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Issue Briefs

Reality Check: Nuclear Weapons Spending and New START

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Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

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Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

A March 12 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper claims, for example, that the President's FY2013 budget request "broke his promise by significantly underfunding nuclear modernization."

In addition, some House Republicans are threatening to block the implementation of New START through legislation such as H.R. 4178, introduced March 8 by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Such approaches ignore key facts and, if adopted, would harm U.S. national security interests.

Only In Washington Is More Considered Less

Assertions about "failing to meet funding commitments" ignore the reality that spending for nuclear weapons maintenance and infrastructure programs has increased significantly under Obama's watch.

Actual funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13% since 2009. The administration's $7.6 billion FY2013 request would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more-by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion-even as other federal program budgets are being downsized.

The critics base their arguments on the fact that the exact funding levels projected in 2010 for NNSA nuclear weapons activities do not match those in the President's FY2013 budget request. As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a March 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "I don't know exactly what the amount of money [is that] we need.  But the amount that was committed [in 2010] is not provided for in this budget."

That is the wrong metric to use. What really matters is whether the resources are adequate for the stockpile stewardship activities that maintain the effectiveness of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. At well over $7 billion per year, the nuclear weapons labs have more than enough to get the job done.

Congress, Not the White House, Appropriates

Congressional critics of the administration's nuclear weapons and arms control strategy also conveniently ignore the fact that it was Congress that decided not to approve the administration's full budget request for higher funding for NNSA weapons work.

In fact, it was the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee that refused to fully fund the administration's nuclear weapons request in the FY2012 budget. Although the committee increased the NNSA weapons activities budget over the previous year, the appropriations bill allocation for fiscal 2012 is $500 million less than the Obama administration's whopping $7.6 billion request.

Budget Control Act Changes Everything

In addition, between the 2010 New START debate and the FY2013 budget request, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress passed the bipartisan Budget Control Act, which dramatically altered the fiscal environment and forced both sides to reexamine their funding priorities and commitments.

The Pentagon and NNSA are now planning to reduce budget growth by $487 billion in "050" defense-related spending over the next decade, and this cut may double if the current law requiring "sequestration" is not changed before January 2013.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said at the March 14 hearing that since the New START debate took place "nine months before the Budget Control Act became law, falling 4 percent short of the [2010-derived] target is reasonable given the fiscal reality facing us today."

In this fiscal context, the administration had little choice but to adjust its defense spending projections, as it did in many budget areas. Rather than asking "has the budget changed," the right question is "does the new the budget achieve the mission?" The answer is yes.

The bottom line is that small changes in the defense budget, as mandated by the Budget Control Act, do not alter the fact that the administration is meeting its commitments to the Senate under New START. Planned defense spending for nuclear weapons modernization is more than adequate. Claims to the contrary are incorrect.

The Nuclear Weapons Complex Budget Has Increased Significantly

As required by the Senate's December 22, 2010 Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification of New START, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...accelerate, to the extent possible, the design and engineering phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF)..." and request full funding for these facilities upon completion of their design and engineering phase. (Emphasis added.)

The FY2013 budget request for NNSA contains no funding for the CMRR, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, and deferred work for at least five years. The House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee cut CMRR by $100 million, or 33 percent, as part of the FY2012 budget process, indicating bipartisan concern about the need for CMRR.

With total cost estimates of $6 billion for CMRR and $6.5 billion for UPF, and given current NNSA budget realities, it is simply not possible to build both of these facilities at the same time. The delay of CMRR is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA.

As a result, the CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA's ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile. In addition, the delay allows NNSA to prioritize construction of UPF at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, which would be funded at $340 million in FY2013, a $180 million increase over FY2012.

Moreover, NNSA's FY2013 request for weapons activities is $7.6 billion, an increase of $363 million or five percent above enacted FY2012, and $1.2 billion more than FY2010. Historically, this funding level is higher than at any time since the Cold War.

When asked at a February congressional hearing if the FY2013 budget request fully meets the requirements to maintain the nuclear stockpile, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said: "...it absolutely does, fully meets the requirements, and we'll be able to take care of the stockpile... So the stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable."

Nuclear Weapons Delivery Systems Are Being Modernized

The Defense Department is also modernizing U.S. nuclear delivery systems, and there is no basis for claims to the contrary.

As also required by the New START Resolution of Advice and Consent, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...modernize or replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems: a heavy bomber and air-launched cruise missile, an [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM], and a nuclear power-ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and [Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile or SLBM]..." (Emphasis added.)

It is important to note that the President's commitment does not specify that weapon systems have to be replaced (as opposed to modernized), nor does it specify funding levels, numbers of systems, or production schedules.

As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in 2010, "The studies and development programs for these [nuclear delivery] systems will consider a range of possible options, with the objective of defining a cost-effective approach that supports continued reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons while promoting stable deterrence."

The Pentagon's FY2013 budget request includes:

  • New Bomber: $292 million for a new long-range bomber ($6.3 billion over five years), with plans to produce 80-100 planes at $550 million each starting in the mid-2020s. The existing fleet of 91 B-52 and 20 B-2 nuclear-capable bombers is expected to stay in service into the 2040s and beyond (2058 for the B-2), and is being upgraded at a cost of $4 billion over the next five years.
  • New Cruise Missile: $2 million to study a new air-launched cruise missile.
  • New ICBM: $11.6 million to study a new ICBM; the current force of 450 Minuteman III ICBMs will remain in service through 2030 or longer.
  • New Submarine: $565 million for a new strategic submarine, the SSBN-X, to replace the current 14 Ohio-class subs starting in 2031. The current sub fleet will stay in service through 2040. The FY2013 budget would defer first procurement of the SSBN-X by two years, a reasonable response to budget pressures that will not adversely affect U.S. security, saving $4.3 billion over five years. The existing D-5 SLBM would be maintained into the 2040s.

At over $6 billion per boat and a total life-cycle cost of almost $350 billion for a fleet of 12, concern about the cost of the SSBN-X is shared across party lines. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said March 15 that, "We are getting to a point where more than half of the Navy's total shipbuilding budget will be required to build extraordinarily expensive nuclear submarines. I am worried that funding needed to modernize the surface fleet is being crowded out..."

As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright's said in July 2011 "... we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don't have the money to do it." Some on the Hill may share Cartwright's concern, but there is no basis to claim that the administration is breaking promises on delivery systems made in the context of New START, and no reason to jeopardize New START implementation by tying it to unsustainable spending levels outlined two years ago.

The Obama administration remains committed to maintaining a formidable mix of U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems (submarines, bombers and missiles) in the years ahead, though the ultimate size and cost of that force can and should be reduced given that the current force is based on outdated "requirements" for deterrence and nuclear war fighting developed more than a decade ago.

New START Resolution of Approval Provides the Path Forward

The New START Resolution of Advice and Consent declared a "sense of the Senate" that the United States is committed to providing the resources needed to maintain the weapons production complex at the levels "set forth in the President's 10-year plan provided to the Congress pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84)," otherwise know as the 1251 report.

Just in case Congress did not provide sufficient resources in the future, the Resolution of Advice and Consent states that the President shall submit a report detailing how the administration would address the resource shortfall; the proposed level of funding required; the impact of the shortfall on the safety, reliability, and performance of U.S. nuclear forces; and whether "it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty."

It is the responsibility of Congress to fund programs, and Congress did not fully fund the administration's request for 1251 report activities in FY2012, nor is it likely to do so in FY2013. It is now up to the administration to submit the required report on how to deal with the shortfall and whether to remain a party to New START.

New START Still In U.S. Interests

New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to reduce its funding request for FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.

Some congressional Republicans, by contrast, would like to increase spending on nuclear weapons at the expense of other, higher priorities for national defense. Where exactly would the Senate Republican Policy Committee like the nuclear weapons budget increases to come from? Troop pay, body armor, or ammunition? They do not say. But given the budget crunch, these trade-offs cannot be avoided.

Furthermore, the idea that implementation of New START should be frozen unless every dollar is appropriated by Congress for an outdated budget plan defies common sense and the bipartisan will of 71 Senators who voted to approve ratification of New START.

Bottom Line

Nuclear weapons are simply not the security priority they once were. It is in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess, Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" clearly says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

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

Posted: March 19, 2012

A Window of Opportunity with Iran

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

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Volume 3, Issue 3, March 9, 2012

President Barack Obama said during a March 6 White House press conference that there was still a "window of opportunity" to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse diplomatically. With an agreement finally reached between the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Iran to hold nuclear negotiations, the opportunity to make serious progress toward such a resolution appears to be on the horizon, with talks likely to begin in April.

The talks will be critical both in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and another war in the Middle East, but they will not solve the issue in a single meeting. Rather, the upcoming negotiations should focus on the most pressing proliferation risk: Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20%, a level that could allow Iran to rapidly produce weapons-grade material. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has previously suggested that Iran would halt enrichment to 20% in exchange for reactor fuel. That proposition should be tested.

A Serious Step-by-Step Approach

In recognition of the need to make steady progress towards a comprehensive agreement, EU foreign policy chief and P5+1 representative Catherine Ashton said in her March 6 letter to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili that the six countries were seeking a "step-by-step approach," beginning with specific confidence-building measures. An arrangement under which Iran halts enriching to 20%, therefore, would only be an intermediary step that builds trust and buys time on the road to a final settlement. If policymakers prematurely criticize such an important achievement for failing to resolve the issue all at once, it only becomes more difficult to reach a permanent agreement that places sufficient constraints and transparency over Iran's nuclear program.

