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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Issue Briefs

On Nukes, Senate Should Not Tie President's Hands

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Volume 4, Issue 14, November 20, 2013

The National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) is on the Senate floor, and there may be debate on how much latitude the President should have when seeking to reduce excess U.S. nuclear forces. Some will argue that any future nuclear reductions can only occur via a formal treaty; others will counter that informal approaches should also be an option. There is an obvious, bipartisan answer: Current and future presidents should have as much flexibility as previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.   

Unfortunately, some Republicans are seeking to take this flexibility away from President Obama. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have offered a "sense of congress" amendment (2136) that additional reductions "should only be pursued through mutual negotiated agreement with the Russian Federation." Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has expressed concern that the administration has not definitively pledged that "militarily significant reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal would only be carried out through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

It is understandable that senators want to protect their right under the constitution to approve or disapprove treaties. But that is not the issue here. According to Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), ranking member on the Foreign Relations committee, the State Department has "affirmed the Senate's role in any future negotiations with Russia." But Sens. Lee, Fischer and Rubio appear to want to go beyond that and stop any U.S. reductions outside of a treaty. They are reaching too far.

Presidents from both parties have sought to protect their flexibility to pursue arms reductions without a treaty when the circumstances and U.S. national security warrant doing so. If the Senate adds language to the defense bill to restrict White House flexibility on this matter, the President would likely veto the bill. The two previous Republican administrations would not likely have allowed such constraints, either.

Bush Administrations Had Flexibility, Too

Treaties may be the preferable way to effect mutual nuclear arms reductions, but they are not the only way. In addition to formal bilateral treaties (such as the 2010 New START treaty), the United States has used informal measures. The primary examples of the latter are President George H.W. Bush's bold Presidential Nuclear Initiatives in 1991 to remove thousands of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from forward deployment as the Soviet Union began to break apart. Days later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated, reducing the risk that these weapons would fall into the wrong hands. No formal treaty was ever negotiated or signed, nor did the administration seek the approval of Congress. In this case, the need for expediency outweighed the benefits of a legally binding agreement.

Even in the case of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, or the "Moscow Treaty"), President George W. Bush initially set out to reduce U.S. forces without a formal agreement. As he said in 2001: "We don't need an arms control agreement to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I'm going to do it."

However, Russian President Putin wanted a formal treaty, as did the U.S. Senate, and President Bush changed his mind. Nevertheless, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2002 that, "We would have made these cuts regardless of what Russia did with its arsenal." "We're making [the reductions] not because we signed the treaty," he explained, "but because the transformation in our relationship with Russia means that we do not need as many deployed weapons as we once needed."

Ultimately, both Bush presidencies reduced U.S. nuclear forces by roughly 50 percent each, using formal and informal means.

By comparison, President Obama's planned and proposed reductions are modest. By 2018, New START will reduce the deployed U.S. strategic arsenal by about 400 warheads, a 10 percent reduction from the overall stockpile (strategic and tactical, deployed and in storage) of about 5,000 warheads. President Obama's June proposal to reduce strategic warheads by an additional 500 or so would increase his reductions to 20 percent, still a far lower percentage than previous administrations.

In response to President Obama's June proposal, 24 Senate Republicans wrote a letter to the White House stating: "It is our view that any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

This position is at odds with the view that 71 Senators expressed just three years ago. The Senate's resolution of ratification for New START states that "further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any military significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President..." (emphasis added)

This December 2010 formulation does not rule out the option of nuclear reductions in the absence of a formal agreement.

First, an informal U.S.-Russian understanding that each side would reduce its nuclear forces would not be a legally binding agreement and is therefore not an obligation subject to congressional approval. Second, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already determined that one-third of the U.S. strategic nuclear warheads now deployed are in excess of military requirements. Thus, such a reduction would not have a militarily significant impact.

Moreover, in an attempt to cast doubt on further negotiated nuclear reductions with Russia, some congressional Republicans also claim that Moscow is not complying with some of its treaty obligations, such as the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. However, recent Pentagon and State Department reports reveal no evidence of Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty. At the same time, Russia is said to be in full compliance with New START.

Giving Russia a Veto

Congress should not restrict the President's options to reduce excess nuclear arsenals in a stable and verifiable way. If the Obama administration were limited to reducing U.S. nuclear forces in a treaty with Russia, this would effectively give Moscow veto power over what must be a U.S. prerogative. While it may be better to reduce in tandem with Russia, there are good reasons to lead by example, as President Bush did in 1991.

For its part, Russia will be hard pressed to maintain New START levels unless it accelerates its own expensive modernization of aging nuclear delivery systems. According to the latest report required by New START, Russia now deploys 1,400 deployed strategic warheads--150 below the New START ceiling and 280 below the U.S. deployed strategic warhead level. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to eliminate excess strategic nuclear forces.

The U.S. leadership has already determined that the United States has more nuclear weapons than its needs to deter nuclear attack against the United States and our allies. Given the budget crisis, the administration could redirect funds to higher priority defense needs by reducing excess nuclear forces. Enhancing U.S. security in this way should not have to wait for Russian approval.

Significant budget savings can be achieved even if the United States stays at New START levels. By matching delivery systems more closely with a smaller stockpile of nuclear warheads, the United States could save $59 billion over the next decade, primarily by buying fewer strategic submarines and delaying new long-range bombers.

Further U.S. reductions would also improve the international consensus to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and enhance cooperation to address the threats from North Korea and Iran, and put pressure on other states--including China--to join in the reduction process.

New START already provides a solid framework for verification and monitoring through intrusive inspection and data exchanges. Deeper, mutual reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons can be achieved through reciprocal actions made on the basis of the best national interests of each country.

As George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote in March: "A global effort is needed to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their spread, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world. It will take leadership, creative approaches and thoughtful understanding of the perils of inaction."

The White House needs flexibility to lead and be creative--a one-size-fits-all approach will not cut it. We must not let process and politics get in the way of the substance: reducing nuclear dangers and increasing U.S. security.--TOM Z. COLLINA

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

Description: 

The National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1197) is on the Senate floor, and there may be debate on how much latitude the President should have when seeking to reduce excess U.S. nuclear forces. Some will argue that any future nuclear reductions can only occur via a formal treaty; others will counter that informal approaches should also be an option. There is an obvious, bipartisan answer: Current and future presidents should have as much flexibility as previous presidents, both Republicans and Democrats.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

A Realistic, Meaningful First Phase Nuclear Deal With Iran

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Volume 4, Issue 13, November 19, 2013

After three days of intense, talks in Geneva Nov. 7-9, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran came close to a breakthrough, "first phase" deal that would verifiably halt the progress of Iran's nuclear program, and at the same time increase International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring capabilities on its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanction relief.

The negotiations will resume Nov. 20 in Geneva and could last through Nov. 22.

The key elements of the "first phase" agreement would clearly address the most immediate issues of proliferation concern, significantly increase the time it would take Iran to produce fissile material for weapons, and provide time to negotiate a more permanent agreement that might lead to a significant reduction of Iran's overall enrichment capacity and even more intrusive IAEA inspections to guard against any possible secret nuclear weapons-related activities.

Key elements likely include:

  • halting Iranian uranium enrichment to 20% levels, which is above normal power reactor fuel grade and closer to weapons grade (90%);
  • converting existing 20% material to oxide and/or downblending the stockpile to lower enrichment levels;
  • freezing the introduction or operation of additional centrifuges (approx. 10,000 IR-1 machines are operating; 19,000 are installed), including a freeze on the installation of more advanced IR2-M machines;
  • reducing the proliferation potential of the Arak heavy water reactor, possibly including a freeze on the manufacture of fuel assemblies, or an agreement on the disposition of its spent fuel outside of Iran, or converting the reactor to a more proliferation resistant light-water reactor;
  • unspecified additional transparency measures, possibly implementation (but not ratification) of the additional protocol and/or an agreement to allow the IAEA to maintain a near-constant presence at key nuclear facilities.

Taken together, these measures would put into effect even tougher limits on Iran's nuclear activities than the P5+1 proposal for Iranian actions put forward at the February and April 2013 talks in Almaty.

In exchange for these concrete steps, the P5+1 may be considering:

  • releasing approximately several billion of the estimated $50 billion in Iranian assets tied up in other countries from oil sales;
  • waiving certain sanctions on trade with Iran in petro-chemicals, trade in gold and other precious metals just put into effect last July;
  • waiving the designation of Iran's auto industry and access to aircraft parts as areas of "proliferation concern;" and
  • providing medical isotopes or fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which uses 20% enriched uranium fuel to produce medical isotopes.

This "phase one" agreement would last approximately six-months, during which time, Iran would remain under severe international sanctions and additional Iranian financial assets--perhaps as much as $15-$20 billion worth--would become frozen. The phase one agreement could be extended by mutual consent of the parties.

