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former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

The U.S.-North Korean Summit and Beyond

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What would constitute an effective deal on denuclearization and peace with North Korea?

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Toward an Effective Deal on Denuclearization and Peace with North Korea

Volume 10, Issue 7, June 8, 2018

The South Korean-brokered diplomatic opening between leaders from the United States and North Korea that began in January 2018 is a welcome shift away from the missile and nuclear tests and “fire and fury” threats of 2017 that brought the region to the brink of a catastrophic war.

Donald Trump deserves credit for being so bold as to agree to pursue the June 12 summit meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The ongoing inter-Korean dialogue and prospect for a historic U.S.-North Korean summit has lowered tensions but tensions could flare up once again – especially if Trump goes off-script, acts impulsively, or if either side has unrealistic expectations about what the meeting can accomplish.

After creating unrealistic expectations for the planned summit with Kim Jong-un, canceling the encounter and then directing his team to make it happen, Donald Trump finally appears to understand that a single summit cannot resolve the decades-long North Korean nuclear problem.

After meeting with a high-level North Korean official June 1, Trump said the summit was part of a process with North Korea. Indeed, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be a years-long endeavor, requiring reciprocal steps.

The long history of U.S.-North Korean nuclear and missile diplomacy underscores the importance of sustaining progress beyond the glow of the initial diplomatic breakthrough. Both sides need to have the political will and courage to follow through on their commitments, and they must have the skills necessary to overcome the implementation and compliance disputes and delays that will inevitably occur down the road.

The overall goal for the Trump administration, and U.S. allies and partners, should be to continue to move as quickly as possible in the right direction: toward halting and reversing and eliminating North Korea’s nuclear strike potential, and away from a worsening crisis involving a growing North Korean nuclear capability and increased risk of war.

For the June 12 summit in Singapore to be a success and to set a course for real, lasting progress, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un will need to agree on a framework for ongoing direct, expert-level negotiations to hammer out the details and timeframe for specific action-for-action steps on denuclearization, as well as concrete steps toward a peace regime on the Korean peninsula that addresses the security concerns of North Korea and other states in the region.

On the Same Page?

In the days leading up to the encounter in Singapore, it is still not clear yet whether top U.S. and North Korean leaders are on the same page about the end goals, the pace, and the sequencing of many steps involved in the complete “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

It is also not entirely clear whether the Trump administration itself is of one mind about its own strategy. Top Trump advisors, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence, contributed to creating a hostile environment just a couple of weeks ahead of the summit by suggesting “the Libya model” for rapid denuclearization by North Korea with promises of security only coming afterward, and threatening war if North Korea does not agree to a deal.

Given the fact that North Korea has long maintained that its nuclear weapons are a deterrent against U.S. "hostile policy," it should have been no surprise to the Trump White House that senior North Korean officials lashed out at such an approach.

As the April 2018 Panmunjeom Declaration negotiated by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the Republic of Korea’s president Moon Jae-in underscores, the North Korean leadership is only interested in talking about denuclearization if their security interests can be guaranteed.

In the days ahead of the summit, it was reported that "Trump wants Kim to commit to disarmament timetable at summit" but Trump has been advised not to offer any concessions. That is not a winning formula. You don't get something for nothing when you deal with North Korea.

The Summit and Beyond: A Process for Denuclearization and a Peace Regime

To achieve real, lasting progress, the two sides will need to agree on a framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on the specific action-for-action steps toward denuclearization and a peace regime.

The North Korean denuclearization effort would be without precedent and there is no guarantee of success. No country with a nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as substantial as Kim Jong Un’s, and that has openly conducted nuclear weapon test explosions, has given up its nuclear weapons program.

The North Korean nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Rapid progress should be the goal, but as Siegfried Hecker and Bob Carlin note in their recent Stanford University study, a comprehensive denuclearization process is complex and will take years to accomplish.

A near-term priority goal for the Trump administration should be to reach a common understanding Kim Jong-un about what denuclearization entails. A good basis for common understanding would be the 1992 South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Another near-term priority should be to solidify North Korea’s declared nuclear and missile testing halt and secure a freeze on fissile material production at all suspected sites, which will help ensure that North Korea cannot expand its arsenal of some 20-60 bombs even further. This could be achieved by:

  • Securing North Korea’s pledge to sign and ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would help transform its no-test pledge into a legally-binding international commitment, and to secure agreement for on-site inspections by the CTBTO to confirm the closure of its test site. The destruction of the test tunnel entrances at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is a positive step in the right direction, but it does not permanently prevent it from resuming nuclear tests in the future. Additional tests by North Korea could be used to achieve further advances in nuclear warhead design. This action step is likely within reach since Pyongyang has recently hinted that it might join the CTBT;
  • An agreement to halt further ballistic missile tests, including “space launches,” cease new ballistic missile production and decommission all ICBM launch sites, which could stop North Korea just short of developing a reliable long-range nuclear strike system;
  • Securing a freeze on uranium enrichment and plutonium production, to be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would put a ceiling on the potential number of nuclear devices that North Korea could assemble.

Another early goal should be to secure a commitment by North Korea to deliver a full declaration on its nuclear infrastructure, nuclear material inventory, and its nuclear weapons stockpile to be verified later by the IAEA, using guideline and techniques established by the Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards, with the support and a legal mandate from the United States and other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

At a later stage, following more intensive expert-level talks, the two sides could agree to a process and a timeline for dismantling weapons stocks and securing separated fissile material stocks under the supervision of a UN Security Council-mandated technical team consisting of specialists from nuclear weapon states, in cooperation with the technical experts from North Korea.

Facilities that are part of North Korea's nuclear complex and its longer-range missile production and deployment infrastructure would also need to be verifiably dismantled or converted under international supervision. This would be a major undertaking that could build upon the experience and lessons learned from U.S. and Russian cooperative threat reduction programs that helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles and sites.

Phased Steps to Reduce Tensions on the Peninsula

To achieve real and lasting progress on denuclearization, the U.S. side must be willing to simultaneously take a series of phased, concrete steps to demonstrate it does not have “hostile intent” toward the regime in Pyongyang and that North Korea’s security and sovereignty does not depend on possessing nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged this reality in his press briefing May 31 when he noted that the U.S. side will need to convince North Korea’s leadership that their security will be assured—and be even greater—if they make the strategic decision to pursue complete and verifiable denuclearization.

Clearly, differences still need to be ironed out on pacing and sequencing of denuclearization steps and concrete steps to assure the North Korean leadership that they can survive without nuclear weapons. Key measures might include:

  • Agreeing to security guarantees, including a commitment not to initiate the use of force against one another;
  • Removing U.S. strategic bombers and offensive strike assets, including nuclear-capable systems from U.S. and joint military exercises with allies in the region;
  • Formally initiating negotiations on a peace treaty to replace the Korean War Armistice, which would involve talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and Chinese leaders, and pursuing steps toward the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations, beginning with the opening of a diplomatic interest section in Pyongyang and Washington;
  • Jointly reducing military force deployments on both sides of the DMZ in a manner consistent with a future peace treaty.

The Role of Congress

The Trump administration will also need to keep members of Congress better informed on its evolving strategy with regular reports on the negotiations. It will need Congressional advice and support to sustain the process, which will last beyond the life span of the Trump administration.

Members of Congress can and should seek clarification from the Trump administration regarding how it defines the denuclearization process and they should hold the administration accountable as to whether progress is or is not being achieved, but the executive branch will need political space to negotiate the specifics with Pyongyang.

As Senator Robert Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote in a May 16 op-ed in The Washington Post, “… even a partial agreement that verifiably begins the process of rolling back North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would constitute success. Such an agreement should be combined with continued pressure, a strong deterrence posture and a continuation of the emerging North-South dialogue. This would over time provide a reliable pathway to full denuclearization.”

Stay Calm and Carry On

If the planned summit with Kim Jong-un falls apart or does not produce immediate results, Trump must resist the urge to abandon diplomacy and make irresponsible threats, which will only reinforce North Korea's incentive to further improve its nuclear and missile activities and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation.

There is no viable military option to deal with the North Korean nuclear challenge. A second war with a nuclear-armed North Korea would be catastrophic for all sides involved. Tens of millions of people in East Asia and possibly the United States could perish in such a conflict, which would quickly go nuclear.

Trump must also recognize that his policy of “maximum pressure” has real limits. Without a serious, sustained diplomatic effort designed to reach a deal to verifiably halt and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, global support for the existing sanctions regime may erode.

If negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang do ultimately break down, the United States should maintain a principled, sober strategy of diplomacy and deterrence that serves U.S. and allied interests and averts a catastrophic war.

The American people support a diplomatic solution. According to a recent Pew/ Economist/YouGov survey, around 70 percent support direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea, while 62 percent say Trump should not threaten military action against North Korea if it does not give up its nuclear weapons, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll.

The June 12 encounter will capture the world’s attention. Barring a dramatic breakdown, it will be viewed as a positive first step.

But the true measure of the Singapore summit between Trump and Kim is whether it will actually lead to concrete, steady progress toward the twin goals of denuclearization and the easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The pursuit of disarmament diplomacy is hard work, and when it comes to North Korea, progress never comes easily, but it is better than the alternatives. —DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

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Posted: June 8, 2018

Trump Favors Arms Industry in Effort to Loosen Export Controls

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If the Trump administration is serious about changing U.S. arms sales policies, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. 

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Volume 10, Issue 6, June 7, 2018

The Trump administration is pushing to make sweeping changes in U.S. conventional arms export policies in order to sell more weapons, more quickly, and typically with less transparency and oversight. One reason given for these changes—advancing economic security—is simply faulty.

Worse still, the policies are dangerous, creating new risks that these weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and international criminals and further undermining the promotion of human rights norms that should be central to U.S. actions.

In mid-April, the president issued a new conventional arms transfer policy, giving the State Department 60 days to submit an implementation plan. In May, the administration also started a 45-day public comment period on regulatory changes that would transfer the control of assault rifles and other weapons of choice in armed violence to the Commerce Department.

If the administration is serious about claims that these changes make for responsible policy, it should add much greater transparency into the arms transfer and monitoring process. Congress, if it does not act to stop these new approaches, should make sure, at a minimum, that it maintains meaningful oversight to prevent abuses that undermine longstanding U.S. foreign policy objectives designed to avoid fueling conflicts around the world and propping up regimes that do not respect the basic human rights of their people.

Background

On April 19, Donald Trump issued a national security presidential memorandum replacing a January 2014 presidential policy directive that, like the 1995 iteration from the Clinton administration, included an unweighted list of criteria to guide decisions on U.S. conventional arms transfers.

Common to these policies are goals to improve the security of the United States and its allies, prevent proliferation, and support relevant multilateral agreements. With the backing of major arms producers, the Trump approach explicitly adds “economic security” as a factor in considering whether to approve arms exports. It promises that “the executive branch will advocate strongly” on behalf of U.S. companies and “maximize the ability” of U.S. industry “to grow and support allies and partners.”

Michael F. Miller, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State discusses new US conventional arms transfer policy and proposed changes to firearms exports at Forum on the Arms Trade conference in Washington DC on May 22. (Photo: Stimson Center)The memorandum retains many of the same provisions regarding human rights as the Obama-era conventional arms transfer policy, although consolidating their reference to a single section rather than reiterating them throughout. The new policy, however, does not explicitly say that past records on human rights will be a factor in decisions. It does contain a new commitment to “facilitate” ally and partner efforts “to reduce the risk of national or coalition operations causing civilian harm.”

Whether the implementation plan due soon from the Secretary of State explains how this will be done remains to be seen, but it is expected that training of forces will be touted as a critical component. Such training was written into arms sales last year to Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

Proposed changes to the regulation of exports were announced May 14 and published in the Federal Register May 24, beginning a public comment period that ends in July.

Specifically, the rules relate to the first three categories of the United States Munitions List (USML) maintained under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), whose lead administrator is the Department of State. Under the proposal, many items would move from the USML to the Commerce Control List (CCL) to become part of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), whose lead administrator is the Commerce Department. Most notably, non-automatic and semi-automatic firearms and their ammunition currently controlled under USML category I would move to new EAR 500-series classifications in the CCL.

The primary rationale given for the change is that these weapons no longer merit tight control. According to the State Department: 

The Department of State is engaged in an effort to revise the U.S. Munitions List so that its scope is limited to those defense articles that provide the United States with a critical military or intelligence advantage or, in the case of weapons, are inherently for military end use. The articles now controlled by USML Categories I, II, and III that would be removed from the USML under this proposed rule do not meet this standard, including many items which are widely available in retail outlets in the United States and abroad.

The revisions were drafted during the previous administration’s export reform control initiative, which sought to build higher fences on fewer items. During Obama’s presidency, action was taken on 18 of the USML’s 21 categories, but frequent mass shootings and an administration more supportive of gun control efforts contributed to the firearms categories going unpublished.

Critics of President Trump, such as Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), have pointed to the domestic U.S. gun lobby as the real driver behind these changes and called the decision to move forward “politically tone deaf as our nation reckons with a gun violence epidemic.”

Adding in Transparency and Enabling Assessment

As the Trump administration works to implement these changes, it should build in transparency and process changes that make it possible to assess whether U.S. arms exports are meeting the stated goals of the new policies.

This would not only be good public policy, but such an approach has the potential to address rising congressional and international distress about an administration that has shown less restraint, including by moving ahead with arms sales to Bahrain, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that the previous administration had held back on due to serious human rights concerns.

As a start, a public accounting and evaluation of training that might go along with arms sales is desperately needed, especially if it will be a cornerstone of an effort to protect civilians. With another round of controversial precision-guided munition sales expected soon to Saudi Arabia (as well as the UAE), it is imperative that much more is shared about how training is done, who receives it, and whether it works.

