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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Issue Briefs

The UN Sanctions' Impact on Iran's Military



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 7, June 11, 2010

Note chart below on Russian and Chinese Equipment Subject to U.N. Sanctions

One of the most significant aspects of the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran has received the least attention - the ban on major weapons deliveries. Yet the weapons embargo is likely to have the most consequential impact of all on Iran's national power and prestige by promising to significantly reduce Iran's military capability in the months and years ahead.

Some initial media coverage of the P-5 agreement to sanction Iran did not even mention the resolution's embargo on the transfers of heavy weapons, their spare parts, and related training and maintenance assistance.[1] The overall verdict of pundits and press commentators on the June 9 sanctions resolution has been largely negative, with most of the public discussion focused on efforts by Russia and China to "water down" provisions favored by the United States[2] and the ultimate absence of stringent measures to target Iran's energy sector.

Yet the Russians and Chinese, along with ten other members of the UN Security Council, voted to subject Iran, for the first time, to an embargo on creating and maintaining the most import sinews of military strength. UN Security Council Resolution 1929 directs all states to "...prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to Iran...of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems... or related materiel" and "shall prevent the provision to Iran...of technical training, financial resources or services, advice, other services or assistance related to the supply, sale, transfer, provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of such arms and related materiel..."[3]

This prohibition affects not only the ballistic missiles, which are the presumed delivery vehicle for any future Iranian nuclear weapons, but also the submarines, aircraft and anti-ship missiles, which pose the most significant threats to the safe operation of shipping through the Persian Gulf. The embargo on tanks, artillery, and armored combat vehicles also affects directly the strike elements of any Iranian forces posing an invasion threat to Iran's neighbors.

History Lessons
History provides a dramatic illustration of the potential impact on Iran of a weapons embargo. During the reign of the Shah, Iran's military was largely equipped with U.S. and British weapon systems. With the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, this relationship came to an abrupt end and the Iranian military - including the second most powerful air force in the Middle East - began rapidly to atrophy. However, in those days, the Soviet Union and China were willing to step into the breach, essentially re-equipping the military forces of the Islamic Republic.[4]

After providing significant numbers of fighter aircraft, armor, artillery, and three modern diesel submarines, Russian transfers have tapered off in recent years. Russia was active through most of the past decade in selling air defense systems and in 1998 had licensed Iranian construction of 2,000 anti-tank missiles over a ten-year period. The last direct transfer of equipment from Russia to Iran was the 2006-2007 delivery of 750 SA-15 Gauntlet short-medium range surface-air missiles and 29 more advanced SA-15s (Tor-M1s). Russia's 2007 deal to supply the sophisticated and longer-range S-300 air defense system has not been carried out. Although exclusion of this system from mandatory sanctions has been described by critics of Resolution 1929 as a "loophole," that resolution also "calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and restraint over ...all other arms" as well.[5] There are strong indications that, accordingly, Moscow's freeze on the S-300 transaction will continue.[6]

China was also an important supplier of tanks and artillery to Iran during the 8-year Iraq-Iran War and, in the last two decades, has been the source of ten missile-firing fast attack boats and 565 C801/802 anti-ship cruise missiles, which the U.S. Department of Defense describes as "an important layer in Iran's defense of or denial of access to the (Persian) Gulf and Strait of Hormuz."[7] Indeed, Iran's potential to interfere with crucial oil shipments through the Persian Gulf is of more acute concern to the international community today than any threat of an Iranian invasion.

Iran needs Russian and Chinese Military Assistance
Today, Tehran remains principally dependent on Russia and China for manufacturing and maintaining the most sophisticated core of Iran's arsenal for offensive military operations. It is all the more significant then, that in the latest round of negotiations on UN Security Council sanctions, Russia and China agreed to a total cutoff of these  weapons for Iran - including spare parts and technical training.

Iran has been creative and energetic in mitigating the impact of past supply chain cut-offs on its front line weapons systems through black market acquisitions and shifting to the use of asymmetrical tactics. With its oil wealth, it can offer large incentives for countries and individuals to circumvent sanctions. Therefore, it will not only be important for states to abide by the arms embargo, but to also use the resolution's own enforcement mechanisms to inspect and seize shipments suspected to be in violation of the embargo.