Toward A "Final Phase" Agreement

Most importantly, a "first phase" deal would open the way for negotiations on a more comprehensive, more permanent agreement that rolls back Iran's overall enrichment capacity-ideally to no more than 3,000-4,000 centrifuges-and provides more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program.

In principle, Iran's enrichment capacity and stockpile of material should not exceed the fuel supply needs of its nuclear power reactor program, which for now are close to zero.

With these restrictions in place, Iran would find it extremely difficult to try to make a dash to build nuclear weapons before the international community would detect such activities and could act to block such an outcome.

To secure a "final phase" agreement, the P5+1 will need to further scale-back the oil and financial sanctions that are devastating Iran's economy and will need to recognize Iran's right under the Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions.

As Obama said in his Sept. 24 address to the United Nations: "We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people [to access nuclear energy], while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."

Article IV of the NPT guarantees the "the inalienable right ... to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II ...."  Many countries including Iran interpret this to include uranium enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors and research reactors that produce medical isotopes.

Article II requires each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty ... not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons ...." Article III of the NPT requires that each non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the NPT accepts safeguards agreements with the IAEA to ensure that all nuclear activities are for exclusively peaceful purposes.

To move forward on this issue, it has been reported by The New York Times and others that in the "first phase" agreement, each side might affirm that Iran would be entitled to all of the rights of states parties to the NPT.  The P5+1 and Iran would then agree to disagree on how to interpret those NPT rights.

To resolve concerns about the purpose of Iran's nuclear program, President Hassan Rouhani must continue to follow through on his pledge for "greater transparency" by implementing the additional protocol and fully cooperating with the IAEA to resolve questions about suspected weapons-related experiments that may have been conducted in years past.

On Nov. 11, IAEA Director-General Amano met with top Iranian officials in Tehran and signed a new framework for cooperation for initial actions to address some of these issues over the next 3 months.

Closing the Deal

With talks resuming on November 20 in Geneva, it is vital to maintain the momentum to work toward a "first phase" agreement that addresses the most urgent proliferation concerns.

Policymakers in Washington and leaders in Israel who genuinely want to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran should be careful not to insist on unrealistic demands, such as zero enrichment or the complete dismantlement of Iran's nuclear program.

Such a deal may have been possible in 2005 when Iran had fewer than 300 uranium centrifuges enriching uranium at one site; but it is not realistic now that Iran has 19,000 installed and 10,000 operating centrifuges at two sites.

Pushing for everything and getting nothing is foolhardy and dangerous.

Since 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that Iran has already gained a nuclear weapons capability--that is, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."

Current U.S. intelligence continues to assess that leaders in Tehran have not made such a decision and they assess that Iran is still more than a year away from being able to produce enough weapons grade uranium and possibly build nuclear weapons.

Since President Rouhani's inauguration, Iran has halted key elements of its nuclear program, according to the latest quarterly report of the IAEA.

But in the absence of a meaningful, realistic deal to limit Iran's nuclear program, Iran will likely continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium and expand its other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle projects. That, in turn, will increase the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites. Such an attack would only delay, not stop, Iran's nuclear pursuits, would lead to a wider Middle East war, and likely push Iran's leaders to openly seek the bomb.

In the absence of a negotiated "first phase" agreement to pause Iran's nuclear program, some U.S. legislators may seek further sanctions against Iran, but such sanctions would take many months to have an effect, they could strain international support for implementing the existing sanction regime, and such efforts would not halt or eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons potential.

Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful first phase agreement and quickly move to negotiate a longer-term final phase agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.--DARYL G. KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

 

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

Description: 

After three days of intense, talks in Geneva Nov. 7-9, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) and Iran came close to a breakthrough, "first phase" deal that would verifiably halt the progress of Iran's nuclear program, and at the same time increase International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring capabilities on its nuclear projects in exchange for limited, reversible sanction relief.

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It's Time for Iran to Cooperate with the IAEA to Resolve Concerns About Its Nuclear Activities

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Volume 4, Issue 12, October 24, 2013

While much of the world's attention will remained focused on Iran's negotiations with six world powers over its nuclear program, Iran will meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on October 28 to continue talks over the agency's approach to investigating Tehran's alleged weapons-related nuclear activities.

These talks provide Iran with an important opportunity to address concerns about its past nuclear activities. Only with such cooperation can the IAEA assure the international community that Iran is no longer pursing actions related to nuclear-weapons development.

Iran-IAEA Negotiations

In an annex to its November 2011 report on Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA detailed concerns about several types of activities with potential military dimensions that the agency is requesting that Iran address. They include:

  • High-explosives experiments with nuclear weapons implications;
  • Neutron initiation and detonator development;
  • Suspected work to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile, along with arming, firing and fusing mechanisms; and
  • Iranian procurement activities related to its alleged warhead work.

Following up on these allegations, the IAEA submitted to Iran on February 20, 2012 a document identifying the kinds of actions that Iran needs to take to respond to the IAEA's concerns. This document is referred to as the "structured approach." Iran submitted a reply to the IAEA on February 26, 2012, which included an edited version of the structured approach document. The document presented Tehran's preference on how the agency should proceed with the investigations.

In total, Iran and the IAEA have met 11 times to negotiate the approach to the agency's investigations and resolvethe differences first laid out in February 2012. But the sides have failed to make progress on an agreement that will allow the agency to begin its work. In an address to the agency's Board of Governors on June 4, 2013, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that after the first ten meetings, no progress had been made on the negotiations, and that the talks are "going around in circles."

Despite this lack of progress in the past, the October 28 meeting represents an important opportunity to make progress on the structured approach. This will be the second meeting between Iran and the IAEA since Hassan Rouhani took office as President in August. Rouhani, widely acknowledged to be more moderate than his predecessor, pledged to make Iran's nuclear program "more transparent."

Rouhani also appointed a new ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi. Najafi resumed negotiations on the structured approach with the IAEA on September 27, an introductory meeting that both he and IAEA Deputy Director Herman Naeckerts described as "constructive."

Still, significant differences remain, despite the change in leadership. In a September 26, 2013 document submitted to the IAEA following the agency's August 2013 report on Iran's nuclear program, Iran continued to insist that the IAEA provide it access to the evidence upon which it based it allegations about the possible military dimensions and raised objections to the agency's proposed approach to the investigation.  

Disputed Process

A comparison of the approaches favored by Iran and the IAEA indicate several areas of dispute that are preventing agreement on a modality for allowing the IAEA investigation to begin. As indicated by its February 2012 edits to the structured approach document, Iran objects to the IAEA's proposal on the sequence, scope, and allowance for follow-up activities as the investigation continues. While Tehran should have a say about how the IAEA proceeds, placing undue or arbitrary restrictions on the agency's investigations will continue to fuel international speculation that Iran has nuclear weapons ambitions.

Sequencing: In the February 2012 document, the IAEA laid out its intended sequence for investigating the topics of concern, but noted that some of the areas identified "may also be dealt with in parallel." Iran deleted the clause allowing for parallel investigations in its edits to the document and added the following language in a later paragraph "after implementation of action on each topic, it will be considered concluded and then the work on the next topic will start."

Iran's earlier rejection of parallel investigations would only prolong the process and hinder the IAEA's activities because many of the areas that the IAEA identified are interlinked. It is logical that, if in the course of its investigations in one area, it obtains information relating to another question, it be allowed to direct its attention to these multiple areas simultaneously.

Scope: In 2012, Iran wanted to limit the scope of the IAEA's investigations to only those issues identified in the annex to the November 2011 report.

It may be reasonable to begin with these issues, but the IAEA cannot agree ahead of time not to pursue new areas of concern that might emerge during the process and leave important questions unanswered.

Follow Up: In the 2012 structured approach document, the IAEA stated that it would identify follow-up actions throughout the process as necessary to facilitate its investigations. Iran's proposal on the approach removed that clause that would allow the IAEA to identify any further actions necessary throughout the investigations.

Restricting the agency's ability to follow up if new areas of concern emerge could prevent the IAEA from asserting that all of Iran's nuclear activities are entirely peaceful. In addition, evidence provided to the IAEA about Iran's activities comes in part from intelligence gathered by member states. It is unlikely that this information provides a complete picture of Iran's alleged nuclear activities with military dimensions.

If Iran wants to demonstrate the entirely peaceful nature of its nuclear program, then it should prioritize reaching an agreement with the IAEA that would allow the agency to proceed with its investigation as soon as possible.

The IAEA could encourage Iranian cooperation by assuring Tehran that the agency would not punish Iran in the future if it comes clean about its past activities and the agency is able to conclude that these activities are no longer being pursued.

Additional Transparency Measures

In the September 26 submission to the IAEA, Iran also explained its decision not to implement the Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement or Modified Code 3.1 of its safeguards agreement. In both cases, Iran maintains that it has chosen not to observe the agreements because the IAEA's investigations into Iran's nuclear program are politicized and not based on technical or legal justifications.

