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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

Proposed Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia Should be Withdrawn; Future Transfers Put on Hold

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If the U.S. is sincere in its desire to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, it can and should existing U.S. law and its signatory status on the Arms Trade Treaty to encourage better behavior.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, September 6, 2016

During the middle of the summer legislative recess, the Barack Obama administration notified the U.S. Congress Aug. 8 of the proposed sale of $1.15 billion in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia, starting a 30-day clock for House and Senate review.

Within a week, news broke of yet more civilian deaths at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen, including a strike on a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF); that strike subsequently led the organization to withdraw its staff from multiple facilities in the country. Last week, airstrikes reportedly targeted an imam’s family, killing civilians, including children.

U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams with TUSK equipment (Photo: Wikipedia)In response to the hospital bombing, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said “U.S. officials have regularly engaged with Saudi officials… as well as other coalition members on the importance of mitigating harm. As part of this, we’ve also encouraged them to do their utmost to avoid harm to entities protected by international law such as this hospital.”

If the administration is sincere in its desire to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and leverage such sales in ways that encourage it to change its behavior, President Barack Obama should withdraw this sale and suspend delivery on those agreed earlier, rather than continue to reward Riyadh for its actions. Such steps would reinforce the importance of human rights and international law in U.S. arms transfer decisions.

Congress on Alert

Last week, a bipartisan group of 64 House representatives asked the president to withdraw the Saudi arms sale notification, arguing in part that they had not been given sufficient time to exercise their review responsibilities. That is a wise request, as Congress, which resumes work on Sept. 6, will have a small window of time to consider and vote on legislation in both the House and Senate to block the sale before the 30-day period expires.

After the initial review period, the president can proceed with the arms transfers. Nonetheless, Congress can still act up until delivery, which often occurs years later. If the president fails to withdraw the sale, then Congress should pursue a blocking path.

The Arms Export Control Act was amended in 2014 to allow Congress to request notification at least 30 days before delivery. Such pre-delivery notifications, however, require a joint request of the chair and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) or House Foreign Affairs Committee. SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) used these provisions for the first time late last year over a separate arms transfer to Saudi Arabia. Once again, they should exercise their authority to receive pre-delivery notification for this deal.

A Better Path

The problems with the proposed arms sales, however, go far beyond the limited time for congressional review. Arming Saudi Arabia only encourages irresponsible behavior and the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons, despite U.S. commitments to take into account such abuse in arms transfers.

The United States has long been a top weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia. The country is the leading developing world arms purchaser (according to a recent Congressional Research Service report), and has increased its arms imports by 275 percent from 2011 to 2015 relative to the previous five years (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute-SIPRI). In addition to the August notification, the administration has recently proposed providing support services, Phalanx weapons systems (February 2016), and more than $1 billion in guided bombs and air-to-ground munitions (November 2015).

The Saudi-led coalition’s actions (as well as those of the Houthi) have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and contributed to massive suffering and displacement. Last week, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, called for independent investigations into abuses in Yemen. In March, he said: “It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones—which are protected under international law—is at best woefully inadequate … . And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the [Saudi-led] Coalition."

Internationally, Saudi actions have been widely condemned and are leading to growing censure of arms sales to Riyadh.

On Feb. 25, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution finding that European supplies of weapons to Saudi Arabia violate EU arms transfer rules and seeking an embargo on such transfers. Most European countries have now taken steps to tighten arms transfers and licenses to Saudi Arabia, according to a report issued last month by the ATT Monitor.

In revising U.S. conventional arms transfer policy in January 2014, the president included the goal “Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.”

The United States is also a signatory to the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which requires consideration of whether transferred arms would be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law. Although treaty members last month were unprepared to tackle transfers to Saudi Arabia, the United States should set a better example.

Withdrawing the recently proposed sale to Saudi Arabia and holding delivery on those in the works is an opportunity to signal to Riyadh that it must act responsibly and ensure that future U.S. arms transfers are not used to target civilians and violate human rights.

—JEFF ABRAMSON, non-resident senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, and program manager of Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition 

Posted: September 3, 2016

Time to Ban Cluster Munitions Transfers, Rethink Approach to Treaty

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How should the United States exercise responsibility in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and other states that fail to adequately guard against civilian casualties in conflict?

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Volume 8, Issue 3, July 13, 2016

The raging civil war in Syria, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the ongoing fighting in Yemen have led to massive civilian casualties. The belligerents target civilian population centers and use certain types of weapons, including cluster munitions, that indiscriminately harm civilians. The situation has led many responsible policy makers to call for adjustments in U.S. policy that would reduce access to these weapons—which the United States has not used this decade—and to hold those who would use them accountable.

A man passes by the remains of an Uragan rocket lying in front of a burning house in Donetsk, Ukraine, on October 5. Uragan rockets can be used to deliver cluster munitions. (John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images)In June, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the fiscal year 2017 defense appropriations act that would have barred the use of funds to authorize or transfer cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. The congressional action came after Foreign Policy reported just before the Memorial Day holiday that the Obama administration had suspended such transfers, following evidence of civilian casualties from cluster munitions attacks in Yemen. These actions again drew cluster munitions into the U.S. public spotlight, highlighting both the stigma on these weapons and controversy over U.S. military support for Riyadh’s ongoing war in Yemen.

As the end of the Obama administration approaches, it is time for the United States to put in place a policy that would permanently cease transfers of cluster munitions, move fully toward ratifying the international treaty banning these weapons, and exercise greater responsibility for arms deals with Saudi Arabia and other states that fail to adequately guard against civilian casualties in conflict.

Weapons No Longer Used by the United States

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse explosive submunitions over wide areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate as designed, leaving explosive remnants that later injure or kill civilians. In the 20th century, the United States was a leading user, manufacturer, and provider of the weapons, directly using cluster munitions in at least a dozen countries and supplying them to some 30 more. In Laos alone Washington still spends millions of dollars a year—with much more needed—to assist in the cleanup of cluster munitions it dropped more than 40 years ago.

Despite official policy that cluster munitions have military utility, the reality is that Washington is no longer using the weapons. The United States last used them in significant numbers in Afghanistan (2001-2002) and Iraq (2003) and evidence shows that Washington employed as many as five Tomahawk cruise missiles armed with cluster munitions during a December 2009 strike in Yemen. Perhaps due to stigma or the use of other weapons (such as armed drones) no evidence exists of U.S. use of cluster munitions in this decade.

According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, the United States last budgeted funds for U.S. production of new cluster munitions in 2007, but has since sold them to India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates. 

U.S. Cluster Munitions Policy Essentially Unchanged Under Obama

In a questionnaire for Arms Control Today in 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama recognized U.S. “forces have been moving away from using cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines ourselves,” and said “these trends can be accelerated.” 

The Obama administration made significant progress on landmines in 2014 by setting U.S. policy to eventually accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and prohibiting U.S. antipersonnel landmines except on the Korean Peninsula. The Korea exception must be overcome, however, before the United States can fully comply with the ban on antipersonnel mines.

The administration has not however changed its general approach on cluster munitions. The United States continues to follow a 2008 policy that bars the transfer of cluster munitions that fail to operate as intended more than 1 percent of the time, resulting in unexploded ordnance. Until 2018 the policy only allows U.S. use of weapons not meeting that criteria if approved by a combatant commander. After 2018, the United States will no longer use, manufacture, or transfer cluster munitions that fail to meet the 1 percent or less unexploded ordnance standard.

The stigma against cluster munitions has grown considerably since the 2008 policy was announced by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. In recent years, senior U.S. officials have criticized others for using cluster munitions in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Washington has voted in favor of UN General Assembly resolutions expressing outrage at the continued use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2015. It has also supported UN Security Council resolutions and called on the OSCE to investigate and report cluster munitions use allegations. 

Today, the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the weapons, has 100 states-parties and an additional 19 signatories. Twenty-one of NATO’s 28 members are states-parties to the treaty, including Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. So too are traditional U.S. military allies such as Australia and Japan. U.S.-led efforts to negotiate a new protocol on cluster munitions at the Convention on Conventional Weapons failed in 2011. This leaves the 2008 ban treaty as the sole international instrument dedicated to addressing the suffering caused by cluster munitions.

Yet Washington stubbornly continues to ignore the treaty. It abstained on a nonbinding UN General Assembly resolution on the convention in December. Unlike its allies and the majority of the world’s nations, it does not participate in any meetings associated with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Recent Use by Saudi-led Coalition Highlights Need for New Thinking

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of countries began an air campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, seeking to return former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power in Sanaa. Almost immediately after the coalition began its airstrikes, reports emerged about the use of American-made cluster munitions, including in civilian areas in contravention of U.S. imposed end-use conditions. Many of the cluster munitions used in Yemen were supplied in the 20th century. 

However, the more modern CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by Textron, the only cluster munitions that meet U.S. export criteria, where also discovered and reported by Human Rights Watch field researchers. They have documented multiple examples of submunitions or “skeet” from a BLU-108 canister failing to disperse or detonate. The failure of these last cluster munitions and their misuse should lead policymakers to permanently end U.S. transfers of cluster munitions. 

More broadly, the Saudi-led coalition’s actions and as well as those of the Houthi have resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and contributed to massive suffering and displacement. Saudi actions, including use of cluster munitions, have been widely condemned and are leading to growing censure of arms sales to Riyadh. On Feb. 25, the European Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution finding that European supplies of weapons to Saudi Arabia violate EU arms transfer rules and seeking an embargo on such transfers due to Saudi behavior in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 

On March 18, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, more widely addressed the conflict and said: “It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones—which are protected under international law—is at best woefully inadequate…. And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the [Saudi-led] Coalition.” Civil rights groups in late June called for Saudi Arabia to be removed from the UN Human Rights Council.

Deservedly, Washington’s arms sales to Riyadh are drawing more scrutiny. The United States has long been a top weapons supplier to Saudi Arabia, a country that is the leading developing world arms purchaser (according to a recent Congressional Research Service report), and one which increased its arms imports by 275 percent during 2011-2015 as compared to the previous five years (according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute-SIPRI). 

In April, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed legislation that would require that U.S. sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia be subject to a certification process guaranteeing that the Saudis are targeting terrorists and not civilians in Yemen. 

In their review of a November 2015 notification of a potential $1.3 billion sale of advanced air-to-ground weapons to Riyadh, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) invoked a new authority that requires the State Department to notify Congress at least 30 days prior to the delivery of an arms shipment. Such pre-delivery notifications, which were written into the Arms Export Control Act in December 2014 with the Middle East in mind, have not been invoked previously. 

Peace activists demonstrated in front of Textron’s world headquarters in April for its role in supplying cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. (Photo: RiFuture.org/@SteveAhlquist)In March 2015, the U.S. wing of the Cluster Munition Coalition requested that President Obama review the 2008 policy, including the exception allowing for cluster munitions that may result in less than one percent unexploded ordnance, and commit the United States to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

More recently, attention has been focused on the manufacturer itself, Textron, via public protests outside its facilities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island denouncing its production of cluster munitions after reports of civilian harm from the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s use of these weapons. American banks and financial institutions have also been listed in the “Hall of Shame” by the global Stop Explosive Investments campaign and its June 2016 report detailing institutions that fund companies producing cluster munitions.

Given how out of step U.S. policy on cluster munitions now stands, with the U.S. allowing export of weapons it no longer uses and which its allies condemn, now is the time to end transfers and more seriously consider accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. At the same time, the president and Congress can take steps to be much more circumspect in their arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, refusing to allow new supplies until the country shows more responsibility in its military activities to protect civilians and live up to international humanitarian and human rights law.

