“The Arms Control Association and all of the staff I've worked with over the years … have this ability to speak truth to power in a wide variety of venues.”
– Marylia Kelley
Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment
June 2, 2022
Issue Briefs

Iran Nuclear Deal 101: How A Comprehensive Agreement Can Block Weapons Pathways



Volume 6, Issue 10, October 30, 2014

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran are working hard to build upon their successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement, which has halted, and in some areas, rolled back Iran's nuclear program.

With just a few weeks to go before their Nov. 24 target date, the two sides may conclude a long-term, verifiable, comprehensive agreement that would

  • block Iran’s potential uranium and plutonium paths to nuclear weapons;
  • increase the international community’s ability to promptly detect and disrupt any future effort by Iran to build nuclear weapons (including at potential undeclared sites); and
  • decrease Iran’s incentives to enhance its nuclear capacity through nuclear fuel-supply guarantees and phased sanctions relief.

The following is a brief review of the key issues the comprehensive agreement will have to address, effective options for achieving U.S. goals in each area, and a brief discussion of some of the misconceptions that critics and skeptics of a negotiated solution have put forward. 

Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of how it addresses any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving existing capabilities to detect and deter any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program. 

Furthermore, any such comprehensive agreement must be compared to realistic alternatives, including the absence of a comprehensive agreement, rather than theoretical notions or vague hopes of a "better" deal negotiated at some future point in time.

Blocking the Uranium Path

The two sides can and should reach agreement on a formula that establishes verifiable, long-term, sustainable limits on Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity that block Iran from quickly amassing fissile material for weapons.

As part of the 2013 interim nuclear agreement, the two sides agreed to reduce Iran's enriched uranium stocks and temporarily halt further expansion of centrifuge capacity, which now stands at about 19,000 centrifuges, of which 10,200 are operating, first generation centrifuges.

The two sides have agreed that a comprehensive agreement should define a “mutually defined enrichment programme” with “agreed limits on the scope and level of enrichment, activities, capacity…and stocks of uranium” that should be “consistent with practical needs.” 

Iran’s nuclear fuel supply needs currently are very limited, but could grow in the coming years. Its current enrichment capacity exceeds its near-term needs and provides the technical capacity to produce a quantity of weapons-grade uranium gas sufficient for one nuclear bomb (25 kilograms) in about two to three months if such an effort were not detected and slowed or halted.

Consequently, the P5+1 is pressing Iran to significantly reduce its enrichment capacity for a period of several years in order to increase the time Iran would theoretically require to produce enough weapons-grade material for weapons. 

Some, including AIPAC and some members of Congress, erroneously suggest that the only way to block Iran's uranium path to nuclear weapons would be to somehow persuade Iran's leaders to "dismantle its centrifuge infrastructure." (See AIPAC's six questions on "Negotiating A Final Deal with Iran," October 23.) Such an outcome was sought and failed a decade ago when Iran agreed to temporarily suspend all enrichment work and had about 300 operating centrifuges. 

Today, such demands are even more unrealistic and unnecessary to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. If the P5+1 or members of Congress tried to hold out for dismantlement of Iran's uranium-enrichment facilities, Iran would not agree, negotiations would break down, and Iran would resume efforts to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity.

Even if facilities were to be dismantled, the Iranians would still have the technical know-how and ability to eventually develop and build a nuclear weapon, if they chose to do so.

A P5+1 and Iran comprehensive nuclear agreement will very likely bar Iran from enriching uranium above normal power reactor grade (five percent or less of fissionable uranium-235) and require Iran to transform the underground Fordow enrichment plant from a production-scale facility to a research-only site. The agreement can and should put in place verifiable restrictions that block Iran from manufacturing advanced centrifuges for production-scale enrichment for the duration of the comprehensive agreement.

To reduce Iran's capacity to quickly amass highly-enriched uranium, the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners are also pressing Iran to cut the number of operating centrifuges for several years, to reduce the amount and form of low-enriched uranium stockpiled in Iran, and to disable machines that are installed but not yet operating. 

For example, by reducing Iran’s current enrichment capacity by half, combined with a significant reduction in the size of Iran’s low enriched-uranium stocks and conversion to more proliferation-resistant oxide form (or removal to a third country), would increase the time it would take Iran to produce enough weapons-grade enriched-uranium gas for one nuclear weapon to nine to 12 months or more. With enhanced international monitoring capabilities, that is more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.

Blocking the Plutonium Path

A comprehensive agreement will need to address the risks posed by Iran's unfinished 40-MWt, heavy-water reactor project at Arak. Under the current design configuration, the reactor could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium per year for about two nuclear weapons. Because the Arak site represents Iran’s only indigenously developed and domestically constructed nuclear facility, Tehran strongly opposes any outcome that would require it to shut the facility.

Shutting down the Arak reactor or converting it to a light-water reactor is not the only way to guard against its possible use for fissile material production, as AIPAC's recent point paper implies. 

Iran and the P5+1 agree in principle that as part of a comprehensive agreement, the design of Iran’s Arak heavy-water reactor project can and should be modified--by reducing the power level and/or changing the fuel content and configuration--to drastically cut its annual weapons-grade plutonium output far below what is required for a nuclear weapon. They also agree that Iran shall not build a reprocessing facility that would be needed to separate that material from spent reactor fuel. 

More Robust Inspections and Monitoring

Iran's major nuclear sites are already frequently monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and very closed watched by U.S. intelligence. However, U.S. intelligence officials have testified since 2007 that if Iran were to make the decision to build a nuclear weapon, it would probably “use covert facilities—rather than its declared nuclear sites—for the production of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.”

Blocking the clandestine path to a bomb--also known as "sneakout"--is a top goal for the P5+1. Iran has already agreed to more intrusive IAEA scrutiny of its nuclear sites as part of last year’s interim nuclear agreement.

But to guard against “sneakout,” it is essential that a more robust international monitoring and inspection system that can help detect and deter potential weapons work at any secret sites is put in place. The only way to achieve this is through a long-term comprehensive nuclear deal.

To achieve the transparency necessary to promptly detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, even through a potential clandestine program, the Iran and the P5+1 agree that a comprehensive deal will, among other things, require implementation and ratification of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA’s safeguards agreement.

This would allow the U.N. nuclear watchdog the authority to inspect, on very short notice, any site that it suspects is being used for nuclear weapons work, whether or not it had been declared as part of Iran’s nuclear program. Once ratified, these arrangements would last in perpetuity.

Possible Military Dimensions

It is vital that Iran continue to cooperate with the ongoing IAEA investigation of past activities with "possible military dimensions," and to do so in a timely manner. Given the need for a thorough investigation, however, it would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines.

To make the determination that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful, the agency will need to investigate each of the issues involving possible military dimensions individually, and assess them as a system to gain a complete understanding of Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons development. Measures proposed in the U.S. Congress that require Iran to resolve all questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program before the conclusion of negotiations on a comprehensive agreement would be counterproductive.

Both sides understand that the ongoing IAEA investigation of past Iranian activities with possible military dimensions will continue after a comprehensive nuclear agreement is reached. At the same time, it is clear that key sanctions relief measures, including UN Security Council measures tied to the issue, will not be removed until, and unless, the investigation is resolved. As a result, it is more likely that Iran will more fully cooperate with the IAEA investigation if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement with the P5+1 than if there is no such agreement.

Some members of Congress, along with AIPAC, suggest that without a "full" explanation of Iran's past weaponization efforts, "it is impossible to fully understand its nuclear capability."

Iran’s nuclear capability is well understood, though clearly, the more the IAEA understands about Iran's past work the better. Given Iran’s history, it should be assumed that Iran's scientists have already acquired information that is important for building nuclear weapons.

An admission from Iran that its scientists once engaged in work intended to help build nuclear weapons will not erase that knowledge. It is also naive to think that Iran's leaders, some of whom have issued religious decrees against the development, production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons, will make such an admission.

The chief goal for the P5+1 is to structure a comprehensive agreement in such a way that it ensures that the IAEA obtains sufficient information to determine that Iran has halted any nuclear activities with possible military dimensions.

The Role of Sanctions

U.S. and international sanctions have helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table and changed Iran's cost-benefit calculus, but sanctions alone have not stopped and cannot stop Iran's nuclear progress. Further sanctions have little chance of extracting further concessions from Iran in the future and would likely prompt Iran to take escalatory steps.

To enhance Iran’s incentive to meet its nonproliferation obligations under the comprehensive agreement, the two sides agree that as part of a comprehensive nuclear agreement, the P5+1 will phase out and later lift nuclear-related sanctions as Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations, and the IAEA investigation of Iran's nuclear program is concluded. If Iran does not meet its obligations, key sanctions measures could be swiftly re-imposed by the president and by the UN Security Council.

The Duration of Key Elements of the Agreement

It is important to understand that any comprehensive nuclear agreement will be a multi-stage, multi-year agreement that specifies action-for-action steps by the P5+1 and Iran. Some restrictions may last for years, some measures will last decades, and some, like inspection measures under the terms of the IAEA's additional protocol, will be permanent. Overall, the agreement will likely last more than a decade, with certain Iranian commitments lasting well beyond its formal end date.

A few senators, including Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), have suggested that a comprehensive nuclear agreement and special inspections must last 20 years. Such requirements are not based on any scientific or technical assessment of what is adequate to block Iran's nuclear ambitions or to resolve the IAEA's questions about the history of Iran's nuclear program.

Furthermore, the longer the agreement the United States and its allies seek, the more difficult it will be for P5+1 negotiators to set tougher, more enforceable limits on Iran's nuclear capabilities, since Iran will resist long-term restrictions that close off its option to pursue legitimate, peaceful nuclear activities in the future.

Evaluating the Alternatives

Some may claim that a comprehensive agreement along these lines falls short of their expectations for limiting Iran’s nuclear potential in one area or another. Any agreement that is struck between the P5+1 and Iran should not be evaluated on the basis of any single feature. Instead, it should be judged on its overall impact on reducing Iran’s nuclear capacity and improving capabilities to detect any ongoing or future Iranian weapons program.

Some skeptics may claim that, with additional, tougher sanctions, Iran's leaders could be coerced to limit its nuclear program even further. Such thinking is naïve and dangerous. 

Although the nuclear talks may be extended beyond the Nov. 24 target date to resolve remaining issues, efforts to coerce Iranian leaders to make further concessions--including the possible imposition of new sanctions measures--will likely provoke Iran to take escalatory measures, worsen the chances for an effective diplomatic resolution, and lead to yet another Middle East crisis.