Serious negotiations on such a high stakes issue will inevitably entail a series of meetings amongst the seven countries, but more importantly, bilateral talks between the United States and Iran. Iran unfortunately rejected bilateral meetings with the United States during the last round, and their willingness to do so now will be a key test of their seriousness. Contrary to myth, such sustained negotiations do not allow Iran to buy time to expand its nuclear program. In fact, in the absence of talks, Iran continued to enrich uranium and scaled up its enrichment capacity over the past year.

The recent intensified sanctions-which U.S. officials say are aimed at changing Iran's behavior and increasing negotiating leverage-also make it critical for the United States and its diplomatic partners to go back to the table with Iran to gauge whether it is willing to fulfill its nonproliferation obligations. Failure to do so would only make it more difficult for the sanctions to achieve their primary goal, because it is only through negotiations that a commitment from Tehran to alter its dangerous course can be secured.

The rough outline of a potential long-term deal has already been charted out by the P5+1, involving efforts by Iran to undertake practical steps to ensure its nuclear program will not be used for nuclear weapons in exchange for cooperation with the West in a number of areas. Accomplishing that goal will be difficult, but a sustained dialogue remains the only way to a permanent resolution.

Another Shot at the Fuel Swap?

Recent P5+1 diplomatic initiatives have centered on near-term confidence-building measures that can be used as stepping-stones to a more comprehensive agreement. A key focus has been Iran's need to fuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which runs on 20%-enriched uranium fuel, rather than the normal low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel used in most nuclear power reactors.

In October 2009, Iran initially agreed to a U.S.-proposed, IAEA-brokered confidence-building measure intended to fuel the TRR and alleviate concerns about Iran's accumulation of LEU. The bulk of this material, roughly 5,500 kilograms, is currently enriched to about 3.5%.

Despite Iran's initial assent, political divisions in Tehran ultimately led Iran to reject the deal. Tehran then began to increase the enrichment level of some of its LEU to 20% in February 2010, ostensibly for TRR fuel.

Months later, a diplomatic initiative by Brazil and Turkey to renew the fuel swap proposal resulted in the May 2010 Tehran Declaration between Presidents Lula da Silva, Erdogan, and Ahmadinejad.

France, Russia, and the United States rejected the Tehran Declaration on a number of grounds, highlighting the fact that it did not address Iran's production of 20%-enriched uranium nor did it address Iran's accumulation of a larger amount of LEU since the offer was proposed.

These concerns were valid and the Tehran Declaration was indeed deficient in these areas, but the three countries could have addressed these issues in any follow-up negotiations. Because Russia and France would provide the TRR fuel as part of any final arrangement, the terms of the Vienna Group would inevitably supercede that of the Tehran Declaration. In the end, Iran's 20% enrichment has not only continued unchecked, earlier this year Tehran increased its 20%-enriched uranium production by three-fold.

The dubious rationale for this scaled up production is that, in addition to fueling the TRR, Iran would need to fuel additional research reactors it intends to build in the future. This rationale stretches plausibility because Iran likely does not have the technical expertise to construct such facilities, it is already building the Arak research reactor for the same questionable rationale of medical isotope production, and Tehran has provided no information to the IAEA on its reactor construction plans.

The only plausible reason for Iran's decision to stockpile 20%-enriched uranium is to acquire material that it can rapidly convert to weapons grade should it decide to produce nuclear weapons. This dangerous prospect makes halting Iran's enrichment to 20% a near-term priority, as the accumulation of a ready stockpile of 20% material greatly reduces the timeframe in which Iran might make a dash to produce a weapon, a fact that also raises the risk of a military strike to preempt such a move.

The United States has reportedly drafted a proposed confidence building measure that would require that Iran halt 20% enrichment and ship out the 20%-enriched uranium it has produced. In exchange, the P5+1 would provide Iran with fuel for the TRR and an agreement not to pursue an additional round of UN sanctions.

Although such an arrangement would not take the place of the UN Security Council's requirement that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment, much less the need for Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA, if Iran agreed to this proposal it would effectively end one of the most dangerous aspects of Iran's existing nuclear work and create an important precedent that Tehran agree not to enrich to levels above normal reactor-grade.

There appear to be divisions in Iran about just how far they are willing to press on with enrichment to 20%. President Ahmadinejad said publicly on a number of occasions in late 2011 that Iran would be willing to "immediately halt 20% enrichment" if Iran received fuel for the TRR (a suggestion which also shows that Iran's claimed plans to construct reactors that will use 20%-enriched fuel are not to be taken seriously). The Iranian president went even further to make the startling admission that the "production of 20 percent [enriched] fuel is not economical." At the same time, Iran has recently installed additional centrifuges at its Fordow plant to increase its production of 20%-enriched uranium.

Though it would be welcome if he made the even more accurate admission that there is no enrichment level in Iran that makes economic sense, Ahamdinejad's statement suggests that there are elements in the Iranian leadership are willing to seek a deal on the issue. It is possible, if not probable, that they cannot make good on the offer just as Iran was unable to agree to the initial fuel swap proposal in 2009, but given the proliferation risk of an increasing stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium, the P5+1 cannot afford to ignore diplomatic opportunities to reduce that risk.

Russia's Step-By-Step Proposal

The principle of capping Iran's enrichment in the near-term to reactor-grade also features in a proposed step-by-step process that has been advanced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and was first publicly announced in July 2011.

The specific details of the Russian plan have not been made public, but they have been characterized as an "action for action" process in which Iranian confidence-building and transparency measures are met with an easing of sanctions by the P5+1.

So far, the other P5+1 members have not voiced public opposition to the Russian proposal, but some do not appear to support it in its current form. U.S. officials have said that Washington is studying the proposal and have held meetings with Moscow regarding the plan. Similarly, Iran publicly welcomed the proposal but has been non-committal regarding its terms, claiming it would take several months to study.

In its current form, the Russian proposal does not appear to be well tailored to address concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program as it lifts key nonproliferation sanctions early in the process before requiring sufficient levels of transparency that make those sanctions unnecessary. The principle of a step-by-step process, however, is sound, and the proposal could be adjusted to achieve the goal of reaching a comprehensive agreement.

Finding a Comprehensive Agreement

Given the difficulties in reaching even a short-term arrangement, it may seem premature to talk about what a comprehensive agreement could look like. However, it is important that the two sides have some sense of where any negotiations are intended to lead, and that Iran in particular understand what steps it needs to take to come back into full compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

The proposal by the P5+1 in 2006 provides a broad outline of just what is expected of Iran and what Tehran could receive in return for this cooperation, although Iran would likely need to agree to additional transparency measures for a certain period of time to demonstrate that its is not seeking nuclear weapons. After all, Iran applied the IAEA Additional Protocol between 2003 and 2006 but still stonewalled some aspects of the IAEA's investigations and continued on a path to a nuclear-weapons capability.

In 2008, the P5+1 revised the package, spelling out in greater detail some of the benefits Iran would receive and making an effort to highlight those benefits directly to the Iranian people, meeting with Iranian officials for the first time in Tehran to discuss the proposal.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iranian officials and negotiators have consistently misrepresented the aim of the United States and its negotiating partners as trying to deprive Iran of its "rights" to nuclear technology. In fact, the six countries have insisted all along that they recognize Iran's rights to a peaceful nuclear program, and have offered as part of their negotiation proposals technical and financial assistance for a nuclear energy program in Iran.

A sticking point has been the continuation of an Iranian enrichment program, which various Western P5+1 countries, at different points in time, have insisted must be halted indefinitely-rather than merely suspended until Iran meets certain conditions.

Tehran has used this implicit indefinite denial of enrichment as a way to divide the international community, suggesting that its rights are being violated if the world powers do not recognize an explicit right to such technology. This was one of Iran's preconditions at its last meeting with the P5+1 in January 2011 in Istanbul that contributed to scuttling those talks.

Yet Iran is seeking an explicit right to enrich uranium that does not exist. Although the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit countries from maintaining any specific nuclear technology that can be used for peaceful purposes, it does not grant an explicit right to the pursuit of certain nuclear technologies either.

Regardless, the IAEA Board of Governors has determined that Iran violated its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, in essence breaking the very condition on which its rights to peaceful nuclear technology are predicated.

The Issue of "Suspension"

What the P5+1 have formally called for and what the UN Security Council has required is that Iran suspend enrichment while long-term negotiations progress and until Iran can re-establish confidence that it is not seeking nuclear weapons through additional transparency measures and a full accounting of its nuclear history to the IAEA.

Even as some P5+1 members have been reluctant to publicly agree that Iran can enrich again at some point in the future, the group's comprehensive proposals have included a review mechanism for suspension-implicitly indicating that the suspension could be lifted at some point. In the U.S. political context, it is also important to recall that the 2006 and 2008 P5+1 proposals permitting eventual enrichment in Iran were agreed by the Bush administration, which had previously insisted on zero enrichment.

The Obama administration sought to capitalize on this position by making it clear to Iran in public that its arguments that its rights were being undercut were without merit. On March 1, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that "under very strict conditions" and "having responded to the international community's concerns," Iran would have a "right" to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections. This is consistent with the rights and responsibilities contained in the NPT.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Ambassador Hossein Mousavian has suggested that, as part of a negotiated settlement, Tehran can agree to enrich consistent with its fuel needs. Such a commitment would entail a de facto suspension because of Iran's lack of near-term domestic fuel needs, but it would provide Iran with a way to rationalize such a halt without appearing to capitulate entirely.