UN blockage of Iran's traditional sources of weapons will be politically and economically costly for Tehran. Finding a substitute for its principal suppliers will not be easy. It will be forced to adopt compensatory measures requiring more time and more money, and probably to less effect. To be rebuffed in this way by the two countries on which Iran has relied for protection on the UN Security Council is a political as well as a military blow to the regime, raising domestic questions about the government's competence in managing foreign affairs.

Wider Impact
Two of the world's most pressing proliferation challenges, Iran and North Korea, are now subjected to nearly comprehensive arms embargoes and a variety of other restrictions in response to their behavior. These actions by the UN Security Council help to send a message to potential future proliferators that they can expect a similar response, and would need to weigh a risky nuclear weapons program with the degradation of their overall military capabilities. - GREG THIELMANN, with MATTHEW SUGRUE

1 See, for example: David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, "Major Powers Have Deal on Sanctions for Iran," New York Times, May 18, 2010.
2 See, for example: Christopher R. Wall, "Weak Tea; The U.N. sanctions against Iran have been watered down to almost nothing." June 8, 2010
3 UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (S/2010/283), paragraph 8
4 North Korea also played a role in providing ballistic missile help during the last two decades, but Iran's indigenous ballistic missile technology is now generally superior to what North Korea has to offer.
5 UNSC 1929, paragraph 8
6 See, for example: Anna Malpas, "Russia moves to scrap Iran missile sale," AFP, June 11, 2010
7 "Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran," Department of Defense, April 2010

Selected Russian and Chinese Equipment Subject to U.N. Sanctions (June 2010)[i]

Russia Russia flag




Year(s) Delivered[iii]





1992-1993; 1996



Fighter Aircraft


1990; 1991


Bomber Aircraft






2000; 2000-2001; 2002-2003


Ground Attack Aircraft



Ground Forces


Infantry Fighting Vehicle




Infantry Fighting Vehicle







D-30 122mm

Towed Gun




Armored Personnel Carrier




R-27/AA-10 Alamo

Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile



China Russia flag




Year(s) Delivered



Fast Attack Craft (Missile)





Fighter Aircraft




Fighter Aircraft



F-7M Airguard

Fighter Aircraft


1993; 1996

Ground Forces

Type-59-1 130mm

Towed Gun


1982-1984; 1985-1986; 1987; 1992

Type-63 107mm

Multiple Rocket Launcher


1981-1987; 1986-1990





D-74 122mm

Towed Gun




Coastal Defense System







WA-021/Type-88 155mm

Towed Gun




Surface-to-Surface Missile Launcher




Infantry Fighting Vehicle





Anti-ship Missile


1987; 1995-1998; 2006-2009


Anti-ship Missile


1986-1987; 1988-1994


Surface-to-Surface Missile




Anti-ship Missile




Anti-ship Missile




Anti-ship Missile



i System designations, types, amounts and years derived from SIPRI arms transfer database, http://armstrade.sipri.org/armstrade/page/trade_register.php.

ii Amount represents the total number of systems delivered from 1980-2009. Figures preceded by a “~” are estimates.

iii Years separated by semi-colon indicate separate transaction periods.


Volume 1, Number 7

One of the most significant aspects of the latest round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran has received the least attention - the ban on major weapons deliveries. Yet the weapons embargo is likely to have the most consequential impact of all on Iran's national power and prestige by promising to significantly reduce Iran's military capability in the months and years ahead.

Country Resources:

Momentum Building for U.S. Accession to the Mine Ban Treaty



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 6, May 25, 2010

Last week, 68 Senators delivered a letter applauding President Obama for his decision to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. landmine policy. That review, drawing in members of the Defense and State Departments and the National Security Council, is ongoing and will provide the president with advice on whether the United States should change policy and accede to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty.

In their statement, the bipartisan Congressional group said, "We are confident that through a thorough, deliberative review the Administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible."

With the support of Senators, members of the House of Representatives who also wrote a letter to the President last week, as well as national and international nongovernmental groups, momentum is building for the United States to accede to treaty, which bars the use of victim-activated antipersonnel landmines and sets timelines for clearance of mine-impacted areas and the destruction of existing stockpiles.