In the final analysis, serious policymakers in Washington and other capitals must consider whether their country is better off with an effective comprehensive nuclear agreement--or the continued pursuit of an effective deal--than without one. They must consider the results of failing to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement:

  • There would be no constraints on Iran’s enrichment capacity. Iran could resume enriching uranium to higher levels and increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The time required for Iran to produce enough material for nuclear weapons would decrease.
  • Inspections of Iranian facilities would likely continue, but would not be expanded to cover undeclared sites and activities, which would be the most likely pathway to build nuclear weapons if Iran chose to do so.
  • Sanctions would remain in effect, and some might be strengthened. Sanctions alone, however, cannot halt Iran’s nuclear progress. Eventually, the willingness of international allies to help implement those sanctions could erode.

Although Iran would still have to overcome significant hurdles to try to build nuclear weapons, such an effort would likely increase the possibility over time of a military confrontation. Yet, even Israeli leaders know that military strikes are not a solution. Such an attack would only delay, not destroy, Iran’s nuclear program and, at worst, would lead to a wider conflict that could push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons. Israel would be far less secure.

Some say, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”  But it is clear that a good deal is better than no deal, and such a deal is within reach.

Those who seek to block an effective agreement have a responsibility to present a viable alternative or take responsibility for its rejection.--Daryl G. Kimball


The P5+1 and Iran are working hard to build upon their successful Nov. 2013 interim nuclear agreement, which has halted, and in some areas, rolled back Iran's nuclear program.

Country Resources:

A Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement and Possible Military Dimensions to Iran's Nuclear Program



Volume 6, Issue 9, October 17, 2014         

Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

As they do, some U.S. policymakers are calling for resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation into possible nuclear weapons-related activities that Iran is believed to undertaken before a nuclear deal with the P5+1 is reached.

Emphasis on a quick resolution to the IAEA's investigation and insistence that it is resolved before a comprehensive agreement is concluded, threatens to derail talks with the P5+1 and sabotage the progress made to date. A comprehensive agreement is still within reach if the two sides can agree on limits to Tehran's uranium-enrichment and plutonium-production capabilities, combined with more stringent international monitoring, in return for phased sanctions relief--but both sides must be flexible and keep extraneous issues from spoiling the talks.  

The concerns motivating U.S. lawmakers to call for resolution of the IAEA investigation in advance of a deal appear to have been spurred by the news that Iran missed an Aug. 25 deadline to submit information on two areas of activities that could be related to the development of nuclear weapons. These activities are part of a larger set of allegations that the IAEA listed in an annex to its November 2011 Board of Governors report about Iran's past activities related to nuclear weapons development, referred to as the possible military dimensions (PMDs). Iran is cooperating with the IAEA to resolve these concerns and has met with the agency twice since missing the deadline to determine a path forward.

Resolving the PMD issue is important but is not a prerequisite for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Nor is it realistic or necessary to expect a full "confession" from Iran that it pursued nuclear weapons in the past.

While it is vital that Iran cooperate with the investigation in a timely manner, the IAEA will need time to pursue leads, conduct a thorough review of the evidence, and assess whether activities with possible military dimensions took place and if they have been halted. It would be unwise to rush the IAEA into a quick resolution of its investigation solely to meet negotiating deadlines or to hold up the conclusion of the talks in order to wait months, or even years, for the IAEA to wrap up its work.

Furthermore, it is more likely that the IAEA would be able to obtain the cooperation and the information it needs to resolve the outstanding PMD questions if there is a comprehensive nuclear agreement because the sanctions relief that is so important to Iran will be tied to the satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA probe. Moving forward on a comprehensive agreement that assures Iran that its future peaceful nuclear activities will not be penalized or further restricted if it discloses information about the PMDs could also serve as a motivator for Iran to cooperate with the IAEA's investigation in a more timely manner.

What Are the PMDs?
Although much of Iran's nuclear program consists of dual-use technology that can be dedicated to civil nuclear energy and nuclear weapons use, Tehran is widely believed to have pursued activities relevant to the development of a nuclear warhead in an organized program prior to 2003. According to evidence provided to the IAEA, some PMD activities may have resumed.

In November 2011, the IAEA released information in an annex to its quarterly report that detailed Iran's suspected warhead work based on intelligence it received from the United States and several other countries, as well as its own investigation. According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 that spanned the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon that could eventually be delivered via a missile.

This judgment is consistent with the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Assessment on Iran, which assessed "with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons" and that the program was halted in the fall of 2003. It assessed "with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program."

According to the November 2011 IAEA report, however, some information from IAEA member states suggests that some activities that would be "highly" relevant to a nuclear weapons program have resumed since 2004. Subsequent IAEA reports indicate that the agency received further information about periodic activities related to weapons development.

The series of projects that made up what the IAEA's November 2011 report called "the AMAD Plan," appears to have been overseen by senior Iranian figures who were engaged in working-level correspondence consistent with a coordinated program. Among the key components of this program were the following:

  • High-explosives testing. Iran's experiments involving exploding bridge wire detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape point to work on nuclear warhead design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it was for conventional military and civilian purposes and disputes some of the technical details.
  • Warhead design verification. Iran carried out experiments using high explosives to test the validity of its warhead design and engaged in preparatory work to carry out a full-scale underground nuclear test explosion.
  • Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle. Documentation reviewed by the IAEA has suggested that as late as 2003, Iran sought to adapt the payload section of a Shahab-3 missile for accommodating a nuclear warhead.
Iran has denied pursuing a warhead-development program and claims that the information on which the IAEA assessment is based is a fabrication.

The agency's investigation, however, is not limited to PMD issues. The IAEA is also seeking clarification from Iran on its nuclear declaration to the agency. This includes providing the IAEA with greater access to sites, individuals, and information about nuclear activities, such as centrifuge development.

The information and access provided to the IAEA as part of these actions gives the agency a more-complete picture of Iran's nuclear activities, and allows the IAEA to verify the completeness and accuracy of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Resolving the PMDs
Prior to the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran resisted cooperation with the IAEA on its investigation into the PMD issues and other areas of concern related to the clarity and completeness of Iran's nuclear declaration.

Rouhani, however, promised greater transparency on Iran's nuclear program, although his government continues to dispute the validity of the PMD evidence in possession of the IAEA and refutes the allegations that work was done to develop nuclear weapons.  On November 11, 2013, Iran and the IAEA concluded a framework agreement for moving forward to resolve the outstanding concerns.

Under the terms of the framework, Iran and the IAEA agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including PMDs, in a step-by-step manner.

In the past year, under this framework, Iran has agreed to three sets of actions and in total has provided the IAEA with information and access on 16 areas of concern, including one PMD issue. In May, Iran provided the IAEA with information regarding its experiments with exploding bridge wire detonators and has since provided additional information based on further questions from the IAEA. Iran maintained that its work with these detonators was for civilian purposes. Bridge wire detonators are used for drilling in oil and gas fields.  

In May, as part of a set of five more actions under the framework, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with information on two more PMD issues.

These two actions, which were to be completed by Aug. 25, include providing the IAEA with information on the initiation of high-explosives and studies on neutron transport, related modeling and calculations, and their alleged application to compressed materials. These activities are relevant to developing nuclear weapons.

Iran missed the deadline, but has since met with the IAEA to determine a path forward. Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, said on Sept. 18 that the actions have not been completed "due to their complexity" and because the IAEA allegations are based on invalid information. Najafi said that the IAEA was aware Iran might not complete the actions by that date.

Most recently, Iranian and IAEA officials met in Tehran Oct. 7-8.Najafi described the meeting as "constructive." Iran and the IAEA agreed to meet again, at a date yet to be determined, to continue talks on resolving these issues.

PMDs and the Final Nuclear Agreement
Tying a comprehensive nuclear agreement to a resolution of the IAEA's investigation into the PMDs is unnecessary and risks derailing a deal.

Expecting Iran to "confess" that it pursued a nuclear weapons program is unrealistic and unnecessary. After having spent years denying that it pursued nuclear weapons and having delivered a fatwa against nuclear weapons, Tehran's senior leaders cannot afford to admit that it hid a nuclear weapons program.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 354 members of Congress said that transparency on the PMD actions are necessary in order to establish a meaningful monitoring and verification system in a comprehensive deal.

Resolution of the agency's investigation is not necessary to put in place a comprehensive monitoring and verification regime that will prevent Iran from pursuing a covert program to build nuclear weapon or deviating from a comprehensive nuclear deal.

Establishing a baseline of Iran's nuclear program based on the agency's investigation will also take some time. In a best-case scenario, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano said last month that the IAEA will need 15 months to complete its investigation and assessment of Iran's nuclear declaration and PMDs. Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have six weeks to reach a comprehensive deal. Rushing the IAEA to complete its investigation will not provide the agency with the appropriate amount of time it needs to assess the entire program.

The IAEA's investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is a separate process, and conditioning a nuclear deal on completion of the agency's investigation would delay and likely undermine the prospect for the conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear deal that limits Iran's nuclear potential and improves the international community's ability to detect and disrupt any potential future nuclear weapons-related effort.

Stringent and intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms under the terms of the Additional Protocol would give the IAEA access to all of Iran's nuclear sites at short notice and access to additional sites if the agency suspects nuclear activities may be talking place. The IAEA and the international community will be able to quickly detect and deter any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, whether through a covert program or by using declared facilities. Such measures are only possible with the negotiation of a comprehensive nuclear agreement by the P5+1 and Iran.

Additionally, sanctions relief that is important to Iran is likely to be tied to a satisfactory conclusion of the IAEA's investigation. The covert nature of Iran's nuclear program in the last decade spurred the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. Subsequent sanctions that prohibit Iran from important materials and technologies important to nuclear development were put in place because Iran was not cooperating with the IAEA. It is unlikely that all of these sanctions will be removed without  satisfactory completion of the IAEA's investigation..

A comprehensive nuclear agreement can also take Iran's compliance with its IAEA obligations into account. Any future expansion of Iran's nuclear program, particularly its uranium enrichment, could be contingent  on the IAEA's satisfactory conclusion of its investigations. A deal between Iran and the P5+1 could also assure Iran that it will not be penalized for disclosures about past PMD activities.

Understanding Iran's past nuclear activities related to weapons development is important, but the international community must remain focused on a the future and ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is transparent and limited. Focusing too much on the past will only jeopardize the best opportunity in a decade to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran. --KELSEY DAVENPORT


Iran and the P5+1 are working to negotiate a comprehensive agreement by Nov. 24 that ensures that Iran does not use its nuclear program to build nuclear weapons.