As the Saudi-led coalition continues to hit civilian areas and an invasion of the port of Hodeida looms that threatens to further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is not enough to simply say training is important. It must make a difference.

Similarly, much greater transparency into the arms sales process at a public level is critical. Under current procedure Congress is notified of potential major arms sales whether through the foreign military sales (FMS) process or via direct commercial sales (DCS), starting a review period by which it could block agreement to the sale.

Unlike FMS notifications, DCS notifications are not posted on a publicly accessible website, giving the American people less time to inform their representatives of any concerns. If the administration wants to make it easier for companies to negotiate their arms sales, it should also improve transparency into them.

While Congress can block or amend an arms sale up until a weapon is delivered, those deliveries often occur years after notification. There is typically much less public attention on arms sales during this period. If the administration wants to speed the time between agreement and delivery, it should agree to also make clear when a delivery is imminent, so as to create predictable moments for oversight. In 2014, Congress created a mechanism for receiving notification at least 30 days before delivery when requested on select sales, but has only used the authority once. The administration should instead make this standard on all sales and make it public.

Public reporting afterward, via the State Department’s so-called 655 report, also now has less detail than in the past. These reports, as well as others on end-use monitoring, should provide information on the number of specific weapons involved and other data, rather than broad categorical details. Importantly, reports from the Commerce Department should also improve in detail, especially if the changes on firearm exports are put into place that transfer oversight away from the State Department.

Without these specifics, it becomes more difficult not only to assess these policy changes, but to further goals such as combating illicit trafficking and weapons flows to terrorists and other unintended users.

A recent report from the Center for Civilians in Conflict and Stimson Center offers an array of good suggestions that run the life of a weapon—from pre-transfer to end-use monitoring—with “trigger” mechanisms along the way that allow for reassessment as situations change. Those recommendations, primarily focused on protecting civilians but also relevant to promoting human rights and international law, deserve strong consideration.

The Value of Congressional Oversight

In 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales.

During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, then-ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role. In 2017, the administration notified Congress of more than $660 million of proposed firearms sales regulated under the USML, according to the Security Assistance Monitor.

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL, meaning Congress would lose its oversight role on these weapons. It could take steps to require that notification continues. In response to the new measures, Cardin said May 15

For years, I advised both the Obama and Trump Administrations against this type of transfer. Weakened Congressional oversight of international small arms and munitions sales is extremely hazardous to global security.  Small arms and light weapons are among the most lethal weapons that we and other countries export because these are the weapons that are most likely to be used to commit atrocities and suppress human rights, either by individuals, non-state groups, or governmental security and para-military forces.

While Congress does not have control over the president’s conventional arms transfer policy, it can mandate the types of transparency recommended above, including an expansion on pre-delivery notifications. It could also pass legislation that retains the classification of firearms as military weapons and placement on the USML.

The Administration’s Faulty “Economic Security” Excuse

According to the latest report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States remains the leading and expanding provider of major conventional weapons into a growing international arms market. Russia, long the number two arms exporter, is in decline as Washington accounts for more than one-third of all major weapons deliveries.

It begs credulity to argue that the United States needs a special push in order to compete in the international arms market. Linkages of U.S. jobs to international arms sales are also overblown as arms deals frequently come with co-production agreements or other incentives that support jobs abroad rather than at home.

At a more fundamental level, U.S. arms are not like any other commodity and should not be treated as such. These are first and foremost killing machines. The over-emphasis on economic security threatens to jeopardize higher priorities, including peace and security concerns. If more weapons flow to countries with poor human rights records, norms around responsible weapons use and transfer will be harder to build and uphold.

Regarding firearms, these weapons are controlled because a significant amount of violence that occurs, including against U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, is inflicted by small arms. Research indicates that the types of weapons being transferred to Commerce control—AR-15s and AK-47 style assault rifles and their ammunition—are “weapons of choice” of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Many can also be easily converted to fully automatic weapons, which will remain under USML control. U.S. military members often operate their fully-automatic-capable weapons in a semi-automatic or less-than-automatic mode.

The transfer of firearms export control to the Department of Commerce will also likely remove a number of brokering registration requirements, may open up license exemptions that facilitate weapons ending up in the wrong hands, and limit legal or investigative actions to stop such results.

Claiming that these weapons do not have military utility because they may be commercially available, are somehow less dangerous,or do not merit stronger international control, is wrong.

In the end, these policies continue the wrong-minded approach of the Trump administration to treat weapons as any other trade commodity, threatening to undermine long-term global security and true U.S. national security interests.—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: June 7, 2018

Trump's Threat To Violate The Iran Nuclear Deal And How To Respond

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Volume 10, Issue 5, April 30, 2018

President Donald Trump’s unrealistic demands that Congress and Washington’s European partners “fix” the effective 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran is setting the United States up to violate the deal, jeopardize its future, and undermine U.S. credibility and leverage in the region.

Despite the success of the nuclear deal in verifiably blocking Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, Trump has threatened not to renew U.S. sanctions waivers May 12, as required by the nuclear deal, if the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and Washington do not conclude a supplemental agreement designed to address what he terms are “flaws” in the accord.

Although E3 and U.S. negotiators have been meeting since Trump issued his ultimatum in January, it looks increasingly likely that Trump will choose not to renew sanctions waivers May 12, putting the United States in violation of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

While there has been progress in areas outside of the nuclear deal that Trump wants to address, such as on ballistic missiles, his demand that an agreement changing the so-called "sunsets"—those provisions of the deal that expire over time—has proven contentious and may prevent the E3 and the United States from finalizing an arrangement. Trump’s claim—that the deal paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon in 10 years—is based on a flawed analysis that discounts the value that the permanent monitoring mechanisms and prohibitions put in place by the deal have as a bulwark against nuclear weapons development.

Trump also disregards the fact that his solution, making permanent some of the limitations that expire in 10-25 years under the threat to reimposing sanctions, would violate the accord. Congress and the E3 have rightly resisted agreeing to make demands that would abrogate, or otherwise recast, the terms of the JCPOA. These fundamental differences make an arrangement between the E3 and the United States that addresses Trump’s areas of concerns without violating the agreement difficult to negotiate.

Additionally, given Trump’s record of hostility toward the accord, his campaign pledge to tear up the deal, and his unpredictability, there is no guarantee that even if an agreement on a supplemental arrangement is reached, Trump will accept it or abide by it.

After meeting with Trump and floating the idea of a new agreement that keeps the 2015 nuclear deal in place and, in separate arrangements, addresses regional issues, ballistic missiles, and options for how to address Iran’s nuclear program after the deal expires, French President Emmanuel Macron predicted April 26 that Trump “will get rid of this deal on his own, for domestic reasons.”

While it behooves the E3 to continue pursuing negotiations with the Trump administration on an arrangement that satisfies Trump without violating the deal, the E3, Russia, China, Iran, and the U.S. Congress should now prepare to pursue “plan B”–implementation of the JCPOA without the United States. That must include denouncing Trump’s failure to renew sanctions for what is a clear violation of the deal —and taking steps to sustain the nuclear accord.

For as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated in October, the nuclear agreement is multilateral and it is “not up to a single country to terminate it.”

A Clear Violation of the Deal

Reimposing sanctions is a twofold abrogation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and it is critical that members of Congress and Washington’s P5+1 partners recognize it as such. Not only did the United States commit not to reimpose sanctions, Washington also committed not to interfere with the full realization of sanctions relief.

To the first point, Paragraph 26 of the JCPOA clearly states that the United States “acting consistent with the respective roles of the president and Congress, will refrain from reintroducing or reimposing the sanction specified in Annex II that it has ceased applying under this JCPOA.”

Reimposing sanctions lifted by the deal, particularly when even top U.S. officials and critics of the deal admit that Iran is in compliance with its commitments, clearly abrogates U.S. commitments under this paragraph.

Additionally, the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, given the extraterritorial nature of the measures, will interfere with foreign companies and banks conducting legitimate business with Iran that is permitted by the JCPOA.That would directly inhibit Iran from realizing the benefits of sanctions relief.

For instance, the United States also committed in Paragraph 26 to “make best efforts in good faith… to prevent interference with the realization of the full benefit by Iran of the sanctions lifting.” In paragraph 28, the United States committed to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”

Even if the administration claims that it is not implementing the sanctions and therefore not violating the deal, failing to renew the waivers will make certain transactions with Iran illegal. Additionally, entities are not going to wait for the Trump administration to start implementing the measures to take actions to comply with the restrictions and avoid being penalized by the United States. The risk of sanctions penalties alone will result in a certain amount of self-enforcement, particularly for the sanctions measures that are due to be renewed May 12.

The Impact of Reimposing Oil Measures

The sanctions that will be reimposed May 12 if Trump does not renew waivers come from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. The sanctions in the NDAA require states purchasing oil from Iran to make significant reductions in imports every 180 days or risk being sanctioned. While “significant reduction” was not defined in the legislation and it is unclear what standard the Trump administration will use, it was understood by the Obama administration to mean an 18 percent decrease in the total price paid for oil purchases every 180 days. If the sanctions are reimposed, compliance would be assessed Nov. 8, 2018. Failure to meet the “significant reduction” standard would result in sanctions on the foreign banks that process the transactions.

Key U.S. allies will be affected if this measure is snapped back. Right now the top five purchasers of Iranian oil include China, Japan, South Korea, India, and the European Union. Some of these states have already begun reducing purchases of Iranian oil in anticipation of the reimposition. South Korea’s purchases of Iranian oil products were down 40 percent in March 2018, when compared to prior year, although that is partially due to a decrease in the supply of certain oil products.

Reimposing these measures will also have a negative impact on support in Iran to maintain the deal, given the central role that oil sales play in Iran’s economy. The increase in oil sales after the JCPOA was implemented constitutes a significant portion of the sanctions relief Iran has experienced under the JCPOA.

In addition to higher sales since the agreement was implemented in 2016, Iran’s production of oil has also rebounded to 4 million barrels per day, up from the approximately 2.6 million barrels per day during the period from 2012-2016 when the EU oil embargo and the U.S. sanctions from the 2012 NDAA were in place. Crude oil sales are up from 1.1 million barrels per day during the negotiations from 2013-2015, when further reductions were capped, to about 2.5 million barrels per day.

Options for Congress

If Trump fails to renew the sanctions waivers, it is critical that members of Congress immediately denounce his action as a clear violation of the nuclear deal and call upon Washington’s partners in the agreement to sustain the accord.

Failure to call out Trump for violating the deal could be interpreted as an implicit endorsement of his approach and, more broadly, a rejection of multilateral efforts to address issues of proliferation concern. For this reason, it is also critical that members of Congress call on the remaining P5+1 to continue to implement the nuclear deal with Iran.

At a time when the overarching nonproliferation and disarmament architecture is under considerable stress, the nuclear deal with Iran was widely viewed in the international community as a nonproliferation success that averted a nuclear crisis and brought Iran back into compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Now, with the deal under threat from Trump, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, opened the door to Iranian withdraw from the NPT in response to a U.S. violation of the JCPOA, an action which would have grave consequences for the treaty and remove the binding legal prohibition on developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Such an action would not only undermine international security, but it would severely undermine Iran’s own security and standing.

Demonstrating that Trump’s extreme view is outside of the mainstream and the deal still has support from policymakers in the United States may help persuade Tehran from making such a drastic move in response to the U.S. violation.

Members of Congress would also be right to point out that Trump will be responsible for the consequences if the U.S. violation ultimately causes the deal to collapse and the damage that would be done to U.S. credibility.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has reported Iran’s compliance with the accord in 10 consecutive reports and Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a critic of the Iran deal, testified to Congress that there is no evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the accord, there is no legitimate reason for Trump to violate the agreement. Given Iran’s full implementation of the JCPOA, a decision by Trump to violate the accord and risk the future of the nuclear deal should be denounced by responsible members of Congress.

EU Measures to Sustain the Deal

Washington’s P5+1 partners, particularly the EU, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have committed to the continued implementation of the JCPOA, irrespective of U.S. actions. To sustain the deal, however, the E3 and the EU must do more than just denounce U.S. actions as a violation and detrimental to the future of the nuclear deal.

The EU can, and should, take actions to block the application of U.S. secondary sanctions and seek to assure Iran that the rest of the P5+1 remain committed to Iran realizing sanctions relief under the deal.

The EU has experience responding to U.S. extraterritorial sanctions. In the 1990s, the EU issued blocking regulation to protect its banks and businesses from U.S. sanctions targeting Cuba by instructing the entities not to comply with U.S. sanctions. In that case, the EU had an assurance from the United States that Washington would not target EU businesses for violating the sanctions.

While a handshake agreement that the United States will not seek to penalize EU businesses in the Iran case is highly unlikely, the EU should still pursue the blocking regulation. The blocking regulation probably will not provide enough guarantee that banks and businesses will be shielded from U.S. sanctions that business with Iran will continue–the penalty of being cut off from the U.S. financial system is likely too high a risk—but it will send an important political signal to Iran that the EU supports the deal. Equally important, it sends a message to the United States the decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is unacceptable and the EU will not be pressured into abiding by U.S. measures.

The EU could also consider setting up channels to facilitate business transactions with Iran that do not rely on the U.S. dollar. Isolating such transactions from the U.S. financial system could provide an avenue for doing business with Iran and demonstrate to Tehran that the EU is still serious about implementing the deal.

These actions will be critical to try and continue sanctions relief. Failure to do so might push Iran to resume troublesome nuclear activities halted by the JCPOA, such as enrichment to 20-percent uranium-235, an activity currently prohibited by the deal until 2031.

As Zarif told CBS April 22, if “benefits of the deal for Iran start to diminish, then there is no reason for Iran to remain in the deal.”