It is important to remember in this context that Iran has no near-term need to enrich-even if one accepts its argument that it cannot rely on outside sources of nuclear fuel for its nuclear energy program-because Russia has provided the initial fuel for Iran's sole nuclear power reactor. And because Iran does not have sufficient domestic uranium reserves to fuel its ambitious nuclear power program, it will inevitably have to rely on other countries for fuel anyway, even if it carries out enrichment itself.

On the other hand, while a permanent uranium enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Furthermore, a permanent halt is not realistic given the strong support for enrichment across the political spectrum in Iran. Tying enrichment amounts and levels to the actual needs of Iran's nuclear power plants might provide an acceptable compromise.

The fundamental question for Iran is whether it wants to maintain enrichment to protect its "rights" and to maintain its national pride, or if it wants to maintain and expand uranium enrichment (and other sensitive fuel cycle activities) to provide a path to nuclear weapons.

The broad proposals outlined by the P5+1 allow Iran to do the former, putting in place transparency measures and confidence-building steps to make it difficult to do the latter. It appears that Iran cannot yet decide that it simply wants to keep enrichment, but rather continues to desire a hedge in the form of a rapid capacity to make nuclear weapons.

If Iran is unwilling to agree to commonsense confidence building steps, Tehran will become increasingly isolated. But P5+1 leaders in Washington and other capitals must continue both tracks of their "dual-track policy" and keep testing Iran's willingness to change course by pursuing opportunities to engage Iran on the nuclear issue.--Peter Crail

* This is an update of an Iran Nuclear Brief first published Jan. 26, 2012.

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Posted: March 9, 2012

The IAEA Outlines the Path for Iran to Come Clean, But is Tehran Ready?

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

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Volume 3, Issue 2, March 7, 2012

After years of denying any need to respond to international concerns about suspected nuclear weaponization work, Iran has finally engaged in a discussion with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address an alleged weapons program. This is a positive development, but it will only be meaningful in the context of serious efforts by Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA's investigation.

The agency met with Iranian officials in Tehran on two occasions in January and February to discuss a way forward on the issue but Iran did not allow the IAEA to begin with an initial step of visiting a key site believed to have been involved in warhead-related high explosives testing.

In a February 20 IAEA document, the agency identifies the kinds of actions Iran needs to take to address suspected weapons-related activities and ensure that there is no ongoing warhead development work. The specific topics that the IAEA wants to address were laid out extensively in the agency's November 2011 report, including:

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

Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, distributed a version of the Feb. 20 document to members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that contains Tehran's suggested revisions to the IAEA's proposed work plan. The two sides are still negotiating the procedures for the agency's investigation.

While any country would have a legitimate need to protect information that is not relevant to the IAEA's investigation, Iran's counter-proposals to the Agency's proposed work plan would place undue limitations on the agency's work that will make it more difficult to determine whether Iran has carried out or still maintains a warhead development program.

Any access that Iran is willing to provide is a step in the right direction and should be encouraged, but the international community should make clear that token measures will only drag out the investigation rather than close the case. Three issues in particular stand out in the document that Soltanieh circulated.

The IAEA Should Avoid a "One and Done" Approach

Iran's responses to the agency show that it would like to prevent the IAEA from adequately following up on any information it obtains during the course of its investigation. Iran has suggested removing a clause stating, "Follow up actions that are required of Iran to facilitate the agency's conclusions regarding the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be identified as this process continues."

Iran also inserted language specifying that, after steps are taken on each issue the agency wishes to address, that issue "will be considered concluded."

Iran's proposed approach risks that, even if the agency does not receive sufficient information from Iran during its initial investigation, Tehran will try to assert that particular aspects of the case are closed and refuse to answer any follow-up questions. Iran's suggestions would preclude any efforts to go back to topics that the agency previously investigated should new information arise. Such limitations do not match up with what Soltanieh describes in his communication to the NAM states as a "proactive and cooperative approach."

Strictly Sequencing the Issues Investigated Only Delays the Process

The Feb. 20 document says that steps to address the IAEA's questions should be completed in time for the agency's June 2012 meeting, "if possible." Such a quick timeframe would be welcome, particularly as tensions over the issue increase.

But Iran's opposition to potentially addressing some of the IAEA's questions in parallel unnecessarily delays the process. If Iran's nuclear program is purely peaceful, there is little reason to drag out the investigation in such a way and rejecting any parallel investigations does nothing to address legitimate concerns about protecting access to information unrelated to Iran's nuclear program.

More importantly, because many of the activities that the IAEA is investigating appear to be interlinked, it would be natural for the agency to seek to address multiple issues at once if information it obtains is relevant to them.

Verifying the Completeness of Iran's Declarations

Section C of the Feb. 20 document details steps the IAEA requests Iran take to ensure that it has a firm grasp of all the nuclear-related activities being carried out in the country. These steps are hardly new. Most of them either stem from provisions of Iran's safeguards agreement that Tehran unilaterally suspended (a requirement to provide early design information of nuclear facilities under so-called Code 3.1), or the agency's Additional Protocol (allowing access to undeclared sites).

Unlike the rest of the document--which is focused on Iran's alleged warhead work--the actions requested in Section C are directly related to ensuring that Iran's known nuclear activities are not being diverted for possible weapons use. Achieving agreement on these steps would provide some of the most vital assurances that Iran's nuclear activities will not be misused. However, the appearance of bracketed text suggests that this section may be subject to extensive negotiation. Iran has refused to provide many of these measures for several years.

Is Iran Ready to Come Clean?

The November 2011 IAEA report makes a convincing case that Iran was indeed involved in a comprehensive nuclear weapons program prior to 2004, some elements of which have likely continued. Iran's full and complete cooperation with the agency would likely bear this out, demonstrating that Iran's claims that it has pursued a peaceful nuclear program all along have been false.

Tehran does not appear to be ready to either make such an admission, or to be confronted with more conclusive evidence of such activities. Iran's leaders should understand that their failure to address the agency's concerns only undermines Tehran's claim that it is simply pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

The international community should also make clear that, while additional transparency on Iran's part is positive, half measures will not alleviate suspicions. The agency has a job to do, and it should continue to pursue of answers to questions raised over the course of its investigation.

At the same time, the leadership in Tehran is unlikely to decide that it can fully address the IAEA's concerns and verifiably end any ongoing warhead work absent a diplomatic process aimed at producing a comprehensive resolution to the nuclear impasse.

In the course of that process, Iran must be convinced of two things: 1) that continuing down a path toward nuclear weapons will only result in increasing isolation and diminished security; and 2) that genuine and meaningful cooperation will be met by an easing of pressure, rather than an escalation. Iran should not be at risk of being punished for coming clean.

The talks between the P5+1 and Iran to be scheduled for later this spring provide the best chance to provide Iran with an "off-ramp" from its current course. This process should begin with confidence building steps addressing the most pressing proliferation risks, which would pave the way for additional measures to bring Iran further and further back from a nuclear-weapons breakout capability.

Answering the IAEA's questions will be a critical step en route to a broader, comprehensive arrangement that should also include full transparency over Iranian nuclear activities. --Peter Crail

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Posted: March 7, 2012

Opponents of U.S. Nuclear Cuts: Still Being Chased by the Russian Bear?

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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 24, 2012

Last week, the press reported on Defense Department options for Presidential guidance that were being prepared as part of the Nuclear Policy Review implementation study. The notion that the President might consider deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces unleashed some intemperate reactions that brought to mind Shakespeare's most famous stage direction (in "The Winter's Tale"): "Exit, pursued by a bear."

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Volume 3, Issue 1, February 24, 2012

Last week, the press reported on Defense Department options for Presidential guidance that were being prepared as part of the Nuclear Posture Review implementation study. The notion that the President might consider deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces unleashed some intemperate reactions that brought to mind Shakespeare's most famous stage direction (in "The Winter's Tale"): "Exit, pursued by a bear."

Just as thespians have struggled over the years with staging the bear's pursuit of Shakespeare's character Antigonus, critics of further reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons have difficulty figuring out how to represent the Russian bear following the end of the Cold War. The U.S. nuclear deterrent is still primarily sized and shaped by, and oriented against, the Russian Federation. Moscow's strategic forces still retain the ability to annihilate the United States. And even though the ideological conflict is over and Russia now contains far fewer targets and weapons than did the Soviet Union, Cold War assumptions and calculations still govern nuclear force planning.

The critics of nuclear cuts ratchet back and forth on Russia - in one moment warning of the threat, citing Moscow's surly rhetoric and stated intention of re-investing in Russia's strategic defense budget - and in the next breath, dismissing U.S.-Russian arms control efforts as unnecessary and irrelevant for addressing more urgent threats from a powerfully resurgent China, a nascent nuclear North Korea, and a recalcitrant and potentially nuclear Iran.

Policymakers need to engage in a serious discussion about what the U.S. nuclear arsenal can and should deter. This dialogue must absorb the new reality of an often contentious, but no longer zero-sum U.S.-Russian relationship. It must re-examine the archaic premise that the United States needs to maintain not only a capability to assure the survival of its retaliatory forces in the event of a Russian first-strike, but also to launch a pre-emptive first-strike against Russia.