Country Resources:

Fix Missile Defense, Don't Expand It



Volume 5, Issue 8, June 5, 2014

Rather Than Rush to Expand an Unreliable System, the Pentagon Should Fix What It Already Has

The next test of the U.S. Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) system will occur "very soon," Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said May 28. And if that test is a success, he said, the Pentagon plans to add 14 interceptors to the 30 deployed in Alaska and California by 2017, increasing the total by almost 50 percent. This expansion will cost about $1 billion.

But the next test, even if it hits, should not be used as justification to expand the system. As Philip Coyle, former director of operational test and evaluation at the Department of Defense, said in February, "Not another dime should be spent on more bad GBIs at Fort Greely [in Alaska] or anywhere else. Instead, a new GBI/EKV must be designed, built, and successfully tested to replace the old design."

The Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) is supposed to collide with an enemy warhead in space. But the kill vehicle to be tested this month, called the CE-II, has been tested only twice before, and missed both times. If it hits in June, the test record would be one-for-three. Batting .333 may be great in baseball, but in missile defense it is simply inadequate.

That's not all. Last summer the other fielded kill vehicle, the CE-I, also missed its target in a test. This failure came as a surprise, because this interceptor had a better test record. After $40 billion spent and faced with failures of both the CE-I and CE-II, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) decided to make major changes to the kill vehicle. But these changes will not be ready by 2017, so expansion will go ahead without them.

Given the widely accepted need--on both sides of the aisle--to redesign the system, plans to expand it before it is reworked make little sense. It would be like buying a car just after it has been recalled, before the problem is fully corrected.

Why the rush? It is easy to say that "we must stay ahead of the threat," and yes, the United States needs to be ready in case North Korea or Iran actually tests and deploys a long-range ballistic missile that could reach North America. But neither nation has done this, and if they do there are already 30 GBI interceptors fielded on the West Coast.

Fortunately, these missile programs are not progressing as swiftly as many had feared, and deterrence still plays a role. As Adm. Winnefeld said May 28, neither North Korea nor Iran "yet has a mature [long-range ballistic missile] capability, and both nations know they would face an overwhelming U.S. response to any attack."

The Pentagon should prioritize upgrading the kill vehicle, a process that will take a few years, and not expand the system beyond the current 30 GBIs until the new interceptor is proven to work.

As a result, the Obama administration should not follow through with plans to deploy 14 additional interceptors in Alaska by 2017, nor should it heed Republican calls to build a new East Coast site.

"Bad Engineering"

There have been serious concerns about the GBI kill vehicle ever since the system was rushed into service by the Bush administration in 2004. Of primary concern is that the system's test record is getting worse with time, not better. Overall, out of 16 intercept attempts from 1999 to 2013, the system hit 8 times, or 50%. For the first 8 tests, the system had 5 hits, or 62%. But in the last 8 tests, the system has hit only 3 times, or 37%. This is not progress.

In January, J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's current director of operational test and evaluation, wrote that recent test failures raise concerns about the system's reliability and suggested that the missile's kill vehicle be redesigned to assure it is "robust against failure."

"We recognize the problems we have had with all the currently fielded interceptors," Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for procurement, said in February. "The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and really cheaply."

"As we go back and understand the failures we're having and why we're having them, we're seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it is because there was a rush" to deploy the system, Kendall said. "Just patching the things we've got is probably not going to be adequate. So we're going to have to go beyond that."

In March, the MDA announced that it would make significant changes to the EKV, and plans to spend $740 million over the next five years to do so. If it works, the new kill vehicle could be fielded around 2020. According to the fiscal 2015 Pentagon budget request, the new kill vehicle "will improve reliability, be more producible and cost-effective, and will eventually replace the [kill vehicles] on the current GBI fleet."

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the MDA, said in March about the decision to rush deployment in 2004: "Everybody knew that [the EKVs] were prototype in nature, and that decision was made to field the prototypes because some defense now is better than defense much later."

But we now know how premature, unreliable and expensive "some defense" turned out to be. Ten years later, the North Korean long-range missile threat is still not imminent. The last three intercept tests of the GBI system have failed--two tests in 2010 and one last year. And efforts to correct these problems will cost MDA more than $1.3 billion, according to an April 30 Government Accountability Office report.

Next Test Will Not Justify Expansion

The next GBI test will not be of a redesigned EKV; that will not occur until 2018 or later. The June test will involve 'patching' the CE-II.  

Since 10 CE-IIs are already deployed in Alaska, the problems with this EKV need to be addressed. If the next test is successful, the deployed CE-IIs should be modified. But this EKV, according to officials, is inherently flawed and based on a "prototype" design. Why would we want to field additional kill vehicles of a flawed design? We should not.

Therefore, if successful, the next test could help 'patch' the CE-IIs that are already in the field, but the numbers should not be increased until an upgraded EKV is ready. It's bad enough that the United States already has 30 interceptors deployed that are unreliable; we should not rush to add more at the cost of $1 billion.

If the Pentagon succeeds in developing a new kill vehicle that works reliably in 'cooperative' tests, which are scripted and unrealistic, the system would still need to prove that it could work in an actual attack, in which the enemy would seek to evade the defense.

In this case, the ability to differentiate real targets from fake ones is critical because an attacker's warheads would likely come surrounded by debris and decoys. In congressional testimony last year, the Pentagon's Gilmore said, "If we can't discriminate what the real threatening objects are, it doesn't matter how many ground-based interceptors we have; we won't be able to hit what needs to be hit."

Throwing good money after bad at missile defenses that may not defend is no solution. "Patching" inherently unreliable interceptors is not the same thing as redesigning them so they will work. The United States should not field additional long-range missile interceptors on either coast until the current system is redesigned and-most importantly-tested rigorously against realistic targets.--Tom Z. Collina



The next test of the U.S. Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) system will occur "very soon," Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said May 28. And if that test is a success, he said, the Pentagon plans to add 14 interceptors to the 30 deployed in Alaska and California by 2017, increasing the total by almost 50 percent. This expansion will cost about $1 billion.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

Russia Should Uphold Its INF Treaty Commitments



Volume 5, Issue 7, May 23, 2014

Throughout the Cold War years and beyond, the United States and Russia have overcome ideological differences to reach legally binding, verifiable agreements to control and reduce their massive nuclear weapon stockpiles, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and the 2010 New START Treaty.

To preserve past gains and achieve further progress, Russia and the United States must continue to meet their treaty commitments.

The U.S. State Department said in January that Russia may have committed a technical violation of the INF Treaty by testing a new type of cruise missile. At the time, administration officials said no final determination had been made about the possible violation and the specific allegations were not revealed. The Obama administration is expected address the issue in its annual report to Congress on arms control compliance, due to be released soon.

However, statements from an April 29 congressional hearing suggest that Russia has tested an intermediate range cruise missile for use at sea, which is allowed under the treaty, but that the missile was apparently tested from an operational ground-based launcher, which is not allowed.

At the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said that, "it appears as if [Moscow] were developing a ground-based capacity for this intermediate missile."

If true, Russia should immediately halt all activities that are inconsistent with the INF Treaty, verifiably dismantle any missiles that may have been tested in violation of the treaty, respond to formal requests for clarification, and announce that it will uphold all aspects of the INF Treaty in the future.

At the same time, there is no reason for the United States to alter its ongoing implementation of the INF Treaty, which has served U.S. national security interests for over 25 years. The United States has no military need to deploy ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles capable of traveling 500 to 5,500 kilometers, which are banned by the treaty. U.S. withdrawal would only give Russia an excuse to do the same, allowing Moscow to produce and deploy INF missiles.

The best outcome would be for the United States and Russia to engage in further discussions to promptly resolve any Russian INF Treaty violations. Under the treaty, which is still in force, the parties can use the Special Verification Commission to resolve compliance issues.

Meanwhile, the United States should refrain from any response that would be inconsistent with the goal of achieving full compliance with the INF Treaty.

What the INF Treaty Says

The INF Treaty was signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. It required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals and utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification.

As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short, medium, and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. Today, neither Washington nor Moscow now deploys such systems. The treaty is of unlimited duration.

Under the treaty, the United States committed to eliminate its Pershing IA, Pershing IB, Pershing II, and BGM-109G missiles. The Soviet Union had to destroy its SS-20, SS-4, SS-5, SSC-X-4, SS-12, and SS-23 missiles. In addition, both parties were obliged to destroy all INF-related training missiles, rocket stages, launch canisters, and launchers. Most missiles were eliminated either by exploding them while they were unarmed and burning their stages or by cutting the missiles in half and severing their wings and tail sections.

The treaty ban applies to ground-based missiles only, not sea-based missiles. According to Article VII, a cruise missile can be developed for sea-based use if it is test-launched "from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from" operational ground-based cruise missile launchers.

If Russia has tested an intermediate-range cruise missile from a launcher that is not "distinguishable" from operational launchers, or from a mobile launcher, it would be a violation of the treaty.

A Disturbing Pattern

This apparent technical violation of the INF Treaty follows a disturbing pattern of recent Russian intransigence on further nuclear arms reductions and disregard for key nonproliferation commitments.

Since New START's entry into force in 2011, Russia has resisted follow-on arms reduction talks with the United States. President Vladimir Putin has so far rebuffed U.S. President Barack Obama's June 2013 proposal to reduce U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles by one-third below the ceilings set by New START.

Worse still, Russia's military intervention in Crimea violates its 1994 Budapest Memorandum commitment to respect the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine.

The Cold War is long over, but the United States and Russia continue to deploy nuclear stockpiles that--by any reasonable measure--far exceed their nuclear deterrence "requirements." It is clear that the United States and Russia need more arms control, not less.

As such, it would be highly counterproductive for Congress to interfere with U.S. treaty implementation, as the House is seeking to do in its FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would prevent implementation of New START.

The United States and Russia have had their disagreements before, such as over the Krasnoyarsk radar and the United State's effort to reinterpret the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Yet over time, resolution of compliance issues has become easier and the ultimate implementation record of these treaties has been highly successful.   

Until such time as the political conditions are conducive to further nuclear arms reductions, the existing U.S.-Russian arms control instruments still serve as an anchor of stability and predictability--and Russia must do its part by complying with all existing commitments.--TOM Z. COLLINA AND DARYL G. KIMBALL


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


Throughout the Cold War years and beyond, the United States and Russia have overcome ideological differences to reach legally binding, verifiable agreements to control and reduce their massive nuclear weapon stockpiles, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and the 2010 New START Treaty.