Iran should reconsider its decision not to implement these agreements. While Iran is not legally required to implement the Additional Protocol, the transparency gained by such actions would go a long way to provide further evidence that Iran's nuclear program is for entirely peaceful purposes, as it claims.

If Iran implements Code 3.1, the IAEA will receive information about any plans Tehran has to expand its nuclear program earlier than it would under the existing safeguards agreement. Iran would also be obligated to share any design changes to existing nuclear facilities. This would give the agency a clearer picture of the trajectory of Iran's nuclear program and provide early assurances about the nature and purpose of new facilities.

The Additional Protocol would allow the IAEA to visit all of the facilities associated with Iran's nuclear activities, including sites that the agency does not currently have access to, such as the uranium mines, Iran's centrifuge production facilities, and its heavy water production plant. The Additional Protocol also substantially expands the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine, undeclared, nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state's nuclear declarations.

With the Additional Protocol in effect, the IAEA would also be able to visit any site on very short notice. These monitoring and verification measures would give the agency a more complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities and allow for early detection of deviations from peaceful activities. Early notification would give the international community time to respond to any dash Iran might make toward building nuclear weapons.

Implementing the Additional Protocol is a step Iran could take quickly because it already negotiated the agreement with the IAEA. Iran signed the document and voluntarily implemented it between 2003-2006. However, because Tehran did not ratify the Additional Protocol, it is not legally bound to follow it.

Moving Forward

While the scope of Iran's future nuclear activities will be determined by the outcome of its negotiations with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), an agreement is unlikely to be reached if Tehran does not answer the IAEA's concerns and assure the international community that it is not actively pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.

A deal that allows Iran to enrich uranium only to normal reactor-grade levels, limits its enrichment capacity and stockpile, and grants the IAEA more extensive access and monitoring, in exchange for a phased lifting of international sanctions related to its nuclear activities, is still within reach. For it to be realized, however, Iran must cooperate with the IAEA and allow the agency to resolve its outstanding concerns over Tehran's nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.--KELSEY DAVENPORT

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

Description: 

While much of the world's attention will remained focused on Iran's negotiations with six world powers over its nuclear program, Iran will meet with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on October 28, to continue talks over the agency's approach to investigating Tehran's alleged weapons-related nuclear activities.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

What Kind of Deal Is Necessary and Possible to Guard Against a Nuclear-Armed Iran?

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Volume 4, Issue 11, October 10, 2013

The United States and its P5+1 partners--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany--will resume negotiations with Iran on October 15-16 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Iran's increasingly capable nuclear program.

The next round of talks--the first since the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran's president in June--represents the best chance in years to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.

Leaders in Washington and in Tehran say they want to see prompt action toward a "win-win" diplomatic solution. In August, a group of 76 senators wrote to President Barack Obama urging him "to fully explore the diplomatic process" with a "renewed sense of urgency." President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani have both said they believe there is a good basis for an agreement.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, Obama said:

"We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people [to access nuclear energy], while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable."

In remarks delivered the same day, Rouhani said it is our objective and "[o]ur national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran's peaceful nuclear program."

Iran, Rouhani said, also seeks "acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights, provides the only path towards achieving the first objective."

These and other comments from senior officials suggest that Iran may be prepared make a serious offer that could lead to verifiable limits on its uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel cycle projects, as well as more intrusive and more timely international nuclear inspections if the P5+1 group is willing begin the process of phasing-out the damaging oil and financial sanctions now in force against the Islamic Republic.

The task now is to negotiate the basic terms of such an agreement. This requires that each side come to the October 15-16 meeting in Geneva with new, pragmatic proposals that address the core concerns of the other. Each side must be prepared to follow up quickly with further talks, including direct, bilateral diplomacy between senior U.S. and Iranian officials and technical experts.

The U.S. Congress must do its part by refraining from actions that place unrealistic demands on the negotiators or establish new conditions for the easing of nonproliferation-related sanctions in response to concrete, verifiable actions by Iran that reduce proliferation risks.

Negotiated Limits Vs. Unconstrained Enrichment, Sanctions & War

Neither side can or will get everything they might have wanted in the past. If one or both sides miscalculate and demand more than the other side can or is willing to deliver, the negotiations will fail. For instance, it would be counterproductive for Iran to continue to insist, as it was doing last spring, on sanctions relief in return for little or no change in its nuclear program.

Likewise, it is unrealistic to insist that Iran halt all nuclear activities before there is any prospect of sanctions relief or even further talks. For example, the suggestion advanced in AIPAC's October 7 briefing paper that "Tehran must suspend all enrichment ... activities" in order "to provide the necessary time and space for discussions" is a non-starter.

There is clearly sufficient time to conclude and begin to implement an agreement before Iran could produce a nuclear weapon, which President Obama said in an October 4th interview would take Iran "more than a year" to accomplish, if it were to chose to do so.

Furthermore, it is counterproductive at this stage to demand that Iran suspend all nuclear activities as a precondition for further negotiations. "Zero enrichment" in Iran would be ideal from a nonproliferation standpoint--and it may have been attainable a decade ago when Iran's program was in its early stages--but insisting on such an outcome is not realistic today and is a recipe for failure.

And if the talks fail, both sides--and Israel--stand to lose. Big time.

In the absence of a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program and put in place tougher international inspections regime to guard against a potential undeclared nuclear activity, Iran will continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium without constraints, the United States will put in place even tighter sanctions, and risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites will grow.

Skeptics of a negotiated solution must recognize the reality that the alternative course--further sanctions and possible military strikes--cannot effectively stop Iran's dangerous nuclear pursuits.

Iran's economy is suffering under increasingly painful sanctions, but sanctions alone will not halt or eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons potential. Direct military strikes against Iran's nuclear sites would delay--not stop--Iran's nuclear pursuits and would give strength to hardliners in Tehran and push Iranian leaders to openly pursue nuclear weapons.

Reaching a sound, negotiated agreement will be difficult, but it is clearly the most effective course of action to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Core Elements of An Effective Deal

At the previous round of talks in April of 2013, Iran and the P5+1 presented proposals that highlighted key concerns of each side. While there were a number of common elements, there were significant differences regarding the sequence of actions, the scope of issues to be addressed, and the timing of sanctions relief.

To reach an agreement that addresses the most urgent proliferation risks posed by Iran's nuclear program, as well as Iran's desire to continue some nuclear activities and begin to remove elements of the severe sanctions regime that has been put in place, each side will need to exhibit more flexibility and creativity.

President Obama and the United States' P5+1 partners must be prepared to expand their modest diplomatic proposal from last April in a way that sets new constraints on Iran's evolving nuclear program in exchange for more significant sanctions relief.

Iranian Actions: The first priority of the P5+1 must be to seek a halt to Iran's production of 20 percent-enriched uranium on a permanent basis, which is above the fuel grade used in civilian power reactors and closer to weapons grade, and verifiably remove its existing stockpile of such material, in exchange for an arrangement to supply fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor, medical isotopes, or both.

Iran must also agree to reasonable limits on the overall uranium enrichment capacity of its two declared and safeguarded facilities: Natanz and Fordow. This can be accomplished in various ways, including:

  • verifiable limits on the overall number of operating centrifuges; and/or
  • agreed limits on Iran's enrichment capacity to a level commensurate with Iran's nuclear power reactor fuel supply needs, which are, for now, minimal.

Any agreed constraints on Iranian enrichment capacity must take into account the possible deployment of new and more efficient centrifuges.

The P5+1 also should press Iran to halt work on its Arak heavy-water reactor, which is nearing completion, in exchange for other forms of civil nuclear cooperation or energy assistance that do not represent such a high proliferation risk. Although Iran does not currently have the capability to extract the plutonium from the spent fuel this reactor would produce a year or so after it becomes fully operational, the Arak reactor could eventually provide Iran with a second path to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

To further guard against a secret weapons program at undisclosed sites and to provide additional warning time, Tehran should join the vast majority of other nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) member states in providing more-timely information to the IAEA about its nuclear projects under the standards of IAEA Code 3.1 and allow more-extensive inspections, shorter-notice through an Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

With these restrictions in place, Iran would find it extremely difficult to try to make a dash to build nuclear weapons before the international community would detect such activities and could act to block such an outcome.

U.S. and P5+1 Actions: To get to "yes" on these important steps, the P5+1 must be prepared to phase-out hard-hitting sanctions against Iran's banking sector and oil exports, which are at the core of the wide-array of restrictions that have been imposed on Iran's trade and economic activity in recent years.

The purpose of the sanctions effort has been to alter Iran's cost-benefit calculations about agreeing to limit its nuclear program-and they have. Iran understands that the tough international and national sanctions will remain in place until it takes the steps necessary to provide confidence that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. But Iran will not likely agree to limits on its nuclear program if there is no prospect for sanctions relief.

In the coming weeks, key members of the Senate must refrain from pushing ahead with a new round sanctions before the results of the next round of talks become clear.

