pragmatism, science, and cooperation.”

Entered into force in 1975, the BWC is a legally binding, multilateral treaty that prohibits the development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, production, and use of biological and toxin weapons and currently has 183 states-parties.

The Tianjin Guidelines emerged from a consolidated effort that included the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Tianjin University, and the InterAcademy Partnership (a network of 140 national regional, and global science academies, including the National Academy of Sciences) with support from the U.S. State Department and the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The initiative launched in January 2021 and held several meetings during the spring. The partnership formally endorsed the guidelines July 8.

“The ultimate aim is to prevent misuse of bioscience research without hindering beneficial outcomes, in accordance with the articles and norms” of the BWC, according to the introduction to the guidelines.

The State Department said in a Sept. 17 statement to Arms Control Today that it viewed the endorsement of the guidelines by the partnership “as an excellent first step to encouraging scientific institutions from all across the globe to be aware of and to incorporate the elements embodied in the biosecurity guidelines and in the Biological Weapons Convention into their own codes as appropriate.” The department did not comment on China’s official introduction of the guidelines at the BWC meeting.

The 10 guidelines recommend that scientists consider potential biosecurity concerns at all stages of scientific research, strike a balance when disseminating research findings between maximizing benefits and minimizing harm, and actively promote public understanding and interest in biological science and technology, including the potential benefits and risks.

“Scientific institutions, including research, funding, and regulatory bodies, should be aware of the potential for misuse of bioscience research, and ensure that expertise, equipment, and facilities are not used for illegal, harmful, or malicious purposes at any stage of bioscience work,” the guidelines state. “They should establish appropriate mechanisms and processes to monitor, assess, and mitigate potential vulnerabilities and risks in scientific activities and dissemination.”

The move by China and Pakistan to secure an official endorsement of the Tianjin Guidelines by BWC states-parties came one week after the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon,” said the Aug. 27 report. The intelligence agencies remain divided over the most likely origin of the coronavirus, whether by natural exposure to an infected animal or a laboratory-associated incident.

In April, the State Department’s annual arms control compliance report said that Beijing has “engaged in activities that raise concerns with regard to its obligations” under the BWC. “The United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report concluded. Further information, however, remained classified.

In what could be an important move, the two states urged adoption of guidelines aimed at guarding against the development and proliferation of biological weapons.

On CTBT Anniversary, UN Members Call for Action


October 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

Member states of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) marked the 25th anniversary of the opening for signature of the treaty with a series of events last month at the United Nations, culminating in a special Security Council meeting on Sept. 27 convened by Ireland, which holds one of the rotating seats on the 12-member council.

Maggie Wanyaga of Kenya, a representative of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty Organization Youth Group, addressed a UN Security Council meeting that discussed the CTBT on Sept. 27. The youth group is part of an effort to involve civil society in supporting the work of the CTBTO and the treaty. (UN TV)At the Security Council meeting, senior officials representing council members, including the six states that have conducted nuclear test explosions, spoke. The new head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization (CTBTO), Robert Floyd; the head of the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs; and a civil society representative from Kenya also addressed the Council.

In a departure from the Trump administration, the U.S. envoy’s statement reaffirmed that the United States supports the CTBT and “is committed to achieving its entry into force.” China’s representative also reiterated Beijing’s support for the treaty. Both states have signed the CTBT but failed to ratify. Neither country’s representative indicated when they might seek to complete the ratification process.

India’s envoy told the council that his country “supports the realization of a nuclear weapons free world through a step for step process” and that India participated in the CTBT negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) but could not join the treaty “as it did not address our concerns.” He noted that India will continue to observe a nuclear testing moratorium and is committed to working on disarmament in the CD.

One hundred and eighty-five states have signed the CTBT and 170 have ratified it. Eight key states, including the United States and China and India, must still ratify the treaty for it to formally enter into force.

Since the tit-for-tat Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of 1998, all states except North Korea have respected the strong de facto international norm created by the CTBT and upheld moratoriums on nuclear weapons testing. Since 2017, even North Korea has halted nuclear testing. The Security Council has condemned each of the handful of nuclear tests conducted since the CTBT’s opening for signature and imposed sanctions in each case.