The EU also has other channels for supporting the JCPOA. One often overlooked benefit of the nuclear deal is the technical cooperation for nuclear research and assistance in advancing nuclear safety and security. The EU and Iran have conducted several meetings to date and the results over some clear benefits to Iran. Pledging to continue to help Iran realize the full benefit of Annex III of the JCPOA is another way the EU can show its commitment to the deal.

Russia and China have also indicated support for sustaining the JCPOA and denounced Trump’s threats to the deal. At a meeting on the NPT in Geneva, Russia and China circulated a statement affirming their "unwavering support for the comprehensive and effective implementation" of the deal and invited all states present to sign on to the agreement. The Russian envoy to the meeting called upon states “not to remain silent in hopes that this situation will somehow blow over by itself but rather to take serious steps to preserve the JCPOA.”

Washington’s P5+1 partners should also use the dispute resolution mechanism set up by the JCPOA to present a united front in the face of the U.S. violation or support Iran if Tehran chooses this path. While the dispute resolution might push the E3 and the EU into the unattractive position of siding with Russia and China against the United States, it would send a strong signal to the Trump administration that the United States is isolated in its rejection of the deal.

Beyond the P5+1

The world is looking to the E3 to save the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran–but it is not just the responsibility of the other P5+1 states to avert the nonproliferation crisis that would follow if Trump reimposes sanctions. States beyond the P5+1 have an obligation to contribute to efforts to sustain the deal and uphold nonproliferation norms.

The UN Security Council endorsed the JCPOA in a 2015 resolution that “calls upon all Member States” to “take such actions as may be appropriate to support the implementation of the JCPOA” and “refraining from actions that undermine the implementation of commitments” under the deal. The preamble of the Resolution 2231 also emphasizes the importance of a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue “would benefit nuclear-nonproliferation.” The Security Council resolution statements may be nonbinding, but they underscore the global importance of the deal for nonproliferation and the responsibility that all UN member states have toward supporting the agreement.

States like South Korea, Japan, and India also have a stake in the economic consequences of any U.S. decision to violate the deal and reimpose sanctions. Not only would they be subject to restrictions on oil purchases from Iran, but banks and entities in these countries engaged in legitimate trade with Iran risk penalties if they do not cut ties with Tehran.

Like the EU, these states may think about what measures they can take to shield businesses and entities from U.S. sanctions. Pursuing strategies similar to the EU blocking regulation would send a strong signal of support for the Iran deal and demonstrate to Washington that there are consequences for blatantly disregarding multilateral accords.

Conclusion

If Trump fails to renew sanctions waivers May 12 it will be a clear violation of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran. Withholding waivers would be irresponsible, dangerous, and risk a nuclear agreement that is verifiably restricting Iran’s nuclear activities. Trump’s action may not cause the deal collapse, but it certainly jeopardizes the future of the JCPOA and isolates the United States from key allies.

It is critical that members of Congress, Washington P5+1 partners, and the broader international community denounce Trump for violating the agreement if he fails to renew the sanctions waivers. Collapse of the agreement would have international consequences. Defending the JCPOA must be a global responsibility.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: April 30, 2018

The Risks of Nuclear Cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the Role of Congress

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As President Trump decides whether to continue implementing the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers could soon be asked to consider a consequential agreement on nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, April 5, 2018

Curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and the technologies to make them has long been and remains strongly in the U.S. national security interest, especially in the troubled Middle East.

As President Donald Trump decides in the coming weeks whether to continue implementing the successful 2015 Iran nuclear deal, lawmakers could soon be asked to consider a lower-profile, but nonetheless hugely consequential, agreement which would provide for civilian nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry led an interagency delegation to London in late February to discuss a pact, known as a 123 agreement, with a Saudi delegation led by Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz al-Falih. A 123 agreement, named after a section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry (L) and Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih (R) shake hands after a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding on carbon management, on December 4, 2017 in Riyadh. (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The Trump administration has not commented on the status of the talks and no agreement was announced during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington the week of March 19.

Though Saudi Arabia says that it is seeking nuclear power for peaceful purposes to diversify its sources of energy, recent statements by the Saudi leadership have cast doubt on the kingdom’s commitment to its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) not to acquire nuclear weapons.

In a bombshell interview with CBS News March 15 bin Salman warned: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” The Saudi government has also made it clear that it seeks to make its own nuclear fuel.

Engaging in nuclear cooperation with a country that has threatened to leave the NPT carries significant risks. The Trump administration should insist on nonproliferation safeguards that go beyond those required by existing U.S. law, including a Saudi commitment not to engage in uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing activities. These activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for nuclear power reactors and for nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the administration’s interest in revitalizing the U.S. nuclear industry, disdain for the Iran deal, and desire to strengthen the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia casts doubt on whether it will use the significant leverage it has over the kingdom to push for adequately strong safeguards. If Trump walks away from the Iran deal–as seems increasingly likely–and strikes a pact with Saudi Arabia that does not include a Saudi pledge not to enrich or reprocess, the prospects for a dangerous and destabilizing nuclear fuel-making race in the Middle East will greatly increase.

Fortunately, bipartisan opposition in Congress to an agreement that does not block Saudi fuel-making appears to be mounting. Lawmakers should closely scrutinize any agreement with Saudi Arabia to ensure that it contains adequate safeguards. And if it does not, Congress should use its authority to put conditions on the agreement to ensure it does not leave the door open to further proliferation of nuclear fuel-making technologies in the Middle East.

In addition, as Congress reviews the agreement and prepares to consider potentially other agreements in the near future, Congress should strengthen the nonproliferation standards and procedures for congressional review of 123 agreements.

123 Agreements and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy
The United States has appropriately sought to deny the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess them through several avenues, including the terms of nuclear cooperation agreements.

After the Indian nuclear test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate that nuclear cooperation agreements include tougher bulwarks to prevent U.S. nuclear assistance from being diverted to military uses. The amendment put in place nine provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place full-scope international safeguards and may not conduct activities such as uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing unless Washington first consents. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since 1978.

In recent years Washington has urged states seeking nuclear cooperation with the United States to agree to a legally-binding commitment to forswear the pursuit of enrichment and reprocessing as a complement to other U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of these technologies. 

This so-called “Gold Standard” was enshrined in a 2009 agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the renewal in 2014 of a pact with Taiwan. Three of the past four 123 agreements that the United States has negotiated not involving a nuclear-armed state have included either a legally or politically binding commitment not to enrich or reprocess.

In addition to the UAE, the United States has negotiated several nuclear cooperation agreements with other partners in the Middle East, including Morocco (1980) and Egypt (1981). The agreements with Morocco and Egypt expire in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

Over the past decade, the United States has also conducted discussions on cooperation with Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But these discussions have not resulted in agreements, in large part due to the unwillingness of either country to forswear enrichment and reprocessing.

Saudi Arabia’s Interest in Nuclear Power
Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans for nuclear power. The kingdom says it wants to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. Many observers believe Riyadh will be hard pressed to build even half that many. The kingdom has solicited bids for the first two reactors and hopes to sign contracts by the end of this year.

The Trump administration has pledged to revitalize the U.S. nuclear industry and sees in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions a major commercial opportunity. The administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. policy toward civil nuclear power.

Riyadh claims that the primary motivation for its pursuit of nuclear power is to help meet the country’s rising demand for electricity and conserve its oil resources for export. However, it is questionable whether Saudi Arabia needs nuclear power to meet these objectives. According to several analyses commissioned by the Nuclear Policy Education Center, development of the kingdom’s natural gas resources and investment in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar would be safer and more economically rational alternatives.

Until recently, Saudi Arabia’s official position had been that it would choose not to enrich or reprocess. The kingdom has no near-term practical need for these capabilities and they would be more expensive than relying on the open market for enrichment services. In a May 2008 U.S.-Saudi memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy cooperation, Saudi Arabia declared “its intention to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel and to not pursue sensitive nuclear technologies, which stands in direct contrast to the actions of Iran.”

The Saudi government, however, would not agree to forgo fuel cycle capabilities in negotiations with the Obama administration and is now stating publicly that it intends to acquire them (though on what timeline is uncertain). In an interview with Reuters in March 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz al-Falih stated: “It’s not natural for us to bring enriched uranium from a foreign country to fuel our reactors.” Al-Falih also said he hopes Washington will “help us with the fuel cycle,” suggesting that Riyadh may be seeking Washington’s blessing and active assistance to enrich or reprocess.

In reality, relying on the international market is what most states with nuclear reactors do to fuel them. How Saudi Arabia would acquire fuel-making technology is unclear and there would be significant obstacles. The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of 48 supplier countries who implement export guidelines to try to prevent peaceful nuclear trade from contributing to nuclear proliferation, adopted new guidelines in June 2011 that strongly discourage the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology. For its part, the United States does not transfer this technology to anybody. Riyadh could seek to acquire it from Pakistan or North Korea, neither of which are members of the NSG. But this would present its own problems.

Ultimately, Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of nuclear power and interest in enrichment appears motivated primarily by its security competition with Iran, which has violently manifested itself in the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Riyadh also believes the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is highly problematic, both because it limits and does not eliminate Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and, in Riyadh’s view, enhances Iran’s position in the region.

Recent statements from the country’s leadership suggest the kingdom wants to keep open the option to acquire nuclear weapons under the cover of a NPT-compliant civilian nuclear power program. Disturbingly, neither Trump nor any member of his administration has publicly condemned Bin Salman’s threat to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. It has long been U.S. policy to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, including to U.S. allies and partners. The administration’s silence is even more worrisome in light of statements from Trump during the 2016 election campaign that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by U.S. allies such as South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia is “going to happen anyway.”

The Case for Stringent Nonproliferation Conditions
The likelihood that Saudi Arabia will actually decide to engage in enrichment and/or reprocessing–to say nothing about acquiring nuclear weapons–is unknown but would face significant hurdles. Saudi statements could be designed to deter Iran and/or elicit greater protection from the United States.

Developing the capability to produce nuclear fuel is time-consuming, technically challenging, expensive, and, in a region as volatile as the Middle East, potentially threatening to one’s neighbors. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told Trump in a March 5 meeting at the White House that the United States should insist on a Saudi commitment not to enrich and reprocess.

Most importantly, Saudi acquisition of the capability to make the key explosive ingredients of nuclear weapons runs a high risk of undermining the kingdom’s alliance with the United States. There is no other country–or technology–that Riyadh’s leaders can turn to that can provide the same level of proven support and protection.

But Saudi Arabia’s increasingly unabashed nuclear hedging is a threat to the nonproliferation regime that the United States has led for decades. To be consistent with the U.S. historical record of seeking to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, the Trump administration should seek safeguards in any 123 agreement that go beyond the existing nine nonproliferation conditions required by the Atomic Energy Act.

As Harvard University Senior Fellow and former Bush administration official Will Tobey testified to Congress last month, “the United States has never before contemplated, let alone concluded, a nuclear cooperation agreement with a state that is threatening even provisionally to leave the [nuclear] nonproliferation treaty.”

At a bare minimum, the United States should insist that Saudi Arabia sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which allows for expanded agency access to information, sites, and materials to guard against diversion for illicit activities. No non-nuclear country has ever built nuclear weapons under the Additional Protocol.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that has yet to adopt the Additional Protocol (Iran has signed and is provisionally implementing it). Washington has not in recent years negotiated a 123 agreement with a state that had not signed up to the measure.

The United States should also seek a prolonged, legally-binding Saudi commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing that does not sunset for the duration of the agreement. The absence of a ban on them would depart from the policy pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations and open the door for the kingdom to pursue fuel cycle capabilities without U.S. approval if it uses technology or materials provided by other suppliers. A typical 123 agreement requires that the U.S. consent to any request to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin materials or fuel.

In addition, an agreement that does not include the “Gold Standard” could lead the UAE to invoke a provision in its 123 agreement that allows for amending the agreement if Washington strikes a more “favorable” 123 pact with another Middle East country. Egypt’s 123 agreement, which is up for renewal in 2021, contains a similar provision.

Whether the Trump administration is insisting on these safeguards in discussions with the Saudis is unknown. It has not yet briefed Congress on the talks since they formally began.

In testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 22, Perry suggested that the Saudis should adhere to the Additional Protocol. But he refused to say whether the United States is pushing for a prohibition on fuel-making or would consent to or assist in the development of a Saudi fuel-making program. (A permissive agreement that facilitates Saudi fuel-making would exacerbate the negative consequences described above.)

Critics of insisting on tougher nonproliferation standards in an agreement with Saudi Arabia, particularly restrictions on fuel cycle technologies, argue that the United States lacks leverage to convince Riyadh to accept these terms. They also argue that such terms could prompt Saudi Arabia to engage in cooperation with countries, such as Russia and China, that would demand less stringent nonproliferation, nuclear security, and nuclear safety provisions than those contained in the Atomic Energy Act.

These arguments are unconvincing for several reasons.

First, the administration has significant leverage in this case. While the U.S. nuclear industry no longer holds the preeminent supply position that it once did, countries still value the imprimatur of legitimacy for their nuclear efforts that comes with a 123 agreement. More importantly, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on the United States for military and economic support and president Trump is pursuing an expansion of cooperation with Riyadh in these areas. Given the dangerous downsides of the proliferation of nuclear fuel-making in the Middle East, the administration should attempt to use the influence this assistance provides.

Second, 123 agreements set the conditions for nuclear trade, but they are not contracts and do not automatically result in commerce. Even if Washington strikes a deal with Riyadh, there is no guarantee the kingdom will choose U.S. vendors. Regardless, as Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski of the Nuclear Policy Education Center note, Russia and China may not be appealing partners for Riyadh. U.S. nuclear technology has a better record of safety and reliability than what Russia and China have available for export. Meanwhile, Russia is the top supplier of nuclear reactors to Riyadh’s archenemy Iran.