Contrary to the suggestions of some, including Banking Committee chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), the imposition of tougher sanctions now--before the negotiators have reasonable amount of time to conclude an agreement--would severely undermine the prospects of an negotiated solution that is in the United States' interests and increase the chances of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The P5+1 also must be prepared to recognize Iran's right under the Article IV of the NPT to pursue peaceful nuclear activities under certain conditions. As President Obama said in his September 24 address to the UN, such recognition requires that Iran adequately and satisfactorily respond to the international community's concern about the nature of its program.

To do so, President Rouhani must follow through on his pledge for "greater transparency" by agreeing to ratify and implement the Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards arrangement and by fully cooperating with the IAEA investigation of suspected weapons-related experiments. The next meeting between the IAEA and Iran to agree on a "structured approach" for the IAEA's investigation is scheduled for October 28 in Vienna.

If the two sides can agree to allow the IAEA sufficient access to Iranian sites, personnel and information about its ongoing and past nuclear work, the Agency should be able to determine whether experiments with "potential military dimensions" are still underway, or not. Only then can the Agency report to the IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council on the its findings.

Now Is the Time

Over the past decade, the United States, along with its European partners, as well as Iran, have squandered opportunities to reach a resolution that would have limited Iran's nuclear capabilities.

In the absence of an agreement to limit Iran's nuclear activities and improve safeguards against diversion, Tehran has significantly expanded its enrichment program and other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle activities.

In 2005, when the United States and its EU-3 partners turned down Iran's offer to limit its enrichment capacity, Iran had less than three hundred uranium enrichment centrifuge machines; today Iran has nearly 10,000 operating centrifuges and has installed a total of nearly 19,000. A more advanced centrifuge design may soon become operational, increasing Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities even further.

Since 2007, the U.S. Intelligence Community has assessed that Iran has already gained a nuclear weapons capability--that is, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."

Senior U.S. intelligence officials continue to assess that leaders in Tehran have not made such a decision and they assess that Iran still more than a year away from being able to produce enough weapons grade uranium and possibly build nuclear weapons.

But in the absence of a negotiated solution, Iran's capabilities to produce material for nuclear weapons will only improve, even if international sanctions are tightened still further.

Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful agreement with Iran to verifiably limit its uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. If the two sides proceed on the basis of realistic and achievable goals, we can secure the transparency necessary to increase confidence that Iran is not actively developing nuclear weapons and finally establish verifiable limitations on uranium enrichment program to ensure that Iran does not develop a more rapid break-out option.

Negotiating a deal to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran will not be easy, but it is the best option on the table.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today. Daryl G. Kimball is ACA's executive director.

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The United States and its P5+1 partners--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany--will resume negotiations with Iran on October 15-16 in Geneva to seek a lasting resolution to the high-stakes standoff over Iran's increasingly capable nuclear program.

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Seizing Control of Assad's Chemical Arsenal: U.S.-Russian Plan Is Difficult But Doable

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Volume 4, Issue 10, September 19, 2013

The large-scale use of chemical weapons (CW) against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on August 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again--in Syria or elsewhere.

The recent findings of the UN chemical weapons inspection team--including evidence of the large-scale use of the nerve agent, Sarin, and the direction and type of the rockets used in the attacks--all point to use by President Bashar al-Assad's forces beyond reasonable doubt. The UN report corroborates and reinforces the conclusions reached by the United States and European intelligence agencies in the days after the attack.

In the wake of Assad's use of these horrible weapons on unprotected civilians, U.S. and Russian leaders have a game-changing opportunity to establish international control over Syria's chemical weapons and to eliminate or remove them within the course of the next year.

After days of intensive talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached a landmark agreement Sept. 14 on a detailed plan for the expeditious accounting, inspection, control, and elimination of Syria's sizable arsenal of chemical weapons-probably the world's fourth largest today.

The U.S.-Russian plan is thorough and tough; the timetable for action is difficult but doable. It deserves the full support of the international community and the implementing agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)--the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Framework for Eliminating Syria's CW

The Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian joint framework calls on Syria to provide a full declaration of its stockpile "within a week" and "to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW, the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria." The plan calls for the OPCW inspectors to complete their initial inspections by November.

The document states that U.S. and Russian officials have also reached a consensus on the size of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile and calls for the destruction of Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons and chemical agents by the first half of 2014.

Reinforcing the Political and Legal Mandate

In the coming days, the OPCW Executive Council must approve the framework agreement and UN Security Council must come together on a resolution mandating that Syria comply with the plan.

At a minimum, the resolution should:

  • Unequivocally condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a war crime;
  • Forbid further use of chemical weapons by anyone, under any circumstances;
  • Recognize Syria's accession to the CWC;
  • Demand that the Syrian government immediately and fully declare its chemical weapons and facilities, and allow inspectors immediate access to and control of all chemical weapons storage and production sites;
  • Demand that Syria and all CWC member states fully cooperate with the OPCW and other Security Council members to achieve the removal and/or destruction of its entire chemical arsenal no later than mid-2014; and
  • Call upon all other states that have not yet signed and ratified the convention--Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, and South Sudan--to do so immediately.

In addition, the plan for international control of Syria's chemical stockpiles requires an effective enforcement mechanism.

As the Obama administration has noted, Russia's pursuit and Syria's acceptance of the concept of international control has only come after the threat of the use of force. In order to ensure that Syria fully implements its commitments, the Security Council should agree that "serious action" by Council members under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, including the use of force, would be warranted if there are flagrant violations by Assad. If not, the United States and other governments must continue to reserve the right to use force to compel implementation by Syria.

The Chemical Weapons Destruction Task

Assad's forces are believed to possess (and are responsible for maintaining control over) about 1,100 tons of blister agents, including mustard gas, and nerve agents, including Sarin and VX. Syria's stockpile is deliverable by aerial bombs, ballistic missiles, and artillery rockets.

Before the Syrian civil war began, independent analysts believed that there were about a dozen chemical weapons stockpiles and production-related sites inside Syria. Today, published press reports based on Western intelligence sources suggest there may be as many as 40 such sites.

Together, the United States and Russia know a good deal more about the size and nature of the Syrian CW stocks, including whether most of it is in precursor chemicals, and/or bulk storage and how much of it is weaponized.

The Sept. 14 framework document states that "the United States and Russia have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons" in Syria, and that "[w]e further determined that the most effective control of these weapons may be achieved by removal of the largest amounts of weapons feasible, under OPCW supervision, and their destruction outside Syria if possible."

If Syria's stockpile is in bulk form, it can be more easily be incinerated, neutralized, or detonated in closed steel-canister systems (mobile "bang boxes"), making destruction within the nine to twelve months feasible. These Explosive Detonation Systems (EDS) have been used very effectively in China by the Japanese for the ongoing destruction of some 750,000 buried and old Japanese chemical munitions, and will be used in Pueblo, Colorado, and in Blue Grass, Kentucky as supplements to the neutralization processes for leaking and troublesome U.S. chemical weapons.

Russia also has some of the best equipped and trained chemical weapons personnel and significant destruction capabilities, including the Shchuch'ye chemical weapons destruction facility, which opened in 2009.

The technology for destroying the Syrian chemical stocks and the capability to get the job done is there; the key is maintaining the political will to do so.

The Best Alternative

While there are many further, challenging steps ahead, the agreement is an important breakthrough that can deny the Assad regime access to his dangerous chemical arsenal and significantly reduce the risk that the government can use CW again, either inside Syria or against neighboring states in the region.

The Obama administration plan for a punitive U.S. cruise missile strike would have degraded but not eliminated Assad's ability to launch chemical weapons against rebel forces, Syrian civilians, and/or targets in Israel, Turkey, or Jordan. By contrast, the plan for the verifiable control and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal has the potential to achieve more at a lower risk. It is the best option on the table.

Assad's cost-benefit calculation about chemical weapons has already changed: they are now an enormous liability that cannot be used and only through their verifiable elimination can he avoid punitive military strikes that would have the backing of not just the United States, but the UN Security Council.

It is possible that Assad may try to hide some of his CW stockpile, but it will be difficult for him to do successfully so over the course of the inspection process, which will be aided by U.S. and Russian intelligence on the nature and location and size of the Syrian stockpile- and there will be serious consequences if Assad does not cooperate and does not turn over his entire CW arsenal.

The U.S.-Russian agreement states that: "in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

The strong U.S. and global reaction against the brazen use of chemical weapons, combined with the credible threat of punitive U.S. cruise missile strikes to degrade Assad's CW capabilities, has transformed Syria's chemical arsenal into a liability for both Assad and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Although Russia will continue to object to the possible use of force against Assad, Moscow is now invested in the success of the plan, something that was hard to imagine even a week ago.

The U.S.-Russian Framework for the control and verifiable destruction of Syria's chemical weapons is, of course, not intended to resolve the ongoing, brutal conflict in Syria. But it does provide the most effective way of denying Assad the option to use one of his most dangerous weapons--against which the rebel forces and Syria's civilians do not stand a chance. And it does so in a way that can facilitate U.S.-Russian cooperation toward bringing key parties together to reach a political settlement for ending the conflict.