The substantial bipartisan support for a change in U.S. policy is due to the substantial security, diplomatic, and humanitarian benefits of U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The United States No Longer Uses-Nor Does It Need-Antipersonnel Landmines
The United States is not known to have used antipersonnel landmines since 1991, has not exported them since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997. Globally, the use, transfer, and production of these weapons have essentially ceased. Despite significant military engagements in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has found other solutions than to use the weapons banned by the treaty. Mines currently in place in South Korea are not under U.S. ownership and pose no barrier to U.S. accession to the treaty. This year, the United States will also officially reject any future use of persistent mines, bringing it into even closer alignment with the treaty.

In the 1990s and again in 2001, a significant number of retired senior military leaders recommended that the United States join the treaty, including Gen. David Charles Jones (former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), Gen. John R. Galvin (former Supreme Allied Commander Europe), and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (former Commander, Operation Desert Storm).

Although he did not explicitly call for the United States to join the treaty, General James Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly stated May 13 in response to a question about landmines that there are weapons that "may be effective as lethal agents but they...have a social and cultural bias against them for good reasons.... The reality is...it is about the politics, it is about the people.... [I]f you ignore that, then your ability to actually wage and succeed in conflict is lost because you're trying to influence somebody's mind at the end of the day."

The desire to retain so-called "smart mines" remains the key difference between the treaty and U.S. policy, but because self-destructing mines are still indiscriminate and do not always self-destruct as expected, their use has been rejected by treaty members. Command detonated landmines, those with a "man in the loop," are permitted, however, and exist in the U.S. stockpile.

U.S. Accession Would Strengthen the Taboo Against Landmines and Enhance U.S. Global Leadership
Today, 156 countries are states-parties to Mine Ban Treaty, including all NATO members except the United States (Poland has already signed and intends to ratify the treaty in 2012) and all Western hemisphere countries with the exception of Cuba and the United States. Last year, for the first time, the United States officially attended a meeting of treaty states-parties and was widely welcomed.

A U.S. decision to accede to the treaty will immediately put pressure on hold-out states to join the accord. In many cases, countries use U.S. inaction as an excuse for delay.

Already, many states not party to the treaty indicate support for it through an annual UN General Assembly resolution on landmines. In 2009, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Oman, Singapore, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, and the United Arab Emirates voted for the UN resolution, which invites all states to join the accord.

The bottom line is that the United States does not use or need the antipersonnel landmines prohibited by the treaty. Any perceived military utility is far outweighed by the substantial humanitarian and diplomatic benefits of U.S. accession.

A Majority of the Senate Supports a Shift in U.S. Policy on the Mine Ban Treaty
As a senator, Barack Obama recognized the need to revise the outdated U.S. policy on landmines. In September 2008, he told Arms Control Today that: "In general, I strongly support international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons.... I will regain our leadership on these issues by joining our allies in negotiations and honoring U.S. commitments to seek alternatives to landmines."

As the letter from more than two-thirds of the U.S. Senate makes clear, there are viable alternatives to the use of anti-personnel mines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty and there is strong support for review and change in U.S. landmine policy. At the conclusion of his review of the Mine Ban Treaty, the President should:

  • announce that the United States has determined that it no longer needs to and will no longer use the weapons banned by the treaty;
  • indicate his intention to transmit the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent;
  • immediately begin planning for destruction of the U.S. landmine stockpile and identify (and, if necessary, make) any changes to U.S. military doctrine that are necessary to bring U.S. war planning into alignment with the treaty; and
  • reaffirm the United States' intention to remain a global leader in mine clearance and victim assistance.

By acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty, the United States would advance its security interests, improve the conditions on the ground for civilians and U.S. soldiers in conflict zones, and reestablish U.S. global leadership. - JEFF ABRAMSON



Volume 1, Number 6

Last week, 68 Senators delivered a letter applauding President Obama for his decision to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. landmine policy. That review, drawing in members of the Defense and State Departments and the National Security Council, is ongoing and will provide the president with advice on whether the United States should change policy and accede to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty.

Country Resources:

Iran-Turkey-Brazil Fuel Deal Has Potential if Iran Provides Follow-Up Steps



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 5, May 17, 2010

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.

The 1,200 kilograms of LEU is enough for one bomb's-worth of highly-enriched uranium if that material were further processed. Removing this LEU from Iran would be beneficial for delaying the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, but it would only be a short-term measure which does not address long-lasting concerns regarding Iran's history of secret nuclear activities and its lack of transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The primary purpose of a similar, IAEA-backed, arrangement tentatively agreed to last October was to build trust between the P5+1 group (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran, providing a stepping stone to broader negotiations on a long-term resolution to Iran's nuclear program. The 3-country joint declaration cites Iran's decision to continue to negotiate with the six powers, and the real value of this fuel exchange arrangement will be measured by whether or not Iran is willing to do so constructively.  