Country Resources:

NNSA's '3+2' Nuclear Warhead Plan Does Not Add Up



Volume 5, Issue 6, May 6, 2014

In March, the Obama administration announced it would delay key elements of its "3+2" plan to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads amidst growing concern about the program's high cost and its technically ambitious approach.

Now, the administration and Congress should use this opportunity to reevaluate the program and shift to a more straightforward and affordable path for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Announced last summer by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the 3+2 strategy has a sticker price of $60 billion and calls for extending the service life of five nuclear warhead types, three of which would be "interoperable" on land-based and sea-based ballistic missiles. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two types would be retired. (See Table)

Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has been skeptical of 3+2 from the start, particularly the proposal for interoperable warheads. The Senate Appropriations Committee wrote last year that the concept "may be unnecessarily complex and expensive, increase uncertainty about certification" and "fail to address aging issues in a timely manner."

In response to congressional concerns, the NNSA budget request for fiscal 2015 delays funding for much of the 3+2 program, putting the future of the plan in doubt.

Speaking at George Washington University in March, former Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Parney Albright, who supports the 3+2 plan, said, "I just don't think it's going to happen."

It is time to rethink the 3+2 plan. It is too expensive to survive in the current budget climate, takes unnecessary risks with warhead reliability, and has no clear military requirement. It is a solution in search of a problem.

The good news is that we don't need 3+2. The current warhead life extension program (LEP) is successfully refurbishing warheads, and there is no need to adopt a more risky and exorbitantly expensive approach. NNSA can and should stick with the traditional path to warhead maintenance, and save tens of billions of dollars.

No Rush to Refurbish

For fiscal year 2015 and beyond, the administration has delayed key parts of the 3+2 plan. Near-term efforts remain on track, but future projects have been significantly slowed.

For the next ten years, the ongoing life extension for the Navy's W76 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead is on schedule for completion in 2019, and the B61-12 gravity bomb would be produced from 2020 to 2024, a slight delay.

However, the next warheads in the 3+2 queue have been significantly delayed. A rebuilt warhead for a new cruise missile for the Air Force's proposed long-range bomber has been pushed back by up to three years, from 2024 to 2027. The first interoperable warhead, called the IW-1, has been moved from 2025 to 2030. These delays mean that key development decisions have been pushed into the next administration, increasing uncertainty about whether these programs will continue.

These delays will not put the reliability of the stockpile at risk. NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Donald Cook testified before the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee on April 3 that the two warhead types IW-1 would replace, the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) warhead and the W88 SLBM warhead, "are aging as predicted." NNSA budget documents also state that the W78 warhead, the older of the two, is "aging gracefully."

Interoperable Warheads

Much of the congressional concern about the 3+2 plan stems from NNSA's proposal to develop interoperable warheads to be used on both ICBMs and SLBMs, which has not been done before and would be prohibitively expensive.

The "Hedge." NNSA's primary rationale for the 3+2 approach is that it would eventually help reduce the number of non-deployed warheads that are stored as a "hedge" in case there is a catastrophic failure with one or more warhead types. Recent NNSA budget documents state that, "Three interoperable ballistic missile warheads with similar deployed numbers will allow for a greatly reduced technical hedge for each system to protect against a single warhead failure."

Reducing the hedge is a worthwhile goal, but we don't need the 3+2 plan to get there.

First, the probability of a technical surprise that would disable an entire class of warheads is exceedingly remote. The NNSA's stockpile surveillance and stewardship programs are designed to prevent such surprises.

Second, the United States maintains--at great expense--a "triad" of delivery platforms, which allows for an inherent hedge. In the highly unlikely event that any one leg of the triad becomes inoperable or unreliable, the other two legs are there.

Third, given that the 3+2 plan would not be completed for 30 years or more, potential reductions to the hedge stockpile are highly uncertain and would be far in the future if they happen at all. There is no guarantee that promised hedge reductions would ever materialize as a direct result of the 3+2 plan.

Insensitive Explosives. Another rationale for interoperable warheads is to have the entire stockpile use insensitive high explosives. Such explosives are in principle a good idea, as they are less prone to accidental detonation than conventional explosives, but they are less energetic and take up more space inside a warhead.[1] Thus, insensitive explosives cannot easily replace conventional ones.

To get around this problem, NNSA is proposing to use parts from two different, existing warheads: a primary from the W87 ICBM warhead, which already has insensitive explosives, and possibly a secondary from the W80 cruise missile warhead.[2] But those parts have never been used together, and such combinations have never been introduced into the nuclear stockpile without nuclear tests, which the United States no longer conducts.

Thus, the IW-1, with a projected price tag of $11 billion, could introduce unwelcome concerns about reliability into an otherwise well-tested and reliable stockpile.

What would be achieved for the added risk and cost? Not much.

The IW-1 would replace the W78 ICBM warhead and the W88 SLBM warhead, neither of which has insensitive explosives. But other warheads on the Air Force's ICBMs and bombers do have insensitive explosives, so this is really a Navy issue. However, the Navy is questioning whether the high cost of insensitive explosives is worth the limited benefit for its warheads, which spend most of their time protected inside missiles, inside submarines, under the sea.

In a September 2012 memo to the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint Defense and Energy Department group that coordinates management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Navy said it does "not support commencing the [IW-1] effort at this time." In response, the council decided in December 2012 to study an option for the Navy's W88 warhead that would not be interoperable.

NNSA plans to upgrade non-nuclear parts of the Navy's W88 warhead anyway, and once that happens, Livermore's Albright noted that the Navy "almost certainly will argue" that replacing the W88 with an interoperable warhead would cost "too much money."

Instead, Albright said the Navy would prefer to simply refurbish the W88, "which is what they did on the W76." The W76 life extension is expected to cost $4 billion, or one-third the price of IW-1.

In turn, doing an independent W88 refurbishment should decrease the Air Force's incentive to refurbish the W78, which could instead be retired and replaced by the W87 as the only ICBM warhead. The Air Force no longer needs two warhead types for ICBMs, and there are enough W87s to go around. IW-1 would thus be unnecessary.

Beyond that, the proposed IW-2 and IW-3 warheads are distant prospects, with no production planned until 2034 or later, at costs of $15 and $20 billion, respectively.

A Better Way

There is a relatively simple alternative to the 3+2 plan. Instead of developing unproven interoperable warheads by mixing and matching parts from different weapons, NNSA could do things the time-tested way. The Navy's $4 billion W76 SLBM warhead life extension program (LEP) does not introduce any new fancy bells and whistles. This should be the model for future life extensions. But first, the Pentagon should reassess the need for warhead types before they are refurbished.

Step 1: Retire Where Possible. For starters, there is no need to rebuild the W78 or W80 warheads, and both should be retired. Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we can no longer remain on autopilot, replacing nuclear systems just because we had them before. Each replacement system must have its mission justified as if it were new.

For the W78, a smaller ICBM force means there is no need keep two different ICBM warheads. The W87, also used on ICBMs, is newer and has all modern safety features. In the unlikely event of a problem with all W87 warheads, the United States would still have the submarine and bomber legs of the triad to deter any potential attacks. Enough W87 warheads have been produced (more than 500) to arm the entire ICBM fleet. Retiring the W78 would allow the IW-1 project to be cancelled, saving $11 billion.

As for the W80, there is no need for a new air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), and thus no need to rebuild this warhead. Despite the House defense bill's call to accelerate this warhead program by one year to 2025, the United States no longer needs a bomber with stand off nuclear missiles that are shot from afar, like the ALCM. The new Air Force bomber will be designed to penetrate enemy air defenses, so it needs bombs that can be dropped from above, like the B61. Moreover, the United States has other standoff weapons if needed, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Cancelling the ALCM would save $7 billion for the warhead and another $10 billion or so for the missile.

Step 2: Keep it Simple. The remaining warheads would undergo traditional life extensions as needed. Future LEPs should not introduce technical, schedule and cost risks inherent to interoperable warheads, which are just asking for trouble.

Nor should NNSA conduct the $8-10 billion B61-12 LEP as planned. Consolidating four bomb-types into one is overly complex and expensive. NNSA should scale back this program by refurbishing the strategic B61-7, and separately refurbish or retire the tactical bombs, which could save up to $5 billion.

Once the W78 and W80 warheads are retired, the remaining arsenal would include the W87 (LEP completed in 2004), the W76 (LEP to be finished by 2019), the B61 (LEP about to begin), and the W88 (partial upgrade about to begin). This "2+1+1" plan would maintain warheads for all three legs of the triad: SLBMs would carry both the W76 and W88, ICBMs would carry the W87 only, and bombers would carry rebuilt B61 bombs only.

Assuming an average cost of $5 billion per LEP, based on the cost of the W76 LEP plus inflation, refurbishing this four warhead-type stockpile under this approach would cost roughly $20 billion over 30 years or more, or one-third the cost of NNSA's $60 billion plan.

In addition, by taking a more straightforward approach to LEPs, NNSA could reuse existing plutonium parts, know as "pits," rather than producing new ones, and delay the need to spend billions to expand the U.S. pit production capacity. The House defense bill calls for accelerating pit production, but this would be expensive and unnecessary.

The NNSA's 3+2 program does not add up. The United States can maintain its nuclear warheads through traditional life extensions without resorting to expensive, risky schemes. NNSA needs to rethink the program and come back to Congress with a proposal better suited to today's fiscal and political realities.--TOM Z. COLLINA


1. Insensitive high explosives help to reduce the risk of plutonium dispersal. The risk of an accidental nuclear explosion is already very low.
2. The W87 warhead is too big to fit on the Trident II D5 SLBM, so only the primary would be used.



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


In March, the Obama administration announced it would delay key elements of its "3+2" plan to rebuild the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads amidst growing concern about the program's high cost and its technically ambitious approach.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

The "Cold Peace:" Arms Control After Crimea



Volume 5, Issue 5, March 20, 2014

As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

American politicians and pundits have presented an array of policy response options, including intensified NATO military activities in Russia's "near abroad" and retreat from cooperative endeavors in U.S.-Russian arms control. At such times, there is a critical need for prudence, rationality, and historical perspective, and for avoiding actions that are counterproductive to the interests of the United States and our European allies.

Russia's actions certainly require a strong response, including international condemnation and measured sanctions against key Russian figures. The fragile new government in Kiev also needs assistance to put the country's economy on a more stable footing and to help counter any Russian efforts to intimidate Ukraine or seize additional territory.