Contrary to some critics, the plan does not "absolve" Assad for using chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The UN Security Council can refer such war crimes to the ICC even if the persons responsible are citizens of a state that has not ratified the ICC statute. This and other options for holding Assad and his chemical henchmen accountable will remain on the table.

It is clearly everyone's interest to ensure the success of the plan for denying Assad access to his chemical arsenal, which will reinforce the long-standing and vital global prohibition against chemical weapons and is the most effective way to protect Syria's civilians from further poison gas attacks.--DARYL G. KIMBALL

 

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

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The large-scale use of chemical weapons (CW) against rebel-controlled areas outside Damascus on August 21 requires a strong international response to help ensure that further such attacks are not launched ever again--in Syria or elsewhere.

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Senators' Exhortations Complicate Iran Solution

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Volume 4, Issue 9, August 8, 2013

By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

Unfortunately, in their attempt to encourage President Obama "to bring a renewed sense of urgency to the process," a group of 76 Senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has sent a letter on August 2 to Obama that could undermine efforts to resolve the long-running dispute. The letter's prescriptions may prompt the same kind of counterproductive impact by Iran, which Paul Pillar predicted in The National Interest in response to House passage of H.R. 850, the "Nuclear Iran Prevention Act."

The Menendez-Graham letter emphasizes toughening sanctions and making military threats more credible, just as Iran installs a president elected on a platform of renewing diplomatic engagement and putting an end to international isolation. The senator's approach represents a serious misunderstanding of political realities in Iran and the nature of upcoming nuclear negotiations.

The June 2013 election results show that Iranians are dissatisfied by outgoing President Ahmadinejad's handling of the economy and the international isolation that has resulted from his confrontational policies. Newly-elected President Rouhani has signaled a willingness to accept greater transparency in Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for acceptance of Iran's rights to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This is the basic framework within which a negotiated resolution to the Iran nuclear crisis is possible.

With the tough economic sanctions now in place, and a broad political consensus holding among the six powers negotiating with Iran, the international community has the leverage it needs to achieve an acceptable agreement. However, the Senators' letter argues that more sanctions and more credible military threats will persuade Tehran to make a deal.

Sanctions have certainly affected Iran's economy and the government's risk/benefit calculations, but they will not by themselves halt Iran's nuclear program. It is fantasy to believe otherwise. The implementation of still tougher sanctions at the outset of renewed talks would harden Iran's resolve, fracture the P5+1 coalition, and dim the prospects for persuading Tehran to compromise.

Overt threats of military attack would be even more likely to undermine P5+1 solidarity and reduce the likelihood of Iran foregoing the nuclear weapons option. In any case, military action--short of a permanent occupation--cannot prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In fact, military and intelligence experts agree that striking Iran's nuclear facilities would only delay Iran's program by two to three years and trigger an Iranian decision to openly build nuclear weapons.

Advances in Iran's enrichment capabilities and the start up of a new heavy water reactor next year make it important to reach a deal that limits Iran's bomb-making potential as soon as possible.

But the Senators' implication that "the time for diplomacy is nearing its end" is naïve and unhelpful. Given the deep distrust on both sides of the negotiating table, negotiations will not likely produce immediate results. Furthermore, security experts assess that if Iran chooses to actually build nuclear weapons, it would take at least a year and probably two or more years to produce enough fissile material, manufacture the warheads, and integrate them on ballistic missiles to field a credible arsenal.

The Senators' letter also calls for demanding Iran "move quickly toward compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment." U.S. policymakers must recognize that, although total and permanent suspension of enrichment would be an ideal way to facilitate achievement of an ultimate agreement, it is no longer feasible. Realists know that the negotiating issue at stake is not whether to allow enrichment, but rather the circumstances under which enrichment can occur.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already testified to Congress in March 2011 that Iran had a right to enrich under "very strict conditions." Today, the P5+1 is insisting on sufficient transparency for nuclear activities inside Iran so that the International Atomic Energy Agency can be confident Tehran is not developing nuclear weapons and on placing sufficient limitations on enrichment that Tehran has no quick break-out options.

The Senators also argue that the goal of U.S. policy should be that "we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability." This assertion ignores the fact that Iran already has the capability to develop nuclear weapons, according to the 2007 and subsequent assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community, but that the Tehran government has not made a decision to do so. It is reasonable to assume that Tehran wants to have an ability to build nuclear weapons quickly, but does not necessarily intend to leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Opinion polls in Iran indicate strong public support for Iran's "right" to enrich uranium, but only a minority of Iranians favor the building of nuclear weapons.

President Rouhani told reporters on August 6 that "Iran has a serious political will to solve the nuclear problem while protecting the rights of the Iranian people at the same time as it seeks to remove concerns of the other party." He also said a "win-win" outcome is possible. Yet Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, clearly suspects that the real U.S. goal in negotiations over the nuclear program is to achieve regime change in Tehran.

Khamenei may ultimately insist on keeping more nuclear options open to Iran than any deal the P5+1 could tolerate. But if the Iranian negotiators can strike a compromise acceptable to the six powers, Rouhani will need to convince the Supreme Leader and other regime elements that Iran's honor has been preserved and its national interests protected.

The Menendez-Graham letter may be well intentioned, but its emphasis on threats and demands is misplaced and ill-timed. As President Obama argued in March 2009, "[the diplomatic] process will not be advanced by threats." The president was right then and the advice resonates now more than ever.

The United States would be wise to seize the opportunity presented by Iran's new president, reinvigorating diplomatic efforts to secure a verifiable agreement-on the basis of realistic and achievable goals. In this way, Washington can ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and the United States does not again go to war. --GREG THIELMANN

[An earlier version of this article appeared in The National Interest, August 6, 2013]

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

Description: 

By mid-September, P5+1 diplomats (from the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will likely resume talks aimed at resolving concerns about Iran's nuclear program with President Hassan Rouhani's new negotiating team. The talks represent an important opportunity to finally reach a deal that limits Iran's most worrisome uranium enrichment activities, obtains more extensive inspections to guard against a secret weapons program, and shows Iran a path toward phasing out international sanctions.

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Presidents Need Flexibility on Nuclear Arms Reductions

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Volume 4, Issue 8, July 26, 2013

President Obama announced on June 19 in Berlin that a new review of U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements found that "we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third" below the limits established by the 2010 New START Treaty. "And," the President added, "I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures."

This is good news. As part of a long bipartisan tradition, further reductions to U.S. and Russian nuclear forces would be a welcome step toward making the United States safer, cutting the Russian arsenal, and redirecting U.S. defense dollars to higher priority needs.

It was President Ronald Reagan who, in 1986, shifted U.S. policy away from ever-higher nuclear stockpiles--which peaked at about 30,000 nuclear warheads--and started down the path of reductions that continues today. U.S. and Russian arsenals have now been reduced by more than two-thirds. U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all contributed to reducing the nuclear threat.

This impressive progress was made through a combination of formal agreements and informal understandings, as the situation required, some requiring congressional approval, some not. To get the results we want and need, such presidential flexibility on nuclear arms reductions must be preserved.

Congress Out of Step
But some Republicans in Congress are seeking to take this flexibility--which previous Republican Presidents enjoyed--away from President Obama. They have responded to the Berlin speech by demanding a firm commitment from the White House to seek Senate approval for any new agreement, while others accused the administration of pursuing "unilateral disarmament" and are seeking to block funding for any further nuclear reductions, even under New START.

For example, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, introduced an amendment approved by the full House this week that would block funding for implementation of New START. He claims the treaty is "tearing down our nuclear deterrent" and that "the president must not be allowed to unilaterally weaken our defenses."

In fact, under New START the United States will keep over 1,550 nuclear warheads, and Russia is reducing faster than we are. Constraints on New START implementation would infringe on the Pentagon's flexibility to implement the treaty and could lead the U.S. to miss the treaty's 2018 implementation deadline, prompting Russia to rethink its own commitment to the treaty and build up its forces. Walking away from current efforts to reduce Russian nuclear stockpiles would be counterproductive.

The House also approved an amendment by Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Rogers to prohibit funding for any nuclear weapons reductions that occur outside a legally-binding treaty or a congressional executive agreement, even though past Presidents have pursued nuclear arms reductions with and without formal agreements.

Congress deserves to be consulted, but it should not put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of more cost-effective and appropriately-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, whether that is through existing treaties or new reductions.

Reality Check
There is nothing "unilateral" about the President's approach. President Obama made it very clear that he intends to seek "negotiated" cuts with Russia. In the report to Congress explaining the latest revisions to U.S. nuclear weapons employment guidance, the Pentagon notes that even though "Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries," the President and the Defense Department still "place importance on Russia joining us as we move to lower levels of nuclear weapons."