Reality Check

However, a prerequisite for that fundamental and overdue debate is undertaking a sober and realistic accounting of the existing balance of forces. That has not yet been done by the vocal critics of nuclear cuts. Thirty-four Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote to President Obama last week, referring to "the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities in Russia, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran..." The Representatives did not provide a time frame for this "growth," no doubt because the reduction in Russian strategic forces during recent years has actually led to an overall decline in aggregate numbers of nuclear weapons possessed by America's potential enemies.

The U.S. House members also cited the "...ambitious nuclear weapons modernization programs of Russia, communist China, Pakistan and others..." In this context, it would seem relevant to mention that China's "ambitious" program has added, over the last three decades, about 30 warheads that could reliably reach the United States. China now fields some 40-50 warheads on intercontinental systems, compared to the 1,790 deployed by the United States that could reach China.

China's strategic nuclear systems are relatively less sophisticated and diverse than those of the United States. China's newest-class ballistic missile submarine, which will provide the sea-based leg of its nuclear deterrent, is very noisy, according to an unclassified report of the Office of Naval Intelligence. These strategic submarines would thus be very vulnerable to stalking and destruction by much quieter U.S. attack submarines. Moreover, China has no intercontinental bombers, no adequate strategic warning, and no multiple warheads on its ballistic missiles - four decades after MIRVs were first deployed by the United States.

The Shrinking Bear

In a February 16 Senate Floor speech, Sen. Jon Kyl continued his jihad against the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) by noting: "Not a country in the world has reduced warheads since the signing of the New START treaty except the United States." In so doing, Kyl focuses on a slight uptick in Russia's deployed warhead count from six months earlier, ignoring a slight numerical reduction in the number of Russia's deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers over the same period. More importantly, he obscures the long-term trend line, which shows Russia today with some 300 warheads fewer than two years ago and projects further reductions of similar magnitude over the next few years, putting Russia well below New START's warhead ceiling.

It is appropriate to consider carefully Russian nuclear force trends when considering future U.S. nuclear policy. After all, Russian strategic forces dwarf those of all other countries against which U.S. nuclear weapons could be used. U.S. and Russian strategic forces together contain over 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons in the world. Moreover, Russia is the only country, which has any counter-force capability against the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

However, such consideration reveals a conspicuous and continuing decline in Russian strategic forces from the robust base Moscow inherited from the Soviet Union. Because the warhead-rich SS-18 and SS-19 ICBMs are reaching the end of their service lives and the new Bulava SLBM has suffered delays, the decline promises to last for years, even if Moscow moves forward with development and deployment of a new, heavy, multiple-warhead ICBM.

The latest figures exchanged under New START show that Russia had 1,566 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers (counted-as-one for each aircraft)--224 less than the United States. While both parties are obligated to reduce operational warhead levels further before the treaty's 1,550 ceiling enters into effect in February 2018 many U.S. and Russian experts predict that Russia's warhead count may fall significantly below that ceiling. For example, Russian academician Alexei Arbatov, says Russia's New START accountable warhead count could total only 1,000-1,100 within the decade as the deployment of new systems fails to keep pace with the retirement of legacy systems.

What is to be done?

Rather than induce Russia to build up its strategic nuclear forces, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to pursue further, parallel reductions in such forces. An updated look at the nuclear balance and the narrowed function of nuclear weapons proclaimed by President Obama should lead to a number of important changes in nuclear policy guidance:

  • Entire categories of targets -- only appropriate for nuclear war-fighting rather than deterrence -- should be eliminated from U.S. nuclear war plans.
  • Overblown requirements for damage expectancy should be scaled back.
  • Requirements for rapid launch capabilities should be eased, removing pressure from national command authorities for hasty decisions and reducing overall force requirements - for example, for the number of SSBNs on station.

Empowered with updated presidential guidance, force planners can responsibly and significantly reduce the number of weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"Chased by a bear" may work as stage direction for dramatic performances to an early 17th Century English audience, which was accustomed to bear baiting as public entertainment. It is less suitable as a framework for U.S. nuclear policy in the 21st Century, which needs to be based on honest assessments of nuclear threats and an accurate understanding of the limited role of nuclear weapons. The bear chase is over.--Greg Thielmann

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

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Posted: February 24, 2012

Time to Rethink and Reduce Nuclear Weapons Spending

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

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Volume 2, Issue 16, December 2, 2011

The supercommittee’s Nov. 21 failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan has triggered deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

Through it all, one thing is clear: the changing security environment and increasing budget pressure mean that the United States can and should spend less on nuclear weapons than previously planned.

The automatic reductions, known as “sequestration,” will double the amount of money the Pentagon must cut from its projected budget growth, from about $450 billion to roughly $1 trillion, over the next decade. These cuts could get derailed before they take effect in 2013, but that outcome is impossible to predict. The Pentagon and Congress have to plan for these reductions, and they should start now.

Where should the budget cuts come from? For starters, we should stop funding excessive, Cold War-era nuclear weapon systems and capabilities that do not help address current or likely security threats.  As the Obama administration noted in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), “The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War era of bipolar military confrontation is poorly suited to address the challenges posed by suicidal terrorists and unfriendly regimes seeking nuclear weapons.”

The most pressing security threats we face today, such as terrorism and cyber attack, simply cannot be addressed with nuclear weapons. The United States does not need to continue to deploy as many as 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads as is allowed under the New START treaty to deter nuclear attack from Russia or any other nuclear-armed state, nor does it need to spend hundreds of billions over the next decade to rebuild the nuclear “triad.”

At the same time, the Obama administration is re-examining the fundamental purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons and how many the country really needs. This review, called the NPR Implementation Study, will likely alter obsolete nuclear deterrence requirements and clear the way for further reciprocal nuclear reductions with Russia.

Even though current nuclear delivery systems will remain operational for another 20-30 years, key decisions on their replacements are being made right now.

Major procurement decisions should be informed by the results of the administration’s review of nuclear forces. To its credit, Pentagon officials told Congress last month that “no decisions have been made with respect to future force sizing or the modernization plans for nuclear delivery systems; such decisions will be informed by the Administration’s ongoing review of deterrence requirements."

Rather than build a new, more expensive version of the nuclear triad from the 1960s, we must recognize that the world has changed. The Cold War ended 20 years ago, but U.S. and Russian arsenals far exceed what is necessary to deter nuclear attack. According to the State Department, as of Sept. 1 the United States deployed 1,790 warheads on 822 strategic delivery vehicles, and Russia deployed 1,566 warheads on 516 strategic delivery vehicles. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Nevertheless, both Russia and the United States currently plan to spend scarce resources to modernize and deploy excessive numbers of nuclear weapons for decades to come.

The United States can save at least $45 billion over the next 10 years and still maintain a formidable and survivable nuclear force.  Here’s how:

Rightsize the submarine force: Current Navy plans call for 12 new ballistic missile submarines—each with 16 nuclear-armed missiles—to replace the existing fleet of 12 operational Trident subs. Each new sub would cost an average of $7 billion; the entire fleet would cost $350 billion to build and operate over 50 years. The United States can rightsize the current and future ballistic missile submarine fleet from 12 to 8 and save $27 billion over 10 years (and $120 billion over the life of the program). Eight operational boats would allow the Pentagon to deploy the same number of sea-based warheads (about 1,000) as planned under New START.

Delay the new strategic bomber: The Air Force plans to retain 60 nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s, but has begun research on a new nuclear-capable heavy bomber, which could cost $50 billion or more to build. It would carry a new air-launched, nuclear-capable cruise missile. There is no rush to field a new bomber given that the Pentagon’s plan to deploy 60 heavy bombers under New START will be be achieved with existing aircraft. Delaying this program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.

For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force. The Air Force plans to maintain a force of up to 420 land-based missiles through 2030, and wants to buy a follow-on missile in the future. An additional $8 billion could be saved by “eliminating” the land-based missile leg of the nuclear triad, according to the Pentagon. Short of elimination, these missiles could be reduced and the follow-on missile program cancelled.

The Bottom Line

Wasting billions on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.

Nevertheless, “defense hawks” in Congress are calling the sequestration “dangerous” and the military services are lining up to protect their pet programs, such as the new ballistic missile submarine.

Fresh thinking is in order. The automatic reductions, although large, are achievable if done smartly. National security can actually be enhanced through greater budget discipline. Programs that address low priority threats must be scaled back to preserve more pressing national security needs.

As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Nov. 11, “The amount of money we’re spending on maintaining nuclear weapons, modernizing nuclear weapons, is not in keeping with the modern world. It’s much more a Cold War remnant.”

For the good of the country, it is time to fundamentally rethink federal spending on nuclear weapons. –Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball

Posted: December 2, 2011

The IAEA's Iran Report: Assessment and Implications

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

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Volume 2, Issue 15, November 8, 2011

The IAEA report and annex released today provides disturbing and “credible” additional details regarding Iranian nuclear warhead development efforts that have allowed Tehran to acquire some of the expertise needed to build nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.

The broad outline in the IAEA’s latest report on the military dimensions of Iran’s program is not new, but rather, provides greater detail regarding weapons-related activities outlined in previous public reports.

The IAEA report and annex reinforce what the nonproliferation community has recognized for some time: that Iran engaged in various nuclear weapons development activities until 2003, then stopped many of them, but continued others.

The activities documented in the IAEA report, including research related to nuclear warheads, underscore that Tehran’s claims that it is only seeking the peaceful use of nuclear energy are false.