—JEFF ABRAMSON, non-resident senior fellow with the Arms Control Association, and program manager of Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition

Posted: July 11, 2016

Examining the Flawed Rationale for a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile

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A close examination of the proposed long-range standoff cruise missile (LRSO) reveals that it would be redundant, lack a unique mission, and could have a destabilizing effect with potential adversaries.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, June 12, 2016

The debate about the necessity and affordability of the Obama administration’s half trillion dollar plan to modernize the nuclear triad of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers–and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure–continues to escalate.

The mammoth costs of nuclear modernization prompted Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) to ask on May 19 at the Brookings Institution: “it is very, very, very expensive... Do we really need the entire triad, given the situation?”

President Barack Obama has acknowledged that existing U.S. and global nuclear weapons capabilities already provide more than enough nuclear killing power. Yet, his administration has to date pursued a costly, “all-of-the-above” plan to maintain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces at force levels that exceed nuclear deterrence requirements.

One of the most controversial pieces of this approach is the Air Force’s proposal to build a new fleet of roughly 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) and refurbish the warhead for the weapon. The replacement is known as the long-range standoff cruise missile, or LRSO.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) filed an amendment to the fiscal year (FY) 2017 national defense authorization act that would delay development of the new cruise missile and warhead by one year to allow further consideration of the programs. While the Senate is unlikely to debate or vote on the amendment, the Senate and House of Representatives could consider amendments on the issue again later this month when each body takes up the FY 2017 defense appropriations bill.

For its part, the Obama administration appears content to pass on the growing fiscal challenge posed by its nuclear modernization project to its successor.

However, Ben Rhodes, the assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, said at the Arms Control Association annual meeting on June 6, that the President recognizes the enormous budget challenge posed by the plans and will continue to review them “as he considers how to hand the baton off to his successor.”

Regardless of what happens during the remainder of the Obama administration, the next president will likely face a number of increasingly urgent questions about the modernization effort, including its need, affordability, opportunity costs, impact on global security, and more.

In other words, the debate about modernization, and in particular the new cruise missile, has just begun.

The Defense Department and supporters of replacing the nuclear ALCM in Congress and the think tank community have circulated a number of materials in response to Markey’s amendment and other efforts to raise doubts about the rationale for the new missile.

The following is a rebuttal to some of the top arguments made in favor of the program.

A closer examination of the issue makes it clear that the LRSO is redundant, lacks a unique mission, could have a destabilizing effect, and is not worth its estimated $20-$30 billion acquisition cost.

The LRSO Is Not Needed to Maintain the Air-Leg of the Triad

Proponents argue that air-launched cruise missiles extend the range of strategic bombers and complicate an adversary’s air defense problem. The LRSO will ensure the country has an air-leg of the triad that can penetrate enemy airspace as adversaries enhance and expand their air defense capabilities, they say.

It is important to remember that the United States first fielded a nuclear ALCM in the early 1980s at a time when the country did not have stealth bombers or advanced conventional cruise missiles and sought an additional nuclear system with which to deter and impose costs on the Soviet Union. None of these conditions exist today.

According to Andrew Weber, former assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological matters, had the United States procured even half of the 132 B-2 bombers it had originally planned to build during the late 1980s and early 1990s (the Air Force ultimately bought 21), the Pentagon would have retired the current ALCM and removed the B-52H from the nuclear mission years ago.

The range of America’s existing strategic bombers is being extended by increasingly advanced long-range conventionally-armed air-launched cruise missiles. The planned introduction of 80-100 B-21 strategic bombers, which will be armed with the modernized B61 mod 12 gravity bomb, conventionally armed cruise missiles such as the JASSM-ER, and electronic warfare capabilities for air defense suppression, will further enhance the range of the bomber leg.

Together these improvements will make the bomber leg of the triad much more formidable than it is today. The B-21 is projected to be able to penetrate enemy airspace for decades after its initial fielding in the mid-2020s, which begs the question of why a new ALCM is urgently needed now. Even if the survivability of the B-21 is called into question in the future, the Pentagon has yet to demonstrate that the LRSO, which is being procured at the same time as the B-21, will be inherently more survivable or that a B-21 armed with conventional air-launched cruise missiles won’t be able to blow holes in air defenses. If the Air Force believes the stealth of the B-21 could be compromised soon after it is deployed, the service shouldn’t procure it in the first place.

The LRSO Is Not Needed to Deter Limited Nuclear Escalation, Nor Should We Want It for Waging Limited Nuclear War

Proponents argue that new air-launched cruise missiles would provide low-yield nuclear war-fighting options for responses to limited adversary attack, which is important for escalation control and maintaining a credible deterrent.

In reality, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb. Moreover, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warheads could be configured to produce limited effects at a lower cost than the LRSO and its warhead, if necessary.

Regardless, has the U.S. intelligence community produced an assessment showing that failing to replace the current ALCM would increase the risk of limited adversarial nuclear use? Under what scenario has the intelligence community concluded that an adversary might believe the United States would be self-deterred from using a higher-yield ICBM or SLBM in response to limited nuclear use?

More importantly, the notion that the use of nuclear weapons can be fine-tuned to carefully control a nuclear war is very dangerous thinking. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. The fog of war is thick. The fog of nuclear war would be even thicker. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

Finally, under what scenario could one ALCM or LRSO reliably circumvent the most sophisticated adversarial air defense capabilities and destroy a target that a B-21-borne gravity bomb or conventional cruise missile could not? If such a scenario does not exist, and the United States needed to launch more nuclear cruise missiles to ensure penetration, how would such a strategy not unavoidably escalate the conflict?

The LRSO Would Be a Costly “Hedge on a Hedge”

Proponents argue that ALCMs (and later the LRSO) complement the nuclear triad and will provide an important and rapidly uploadable hedge against technical problems with the sea and ground based legs of the triad. They also argue that the weapon allows the military to take advantage of the counting rules in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which counts each strategic bomber as one launcher and one warhead, regardless of the number of cruise missiles and gravity bombs they can carry.

It is not surprising that military planners would want many different ways of attacking a target. But how much added deterrence value do air-launched cruise missiles actually provide in the minds of potential adversaries?

The weapons associated with the other two legs of the nuclear triad–namely, SLBMs and ICBMs–can penetrate air defenses and strike targets anywhere on the planet with high confidence. The United States possesses far more warheads for these missiles than does Russia and could upload hundreds of warheads to its deployed ballistic missiles and bombers. In addition, the Navy’s sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile is also a highly capable and continually improving conventional standoff weapon, and it has an even longer range than the JASSM-ER.

Has the military identified possible technical or other problems that could compromise the sea and ground based legs of the triad? What specific targets cannot be effectively and credibly held at risk by other nuclear and standoff weapons, together with gravity bombs, that could only be held at risk by the current ALCM and later, the LRSO force? How large and unique is that target set?

The Defense Department believes SLBMs, ICBMs and gravity bombs have different characteristics than ALCMs and are not perfect substitutes. At least a portion of the total ALCM force can also be more quickly uploaded to the deployed force than non-deployed ballistic missile warheads. (Note: nuclear ALCMs are not deployed on B-52H bombers on a day-to-day basis. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota armed with the W80-1 nuclear warhead.)

Yet as Hans Kristensen with the Federation of the American Scientists notes, “the bottom line for an effective nuclear deterrent is the credible capability to hold at risk the targets that an adversary values most.” On the issue of timing, how essential for deterrence is the quicker generation time for ALCMs? It is also important not to forget that B61 bombs can be rapidly uploaded to the B-2 and later the B-21.

Finally, regarding the New START bomber counting rule, it has been reported that the United States originally preferred an agreement that would count the actual number of nuclear bombs and ALCMs at air bases for use by bombers, but compromised and agreed to a discount rule that attributes each deployed bomber as one warhead. If such an agreement had been reached would reductions in the ALCM force have been required? There have also been reports that the United States was prepared to go lower than the 1,550 accountable warhead cap in the treaty.

Russia’s Actions Do Not Require Pursuit of a Costly New ALCM

Some LRSO advocates suggest that because Russia is fielding nuclear and conventional cruise missiles on aircraft, submarines, and surface ships, the United States must retain a nuclear cruise missile option.

Such arguments ignore the fact that the United States did not acquire the ALCM because the Soviet Union had such a capability, and it does not maintain or need to replace the ALCM because Russia has nuclear cruise missiles. It is not in the U.S. interest to engage in a new tit-for-tat arms race with the Russians to rebuild an excessively large nuclear force. This is especially true if it comes at the expense of needed conventional improvements that are more relevant to countering Russia and maintaining America’s military technological edge.

Questions about ALCM's Role in Current U.S. Strategy

Proponents consider a new ALCM necessary to maintain an effective U.S. nuclear deterrent because the current missile is losing its ability to penetrate increasingly sophisticated air and missile defenses.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the existing ALCM have stated that the reliability of the missile is not assured over the next ten years and that there are serious restrictions on the current use of the ALCM due to reliability issues. This suggests that the current ALCM could play more of a "backup" role in U.S. nuclear planning. Consequently, it would be imprudent to spend $20 billion or more to build a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile that could increase the role these weapons play in U.S. policy.

The Imaginary Strategic Bomber Gap

Some advocates of the LRSO erroneously claim that without the new weapon, a strategic bomber "capability gap" will emerge in the late 2020s and last for at least a decade. They argue that because the B-21 bomber will not be available in sufficient numbers for the nuclear mission until the 2040s, the U.S. military will need to continue to use B-52Hs armed with LRSOs until then.

It is important to keep in mind that LRSO production is slated to begin in 2026 and reach only initial operating capability by 2030. It will be several years later before full operating capability is achieved.

In contrast, the B-21 is slated to achieve an initial operating capability in 2025, with nuclear certification to follow two years later. The initial capability could include as many as 24 planes.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has announced a full production rate of 7-8 B-21s per year. Assuming the United States continues to deploy no more than 60 nuclear capable strategic bombers (as it currently plans to do under the New START treaty), the B-52 may need to be removed from the nuclear mission as soon as the early to mid-2030s in order to accommodate the B-21.

In sum, the current bomber force will provide a more than formidable capability and would become even more potent when the B-21 is fielded with the B61 mod 12 and advanced conventional cruise missiles. Fears of a "bomber capability gap" are misplaced.

The New LRSO Would Create New Military Capabilities and Could Prompt Countermeasures

Proponents of the LRSO claim that it would simply sustain an existing capability, not expand that capability. They claim the new missile will not be used for new military missions and air-launched cruise missiles would not pose a destabilizing first-strike threat to potential U.S. nuclear adversaries.

In reality, the president’s nuclear modernization program is vastly increasing the military capability of U.S. nuclear weapons, including the bomber leg, across key attributes such as stealth, accuracy, range, and speed. The LRSO is likely to have greatly enhanced capabilities relative to its predecessor, and will be mated to the B-52H, B-2 and B-21 bombers, whereas the current ALCM can only be delivered by the B-52H. U.S. nuclear stealth bombers have never carried stealthy nuclear cruise missiles.

The LRSO raises serious questions about stability that have yet to be fully explored. Some sources have revealed that the Pentagon is envisioning potential uses for the new cruise missile that go beyond "the original mission space" of the ALCM, namely in limited nuclear war-fighting contingencies involving China. Some supporters of the LRSO emphasize its utility for achieving tactical surprise in combat.