Other Questions Remain
A number of details must also be addressed for this agreement to have a nonproliferation value, including clarifying the circumstances in which Iran could require the return of the LEU back to its territory.  In particular, the joint statement does not address Iran's ongoing work to produce 20 percent-enriched uranium. Tehran claimed earlier this year that it would further enrich some of its LEU stockpile to this higher level to provide fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. However, since the fuel swap arrangement would result in Iran receiving the necessary reactor fuel from abroad, there would no longer be any reason for it to continue this additional enrichment or keep the 20 percent uranium it has already produced, which is closer to weapons-grade levels. The IAEA and the countries involved in the October negotiations (France, Russia, and the United States) should insist that Iran cease this work as part of any fuel deal.

The Fuel Swap and UN Sanctions
The preliminary fuel exchange agreement will undoubtedly impact the ongoing UN Security Council discussions on a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. Council members, including Brazil and Turkey, should keep in mind that the sanctions discussions were not taking place because Iran did not agree to a fuel exchange deal last October. Rather, sanctions were being considered to respond to Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA on a number of levels, including the construction of the Qom enrichment facility in secret, and for failing to comply with UN demands to suspend enrichment.

Since Iran has not resolved those concerns, and since today's joint declaration  makes no mention of Iran's willingness to improve its transparency and cooperation with the IAEA, there is no reason to abandon the UN sanctions discussion. It is worrisome, in fact, that the joint statement appears to re-interpret a critical linkage in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) between a non-nuclear-weapon state's right to peaceful nuclear energy with its obligation to adhere to IAEA safeguards by claiming that Iran has such a right merely "without discrimination." Should Iran work to resolve some of these concerns with the IAEA, in compliance with its NPT obligations, then there would be no need to pursue additional sanctions.

Moreover, the fact that Iran abandoned its own long-held stipulations regarding the fuel swap at the time that a P5 consensus on additional sanctions had been emerging demonstrates that such international pressure and the threat of sanctions itself can have an impact. Russia and China in particular should keep this in mind as it suggests that their willingness to consider placing such pressure on Iran can help to temper Tehran's hard-line stance.  

The United States and its partners should welcome any prospects for postponing the time when Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons, and that have the potential to lead to constructive negotiations to resolve the nuclear issue. Whether the latest fuel swap agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey accomplishes those goals, however, depends on the appropriate follow-up by Iran. - PETER CRAIL


Volume 1, Number 5

Iran's agreement to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of an nuclear fuel exchange agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey is a potentially positive development, but one of limited value without the appropriate follow-through.

Country Resources:

Senior Defense Officials Support New START



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 4, May 13, 2010

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) signed by the United States and Russia on April 8, 2010 has garnered substantial support from current and former senior national security officials and the U.S. military. As the Senate prepares for formal hearings on New START to begin next week, the following are some of the most prominent recent statements of support.

Robert M. Gates, Secretary of Defense, from The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2010:

"The U.S. is far better off with this treaty than without it."

"[T]he treaty is buttressed by credible modernization plans and long-term funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and the infrastructure that supports it."

"The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership-to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, the organization responsible for our strategic nuclear deterrent. For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result-on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people."

Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee, April 29, 2010:

"I support the New START treaty and believe that it will enhance United States national security."

James R. Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense, Nixon and Ford administrations; former Director of Central Intelligence, Nixon administration; from his April 29, 2010, Senate testimony:

"I think that it is obligatory for the United States to ratify [New START]. And any treaty is going to have limitations, questionable areas. There are some in this treaty. We need to watch them for the future, but that does not mean that the treaty should be rejected."

"[F]or the United States at this juncture to fail to ratify the treaty in the due course of the Senate's deliberation would have a detrimental effect on our ability to influence others with regard to particularly the nonproliferation issue."

"[I]t is an overstatement to say that nothing in the treaty inhibits missile defense. I don't think that it inhibits missile defense in a serious way, however."

"I think all in all that the verification possibilities under this treaty, though much more limited than START I, are still adequate."