The last time the Security Council addressed the CTBT issue was on Sept. 22, 2016, when it marked the treaty’s 20th anniversary with the adoption of Resolution 2310. In the resolution, the council stressed the “vital importance and urgency” of achieving the early entry into force of the treaty and urged all states to sign and ratify it. The council also recognized a joint statement from its permanent five members not to take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty,” which is to halt “any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear test explosion.”

Due to opposition from France, however, this year’s special Security Council session did not result in a joint statement, according to multiple diplomatic sources.

Days earlier on Sept. 23 and 24, CTBT member states met for the Conference on Facilitating Entry Into Force of the CTBT, a meeting held every other year to “to promote cooperation aimed at promoting further signatures and ratifications.”

In a video address to the conference, Bonnie Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, said “an in-force CTBT is good for the security of the United States, and it is good for the security of all states.”

“I want to make clear,” Jenkins said, “the United States supports the CTBT and is committed to work to achieve its entry into force. This is no easy task. It is important to remember that no one country can make entry into force happen on its own. Within the United States, we recognize that securing the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate to ratification will require deliberate outreach and education to ensure that the benefits of an in-force CTBT are clearly understood by all.”

On Sept. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement on social media that said: “Countries that are yet to join the treaty need to show political will. The agreement’s entry into force would serve the interests of the whole global community of nations.”

At the insistence of states including the China and the United Kingdom, the CTBT text includes an unorthodox entry into force section, which is spelled out in Article XIV, and is designed to require that India and other nuclear weapons-capable states all join the treaty before it enters into force. Article XIV requires ratification by 44 named states, members of the Conference on Disarmament that also appear in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) list of states with nuclear power reactors. Two of the eight key holdout states, China and the United States, have signed the treaty and have refrained from testing, but they have not yet ratified and have not indicated when they will do so.

Article XIV also established the option for states-parties to the treaty to convene conferences to exhort holdout states to sign and ratify. Germany and Algeria co-chaired the Sept. 27 conference, which was the 12th such conference since the treaty was concluded, and then reported on their efforts to promote the treaty. Italy and South Africa will serve as co-chairs for the coming year.

UN member states also reaffirmed support for an end to nuclear testing at another high-level meeting at UN headquarters on Sept. 8. That conference marked the closure of the former Soviet Union’s former Semipalatinsk test site in eastern Kazakhstan. Thirty years ago, on August 29, 1991, the site was officially shut down after more than 450 nuclear detonations. The UN now recognizes the date as International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Magzhan Ilyassov, Kazakhstan’s UN ambassador, speaking to UN News said, “For us, the 29th of August is not a day in the calendar. It is a reminder about how traumatic nuclear tests can be for humankind because in Kazakhstan alone, 1.5 million people still suffer, and will unfortunately suffer for future generations, from genetic diseases, cancer, leukemia, which were caused by exposure to nuclear tests.”

In a Sept. 30 statement, UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “I once again urge those states that have not yet ratified the treaty to do so without delay. Eight states whose ratifications are necessary for the treaty to enter into force have a special responsibility. At the same time, all states should maintain or implement moratoria on nuclear explosions. The International Day Against Nuclear Tests is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to outlaw all nuclear tests, by anyone, anywhere. There is no excuse to delay achieving this goal.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also recognized the day. “On behalf of the United States of America, I want to extend my best wishes to the people of Kazakhstan as you mark three decades since the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site on Aug. 29,” he wrote in a Sept. 1 letter to Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. “The United States remains committed to its close partnership with Kazakhstan, including continued cooperation with your government to secure and remediate the former test site,” Biden wrote.

For CTBT advocates, the Biden administration’s rhetorical support for the treaty is a welcome shift from the policy of the Trump administration, which dismissed the value of the treaty even as it continued to support its global verification system. As recently as last year, some Trump officials reportedly discussed the idea of resuming U.S. testing to influence Chinese and Russian behavior in future arms control talks. Congress responded by prohibiting the use of funds for nuclear test explosions for one year.

The Biden administration is not expected to try to advance support for the CTBT in the U.S. Senate, which is currently divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans and requires 67 votes to provide advice and consent for ratification.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty propelled nuclear-weapon states to halt nuclear weapons testing, but never formally entered into force. Some UN members are trying to motivate holdout states to ratify the agreement.