However, U.S. policymakers should recognize that despite the severe differences with President Putin over Ukraine, it is clearly in the national interests of the United States to

  • scrupulously implement existing arms control treaty verification measures, which provide vital information and help to ensure compliance with treaty limits regarding Russian and U.S. military capabilities;
  • reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility and continue to seek further reductions in the still oversized nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States;
  • refrain from using strategic weapons to make political gestures;
  • redouble efforts to maintain dialogue between U.S. and Russian nongovernmental experts and organizations.

A Cold Peace, Not a New Cold War
It is also important to avoid facile comparisons with the four-decade-long, post-World War II confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. As Cold War veteran Jack Matlock, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev era, recently observed, "The tensions between Russia and the West are [now] based more on misunderstandings, misrepresentations and posturing for domestic audiences than on any real clash of ideologies or national interests."

By the end of the second term of President George W. Bush, Russia's relationship with the United States and Western Europe was already troubled; Russia's war with Georgia in 2008 had cast a particular chill over a range of diplomatic undertakings. Although the Obama administration's "reset" in 2009 facilitated negotiation and ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a new "Cold Peace" had settled over bilateral relations.

Today, Russia's behavior often appears to be driven by President Putin's interest in maintaining a strong grip on power inside Russia and to prevent more of the states of the former Soviet Union from integrating into the European economic and political sphere.

In contrast, the Cold War was a global struggle involving the near constant threat of a direct military confrontation and frequent proxy wars. Throughout much of the Cold War, more than 250,000 Soviet troops were positioned along the border of West Germany to seize isolated West Berlin and drive toward the English Channel. That border divided not only a nation, but two powerful military alliances, each possessing vast nuclear arsenals maintained on high alert and targeted against each other. At the time, many American politicians depicted a growing Soviet superiority--not only in conventional forces in Europe, but in continent-spanning strategic missiles and ballistic missile defense systems, which allegedly enabled Moscow to pose the threat of a disarming, first-strike attack on the United States.

The Cold War also demonstrated dramatically the extent of nuclear dangers in the ideologically driven confrontation between Moscow and Washington. Indeed, the world came far closer to a nuclear exchange in 1962 (during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and in 1983 (following the Soviet shootdown of the Korea Airlines passenger plane and during NATO's "Able Archer" military exercises) than was publicly known at the time.

The striking dissimilarity between the present and that earlier era is captured by comparing the Cold War Soviet Threat Assessments of the U.S. intelligence community with its 2014 Worldwide Threat Assessment, whose 27-page public summary did not even mention Russia's nuclear arsenal.

At the same time, there are two elements of conspicuous continuity between the past and present.

First, Washington and Moscow still possess huge nuclear arsenals, far larger than those of all other nuclear weapons states combined. These arsenals contain thousands of warheads--each one of which dwarfs the destructive power of those that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki--far more than are needed for any rational requirement of nuclear deterrence and beyond any possible utility for political leverage in the current crisis over Ukraine.

Second, as was the case during the Cold War, reducing nuclear dangers rightly trumps other issues. During the lowest points of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, arms control agreements helped prevent a complete collapse of bilateral communication. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty survived the Vietnam War and crises in the Middle East; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty survived the 1981 declaration of martial law in Poland and the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.

The conflicting interests of the United States and Russia in Ukraine or Syria today do not erase their joint interests in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons accidents or unauthorized nuclear weapons use, curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, securing vulnerable nuclear weapons usable material to avoid terrorist acquisition, and reducing their own costly nuclear arsenals, which still vastly exceed common-sense deterrence requirements. These and other common concerns make it imperative that Washington and Moscow continue pursuing efforts to achieve reductions in and limitations on nuclear weapons - independent of the health of the bilateral relationship at a particular point in time.  

Russia's provocative actions in Crimea and the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations certainly make the pursuit of a cooperative agenda even more challenging and there is more than a theoretical danger of backsliding. Yet, even in the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union shared a common interest in reducing nuclear risks and found ways to overcome ideological differences to pursue joint initiatives and agreements designed to reduce those risks and strengthen strategic stability.

The rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine makes it difficult to offer a detailed formula for preserving and promoting advantageous U.S.-Russian arms control and nuclear security outcomes, but some general principles can be outlined:

Continue to scrupulously implement existing treaty verification measures. No matter what their differences on the Ukraine crisis, it is not in the interest of either the United States or Russia to suspend inspections required by New START or to otherwise walk away from a treaty, which establishes clear, verifiable limits on each side's strategic nuclear arsenal--a measure of stability in an otherwise strained bilateral relationship. Weakening the implementation of verification measures would simply reduce the confidence levels of national threat assessments, leading to higher "worst case" projections and increased strategic spending.

Furthermore, according to Part Five, Section IX of the Protocol of the New START Treaty, the only basis for the cancellation of inspections are "circumstances brought about by force majeure," which do not apply to political differences over events in Ukraine.

Continue to reduce expenditures on nuclear weapons that have no marginal utility. Even at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions, Washington can and should reduce spending for those nuclear weapons that have no utility as instruments of power in dealing with political crises like Ukraine. The new Quadrennial Defense Review says that the United States can cut strategic warheads by one-third below New START and still provide more than sufficient nuclear firepower to deter nuclear attack. Now is the time to avoid squandering tens of billions of dollars on nuclear weapons projects that the United States does not need and cannot afford.

Refrain from using strategic weapons to make aggressive political gestures. U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe are not militarily useful for the defense of NATO allies. Some have recently suggested that such weapons should be deployed further east into the newer NATO members bordering on Russia. However, such action would be politically divisive inside the NATO Alliance and would likely provoke dangerous responses by Moscow.

Some have suggested accelerating the ongoing deployment of U.S. missile defenses to Europe under the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), reviving the "third-site" deployment of strategic missile interceptors to Poland, or deploying missile defense cruisers to the Baltic and Black Seas. Such moves would be extremely counterproductive, since they would seem to validate Russian suspicions that U.S. missile defenses in Europe have either been oriented against them all along, or at least would provide the infrastructure for rapidly adding a capability to threaten Russia's strategic deterrent.

Moreover, as the U.S. Government has continually insisted, none of the specific U.S. missile defense systems considered for deployment in Europe would be capable of defending Europe (or the United States) from Russian strategic forces.  NATO should therefore maintain its steady course in implementing the first three phases of the EPAA, which do not include defenses against ICBMs, in response to evolving missile threats from the Middle East. Moreover, NATO should articulate more clearly its readiness to adapt downward its EPAA deployments if no Iranian IRBM/ICBM threat materializes.

Redouble efforts to maintain "Track 2" dialogue between American and Russian interlocutors. At a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments, it is even more important to use unofficial channels of communication to better understand the differing national perspectives and to search for policy options that would constitute acceptable compromises by both sides. One such ongoing effort is the German/Russian/U.S. Commission on "Challenges to Deep Cuts in Nuclear Arms," www.deepcuts.org, which is scheduled to release an interim report in late April.

Above all, the United States and Russia need to maintain a realistic perspective about the limits of hostility imposed by the existence of each other's nuclear weapons and an active appreciation of the mutual benefits they are now enjoying from cooperative endeavors - such as the generation of electricity in the United States from Russian-supplied fissile material and the security provided by a northern route of supply (through Russia) for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

When the current tensions subside, there will be other cooperative opportunities to exploit in the bilateral relationship and none will be more important for the world than finding the elusive path to mutual reductions in Cold War-sized U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--GREG THIELMANN


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.


As President Vladimir Putin exploits the results of Crimea's illegitimate referendum and as Russian troops gather on Ukraine's eastern border, alarms have been raised in the West that U.S.-Russian relations are on the verge of plummeting to Cold War levels.

Country Resources:

Final Phase P5+1/Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Realistic Options on the Key Issues



Volume 5, Issue 4, February 26, 2014

Last week, negotiators from the United States, its "P5+1" partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran agreed to a framework and timetable to guide the talks on a "comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful."

The road ahead will be difficult. Many differences must be bridged, and hardliners in Washington, Tehran, and Israel will throw up obstacles along the way. However, an effective, multi-year deal can be achieved if the parties are ready to compromise and pursue realistic solutions that meet the core requirements of both sides.

A successful agreement will verifiably roll-back Iran's overall enrichment capacity, block the plutonium path to the bomb, put in place even tougher international inspections, and resolve outstanding questions about the purpose of Iran's program. It must also lead to the removal nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, United States, and the European Union.

To reach this agreement, negotiators must resolve several tough issues in the coming months. Expert-level talks will take place in Vienna in early March and the political directors will meet again for the next round of negotiations on March 17.

Uranium Enrichment Capacity: The extent to which Iran is willing to reduce the capacity and the scope of its uranium enrichment program is key. The agreement reached in Geneva on Nov. 24 states that the program should be "consistent with practical needs."

In other words, Iran's enrichment capacity and stockpile of material should not exceed the fuel supply needs of its nuclear power and research reactor programs, which for now are close to zero but could grow in the coming years.

Iran provided the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with preliminary information on the selection of sites for up to 16 new nuclear power reactors and a light water research reactor. These reactors would, if built, require a reliable supply of enriched uranium fuel from abroad or through indigenous production. However, these reactors are many years away from reality.

The United States and its P5+1 partners will point out that Iran currently has very limited or nonexistent needs for enriched uranium fuel for energy production. Today, Iran has one research reactor (the Tehran Research Reactor) that produces medical isotopes and Iran has enough material to fuel that reactor for years to come; Iran also has a light-water power reactor (Bushehr), which uses fuel supplied by Russia under a ten year arrangement that could be renewed.

In the near term, the P5+1 powers will and should push for a significant reduction in Iran's overall enrichment capacity from 10,000 operating, first generation (IR-1) centrifuges at two sites to approximately half that number or less. Even with 4,000 or fewer first generation centrifuges at one site, Iran would have more than sufficient capacity for its foreseeable "practical" nuclear power reactor fuel needs.

By rolling back Iran's enrichment capacity to such levels, limiting enrichment to reactor grade levels (up to five percent) and placing caps on Iran's enriched uranium stockpile, the time necessary to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb would be extended to six months or more. Such an effort could be readily detected within days with the increased monitoring and verification measures that are likely to be imposed as part of the comprehensive deal.

If Iran tried to "break out," it would take still longer for Iran to amass enough bomb-grade material for additional weapons, assemble a nuclear device, possibly conduct a nuclear explosive test of the warhead design, and develop a reliable means of delivering the weapons. This would give the international community ample warning and time to respond to Iran's actions.