Furthermore, as stressed by William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Weber, "cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon" due to the fact that "they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants." The possible risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation posed by the LRSO requires far more scrutiny than blithe assertions from administration officials that the missile won’t upset stability.

Bottom Line

While it is uncertain what the military budget will look like a decade from now, there will likely be insufficient funding for the complete portfolio of proposed nuclear and conventional modernization goals. This will force the U.S. government to choose between the nuclear effort and other military priorities.

As senior White House officials have noted, the current "modernization plan was put together in a different budget environment, with a different Congress and varied expectations about our future arms control efforts. Our administration has already made plain our concerns about how the modernization budget will force difficult trade-offs in the coming decades. And the President will continue to review these plans as he considers how to hand the baton off to his successor."

The estimated $20-$30 billion cost to buy the LRSO and W80-4 would be much better spent on other parts of U.S. nuclear and non-nuclear mission areas.

The choice is clear: chart a more realistic path for the nuclear arsenal that doesn’t severely constrain the force-sizing options of future presidents and reduces the risk of doing serious damage to conventional capabilities and other national security programs.

As an early step in this course correction, the Pentagon should cancel its new cruise missile program and prioritize continued investments in the other legs of the nuclear triad and more relevant and usable non-nuclear capabilities, including longer-range conventional cruise missiles and other advanced air defense suppression tools.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

Posted: June 12, 2016

On Nuclear Security, U.S. Must Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

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The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, April 15, 2016

The Nuclear Security Summit process and associated U.S. nuclear threat reduction programs have played a vital role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists. But the threat is constantly changing and may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of the Islamic State group and indications it may have nuclear and/or radiological ambitions.

Despite noteworthy achievements, however, significant work remains to be done to prevent terrorists from detonating a nuclear explosive device or dirty bomb. For example, even after four Nuclear Security Summits there are no comprehensive, legally-binding international standards or rules for the security of all nuclear materials. The existing global nuclear security architecture needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

It is thus puzzling that just weeks before the final summit in Washington earlier this month, the Obama administration submitted to Congress a budget that proposed significant spending reductions for key National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs that lessen nuclear security and nonproliferation risks, accelerating a trend in recent years of short-sighted cuts to these programs. If implemented, these decreases will slow progress on key nuclear security initiatives, jeopardize the sustainability of those initiatives, and undermine U.S. leadership in this area.

As the Senate and House of Representatives begin their work on the fiscal year 2017 defense authorization and energy and water appropriations bills—which establish spending levels and set policy for Defense Department and NNSA activities—lawmakers should reverse these ill-advised budget cuts. Additionally, Congress should encourage the NNSA to augment its nuclear and radiological security work to help ensure the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security.

Disappointing Budget Request

If the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism isn’t on your mind, it should be. The recent Islamic State group-perpetrated terrorist attacks in Brussels offered another bloody reminder of the danger of terrorism. To make matters worse, reports indicate that two of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the attack had also carried out surveillance of a Belgian official with access to a facility with weapons-grade uranium and radioactive material.

A new report published on March 21 by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs concludes that the risk of nuclear terrorism may be higher than it was at the time of the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 due to the slowing of nuclear security progress and the rise of the Islamic State group.

Against this concerning backdrop, the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department responsible for the bulk of U.S. nuclear security work, in February requested $1.47 billion for core nuclear security, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism programs in fiscal year 2017—a reduction of $62.4 million, or 3.8 percent, relative to the current fiscal year 2016 level. (Note: these figures exclude the administration’s request of $270 million to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program for excess U.S. weapons plutonium disposition.)

The drop is even steeper when measured against what the NNSA projected it would request for these programs in its fiscal year 2016 submission, which was issued in February 2015. The agency had said it planned to ask for $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017, or roughly $185 million more than the actual proposal.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which improves the security of nuclear materials around the world, secures orphaned or disused radiological sources—which could be used to make a dirty bomb—and strengthens nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. Within this program, the NNSA is seeking $7.6 million less than last year’s appropriation for radiological material security programs and roughly $270 million less for these activities over the next four years than it planned to request over the same period, last year.

Most experts agree that the probability of a terrorist exploding a dirty bomb is much higher than that of a nuclear device. This is due in large part to the ubiquitous presence of these materials, which are used for peaceful applications like cancer treatment, in thousands of locations and in almost every country around the world, many of which are poorly protected and vulnerable to theft. A new report published last month by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) noted that only 14% of International Atomic Energy Agency member states have agreed to secure their highest risk radiological sources by a specific date.

Along with reducing the budget for radiological security, the NNSA is planning to transition from a primarily protect-based approach for radiological materials to one that emphasizes permanent threat reduction through the removal of sources and the promotion of alternative technologies, when feasible. While it makes sense to seek to replace these sources as opposed to securing them in perpetuity, this revised approach raises numerous questions, including whether some sources will remain vulnerable for longer than under the previous strategy. At the current planned pace, it would take another 17 years to meet the NNSA’s much-reduced target of helping to secure just under 4,400 buildings around the world with dangerous radioactive material—down from a target of roughly twice that just last year.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, funding for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development activities would fall to $394 million from its $419 million fiscal year 2016 appropriation. This program matures technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations. The NNSA projected a request of $430 million in fiscal year 2017 research and development funding in its fiscal year 2016 request.

The NNSA has defended some of the reductions to the nonproliferation account on the grounds that several major projects have been completed, thereby lessening resource needs, and that the impact of spending cuts can be mitigated by using unspent money left over from prior years, largely due to the suspension in late 2014 of nearly all nuclear security cooperation with Russia. But the cuts proposed for fiscal year 2017, relative to what was projected last year, are significant, especially to the radiological security and research and development programs where the NNSA does not say they will use unspent balances.

An Energy Department task force report on NNSA nonproliferation programs released last year expressed concern about the recent trend of falling budgets for those programs (see chart). “The need to counter current and likely future challenges to nonproliferation justifies increased, rather than reduced, investment in this area,” the report said.

Similarly, Andrew Bieniawski, a former deputy assistant secretary of Energy who ran the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative during both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations and who is now a vice president at NTI, said last month that the agency’s recent budget requests “do not match the growing threat and they certainly don’t match the fact that you are having a presidential nuclear security summit.”

Many members of Congress agree with these concerns. In August 2014, 26 senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget seeking increased funding for NNSA nuclear nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2016. Though the 2016 request was higher than the previous year’s enacted level, it did not meet the Senators’ desire “to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radiological materials are secured and permanently disposed.”

Reinvigorating Congressional Leadership

The global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism is at a key inflection point. While the United States can’t tackle the challenge on its own, U.S. leadership and resources are essential. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request was a missed opportunity to advance many good ideas in this space that haven't received adequate attention and investment.

Congress has a critical role to play in this endeavor, and there are a number of steps it can take this year to sustain and strengthen U.S. and global nuclear and radiological security efforts.

First, Congress should increase fiscal year 2017 funding for NNSA radiological security and nonproliferation research and development efforts, the two programs hardest hit by the agency’s proposed budget cuts. Additional funding would allow an acceleration of efforts to secure dangerous radiological materials and ensure the United States is prepared to confront emerging security and nonproliferation challenges.

Congress should also call for a global strategy, stronger regulations, and increased funding to secure and eliminate the most vulnerable highest-risk radiological sources around the world during the first term of the next administration. This multidimensional effort should entail a number of elements, including: securing the most vulnerable sources (where needed); requiring the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to implement stronger regulatory requirements; supporting universal adherence to the IAEA Code of Conduct on radiological sources; mandating additional cost-sharing by industry; and, where appropriate, accelerating the development and use of alternative technologies. An accelerated international radiological security effort would be consistent with a proposal from Sen. Carper (D-Del.) requiring the administration to craft a plan for securing all high-risk low-level radiological material in the United States.

In addition, Congress should require NNSA to report on its research and development activities and identify opportunities to expand them in areas such as:

  • developing alternatives to high performance research reactors that run on highly enriched uranium (HEU);
  • converting HEU-powered naval reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (the White House announced on March 31 that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of LEU in naval reactors); and
  • examining ways adversaries could potentially use 3D printing and other new technologies to make nuclear-weapons usable components.

Other ideas that have been put forth to augment NNSA’s (and the rest of the interagency) nuclear security and nonproliferation work worthy of Congressional backing include:

  • completing a prioritization of nuclear materials at foreign locations for return or disposition, to identify the most vulnerable material stocks to focus efforts on, and establishing a time frame for doing so;
  • developing new detection and monitoring technologies and approaches to verify future nuclear arms reductions;
  • outlining a plan for how to expand U.S. nuclear security cooperation with China, India, and Pakistan and addressing obstacles to such an expansion and how they could be overcome;
  • developing approaches to rebuild nuclear security cooperation with Russia that would put both countries in equal roles;
  • building a global nuclear materials security system of effective nuclear security norms, standards, and best practices worldwide;
  • enhancing protections against nuclear sabotage; and
  • strengthening—and sharing—intelligence on nuclear and radiological terrorism threats.

In addition, Congress should seek ways to dissuade other states from pursuing programs to reprocess fuel from nuclear power plants, which lead to the separation of plutonium.

While the Nuclear Security Summit process has seen significant progress in the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian purposes, global civilian plutonium stockpiles continue to grow. East Asia in particular is on the verge of a major build up of separated plutonium, which could be used in nuclear weapons and poses significant security risks. Japan and China both have plans to reprocess on a large-scale, and doing so would almost certainly prompt South Korea to follow suit.

To its credit, the Obama administration has recently been more vocal in expressing its concerns about these plans. Congress should encourage the administration, and NNSA in particular, to engage in additional cooperative work with countries in East Asia on spent fuel storage options and the elimination of excess plutonium stockpiles without reprocessing.

Over the years, U.S. support for nuclear security programs at home and abroad has resulted in an enormously effective return on investment that greatly strengthens U.S. security, and will be even more important in the years ahead in absence of head of state level summit meetings.

Indeed, there is a long legacy of members of Congress from both parties working together to reduce nuclear risks. For example, in 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Twenty-five years later, the evolution of security and proliferation challenges requires similarly bold and innovative Congressional leadership.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: April 15, 2016

Overkill: The Case Against a New Nuclear Air-Launched Cruise Missile

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In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear...

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Volume 7, Issue 13, October 19, 2015

In an Oct. 15 op-ed in The Washington Post, William Perry, President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, and Andrew Weber, President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, call on President Obama to cancel current plans to build a new fleet of approximately 1,000 nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).

Nuclear-armed cruise missiles “are a uniquely destabilizing type of nuclear weapon,” they write, and foregoing the development of a new version “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least" and "could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

The op-ed marks a significant development in the debate about whether to build a new nuclear-capable cruise missile, as Perry was one of the fathers of the current version of the ALCM when it was first conceived in the 1970s.

The ongoing development of a new ALCM is part of the Defense and Energy Department’s plans to rebuild all three legs of the nuclear triad and their associated nuclear warheads and supporting infrastructure at a cost of $348 billion over the next decade, according to a January 2015 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report. An August 2015 report by the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) estimated that the sustainment and modernization of nuclear forces could consume almost $1 trillion over roughly the next 30 years.

The projected growth in the nuclear weapons budget comes at a time when other big national security bills are also coming due and Congress has mandated reductions in military spending through the end of the current decade relative to current plans. In addition, despite the fact the president and his military advisors have 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, the proposed spending is based on maintaining the New START levels in perpetuity.