North Korea Rachets Up Nuclear, Missile Activities


October 2021
By Julia Masterson

North Korea may have restarted its five-megawatt reactor, which it has historically used to produce plutonium to support its nuclear weapons program, according to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Whether it be nuclear weapons or missiles, North Korea is continuing to expand its military capabilities and refusing entreaties from the United States to “meet without conditions.” (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)Although the reactor, located at the Yongbyon complex, was inoperative from December 2018 until July 2021, the discharge of cooling water from the reactor suggests it may now be operational, the report, issued Aug. 27, said.

The IAEA does not have an on-site presence in North Korea, but it reports annually on the country’s nuclear activities using information gathered from satellite imagery analysis and other national technical means.

North Korea’s radiochemical laboratory at Yongbyon was also operational during the last reporting period, from February to July 2021. The laboratory houses North Korea’s plutonium reprocessing facility, which is used to extract the weapons-grade fissile material from spent reactor fuel.

According to the agency’s report, “[T]he five-month timeframe is consistent with the time required to reprocess a complete core of irradiated fuel” from the five-megawatt reactor, in keeping with design information provided to the IAEA by North Korea in 1992. It is likely that North Korea’s latest reprocessing campaign involved fuel rods that were removed after the reactor was last operational, in December 2018.

North Korea has conducted three known reprocessing campaigns, in 2003, 2005, and 2009, each of which lasted for about five months.

Although North Korea appears to be continuing its plutonium production, the IAEA report suggests that the production of enriched uranium-235 has stalled. “The reported centrifuge enrichment facility was not in operation” throughout the last reporting period, the IAEA stated.

But some analysts contend that North Korea may be gearing up to boost its production of enriched uranium, as evidenced by apparent efforts to expand the enrichment hall at Yongbyon. Commercial satellite imagery reveals possible steps to construct a new outer wall at the facility, which some analysts predict could allow North Korea to rachet up its enriched uranium production by 25 percent, according to a Sept. 16 report by CNN.

Other analysts disagree, citing commercial imagery that depicts the removal of cooling units from the enrichment hall. “As proper air conditioning and system cooling is essential to the uranium enrichment process—including maintaining a consistent temperature inside the cascade halls—it is unlikely that the [uranium-enrichment plant] is currently operating,” a group of analysts wrote on Sept. 16 on the 38 North website. Any uranium-enrichment activities will remain paused until those cooling units are replaced, they estimated.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s recent nuclear activities have raised alarm. “The continuation of [North Korea’s] nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi wrote in the agency’s report.

Senior diplomats from Japan, the United States, and South Korea called on Pyongyang to return to talks over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, met with Noh Kyu-duk, South Korean special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, and Takehiro Funakoshi, Japanese director-general for Asian and Oceanic affairs, on Sept. 14 in Tokyo. That scheduled meeting took place the day after Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors that North Korea’s nuclear program is “cause for serious concern” and after North Korea tested new long-range cruise missiles. The U.S. envoy urged Pyongyang to “respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”

North Korea tested the new cruise missiles on Sept. 11 and the next day described them as a “strategic weapon” that had been developed over two years. The missiles will serve as “an effective deterrent ensuring the security of our state more firmly and overpowering powerfully the anti-[North Korean] military moves of the hostile forces,” North Korean state media reported. One of the missiles flew 1,500 kilometers.

Later in the week, Pyongyang also tested a new train-mounted ballistic missile delivery system, which state media reported could travel 800 kilometers. The testing of the new system, dubbed the Railway Mobile Missile Regiment, was overseen by a top North Korean military official.

State media said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not attend either missile test.

 

Pyongyang continues to expand its nuclear capability by testing more missiles and reportedly restarting a reactor capable of producing plutonium.

ATT Members Highlight Small Arms, Light Weapons


October 2021
By Jeff Abramson

Small arms and light weapons and stockpile management were focuses of the recent annual conference of states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty as organizers tried to draw attention to the human harm caused by the trade and misuse of conventional weapons.

Although the formal program largely avoided discussing specific arms transfers, side events at the conference, often led by nongovernmental groups, called attention to controversial weapons deliveries to warring parties in Yemen and other conflicts that contributed to human suffering.