Iran is also developing new and more efficient centrifuges and will likely resist any P5+1 effort to limit its ability to develop and deploy such centrifuges. Once operational, these more advanced centrifuges, such as IR2-Ms, could enrich uranium much more efficiently.

Consequently, the two sides will likely set limits on the overall capacity of Iran's enrichment program (as measured in "separative work units (SWU)") rather than the total number of centrifuges. This would allow Iran to continue its research and development activities under strict IAEA monitoring, which it views as a necessary part of the comprehensive deal.

Some P5+1 states would also like to see Iran mothball the underground Fordow uranium enrichment facility, which is less vulnerable to an airstrike, while Iran will resist such an outcome. The two sides might compromise by agreeing that Iran will effectively halt any significant enrichment at Fordow and convert it to a "research-only" facility for uses including testing and developing advanced centrifuges.

The Arak Reactor and the Plutonium Path to the Bomb: The P5+1 states have argued that Iran should abandon the unfinished Arak 40MW heavy water reactor, but Iran has resisted such an outcome.

Heavy water-moderated reactors are well suited to the production of plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons. Arak is some time away from completion and Iran does not have (and says it has no intention to build) a reprocessing facility that would be necessary to extract plutonium from the spent fuel. Nevertheless, the Arak reactor clearly represents a significant, long-term proliferation threat that must be addressed in the comprehensive deal.

One compromise that would effectively neutralize Arak's plutonium potential would be to convert Arak to a more proliferation-resistant light-water reactor, but this option would require Iran to abandon its original heavy-water technology choice and would be strongly resisted by Iran, given its indigenous development of the reactor.

However, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told Iran's official English-language Press TV in an interview Feb. 5 that Iran may agree to other modifications of the Arak heavy-water reactor near Arak.

"We can do some design change--in other words, make some change in the design in order to produce less plutonium in this reactor and in this way allay the worries and mitigate the concerns," Salehi said.

Some of those options could be to reduce the reactor from 40MW to perhaps 10MW. Another option is to use uranium fuel enriched to 3.5 percent or 20 percent (instead of natural uranium fuel) in order to reduce the reactor's output of plutonium that is suitable for weapons. While fueling the reactor with enriched uranium would increase Iran's "practical needs" for enriched uranium, the plutonium produced in the spent fuel from the Arak reactor would pose less of a concern for weapons.

An additional option would be to require that all spent fuel from the Arak reactor to be verifiably removed for disposition in a third country--possibly Russia--to prevent it from becoming a source of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Russia is already responsible for removing the spent fuel produced by the Bushehr reactor.

Tougher International Inspections: If Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons in the future, it would most likely try to do so by means of a secret program carried out at undisclosed facilities.

Consequently, the P5+1 will also seek to persuade Iran to allow even more extensive IAEA inspection authority to guard against a secret weapons program under the terms of the Additional Protocol to its existing comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. These inspections allow the IAEA to access non-declared sites without prior notification, which is a strong deterrent against any clandestine nuclear weapons work. Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the duration of the Additional Protocol would be unlimited.

The P5+1 will also seek "Additional Protocol- plus" inspection measures for an extended period of time to provide still more confidence to the international community that Iran's nuclear program is being used for entirely peaceful purposes.

Resolving Concerns About "Possible Military Dimensions:" To resolve longstanding questions about suspected weapons-related experiments that may have been conducted in secret in past years, Iran will also need to fully cooperate with the IAEA investigation on these experiments.

The IAEA laid out its concerns about the experiments and other concerns about the completeness of Iran's nuclear declaration in an annex to its November 2011 report to the agency's Board of Governors. Shortly after the November 2011 report, the IAEA and Iran began negotiating an approach to resolve these concerns. However, no progress was made until Iran and the IAEA agreed on a path forward to guide the agency's investigations. This breakthrough came on Nov. 11, 2013, when the IAEA and Iran agreed to a new Framework for Cooperation that committed both sides to cooperate to resolve the agency's outstanding concerns. The agreement also specified the first six steps that Iran would take over the course of the following three months.

While these steps provided the IAEA with necessary information and access to nuclear sites to verify Iran's nuclear activities, they did not include any of the contentious experiments with possible military dimensions.

The successful completion of these actions, however, is building trust and cooperation. When Iran and the IAEA agreed on the next set of steps for Tehran to take during talks on Feb. 8-9, Iran and the agency finally began to address the concerns about activities with possible military dimensions. One of the seven new steps that Iran agreed to take will require it to provide information on exploding bridge wire detonators to the IAEA. Exploding bridge wire detonators can be used to trigger nuclear weapons, but they also can be used for conventional explosives and civilian applications.

While other experiments with possible military dimensions must be addressed and soon, progress on the bridge wire detonators issue would be an important first step toward resolving these issues.

In the coming months, the IAEA and the P5+1 will insist that Iran provide all the information and cooperation that will be necessary to enable the IAEA to determine with confidence that whether such activities occurred or not and whether they were intended for a weapons program or not, and that no such weapons-related work continues.

While implementation of the Iran/IAEA framework has gone smoothly thus far, it is very likely that the investigation will continue for some time beyond the six-months to a year timeframe for the negotiation of the final phase P5+1/Iran agreement.

In addition, it is possible that the final phase P5+1/Iran agreement will specify that Iran will not henceforth conduct certain research and development activities with nuclear-weaponization applications, such as those identified in the annex of the IAEA's November 2011 report.

Sanctions Relief: To secure a "final phase" agreement, the P5+1 will need to phase-out the tough multilateral nuclear sanctions regime now in place, including the international oil and financial sanctions that are devastating Iran's economy. Iran will likely insist that with each of the successive steps that it undertakes as part of a comprehensive agreement, there will be commensurate actions to suspend and then lift sanctions.

This step-for-step approach will require a new UN Security Council Resolution on Iran's nuclear program and positive, follow-up actions by the European Union states and approval by Congress of revised legislation that unwinds U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that impact other nations' dealing with Iran.

Negotiating an agreement along these lines will be difficult and implementing it will be very challenging, but a sustainable arrangement to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran is achievable.

Myths and Misperceptions

Some policy makers and observers will likely continue to push for outcomes that are not realistic or necessary to stop Iran short of building nuclear weapons. For instance, some critics of the current diplomatic negotiations, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argue that the only "acceptable" outcome is one that requires Iran agree to the permanent suspension of all uranium enrichment and the dismantlement of the Natanz, Fordow, and Arak facilities.

According to the U.S. intelligence community Iran has had, at least since 2007, the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it were to choose to do so. That capacity can be reduced but not entirely eliminated, even it Iran were required to dismantle its uranium enrichment machines and facilities.

A "zero-enrichment" outcome would be ideal from a nonproliferation perspective and may have been conceivable in 2005-2006 when Iran agreed to suspend enrichment work and had less than 300 centrifuges.

But today, demands that Iran permanently halt uranium enrichment are unrealistic and unattainable. A deal that bars Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes would be unsustainable politically inside Iran, and such an outcome is not necessary to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.

Others argue that allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium is counter to the U.S. policy position that does not recognize the right to enrich as part of the NPT, especially if states have engaged in illicit nuclear-weapons related research. However, Iran believes it has a right to pursue as a member of the NPT, which refers to the "inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy...."

The two sides did not agree on the nature of Iran's nuclear energy "rights" in their Nov. 24 first phase agreement, but the P5+1 recognized that Iran already has a nuclear enrichment program and would insist on retaining some enrichment capacity. As such, as part of the broad parameters of the final deal, the parties agreed to negotiate practical limits on the scope of the enrichment program and additional safeguards on ongoing Iranian enrichment activities at its Natanz and Fordow facilities, in order to reduce Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities.

Another misperception is that the UN Security Council's earlier demands for Iran to "suspend" uranium enrichment require that a final phase agreement must end all Iranian enrichment activity.

In reality, the purpose of the demand for suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran under existing U.N. Security Council resolutions is to prevent Iran from accumulating more LEU until it restores confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program--not to permanently cease all uranium enrichment activities. (See: "What the UN Security Council Resolutions Say (and Don't Say) About Iran's Nuclear Program," Dec. 4, 2013.)

The Nov. 24 agreement effectively accomplishes that goal by capping the total amount of 3.5 percent material and it goes further by requiring Iran to neutralize its 20 percent stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20 percent levels while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

Bottom Line: A "Win-Win" Deal to Guard Against a Nuclear-Armed Iran

To guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and avoid a future confrontation over its nuclear program, the P5+1 and Iran should promptly implement the first-phase agreement and expeditiously negotiate a long-term final-phase agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals that meets their core requirements and respects the bottom-line needs of the other side.

A "win" for the P5+1 countries is a comprehensive agreement that: 1) establishes verifiable limits on Iran's program that, taken together, substantially increase the time it would take for Iran to break out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and build nuclear weapons; 2) increases the ability to promptly detect and effectively respond to a breakout; and 3) decrease Iran's incentive to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.

A "win" for Iran's President Hassan Rouhani would be to: 1) preserve key elements of its nuclear program (including some uranium enrichment and R & D); 2) protect Iran's "right" under the NPT to a peaceful nuclear program; and 3) remove international, nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.

If either side pushes unrealistic requirements on the other side, the chances for a negotiated resolution will decrease and the chances of a conflict and a nuclear-armed Iran will increase.

Any resort to military force against Iran's nuclear sites would, at best, only delay Iran's nuclear program and at worst, would lead to a wider conflict and very likely prompt Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons.

A final phase agreement will require hard compromises on the part of both sides, but it is the far more preferable and effective way to resolve the long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.--Daryl G. Kimball and Kelsey Davenport


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.


Last week, negotiators from the United States, its "P5+1" partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran agreed to a framework and timetable to guide the talks on a "comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful."

Country Resources:

Trimming the Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget



Volume 5, Issue 3, January 14, 2014

The United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

alternate text
Click image to enlarge.

These eye-popping projections come at a time that the defense budget is declining along with the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy. The Pentagon announced last June that it could reduce strategic nuclear forces by one-third below levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty, continuing a historical trend. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has dropped by 80 percent since its peak in 1967, but is still a formidable force of about 4,600 warheads.

These high costs, combined with shrinking budgets and stockpiles, should compel the Pentagon to rethink its plans to rebuild U.S. nuclear forces in the years ahead.

Now is the Time to Trim
The Departments of Defense and Energy are in the process of making long-term, multi-billion dollar decisions about how many new missiles, submarines, bombers and nuclear warheads the nation will build and deploy over the next 50 years. Now is the time to reevaluate these plans, before major budget decisions are locked in.