The President's stated goal is to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear forces by up to one-third below the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. This is a very modest proposal and hardly a rush to global zero. Even at 1,000 strategic nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia would still maintain over 80% of the globe's nuclear weapons. And, as an Anniston [Ala.] Star editorial from July 25 notes, "even with proposed reductions we still have the capability to reduce enemy cities to rubble within a few hours."

In an attempt to cast doubt on further negotiated nuclear reductions with Russia, some congressional Republicans also claim that Moscow is not complying with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. However, recent Pentagon and State Department reports find no evidence of Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty.

Treaty or Informal Understanding?
The more serious concern, as recently expressed by 24 Republican senators in a June 19 letter to the White House, is whether or not the administration will produce a treaty "subject to the advice and consent of the Senate."

In the past, the United States has often reduced its nuclear forces through formal bilateral treaties (INF, START I, SORT, New START) and parallel, reciprocal measures.

The primary example of the latter is President George H.W. Bush's bold Presidential Nuclear Initiative in 1991 to remove thousands of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from forward deployment as the Soviet Union began to break up. Days later, Moscow reciprocated, reducing the risk that these weapons would fall into the wrong hands. No formal treaty was ever negotiated or signed, nor did the administration seek the approval of Congress.

Even in the case of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, or the "Moscow Treaty"), it is worth recalling that President George W. Bush initially set out to reduce U.S. forces without a formal agreement. As he said in 2001: "We don't need an arms control agreement to convince us to reduce our nuclear weapons down substantially, and I'm going to do it."

In their June 19 letter, the 24 Senate Republicans point out that in 2002 then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and then-Ranking Member Jesse Helms sent a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell stating that: "With the exception of the SALT I agreement, every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades has been transmitted pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the Constitution ...we see no reason whatsoever to alter this practice."

President Bush ultimately agreed to negotiate and submit the SORT Treaty for Senate advice and consent in part because Russia wanted a treaty, even if it was a very simple one. Had Russia not wanted a formal agreement, Bush would likely have reduced U.S. nuclear weapons unilaterally, as his father did before him.

In their letter to the White House the 24 Senators also note that the resolution of ratification for New START states that "further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any military significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President..." (emphasis added).

This does not, however, rule out the option of mutual nuclear reductions in the absence of a formal agreement. First, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already determined that one-third of the U.S. strategic nuclear warheads now deployed are in excess of military requirements. Thus, such a reduction would not have a significant impact on U.S. security.

Second, an informal U.S.-Russian understanding that each side would reduce its nuclear forces would not be legally binding and is therefore not an obligation subject to congressional approval.

What Matters Is the Result
The bottom line is that the process of reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals is complex and Congress should be careful not to try to restrict the President's options to achieve results that are in the best interests of the nation, which is to reduce excess U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals in a stable and verifiable way. Treaties may be the best way, but they are not the only way.

As the State Department's International Security Advisory Board's Nov. 27, 2012 report suggests, Russia and the United States could seek additional reductions on the basis of a mutual understanding rather than a formal treaty. Such an understanding "can be quicker and less politically costly, relative to treaties with adversarial negotiations and difficult ratification processes," the board wrote.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said that, "we can reduce nuclear weapons without having a negotiation."

Verifiable, reciprocal cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles will make every American safer by reducing the nuclear firepower that can be delivered within minutes across the globe, while allowing resources to be devoted to more pressing security needs. Further reductions would also improve the international consensus to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and enhance cooperation to address the threats from North Korea and Iran, and put pressure on other states--including China--to join in the reduction process.

Significant budget savings can also be achieved if President Obama eliminates the current "requirements" for Cold War-sized nuclear forces. An assessment by the Arms Control Association identifies about $40 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade if the United States right-sizes its nuclear force to about 1,000 strategic deployed nuclear warheads.

For its part, Russia will be hard pressed to maintain 1,550 strategic warheads unless it continues its own expensive modernization of its aging nuclear delivery systems. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to eliminate their excess strategic nuclear forces.

The existing New START Treaty already provides a solid framework for verification and monitoring through intrusive inspection and data exchanges. Deeper, mutual reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons can be achieved through reciprocal actions made on the basis of the best national interests of each country.

As George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn wrote in March: "A global effort is needed to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, prevent their spread, and ultimately end them as a threat to the world. It will take leadership, creative approaches and thoughtful understanding of the perils of inaction."

The White House needs flexibility to lead and be creative--a one-size-fits-all approach will not cut it. We must not let the process and politics get in the way of the substance: reducing nuclear dangers and increasing U.S. security.--TOM Z. COLLINA

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

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President Obama announced on June 19 in Berlin that a new review of U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements found that "we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third" below the limits established by the 2010 New START Treaty. "And," the President added, "I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures."

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Understanding the 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report

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Volume 4, Issue 7, July 17, 2013

The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

Covering the period ending on December 31, 2012, the report provides no obvious basis for the conclusion rendered in a recent amendment adopted by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) that Russia was "in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms obligations."

The vague public charge repeatedly made by HASC Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon appears to refer to more specific allegations in the press that a missile recently tested by Russia is a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Yet neither the Compliance Report nor the July 10, 2013 "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" assessment of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) identifies any Russian intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which the INF Treaty defines as missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km.

No Russian INF Missiles
With regard to the INF Treaty, the 2013 Compliance Report registers no issues of concern during the reporting period. This month's NASIC missile threat report says explicitly that "neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM [1,000-3,000 km range] or IRBM [3,000-5,500 km range] systems..." The NASIC report lists no Russian SRBM [<1,000 km range] with a range over 280 km.

Moreover, the missile threat report, the product of three Defense Department intelligence agencies, covers missiles under development, as well as those deployed. The absence of any Russian INF-category missiles in the report strongly implies that those observed in flight tests from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan (in October 2012 and June 2013) were the "New ICBM" NASIC lists with a range of 5,500+ km, and as "not yet deployed ."

With regard to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the 2013 Compliance Report certifies that Russia is in full compliance with the terms of the 2010 treaty. As in the case of every previous U.S.-Soviet or U.S.-Russian nuclear limitation treaty, implementation-related questions have been raised by both sides in the designated commission for discussing these issues, according to the report, and discussions are ongoing.

Russian Skies Not Completely Open
The 2013 report identifies four concerns, two of them new, regarding Russia's fulfillment of its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty establishes a regime for conducting unarmed observation flights by States Parties over the territories of other States Parties.

Specifically, the State Department report says that Russia has imposed: 1) restrictions on access by Open Skies aircraft to three areas: over Chechnya; in an air traffic control zone around Moscow; and along the border of Russia with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions of Georgia that only Russia recognizes as independent countries; 2) air traffic control restrictions around Moscow that prevented flights or flight segments from taking place; and 3) airfield closures in support of holidays. Russia, the report notes, has also failed to provide a first generation duplicate negative of processed photographic film. Only the latter concern appears headed toward resolution, anticipating that Russia's future use of digital cameras will eliminate the need for negatives.

Through a Glass Darkly: BWC/CWC
The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) section raises concerns about compliance with a number of countries, but conclusions are usually tentative or qualified. For example, "It remains unclear if Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article II..." and  "Syria may be engaged in activities that would violate its obligations under the BWC if it were a State Party to the Convention." These constructions are not surprising given the absence of a verification mechanism for the treaty.

As in last year's report, the United States assesses that Russia's Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) declaration is incomplete with respect to chemical agent and weapons stockpiles. In the absence of additional information from Russia, the United States is unable to ascertain whether Russia has declared all of its CW stockpile, all CW development and production facilities. Both the United States and Russia were unable to meet the convention's deadlines for eliminating chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles and facilities. In the "U.S. Compliance" section of the 2013 report, the authors artfully report only that the United States "continues to work towards meeting its CWC obligations with respect to the destruction of...[CW] and associated CW facilities."

Rogue's Gallery
Although the vast majority of states parties to arms control agreements are said to be complying with their commitments, the actions of North Korea, Iran, and Syria are   conspicuous for including multiple instances of noncompliance.

As in last year's report, the 2013 report again found North Korea to be in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in noncompliance with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards Agreement before its announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. North Korea's continued nuclear program development was judged to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and of Pyongyang's commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks.

Iran and Syria were said to be in violation of their obligations under the NPT and their IAEA Safeguards Agreements. As before, Iran was also cited for violating its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

In light of the U.S. assessment that Syria has used nerve gases against its domestic opposition in recent months, it is worth mentioning that Syria is not a party to the CWC, which prohibits such use. Moreover, although Syria is a party to the 1925 Protocol Against the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, that treaty does not prohibit use of chemical weapons within a state's own borders in a civil conflict. The Syrian case provides a dramatic reminder that absent arms control treaties and their verification mechanisms, the prospects for deterring, detecting and reversing behaviors unacceptable to the international community are much diminished.

An Encouraging Word on Burma
The concern expressed in last year's report about Burma's compliance with the NPT has eased. The 2013 report notes that Burma announced in November 2012 that it agreed to sign on to more intrusive IAEA inspection procedures, such as the Additional Protocol and that it would abide by certain UN Security Council resolutions on nonproliferation.