South Korea, which is building four of its APR 1400 reactors in the UAE, is likely to be the most desirable vendor for Saudi Arabia. But given the reliance of this reactor on U.S. technology, exporting it to the kingdom could require a Saudi 123 agreement with Washington. This provides the Trump administration with another significant point of leverage.

Flawed Comparisons to the Iran Deal
Opponents of the 2015 agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program claim that it undermines efforts to impose restrictions on Saudi enrichment and reprocessing since the Iran deal does not prohibit Iranian uranium enrichment activities.

This too is a deeply flawed—and dangerous—argument. The Iran deal, which is not an agreement for nuclear cooperation, severely and verifiably restricts Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, does not yet have fuel cycle capabilities and does not need them to produce nuclear energy.

The deal also requires—in perpetuity—stringent monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program under the Additional Protocol, which the Saudis have not yet signed.

During the early years of the Bush administration when Iran’s nuclear program was much smaller, pursuing a deal that eliminated Iran’s uranium-enrichment program may have been feasible. But by 2013 when the Obama administration began negotiating with Iran, such an outcome was not possible.

Obama administration officials also clearly stated that acknowledging Iran’s uranium enrichment program did not change longstanding U.S. policy that there is no “right to enrich” under the NPT as claimed by some states or alter U.S. opposition to the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

It is clear that Saudi Arabia is concerned that the Iran deal leaves Tehran with too much nuclear capacity, especially after certain limitations on enrichment and fuel cycle activities begin to expire in the mid-2020s. Even more concerning from Saudi Arabia’s perspective is Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region. Bin Salman stated in a recent interview that Iran’s leadership “makes Hitler look good.”

These anxieties will need to be responsibly managed and addressed. But instead of walking away from the Iran deal, the Trump administration should continue to vigorously implement and enforce it. If Trump kills the deal, Iran could respond by resuming nuclear activities limited by the agreement. This would greatly increase the odds that Saudi Arabia will choose to quickly follow a similar path, and perhaps the UAE, Egypt, and other regional states as well. Attempting to counter Iran by facilitating Saudi fuel-making is also unwise. A cascade of fuel making in the Middle East would have profoundly negative consequences for regional security and the nonproliferation regime. The Iran case demonstrates the crisis that can ensue when a state takes steps toward nuclear weapons while maintaining that its program is entirely peaceful. 

Additionally, to address legitimate concerns about the future of Iran’s nuclear program after certain restrictions expire, the administration should pursue opportunities to build on the agreement in ways that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally and reduces Iran's incentives to expand its enrichment program.

Strengthening Congressional oversight
A growing number of lawmakers are justifiably raising concerns about a potential 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that does not block the kingdom from engaging in fuel-making.

“The idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said at a March 21 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the implications of civilian nuclear cooperation with Riyadh. “Unfortunately from the little we do know from the administration it is looking at this deal in terms of economics and in terms of commerce and national security implications only register as a minor issue–if at all.”

Similarly, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Perry at the March 22 hearing that he “and many others” would oppose a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia that does not include a fuel-making ban.

Once the executive branch submits a signed cooperation agreement to Congress, lawmakers have 90 days in continuous session to consider the pact, after which it automatically becomes law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution opposing it.

If the Trump administration presents lawmakers with a 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that does not contain adequate nonproliferation safeguards, Congress, which has the right to vote on the final agreement, should condition its approval on the adoption of several requirements. Options include:

  • a provision that would automatically terminate the agreement if it is ever determined that Saudi Arabia has sought or has acquired enrichment and reprocessing technologies, for any reason;
  • an annual certification from the president that Saudi Arabia is not seeking, nor has any nuclear technology supplier discussed the transfer of, enrichment and reprocessing technologies to the Saudis;
  • a provision that Congress must approve as an amendment to the agreement any decision by the United States to provide consent to Saudi enrichment and reprocessing; and
  • a commitment from the Trump administration that the United States will use all available means to encourage other members of the NSG to refrain from transferring sensitive fuel cycle technology to any state that does not already possess such technology.

In addition, it is also past time that Congress pursued revisions to the Atomic Energy Act procedures for Congressional review of 123 agreements.

On March 21, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) introduced HR 5357, the Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act of 2018. The bill, which mirrors legislation unanimously approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011, would add new requirements to the nine conditions already in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act that, if met, would be subject to the same Congressional “fast track” approval process as current law.

Agreements with states that cannot meet the higher set of standards would be subject to a more rigorous process requiring affirmative Congressional approval. Among the new requirements for “fast track” approval would be:

  • the application of the Additional Protocol; and
  • a pledge from countries that do not already possess enrichment and reprocessing capabilities not to acquire these capabilities and/or facilities to conduct them.

A common argument in opposition to earlier versions of the legislation was that by requiring more stringent standards, it would deny NPT members their rights under the treaty.

But asking that states forego enrichment and reprocessing is not about denying rights; it is about asking countries not to exercise rights in the context of a bilateral cooperation agreement with the United States.

In any event, under the bill, Congress could still pass agreements without a fuel-making ban. Such agreements would simply require a higher bar for approval than those containing a ban. This would provide powerful leverage to the executive branch negotiating team in its discussions with the Saudis and future talks with other potential partners.

Another argument is that by requiring tougher standards, other countries will not agree to nuclear cooperation with the United States and instead turn to other suppliers for nuclear trade.

Similar arguments were made at the time Congress was considering the amendments to the Atomic Energy Act via the 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, and they were found to be wanting by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others. The modifications to existing law proposed in the Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman legislation are less stringent than those enacted in 1978 and these amendments did not inhibit the United States from successfully renegotiating most of the existing 123 agreements at that time.

In light of the growing interest in nuclear power in geopolitically sensitive regions of the globe; the inclusion of the "Gold Standard" in the UAE and Taiwan agreements; and the new NSG rules adopted in 2011, it is prudent to update the Atomic Energy Act to better address the proliferation risks of today-and tomorrow.—KINGSTON REIF, with DARYL G. KIMBALL and KELSEY DAVENPORT

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Posted: April 4, 2018

The New U.S. Nuclear Strategy is Flawed and Dangerous. Here’s Why.

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In December 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability,” prompting condemnation in the United States and around the world. Those concerns, it turns out, were well justified.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, February 15, 2018

In December 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” and later told MSNBC that he would “outmatch” and “outlast” other potential competitors in a nuclear arms race. The comments mostly prompted condemnation in the United States and around the world and raised concerns about the direction the president would take U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Paul Selva (L), arrives at a closed briefing before the Senate Armed Service Committee January 23, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a closed briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Those concerns, it turns out, were well justified.

The Defense Department released Feb. 2 a new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the fourth since the end of the Cold War. The NPR is a strategy document that outlines the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy, the plans for maintaining and upgrading nuclear forces, and the overall U.S. approach to nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

Though there are, not surprisingly, elements of continuity with previous reviews, the proposed changes in the new NPR are significant and align with Trump’s more aggressive and impulsive nuclear notions. The document incorporates wish list items long-advocated by parts of the nuclear weapons establishment and breaks with past U.S. efforts to reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons worldwide in several key areas.

It is true that the international security environment is less favorable than it was in 2010 when the Obama administration conducted its NPR. Some of the other nuclear-armed states have not been responsible nuclear citizens. Technology is advancing in new and unpredictable ways. And the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal— originally built during the Cold War-era and refurbished since—is aging.

But these developments do not justify the approach advanced in this NPR.

The review proposes to expand the circumstances under which Trump might consider the use of nuclear weapons, including in response to so-called “non-nuclear strategic threats” and calls for the development of new, more usable nuclear weapons capabilities.

The review also walks back from the longstanding U.S. leadership role on arms control and nonproliferation at a time when the global nuclear weapons risk reduction enterprise is facing significant challenges.

Taken together, these and other changes in the Trump Nuclear Posture Review rest on faulty assumptions, are unnecessary and unlikely to achieve their stated goal, set the stage for an even more unsustainable rate of spending on U.S. nuclear weapons, would accelerate global nuclear competition, and could increase the risk of nuclear conflict in the years ahead.

Wider Range of Nuclear Use Options

Instead of deemphasizing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy as previous NPRs have done, the Trump NPR envisions a greater role for the weapons against a wider range of threats. Trump administration officials claim that their NPR is consistent with the 2010 Obama NPR on declaratory policy. Both in tone and substance, it is not.

The 2018 NPR says that the first use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies (p. 21). The 2010 NPR used identical language. Unlike the previous administration, however, the Trump administration defines extreme circumstances more broadly to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The document does not explicitly define “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” but at various points says it could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks. The review references the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks over 30 times.

The 2010 NPR, on the other hand, described “a narrow range of contingencies” in which nuclear weapons may play a role in deterring "a conventional or CBW attack.” There was no reference to cyberattacks or attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications capabilities anywhere in the 2010 document.

“This opens questions,” writes former Pentagon official Rebecca Hersman, “about whether the United States would consider using” nuclear “weapons more readily than it might have in the past or in response to attacks that are less than fully catastrophic.”

In addition, the 2010 NPR stated that the United States “will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks, with the objective of making deterrence of nuclear attack on the United States or our allies and partners the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Indeed, by the end of his second term of office President Obama believed that goal had effectively been achieved. As then Vice President Joe Biden put it in remarks delivered in January 2017: “given our non-nuclear capabilities and the nature of today’s threats, it’s hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the first use of nuclear weapons by the United States would be necessary. Or make sense. President Obama and I are confident we can deter and defend ourselves and our allies against non-nuclear threats through other means.”

In contrast, the new NPR explicitly rejects the idea of “sole purpose” (p. 20). The review extols ambiguity and proposes two new low-yield nuclear capabilities to “expand the range of credible U.S. options for responding to nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attack” (p. 55).

The Trump NPR diverges from the Obama NPR on declaratory policy in still other ways.

The 2010 review updated and strengthened the U.S. pledge of nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states that are in good standing with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations, even in the unlikely event that one of those states attacks the United States or its allies with chemical or biological weapons. This revised negative security assurance expanded the security benefits for non-nuclear-weapon states of good faith membership in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime.

The 2018 NPR reiterates this pledge but undermines the value of this assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat” (p. 21).

It is notable that President Trump argued in his 2018 State of the Union address that “we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.”

This approach represents a clear shift away from past U.S. strategy and practice that aims to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military and foreign policy. The 2010 NPR stated that the “fundamental role” of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack against the United States or its allies, not “any act of aggression.”

The proposed changes in the 2018 NPR on the role of nuclear weapons are real. And they are dangerous.

Threatening nuclear retaliation to counter new kinds of “asymmetric” attacks would lower the threshold for nuclear use, increase the risks of miscalculation, and make it easier for other countries to justify excessive roles for nuclear weapons in their policies. Such threats are also unlikely to be proportional and therefore would be difficult to make credible. For example, though a kinetic or nonkinetic attack on U.S. nuclear command and control capabilities, which support both nuclear and non-nuclear missions, could have major repercussions, such an attack is unlikely to result in any human casualties.

Given the overall conventional superiority of the U.S.-led alliance system, it is in the U.S. interest to raise, not lower, the bar for nuclear use. A more prudent approach to countering potential non-nuclear attacks on U.S. infrastructure and command and control capabilities would include strengthening the resilience of these systems against cyberattack and ensuring the availability of credible symmetric and asymmetric conventional response options.

New, “More Usable” Nuclear Weapons

The Trump NPR calls for the development of new low-yield nuclear capabilities, primarily to counter Russia’s alleged willingness to use nuclear weapons first on a limited basis early in a conventional conflict or crisis (also known as “escalate to deescalate”). The review warns that Russia maintains a much larger arsenal of "non-strategic" nuclear weapons than the United States and is upgrading those weapons.

To attempt to correct Russia's purported "mistaken impression" that its non-strategic forces could "provide a coercive advantage in crises or at lower levels of conflict," the review proposes to supplement the U.S. arsenal with the following capabilities:

  • the near-term deployment of a new low-yield, W76-1 nuclear warhead variant for the D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and
  • the longer-term development of a new nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM).

To counter Russia’s violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the review also seeks a new (for the time being conventional) ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that would, if tested and deployed, put the U.S. in violation of the treaty.

The shortcomings in the rationale for additional low-yield options are too numerous to count.

For starters, the claim that Russia has lowered the threshold for the first use of nuclear weapons is hotly disputed. While Russia appears to rely more heavily on nuclear weapons for its security than the United States due to its overall conventional inferiority and concerns about U.S. missile defenses, is violating the INF Treaty, and developing new types of nuclear weapons, Russia’s official nuclear doctrine does not support the claim that it has an “escalate to deescalate” doctrine. As Jeffrey Edmonds, a former director for Russia on the National Security Council, has written, “If the Russian leadership decides to use nuclear weapons in a limited way to gain escalation control, then it is likely doing so as a last measure, reacting from a perception that the Russian state is about to fall.”

In fact, what is far more likely to prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to perceive that he could get away with limited nuclear use is past and future statements by President Trump questioning the value of NATO and U.S. alliances. Deploying additional low-yield nuclear options won’t solve this political problem.

In any event, the review fails to produce compelling evidence that Russia might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using the weapons in its current arsenal (conventional or nuclear) in response to a limited Russian nuclear attack. Speaking of the weapons in its current arsenal, Washington already possesses hundreds of low-yield warheads as part of the air-leg of the triad and plans to invest over $150 billion in the coming decades to ensure these warheads can penetrate the most advanced air defenses. New low-yield options are a solution in search of a problem.