The conference, held Aug. 30–Sept. 3, adopted a hybrid format, with some delegates in Geneva and others joining the meeting remotely. Ambassador Lansana Gberie of Sierra Leone was the conference president.

Representatives of 86 of the treaty’s 110 states-parties were among those participating in the meeting, which took place shortly after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and its capture of billions of dollars in weapons provided to the Afghan government in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Whether concern about instability from the loss of control of so many weapons would move more countries to join the treaty is not clear. No new country has deposited legal instruments to become a state-party since 2020, before the sixth conference.

China, which acceded to the ATT in July 2020, was active at the meeting and again reiterated that Beijing does not permit arms exports to nonstate actors.

 

Reports on Arms Trades Decline

As this graph shows, states-parties to the Arms Trade Treaty are becoming less transparent, with fewer of them filing mandated annual reports about their authorized or actual conventional arms transfers. In 2015, 84 percent of member states filed the required annual reports; five years later, the number had dropped to 56 percent. (Source: Arms Trade Treaty Secretariat)

 

 

Among the outcomes, the conference called on the states-parties to “better utilise existing guidance and tools developed under relevant international and regional instruments on preventing the illicit trade in [small arms and light weapons] and strengthening stockpile management and security in order to prevent diversion” of weapons.

The treaty requires that countries file an initial report on national implementation practices , as well as annual reports describing authorized or actual conventional arms transfers. This reporting remains a concern for the ATT. The submission rate of annual reports has continued to decline, eroding the improvements in transparency for which treaty advocates hoped.

In 2015, 84 percent of the countries required to report on their transfers filed an annual report with the ATT Secretariat, compared to just 56 percent in 2020. Of those reports that were submitted, a growing number are being restricted for use by treaty members exclusively, rather than being made publicly available. Only 4 percent of states-parties chose private reporting for 2015, but 29 percent have done so for 2020 transfers.

As a new member, China promised to submit its initial report on time, by Oct. 3. Its first annual report is due in May 2022.

The United States, the world largest arms supplier, did not indicate whether it would again recognize its signature to the ATT or move to join the treaty. In a statement at the conference, the U.S. delegation said that a new conventional arms transfer policy “should be finalized shortly and released,” which will be used to review “the proper relationship of the United States” to the ATT. In 2019, in an effort to “unsign” the treaty, the United States informed the United Nations that it did not intend to join the ATT and had no legal obligations under its 2013 signature. Although U.S. officials have remained engaged in other treaty meetings, this was the first year it spoke formally to the annual conference since that decision. (See ACT, September 2020.)

The eighth conference will be held in Geneva on Aug. 22–26, 2022, and be led by Thomas Göbel, Germany’s representative to the Conference on Disarmament.

The annual ATT conference tried to draw attention to the human harm caused by the trade and misuse of conventional weapons.

New Action Plan Adopted on Cluster Munitions


October 2021
By William Ostermeyer and Jeff Abramson

States-parties to the pandemic-delayed review conference for the Convention on Cluster Munitions have agreed to a new five-year plan intended to “move forward towards a world free of cluster munitions.”

These unexploded cluster bomb submunitions hit a remote area of Azerbaijan near the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan crude oil pipeline in October 2020 during the military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Photo by Aziz Karimov/Getty Images)During Sept. 20–21, the second five-year review conference came together in a hybrid format, with some delegates meeting in person in Geneva while the rest participated remotely.

Originally scheduled to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020 to mark 10 years since the treaty entered into force, the conference met virtually for three days in November 2020 and postponed adoption of documents in hopes that in-person meetings would be possible in 2021.

The Lausanne Action Plan adopted last month includes 50 specific measures, covering topics such as treaty universalization, stockpile destruction, clearance of contaminated lands, risk education, and victim assistance.

The conference issued a declaration expressing concern about new cluster munitions use since the 2015 action plan, specifically in Syria, Yemen, and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

In the declaration, the states-parties wrote: “We underscore our obligation never under any circumstances to use cluster munitions and, in accordance with the object and provisions of the Convention, we condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor, remaining steadfast in our determination to achieve a world entirely free of any use of these weapons.” Whether to name specific instances of cluster munitions use and how to express condemnation have been a contentious issues in recent convention meetings. (See ACT, October 2019.)