Given that current U.S. nuclear weapons spending plans are excessive and unsustainable, it behooves the administration and Congress to more closely evaluate options that would both be more cost-effective and promote the reduction of nuclear risks around the world. As the Arms Control Association detailed in a report last year, tens of billions can be saved over the next decade and beyond by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans.

As it prepares its budget submission for fiscal year 2017, the president should heed the advice of Perry and Weber and not request funds to advance the development of a new nuclear ALCM.

Background

Nuclear-armed ALCMs are part of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems consisting of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers, which can carry ALCMs and gravity bombs. ALCMs are carried by the B-52 long-range bomber and can attack targets at long distances. The United States also deployed large numbers of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) during the Cold War, but ceased deployment of these weapons in 1992.

The original military rationale for developing the ALCM emphasized the cruise missile’s value as a standoff weapon that could overwhelm Soviet air defenses. The B-52’s ability to penetrate Soviet airspace was under pressure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and standoff capability allowed a B-52 to hold strategic targets at risk in relative safety despite its large radar cross section and subsonic speed.

The Air Force’s lone remaining ALCM variant is the AGM-86B, up to 20 of which can be carried by a B-52H bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030. 

The Air Force currently retains 572 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. Roughly 200 of these missiles are believed to be deployed at Minot Air Fore Base in North Dakota with the W80-1 nuclear warhead. New START does not cap the number of bombs or cruise missiles that can be carried on treaty limited strategic bombers.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile (or LRSO) to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned Long-Range Strike bomber. The first missile is slated to be produced in 2026.

The current Air Force procurement plan for the LRSO calls for about 1,000 new nuclear-capable missiles, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. According to the service, the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than it plans to arm and deploy with nuclear warheads.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the LRSO and the modified W80-4 warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years.

The total cost to build the LRSO and refurbish the associated warhead could reach $25 billion (in then-year dollars). CSBA estimates the development cost of the LRSO at nearly $15 billion. The Energy Department projects the cost of the life extension program for the ALCM warhead to be between $7 billion and $9.5 billion. 

Dubious Rationale

The two main arguments the Pentagon has made in support of building a new ALCM do not withstand close scrutiny.

First, supporters of the LRSO cite anticipated improvements in the air defenses of potential adversaries as a reason to develop the new cruise missile. However, as Perry and Weber note, the LRSO weapon is just one element of the Air Force’s plan for the air-based leg of the triad.

The service is planning to spend over $100 billion to build 80-100 new stealthy penetrating strategic bombers. One of the top rationales for building a new bomber is to extend America’s air dominance in advanced air defense environments. In addition to carrying the LRSO, the new long-range strike bomber (or B-3) will be armed with refurbished B61 mod 12 nuclear gravity bombs. Upgrading the B61 is expected to cost roughly $10 billion. The B-3 is scheduled to remain in service for 50 years while the B61 mod 12 is expected to last for 20-30 years.

The United States already has redundancy built into its strategic forces posture with three independent modes of delivery. The requirement that the air-leg of the triad have two means to assure penetration against the most advanced air-defenses constitutes excessive redundancy. Other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles, can penetrate air defenses with high confidence.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is significantly increasing the lethality of its conventionally armed cruise missiles.

For example, the service is purchasing an extended-range precision air-to-surface standoff cruise missile known as the JASSM-ER. This missile will have a range of over 1,100 kilometers and be integrated onto the B-1, B-52, B-2, F-15E, and F-16 aircraft – and likely on the F-35 and long-range strike bomber as well. The Air Force is planning to arm the JASSM-ER with a new computer-killing electronic attack payload. The technology is designed to have an effect similar to an electromagnetic pulse.

This raises the question of what is so unique about the penetrating mission of a nuclear ALCM that can’t be addressed by other U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities?

Second, proponents of the nuclear ALCM mission say that the missile, by virtue of the lower yield of the nuclear warhead it carries, provides the president with flexible options in the event of a crisis and the ability to control escalation. In other words, the missiles would come in handy for nuclear war-fighting.

Yet, U.S. nuclear capabilities would remain highly credible and flexible even without a nuclear ALCM. The arsenal includes other weapons that can produce more “limited” effects, most notably the B61 gravity bomb.

More importantly, the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to carefully control escalation is dangerous thinking. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work noted at a June 25 House Armed Services Committee hearing: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is wise counsel and speaks to the limited utility and added risks of seeking to fine-tune deterrence. It is highly unlikely that an adversary on the receiving end of a U.S. nuclear strike would (or could) distinguish between a large warhead and a small warhead. Large or small, nuclear weapons are extremely blunt instruments, both in terms of their destructive power and the taboo associated with the fact they have not been used in 70 years.

In fact, instead of controlling escalation, nuclear-armed cruise missiles could entail a significant risk of miscalculation and unintended nuclear escalation.

Former British Minister of Defense Philip Hammond drew attention to this problem in explaining the United Kingdom’s decision to reject a sea-launched cruise missile alternative to its current force of sea-launched ballistic missiles.

“At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead,” he wrote in 2013. “Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension.”

Instead of investing billions in a new fleet of nuclear ALCMs, the Air Force should prioritize continued investments in longer-range conventional cruise missiles. Further investment in conventional standoff weapons would provide the Air Force with a more readily useable capability without the unintended escalation risks associated with the possession of nuclear and conventional ALCMs. It would also help set the stage for an eventual global phase-out of nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Excessive Cost

In light of the modernization needs of other defense systems and congressionally-mandated reductions in planned military expenses required by the Budget Control Act, military leaders continue to warn that the United States is facing an affordability problem in the near future when it comes to sustaining and modernizing nuclear forces.

“[W]e do have a huge affordability problem with that basket of [nuclear weapons] systems,” said Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, in April. “It is starting to poke itself into the [future years defense plan] — the five-year plan now. And we're trying to address it.”

Funding for the LRSO program over the next 10-15 years will come at the expense of other costly Air Force priorities such as the acquisition of the long-range strike bomber, KC-46A tanker, the F-35, and a replacement for the existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

Though no one knows for sure what the military budget will look like after the expiration of the Budget Control Act, it seems unlikely that there will be enough money to fund all of the military’s nuclear and conventional modernization plans, especially during the decade of the 2020s when costs are expected to be at their highest. Tradeoffs will have to be made.

Given the nuclear ALCM’s redundant mission and inherently destabilizing dual-use nature, its replacement is not necessary.

A Global Ban

The United States, Russia and France are the only nations that currently acknowledge deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles. However, countries such as China and Pakistan are believed to be working on them. U.S. security would benefit if they do not deploy such weapons.

Chinese nuclear-armed cruise missiles would add to U.S. concerns about Beijing’s capabilities and would be able to more easily circumvent U.S. missile defenses, which are mainly oriented against ballistic missiles. Pakistan’s program would add to tensions in South Asia and could motivate India to follow suit.

As part of its strategy to bring Russia back into compliance with the INF Treaty the United States should express its willingness to engage in technical discussions and agree to special inspections to resolve compliance concerns if Russia is willing to engage with U.S. concerns. Moving forward the United States should promote a global dialogue on limiting and eventually phasing out all nuclear-armed cruise missile systems.

Verifying limits and later a ban on all types of nuclear-armed cruise missiles would no doubt be a significant challenge, though not an insurmountable one. One early preparatory step toward building a transparency and monitoring regime is for the United States to pressure Russia to resume the exchange of data on nuclear-armed SLCMs that occurred under START I.

Rather than spend billions on a nuclear weapon that is not needed to deter potential adversaries, the United States should cancel its new cruise missile program. This would be a win-win for the military budget and U.S. security.

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

Posted: October 19, 2015

Responsible Steps to Build on the Nonproliferation Value of the JCPOA

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By blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways, the JCPOA should reduce the incentive of other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear fuel-making programs. 

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Volume 7, Issue 12, September 21, 2015

On Sept. 17, the 60-day period for congressional review of the nuclear agreement that the United States and its international negotiating partners reached with Iran came to an end without Congress passing legislation preventing President Barack Obama from implementing the deal.

The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), promises to severely curtail Iran’s nuclear program and stop it well short of nuclear weapons for a generation or more. The deal puts in place an unprecedented, multilayered verification and monitoring regime, and includes provisions to help ensure compliance with the restrictions established by the agreement.

If successfully implemented, the JCPOA will be a net plus for nonproliferation and will enhance U.S. and regional security. Implementation of the JCPOA reinforces the rules, norms, and procedures that make up the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

By blocking Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways, the JCPOA should reduce the incentive of other states in the region to pursue their own nuclear fuel-making programs. The JCPOA also provides an opportunity to strengthen nonproliferation in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that some members of Congress are contemplating counterproductive legislative proposals that would re-interpret the terms of the JCPOA and make additional demands of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that could complicate or even undermine implementation.

A more productive approach would be to provide the IAEA with the financial support necessary to carry out its additional monitoring and verification responsibilities, and to work with the Executive Branch to augment the JCPOA by pursuing policies designed to strengthen the barriers against further nuclear and missile proliferation in the region and around the world. 

As Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) put it in a September 17 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington: “If the United States leads these changes over the next five years, then in 15 years Iran will leave one set of restraints – the JCPOA—and enter another – the parameters of a world with…a bolstered NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty].”

The JCPOA contains several innovative provisions that go beyond the requirements of the NPT and standard IAEA safeguards. These measures could be applied for a longer period of time in Iran if pursued on a regional basis, and there are additional nonproliferation commitments that would bolster the JCPOA in the years ahead.

Several of these measures could help address concerns about Iran’s potential nuclear capabilities in the post-year 15 period of the agreement when many of the restrictions on uranium-enrichment capacity expire.

Below is set of illustrative potential strategies and policy solutions that would build upon the Iran nuclear deal and further reinforce proliferation barriers vis-à-vis Iran, as well as other states in the greater Middle East.

Increase IAEA Resources and Capacity. The administration and Congress must work together to provide the IAEA with the additional financial resources (approximately $10-15 million per year) it will need to carry out its additional inspection and safeguards responsibilities vis-à-vis Iran under the JCPOA.

Legislation that hampers the IAEA’s ability to carry out its work, or requires the president to compromise the confidentiality of the IAEA investigations in Iran, not only risks the success of the JCPOA, but could also erode confidence in the IAEA globally. Requiring the president to disclose to Congress information about the IAEA’s confidential methods risks the independence of the agency.

Expand Application of the Additional Protocol. The additional protocol is a voluntary measure that Iran has agreed to implement and ratify under the terms of the JCPOA. In addition, the JCPOA sets a time limit regarding Iran's response to and cooperation with an IAEA request for access to a site or facility of concern.

U.S. policy should be focused on region-wide adoption of and adherence to IAEA additional protocols. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria are among the states that have not concluded an additional protocol agreement with the IAEA.

One approach to expand the application of the additional protocol would be to update Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, which sets the terms for U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries to prevent the misuse of civilian nuclear technology and assistance. Currently Section 123 of the act does not require that a cooperating state have an additional protocol in place with the IAEA. Some members of Congress have introduced legislation to update Section 123 and could pursue a new effort, which would likely win bipartisan support. 

Another strategy would be for the United States and other like-minded members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to agree not to engage in any civilian nuclear cooperation with a state in the Middle East region unless it has agreed to implement and ratify an additional protocol and adopt modified Code 3.1 notification requirements relating to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

Presently, the NSG only has a voluntary policy (adopted in 2011) not to transfer the technology and equipment (enrichment and reprocessing technology) needed to produce weapons-usable nuclear material to new states, especially those states in regions of proliferation concern.