The good news is that it's not too late to chart a different course. Major acquisition programs are just getting off the ground and can be scaled back.

CBO estimates that, under current plans, U.S. taxpayers will spend at least $89 billion to buy new nuclear replacement systems over the next decade. But since these are long-term commitments that are just starting, CBO points out that costs are likely to balloon after 2023 as production begins. From 2024 to 2030, CBO estimates, the cost of modernization would be more than four times higher than in 2014.

The largest share of funding for nuclear delivery systems would go to strategic submarines. The Navy wants to buy 12 new ballistic missile submarines with a total production cost of about $100 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers that would cost at least $55 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is pursuing a $60 billion plan to upgrade five nuclear warhead types, including the B61 gravity bomb.

Arms Reductions Create Opportunity
Fortunately, ongoing U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenal reductions under New START open the door to major budget savings at this pivotal time. There is no need to wait for another U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement to save money.

alternate text
Click image to enlarge.

The United States maintains a deployed arsenal of about 2,100 strategic and tactical warheads and associated delivery systems--missiles, submarines, and bombers--and another 2,500 in reserve, for a total active stockpile of approximately 4,600 warheads.

New START will take the United States down to 1,550 treaty-accountable, deployed strategic warheads by 2018; Russia, now at 1,400 warheads, is already well below that level. Other than Russia, the only potential U.S. adversary with a long-range nuclear capability is China, which has no more than 75 single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the Pentagon.

In June 2013, President Obama announced he would pursue a new agreement with Russia to further reduce strategic weapons, as well as to reduce tactical weapons.  The U.S. military leadership has determined it can reduce deployed strategic warheads to 1,000-1,100, or about one-third below New START levels.

This analysis describes realistic, common sense options for reducing U.S. military spending on nuclear weapons that would save U.S. taxpayers about $70 billion from FY 2014-2023 (see chart below). The baseline for this analysis is the CBO estimate of current plans to maintain U.S. nuclear forces, build a new "triad" of delivery systems (submarines, bombers, and missiles), and extend the service life of nuclear warheads.

These options are not dependent on implementing additional U.S. arms reductions beyond New START. Instead, they are designed to meet New START warhead requirements in a more cost-effective way and to delay major procurement decisions until we really need to make them. If the United States does implement additional arsenal reductions in the future (either by treaty or reciprocal reductions), further budget savings would be possible.  

STRATEGIC SUBMARINES: 10-year savings, $16 billion
The Ohio-class replacement submarine program is the most expensive piece of the nuclear modernization plan ($100 billion for development and production only; $350 billion total over its lifetime) and, according to the Navy, would force the service to forgo 32 conventional ships it is planning to build, including attack submarines and destroyers. Rather than undermine the Navy's shipbuilding plans, the number of strategic subs can be scaled back.

The current fleet of 14 Ohio class submarines and the planned purchase of 12 new replacement subs (SSBNX) can both be reduced to eight. This would save $15.7 billion over 10 years and would still allow the Pentagon to deploy more than 1,000 warheads on submarines as planned under New START, according to a Nov. 2013 report by CBO. Procurement of the first SSBNX can be delayed until 2024, and its deployment delayed until 2033. Savings include personnel costs, procurement costs from pushing back the SSBNX purchase dates, and operations and management costs from reducing the current Ohio class fleet. During the 2030s, this plan would save an additional $30 billion by avoiding the purchase of four more SSBNX subs, according to CBO.

LONG RANGE BOMBERS: 10 year-savings, $32 billion
Under New START, the Pentagon plans to reduce the nuclear-capable, long-range bomber force from about 96 today to 60 (18 B2s and 42 B52s) by 2018. The B2 and B52 bombers are expected to operate into the 2050s and 2040s, respectively. Production of a new bomber is estimated to cost about $55 billion for 80-100 planes, not including development costs which have been estimated to be at least $20 billion.

The new bomber program can be delayed until the mid 2020s, saving $32.1 billion over 10 years, according to CBO. Even with a 10-year delay, a new bomber would still be ready by about the time current bombers are reaching the end of their service life, according to CBO, and the delay would allow the new bomber to incorporate technological advances made during that time.

AIR-LAUNCHED CRUISE MISSILE (ALCM): 10-year savings, $6 billion
The new Air Force bomber (above) is planned to eventually carry two types of nuclear weapons: a rebuilt gravity bomb (the B61, see below) and a cruise missile, known as the long-range standoff (LSRO) weapon or Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). The current ALCM, carried by B-52 bombers, was first deployed in the 1980s and is scheduled for retirement in 2030. A new ALCM has not been officially approved and has no official price tag, but is expected to cost at least $1 billion to develop over the next five years and $10-20 billion to produce. In addition, a rebuilt nuclear warhead to go with it would cost another $12 billion, according to NNSA, with about $5 billion to be spent in the next decade.

The need for a bomber with stand off nuclear missiles that are shot from afar is not clear. The new bomber is intended to penetrate enemy air defenses; it needs bombs that can be dropped from above. The current B-2 stealth bomber is a penetrator, too. If the Pentagon is concerned that an adversary's air defenses will improve in the future, the United States has other standoff weapons, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

B61 LIFE EXTENSION PROGRAM (LEP): 10-year savings, $5 billion
A 2012 Pentagon review estimated that the program to refurbish 400 B61 gravity bombs, both strategic and tactical, would cost $10.4 billion or roughly $25 million per bomb. This is an increase of $6 billion over NNSA's original estimate. In 2013 the Senate Appropriations Committee reduced the FY14 NNSA budget for the program by $168 million, or one third, but it was later restored to $537 million in the Omnibus appropriation.

To make the program affordable, NNSA needs to rescope the current plan for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP) and choose a more cost effective option, such as one that does not replace nuclear components or consolidate four versions of the bomb into one. At the same time, given President Obama's intentions to reduce tactical bombs in NATO, B61 bombs may no longer be deployed in Europe by the time the program is completed a decade from now. A scaled back B61 life extension plan could save an estimated $5 billion.

Under New START, the Air Force plans to reduce the current Minuteman III ICBM fleet from 450 to 400-420, and can go lower. The ICBM force recently underwent several modernization programs to extend its life expectancy, and the Air Force plans to sustain it through 2030 and possibly through 2075.

Development of a new ICBM and warhead life extension can be delayed until the mid 2020s without affecting operations of the current ICBM fleet. The new ICBM is in an early design phase and there is no official cost estimate. Independent estimates range from $20-$70 billion depending on how many new missiles are built and whether they would be silo-based or mobile. According to CBO, if the Air Force decides to build a replacement ICBM, development costs for the missile and warhead would add up to $10 billion by 2023. Production costs would fall outside the ten-year window.

Needed: Fresh Thinking
It's time for a more sensible approach to U.S. nuclear weapons spending. The savings proposed here can be achieved without reducing the number of deployed U.S. warheads below New START levels, so there is no need to wait for Moscow to reduce its nuclear forces any further. Reductions beyond New START would lead to additional budget savings in the years ahead.

The United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs. Shielding nuclear programs from budget reductions will force deeper cuts into other, higher priority conventional systems. Reducing nuclear weapons spending now is a smart way to trim the budget. --Tom Z. Collina

alternate text




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. Tom Z. Collina is ACA's research director.


The United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate.

New Sanctions Now Would Torpedo Iran Nuclear Negotiations



Volume 5, Issue 2, January 13, 2014

In nuclear negotiations, as in medicine, the first principle is: "Do no harm." Yet a bill authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 58 of his colleagues, threatens to pull the plug on the patient just as the Iran nuclear negotiations are entering their most delicate phase.

On Jan. 20, Iran and its six negotiating partners (the P5+1) will begin implementing the "Joint Plan of Action" agreed to in Geneva on Nov. 24. This six-month-long, first-phase deal includes a number of specific measures that will verifiably halt and, in some areas, roll back advances in Iran's capabilities of greatest proliferation concern and reduce its potential to produce material for nuclear weapons. The agreement will also significantly enhance the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iranian nuclear activities. Although the P5+1 agreed, in turn, to suspend peripheral sanctions, the core sanctions (on Iranian oil sales and financial transactions) would be retained.

The first-phase deal is intended to set the stage for negotiating specific terms of a final deal. The Joint Plan also outlines a framework for the ultimate agreement, but the details have yet to be negotiated. Although Iran will remain a nuclear weapons-capable state, the P5+1 will be seeking a deal that provides high confidence that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and denies Tehran the option of quickly breaking out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to build a nuclear weapon.

Scrupulous adherence to the terms of the first phase will be essential for building confidence that the terms of a comprehensive accord can be negotiated and implemented. Yet the bill advanced by Menendez and his colleagues anticipates the failure of the negotiating phase that is about to begin. It dictates changes in the terms of the agreement already concluded and establishes nonnegotiable preconditions for reaching an ultimate accord.

For these reasons, introducing the bill at this time is opposed not only by President Obama's team of negotiators, but also by 10 committee chairs in the U.S. Senate and even by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Both the U.S. intelligence community and leading former U.S. diplomats assess that passage of the bill would hinder, if not thoroughly sabotage, the prospects for a successful outcome.

Hard-liners in the Iranian parliament have already promised retaliation for the Menendez bill by undoing the concessions made Nov. 24 and intensifying Iran's uranium-enrichment activities. Passage of the bill would thus constitute a gift to those on both sides who oppose a negotiated outcome.

If the parties in the negotiations do not overreach, diplomatic engagement carries the potential to produce a fundamental transformation in the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. But getting to the finish line will be a major challenge; many obstacles will have to be surmounted.

The best way to maximize chances for success is to carry out the letter and the spirit of measures agreed to thus far. For Iran, this means honoring all of the "halts" required by the accord and, most important, moving steadily to eliminate Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium gas, which poses the most serious and urgent "breakout" threat.

For the United States, this means not only moving expeditiously to suspend the peripheral sanctions specified, but also to respect the P5+1's consensus formula for framing a future accord.

Demanding that Iran permanently halt all uranium enrichment - even for peaceful purposes - is unrealistic. Such a deal would be unsustainable politically inside Iran. It would spell the end of outreach efforts by President Hassan Rouhani, dooming prospects for a negotiated agreement and greatly increasing the chance of both war and an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

Instead of seeking Iran's capitulation at the negotiating table, the six powers need to insist on the elements of an agreement necessary to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful. As former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz have said, this means limiting Iran's nuclear capacity "to plausible civilian uses and to achieve safeguards to ensure that this level is not exceeded."