Linton F. Brooks, former START I negotiator, former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Bush administration; from his April 7, 2010, remarks:

"[Y]ou'll hear concerns by some that the treaty may or may not be a good idea but you can't possibly accept it because the U.S. nuclear weapons program is in disarray. And I think the administration's answer to that is the fiscal 2011 budget with a very substantial increase for my former home, the National Nuclear Security Administration. And I will say flatly, I ran that place for five years and I'd have killed for that budget and that much high-level attention in the administration and I just - nobody in government ever said 'my program has too much money' and I doubt that my successor is busy saying that. But he is very happy with his program and I think it does put us on a very firm, firm basis."

"The Russians may issue a statement saying that they have the right to withdraw if we deploy defenses to threaten the strategic balance. They issued such a statement in 1991; we issued a statement right back and both of them went into the dustbin of history. I think it would be - it is for the Senate to decide whether this treaty deserves ratification. I think it does. It would be tragic if we allowed Russian statements made for domestic purposes to derail it." - TOM COLLINA and VOLHA CHARNYSH


Senate Foreign Relations Committee, The Historical and Modern Context for U.S.-Russian Arms Control, April 29, 2010. http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/20100429/

ACA Annual Meeting: Next Steps on Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction, April 26, 2010.  http://www.armscontrol.org/events/AnnualMtg2010transcript

ACA Press Briefing: Understanding New START and the Nuclear Posture Review, April 7, 2010.  http://www.armscontrol.org/events/STARTandNPRBriefing


Volume 1, Number 4

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) signed by the United States and Russia on April 8, 2010 has garnered substantial support from current and former senior national security officials and the U.S. military. As the Senate prepares for formal hearings on New START to begin next week, the following are some of the most prominent recent statements of support.

Country Resources:

Nuclear Weapons "Modernization" Myths and Realities



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 3, May 12, 2010

Eighteen years after the last U.S. nuclear test, it is abundantly clear that maintaining the reliability of existing U.S. nuclear warheads does not depend on a program of nuclear test explosions. Over the past decade the U.S. Life Extension Program has successfully refurbished major warhead types, and with sufficient resources can continue to do so indefinitely.

Moreover, the delivery systems for U.S. nuclear forces are also reliable, effective, and modern. The United States is already engaged in the process of upgrading all of its strategic nuclear delivery systems, the warheads they carry, and the production complex for the next 20-30 years or more.

With the fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request, the Obama administration is clearly committed to making sure that a more than adequate budget is available to support the task.

In February, the administration proposed a 10 percent increase (to $7 billion) in FY 2011 funding for weapons activities in the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex. The administration plans to spend an additional $5 billion on NNSA nuclear weapons activities over the next five years.

Linton Brooks, who ran NNSA during the Bush administration, said April 7 that he "would have killed" for that budget when he was there and "I think it does put us on a very firm, firm basis."

Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 29 that "What we have is a step forward, a major step forward ... with regard to upgrading the nuclear weapons stockpile."

Outdated Thinking Persists

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, a few Senators cling to the outdated notion that the United States is not "modernizing" its nuclear weapons production infrastructure and that new-design warheads should be pursued to maintain the reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told The PBS NewsHour April 9, "I think the Senate will find it very hard to support [New START] if there is not a robust modernization plan."

In reality, there is a robust modernization plan already underway. The United States is in the process of upgrading all of its strategic delivery systems, the warheads they carry, and the production complex for the next 20-30 years or more, including:

  • Enhancing Nuclear Warheads: The U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads and bombs is certified annually to be safe and reliable and is continually enhanced through NNSA's Life Extension Program (LEP). For example, the W87 Minuteman warhead has already been refurbished to last past 2025, and NNSA is requesting $63 million for additional work on this warhead in FY 2011. The B61-7 and B61-11 bombs for the B-2 bomber were recently refurbished for an additional 20 years. In 2009, NNSA began delivery of refurbished W76 Trident warheads with service lives of an additional 30 years. NNSA is requesting almost $1 billion over the next five years for an LEP study on the W78 Minuteman warhead. This ongoing process can continue indefinitely.
  • Modernizing the Production Complex: The U.S. nuclear weapons production complex is being modernized, with new facilities planned. The FY 2011 NNSA budget request includes large increases for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., which would see its budget jump from $97 million in FY 2010 to $225 million in FY 2011. The Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn., would increase from $94 million to $115 million.
  • Maintaining Strategic Delivery Systems: U.S. nuclear delivery systems are undergoing continual overhaul, including complete rebuilds of the Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and Trident II Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command, recently said the Minuteman can serve until 2030, and the Trident is expected to last until 2042. The service lives of Trident Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are being extended, and a brand new submarine, the SSBN-X, is under development at an expected cost of $85 billion. The B-2 "stealth" bomber is being upgraded at a cost of $1 billion over the next 5 years. The Air Force is also planning to replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM).