Iran’s warhead work also contradicts its obligation not to pursue nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), under which states parties commit “not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

The report suggests that Iran is working to shorten the timeframe to building the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.

The report should prompt greater international pressure on Tehran to respond more fully to the IAEA’s questions, allow for more extensive inspections of its nuclear facilities, engage more seriously in talks on its nuclear program, and to agree to confidence building steps to help resolve the crisis.

Comparison of the IAEA’s Findings with Public U.S. Intelligence Assessments

Because the IAEA report is based largely on intelligence the United States and other IAEA member states have been sharing with the agency for some time, in addition to the agency’s own investigations, the information in the report likely provides greater insight into current U.S. assessments about Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. intelligence community appears to stand by the judgment made in the 2007 NIE that Iran had a nuclear weapons program that was halted in the fall of 2003. Moreover, in his testimony before a Senate committee in March 2011, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that the intelligence community still had a high level of confidence that Iran has not yet made a decision restart its nuclear weapons program.

Because the weapons program is believed to refer to the series of projects the IAEA report details, Clapper’s statement is not inconsistent with the notion that some weapons-related R&D has resumed which is not part of a determined, integrated weapons-development program of the type that Iran maintained prior to 2003.

Consistent with the finding of the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the IAEA report says that a comprehensive weapons program (known as the AMAD Plan) “was stopped rather abruptly pursuant to a ‘halt order,’” in late 2003, but that some of the program’s activities were resumed later. Key personnel are still involved in those renewed activities apparently tying up loose ends regarding their prior research and development work.

Summary of Key IAEA Findings on Weapons-Related Activities

The IAEA deserves credit for continuing to press the issue and to present this important information to the IAEA Board of Governors in spite of Tehran’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation. This resolve helps to bolster the integrity of the agency and show that countries cannot simply get away with nonproliferation violations by denial and obfuscation.

According to the report, Iran was engaged in an effort prior to the end of 2003 which ran the full range of nuclear weapons development, from acquiring the raw nuclear material to working on a weapon they could eventually deliver via a missile. Just as important as the type of work being carried out is how that work was organized. The series of projects that made up Iran’s nuclear program appears to have been overseen by “senior Iranian figures” and engaged in “working level correspondence” consistent with a coordinated program.

Key components of this program include:

  • Fissile Material Production: As documented in previous reports, Iran ran an undeclared effort to produce uranium-tetrafluoride (also known as Green Salt), a precursor for the uranium used in the enrichment process. The affiliation between this project and other projects directly related to warhead development suggests that Iran’s nuclear weapons program included both fissile material production and warhead development. Although the report does not detail a uranium enrichment effort as part of the AMAD Plan, the secret nature of the Natanz enrichment plant prior to 2002 suggests that it was originally intended to produce the highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.
  • High Explosives Testing: Iran’s experiments involving exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonators and the simultaneous firing of explosives around a hemispherical shape points to work on nuclear warhead design. The agency says that the type of high explosives testing matches an existing nuclear weapon design. Iran admits to carrying out such work, but claims it is for conventional military 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 develop a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on the Shahab-3 missile. Confronted with some of the studies, Iran admitted to the IAEA that such work would constitute nuclear weapons development, but Tehran denies carrying out the research.

The IAEA admits that it has less information regarding warhead-related work Iran has continued to pursue since 2003, but the report has provided some insight into the type of activities that Iran subsequently resumed, which seems to be focused on warhead design verification. The fact that the agency was able to detail some of the organizational changes that have taken place since 2003, including the current position of the person who formerly oversaw the AMAD Plan, suggests that intelligence agencies still have considerable insight into Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran will likely be concerned about its inability to hide such important information and will likely engage in further restructuring following this report, which may delay its efforts once again.

Considering the IAEA's reliance on intelligence information from states, it went through considerable length to demonstrate why it thought this information was credible. It was not just a matter of acquiring consistent information from over 10 countries, but it seems some of the most incriminating evidence comes from the AQ Khan network, which Iran admits it relied upon. The information from the Khan network includes details about nuclear warhead designs the network gave Iran that match up to the research and experiments detailed in the intelligence information.

The IAEA Board of Governors Needs to Respond

The report will be considered by the IAEA Board of Governors at its next meeting Nov. 17-18, along with a draft resolution censuring Iran for violating its nonproliferation commitments. The Board’s 35 members cannot ignore Iran’s warhead development activities or Tehran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation into that work. It must also insist that Iran improve its cooperation with the agency prior to the next board meeting.

A consensus response is unlikely given existing divisions among the 35 countries, and in particular, Cuba’s current membership on the board. Beijing and Moscow have also unfortunately played an unhelpful role prior to the release of the report by calling on Director-General Yukiya Amano to limit the information detailed it contains.

However, it is important that the board’s response receives support from as many countries as possible to demonstrate to Tehran that it cannot engage in work directly related to nuclear weapons with impunity.

In particular, developing countries on the IAEA Board of Governors should no longer treat the Iran nuclear issue as a test case for preserving the right to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Rather, it is time that all states insist that Iran stop abusing that right for the development of a nuclear weapons capability and take meaningful steps to cooperate with the IAEA and suspend enrichment work, particularly enrichment of uranium at the 20% level.

Rights and Responsibilities

Iran cannot complain that Western states are trying to deny the Islamic Republic its nuclear “rights.” The U.S. position, consistent with the 2006 offer by the P5+1, has been that Iran could resume enrichment some time in the future after it re-establishes confidence with the international community that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton explained it to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on March 1, 2011, it is the U.S. Government's position is that "under very strict conditions" and "having responded to the international community's concerns," Iran would have a "right" to enrich uranium under IAEA inspections.

In response to the IAEA’s report, the international community should redouble efforts to implement existing UN Security Council-mandated sanctions on Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors and, if Iran remains unwilling to cooperate with the IAEA and ignore the Security Council, further isolate Iran diplomatically and economically.

Maintain Pressure and Engage

In response to the report, the White House has appropriately underscored that the United States continues to focus on using diplomatic channels to pressure Iran to abandon its sensitive nuclear activities.

To keep open the option for an effective negotiated resolution to the crisis, President Barack Obama should also reiterate the willingness of the United States and its P5+1 partners to follow-through on the recent letter from the EU’s Catherine Ashton to Iran’s leaders offering to engage them in further talks to address the nuclear program.

Continuing pressure through targeted sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors, coupled with the pursuit of a negotiated agreement to resolve serious concerns over Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities and to limit its uranium enrichment capacity provides the best chance of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran.

Talk of military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets is unhelpful and counterproductive. Military strikes by the United States and/or Israel would only achieve a temporary delay in Iran’s nuclear activities, convince Iran's leadership to openly pursue nuclear weapons, rally domestic support behind a corrupt regime, and would result in costly long-term consequences for U.S. and regional security and the U.S. and global economy.

Ultimately, resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducement to convince Iran that it stands more to gain from forgoing a nuclear-weapons option and much to lose from any decision to build them. –PETER CRAIL, DARYL G. KIMBALL, GREG THIELMANN

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Posted: November 8, 2011

Science Replaces Nuclear Tests

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Volume 2, Issue 14, November 3, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries”) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

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Volume 2, Issue 14, November 2, 2011

A front-page story in today’s Washington Post (“Supercomputers Offer Tools for Nuclear Testing--and Solving Nuclear Mysteries) illustrates how far the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program has come since nuclear explosive tests ended in 1992. Scientists at the three U.S. national laboratories now have a deeper understanding of nuclear weapons than ever before.

“We have a more fundamental understanding of how these weapons work today than we ever imagined when we were blowing them up,” Bruce T. Goodwin, principal associate director for weapons at Livermore National Laboratory, told the Post. Goodwin is in agreement with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrator Thomas D'Agostino, who in 2008 said, "We know more about the complex issues of nuclear weapons performance today than we ever did during the period of nuclear testing."

It’s time for U.S. national policies to catch up with the science. The Senate voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999, in large part because the stewardship program was as yet unproven. Now, with two decades of experience, the Senate can ratify the CTBT with full confidence that the stewardship program can keep the U.S. arsenal safe and reliable.

Countries with nuclear weapons, such as China, India and Pakistan, cannot create advanced nukes without further nuclear test explosions. Without nuclear tests, Iran could not confidently build warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles. The CTBT would also improve America’s ability to detect, deter, and confront any nation that attempts to break the global taboo against nuclear testing. 

Stockpile Stewardship Passes the Test, Again

Almost 20 years after the last U.S. nuclear test explosion, it is clear that the existing arsenal can be maintained indefinitely, without nuclear test explosions and without pursuing new warhead designs.

Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous annual certification process. The Stockpile Stewardship Program includes nuclear weapons surveillance and maintenance, non-nuclear and subcritical nuclear experiments, and increasingly sophisticated supercomputer modeling.  Life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely.

A 2009 study by JASON, a high-level independent technical review panel, concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

And as the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002, the stewardship program “provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing seven types of nuclear warheads in the active stockpile, provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task."