Senators should stop trying to reopen deals that have already been struck and demanding the impossible for deals yet to be made.--GREG THIELMANN

This essay is based on an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 12, 2014.


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. Greg Thielmann is ACA's senior fellow.


In nuclear negotiations, as in medicine, the first principle is: "Do no harm." Yet a bill authored by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and co-sponsored by 58 of his colleagues, threatens to pull the plug on the patient just as the Iran nuclear negotiations are entering their most delicate phase.

Country Resources:

Congress Should Not Sabotage Iran Nuclear Deal with Additional Sanctions



Volume 5, Issue 1, January 8, 2014

The "Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act" (S. 1881), introduced in the Senate on December 19 by Sens. Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kirk (R-Ill.), threatens to derail the breakthrough agreement that Iran and the P5+1 reached in Geneva on November 24 that will pause Iran's most worrisome nuclear activities in exchange for limited and reversible sanctions relief.

Contrary to the claim of the bill's authors, the proposed legislation would violate the terms of the first-phase deal that the United States and its P5+1 negotiating partners committed to in the November 24 Joint Plan of Action. In addition, the bill would place new and unrealistic restrictions on the comprehensive solution that the parties will soon begin negotiating. Efforts by the U.S. Congress to move the goalposts for the final phase negotiations beyond the parameters already established by the P5+1 would undermine prospects for a final phase agreement that limits Iran's uranium enrichment capacity and other sensitive nuclear fuel cycle projects.

The November 24, first-phase agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is an important opportunity to limit and roll back key areas of Iran's nuclear program. It provides more stringent monitoring and verification mechanisms that will help guard against the pursuit of a secret bomb program. Rather than sabotaging this deal before it is implemented and undermining the prospects for a more far-reaching final phase deal, U.S. policymakers must give Tehran a chance to demonstrate its willingness to curb its nuclear activities and follow through on the actions it is required to take.

S. 1881 Contradicts the Geneva Agreement
In the November 24 agreement, the United States committed to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions."

S. 1881, if approved, would directly violate this commitment. This bill would impose further sanctions on Iran in several areas - including greater restrictions on oil imports and expanding business and financial sanctions on Iran's mining and construction sectors.

Nevertheless, the authors of the bill, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Senator Kirk (R-Ill.), argue that their proposal for additional sanctions is not a violation of the agreement because the bill gives the U.S. president authority to temporarily waive the sanctions if Tehran meets the terms of the November 24 agreement.

This reasoning is illogical and incorrect for two reasons. First, this bill would impose new sanctions and, while the measures may not be enforced, they will become law. Iran made clear that it would interpret such a move as a violation of the Joint Plan of Action. Iran's Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a December 7 interview with Time magazine that the "deal is dead" if the United States imposes more sanctions, even if they do not go into effect during the six month time frame of the first-phase agreement.

Additionally, the conditions that must be met for the president to waive the sanctions exceed the terms of the Joint Plan of Action - specifically the bill requires Iran to adhere to limits on ballistic missile testing and the prohibition of financing for terrorist groups acting against the United States. Neither of these areas were addressed in the November 24 agreement. Requiring Iran to adhere to further stipulations in order to avoid further sanctions is a violation of this agreement.

Sen. Menendez argues that the additional sanctions should be approved now because "If we wait until we determine whether or not a negotiation succeeds, and if it fails, and then try to move" there may not be enough time before Iran can produce enough fissile material for nuclear weapons.  

If Iran violates the November 24 agreement or talks fail to produce a comprehensive agreement, Congress can quickly pass new sanctions--within days--and the administration says it would fully support further sanctions measures under such circumstances.

However, no member of Congress, including Sen. Menendez, should be under the illusion that further sanctions can or will stop Iran from advancing its sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities if the current round of talks fail. Only a serious, verifiable diplomatic agreement that significantly limits its enrichment capacity and increases international inspection authority to verify compliance and deter possible cheating will be effective in the long-run.

S. 1881 Threatens International Unity
The sanctions imposed on Iran played a role in motivating Tehran's leadership to reach the first-phase deal agreed to in Geneva on November 24. This success, however, was due to solid international support for unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. Moving forward on this bill threatens to erode support for existing sanctions amongst Washington's five other negotiating partners that could fracture sanctions enforcement.

Enforcement of the core sanctions regime that remains in place, including U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil and banking industries will be integral in motivating Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement. If international support for enforcing these sanctions falters because the U.S. is viewed as not holding up its end of the November 24 agreement, one of the key factors pushing Iran to agree to a deal that seriously limits its nuclear potential will have been removed.

S. 1881, by imposing additional sanctions would risk alienating states, such as China, that have cooperated with the existing sanctions regime. Why? If passed into law, S. 1881 would require countries still importing oil from Iran, such as China, to reduce their imports by 30 percent within the first year and to near zero within two years. This places an unrealistic burden on the countries that still import oil on Iran and places the United States in the position of having to sanction banks from these countries in the future, if the oil import cuts are not met.

This legislation also sends the signal to Iran and the international community that the United States cannot deliver its end of the agreement. It stands in stark contrast with the December 16 meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers, during which they agreed to support the November 24 agreement and refrain from passing further sanctions during the course of its implementation.

Following the meeting of the foreign ministers, EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton, leader of the P5+1 negotiating team, also encouraged all parties to "refrain from actions that could delay" implementation of the November 24 agreement. Moving forward on S. 1881 will certainly delay the agreement.

S. 1881 Would Set Unrealistic Demands on A Final Agreement
The Menendez-Kirk bill also sets out unrealistic demands for the comprehensive deal that Iran will not accept and contradict the broad parameters of the agreement laid out in the November 24 deal.

According to the November 24 Joint Plan of Action, the comprehensive, final phase agreement will include a "mutually defined enrichment program" for Iran. However, S. 1881 seeks to impose a different outcome by allowing the suspension of sanctions only if Iran agrees to zero-enrichment and complete dismantlement of its "illicit nuclear infrastructure," which presumably would include Iran's uranium enrichment facilities and the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak.

Such an outcome may have been conceivable in 2005-2006 when Iran agreed to suspend enrichment work and had less than 300 centrifuges. But today, demands that Iran permanently halt uranium enrichment are unrealistic and unattainable. A deal that bars Iran from enriching uranium for peaceful purposes would be unsustainable politically inside Iran-and such an outcome is not necessary to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran if appropriate limits and monitoring mechanisms are put in place.

S. 1881 also stipulates that the President may only waive sanctions if Iran complies with all earlier and relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Some of the bill's cosponsors have erroneously interpreted the UNSC resolutions to mean that Iran must permanently "suspend" all uranium enrichment activities.

In reality, the UNSC demand for suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran is meant to restore confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program during the course of negotiations on a permanent solution. It is not a demand to permanently cease all uranium enrichment activities. The November 24 first phase agreement effectively accomplishes the suspension goal of the UNSC by capping the total amount of 3.5% material and it goes further by requiring Iran to convert its 20% stockpiles and to cease all enrichment to 20% levels while a comprehensive agreement is negotiated.

An additional goal established by the P5+1 and Iran in the November 24 Joint Plan of Action for the final phase agreement is the lifting of all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions. S. 1881 would seek to keep the nuclear-related sanctions in place and only allow the U.S. President to waive implementation on a yearly basis if the president certifies that Iran is complying with the comprehensive agreement. This could be interpreted as a violation of the agreement, which calls for a "comprehensive lift" of the sanctions, not merely a series of temporary waivers.

S. 1881 would also try to impose a fixed time frame for the final phase negotiations. According to the legislation, the P5+1 would only have one year to reach a final deal before the sanctions laid out in the bill would be imposed. The bill limits the presidential waiver period to 180 days, plus four 30-day extensions.  Given the complexity of these negotiations, there is a good chance that the first-phase deal could be extended for and a second, or third, 6-month time period while negotiations on a comprehensive agreement continue.

S. 1881 Gives Iranian Hardliners Ammunition
From a negotiating perspective, moving forward on this bill will also give the hardliners in Iran considerable ammunition to assert that the United States is not following through on its commitments in the Joint Plan of Action and will not negotiate a comprehensive agreement in good faith. This could narrow the space that President Rouhani has to negotiate a final deal.

Already in the Iranian Parliament, a law was drafted in December that will require Iran to increase its uranium enrichment to 60 percent. As of January 4, over 200 members of parliament signed on in support of the legislation. One member said that this is in retaliation to "America's hostile act" of moving forward on further sanctions.   

Iran currently has no need for uranium enriched to this level, which is still below the 90 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons. However, several members of parliament said that increased enrichment levels could be used to power Iranian ships in the future, which is permitted under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Uranium enriched to 60 percent would also allow Iran to move more quickly to weapons-grade enrichment levels, if Tehran chose to do so.

Bottom Line
Moving forward on further, U.S. imposed Iran sanctions at this time will sabotage the important progress made in Geneva to limit Iran's nuclear activities and improve IAEA scrutiny of its program. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a December19 press briefing that moving forward on additional sanctions at this time would "proactively undermine American diplomacy."

As European High Representative Catherine Ashton, the lead P5+1 negotiator, said on Dec. 16, "It is a very sensitive diplomatic process." She added, "it is important that we refrain from actions that could delay the process. And as you already know, the E3 +3 have made a commitment to refrain from additional sanctions for the implementation period."

Though the cosponsors of S. 1881 may have good intentions, their bill threatens the diplomatic opportunity to rein-in Iran's nuclear capabilities, it would contradict the commitments made by the United States--to both Iran and our P5+1 negotiating partners--to refrain from approving further sanctions legislation, and, most significantly, could push Iran to pull out of the deal and allow it to continue advancing its nuclear program without restrictions.

New, additional sanctions are clearly unnecessary. The existing, core sanctions regime provides more than sufficient leverage on Iran to take further concrete measures to restrain its nuclear potential and improve transparency measure necessary to guard against a secret nuclear weapons effort in the future.

The Senate need not and should not move forward with new sanctions legislation, such as S. 1881, at this time and should support--not blow up--the promising P5+1 diplomatic process to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.--KELSEY DAVENPORT and DARYL G. KIMBALL


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.


The "Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act" (S. 1881), introduced in the Senate on December 19 by Sens. Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kirk (R-Ill.), threatens to derail the breakthrough agreement that Iran and the P5+1 reached in Geneva on November 24 that will pause Iran's most worrisome nuclear activities in exchange for limited and reversible sanctions relief.

Country Resources:


Subscribe to RSS - Issue Briefs