The NPR argues that additional low-yield options are “not intended to enable” nuclear war-fighting “[n]or will it lower the nuclear threshold” (p. 54). But this assertion ignores the fact that the stated purpose is to make their use “more credible” in the eyes of U.S. adversaries, which means that they are meant to be seen as “more usable.”

The belief that a nuclear conflict could be controlled is dangerous thinking. The fog of war is thick, the fog of nuclear war would be even thicker. Such thinking could also have the perverse effect of convincing Russia that it could get away with limited nuclear use without putting its survival at risk.

Many military targets are in or near urban areas. It has been estimated that the use of even a fraction of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces could lead to the death of tens of millions of people in each country. An all-out exchange would kill hundreds of millions and produce catastrophic global consequences with adverse agricultural, economic, health, and environmental consequences for billions of people.

No country should be preparing to wage a “limited nuclear war” that neither side can guarantee would remain “limited.” Rather, as Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev declared in 1985, today’s Russian and U.S. leaders should recognize that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.”

Even if one buys the rationale that more low-yield options are needed, the two new nuclear capabilities proposed by the review are deeply flawed.

Given that U.S. strategic submarines currently carry SLBMs armed with higher-yield warheads, how would Russia know that an incoming missile armed with a low-yield warhead wasn’t actually armed with high-yield warheads? The answer is it wouldn’t, thereby increasing the risks of unintended escalation.

Deploying nuclear SLCMs on U.S. surface ships and/or attack submarines also raises several concerns. The potential for miscalculation would increase since an adversary would be unable to determine if an incoming missile is armed with a nuclear or conventional warhead. And the Navy is unlikely to be pleased with the additional operational and financial burdens that would come with nuclearizing the surface and/or attack submarine fleet.

The NPR claims that development of a new nuclear SLCM, which would take nearly decade, could serve as a bargaining chip in future arms control negotiations with Russia. The document states that if Moscow “returns to compliance with its arms control obligations, reduces its non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and corrects its other destabilizing behaviors, the United States may reconsider the pursuit of a SLCM” (p. 55). This requirement is so sweeping that it lacks any realistic negotiating value. It’s also not clear how additional nuclear options would be useful bargaining chips given Russia’s concerns about overall NATO conventional superiority.

Ultimately, attempting to mimic Russia by developing more low-yield options would play into Moscow's hands, since it can match NATO in the nuclear sphere. The main deterrence challenge Russia poses to the alliance is not nuclear. That means the United States should continue to invest in maintaining its overall conventional edge, buttress defenses as needed on NATO’s eastern flank where Russia has local superiority, and more effectively defend against and respond to Russia's use of disinformatin, propoganda, and cyber tools to undermine western democratic institutions. At the same time, it should seek opportunities to engage with Moscow to reduce tensions and the risk of renewed military competition.

Undermining the Taboo Against Nuclear Testing

The NPR asserts that “the United States does not support the ratification of the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] CTBT” (p. 63) even though the United States and 182 other nations have signed the treaty, and even though there is no technical need to resume nuclear testing. No reason or justification for rejecting the goal of CTBT ratification is provided.

The review says that “the United States will continue to support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Preparatory Committee” and “the related International Monitoring System and the International Data Center.” It also calls upon other states not to conduct nuclear testing and states that “[t]he United States will not resume nuclear explosive testing unless necessary to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the U.S. arsenal.”

But the NPR proclaims that the United States will remain ready to “resume nuclear testing if necessary to meet severe technological or geopolitical challenges.”

The NPR also seeks “to reduce the time required to design, develop, and initially produce a warhead, from a decision to enter full-scale development.” An annual National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) report released in November 2017 shortens the previous readiness timeline to conduct a “simple [nuclear] test” explosion from 24 to 36 months down to six to 10 months, undermining the global nuclear testing taboo. This shortened timeline means that should the United States decide to conduct a “simple test” explosion, it should be prepared to do so within six to 10 months.

While the NNSA report and the NPR both reaffirm that “there is no current requirement to conduct an underground nuclear test,” the administration’s hasty rejection of CTBT ratification, combined with the NNSA’s revised testing readiness timeline suggests the Trump administration only wants to reap the benefits of the treaty, including the data from the monitoring system, while leaving the door open to resuming nuclear testing.

A Nuclear Force That is Excessive and Unsustainable

The Trump NPR’s proposals to develop new nuclear capabilities come on top of the existing nuclear triad recapitalization program of record that the Trump administration inherited from its predecessor. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the Obama-era plans would cost over $1.2 trillion (excluding the impact of inflation) over the next 30 years.

Massive spending on nuclear weapons on the scale and schedule envisioned by the 2018 NPR will pose a major threat to other high priority national security programs, to say nothing about Trump’s pledge to expand the non-nuclear military. What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to reach a peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Though the recent budget deal agreed to in Congress has improved the near-term outlook for defense spending, the Pentagon is likely to face continuing budget pressure in the future.

The NPR acknowledges that the upgrade costs are “substantial” but attempts to downplay them by claiming that nuclear weapons will “only” consume more than 6.4 percent of the defense budget (p. 52). This projection does not include the major costs that must be borne by NNSA to upgrade nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

The review offers no plan to pay for the rising price tag to upgrade the triad and the coming bow wave of non-nuclear modernization costs. It also fails to examine more pragmatic, cost-effective alternatives.

The force outlined in the NPR calls for maintaining and upgrading U.S. nuclear forces at levels that exceed the deterrence requirements outlined by the Pentagon in 2013, which determined that the deployed strategic arsenal could be reduced by up to one-third below the limits set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) of 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Even if the United States maintains its arsenal at the New START levels, it can do so at a significantly lower cost, according to the CBO.

Planning for an Arms Race

President Trump said Feb. 12 that the United States is “creating a brand new nuclear force...[W]e’re gonna be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.” The NPR comports with the president’s stated objective by laying the groundwork to provide “capabilities needed to quickly produce new or additional weapons” beyond the 4,000 warheads currently in the active U.S. nuclear stockpile (pgs. 59-64).

One measure of the scale of the plan for building “new or additional weapons” is given in the commitment to “[p]rovide the enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium pits [nuclear warhead cores] at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030” (p. 62). No basis is offered for this minimum capacity target.

The NPR also calls for options to expand the arsenal by using old warheads, including “modifying warheads,” assessing “the potential for retired warheads and components to augment the future hedge stockpile,” and reducing “the time required to design, develop, and initially produce a warhead, from a decision to enter full-scale development” (p. 63).

In addition, the review proposes to accelerate the life extension programs for the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and W80-1 air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) warheads. It leaves open the option of whether to pursue Obama-era plans to develop common, interoperable warheads for ICBMs and SLBMs. The new NPR also appears to want to keep indefinitely the B83-1 warhead (the only remaining U.S. megaton-class warhead). The previous plan had been to retire it once confidence in the B61-12 had been achieved, if not sooner. In 2013 NNSA estimated that the cost to life extend the B83 would be $4 to $5 billion.

The NPR says that the Pentagon will undertake research and development “for advanced nuclear delivery system technology and prototyping capabilities,” including “on the rapid development of nuclear delivery systems, alternative basing modes, and capabilities for defeating advanced air and missile defenses” (p. 40). This sweeping language suggests the possible pursuit of research and development on mobile ICBMs and hypersonic missiles for nuclear weapons delivery.

These buildup plans go far beyond those proposed by the Obama administration, which married its proposal to develop a more responsive nuclear infrastructure with pledges to reduce the size of the stockpile of nondeployed hedge warheads and accelerate the rate of dismantlement of retired warheads. The Trump NPR does not reiterate these commitments.

The NPR gives short shrift to the additional financial and operational demands preparing for an arms race will put on an already overburdened NNSA. Though NNSA would receive a significant budget increase in the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, such a buildup is unlikely to be executable.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued last year, the “NNSA’s plans to modernize its nuclear weapons do not align with its budget, raising affordability concerns.” And former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a Jan. 23 interview just two days after leaving office that the agency is “working pretty much at full capacity... And you can draw your conclusion [on the Trump NPR proposals] from that.”

Nevertheless, the NPR makes an open-ended commitment to unleashing a nuclear weapon buildup whenever the U.S. sees fit. It is a clear incitement to other weapon states to do the same, and a clear violation of the NPT obligation to end the arms race and pursue effective disarmament measures.

Undermines U.S. Arms Control and Nonproliferation Leadership

In his January 2018 State of the Union address, Trump dismissed the idea of the elimination of nuclear weapons — a goal embraced by American President’s since the beginning of the nuclear age— as some “magical moment in the distant future.”

President Trump added Feb. 12: “Frankly I’d like to get rid of a lot of ‘em [nuclear weapons]. And if they [other nuclear-armed states] want to do that we’ll go along with them. We won’t lead the way, we’ll go along with them.”

Not surprisingly, the new Trump NPR does not proactively seek negotiations to limit nuclear arms.

Arms control only gets a brief mention at the end of the NPR and it’s a generally dismissive mention at that. The document passively states that “the United States will remain receptive to future arms control negotiations if conditions permit” and negotiations that “advance U.S. and allied security, are verifiable, and enforceable.” No previous nuclear arms control agreement has included enforcement measures.

In contrast, a major and important theme throughout the 2010 NPR was that “by reducing the role and numbers of U.S. nuclear weapons…we can put ourselves in a much better position to persuade our NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] partners to join with us in adopting the measures needed to reinvigorate the nonproliferation regime and secure nuclear materials worldwide.”

The 2018 NPR does state that the “United States will continue efforts to create a more cooperative and benign security environment” (p. 24) and that “the United States will continue to pursue the political and security conditions that could enable further nuclear reductions” (p. 95).

But the review offers next to nothing in the way of proposals to advance particularly U.S.-Russian arms control efforts and address the growing challenges to strategic stability more broadly. As Michele Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, put in a Jan. 18 interview:

“One of the things that’s missing in this NPR is a focus on nuclear diplomacy. How are we going to get to our goals of reducing the dangers, reducing arsenals, reducing the role of nuclear weapons, what’s the strategy there? There’s virtually no discussion of the arms control component of U.S. nuclear policy in this document.”

“The NPR essentially abandons the United States' leadership role in nonproliferation and arms control that have marked every president since Dwight Eisenhower,” noted Tom Countryman, former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, in a Jan. 23 Arms Control Association briefing on the NPR.

On the one bilateral strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty that is currently in force—New START—the NPR does not commit its possible extension, despite the obvious benefits.

New START has improved strategic stability, predictability, and transparency, and verifiably trimmed the still oversized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. At a time when U.S.-Russian relations remain strained, New START, which is set to expire in 2021, serves an even more important role in reducing nuclear risks.

The next step should be for Presidents Trump and Putin to agree to extend the treaty for another five years–to 2026. If New START is allowed to lapse in 2021 with nothing to replace it, there would be no limits on U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces for the first time since 1972. The United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

Flawed Assumptions

Several of the arguments offered in the NPR for expanding the diversity and role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy are highly misleading.

  • The Trump plan is centered on the mistaken belief that the United States is falling behind other countries in the fielding of a reliable and credible nuclear arsenal and it claims that there are gaps in our ability to “credibly” threaten to wage nuclear war. In reality, there is no “nuclear missile gap.” The United States is not falling “behind.” The U.S. arsenal is the most potent in the world and is more than intimidating enough to deter nuclear attack by others—and if ever used—kill hundreds of millions of people.
  • The Trump nuclear plan falsely suggests that U.S. leadership on nuclear disarmament has not contributed to nonproliferation efforts or enhanced U.S. global standing. In reality, the commitment of the nuclear-armed states to halt the arms race and achieve nuclear disarmament established in the NPT has been crucial to preventing proliferation and was essential to the non-nuclear weapon states decision extend the NPT indefinitely in 1995.
  • The Trump nuclear plan argues that the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been “polarizing” and “could damage the nuclear nonproliferation regime.” In reality, it is nuclear weapons, and U.S. threats of “fire and fury,” that are dangerous and divisive. This more aggressive U.S. nuclear posture gives other nuclear actors a cynical excuse to justify their ongoing nuclear upgrade efforts and build up their own nuclear capabilities. The “Nuclear Ban Treaty,” on the other hand, is a good faith effort by more than 130 states to meet their responsibility as signatories of NPT to help end the arms race. Steps, like the Ban Treaty, aimed at reducing the risk of catastrophic nuclear weapons use are necessary and should be welcomed.

Bottom Line

Despite elements of continuity with previous administrations, the Trump NPR is not a status quo document.

Rather than develop new nuclear roles and capabilities and put additional strain on an already wobbly global nuclear order, the United States needs to show more responsible nuclear leadership.

It will be up to Congress, U.S. allies, the international community, and ultimately the U.S. public to ensure that Trump’s radical nuclear plans do not become the tipping point toward a new and more dangerous nuclear era.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

Posted: February 15, 2018

Trump’s Cynical Gambit on the Iran Nuclear Deal

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Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions and puts the future of the accord in doubt.

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Volume 10, Issue 2, January 17, 2018

President Donald Trump’s Jan. 12 decision to waive sanctions on Iran keeps the United States in compliance–for the time being–with its obligations under the multilateral nuclear deal with Tehran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump’s ultimatum that Congress pass legislation to unilaterally address what he describes as “flaws” in the agreement is based on flawed assumptions. His demands are unrealistic and put the future of the accord in doubt.

US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. (Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)Trump’s Jan. 12 statement announcing the United States would waive sanctions reiterated the threat from his October Iran policy speech: “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.” In the Jan. 12 statement, however, Trump put a deadline on the “fix,” declaring that he would not waive sanctions again unless Congress passes legislation to address the “flaws” and almost certainly violating the JCPOA. Before the next sanctions waivers are due on or around May 12, Trump specifically called for legislation addressing four factors:

1) It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.

2) Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.

3) Third, unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date.

4) Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.

Under the nuclear deal, the United States committed to “implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit, and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.” (See Section C.)

Conditioning continued U.S. participation in the agreement on achieving changes through unilateral action is not a good faith implementation of the JCPOA and sets the United States up to violate the agreement.

Thus far, Congress has wisely refrained from pursuing legislation that would violate the deal. In response to Trump’s ultimatum, it is critical that Congress does not kill the deal under the guise of saving it. Legislation that violates the agreement by unilaterally attempting to extend or alter the nuclear restrictions on Iran poses just as great a risk as Trump revoking the waivers, which would put the United States in material breach of its JCPOA commitments.

Moreover, any U.S. attempt to make changes to the multilateral accord will be staunchly opposed by Washington’s P5+1 negotiating partners, (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom) and would be rejected by Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif quickly responded to Trump’s Jan. 12 statement by saying the JCPOA is “not renegotiable” and that the U.S. announcement amounts to a desperate attempt to “undermine a solid multilateral agreement.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Jan. 15 that Trump’s approach is unacceptable and Moscow would work to preserve the existing agreement.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and head of the P5+1 group made similar comments last year, noting Sept. 21 that reopening an agreement that is working is unnecessary. Mogherini also called out Trump on his threat to blow up the deal. She warned that the JCPOA “does not belong to any single country and it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”

Clearly, pursuing Trump’s approach will only isolate the United States at a time when Washington needs to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check. Worse still, threats to pull out of the JCPOA unless other parties accede to U.S. demands will undermine cooperation on sanctions and negotiations to produce a deal to halt and reverse North Korea’s far more advanced nuclear and missile programs.

Trump’s Unrealistic Renegotiation Demands

A closer look at Trump’s four conditions for new legislation on the JCPOA show them to be unnecessary and unrealistic:

1) “It must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors.”

Additional inspections authorities dictated by Congress are unnecessary and risk undermining the independence and integrity of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Under the JCPOA, key nuclear activities in Iran are subject to continuous monitoring to verify Iran is abiding by the deal. The IAEA also has timely access to both declared and undeclared sites. Declared sites can be visited on short notice and key sites can be inspected on a daily basis if requested by the agency.

If the IAEA has questions about illicit nuclear-related activities at any undeclared site (either civilian or military) that Iran does not address, the agency can request access. If Iran does not comply or fails to provide sufficient access in 14 days, the Joint Commission set up by the JCPOA can require Iran to comply with the IAEA’s request. This process is outlined in Annex I, Section Q of the JCPOA. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano noted Oct. 13 that agency inspectors have had all the access to sites they have requested and that the verification regime is the “world’s most robust.”

The JCPOA does not allow “anytime, anywhere” inspections–but that is not necessary for a strong agreement. Nor is likely that Iran–or any other country–would agree to give inspectors carte blanche access to any site, particularly military facilities. The current measures, combined with U.S. national intelligence means, provide high confidence that any deviations from the provisions allowed in the JCPOA would be quickly detected.

Additionally, the United States cannot and should not dictate the terms of international inspections. The IAEA is an independent organization and the credibility of the agency’s work depends on that perception. For the United States or any other country to try to legislate the agency’s access risks undermining the independence and integrity that is so critical to the IAEA’s work.


2) “It must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.”

It is unclear how Trump thinks legislation can or should be crafted to address this vague demand. A bill that seeks additional barriers based on a unilateral and arbitrary understanding of what constitutes "close to possessing a nuclear weapon" would be outside the scope of the JCPOA and would certainly be rejected by Iran and the United States' partners.

While some of the core restrictions under the JCPOA will expire, a shorter breakout time is not necessarily indicative of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Currently, the breakout, or time it would take for Iran to obtain enough fissile material for one bomb, is approximately 12 months. That timeline will drop after the first 10 years of the JCPOA when restrictions begin to expire. However, a shorter breakout alone does not indicate by itself that Iran has chosen to pursue nuclear weapons. For instance, if Tehran begins producing enough enriched uranium for its Bushehr power reactor, its breakout time would be shorter, but its activities would be legally permissible under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Additionally, key restrictions on Iran are permanent under the JCPOA. The enhanced inspections and monitoring under the additional protocol do not expire, nor does the prohibition on certain weaponization activities (Annex I, Section T). As a result, inspectors have more access than in prior years and Iran cannot claim that certain activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device are for conventional military purposes as it has in the past. The combination of restrictions, enhanced IAEA monitoring and access, and national intelligence means puts the United States in the best possible place to quickly detect covert nuclear activity, or a dash to nuclear weapons using declared nuclear facilities.

There are legitimate concerns about what happens in 10-15 years when some of the core nuclear limits mandated by the JCPOA are due to expire. But it is far better to sustain the current deal and look for opportunities, in conjunction with the P5+1 partners, to build on it in a way that strengthens nonproliferation in Iran and regionally, rather than risk the agreement immediately.


3) “Unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date. My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon—not just for ten years, but forever. If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume.”

Unilaterally demanding an extension of JCPOA restrictions under threat of reimposing sanctions would violate the deal. Under the terms of the JCPOA, full implementation of the JCPOA results in Iran being treated like any other non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT. The State Department itself stated in the 2016 Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments that with the implementation of the deal, “previous issues leading to NPT noncompliance findings [regarding Iran] had been resolved.”

Additionally, 10 years from adoption day, barring the reimposition of sanctions on Iran by the United Nations Security Council, that body will no longer be “seized” of the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. At this point, if Iran is in compliance with its international treaty obligations and the United States has no intelligence suggesting that Iran is pursuing a covert nuclear program, there is no legitimate basis to subject Iran’s nuclear program to arbitrary restrictions under threat of sanction.

The United States is also obligated in the JCPOA to seek the statutory lifting of sanctions eight years after adoption day. If Washington intends to threaten automatic reimposition of sanctions in perpetuity if Iran resumes certain nuclear activities, Congress cannot make a good faith effort to statutorily lift the measures.

The United States does not need to seek a basis now in order to respond to future, hypothetical Iranian actions. If national intelligence or evidence obtained by the IAEA were to emerge in the future that Iran had resumed nuclear-weapons related activities in violation of its NPT commitments, the United States should work multilaterally, as it did leading up to the JCPOA, to pursue a response supported by the international community.


4) “Legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”

Formally linking Iran’s long-range missile program to its nuclear weapons program under U.S. law risks putting in place conditions that would disrupt the JCPOA because of activities outside the scope of the agreement.

While the JCPOA does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile activities, the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorses the deal, calls upon Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to be nuclear-capable. While this is a nonbinding condition, the eight-year prohibitions on selling or purchasing certain ballistic missiles and related technologies without prior approval from the Security Council are absolute.

Since the Iran nuclear deal was implemented in January 2016, the UN secretary-general has issued four reports assessing the implementation the resolution. Several of the reports, including the most recent in December 2017, call into question Iran’s compliance with the restrictions, noting several allegations of illicit transfer of ballistic missile systems.

Iran’s flouting of UN Security Council restrictions is troublesome, but the United States has a number of tools to address Iran’s ballistic missile activities. The JCPOA did not waive or prohibit additional U.S. sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity and the United States has responded to Iran’s ballistic missile activities by passing new measures and designating individuals and entities.

In the past six months, the administration targeted additional entities assessed as involved in Iran’s ballistic missiles program as recently as Jan. 12, and Congress passed additional sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile activity in August 2017. Implementation of these measures, as well as UN restrictions, should be the focus of U.S. efforts at this point.

Given Iran’s security concerns and the current US-Iranian tensions, an agreement limiting ballistic missiles may be unlikely in short term, particularly if the JCPOA’s future is in doubt, and because of the central role that Iran’s ballistic missiles play in its national security. But the United States can and should do what it can to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 2231 and encourage Iran to abide by its announced range restriction. Iran has stated it will limit its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers. While this commitment is voluntary and nonbinding, it has been reiterated by the Supreme Leader, and a June 2017 report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee found that Iran’s current ballistic missile inventory includes systems with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, but did not discuss any missiles that exceed that range.

The United States should also work with its EU allies, which have stated in October a willingness to work cooperatively to address Iran’s ballistic missiles–separate from the JCPOA. That could include discussions on a regional ballistic missile limitation mechanism and greater information sharing to ensure that the existing UN restrictions, as well as U.S. sanctions, are abided by. Training on Resolution 2231 and export controls could also be beneficial to enhance compliance with existing restrictions. Given the broad authorities already on the books, a focus on implementation, rather than additional sanctions, may be the best path forward.

Going Forward

Responsible legislators should understand Trump’s demands to “fix” the deal for what they are: an attempt to force Congress to unilaterally push changes that other parties won’t accept, or allow him to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments.

Even if the Congress proposes “fixes” to the JCPOA that do not violate the terms of the agreement outright—and it is difficult to conceive of legislation that would meet Trump’s conditions without violating the deal—there is no guarantee that Trump will not move the goalposts again in the future and demand additional concessions for continued U.S. participation in the accord.

From a nonproliferation perspective, the JCPOA can continue to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons for more than a decade if fully implemented. With top U.S. policymakers like Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirming that Iran is meeting its commitments and that the deal benefits U.S. national security interests, there is no reason for Washington to pull out of the deal, demand additional changes, and risk a new proliferation crisis now.

The Trump administration must recognize that the best path forward to address Iran’s nuclear program is to fully implement the agreement at hand and look for opportunities to build on its unique nonproliferation value.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: January 17, 2018

Trump’s Decision on U.S. Role in Iran Nuclear Deal

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A Nonproliferation Success That Should Not Be Squandered

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A Nonproliferation Success That Should Not Be Squandered

Volume 10, Issue 1, January 9, 2018

The Trump administration is approaching two deadlines this week that are tied to the nuclear deal between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran: the president’s quarterly certification to Congress and the renewal of sanctions waivers, which are required for continued U.S. compliance with the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to withhold the 90-day certification to Congress, which includes an assessment of Iran’s compliance with the accord and an assessment on whether or not the deal remains in U.S. national security interests. Trump withheld the last certification in October, despite Iran’s compliance with accord, using the subjective determination that the sanctions relief Iran received is disproportionate to the nuclear restrictions. Since the certification is a U.S. legal requirement under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, withholding it does not violate the JCPOA. Given that the international community has become immune to Trump’s bellicose rhetoric surrounding the value of the deal, unless Trump alleges an Iranian violation, withholding certification is likely to become part of the status quo if the United States stays in the deal.

However, Trump has not yet indicated his decision on a second Iran deal deadline: the renewal of U.S. sanctions waivers, which is more critical for the future of the multilateral accord. The United States will violate its commitment to lift certain sanctions under the deal if Trump fails to issue the waivers between Jan. 12-17.

Reimposition by the United States of nuclear-related sanctions would not only violate Washington’s commitments under the deal, but also risks drying up the economic benefits that were promised to Iran in exchange for accepting stringent limits and monitoring on its nuclear program. Because the U.S. sanctions include extraterritorial measures, reimposition of these sanctions would affect companies outside of the United States that have resumed legal business with Iran permitted under the nuclear deal. As a result, it would be more difficult for the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to continue abiding by the terms of the deal if economic benefits evaporate. If Iran abandons the JCPOA in response to a U.S. violation, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program could re-emerge and spark further instability in the region.

A Legislative Fix?

Trump has given little indication as to how he will approach the upcoming deadlines, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a Jan. 5 interview with AP that the president will either “fix [the deal] or cancel it.”

There is no legitimate reason for the United States to unilaterally try to “cancel” the deal. Iran remains in compliance with the nuclear restrictions under the JCPOA—a fact affirmed by the most recent quarterly report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November and by Washington’s P5+1 partners.

The threshold for what Trump would need to see as a “fix” in order to stay in the deal, however, remains vague.

In October, Trump directed his administration to work with Congress to develop legislation that would address what he viewed as flaws in the agreement, including the so-called "sunset" provisions, or nuclear restrictions that phase out over time, and ballistic missile activity, which is not covered by the deal but is dealt with in a UN Security Council resolution endorsing the agreement. In October, Trump said he would exit the deal if these concerns are not resolved, but did not set a deadline for results or a threshold for what would satisfy his concerns.

As a result, it remains unclear if efforts such as the commitment from Germany, France and the United Kingdom to work with the United States on addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program separate from the nuclear deal are enough to keep the United States in compliance with the terms of the multilateral JCPOA agreement.

Tillerson also said that the administration is pursuing a fix with members of Congress on a “very active basis” and implied that a fix did not have to be finalized, but just in the works, for Trump to reissue the waivers. U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), met with U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster Jan. 4 to discuss Iran, but did not provide any details on possible legislation.

While such legislation might appease Trump’s political desire to distance himself from an agreement negotiated during the Obama tenure, it is critical that any congressional initiative on the issue does not violate or seek to recast the terms of the JCPOA.

For example, unilateral efforts by the U.S. Congress to indefinitely extend all or some of the JCPOA’s core nuclear restrictions on Iran, which are due to phase out over time, as Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Corker (R-Tenn.) proposed in October, would violate the accord and are strongly opposed by Washington’s negotiating partners.

Appeasing Trump’s demand to "fix" the agreement also risks setting a dangerous precedent—that threating to abandon the deal can extract additional concessions. There is no guarantee that Trump—or another leader—will not change the goal posts again down the road and demand more "fixes" in order for the United States to continue complying with the accord.

On the other hand, Congress could eliminate provisions requiring the president to issue the certification every 90 days, which might appeal to Trump as he would no longer have to publically acknowledge the deal on a regular basis. Such a move would only impact U.S. law and have no bearing on the deal itself.