The Cluster Munition Monitor, published by the Cluster Munition Coalition, identified 360 cluster munitions-related casualties globally in 2020. One hundred and forty-two casualties occurred at the time of attacks associated with the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was a fresh cluster munitions hot spot in 2020, and from the fighting in Syria. Another 218 casualties resulted from remnants that exploded in eight countries and territories.

Some of these incidents, like those in Laos and Cambodia, occurred decades after the original attacks.

Under the treaty, countries commit to clear within 10 years cluster munitions contamination from territory they control. At the review conference, states-parties recognized Croatia, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom (for the Falkland Islands) for fulfilling this requirement, adding to eight other countries that had already done so since 2010. Afghanistan, Chile, and Mauritania received approval for extensions to this deadline.

Twenty-six states and three areas are confirmed or suspected to still have contaminated land, including 10 of the 110 states-parties to the convention. Laos, Iraq, Vietnam, and Cambodia are among the most heavily contaminated countries in the world and accounted for 95 percent of the 135 square kilometers of land cleared of cluster submunitions in 2020, according to the Mine Action Review.

The United States is not party to the convention and continued its practice of not attending formal treaty meetings.

Aidan Liddle of the UK will be president of next year’s meeting of states-parties, the 10th overall. Treaty members agreed to resume intersessional meetings, which had been discontinued, between annual formal meetings, with Liddle to set a date for one in 2022. In the future, each annual meeting will decide whether to hold intersessional meetings in the upcoming year. Iraq will hold the presidency for the 11th annual meeting, in 2023.

The review conference for the Convention on Cluster Munitions aims for progress on expanding convention membership, stockpile destruction, and clearance of contaminated lands.

South Korea Tests Submarine-Launched Missile


October 2021
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea launched a ballistic missile from a submarine in September, making it the first country without nuclear weapons to develop that capability.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his country's Sept. 15 test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile was not aimed at North Korea, but "can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations." (Photo by South Korea's Ministry of National Defense)The Defense Ministry in Seoul described the launch as a success and said the missile “accurately hit its target.” The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability is “an important milestone” that will “contribute to realizing a strong national defense and a solid military readiness posture,” according to a Sept. 15 statement.

The SLBM test took place several hours after North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles from a train and four days after it tested a new land-attack cruise missile.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was present for the launch, said on Sept. 15 that the test was “not a response to North Korea’s provocations.” But he noted that “the reinforcement of our missile capabilities can be a clear deterrent to North Korea’s provocations.”

The missile was tested from South Korea’s domestically built attack submarine, the Dosan An Chang-ho, which was commissioned in August. (See ACT, September 2021.) It is the first of three submarines capable of carrying six ballistic missiles that South Korea plans to deploy. South Korean news outlets reported that the submarine successfully fired an SLBM on Sept. 7, but the South Korean government has only confirmed the Sept. 15 launch. Prior to the submarine launches, South Korea conducted test launches from a submerged barge and from a ground-based test facility. The Defense Ministry said it will conduct further tests before an SLBM is deployed on the Dosan An Chang-ho.

States generally pursue SLBMs in order to provide a survivable, second-strike nuclear capability. Given that South Korea is an ally of the United States and covered by its extended nuclear deterrent, including U.S. SLBMs, it is unclear why South Korea views this capability as necessary and worth the risk of continuing to drive the missile race between North and South Korea.

Defense Department spokesman James Kirby said in a Sept. 20 press briefing that the United States is working closely with South Korea to ensure “complementary military capabilities” that are “commensurate with the continued threats that we see on the peninsula.”

Although North Korea is developing its own SLBM capability and has tested missiles from a submerged barge, officials in Pyongyang decried South Korea’s SLBM capability as detrimental to peace on the peninsula and used the test to justify its own continued missile development.

Kim Yo Jong, vice department director of the Worker’s Party of Korea, in a Sept. 15 statement questioned why Moon is “repeatedly calling for backing peace with a powerful force.” Kim, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, criticized Moon for accusing North Korea of provocations and said South Korea has an “illogical and stupid habit of describing its act as a just one supporting peace and describing [North Korea’s] act of similar nature as one threatening peace.” North Korea’s tests are part of the country’s established self-defense plan, she said.