Stewardship Program Adequately Funded

Since fiscal year 2010, the Obama administration has requested, and the Congress has granted, significant increases for NNSA nuclear weapons activities, upping the budget by 10% to $7.0 billion from the previous year. Longer term, the administration has laid out an unprecedented $88 billion, ten-year plan for the nuclear weapons complex from 2012 to 2021. Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in 2010 that, "These investments, and the... strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

On December 1, 2010, the then-directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories wrote that they were "very pleased" with the administration's budget plan. Lawrence Livermore director Dr. George Miller, Los Alamos director Dr. Michael Anastasio, and Sandia director Dr. Paul Hommert said that the increased funding plan provides "adequate support" to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

For fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration is requesting $7.63 billion for NNSA weapons activities. Congress is likely to increase NNSA funding again, but not as much as the administration wants. The Republican-led House appropriations committee increased funding for NNSA weapons activities to $7.13 billion, and the Senate approved a similar increase to $7.19 billion.

However, these minor reductions in the President’s proposed NNSA budget will not prevent NNSA from completing its primary mission.  As House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chair Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in June:

“Yes, ‘Weapons Activities’ is below the President’s request, but this request included hundreds of millions of dollars for construction projects that are not ready to move forward, capabilities that are secondary to the primary mission of keeping our stockpile ready, and, yes, slush funds that the administration has historically used to address its needs…The recommendation before you eliminates these weaknesses and it is responsible.”

Life Extensions: Be Conservative

Beyond funding questions, NNSA needs to ensure that the national labs are focused on the highest priority stockpile stewardship tasks. For example, the labs should only pursue cost-effective, technically conservative warhead life extension strategies that minimize unnecessary changes to already well-understood and proven warhead designs.

From fiscal year 2011 to 2031, NNSA plans to spend almost $16 billion on Life Extension Programs (LEPs) to extend the service life and in some cases modify almost every warhead in the enduring stockpile. This includes an estimated $3.7 billion on the W88 warhead, $3.9 billion on the B61 bomb, $4.2 billion on the W78 warhead, $1.7 billion on the W76 warhead, and $2.3 billion on the W80-1 warhead.

Some enhancements for safety and security may be warranted, but there is a risk. For years, stockpile managers and designers have preached design-change “discipline,” noting that an accumulation of unnecessary design and materials modifications could undermine confidence in warhead reliability.

For example, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee warned in September that efforts to modify the B61 bomb with “untried technologies” should “not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability. New safety and security features should be incorporated in weapon systems when feasible, but the primary goal of a life extension program should be to increase confidence in warhead performance without underground nuclear testing.”

As a result, the Senate reduced the B61 LEP budget request by more than $43 million. Former weapons designer Bob Peurifoy, a retired Sandia National Laboratory vice president, said that NNSA’s plans to change the B61 are “risking a very reliable system.”

The NNSA and Congress need to review the current life extension program to ensure that enthusiasm associated with extensively modifying warheads does not get out of hand. Marginal improvements in weapons security and safety should not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability.  —Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

Posted: November 2, 2011

New START for Less Money

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Volume 2, Issue 13, October 13, 2011

Next month the congressional “super committee” is expected to propose major reductions in federal spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 11 that the Pentagon will reduce projected spending by more than $450 billion over the next ten years as a result of Congress’ debt agreement, and that "every program, every contract and every facility will be scrutinized for savings.”

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Volume 2, Issue 13, October 13, 2011

Next month the congressional “super committee” is expected to propose major reductions in federal spending. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 11 that the Pentagon will reduce projected spending by more than $450 billion over the next ten years as a result of Congress’ debt agreement, and that "every program, every contract and every facility will be scrutinized for savings.”

Congress must now tackle the question of how large the spending reductions will ultimately be and what programs will get the axe. The size of the reductions could double depending on what the super committee decides to do. And, according to Panetta, some of the biggest savings will come from “reduced levels of modernization in some areas.”

The same day as Panetta spoke, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) announced that he and 64 other House members had signed a letter to the super committee asking for major reductions to nuclear weapons programs. Reducing “outdated and unnecessary nuclear weapons,” they wrote, would “allow us to continue funding the national defense programs that matter most.”

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, shot back later that same day that “what Mr. Markey proposes amounts to unilateral disarmament of the [United States].”

A closer look at what Rep. Markey and his colleagues propose reveals that Rep. Turner’s accusation is off the mark. In fact, both congressmen should be able to agree that the Pentagon could save tens of billions of dollars on new strategic submarines and bombers while still fielding as many nuclear warheads as already planned. Doing so would also allow Russia to scale back its modernizations plans, making both sides safer.

Under the recent U.S.-Russian New START treaty, both nations are limited to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn said Oct. 5 that defense planners are looking to stay at New START limits “but to do it in a more fiscally responsible fashion.”

For example, Rep. Markey pointed to the Navy’s new $350 billion nuclear-armed submarine program as a prime target for spending cuts, saying that, “reducing America’s submarine fleet from 14 to 8 and delaying procurement of new submarines will save $27 billion over the next ten years.”

At $29 billion per boat, this is the most expensive nuclear weapons program by far. If the Navy were to rightsize the force to 8 subs, it could save $27 billion over 10 years and $120 billion over the life of the program. And we wouldn’t have to give up any nuclear firepower to do it. Eight operational boats would allow the Pentagon to deploy the same number of sea-based warheads (about 1,000) as planned under New START.

Is this “unilateral disarmament”? Hardly.

Key to this plan is the fact that the Navy has extra space on its missiles. Each Trident missile deployed on subs can carry up to 8 nuclear warheads, but the Navy currently loads each with 4 or 5. So, if we made more efficient use of the space on each missile, the Navy could buy fewer missiles and subs.

And this extra space costs big money. Is it worth $120 billion to buy four subs and 64 missiles just to have warhead slots that are unlikely to ever be used? No. Those billions could buy a lot of body armor for troops in the field.

Maintaining an expensive “upload potential” may have made sense during the Cold War when the Pentagon wanted the ability to expand its nuclear force quickly in case of unforeseen threats. But today there is no threat that would justify expanding the U.S. arsenal. Moreover, upload capacity will still exist on strategic missiles and bombers.

Meanwhile, the Air Force wants a new strategic bomber that would cost at least $50 billion in procurement alone. But its current strategic bombers (B2s and B52s) are being modernized to last until 2040. There is no rush to field a new bomber, and the Pentagon’s plan to deploy 60 bombers under New START can be achieved with existing aircraft. Delaying this program would save almost $4 billion over the next decade.

The budget saving potential from U.S. nuclear forces is so compelling that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) recently proposed reducing nuclear weapons spending by $79 billion over ten years, in part by curtailing and delaying the new submarine and bomber programs.

Russia has already cut its nuclear forces below New START, and would need to rebuild some systems if it wants to maintain these levels. But just like us, Moscow has better things to do with its scarce resources.

To reduce the deficit, Republicans and Democrats will need to put away the alarmist rhetoric and make some tough choices. This one, however, is just common sense.  By being more efficient in how it fields warheads, the Pentagon can maintain a New START force and save tens of billions over ten years and more than $100 billion beyond that.  If policy-makers are serious about reducing defense budgets, this is one example of fiscal responsibility that we cannot afford to ignore. --Tom Z. Collina

Posted: October 13, 2011

Time for the Test Ban Treaty Is Now

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Volume 2, Issue 12, September 12, 2011

A Reply to Jim Woolsey and Keith Payne

The United States signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) fifteen years ago, and the treaty now has 182 members. Russia and China stopped nuclear explosive testing as a direct result of the CTBT and only one nation (North Korea) has conducted a nuclear test since 1998. The CTBT has halted the regular practice of nuclear explosive testing, reducing the nuclear danger to the United States, its allies, and the world.

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Volume 2, Issue 12, September 12, 2011

A Reply to Jim Woolsey and Keith Payne

The United States signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) fifteen years ago, and the treaty now has 182 members. Russia and China stopped nuclear explosive testing as a direct result of the CTBT and only one nation (North Korea) has conducted a nuclear test since 1998. The CTBT has halted the regular practice of nuclear explosive testing, reducing the nuclear danger to the United States, its allies, and the world.

The United States was able to confidently sign the CTBT in 1996 because it already has the most sophisticated and well-tested nuclear arsenal, having conducted more nuclear detonations—1,054 from 1945 to 1992—than all other nations combined. Moreover, the United States remains the world’s unquestioned conventional weapons superpower. Today, there is no technical or military rationale for the United States to resume nuclear testing, and Washington gains an important constraint on nuclear proliferation by preventing testing by others.

Nevertheless, in a stunning example of grabbing a national security defeat from the jaws of victory, the United States has signed but not yet ratified the CTBT, which has slowed progress toward entry into force. U.S. leadership is essential to trigger ratifications by the eight other states necessary for formal entry into force, and this spring the Obama administration reiterated its support for reconsideration of the CTBT and prompt entry into force of the treaty.

In a May 10 address, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher pledged to take the time necessary to brief senators on key technical and scientific advances in the U.S. stockpile stewardship program and nuclear test monitoring that have occurred since the Senate's brief consideration of the treaty in 1999.
 
"We are committed to taking a bipartisan and fact-based approach with the Senate," Tauscher said.

Indeed, the case for the CTBT has grown stronger over the last decade. As George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State, said in April 2009, "[Republicans] might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts.... [There are] new pieces of information that are very important and that should be made available to the Senate."

As the Obama administration provides updated information, senators have a responsibility to take a serious look at the merits of the treaty in light of the new evidence and not rush to judgment on the basis of old or misleading information.

Unfortunately, some CTBT opponents continue to make the same old tired arguments against the treaty, such as the Sept. 8 op-ed, “Reconsidering the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” by Jim Woolsey and Keith Payne. It is time to put these misleading claims to rest.