Moving the spotlight off the Iran deal every 90-days might also give the United States and its negotiating partners more time to work multilaterally on options to build upon the nuclear deal and restore confidence in the U.S. commitment to the agreement.

The Nonproliferation Consequences of Nixing the Deal

It is unclear what steps Iran will take if the United States violates the accord, but if Tehran no longer sees benefit to remaining in the deal and resumes nuclear activities that are now restricted or halts cooperation on verification measures mandated under the JCPOA, there could be significant nonproliferation consequences.

Bahram Qassami, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Jan. 8 that “all options are on the Islamic Republic’s table” and they will be quickly implemented in response to any U.S. actions. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in November that Iran could resume enrichment to 20 percent within days if the United States walks away from the deal. Before the negotiation of a November 2013 interim nuclear deal with the P5+1, Iran enriched uranium to the 20-percent uranium-235 level, which is below the level necessary for nuclear weapons but more of a threat than the current 3.67 percent uranium-235 limit set by the JCPOA.

Resumption of higher-level enrichment and/or the operation of additional centrifuges, including advanced machines, that were dismantled as part of the JCPOA, could return Iran to the 2-3 month “breakout time” (the time estimated to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon) that it was before the deal was negotiated. As a result of the restrictions and limits under the deal, the breakout time is currently estimated to be around 12 months.

Tehran could also choose to stop implementing the additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which it currently adheres to voluntarily under the deal. Salehi hinted at this Jan. 8 when he stated that Iran would adopt measures that could affect the current level of cooperation with IAEA. Losing the additional protocol would give inspectors less access to Iranian nuclear facilities and information about its program.

In addition to an increased risk posed by an unrestricted Iranian nuclear program, there are regional implications to losing the nuclear deal.

Currently, Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear energy program and pursuing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States. Thus far, Saudi Arabia has refused to forswear acquisition of uranium enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. If the nuclear deal with Iran collapses, and Iran’s uranium enrichment program is unrestricted, it is more likely that Saudi Arabia will also choose to go down this route.

For decades, the United States has placed a high premium on halting the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology. It would be a mistake for the U.S. executive branch or legislative branch to take actions that jeopardize continued implementation and compliance with Iran deal in a way that risks the pursuit of these sensitive technologies by other states in the troubled Middle East region.

Responding to the U.S. Decision

If Trump abandons the nuclear deal, it behooves Iran and the remaining P5+1 partners to use what tools they have to continue implementing the deal.

The European Union, for instance, could issue a blocking regulation to try and protect European companies and businesses from extraterritorial sanctions. The EU has used this regulation in the past when the United States imposed secondary sanctions on Cuba that the EU did not support.

An EU sanctions blocking regulation, however, cannot guarantee protection and as a result the risk of secondary sanctions might cause companies and investors to pull out of the Iranian market. Nevertheless, it would send a powerful message to the United States that the EU rejects Trump’s irresponsible behavior and continues to support the deal. Issuing the block regulation would also help demonstrate to the Trump administration that the United States will only be further isolated if it continues to reject its international obligations.

While political pressures in Iran might prevent continued implementation of the deal in the long run, the Rouhani government should do what it can to continue meeting the limits of the JCPOA. The current program allowed under the nuclear deal is consistent with Iran’s needs and a commitment by the rest of the P5+1 to continue to take steps, such as providing 20-percent enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, would meet needs not covered by Iran’s domestic nuclear activities.

Without question, the nuclear deal with Iran has effectively removed the existential threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons program and significantly scaled back the country’s nuclear activities. The Trump administration would be foolish to disrupt a successful deal that has addressed a significant threat in a tension-filled region and contributes to strengthening the global nonproliferation regime.

If, in the end, Trump take steps to kill or undermine the successful Iran nuclear deal, the international community—particularly the remaining P5+1 and Iran—should do what they can to continue to implement it. The last thing the Middle East and the United States needs at this time is a major nuclear proliferation crisis manufactured by the White House.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

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Posted: January 9, 2018

Congress Should Not Cede Oversight on Small Arms Exports

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An administration proposal on firearms export rules could effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

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Volume 9, Issue 8, October 5, 2017

In the coming weeks, it is likely that the Trump administration will formally propose new U.S. firearms export rules designed to increase foreign sales but that also make it easier for terrorists and international criminals to obtain lethal weapons. The proposal could also effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

With the Trump administration showing far less restraint regarding the transfer of sophisticated U.S. weaponry, it is essential that the Congress carefully review the new firearms export policy approach and use what levers it has to ward off changes to longstanding policies that have served U.S. national security interests in the past.

Background

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) questioned witnesses on the role of Congress in the oversight of U.S. arms sales during a Sept. 26 hearing. [Photo credit: Senate Foreign Relations Committee]Early in his administration, President Obama launched the Export Control Reform Initiative, based on a review that found the United States was “trying to control too much.” Indicating that it sought to “strengthen the United States’ ability to counter threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the administration proposed and/or enacted changes to 18 of the 21 categories of major weapons and technology controlled under the United States Munitions List (USML), moving many items to the Commerce Control List (CCL).

A thrust of the effort was described as “building higher fences around fewer items” and those fewer items were ones that tended to be high-tech and give the U.S. a unique military advantage. Left undone were the first three categories: firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns (category I), guns and armaments (II); and their ammunition/ordnance (III).

The Trump administration is now moving to address arms transfers in these three remaining categories. The Defense Trade Advisory Group, a committee of private sector defense exporters and defense trade specialists that advises the State Department, discussed possible revisions Sept. 8. It is expected that proposed changes will be made public later this month, with an expedited 60-day public review period.

Faulty Logic Leads to Dangerous Risks

At the core of export reform push is the mistaken belief that small arms and light weapons do not merit the tighter controls of the USML because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, however, many of the weapons in categories I-III are the ones most frequently used in violent conflict, in perpetuating human rights abuses, and that can most easily fall into hands of those who seek to undermine U.S. national security.

Recognizing this, in 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales. During that notification period, as well as during informal prenotifications, Congress can seek to block or delay sales. During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role.

No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL. According to the Security Assistance Monitor, $556 million in firearms notifications have already gone to Congress through July this year

In a cautionary Sept. 15 joint letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senators Cardin, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote that: “Moving such firearms from the USML to the CCL would be directly contrary to congressional intent … effectively eliminating congressional oversight of exports of these weapons.”

However, due to the less restrictive nature of the rules surrounding the CCL, the dangers go beyond a lack of Congressional oversight. A number of license exemptions available on Commerce-controlled items may enable illegal procurement and diversion of reclassified weapons, a risk that concerned many current and former enforcement officials interviewed for a recent Institute for Science and International Security report. Different or missing brokering registration and agreement approval requirements, as well as confusion over regulations, may also make it harder to identify and prosecute arms smugglers and illegal exporters. The State Department also has the proper mandate to take into account the impact of firearms transfers on terrorist activity, human rights norms and other considerations beyond commercial interests. Lessening State's role would pose significant risks to longstanding U.S. efforts to advance the support of the rule of law and human rights around the globe.

Next Steps

Given the uncertainty around the impacts of any proposed reclassifications, Congress would be wise to ask the GAO to conduct an assessment of the export control reform initiative to this point and independently identify any risks of transferring items on categories I-III to Commerce control. Leaders should ask the Trump administration to wait until those findings come in so that they can be taken into account in any plans to change current implementation.

Concerned members of Congress should also make their opposition known. If rules are indeed notified this month, they should analyze those closely and weigh in during the comment period. They must also rise above the loud voices that will seek to tie this issue to the Second Amendment. These rules are strictly about the international transfer of firearms, not in any way related to domestic possession.

While the administration can proceed with changes to the USML and CCL without Congressional approval, legislators can also pass laws. If needed, for example, Congress could mandate that their oversight role be retained on any weapons moved from the USML to CCL.

In the end, these are the weapons most responsible for so much suffering in the world and ones that could easily be found aimed at U.S. forces. It is irresponsible to lessen control of their export for simple commercial gain or because they are not America’s most sophisticated weapons. As Senators Cardin, Feinstein and Leahy reminded, “combat firearms and ammunition are uniquely lethal; they are easily spread and easily modified, and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world. As such, they should be subject to more – not less – rigorous export control and oversight.”—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

Posted: October 5, 2017

Nuclear Restraint Agreements Under Serious Threat

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Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen these four key pillars of arms control and nonproliferation.

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Volume 9, Issue 7, September 5, 2017

Since the dawn of the nuclear age over 70 years ago, rarely has the world faced as difficult an array of nuclear weapons-related security challenges as it is facing now. Unfortunately, Congress will soon enact legislation that could further imperil the global nuclear order.
 
The Senate is scheduled to take up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Authorization Act as early as this week. The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81. Both bills contain several problematic provisions that if enacted into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to several longstanding, bipartisan arms control and nonproliferation efforts and increase the risks of renewed nuclear arms competition with Russia.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987. (Photo credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have worsened over the past few years, thanks to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and support for the Assad regime in Syria. Nevertheless, the two countries continue to share common interests. In particular, as the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, they have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives all the more urgent.
 
While some meaningful cooperation continues, such as adherence to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction steps.
 
Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen the existing architecture of arms control and nonproliferation agreements, key pillars of which have their origin in the vision of President Ronald Reagan. These agreements constrain Russia’s nuclear forces, provide for stability, predictability, and transparency in the bilateral relationship, and have only increased in value as the U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated.
 
Below is a summary of the current status and arguments in support of four key agreements put at risk by the Senate and/or House NDAAs. 
 


The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
 
Background: The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.
 
Current Status: So far both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they do not plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated that it is interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures. In January phone call with President Putin, President Trump reportedly dismissed the idea of an extension and called the treaty a “bad deal.” The House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would prohibit the use of funds to extend the New START treaty unless Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NewSTART

Key Points:

  • New START caps the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and provides the United States with additional tools to monitor Russia’s forces. The treaty includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with treaty limits and enable the United States to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, which aids U.S. military planning.
  • The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. The treaty provides for bilateral stability, predictability, and transparency, thereby bounding the current tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
  • The U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START. For example, in March 2017, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), “I am big supporter of the New START Agreement.” Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”
  • Connecting New START extension with INF treaty compliance is senseless and counterproductive. By “punishing” Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021. If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Moreover, the United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
 
Background: The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. Russia and the United States destroyed a total of 2,692 short/medium/intermediate-range missiles by the 1991 deadline.
 
Current Status: The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement, and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord. Both the House-passed and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the FY 2018 NDAA would authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty
 
Key Points:

  • The United States and Russia need to work to preserve the INF Treaty. This should include using the Special Verification Commission, the treaty’s dispute resolution mechanism, to address mutual concerns. The Trump administration should make it clear to Moscow that so long as Russia remains in violation of the treaty, the United States will pursue steps to reaffirm and buttress its commitment to the defense of those allies threatened by the treaty-noncompliant missiles.
  • Development of a new GLCM sets the stage for Washington to violate the agreement and would take the focus off Russia's violation. Russia could respond by publicly repudiating the treaty and deploying large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.
  • Development of a new GLCM is militarily unnecessary and Pentagon has not asked for one. The United States can legally deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets. There is no reason to believe that development of a new GLCM will convince Russia to return to compliance. A new GLCM would also take years to develop and suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements. The administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the INF provision on requiring a new GLCM.
  • NATO does not support a new GLCM and attempting to force it upon the alliance would be incredibly divisive. It is thus a weapon to nowhere. A divided NATO would also be a gift to Russia.
  • Mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the INF treaty if Russia does not return to compliance by the end of next year raises constitutional concerns. If Congress can say the United States is not bound by its obligations under the INF Treaty, what is to stop it from doing the same regarding other treaties?

The 1990 Treaty on Open Skies
 
Background: The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency on the military activities of states, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants for information gathering purposes. The parties have equal yearly quotas of overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all Treaty parties.
 
Current Status: The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would annually bar, for each of the next five years, any U.S. Open Skies Treaty skies flights until Pentagon and intelligence community submit a plan for all of the treaty flights in the coming year. The bill would also bar DOD from acquiring a more effective, more timely, more reliable digital imaging system for conducting flights over Russian territory.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/openskies

Key Points:

  • The Open Skies Treaty provides a significant contribution to the security and stability of North America and Europe. According to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear and Strategic Policy Anita E. Friedt, almost a dozen U.S. and NATO member flights over Ukraine and Western Russia in 2014 during the Ukraine crisis “resulted in valuable data and insights.” The treaty mandates information-sharing about military forces that increases transparency among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.
  • U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection. The United States and its allies typically carry out many more overflights than Russia. These flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery.
  • Russia would gain a unilateral advantage as a result of restricting funding for upgrading aircraft used by the United States for treaty observation flights. This would stymie U.S. efforts to match Russian sensor upgrades, thereby limiting the value of the Open Skies treaty to U.S. national security.
  • The Russian sensors and cameras in question do not pose a threat to U.S. security. According to Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs, all states party to the Open Skies treaty are permitted to certify new sensors and aircraft. Furthermore, he said, “the resolution of Open Skies imagery is similar to that available in commercial satellite imagery.” He added that Russian information compiled as a result of Open Skies flights is “of only incremental value” among Russia’s many means of intelligence gathering. 

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)
 
Background: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is the the intergovernmental organization that promotes the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has yet to enter force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System (IMS) to deter and detect nuclear test explosions.
 