Build a Region-Wide HEU and Plutonium Production Ban. A key goal of the United States and other nuclear technology suppliers should be to strongly discourage any additional states in the region from acquiring uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing technology and to ensure that those that do have such technologies only produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) commensurate with their “practical needs.”

In the JCPOA, Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond 3.67% U-235 for a period of at least 15 years. Iran has indicated a willingness to extend that restriction beyond 15 years, if other countries in the region abide by a similar restriction. A goal of U.S. policy should be to extend Iran’s commitment indefinitely by pursing a region-wide commitment to limiting uranium enrichment to less than 5% U-235.

Iran also committed not to separate plutonium from spent fuel in its reactors for 15 years and has stated that it has no intention to do so at any point in the future. A similar region-wide ban on reprocessing and norm in support of shipping out spent fuel should also be encouraged.

Currently Iran and Israel are the only states in the region with uranium-enrichment technology and Israel is the only country in the region to have produced weapons-grade plutonium. Given that Israel has a strategic advantage having already produced plutonium for it undeclared weapons program and because its Dimona production reactor is near the end of its lifespan, Israel might also be encouraged to voluntarily adopt a region-wide policy banning the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and weapons-grade plutonium.

A related strategy would be to accelerate work to phase out the use of reactor fuel greater than 5% U-235 for any purposes by any country in the region and to provide international technical support to convert all reactors to LEU fuel. Six countries in the Middle East currently have research reactors, with a total of seven reactors fueled by uranium enriched to 20% or higher. This region-wide phase-out strategy would be consistent with ongoing U.S. efforts to phase out the use of HEU for civilian nuclear research and naval propulsion reactors worldwide. 

If additional countries choose to pursue enrichment in the Middle East region or elsewhere, they should also be subjected to the same continuous IAEA monitoring at key nuclear facilities that Iran is subject to under the JCPOA. Requiring more stringent monitoring and transparency should be included the region-wide limitation on enrichment to reactor-grade levels.

Encourage Lifetime Fuel Supply and Fuel Take-Back Guarantees. Another related longer-term strategy should be to ensure that Iran has the absolute minimum “practical need” for low-enriched uranium production. Iran currently has one operating light-water reactor for electricity production and has a preliminary agreement with Russia for several more. Russia supplies the Bushehr-1 reactor with fuel and will take back spent fuel from the reactor. The current supply contract for Bushehr-1 can be extended beyond 2021—and even further if necessary. According to preliminary Iran-Russian plans, any future Russian-built units at the site will be supplied by Russia for the lifetime of the reactors and all spent fuel will be returned to Russia.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran will domestically fuel the Arak reactor, once the reactor is modified and Iran is able to produce fuel assemblies for the reactor. Iran’s enrichment capacity under the first 10 years of the deal—5,060 IR-1 centrifuges—is more than enough to provide fuel for the reactor on an annual basis.

To help negate Iran’s justification for increasing its domestic enrichment capacity beyond the 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges established through the JCPOA for 13 years, any country that enters into a contract with Iran to supply additional power reactors could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor, and arrangements to take back the spent fuel so as to deny Iran access to the separated plutonium in the spent fuel.

The United States should also encourage lifetime supply arrangements for any country in the region seeking nuclear reactors.

This approach, combined with a region-wide LEU limitation, would be more likely to dissuade Iran from increasing its uranium-enrichment capacity and/or enrichment levels after years 13-15 of the JCPOA than any “sense of Congress” demand from U.S. legislators that Iran should not be allowed to adjust its uranium-enrichment capacity after years 13-15 of the JCPOA because U.S. legislators do not believe Iran has an “inherent right” to enrich uranium.

Secure Region-wide Agreement to Forego Experiments That May Be Used for Designing Nuclear Weapons. In Annex I, Section T of the JCPOA, Iran agreed to a ban on all such experiments even though some ostensibly have civilian applications. By encouraging other states in the region and elsewhere to voluntarily declare and/or reach a Memorandum of Understanding with the IAEA that such experiments, if conducted, would constitute a violation of their safeguards agreements, confidence in the NPT would be strengthened.

Region-Wide Adherence to the CTBT. A principal element of U.S. nonproliferation policy has been to prevent nuclear testing by any state, particularly because nuclear test explosions enable emerging nuclear weapon states to proof test a warhead design and build smaller, lighter warheads for delivery on ballistic missiles. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since September 1992 and is a signatory to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). All of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and European Union states have ratified the CTBT, except for the United States and China.

Currently, there are three states in the Middle East—Egypt, Iran and Israel—that must ratify the CTBT to facilitate its entry into force.

Senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who signed the CTBT in 1996, have recently expressed their support for the treaty.

In 1999, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif, then Iran’s deputy foreign minister, spoke in support of the CTBT and endorsed a UN conference statement calling for cooperation aimed at bringing the treaty into effect.

In a Sept. 12 interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Lassina Zerbo, the head of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which is based in Vienna, said if Iran doesn’t ratify the CTBT, “it will leave room for the doubt that people have put in this deal and the good intentions of Iran.”

To reinforce Iran’s commitment to a non-nuclear weapons future and increase security and stability in the region, the United States and our allies should also actively encourage all states in the Middle East region that have not signed/ratified the CTBT (including Saudi Arabia) to do so and to fully support the CTBT’s international monitoring system, as well the development of its on-site inspection capabilities that will be available after the treaty enters into force.

Reinforce Legal Obligations In the Event of NPT Withdrawal. If a state decides to leave the NPT and pursue nuclear weapons, there should be tough penalties. One approach is to establish that even if a state decides to exercise its right under the “supreme national interest” clause of the NPT that state remains obligated not to use any of the nuclear material or technology under safeguards, or that has been supplied by other states, for weapons purposes. There have been numerous proposals along these lines that have not been adopted in the context of the NPT or mandated by the UN Security Council.

Regional Ballistic Missile Restraint Measures. Iran has perhaps the largest short- and medium-range ballistic missile arsenal in the region, but there are other states with similar capabilities and ambitions. It should be an objective of U.S. policy to develop a region-wide moratorium on research, development, and flight-testing of medium-range and long-range ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, particularly those capable of lifting WMD payloads. The United States should also work with its partners in the Missile Technology Control Regime to strengthen and reinforce the norms against transferring technologies for missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

Conclusion
Through the years, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have put forward important ideas to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation system, some of which have substantially contributed to U.S. national policy.

In 1978, Congress came together to strengthen the standards for U.S. civil nuclear cooperation as first established under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act.

In 1991, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) put forward the “Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991,” which authorized $400 million to create U.S.-led programs assist the countries of the former Soviet Union secure and eliminate nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and other weapons. This effort became known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which has successfully liquidated thousands of Cold War-era Soviet weapons.

Another example was S. 1977, “The Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act” of 2007, introduced by then Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). It became the blueprint for much of the Obama administration’s first-term nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policies.

Given the ongoing proliferation threat posed by North Korea, the increasing nuclear arsenals in Indian and Pakistan, and the need to further strengthen proliferation barriers in the Middle East region, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle should consider how they can work together with President Obama and his successor to bolster U.S. and global nuclear weapons risk reduction strategies.

—KELSEY DAVENPORT, DARYL G. KIMBALL, and KINGSTON REIF

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: September 21, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions About The Iran Deal - Part Two

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The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association's newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."

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Volume 7, Issue 11, September 3, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association's newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."  The questions and answers were split into two separate Issue Briefs. Read part one online.

In response to the many inquiries we have received about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over the course of the past several weeks, the Arms Control Association has compiled the following brief responses to the most frequently asked questions.  

4. The Impact of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Capabilities

Will the JCPOA block all of Iran’s nuclear weapons pathways? 

Yes. This comprehensive agreement will effectively block Iran's uranium and plutonium pathways to the bomb for 15 years or longer. Among other features, the agreement establishes verifiable limits on Iran's uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium. Under the JCPOA, the time it would take Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb would increase to 12 months or more. It will also dramatically cut the output of plutonium at the Arak heavy-water reactor and eliminate Iran’s ability to pursue plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

The JCPOA will also put in place additional measures to ensure that any covert program is deterred or quickly detected. These measures will build on the additional monitoring and verification under the interim agreement, which expanded international oversight of Iran's nuclear program through increased IAEA access to sites. 

In addition, Iran is required to implement and ratify its additional protocol as part of the JCPOA. Specifically, the additional protocol gives the IAEA expanded rights of access to information and sites. With the additional protocol, the agency will continuously monitor Iran's entire fuel cycle, including facilities such as Iran's uranium mines, centrifuge production facilities, and its heavy-water production plant. This will make it extremely difficult for Iran to siphon off materials for a covert program without prompt detection.

The additional protocol also helps the IAEA check for any clandestine nuclear activities in Iran by providing the agency with greater authority to carry out timely inspections in any facility, civilian or military, that the IAEA has reason to believe is engaged in noncompliant activity. 

How does the JCPOA limit Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity after 10 years?

During the first ten years of the JCPOA, Iran may not enrich uranium to more than 3.67 percent U-235 and it may only do so with 5,060 first generation (IR-1) centrifuges at its Natanz site. 

During the first eight years Iran will be permitted to conduct testing with uranium on a single IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 machines. Enriched uranium will not be extracted. 

After eight and a half years, Iran will be permitted to test up to 30 IR-6s and 30 IR-8s, again without withdrawing any uranium. The Joint Commission must approve any changes to the research and development plan, which must be submitted well in advance.

While Iran will be able to manufacture IR-6 and IR-8 machines after eight years, it will only be permitted to produce 200 of each type of machine per year and will not be permitted to produce the rotors. During this time Iran’s centrifuge production manufacturing will still be subject to continuous monitoring. 

After ten years, Iran will be permitted to produce complete machines but production levels must be consistent with Iran’s civilian enrichment needs, which will be low. 

In years 11–13, Iran can deploy more advanced machines, but it will need to remove the equivalent capacity of the operating IR-1 centrifuges so that the overall enrichment capacity remains the same. Excess centrifuges will be stored under IAEA seal.

As stated in annex I, section A, “Iran will begin phasing out its IR-1 centrifuges in 10 years. During this period, Iran will keep its enrichment capacity at Natanz up to a total installed uranium-enrichment capacity of 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges.” 

For 15 years, Iran may not possess more than 300 kilogram of low-enriched uranium, which also helps to limit its potential breakout capacity.

For years 14–15, Iran could increase its uranium-enrichment capacity, but Iran would still remain several months away from accumulating enough material, and if it tried to do so, it would promptly be detected in sufficient time to stop or delay such an effort.

What is an additional protocol and is it permanent?

An additional protocol is an expansion of a country’s comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. All countries that are members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty are required to have a safeguards agreement in place. The additional protocol is optional, but strongly encouraged, and once ratified it is binding. The necessity of the additional protocol became clear after the Iraq and North Korean cases of the 1990s demonstrated that traditional safeguards are not thorough enough. 

An additional protocol broadens the scope of the IAEA’s monitoring to all facilities related the country’s nuclear supply chain and allows for short-notice inspections. It also allows for the IAEA to request access to undeclared sites, including military areas, if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activities. 