Pyongyang also sought to downplay the South Korean SLBM by questioning the veracity of the test. North Korea’s Academy of National Defence issued a statement Sept. 20 saying that the photos of the SLBM that South Korea released “could have deliberately been retouched” and that the missile looked more like a short-range ground-based ballistic missile that South Korea had already developed. The statement claimed that the weapon “has not yet reached the stage of being regarded as a weapon of strategic and tactical significance.”

South Korea’s SLBM test comes amid an expansion of the country’s military capabilities and continued debate over the country’s status as a non-nuclear-weapon state. In addition to the SLBM capability, South Korea has increased its military spending under Moon and invested in several new weapons systems. (See ACT, September 2021.)

Public support for South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons reached a new high in 2020 with 69 percent of the population voicing support, according to a Sept. 13 report from the Asan Institute. Since the institute began polling on this question, support for an indigenous nuclear weapons program was the lowest in 2018, when 55 percent of the population supported the idea.

In the 2020 poll, 61 percent supported reintroducing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula, a view that one leading candidate for South Korea’s presidential election in March has also endorsed.

Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative, said that if elected he would support a nuclear sharing agreement with the United States. Lee Jae-myung, the likely candidate from Moon’s party, opposes nuclear sharing, arguing that it diminishes South Korea’s credibility in demanding that North Korea denuclearize.

In 1991, the United States removed nuclear weapons that it had based in South Korea.

 

The test, several hours after North Korea tested a different missile, marked South Korea as the first non-nuclear weapon state to have SLBM capability.

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot


October 2021

The last U.S. projectiles containing mustard agent at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky, were destroyed on Sept. 4, marking the third of five destruction campaigns completed at the site.

A munitions handler guides a 155mm projectile containing mustard agent into a box to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky. The last mustard-agent projectile was processed on Sept. 4. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)To date, about 32 percent of the chemical agents stored at Blue Grass, or about 170 tons, has been destroyed. The destruction process began in June 2019. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)

The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, which was created by Congress in 1997, is responsible for the destruction of the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.

After signing and ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United States endeavored to destroy its approximately 3,500 tons of chemical agents. Today, only two U.S. chemical weapons destruction facilities remain operational; the rest are closed. The Blue Grass Army Depot originally stored more than 523 tons of mustard gas and nerve agents, while the Pueblo Chemical Depot, in Colorado, stored more than 2,600 tons of mustard agent.

Destruction remains ongoing at both sites. At Pueblo, 78 percent of the agents have been destroyed since the process began in March 2015.—JULIA MASTERSON

U.S. Mustard Agent Destroyed at Army Depot

U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals


October 2021

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) took domestic and international strides toward securing and eliminating nuclear materials over the past two months.

The NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, on Aug. 27 awarded $37 million to the Wisconsin-based company NorthStar Medical Technologies to advance the domestic supply of a vital medical isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), that is used daily in tens of thousands of medical procedures and cancer diagnoses.

In the past, U.S. medical facilities obtained Mo-99 from foreign sources that primarily produced the isotope by way of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used to fuel nuclear weapons and thus presents a nuclear proliferation risk if stolen or diverted. Congress called on the NNSA in 2012 to establish the Mo-99 Program in order to promote a reliable domestic supply of the isotope and to reduce the potential use of HEU for nuclear weapons proliferation.

In addition, the NNSA launched on Aug. 30 the RadSecure 100 initiative aimed at enhancing domestic radiological security. Through partnerships with local businesses, medical centers, and law enforcement, this initiative aims to remove high-priority radioactive material from some U.S. facilities while boosting security at the remaining facilities in 100 U.S. cities. It will also focus on ensuring secure transportation of high-risk radioactive sources.

Overseas, the United States and Norway cemented a plan to fully eliminate Norway’s HEU by blending it down to low-enriched uranium. Down-blending the concentration of HEU to a level below 20 percent uranium-235 prevents its weaponization. The project will begin in 2022, announced Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø on Sept. 1.

This agreement “lays an important foundation for Norway to get rid of its nuclear weapons-usable material,” said Nybø. “We are thus delivering at home what Norway and the United States have worked towards globally for several years: reducing the use of HEU in the civilian sector.” Once the down-blending is completed, Norway will become the 34th country to be considered HEU free.—MARY ANN HURTADO

U.S. Advances Nuclear Security Goals

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