Here are the top four reasons to support U.S. CTBT ratification:

1. The Test Ban Makes America More Secure: Ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary, Woolsey and Payne make the usubstantiated claim that ratification of the CTBT would not strengthen efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. Woolsey and Payne’s views are at odds with a growing list of bipartisan leaders who agree that the CTBT provides an important constraint on the ability of other states to threaten American security.

 As Dr. Sigfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in 2009, "the single most important reason to ratify the CTBT is to stop other countries from improving their arsenals."

For example, with additional nuclear testing China could perfect smaller warhead designs and thereby put multiple warheads on its relatively small arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles, increasing the nuclear danger to the United States.

 Potential nuclear-armed states like Iran could use nuclear test explosions to perfect more advanced, smaller nuclear warhead designs that could fit on ballistic missiles. Given Tehran's advancing uranium-enrichment and missile capabilities, it is important to establish additional barriers against a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the years ahead.

Does it make sense to forego the CTBT and leave the door open to the resumption of nuclear testing by Russia, China and others states? Surly not. As Gen. John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded in his 2001 report on the CTBT, "For the sake of future generations, it would be unforgivable to neglect any reasonable action that can help prevent nuclear proliferation, as the Test Ban Treaty clearly would."

Preventing nuclear testing not only denies proliferators an important tool to develop more threatening warheads, but the CTBT is vital to broader U.S. nonproliferation goals. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) would probably not have been extended indefinitely in 1995 without the pledge from the United States and the other original nuclear powers to stop testing and conclude CTBT negotiations by the end of 1996.

If Washington continues to block the CTBT, the United States will have less leverage to strengthen nuclear safeguards, tighten controls on nuclear weapons-related technology, and isolate states that don't follow the nonproliferation rules. 

CTBT proponents do not claim that an end to U.S. testing or further superpower nuclear arms reductions would directly lead other states, such as Iran, to give up their nuclear ambitions. Such a direct link is overly simplistic. 

As Ellen Tauscher said in a speech in Omaha on July 29, 2010: "We are not so naïve as to believe that problem states will end their proliferation programs if the United States and Russia reduce our nuclear arsenals. But we are confident that progress in this area will reinforce the central role of the NPT and help us build support to sanction or engage states on favorable terms to us. Our collective ability to bring the weight of international pressure against proliferators would be undermined by a lack of effort towards disarmament."

In other words, the CTBT won’t by itself stop proliferation, but we can’t improve our chances of stopping proliferation and reducing the nuclear threat without the CTBT.

To date, 182 states have signed the CTBT. All of the United States' major allies, including all members of NATO, support the CTBT. They expect and even encourage the United States to act.  After nearly 20 years without nuclear testing, the United States' friends and foes have no doubt that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is effective and reliable.

As recently as April 29, 2011, the foreign ministers of 10 key U.S. allies—Australia, Germany, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates—issued a statement calling on "all states which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the CTBT… We believe that an effective end to nuclear testing will enhance and not weaken our national as well as global security and would significantly bolster the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime."

2. The U.S. Does Not Need Nuclear Test Explosions: As National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) head Thomas D'Agostino said in an April 2011 interview, the United States has "a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. There's no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing."

The technical strategy for maintaining the effectiveness and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without explosive testing has been in place for more than a decade. Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous annual certification process. The NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Program includes nuclear weapons surveillance and maintenance, non-nuclear and subcritical nuclear experiments, and increasingly sophisticated supercomputer modeling.  Life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads and can continue to do so indefinitely. 

A 2009 study by JASON, the independent technical review panel, concluded that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."

The 2002 National Academy of Sciences panel report on "Technical Issues Related to the CTBT" found that the current Stockpile Stewardship Program provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing seven types of nuclear warheads in the active stockpile, "provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task."

The Obama administration's unprecedented $88 billion, 10-year plan for upgrading the nuclear weapons complex should give senators even greater confidence that there is a long-term strategy and more than enough funding to continue to maintain the U.S. arsenal effectively. The administration's long-term weapons complex budget plan represents a 20 percent increase above funding levels during the George W. Bush years.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in 2010 that: "These investments, and the... strategy for warhead life extension, represent a credible modernization plan necessary to sustain the nuclear infrastructure and support our nation's deterrent."

On December 1, 2010, the directors of the three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories wrote that they were "very pleased" with the administration's budget plan. Lawrence Livermore director Dr. George Miller, Los Alamos director Dr. Michael Anastasio, and Sandia director Dr. Paul Hommert said that the increased funding plan provides "adequate support" to sustain the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

 Minor cuts and cost savings in the NNSA budget will not change the fact that the NNSA weapons activities budget, now at $7 billion, provides more than enough to get the job done.

Even so, Woolsey and Payne write that “no one knows what types of nuclear weapons may be needed in the future…” and that the United States should in effect block entry-into-force of the CTBT in deference to this unknowable possibility. But in the exceedingly unlikely event that nuclear testing is needed in the distant future, the United States has the option of exercising the CTBT's "supreme national interest" withdrawal clause.

However, given that the United States already has the most advanced and deadly nuclear arsenal in the world, another round of global nuclear tests would only serve to undermine U.S. security by helping other nuclear-armed states improve their nuclear capabilities.

3. The CTBT Is Verifiable: Woolsey and Payne correctly point out that “the CTBT’s International Monitoring System [IMS] provides some impressive detection technology.” Indeed, under the CTBT, no would-be cheater could be confident that a nuclear explosion of sufficient yield to possibly threaten U.S. security would escape detection. But 

CTBT critics often ignore the fact that the IMS is not the only means of test monitoring and treaty verification. U.S. national technical means of intelligence (national seismic and radiation detection stations, spy satellites, human intelligence, and other tools) are extremely capable and data from these sources can be employed to verify treaty compliance.

The CTBT International Monitoring System provides for monitoring stations inside Russia, China, and other sensitive locations, including some places where the United States could not gain access on its own. By establishing a legally-binding ban on testing and providing additional international test monitoring capabilities, the CTBT gives the United States additional tools to resolve compliance concerns and address potential violations.

North Korea has provided two recent real-world tests of United States and global monitoring capabilities. In October 2006, the international monitoring system easily detected North Korea’s relatively low-yield (0.6 kiloton) nuclear explosion at 22 seismic stations and had a solid estimate of its location within five hours of the event. Tell-tale radioactive gases from this test were detected by South Korea, the U.S., and 4,600 miles away in Yellowknife, Canada, at one of the international monitoring network’s noble gas monitoring stations.

The second test by North Korea on May 25, 2009, with a yield of a few kilotons, was detected by a total of 61 international seismic stations. Some have suggested that because the international monitoring network did not detect radionuclide particles from the second North Korean test explosion, the system failed.

But, in fact, the seismic evidence alone would have provided a firm basis for on-site inspections (OSIs). The CTBT sets a limit of 1,000 square km for the inspected area, and the seismic data located the test well within this limit. According to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), “The data would have provided a clear lead to the inspection team regarding where to look.”

On-site inspections in response to signs of a suspicious event would be an important deterrent against potential clandestine nuclear testing, but would only be available once the treaty enters into force. The treaty also permits information from national technical means of verification to support an on-site inspection request.

Woolsey and Payne, however, suggest that because the CTBT requires 30 of 51 nations on the CTBTO's Executive Council to agree to an OSI, states unfriendly to the U.S. could block them. In reality, the CTBT’s on-site inspection provisions were established to balance the need for rapid response to a suspected test against the possibility of “frivolous or abusive” inspections. The approval of 30 out of 51 members of the Executive Council was designed to give nations like the United States. and Israel confidence that inspections would be approved as needed, but not by a small minority with questionable motives.

4. Zero Means Zero: Woolsey and Payne repeat another misleading claim that the CTBT does not define "nuclear test explosion" and therefore some states such as Russia believe low-yield "hydronuclear" tests are permitted. The negotiating record, however, is clear: Article I of the CTBT bans "any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion" and all signatories of the treaty understand that means zero nuclear test explosions.

In 1999, the United States' CTBT negotiator, Amb. Stephen Ledogar, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject and said:

“I have heard some critics of the Treaty seek to cast doubt on whether Russia, in the negotiation and signing of the Treaty, committed itself under treaty law to a truly comprehensive prohibition of any nuclear explosion, including an explosion/experiment/event of even the slightest nuclear yield. In other words, did Russia agree that hydronuclear experiments would be banned, and that hydrodynamic explosions (which have no yield because they do not reach criticality) would not be banned?"

Ledogar went on to say: "The answer is a categoric 'yes.' The Russians, as well as the other weapon states, did commit themselves. That answer is substantiated by the record of the negotiations at almost any level of technicality (and national security classification) that is desired and permitted. More importantly for the current debate, it is also substantiated by the public record of statements by high level Russian officials...."

As the Russian government explained to the Duma when it ratified the CTBT in 2000: "Qualitative modernization of nuclear weapons is only possible through full-scale and hydronuclear tests with the emission of fissile energy, the carrying out of which directly contradicts the CTBT." 

 It is clear to all parties that the CTBT establishes a “zero-yield” prohibition on nuclear test explosions.

Doing Nothing Is Unwise

Woolsey and Payne’s arguments amount to a “do-nothing” approach that would deny the United States the benefits of CTBT ratification. Without positive action on the CTBT, the risks of a resumption of nuclear testing will only grow. U.S. ratification, however, would reinforce the taboo against testing and prompt other hold-out states—such as China, India, and Pakistan—to ratify or reconsider the treaty.