Once ratified an additional protocol is permanent. Iran negotiated an additional protocol and voluntarily implemented it between 2003–2006. As part of the JCPOA, Iran must update and implement its additional protocol before sanctions are suspended and it must seek to ratify its additional protocol no later than eight years after implementation day.

What is Code 3.1?

Code 3.1 is an extension of a comprehensive safeguards agreement. When Iran begins to implement this provision as required by the JCPOA, the IAEA will receive information about any plans Tehran has to expand its nuclear program much earlier than it would under the existing safeguards agreement. Under Code 3.1, Iran must notify the IAEA when it chooses to build a new facility as opposed to six months before the introduction of nuclear material. Iran would also be obligated to share any design changes to existing nuclear facilities in advance.

In 2003, Iran accepted modified Code 3.1 but reneged unilaterally in March 2007. The JCPOA commits Iran to implement Code 3.1 indefinitely.

Does the JCPOA provide the IAEA with "anytime, anywhere" access to suspected nuclear sites? 

The JCPOA provides timely access to any site, military or civilian if there are concerns about illicit nuclear activities. The IAEA must identify specific questions to be resolved and identify specific locations where it wants to send its inspectors. Providing the inspected party, in this case Iran, with this information will not provide it with information that helps Iran evade detection or stall the investigation.

There are 121 countries that have an additional protocol in force and 78 complementary access visits were carried out last year. Only in Iran is there a process to ensure timely access. 

Under the JCPOA, the request by the IAEA triggers a 24-day clock under which Iran and the IAEA have 14 days to come to an agreement on access. If not, the Joint Commission, created by the JCPOA, has seven days to make a determination on access, and if at least five of the eight members vote to allow the IAEA to investigate, Iran has three days to comply. 

If Iran tries to stall access beyond 24 days, there are consequences. If just one of the P5+1 countries is not satisfied with the decision of the Joint Commission on access, it could take action to re-impose earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran.

It is possible that there will be no delay, and in response to a request for urgent access by the IAEA, Iran will open the site for immediate inspection. 

If there is a delay, the IAEA will be closely watching a site once it becomes suspicious by ordering satellite imagery, perhaps continuing through the investigation, and by seeking corroborating information, especially from states willing to share intelligence information. 

Could Iran cover up illicit activities at a suspect site within in 24 days?

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran is required to provide inspectors access to undeclared facilities (military or civilian) if the IAEA requests it under the terms of Iran’s additional protocol. Under an additional protocol, the IAEA can request explanations for suspect activity and access to a potential covert site to investigate evidence of undeclared nuclear-related activities.

Critics of the JCPOA site access provisions charge that 24 days may provide Iran with enough time to cover up certain types of nuclear activities. 

As IAEA safeguards veteran Thomas Shea has noted, when an IAEA request for timely site access involves a building, and especially when it involves uranium (or plutonium), 24 days will not be long enough to prevent detection.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz told Politico on July 22 that Energy Department specialists assess that, “It is essentially impossible, certainly with confidence, to believe that you’re going to do this kind of work with nuclear materials and be confident at having it cleaned it up.”

Would the IAEA Depend on Iran for Nuclear Residue Testing?

No. Under managed access procedures that may be employed by the IAEA, the inspected party may take environmental swipe samples at a particular site in the presence of the IAEA inspectors using swabs and containment bags provided by the IAEA to prevent cross contamination. According to former IAEA officials, this is an established procedure.

Such swipe samples collected at suspect sites under managed access would likely be divided into six packages: three are taken by the IAEA for analysis at its Seibersdorf Analytical Lab and two to be sent to the IAEA's Network of Analytical Labs (NWAL), which comprises some 16 labs in different countries, and another package to be kept under joint IAEA and Iran seal at the IAEA office in Iran as a backup and control sample if re-analysis might be required at a later stage. The process ensures the integrity of the inspection operation and the samples for all parties.

How Long Does the 24-Day Limit on Suspicious Site Access Last?

Section C, page 9, paragraph 15 of the main section of the JCPOA states that this requirement will last for 15 years. After that point in time, Iran’s additional protocol will remain in place as will the Joint Commission to resolve any disputes.

Does the JCPOA require Iran to provide the IAEA with information about its past activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs)?

Yes. On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA concluded a framework agreement for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns. Under the terms of the framework, Iran and the IAEA agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including PMDs, in a step-by-step manner. Iran provided some but not all of the information. 

The new Iran-IAEA July 15 “roadmap” requires that Iran deliver to the IAEA all information by August 15 that is necessary to allow the agency to conclude its investigation. The JCPOA requires that Iran allow the IAEA to answer follow-up questions and respond with all necessary information by October 15, and before the implementation of the agreement and the removal of nuclear-related sanctions. This will provide the IAEA with key information necessary to make its final determination on the PMD issues and to verify that no such efforts are taking place in the future.

Resolving the questions about the past military dimension issue is important but is not a prerequisite for designing the verification and monitoring system. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past. After having spent years denying that it pursued nuclear weapons and having delivered a fatwa against nuclear weapons, Tehran's senior leaders cannot afford to admit that Iran hid a nuclear weapons program.

Is sanctions relief dependent on the PMD investigation?

Iran must provide the IAEA with the information and access the agency requires to complete its long-running investigation into the past possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program before Iran receives any relief from UN, U.S. or EU sanctions. However, sanctions relief is not dependent on the agency issuing its final report on the PMDs.

What is the IAEA’s broader conclusion?

The “broader conclusion” is a rigorous designation issued by the IAEA to provide assurance that a country’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. It requires implementation of the additional protocol for a number of years, and in Iran’s case, compliance with the JCPOA. The IAEA makes two conclusions as part of the broader conclusion, that there has been no diversion of nuclear materials and no indication of undeclared nuclear materials and activities. The broader conclusion goes beyond the conclusion issued to countries only applying a safeguards agreement or with outstanding questions. Under a safeguards agreement, the IAEA only reports that declared nuclear material has been used only for peaceful purposes for the year in question.

How does the JCPOA procurement channel work and how long will it last?

Under the terms of the JCPOA, if Iran wants to purchase any goods or materials that could be used for its nuclear program that are identified on established IAEA dual-use lists, the Joint Commission working group on procurement would need to review the request and authorize any purchases. The working group would also be permitted to conduct end-user checks to ensure that the materials ended up in the right places. Combined with the complete inventory of the materials that Iran uses for its nuclear program, this will help ensure a thorough accounting of dual-use materials to prevent siphoning off for a covert program. This procurement channel mechanism will be in place for no less than 10 years.

How long does the sanctions snap-back provision last?

For the 10-year duration of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, if a dispute is not addressed through the Joint Commission to the satisfaction of the P5+1, any one of the six-countries could act to snap back earlier UN Security Council sanctions on Iran. (The JCPOA specifies that if a complaining party believes that there has been a violation of the agreement even after good faith efforts to resolve it, it may call for a vote on a resolution to extend the suspension of earlier sanctions, which only requires one of the P5 to veto to trigger the re-imposition of UN sanctions.) The United States has said the P5 have agreed that they will maintain the same approach for an additional five years.

How long Does the Joint Commission last?

The JCPOA does not specifically state when the termination date for the Commission is, but some requirements of the JCPOA that the Joint Commission is responsible for overseeing will last 25 years. Therefore it will have responsibilities that last for 25 years, and possibly longer.

5. Other Issues

Does Congress have a right to see the confidential IAEA-Iran documents on concluding the agency’s PMD investigation?

As an independent organization, the IAEA's process should not be subject to approval of the P5+1 or the U.S. Congress. Nor should the IAEA be forced to disclose sensitive information that could also compromise Iran’s legitimate security concerns. While it is critical that Iran cooperate with the IAEA and provide the agency with the access and information it requires, the content of the agency's investigations and inspections are not typically public because sensitive information is at stake. 

Additionally, the IAEA laid out its concerns about past nuclear weapons work, and it should be up to the agency to determine what access is necessary to resolve its questions, not the P5+1. The IAEA does answer to its Board of Governors, where the United States is represented, and will be required to report on progress to the UN Security Council, where again, the United States will be fully appraised of the process.

Will the United States be able to impose more sanctions on Iran for non-nuclear related concerns?

Yes. The JCPOA prohibits the reissuance of sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear activities. If the United States imposes these measures then Iran can walk away from the deal. However, additional U.S. sanctions for terrorism and human rights related issues are fair game.

Will the JCPOA trigger or head-off a proliferation cascade in the Middle East, with countries like Saudi Arabia deciding to move toward nuclear weapons. 

The JCPOA imposes strict limits and monitoring on Iran’s nuclear program, thus reducing the risk that Iran may someday pursue nuclear weapons. This will provide assurance to the international community that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons and that any deviations from the deal will be quickly noticed. This will reduce, not increase, the temptation by some states in the Middle East—particularly Saudi Arabia—to pursue the technical capabilities necessary to acquire nuclear weapons.

The alternative—no comprehensive P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal—would lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program with far less monitoring. This poses a far greater threat to countries in the Middle East and could increase the possibility of a "proliferation cascade" in the region.

How does the Iran Deal compare to the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea?

Iran is not North Korea. The JCPOA differs substantially from agreements reached with North Korea in 1994 and 2005 regarding its nuclear program. 

The IAEA inspections and monitoring measures on Iran's nuclear program will be much more intrusive and stringent than those placed on North Korea, which were limited to one site. Iran has also demonstrated that it values its position in the region and international community and it wants UN Security Council sanctions on its program removed. This only comes through adherence to an agreement. 

The 1994 Agreed Framework, unlike the JCPOA, did not require North Korea to dismantle or modify its plutonium production reactor and it did not include stringent transparency and inspection provisions across the entire fuel cycle and across the country. As a result, North Korea was able to evade detection and pursue a secret uranium-enrichment program.

Is a “Better Deal” possible or necessary?

No. Nevertheless, some critics of the agreement like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) argue that Congress should reject the JCPOA and “urge the administration to work with our allies to maintain economic pressure on Iran while offering to negotiate a better deal.”

But that is wishful thinking. 

If Congress blocks implementation of the JCPOA, it would turn an American diplomatic breakthrough into a strategic disaster. The result would be that:

  • The United States would undercut its European allies and other UNSC members,
  • The necessary international support for Iran-related sanctions would melt away,
  • Iran would be able to rapidly and significantly expand its capacity to produce weapons-grade material,
  • The United States would lose out on securing enhanced inspections needed to detect a clandestine weapons effort,
  • The international nonproliferation regime would suffer a severe blow, undermining the stability of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the foundation for international security, and
  • The risk of a nuclear-armed Iran and the risk of a war over Iran’s program would increase.

On balance, the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal is a strong, effectively verifiable, long-term agreement that increases the security of the United States, its allies, and Iran. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander.—KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL
 

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: September 3, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions About the Iran Deal - Part One

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Volume 7, Issue 10, August 31, 2015

The following is an excerpt from the Arms Control Association newly updated report, "Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action."

In response to the many inquiries we have received about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over the course of the past several weeks, the Arms Control Association has compiled the following brief responses to the most frequently asked questions.  

1. Iran's Nuclear and Missile Programs

Is Iran still pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program?

No. According to evidence collected by and shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program, but abandoned it in 2003. These activities are referred to as the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran's nuclear program and are actively being investigated by the IAEA. 

This corresponds with the assessment from the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, which also stated with moderate confidence that Iran had not restarted its nuclear program. According to a 2011 IAEA report, activities that could be relevant to nuclear weapons development may have continued after 2003, but not as part of an organized program.