By any common-sense definition, these projects add up to a robust modernization plan.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in his preface to the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), "These investments, and the NPR's strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

In a joint statement on the NPR from the directors of the three nuclear weapons laboratories issued April 9, Sandia's Tom Hunter, Los Alamos' Michael Anastasio, and Lawrence Livermore's George Miller said:

"We are reassured that a key component of the NPR is the recognition of the importance of supporting 'a modern physical infrastructure--comprised of the national security laboratories and a complex of supporting facilities--and a highly capable workforce with the specialized skills needed to sustain the nuclear deterrent.'"

New-Design Warheads Not Necessary, But Are Still An Option

The NPR also establishes that "The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities."

This is a prudent and technically sound approach. Given the success of the ongoing U.S. warhead Life Extension Program, there is currently no technical need for new-design warheads and renewed nuclear testing. A September 2009 report by the JASON independent technical review panel's report concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

To minimize the risks posed by changes to warhead components--particularly the nuclear components in warhead primaries and secondaries--the JASON group has recommended against unnecessary replacement of components not validated by nuclear test experience.

The directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons labs have strongly endorsed the NPR's approach. In their April 9 joint statement, they said:

"We believe that the approach outlined in the NPR, which excludes further nuclear testing and includes the consideration of the full range of life extension options (refurbishment of existing warheads, reuse of nuclear components from different warheads and replacement of nuclear components based on previously tested designs), provides the necessary technical flexibility to manage the nuclear stockpile into the future with an acceptable level of risk."

Alarmism Unwarranted

Nonetheless, Senator Kyl--who has been an ardent opponent of the nuclear test ban treaty and who recently said in an April 9 profile in The Wall Street Journal that "I am not a scientist and I don't pretend to know all the science" --disagrees.

On April 20, Kyl told The National Journal: "What I find truly alarming about the Nuclear Posture Review is that it claims to support a 'safe, secure, and effective' nuclear arsenal, but at the same time it imposes unnecessarily strict tests in terms of extending the life of warheads that may need components replaced."

Such alarmism is unwarranted and unsubstantiated by the facts. The technical reality is that the United States does not need to resume nuclear test explosions, nor does it need to build new "replacement" warhead designs to maintain the reliability and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

If at some point in the future it becomes evident that the replacement of certain nuclear components is the most cost-effective way to improve warhead reliability, safety, or surety, that option remains available.

NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino made clear in an April 14 House Armed Services hearing that the NPR will allow the national nuclear weapons laboratories to "study all options for ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear warheads, and we'll do so on a case-by-case basis."

Bottom Line

Lingering concerns that the United States does not have a plan to maintain and modernize its nuclear forces are based on myth, not reality. It would be tragic if Senators allowed such myths to prevent them from supporting New START and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would reduce the very real nuclear weapons threats posed by other nations. - TOM Z. COLLINA and DARYL G. KIMBALL

For the full ACA analysis on U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs, please go to http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/USNuclearModernization



Volume 1, Number 3

Eighteen years after the last U.S. nuclear test, it is abundantly clear that maintaining the reliability of existing U.S. nuclear warheads does not depend on a program of nuclear test explosions. Over the past decade the U.S. Life Extension Program has successfully refurbished major warhead types, and with sufficient resources can continue to do so indefinitely.

Evaluating the Latest Iranian ICBM Threat Assessment



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 2, May 6, 2010

In search of new insights into the nuclear dangers posed by Iran, the press and pundits have latched onto a single sentence found in the Pentagon's April 2010 congressionally-mandated assessment of Iran's military power: "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

Unfortunately, the 2015 date has been repeatedly quoted without qualifying language or context, leading many casual commentators to suggest erroneously that the report warns of the emergence of an Iranian ICBM sooner than previously projected. For example, The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes in a Fox News Special Report on April 22 stated: "And now we have this report that says they were wrong about how soon...an Iranian missile could reach the United States."