Compliance with the Global De Facto Nuclear Test Moratorium
The 2013 Compliance Report notes North Korea's 2013 nuclear weapons test explosion, but does not report any violation of the nuclear test moratoria, which have been declared by each of the five NPT nuclear weapon states since 1996, and by India and Pakistan beginning in1998.

Taking Arms Control Compliance Seriously
Compliance reports provide not only an important snapshot of contemporary issues regarding the implementation of arms control agreements; they also supply a valuable measure of progress over time and of relative performance between states parties. It is encouraging to see the Obama administration re-establishing executive branch fidelity to the congressional mandate for yearly reports--particularly after the previous administration managed to produce only two over an eight-year period.

Reviewing the content of the 2013 Compliance Report offers a reminder that adequate verification provisions and consultative mechanisms are prerequisites to meaningful monitoring and resolution of compliance issues. There is thus a symbiotic relationship between verifiable arms control agreements and conscientious efforts to monitor and report on compliance.

Although the U.S. Government's contributions to evaluating compliance are invaluable, any report by an individual national government can be subject to inherent limits on objectivity. Additional insights can be gained from such independent elaborations as the "2010-2013 Report Card" of the Arms Control Association on progress made by 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories. In this assessment, there are no straight "A"s to be seen. --GREG THIELMANN

1. 2013 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments; Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; Washington, DC, July 2013.

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

Description: 

The 2013 Arms Control Compliance Report [1] issued by the U.S. State Department on July 12 showed little change in the assessments of U.S.-Russian arms control treaty compliance provided by last year's report.

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Scale Back the B61 Nuclear Bomb

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Volume 4, Issue 6, June 25, 2013

This week, House and Senate appropriators will vote on how much money to spend on the B61 gravity bomb, a $10 billion program to upgrade a weapon that President Obama said last week he wants to reduce. Given the high cost of this effort, the declining military justification, and the fact that less expensive alternatives exist, Congress should scale back this program dramatically.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to extend the service life of 400 B61 bombs for an estimated cost of $10 billion, or $25 million per bomb. NNSA is requesting $537 million for the program in fiscal year 2014, a 45 percent increase over the 2013 appropriation.

This is just the beginning of an expensive series of Life Extension Programs (LEPs) in the pipeline. According to the FY2014  Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, NNSA wants to upgrade four additional warhead types between now and 2038, each of which will cost more than the B61. All told, NNSA plans to spend more than $65 billion on upgrading five warhead types over the next 25 years, requiring a significant increase in annual funding.

Given the current fiscal climate, such spending plans are not realistic. For example, the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee voted last week to cut the administration's request for NNSA weapons activities by $193 million. The subcommittee had specific concerns about the life extension programs, and required NNSA to prepare a report on alternatives to its plans. The House and Senate Energy and Water subcommittees are expected to complete their bills this week.

Moreover, NNSA's plans do not reflect the reality that U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals are declining in size. President Obama announced just last week in Berlin that deployed strategic nuclear weapons can be reduced by one-third below New START treaty levels while ensuring a strong strategic deterrent. He said that he intends to seek negotiated strategic nuclear reductions with Russia.

Tactical B61s: No Need

President Obama also said in Berlin that he will "work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe." The B61 is the only U.S. nuclear weapon in Europe, with about 180 stored in five NATO countries. It would be a waste of scarce resources to spend billions of dollars upgrading B61 tactical (or short range) bombs that may soon be retired.

With the Cold War over, the Warsaw Pact long gone, and the threat of a Soviet land-attack across central Europe no longer a possibility, there is no military justification for keeping B61 tactical bombs in NATO. These weapons should be returned to the United States and kept in secure storage. We can continue to reassure our NATO allies, and deter any nuclear weapons threat against NATO with nuclear weapons based in the United States and on submarines at sea.

Ruud Lubbers, Dutch prime minister from 1982 to 1994, recently confirmed that B61s are still stored in the Netherlands and said that the bomb is "an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking."

Strategic B61 Life Extension: Less Costly Alternatives

In addition to the tactical bombs, another 200 B61s are carried by strategic (or long range) B-2 bombers based in the United States, and while they may be reduced in the future, most are likely to remain in service. But even in this case, NNSA's $10 billion, gold-plated life extension plan can be scaled back. There are cheaper options that would save billions of dollars.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, said in April that NNSA has studied another option for the B61 LEP that would cost billions less. This option, known as the triple alteration or "triple-alt," would replace only three key bomb parts that are said to be nearing the end of their useful lives in the next ten years.

B61 bombs, like all modern nuclear weapons, have certain parts that have a predictable service life and are replaced on a regular basis. The triple-alt plan would replace the bomb's neutron generator, power source, and radar system. This plan would extend the life of B61 bombs for another 10 years, according to NNSA, and would cost approximately $3 billion, according to the Defense Department.

In contrast, the scope of NNSA's $10 billion LEP goes well beyond these three components and involves replacing hundreds of other parts, such as switches, foams, cables, and the bomb's uranium secondary. Many of these parts can wait until we have a better idea of how many B61 bombs are needed for the future. In all likelihood NNSA will be able to reduce the number of bombs to be upgraded, and save money.

Spending $10 billion on upgrading 400 B61 bombs would be a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars. Instead, we can delay the tactical bomb upgrades for a year or more to see if progress can be made in removing B61s from Europe. As for the strategic version, we should be able to scale back the effort significantly. The scope and cost of the B61 LEP can be reduced by half or more, saving billions of dollars.--TOM Z. COLLINA

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

Description: 

This week, House and Senate appropriators will vote on how much money to spend on the B61 gravity bomb, a $10 billion program to upgrade a weapon that President Obama said last week he wants to reduce. Given the high cost of this effort, the declining military justification, and the fact that less expensive alternatives exist, Congress should scale back this program dramatically.

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Renewed U.S.-Led Nuclear Weapons Risk Reduction Steps Are Necessary and Overdue

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Volume 4, Issue 5, June 14, 2013

Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the threats posed by the bomb have changed, but still hang over us all. Today, there still are nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons, and nine nuclear-armed states. More countries have access to the technologies needed to produce nuclear bomb material, and the risk of nuclear terrorism is real.

The massive nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia-the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War-have been reduced through successive arms control agreements. Yet, deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear forces still exceed 1,500 strategic warheads each, far more than necessary to deter nuclear attack.

Last year in South Korea, President Barack Obama declared that "[t]he massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today's threats, including nuclear terrorism." He noted that his administration is reviewing U.S. nuclear strategy but that we can "already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need."

The administration's review of nuclear strategy, completed some 18 months ago, may soon be finalized. The President may also finally outline his 2nd term nuclear risk reduction objectives, including plans for further nuclear reductions with Russia, ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and steps to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.

U.S. leadership is critical on all of these initiatives. Action by President Obama is overdue.

On June 17, Obama will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland. They will discuss ways to resolve concerns about U.S. missile defense plans and continue cooperative programs to lock-down sensitive nuclear materials. The two leaders could also conclude months of talks designed to reach a new framework agreement for cooperative threat reduction efforts to dispose of many excess Cold War weapons and materials. If a breakthrough on missile defense cooperation and data-sharing can be achieved it could open the way for further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions beyond the 2010 New START treaty.

Further Nuclear Reductions Are In Order

Even after the 2010 New START agreement, the United States and Russia still possess more than 95% of the world's nuclear weapons. Further, verifiable, reciprocal cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles will make every American safer by reducing the nuclear firepower that can be delivered within minutes across the globe, while allowing resources to be devoted to more pressing security needs.

Further U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions would also improve the international consensus to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and enhance cooperation to address the threats from North Korea and Iran, and put pressure on other states-including China-to join in the disarmament enterprise.

Nuclear Overkill
The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report states that: "the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners" and not to "fight and prevail" in a nuclear war. As Ronald Reagan said in 1985: "a nuclear cannot be won and must never be fought."

A "limited" nuclear attack involving just 300 nuclear weapons could kill 75 million Russians immediately and millions more in the weeks and months to follow. The United States can and should reduce its arsenal to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads or fewer-a level than is still more than enough to deter any current or potential adversary and is only 300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago.

Next Steps With Russia
President Obama has an opportunity to work with Russia to reduce each side's arsenal to 1,000 or fewer nuclear weapons through a new treaty that takes into account all types of warheads and delivery systems-deployed, nondeployed, strategic, and tactical.

As a November 2012 report from the secretary of state's International Security Advisory Board suggests, with New START verification tools in place, further reciprocal U.S.-Russian nuclear reductions need not wait for a formal follow-on treaty.

If necessary, the presidents could achieve similar results--and more rapidly--through parallel, reciprocal reductions of strategic warheads--to well below 1,000 within the next five years, which could be verified under New START.