In the 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also said that Iran would not be able to divert safeguarded nuclear material and enrich enough to weapons grade for a bomb without discovery. 

Does Iran have or is it developing long-range ballistic missiles that could be armed with nuclear warheads? 

The U.S. intelligence community assesses that Iran may be technically capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with sufficient foreign assistance, but has not reported that they are doing so. 

To date, Iran has never tested any long-range missiles. Iran's longest-range systems (2,000 kilometers) are medium-range ballistic missiles, not ICBMs, as some have implied. Iran would need an ICBM with a range of over 9,000 kilometers to reach the United States. If Iran makes a concerted effort, deploying such a missile within ten years is theoretically possible, but unlikely. 

Additionally, if a comprehensive nuclear deal blocks Iran's potential pathways to a bomb, its ballistic missiles become less of a threat, because they cannot be armed with a nuclear weapon. 

2. Impact of the Joint Plan of Action

Did the 2013 interim agreement, or Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), halt advances in Iran's nuclear program?

Yes. The implementation of the November 2013 JPOA halted the expansion of Iran's nuclear program and rolled back the most proliferation-sensitive elements.  

Under the JPOA, Iran stopped enriching uranium to 20 percent, a key proliferation concern to the P5+1, because 20 percent enriched uranium is more easily enriched to weapons-grade material (greater than 90 percent U-235). Iran also took steps to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched-uranium gas. 

Iran halted major construction activities on its Arak heavy-water reactor, froze the number of its operating and installed centrifuges, and agreed to more intrusive inspections, including daily access to its enrichment facilities. Iran also agreed only to produce the centrifuges necessary to replace damaged machines.

Without the JPOA, Iran could have very significantly increased its uranium-enrichment capacity and possibly completed the Arak reactor.

Did Iran comply with the terms of the November 2013 JPOA, or did it violate it by operating an advanced centrifuge, the IR-5?

The IAEA's November 7, 2014 quarterly report noted that Iran began feeding natural uranium hexafluoride “intermittently” into a single IR-5 centrifuge at its pilot facility for the first time. While unhelpful, this was not a violation of the JPOA, which prohibits the use of advanced centrifuges to accumulate enriched uranium. However, to dispel any ambiguities, in the extension agreed to on November 24, 2014, Iran agreed not to feed the IR-5 with any uranium for the duration of the interim agreement.  

The IAEA has reported, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on November 24, 2014, that Iran upheld its commitments under the interim deal. 

3. Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Did the UN Security Council resolutions require Iran to permanently halt enrichment, dismantle its enrichment facilities, and dismantle the heavy-water reactor at Arak?

No. Since July 2006, the Security Council has passed six resolutions calling on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and suspend construction work on the heavy-water reactor at Arak. None of the six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council called for Iran to dismantle its enrichment facilities or permanently halt enrichment. The call for suspension was intended to push Iran to comply with the IAEA investigation into concerns about past activities possibly related to nuclear weapons development, and to promote a diplomatic resolution to the concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

During debate on the most recent resolution in June 2010, British Ambassador to the United Nations Mark Lyall Grant, speaking on behalf of the P5+1, said the resolution was intended to keep “the door open for continued engagement” with Iran over its nuclear program. He said that the purpose of such diplomatic efforts must be to achieve a comprehensive, long-term settlement, that respects Iran's legitimate right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. The Security Council resolutions were never intended to eliminate an Iranian civil nuclear program in the future that complies with the conditions of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Did President Obama shift U.S. policy from stopping Iranian enrichment to managing it?

No. Beginning in mid-2006, it was the George W. Bush administration that shifted U.S. policy and opened the door for Iran to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes if it met certain conditions.

The 2006 proposal states that the enrichment moratorium could be lifted if Iran demonstrates “credible and coherent economic rationale in support of the existing civilian power generation program.” Additionally, Iran would have been required to declare all nuclear facilities, demonstrate that it had no secret nuclear programs, and answer outstanding questions about the military aspects of its nuclear program.

It is a formula with some similar characteristics to the agreement reached in 2015 by the P5+1 and Iran.

By allowing Iran to continue its uranium-enrichment program, is the P5+1 recognizing a “right to enrich” under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)?

Article IV of the NPT grants non-nuclear weapons states access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for pledging not to pursue nuclear weapons and meeting their IAEA safeguards obligations. The NPT, however, does not specifically grant or deny enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing rights to member states. Iran interprets the treaty to include a “right to enrich” and has insisted that its right to enrichment be “respected” under a nuclear agreement.

The U.S. policy does not recognize a “right to enrich” under the NPT. In the interim agreement and in the JCPOA, the United States and its P5+1 partners acknowledged that Iran has an enrichment program and will retain a limited enrichment program commensurate with its “practical needs” for its civil nuclear activities.

Acknowledging that a program exists is not the same as acknowledging that a treaty affords a “right.” The United States has done the former, not the latter. And, after reaching the interim agreement in November 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that U.S. policy remains unchanged and since then has repeatedly said: “there is no inherent right to enrich.”

Why doesn’t the JCPOA require Iran to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons capability?

Iran has had a nuclear weapons capability, but has chosen not to develop nuclear weapons. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Iran has developed a range of technologies, including uranium enrichment, nuclear warhead mechanics, and delivery systems, that would give it the option to launch a nuclear weapons development effort in a relatively short time frame “if it so chooses.” 

Eliminating that capability, including the knowledge, is, for all practical purposes, not possible. Even if Iran were required to completely “dismantle” its nuclear infrastructure, it could rebuild it. Tougher sanctions or a military strike also will not eliminate the knowledge and basic industrial capacity that Iran has developed and could rebuild.

When did the arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions become an issue in the negotiations?

The UN arms embargo and ballistic missile sanctions were imposed on Iran as part of Security Council Resolution 1929 on Iran’s nuclear activities and were designed to help push Iran to the negotiating table. Following the conclusion of their framework agreement in April 2015, the two sides debated intensely over when to lift the UN Security Council-imposed heavy arms embargo and the ballistic missile restrictions emerged. Iran, along with Russia and China, argued for ending them upon implementation of the JCPOA, while the United States insisted on maintaining them for an extended period of time. The final agreement, which secures ongoing restrictions on heavy arms transfers to Iran and on Iran’s ballistic missile activities for five and eight years respectively, was a major achievement in the negotiations for the United States.

How effective are the existing multilateral constraints on ballistic missile development/proliferation?

Not all ballistic missiles pose equal risk. Ballistic missiles capable of carrying a 500 kilogram payload over 300 kilometers are generally recognized as having the minimum capability needed for delivering a nuclear weapon. A multilateral regime known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is designed to limit the transfer of these systems, or related technologies, to nonmember countries (Iran is not a member). All of the P5+1 countries are members of the regime, except China, which voluntarily adheres to its guidelines. The MTCR restrictions have not stopped Iran’s program, but have inhibited Iran’s development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles. Additionally, U.S. restrictions on ballistic missiles will remain in place, as will UN restrictions on transferring ballistic missiles to Hezbollah.—KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL
 

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: August 31, 2015

Restrictions on Iran’s Nuclear Program: Beyond 15 Years

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Absent the Iran nuclear agreement, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium could rapidly increase and sharply reduce the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

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Volume 7, Issue 9, August 25, 2015 (Updated Aug. 26)

Experts and analysts broadly agree that the nuclear deal struck between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran on July 14 will effectively and verifiably block Iran’s potential pathways to nuclear weapons for 15 years or more. Absent the agreement, Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium could rapidly increase and sharply reduce the time it would take Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Although several key restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity and its stockpile of enriched uranium will expire after 15 years, the deal—known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—establishes several other restrictions and tools that will help constrain and provide deep insights into Iran’s nuclear program far beyond the first 15-year period.

These restrictions include a more intrusive and permanent inspections regime that will provide the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) far greater access to and information about Iran’s nuclear program than under the current safeguards regime. Among these are continuous monitoring of Iran’s uranium mining activities and its centrifuge manufacturing sites. In addition, the JCPOA permanently prohibits Iran from conducting certain “activities which could contribute to the design and development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Taken together, these additional restrictions and transparency measures will provide the international community with a powerful set of tools to promptly detect and deter an Iranian attempt to pursue nuclear weapons well beyond the initial 15-year period.

To reinforce the JCPOA in the out-years, the United States, its P5+1 partners, and other countries in the region can and should make the most of the time provided by the JCPOA to pursue additional measures that would decrease Iran’s incentive and its justification for expanding its indigenous uranium-enrichment program and also guard against the pursuit of dangerous, dual-use nuclear fuel cycle activities by other states in the region.

This issue brief describes some of these options as well as the JCPOA restrictions that will help bound Iran’s nuclear capabilities 15 years after the implementation of the deal.

Increased Monitoring and Transparency

After 15 years a number of intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms remain in place that will give the international community a clearer picture of Iran’s nuclear program and an early warning if Iran intends to increase its enrichment capacity.

The IAEA will be able to continuously monitor Iran’s production of centrifuges for 20 years and it will be able to continuously monitor uranium mines and mills for 25 years. Taken together, the continuous surveillance on these elements will help ensure that the IAEA and the international community will be aware of Iran’s capabilities and resources, allowing for assessment of how quickly Iran could ramp up its program and produce enough material for a nuclear weapon.

Even after these restrictions sunset, the deal puts in place a more intrusive inspections regime as compared to what Iran is currently subject to by the IAEA.

Implementation, and eventual ratification, of Iran’s additional protocol will allow for short-notice inspections at all of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Inspectors can access Iran’s declared nuclear facilities in as little as two hours if they are already on site. This is particularly important for monitoring Iran’s uranium-enrichment facilities.

The expanded nuclear declaration under Iran’s additional protocol will include more facilities than are counted under Iran’s current comprehensive safeguards agreement—such as the uranium mines and heavy-water production plant.

Iran’s additional protocol, once ratified, is permanent. Iran voluntarily implemented it between 2003-2006, but did not ratify the document. The JCPOA requires Iran to seek ratification within eight years. 

As part of the JCPOA, Iran will also implement modified Code 3.1 to its safeguards agreement. Under the terms of Code 3.1 Iran must notify the IAEA when it decides to build a nuclear facility (rather than simply six months prior to introducing nuclear material) and provide updates on the design of existing nuclear facilities. This will give the IAEA additional warning if Iran intends to expand its nuclear program, and adjust the safeguards approach accordingly. 

The IAEA's ability to request access to undeclared sites to investigate concerns about illicit nuclear activity is also permanent under Iran’s additional protocol. Without the JCPOA, which ensures ratification of Iran’s additional protocol, the IAEA will have no mechanism to request access to undeclared nuclear sites to check for illicit activities.

Under the Model Additional Protocol, if the agency has concerns about a particular site the agency will provide that country with the reasons for its concerns. The country must then respond to the IAEA’s request. If the explanation does not satisfy the IAEA, it can request access to the site. Under its additional protocol, Iran, like any other country, can take some steps to protect sensitive information if, for instance, the inspection is on a military facility. But ultimately, it is up to the IAEA to determine if the access is sufficient. 

Under the Model Additional Protocol, the agency does not have to allow a country time to respond to evidence or concern if a “delay in access would prejudice the purpose for which the access is sought.”

The IAEA can refer the case to its Board of Governors and the UN Security Council if it unsatisfied with Iran’s compliance.

Permanent Restrictions

Iran also agreed to permanent restrictions prohibiting activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive device under the JCPOA. While Iran committed not to pursue nuclear weapons when it joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the JCPOA commits Iran to adhere to restrictions beyond its NPT obligations.