A careful examination reveals that the Pentagon's latest report does not contradict recent "worst case" assessments of Iran's ICBM potential. In fact, the same exact language was used in the April 2009 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" Report of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

Nor is the Pentagon's new assessment inconsistent with President Obama's emphasis last fall on responding to the more immediate threat emerging from Iranian medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) when he announced his plan to re-focus U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe. The latest annual "Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions" (covering calendar year 2009) by the intelligence community judged that: "producing more capable MRBMs remains one of [Iran's] highest priorities."

Looking back over the previous decade, the only significant change made in estimating Iran's ICBM timeline has been to lengthen it. As Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Lt. Gen. James Cartwright acknowledged in August 2009, the U.S. government had previously assumed the Iranian ICBM threat "would come much faster than it did."

An Unreliable Clock

Fixating on the 2015 date in the Pentagon report is even more inappropriate because of the flawed linguistic formulation surrounding it. First, to declare that Iran could probably develop and test an ICBM by 2015 "with sufficient foreign assistance" is to rob the date of any significance. If the foreign assistance were sufficient, then Iran could certainly develop and test an ICBM by 2015, but such a self-evident construct does not convey useful insight. Although the flight test milestone is said to be dependent on foreign assistance, little information is provided to permit evaluation of this dependency.

The Pentagon report does not elaborate on what kind of assistance has been received, whether and by whom it is still being provided, and what the prospects are for Iran obtaining "sufficient assistance" in the future. The intelligence community's latest WMD Technology Acquisition Report specifically mentions that Iran had received assistance from "entities in China and North Korea, as well as assistance from Russian entities at least in the past." However, the Pentagon report mentions only that "Iran has received assistance from North Korea and China." The absence of a reference to Russia is potentially significant, considering earlier intelligence assessments that an Iranian ICBM was likely to be based on Russian help.

A second logical flaw is the report's use of "could probably." This word pair obscures the issue of probability. Does it mean there is a ten percent chance or a 60 percent chance of a test in 2015? In traditional intelligence estimate usage, "could" refers to lower probability events, which cannot be ruled out, while "likely to" or "will probably" refers to the analysts' best guess of what will happen.

A third problem derives from the lack of a definition for the phrase, "develop and test." How successful does the test have to be to signify that the milestone has been reached? Is it more than an attempt resulting in the missile exploding on the launch pad? Is it less than a flight test delivering a warhead to a distant target area?

Iran's current ability to deliver conventional warheads on short- and medium-range missiles is a known and very concrete threat to the region. The ability of Iran to deliver nuclear weapons at intercontinental distances in 2015 is a "worst case" theoretical construct. Based on the meager and imprecise level of information provided by the Pentagon report, we have little reason to regard the latter as a likely contingency.

Déjà vu?

This is not the first time important qualifiers in intelligence assessments have been omitted from public commentary. One critical component of the leading "Key Judgments" in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD was: "if left unchecked, [Iraq] probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade."

Hardly anyone noted in absorbing and later recalling this warning that Iraq was already under serious "checks" in the form of sanctions at the time of the estimate's release and it fell under even more severe constraints two months later with passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and the return to Iraq of international weapons inspectors. We now know that Iraq's nuclear reconstitution capabilities were actually deteriorating at the time of the NIE's publication, and in retrospect can even see in the language of the flawed estimate reasons to doubt its conclusion that Iraq's nuclear clock was again ticking. Unfortunately, qualifying language and caveats were overlooked by press and policy-makers in the lead-up to war.

What Motivates Iran's Regime?

In assessing the Iranian threat and devising policy responses, arriving at a speculative date for an ICBM flight test is much less relevant than digesting the first two substantive sentences in the Pentagon's latest report: "Since the revolution, Iran's first priority has consistently remained the survival of the regime. Iran also seeks to become the strongest and most influential country in the Middle East and to influence world affairs."

The press and pundits would be well advised to ponder the implications of these far more newsworthy assessments rather than to chase the mirage of a shift in intelligence assessments of Iran's future ICBM capability or to panic about the latest nuclear achievement announced by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If regime survival is its first priority, Tehran is not going to launch a first-strike attack on Israel or on U.S. forces in the region. If gaining strength and influence is an important objective, Tehran will not be indifferent to the threat of diplomatic isolation and will not forever rule out constructive arrangements with other countries to enhance its security.