Current Status: The United States currently contributes nearly a quarter of the annual CTBTO budget. In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined with other Foreign Ministers at the G-7 foreign minister summit in a statement expressing support for the CTBTO. The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget request would fund the U.S. contribution to the CTBTO at roughly the same level as the Obama administration. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would prohibit funding for the CTBTO and calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2310 does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/test-ban-treaty-at-a-glance

Key Points:

  • The CTBTO and IMS support and provide detection capabilities that supplement U.S. national intelligence capabilities to detect nuclear testing. Reducing U.S. funding for the CTBTO would  adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS.
  • The CTBTO is a neutral source of information that can help to mobilize international action against any state that violates the global norm against nuclear testing. U.S. action to restrict funding could prompt other states to reduce their own funding for the CTBTO or lead states to withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing. Contrary to what the Cotton-Wilson bill implies,
  • Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states, including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, it encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so. It also takes note of a Sept. 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 
  • Asserting that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory would signal to other states that that the United States may be seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear testing. With North Korea having conducted a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the CTBTO and the global nuclear testing taboo. 

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Posted: September 5, 2017

The Trillion (and a Half) Dollar Triad?

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Analysis of budget figures released by the Pentagon suggest that the total 30-year cost could approach and perhaps even exceed $1.5 trillion when including the effects of inflation. This is 50 percent more than the commonly cited estimate of roughly $1 trillion. 

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Volume 9, Issue 6, August 18, 2017

Amid an escalating exchange of threats between the United States and North Korea, President Donald Trump claimed in a tweet Aug. 9 that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” He reiterated this claim in a press briefing Aug. 11.

Like many of the president’s utterances, these assertions don’t come close to resembling the truth. The U.S. nuclear arsenal is no more, or less, powerful than when Trump took office Jan. 20. The president did order the Pentagon to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to examine and provide recommendations on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and posture, but that review, which officially began in April, is still ongoing and won’t be completed until the end of this year at the earliest.

In fact, it was President Barack Obama that set in motion plans to undertake a massive and costly rebuild of the arsenal. Much of this effort is still in its infancy, and will take decades to complete. Trump inherited this program, and his first budget request, which has yet to be acted on by Congress, proposes to move full steam ahead with the Obama approach. This is not surprising, given that the administration has yet to put its own stamp on U.S. nuclear policy.

What has been lost in much of the important fact checking of Trump’s erroneous (and dangerous) nuclear saber-rattling is that while the capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal hasn’t changed over the past seven months, the projected annual costs of the current all-of-the-above upgrade plans are rising significantly—and not because of anything Trump has done.

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

The 10-year estimate captures the beginning of the major planned ramp-up in spending to recapitalize all three legs of the existing nuclear “triad” of submarines, missiles, and bombers and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure, but even larger bills are still to come.

How large? Analysis of budget figures recently released by the Pentagon suggest that, even though the Trump administration has yet to make any significant changes to the Obama administration’s spending plans, the total 30-year cost could approach and perhaps even exceed $1.5 trillion when including the effects of inflation. This is 50 percent more than the commonly cited estimate of roughly $1 trillion.           

If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not reshape the current nuclear weapons spending plans—or worse, accelerates or expands upon them—the massive spending on nuclear weapons will pose a major threat to other high priority national security programs, to say nothing about Trump’s pledge to expand the non-nuclear military.

What makes the growing cost to sustain the nuclear mission so worrisome for military planners is that costs are scheduled to peak during the mid-2020s and overlap with large increases in projected spending on conventional weapon system modernization programs. Numerous Pentagon officials and outside experts have warned about the affordability problem posed by the current approach and that it cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending or cuts to other military priorities.

Trump has declared his ambition to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities, and has criticized the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, suggesting he may be looking to change nuclear policy in significant ways.

But there is no room in the budget to “expand” the scope and the cost of the upgrade plans.

Though defense spending might see a boost during the Trump administration, it's unlikely to be as high as many people think. In any event, the proposed nuclear recapitalization effort is not a one, two, or three-year effort. It will require at least 15 years of sustained increased spending. Pressure on the defense budget, and the trade-offs such pressure will require, is likely to persist.

The current approach also assumes that the United States will maintain a nuclear arsenal like the one it has now for decades to come. However, the Obama administration, with the support of the Joint Chiefs of staff, determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one-third below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) levels.

As the projected costs for programs designed to replace and upgrade the nuclear arsenal continue to rise, Congress must demand greater transparency about long-term costs, strengthen oversight over high-risk programs, and consider options to delay, curtail, or cancel programs to save taxpayer dollars while meeting deterrence requirements. Tens, if not hundreds, of billions could be saved in the coming decades by reshaping the plans and funding a smaller number of projects, while still leaving the United States with a highly credible nuclear deterrent.

Counting the Nuclear Dollars

My estimate of the 30-year cost of U.S. nuclear forces is based on tabulating Defense Department and Energy Department estimates in the following three categories: the cost of operating and sustain the current triad of U.S. nuclear delivery platforms and supporting command, control and communications systems; the cost to recapitalize the triad; and the cost of the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons activities.

Based on the below analysis I estimate the total cost of nuclear forces from fiscal 2018 to 2047 at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion in then-year dollars, meaning it includes price increases due to inflation over the 30-year period of the estimate.

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Operating and Sustaining the Current Triad

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee May 25, Robert Soofer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense, stated that the cost to sustain and operate the existing triad of delivery systems and command and control systems is $12-$14 billion in fiscal 2018 dollars. In its fiscal 2018 budget request the administration proposed to spend $14 billion on the current force.

These maintenance costs would be necessary even if the United States were to forgo its plans to recapitalize the arsenal.

Using $12-$14 billion as the baseline, I calculated a low and high estimate over 30-years that takes into account the impact of inflation over time. To do so I assumed an annual increase of 2.1 percent from fiscal 2018 through fiscal 2022, which is consistent with the anticipated growth rate of the overall defense budget due to inflation over the next five years as projected by the White House Office of Management and Budget. For the years beyond fiscal 2022, I assumed an annual inflation rate of 2.1 percent plus a real growth rate of 1.5 percent above inflation. The additional 1.5 percent is consistent with the real growth rate for Defense Department operation and support activities (which includes operation and maintenance and military personnel) assumed by CBO in its analysis of long-term defense costs.

Based on these assumptions I estimate a low range cost of $596 billion and a high range cost of $695 billion.

There are a number of assumption built into this projection that if altered could push the cost up or down.

First, force sustainment costs increased from $12 billion in fiscal 2017 to $14 billion in fiscal 2018. The cause of this growth is unclear, but the increase suggests that the $12 billion figure that is the basis of my low-range estimate might be unrealistically low.

Second, a real growth rate of 1.5 percent might be too conservative. Sustainment costs could increase above this rate, particularly starting in the late 2020s when the Pentagon will need to pay the cost of maintaining both legacy delivery systems and their replacements (which will begin entering service during this period). Older systems cost more to maintain as they age and newer systems typically cost more to operate when they enter service as operators adjust due to new technology.

Third, the price to maintain the current triad includes more than operation and support costs: it also includes acquisition (research and development and procurement) and infrastructure costs. The price of these activities is likely to grow at different rates.

Fourth, the Pentagon’s estimate of sustainment appears to include the full cost of operating the B-52H and B-2A bombers, which have both nuclear and conventional roles. Attributing a smaller percentage of the cost of these bombers (and later the B-21) to the nuclear mission would reduce the price of my 30-year estimate. It remains to be seen how many of the 100 B-21s the Air Force plans to buy will be certified for the nuclear mission. The retirement dates of the B-52H and B-24 bombers and how the cost to operate the B-21 will compare to the existing bombers are also unclear. 

Fifth, it is not clear how the Pentagon calculates the cost of command, control, and communications systems, most of which are used by both nuclear and conventional forces. The Pentagon says that it uses an “objective weighting” to determine the portion of each command and control element to the nuclear mission. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, the department’s methodology “is not fully transparent, because it lacks a discussion of the assumptions and potential limitations of the methodology.”

The department is planning to spend $40.5 billion on nuclear command and control between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2026.

Recapitalizing the Triad

In his May 25 testimony, Soofer stated that the Defense Department is projecting to spend $230-$290 billion to recapitalize U.S. nuclear delivery and command, control, and communications systems between fiscal 2018 and 2040, in constant fiscal 2018 dollars. The estimate includes the total cost of strategic delivery systems that have a nuclear-only mission, and a portion of the cost of the B-21 bomber (which will have both conventional and nuclear roles) that according to the department is consistent with the historical cost of delivering nuclear capability to a strategic bomber. The total also includes the cost of modernizing nuclear command, control, and communications systems and an estimate to replace the Trident II (D5) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), though a program of record for this system does not yet exist.

The Pentagon told me in July that this estimate does not include the costs to operate and sustain the recapitalized systems nor does it include any funds in support of NNSA’s warhead life extension programs and other stockpile activities.

The Pentagon also said that when the effects of inflation are included, the $230-$290 billion estimate is equal to $280-$350 billion in then-year dollars. I was told that the range reflects “uncertainty in long-term cost projections” and that the projections will be refined in the future. Some of the department’s upgrade programs, notably the replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system—also known as the ground based strategic deterrent, or GBSD—are still early in the research and development phase. Most of the programs have yet to enter production.

The cost range projected by the department for recapitalizing the arsenal could be understated for several reasons.

First, the projection covers a period of 23 years. The 30-year cost is likely to be higher given that some upgrade efforts will continue beyond fiscal 2040, most notably the replacement program for the Trident II (D5).

Second, the Pentagon has yet to establish replacement programs of record for the Trident II (D5) and elements of the command, control, and communications system. While the Pentagon recapitalization estimate includes a placeholder for the D5, the value of this placeholder and the assumptions behind it are unknown.

Third, the department’s recapitalization estimate does appear to account for the possibility of cost increases above its current projections. However, it is not clear what accounts for the large gap between the low and high range estimate and thus hard to determine whether the high estimate realistically captures the growth potential.

There is a significant amount of cost uncertainty associated with some of the recapitalization programs of record. For example, the Pentagon’s independent cost assessment and program evaluation office last year estimated the cost of the GBSD program at between $85 billion to over $140 billion in then-year dollars.

Finally, the overall upgrade estimate only includes a small portion of the cost to acquire the B-21. I have been told by multiple sources that the amount the Pentagon attributes to the nuclear mission could be as low as 5 percent of the total cost. If the total acquisition cost of the program were to be counted, this could add as much as $100 billion to the inflation adjusted recapitalization projection.

Sustaining and Upgrading Nuclear Warheads

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is responsible for sustaining and upgrading U.S. nuclear warheads, science and engineering programs to maintain the arsenal without nuclear explosive testing, and maintaining and replacing aging infrastructure.

Since 2014 the agency has published an annual Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), which includes a 25-year estimate (in then-year dollars) of the cost off NNSA’s nuclear weapons program.

The most recent version of the plan was published last year and covers fiscal 2017-2041 (the fiscal 2018 version of the SSMP has yet to be released). Given uncertainties about longer-term warhead life extension and infrastructure costs, the SSMP includes a low and high range estimate.

In order to calculate a 30-year estimate starting in fiscal 2018, I subtracted fiscal 2017 from last year’s plan and inflated the fiscal 2041 low and high range estimates at a rate of 2.25 percent through fiscal 2047. The inflation rate of 2.25 percent is the same rate used by NNSA in the fiscal 2017 SSMP to estimate costs beyond fiscal 2026.

Based on these assumptions I project a low range cost of $369 billion and a high range cost of $417 billion.

The projection for NNSA is likely too low, and perhaps significantly so. First, it does not include any funds from other NNSA accounts, such as naval reactors and the office of the administrator that directly contribute to sustaining and upgrading nuclear warheads and their supporting infrastructure.

Second, the cost projections beyond fiscal 2041 do not include any real growth beyond inflation, even though NNSA will still be in the throes of conducting several large-scale warhead life extension programs. The agency is projecting to spend between $73 and $95 billion to upgrade two air-delivered warheads and develop three new interoperable warheads for use on both ICBMs and SLBMs.

Third, NNSA has a troubled history of failing to control the costs of major programs, particularly construction projects. While there is some cost growth built into the high-range estimate, additional growth is probably more likely than not. Moreover, plans for several NNSA priorities, such as sustaining plutonium capabilities and reducing the number of aging facilities that require maintenance, have yet to be fully developed and thus do not have accurate cost estimates.

Finally, the long-term cost projections in the yet to be released fiscal 2018 version of the SSMP could be higher than the fiscal 2017 plan.

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What’s Different Here

There are a number of key differences between the above analysis and other independent projections of the long-term cost of nuclear forces.

In its biennial, 10-year estimate of nuclear weapons costs, CBO attributes 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-52H to the nuclear mission, 100 percent of the B-2A cost, and 25 percent of the B-21 acquisition cost. CBO also includes a higher estimate of the cost of command, control, and communications systems than the Pentagon. Furthermore, CBO includes an estimate of additional costs based on historical cost growth.

CBO is planning to release to 30-year estimate of the cost of nuclear forces, according to news reports.

In 2014 the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey published a report that projected the 30-year costs of nuclear forces between fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2043 at between $872 billion and $1.082 trillion in constant fiscal 2014 dollars (though the estimate for NNSA’s weapons program appears to be in then-year dollars). The report covers an earlier time-period than the above analysis and did not assume any real growth in the cost to sustain and operate the triad. The report also does not appear to have included any projected cost to upgrade command, control, and communications systems.

In 2015 the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) published a report that projected the 25-year costs of nuclear forces between fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2039 at $816 billion in then-year dollars. The CSBA estimate covers a shorter and earlier time-period than the above analysis. In addition, the estimate only included 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-2A bomber and 10 percent of the cost to acquire and 25 percent of the cost to operate the B-21 bomber. The estimate also attributed a much smaller percentage of the costs of command, control, and communications systems to the nuclear mission.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament policy

Posted: August 18, 2017

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