The NPT does not explicity prohibit research or use of explosives suitable for nuclear weapons for non-nuclear purposes. Iran has asserted that some of its past activities with possible military dimensions (PMDs) that the IAEA has been investigating were for non-nuclear weapons purposes.

Under the deal, however, Iran can no longer make this dubious claim. Iran agreed to forgo computer modeling to simulate nuclear explosive devices, testing, developing, or acquiring multi-point explosives and neutron sources, and development and designing of nuclear explosive diagnostic systems (Annex I Section T). 

While some of these activities are relevant for developing conventional explosives and for activities like drilling, in the future, if caught conducting research in these areas, Iran will not be able to claim it is undertaking any of these activities for non-nuclear purposes.

The JCPOA also closes the door on the plutonium pathway to nuclear weapons indefinitely. As part of the deal, Iran said it never intends to reprocess spent fuel, the process by which weapons-grade plutonium is removed from spent reactor fuel. Iran also said it intends to ship out all spent fuel from any future reactors. 

Decrease Incentives

The JCPOA is a strong, verifiable, agreement from a nonproliferation viewpoint, but the United States, along with its P5+1 partners and countries in the Middle East, can and should take steps to further decrease Iran’s motivation and justification to significantly ramp up its enrichment capacity after 15 years.

Fuel Supply Guarantees

Civil nuclear cooperation between certain nuclear supplier states and Iran can and should be designed to ensure that Iran has assured access to the nuclear fuel for its research and power reactors so that Tehran has less of a “practical need” to significantly expand its uranium-enrichment program beyond the capacity allowed under the JCPOA for the first 10-15 years. Pursuing this strategy would prevent Iran from justifying increased enrichment capacity based on a need to domestically produce reactor fuel to ensure continuity of supply.

Under the terms of the JCPOA, Iran will domestically fuel the Arak reactor, once the reactor is modified and Iran is able to produce fuel assemblies for the reactor. Iran’s enrichment capacity under the first 10 years of the deal, 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, is more than enough to provide fuel for the reactor on an annual basis.

Iran claims that it wants to provide fuel for its power reactor at Bushehr, which is currently supplied by Russia. That would require the equivalent of over 100,000 IR-1 centrifuges.

Any country that enters into a contract with Iran to supply additional power reactors could provide fuel supply guarantees for the lifespan of the reactor, and arrangements to take back the spent fuel so as to deny Iran access to the unseparated plutonium in the spent fuel. Iran’s current memorandum of understanding with Russia for the provision of additional power reactors at the Bushehr site already includes this kind of arrangement.

If necessary, to provide additional assurances that there will be no fuel supply disruption, Russia could deliver to Iran enough fuel for several years at a time. Fuel could be stored under IAEA seal until it is used.

China is also currently in discussions with Iran about supplying nuclear power reactors and should be strongly encouraged to ensure that any reactor contracts include lifetime fuel supplies and spent fuel removal arrangements. This example could be employed region-wide to decrease the incentives of other countries considering nuclear power programs from pursuing enrichment.

The United States and its P5+1 partners should also work to ensure that the IAEA fuel bank, is fully funded and supplied. Kazakhstan and the IAEA will sign an agreement establishing the fuel bank on Aug. 27, 2015. The fuel bank is designed to ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies for nuclear reactors and prevent the withholding of fuel from supplier countries for political reasons. If for some reason Russia was unable or unwilling to supply Iran’s reactors, Tehran could obtain nuclear fuel from the IAEA bank.

Strengthen Regional Norms

Iran has stated in the past that it would be willing to accept permanent enrichment restrictions, such as capping enrichment levels at reactor grade (enriched to less than five percent U-235), if other countries in the region agreed to similar restrictions. A regional commitment to forgo enrichment to higher levels could serve as a major confidence building measure against further proliferation in the region. Another possible confidence building measure could be to encourage all states in the region to commit to continuous IAEA monitoring, similar to what Iran agreed to for its nuclear supply chain, on key nuclear facilities region-wide.

Another option for increasing regional confidence in the peaceful nature of Tehran’s activities would be to “multilateralize” Iran’s existing uranium-enrichment facility, providing regional oversight and nuclear fuel for countries pursuing nuclear power in the Middle East. 

Regional countries that invest in the enrichment facility would be able to have their personnel access and monitor the facilities, thus providing a greater degree of confidence that Tehran’s nuclear activities are peaceful and it could help prevent stockpiles of enriched uranium from accumulating in Iran.

Regional inspections could also provide greater transparency and assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. Brazil and Argentina, both of which pursued nuclear weapons programs and now have domestic uranium enrichment, have a bilateral inspections agreement known as the ABACC arrangement (Argentina-Brazil Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials), which augments the standard IAEA safeguards system for those states.

Despite the checkered past of both countries in nuclear weapons research, the bilateral inspections help provide assurance that neither country is currently pursuing nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

While some of the restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity expire after 15 years, other measures remain in place, some of which are permanent. The United States, it P5+1 partners, and countries in the region also have a number of options to strengthen the deal and dis-incentivize Iran from ramping up its uranium enrichment 15 years after implementation of the JCPOA.

If Congress rejects the deal, Iran’s nuclear program will be free of the long-term restrictions and more intrusive monitoring system mandated by the JCPOA.

On the other hand, the JCPOA provides a solid formula for blocking Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons for at least 15 years, and the time necessary to pursue and implement complimentary initiatives to head off the possibility that Iran will try to pursue an expansion of its nuclear program over the long-term.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: August 25, 2015

Addressing Iran’s Ballistic Missiles in the JCPOA and UNSC Resolution

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For more than a decade, the possibility of Iran developing nuclear warheads for its medium-range ballistic missiles has been at the top of U.S. security worries for the region...

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Volume 7, Issue 8, July 27, 2015

For more than a decade, the possibility of Iran developing nuclear warheads for its medium-range ballistic missiles has been at the top of U.S. security worries for the region, followed by Iran’s potential to expand the range of its missile forces to threaten Europe and the United States.

Now, with the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)between the P5+1 and Iran, which will block Iran from building nuclear weapons for at least 15 years, along with a new UN Security Council resolution (2231) on the nuclear deal, which extends restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities and trade, the potential threat from Iranian ballistic missiles has been radically reduced.

Negotiations Were About Nuclear Warheads, Not About Missiles

In the long negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the parties had avoided contentious issues beyond the nuclear realm in the belief that resolving the nuclear imbroglio was the highest international security priority and including other issues could overload the agenda and jeopardize reaching any agreement.

Senior U.S. officials stressed the talks were focused exclusively on resolving concerns about Iran’s growing nuclear program—not, for example, on its support for terrorism, behavior in the region, or human rights practices.

However, among the restrictions established by six UN Security Council resolutionsin response to Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities are restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile activities relating to the delivery of a nuclear weapon and restrictions on heavy conventional arms transfers to Iran.

UN Security Council Resolution 1737, passed in December 2006, states that countries must not provide technical or financial assistance, training, or resources related to certain nuclear and ballistic missile-related goods, and that all member states must refrain from importing designated nuclear and ballistic missile-related items from Iran.

UN Security Council Resolution 1929, passed in June 2010, establishes a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, banning the sale of “battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems” to Iran.  Iran is also prohibited from undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles, and the resolution requires states to take necessary measures to prevent technology relevant to ballistic missiles from reaching Iran. 

The primary purpose of these resolutions was to restrict Iran’s sensitive nuclear activity until such time as negotiations could resume and lead to an agreement preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman had assured Congress during her early testimony on the negotiations that Iran’s ballistic missiles would be addressed, but she did not specify how this would occur.

Iran’s position was that the negotiations were about its nuclear program and not about its ballistic missiles or conventional military capabilities; a replacement resolution in response to an agreement on the nuclear issues should therefore not maintain any restrictions on its ballistic missile activities and acquisition of conventional arms. The Russians and Chinese were in support of Iran’s view.

Even U.S. Secretary of State Kerry acknowledged in response to a question at his July 14 press conference that “[UNSC Resolution 1929] says specifically that if Iran comes to negotiate – not even get a deal, but comes to negotiate – sanctions would be lifted.”

Missile Restrictions and Heavy Weapons Embargo Extended

Despite the Russian, Chinese and Iranian opposition, U.S. negotiators dug in their heels. Although not explicitly addressed in the JCPOA, UN Security Council Resolution 2231, unanimously adopted on July 20, contains an eight-year restriction on Iranian (nuclear-capable) ballistic missile activities and a five-year ban on conventional arms transfers to Iran.

Specifically, Annex B of the new resolution calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” The resolution also grants the Security Council the authority to review and deny on a case-by-case basis any transfer to Iran of materials, equipment, goods, or technology that could contribute to nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Moreover, even after restrictions on arms sales and ballistic missile activities are lifted under the new resolution, they would still be subject to re-imposition “in the event of significant non-performance by Iran of its JCPOA commitments…”

These features of the arrangement have not gone over well in Tehran. According to the official statement from Tehran, issued in response to the resolution, “Iranian military capabilities, including ballistic missiles, are exclusively for legitimate defense. They have not been designed for WMD capability, and are thus outside the purview or competence of the Security Council resolution and its annexes.” A prominent Iranian hardliner complained, “The negotiating team was not supposed to negotiate on Iran’s ballistic missile technology.”

Despite the U.S. negotiators’ success in retaining features of the earlier resolution’s constraints on ballistic missiles and conventional arms, U.S. critics of the JCPOA either entirely ignore the UN’s adoption of a new multi-year arms trade embargo and its continuing restrictions on Iranian (nuclear-capable) ballistic missile activities or they complain that these restrictions are not permanent.

A Much Lower Threat From Iran’s Ballistic Missiles

There are many potential hurdles to implementation of the JCPOA; surviving U.S. Congressional scrutiny over the next sixty days is the most imminent. But it is important to consider how carrying out the nuclear deal is likely to affect Iran’s potential ballistic missile capabilities during the coming decade.

First and foremost, the comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran will block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons, thus ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear warhead capable of being delivered via ballistic missile. This renders Iran's ballistic missiles a far less of a threat to regional and international security.

Second, even without the nuclear weapons constraints in the JCPOA, the reality of Iran’s ballistic missile program has never quite lived up to its reputation. Iran never developed or flight-tested a long-range ballistic missile; it has never even asserted a need to build one. This professed disinterest stands in contrast to Tehran’s boastful posture with regard to many other home-grown weapons programs and its explicit justification for medium-range missiles as a deterrence against Israeli attack.

In fact, after developing a modest inventory of relatively inaccurate medium-range ballistic missiles, Iran seems to have put most of its recent energies into improving the performance of shorter-range missile systems, more relevant to Iran’s immediate neighborhood around the Persian Gulf. No medium-range missiles have flown since 2012; even the long-awaited Simorgh space-launch vehicle, with technology relevant to a longer-range ballistic missile, has yet to appear. Although “death to America” may still be heard during Friday prayers in Tehran, neither the nuclear warhead nor the delivery vehicle for administering such a blow is being built.

Now, with both the JCPOA’s impediments to pursuing nuclear weapons and the new UN Security Council resolution extending restrictions on nuclear-capable ballistic missile activity and missile trade years into the future, the potential magnitude of the Iranian ballistic missile threat has been significantly reduced. —Greg Thielmann

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. 

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Posted: July 27, 2015

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