Further talks between the United States and Russia should also lead to controls on tactical nuclear weapons. More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, there is no military rationale for Russia to maintain some 2,000 tactical nuclear bombs, many of which are on obsolete naval and air defense systems. Nor is there any military requirement for the U.S. to keep 180 air-delivered nuclear bombs in Europe, which could cost billions to refurbish.

The High Cost of Excess Nuclear Weapons
Further nuclear reductions would also allow the United States to scale back costly schemes for building a new generation of strategic nuclear delivery systems and rebuilding tactical nuclear bombs. The savings could be used for more pressing national needs.

According to a 2012 study by two Stimson Center researchers, U.S. spending on nuclear weapons is approximately $31 billion per year. The projected costs for maintaining and modernizing the current U.S. nuclear force will increase those costs in the coming decade.

The Navy is currently planning for 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to carry more than 1,000 nuclear warheads into the 2070s, at a total cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force wants a new, nuclear-armed strategic bomber that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles that would cost billions more. Current plans call for upgrading about 300 units of the tactical version and about 100 of the strategic version of the B61 nuclear warhead at an estimated cost exceeding $10.4 billion.

In July 2011, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright explained that "... we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don't have the money to do it."

Significant cost reductions can only be achieved if Obama eliminates the current "requirements" for Cold War-sized nuclear forces. A 2013 assessment by the Arms Control Association identifies $39 billion in taxpayer savings over the next decade if the United States right-sizes its nuclear force to 1,000 or fewer strategic deployed nuclear warheads.

Reducing the Risk of Accidental Nuclear War
The President should also follow through on promised action to eliminate the outdated requirements to maintain a large portion of U.S. strategic forces to be ready to launch within minutes, and thereby increase the time available for the President to make decisions involving nuclear forces in a time of crisis.

In 2008, Obama said: "Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment's notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation. I believe that we must address this dangerous situation-something that President Bush promised to do when he campaigned for president back in 2000, but did not do once in office. I will work with Russia to end such outdated Cold War policies in a mutual and verifiable way."

A reliable and credible nuclear deterrent does not require the ability to retaliate immediately but only the assurance that U.S. nuclear forces and command-and control systems would survive an initial attack.

Strong, Bipartisan Support for Deeper Nuclear Reductions
A wide-range of experts support further reductions to bloated U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.

In April 2012, Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. nuclear forces under President George W. Bush, called for making deep reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and removing the threat of a pre-emptive "decapitating" strike against Russia. Cartwright suggests a nuclear force of 900 total strategic weapons by 2022. The 450 deployed warheads would be off alert, requiring 24 to 72 hours to become launch ready. In the report, "Modernizing U.S. Nuclear Strategy, Force Structure and Posture," Cartwright and his co-authors (former Reagan administration arms control negotiator Richard Burt, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), former U.S ambassador Thomas Pickering, and retired Gen. Jack Sheehan) conclude that current U.S. and Russian arsenals "vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence."

In a March 7, 2011 Wall Street Journal oped, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, and former Sen. Sam Nunn argued that: "Reducing the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles with verification to the levels set by the New Start Treaty is an important step in reducing nuclear risks. Deeper nuclear reductions and changes in nuclear force posture involving the two nations should remain a priority. ... the U.S. and Russia-having led the nuclear buildup for decades-must continue to lead the build-down. The U.S. and its NATO allies, together with Russia, must begin moving away from threatening force postures and deployments."

These nuclear force reductions are consistent with reductions in nuclear forces achieved under previous administrations. For example, during the George W. Bush administration's eight years, the total U.S. arsenal dropped from about 10,500 warheads to just over 5,000-about 50 percent fewer.

Cooperation on Missile Defense and Data-Sharing Is in U.S. and Russian Interests

Since 2011, U.S. and Russian leaders have failed to make progress in their ongoing talks on missile defense cooperation and data sharing, largely due to Russian concerns about U.S. plans for deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB long-range interceptors in Poland by 2022, which some Russian military officials believe might threaten a portion of Russia's land-based, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. These concerns have led Russia to resist further progress on offensive nuclear reductions.

But on March 15, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the effective cancellation of the program, citing congressional funding cuts and significant technical problems. Congress had cut the funding, and the program was plagued with significant technical problems. The Obama administration's latest budget request contains no funding for the SM-3 IIB missile program, and administration officials have told Congress there are no plans to revive it.

With the decision to terminate the program, there is no other U.S. missile interceptor capability in place or under development for Europe that could plausibly threaten Russian strategic missiles. U.S. ground-based strategic interceptors in Alaska and California are limited in number-currently 30, potentially 44 by 2017-and still are not capable of defeating ballistic missiles equipped with countermeasures such as those that Russia deploys.

Instead, U.S. missile defenses will have only a limited capability to counter short- and medium-range missiles from Iran and North Korea and a handful of unsophisticated, long-range missiles that those two states might field in the years ahead.

These realities should open the way to a legally binding Russian-U.S. agreement for the regular exchange of information on missile defense programs. Such an agreement would help Russia verify U.S. claims about its missile defense capabilities and should be accompanied by a joint presidential statement clarifying that the two countries' missile interceptor programs do not threaten each other's security.

In recent weeks, U.S. and Russian officials have exchanged updated proposals.

Sharing of missile defense data is a commonsense, bipartisan idea. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan suggested that both countries abandon the concept of mutual assured destruction by agreeing to eliminate all offensive ballistic missiles within 10 years while researching and jointly developing strategic missile defenses.

In May 2001, President George W. Bush called for "a new cooperative relationship," including in the area of missile defense. In 2004 the Bush administration began seeking a defense technical cooperation agreement with Russia that would have addressed a broad range of cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense.

The 2008 report of the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States found that the United States should "strengthen international cooperation for missile defense...with Russia."

The data-sharing agreement now under discussion would enhance strategic stability and opportunities for U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense and joint early-warning procedures.

Moving Forward on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Since the days of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, a ban on nuclear testing has been a U.S. national security objective. Today, a legally binding, verifiable ban on all nuclear testing remains a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy.  

It has been twenty years after its last nuclear test and the United States no longer needs or wants a resumption of testing. Yet by failing to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Washington has denied itself and others the treaty's full security benefits.

President Obama has consistently expressed support for U.S. reconsideration and ratification of the CTBT, which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere. In 2009, he said his administration would pursue "immediate and aggressive" steps to secure ratification. Unfortunately, the administration has not yet launched the kind of effort necessary to secure U.S. ratification and global entry into force.

That Was Then, This Is Now
Since the Senate's brief debate on and rejection of the CTBT 13 years ago, the arguments raised by treaty opponents have been addressed; and a wide range of national security leaders, including former skeptics, now support the treaty.

On March 8, George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, said, "Yes, I clearly think we should ratify that treaty. A senator might have been right to vote against it when it was first put forward and right to vote for it now."

The technical and strategic case for the CTBT is stronger than ever. Today, the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program is more successful and better funded than ever before. Even with mandatory cutbacks in U.S. federal spending, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories will continue to have approximately 10 percent more funding for maintaining and extending the service lives of existing U.S. nuclear warhead types than they did prior to 2009.

The combination of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization's International Monitoring System and U.S. national monitoring capabilities, along with tens of thousands of civilian seismic monitoring stations, ensures that no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of military utility would escape detection. With the treaty in force, there would also be the option of short-notice, on-site inspections.

With the CTBT in force, established nuclear-weapon states, including China, would not be able to proof-test new nuclear warhead designs; newer nuclear-armed nations, including North Korea, would find it far more difficult to build more-advanced warhead types; and emerging nuclear states, such as Iran, would encounter greater obstacles in fielding a reliable arsenal.

Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, has underscored that "it is critical to erect as many barriers as possible to the resumption of testing. Ratification of the CTBT and its entry into force is the most important such barrier."

U.S. ratification is essential to close the door on nuclear testing. Action by Washington would likely trigger reconsideration and ratification of the treaty by China, India, and Pakistan, which also must ratify the CTBT before the treaty can formally enter into force.

White House Effort Overdue
To begin, it is important that President Obama announce the appointment of a senior, high-level White House CTBT coordinator, or task force, within the next several weeks. This would help to engage Senators in private conversations on the issues surrounding the CTBT; field their questions, and provide updated assessments regarding the value of the treaty; and communicate that the President is serious about his previous statements on the CTBT.

Bottom Line

Doing nothing is not a prudent option. As Kennedy once suggested, we must work faster and harder to abolish nuclear weapons before they abolish us. In the months ahead, President Obama must re-energize the nuclear risk reduction enterprise and U.S. policymakers must overcome petty partisan politics to help address today's grave nuclear challenges. --DARYL G. KIMBALL


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

Description: 

Fifty years after the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the threats posed by the bomb have changed, but still hang over us all. Today, there still are nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons, and nine nuclear-armed states. More countries have access to the technologies needed to produce nuclear bomb material, and the risk of nuclear terrorism is real.

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Subject Resources:

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