Bottom Line

If the United States wishes to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it should avoid brandishing the rhetoric of regime change and preventive attack. Otherwise, the Iranian government may become convinced that the only way to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein's Iraq is to emulate Kim Jong Il's North Korea in withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and obtaining a rudimentary nuclear deterrent.

Instead, the United States should soberly assess Iran's nuclear and missile potential, realizing that an Iranian nuclear threat is not imminent and that Tehran is years away from ever being able to credibly threaten the United States with long-range, nuclear-armed missiles. Under these circumstances, Washington should vigorously but patiently pursue collective measures. These would include both further impediments to foreign assistance with Iran's missile and nuclear programs and also inducements for Iran to comply fully with its NPT obligations, behave responsibly in the region, and ease repression against the Iranian people. - GREG THIELMANN


Volume 1, Number 2

A careful examination reveals that the Pentagon's latest report on Iran's military power does not contradict recent "worst case" assessments of Iran's ICBM potential. In fact, the same exact language was used in the April 2009 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" Report of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

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NATO Clings to Its Cold War Nuclear Relics



Issue Brief - Volume 1, Number 1, April 27, 2010

At a dinner with fellow NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, April 22, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that as NATO debates the role of nuclear weapons and arms control in the context of its new Strategic Concept, the discussion should be guided by five principles:

  • As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance;
  • As a nuclear alliance, widely sharing nuclear risks and responsibilities is fundamental;
  • The broader goal of the alliance must be to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and recognize that NATO has already dramatically reduced its reliance on nuclear weapons;
  • The alliance must broaden deterrence against 21st century threats, including missile defense, strengthen Article V training and exercises, and draft additional contingency plans to counter new threats.
  • In any future reductions "our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members, and include non-strategic nuclear weapons in the next round of U.S.-Russian arms control discussions alongside strategic and non-deployed nuclear weapons."

Secretary Clinton also argued that the threat from ballistic missiles is increasing and said that the United States will seek communique language in Lisbon establishing missile defense as a NATO mission.


The United States response to the effort by several NATO Foreign Ministers to engage the alliance is this long-overdue discussion on NATO nuclear-sharing is disappointing.

While the Obama administration deserves credit for making it clear that the next round of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms talks should address tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons, the United States should not make the mistake of linking the withdrawal of U.S. forward deployed nuclear weapons to action by Russia on its far larger tactical nuclear arsenal.

Clinton's principles fail to recognize the fact that the remaining 200 U.S. tactical bombs stored on five NATO bases in Europe have no military role in the defense of the alliance and they are an obstacle, not a bargaining chip, toward the goal of consolidating and eliminating Russian and U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. Linking NATO action on its residual tactical nuclear stockpile to Russian action on tactical nuclear weapons is a recipe for delay and inaction.

As Vice-Chairman of the JCS Gen. Cartwright said at an April 8 briefing in Washington, NATO nukes don't serve a military function not already addressed by other U.S. military assets. See: http://www.cfr.org/publication/21861/nuclear_posture_review.html

The immediate withdrawal of NATO's nuclear relics would advance President Obama's goal of reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons and would bolster global nonproliferation efforts.

NATO must also recognize that in the 21st century, these smaller and more potable nuclear bombs are a security liability, not an asset. They are a target for terrorists, they blur the line between conventional and nuclear conflict, and are a drag on global nonproliferation efforts.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is not providing leadership or helping to advance the discussion, but is simply repeating stale talking points from the NATO of yesteryear. Rasmussen told journalists Monday that: "My personal view is: the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible nuclear deterrent. In a world where nuclear weapons actually exist, NATO needs a credible, effective and safely managed deterrent."

Rasmussen fails to understand that tactical nuclear weapons are not a "credible" weapon. Their destructive effects are too massive to justify their use against nonnuclear threats and other NATO conventional and U.S. nuclear forces can deal with all else.

NATO must recognize that the Cold War conflict that gave rise to thousands of tactical bombs is over. NATO is a strong and dynamic alliance that simply does not need to cling to obsolete U.S. weapons of mass destruction to sustain transatlantic unity.  - DARYL G. KIMBALL


Volume 1, Number 1

Hillary Clinton recently met with the foreign ministers of various NATO allies in Tallinn, Estonia. They discussed the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO no longer needs these weapons, and the U.S. decision to link their removal to Russian actions is disappointing.

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