Nuclear testing is a dangerous and unnecessary vestige of the Cold War that the United States rightly rejected two decades ago. The United States does not need nuclear weapons test explosions, but those who seek to improve their arsenals do. U.S. action on the CTBT would build support for updating and strengthening the global nonproliferation system at a critical juncture. The Senate’s reconsideration of the CTBT should be based on an honest and up-to-date analysis of the facts and the issues at stake. –TOM Z. COLLINA and DARYL G. KIMBALL

Posted: September 12, 2011

Strengthening U.S. National Security Through the Global Arms Trade Treaty

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Volume 2, Issue 11, August 12, 2011

Each year, thousands of civilians around the world are slaughtered by weapons sold to unscrupulous regimes and  transferred to illegal militias and criminals. In addition to the human toll, this cycle of violence undermines economic development and political stability in often fragile regions.

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Volume 2, Issue 11, August 12, 2011

Each year, thousands of civilians around the world are slaughtered by weapons sold to unscrupulous regimes and  transferred to illegal militias and criminals. In addition to the human toll, this cycle of violence undermines economic development and political stability in often fragile regions.

As the world's top conventional arms exporter with one of the most robust export control systems, the United States--along with its allies and partners--stands to benefit from tougher, global standards for the arms trade.

The successful negotiation and adoption of a global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to regulate international weapons transfers would bolster both the security interests of the United States and its efforts to promote human rights and stability abroad.

In December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 61/89 "Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms," leading to expert discussions on the proposition. In 2009, UN member states, led by the UK and co-authors, including Australia, endorsed a resolution to negotiate "a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms." At the insistence of the United States, the negotiating conference must agree on the treaty text by consensus.

Now, some five years after the process began, the possibility of securing a uniform framework to monitor and regulate the international arms trade is within reach. Last month, from July 11-15, delegations from more than 100 governments, including the United States, met for the Third Preparatory Committee meeting on the treaty.

Momentum for the treaty accelerated with statements from global investors with over $1.2 trillion in assets, an international group of armed violence survivors, and representatives from the arms industry. Member states plan to meet for four weeks in mid-2012 to finalize the text of the ATT.

Toward an Effective Arms Trade Treaty

The United States needs to be out front pushing for a meaningful, bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty. By preventing military equipment, including small arms and light weapons, from reaching the hands of terrorists, criminals, and human rights abusers, an ATT would assist U.S. partners and allies abroad in their efforts to protect human rights, promote stable democracies, and help build more secure and productive societies.

The ATT now under consideration should require states-parties to enact laws regulating the export, import, transfer, and brokering of arms. These regulations should apply to all major military equipment and small arms that are transferred from one party to another across international borders.

The ATT should also call on states to identify possible criteria for denial of international arms transfer licenses; this list should address human rights, security, and development concerns. In addition, a strong treaty should require member states to regularly and publicly report on their arms sales and purchases, transfer approvals, and the reasons for license denials.

To be effective, the ATT needs to be comprehensive and cover not only the many types of arms transfers--such as sales, gifts, and transfers of technology--but it must also include the weapons themselves, their components, and their ammunition.

The effectiveness of the ATT will be diminished if states-parties negotiate a final text that is unnecessarily narrow in scope and fails to include sufficient requirements for the effective implementation of its goals.

The National Security Logic of an Arms Trade Treaty

Work on the ATT began in 2006 and the United States has participated in the process since 2009. Speaking in February 2010, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher explained the security rationale for the United States' support for the Arms Trade Treaty:

"[S]table societies and secure environments are the best places for the growth of freedom and prosperity." She said that "robust and vigorous regulation and enforcement would make it much more difficult for terrorist groups or rogue nations to destabilize regions or support terrorist activity."

Enemies of the United States benefit from two consequences of a poorly regulated arms trade: the perpetuation of chaos in the host state where they seek refuge, and the increased availability of military material with which they can arm themselves.

The risk of high-quality military goods reaching insurgents fighting U.S. troops and allies abroad is not an abstract, theoretical danger. One recent well-reported case involves the Italy-based smuggling ring of Alessandro Bon, which sent multiple shipments of military sniper scopes and other military goods to Iran, in violation of a UN arms embargo. German troops in Afghanistan subsequently recovered two of the scopes after being fired upon by snipers, leading to renewed scrutiny of Iran's arms smuggling capabilities.

The ATT would assist state authorities investigating similar cases in several ways. According to news reports based on Italian court documents, a Romanian front company set up by the Bon syndicate and an alleged Iranian intelligence operative helped facilitate at least one shipment of sniper scopes. The transfers were also initially routed through Dubai in order to dispel suspicions. An ATT that requires states-parties to license or otherwise regulate the activities of brokers and importers could aid in the prevention of similar operations.

While some states do currently require licenses for the transit of arms shipments through their territory, others only require verification of export and import documentation or details of the planned physical journey of the arms. A global ATT could help standardize these requirements so that third-countries must make a separate sovereign judgment on the wisdom of granting an arms shipment passage through their territory, based on the same predetermined criteria that exporters must apply.

Arms brokers are primarily responsible for the spread of illegal arms to the world's war zones. As the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a July 2011 statement:

"If the activities of brokers are not controlled, then the Arms Trade Treaty will be easily undermined by the activities of unscrupulous brokers operating outside of any regulatory framework or from the territory of member states with little or no controls in place."

Arms Trade Treaty Myths and Realities

Here in the United States, the value of the ATT has been overshadowed by misleading lobbying efforts on the part of the National Rifle Association to misrepresent the treaty's potential effect on domestic gun ownership.

Some of these concerns are reflected in two recent letters addressed to the White House and State Department, circulated by the offices of Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mon.), and signed by 55 other senators. While both letters sympathize with the security and humanitarian goals of the treaty, their primary assertion is that the still-to-be-negotiated treaty will clash with the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to possess firearms. That is not the case.

The Moran letter claims that certain states have called for internal arms transfers to be regulated in order to effectively combat trafficking. While some states might seek such provisions, such measures are undeniably outside the scope of any possible treaty text. The 2009 UN General Assembly resolution establishing the Arms Trade Treaty negotiation process explicitly acknowledges the exclusive right of states "to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections." Notwithstanding the separate concerns expressed by Sen. Moran and his colleagues regarding the perceived constitutional implications of this choice of words, it is abundantly clear that the vast majority of negotiating parties recognize the "exclusive right" of states to regulate internal arms transfers.

In other words, the ATT will not regulate domestic sales of firearms. Its focus is instead on the control of the internationaltrade in conventional weapons in order to keep them out of the hands of human rights abusers, organized criminal enterprises, and terrorists.

A second concern outlined in the Moran letter relates to the inclusion of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition within the scope of the treaty. The Moran letter claims that this potentially makes the treaty too "broad" and therefore unenforceable.

This argument ignores the fact that the U.S. government, through the Department of State's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and the Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, already controls the export and import of small arms and light weapons and their ammunition. Given that small arms are the most basic tool for insurgents, belligerents in low-intensity conflicts, terrorists, and criminals, the inclusion of these items in the ATT is essential to its effectiveness. It is in the interest of the United States and its allies to ensure that other states are following similar practices and have a legal mandate to implement effective export and import controls on small arms and light weapons.

Raising Global Standards to Meet U.S. Rules

The potential to raise other countries' international arms trade standards to the same level as that of the United States is a core benefit of the ATT. As Undersecretary Tauscher has noted, the United States possesses one of the "most comprehensive sets of requirements in the world" for the approval of arms exports. By leveling the playing field, an ATT would provide a framework for committing other states involved in the international weapons market to hold to the same requirements.

The right to deny or approve any export, import, or transfer would ultimately remain with the sovereign states-parties. While many provisions of the treaty are still to be fleshed out, this basic principle will not be altered. The chairman's working paper that has emerged from the preparatory committee meetings is not a draft treaty but rather an all-inclusive amalgamation of states' views and opinions that must now be fine-tuned and formalized in the course of the next year, before and during the treaty conference in 2012.

That more than half the U.S. Senate has expressed an interest in the proposed treaty and its potential security windfall is naturally a welcome development. But at this early stage, allegations that an arms trade treaty would infringe upon the right of U.S. citizens to possess firearms are misleading and unwarranted.

Time for Serious Dialogue, Not Demagoguery

Advocates of responsible, legal civilian gun possession should recognize the value of the ATT as a tool to reduce the carnage created by illicit and irresponsible international arms transfers to dictators and terrorists and to conflict-zones where civilians are literally caught in the cross-fire.

The ATT is not, as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently misconstrued it, "... a bunch of bureaucrats at the United Nations dictating our liberties and freedoms." Rather, the Arms Trade Treaty is a responsible approach to a severe global problem that is being led by important and serious U.S. allies, including the United Kingdom, a major arms exporter, which has been a strong proponent of the ATT from the very beginning. As the U.K.'s Ambassador John Duncan said in February 2007, "We do not see the treaty ending the arms trade, but a treaty should be about making sure the arms trade is conducted responsibly and to make sure it is carried out with due regard to the impact that it has."

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in October 2009, "The United States is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons."

As the ATT states-parties work to finalize a treaty by next year, the Obama administration and the Congress should work together to produce such an outcome. -XIAODON LIANG AND DARYL G. KIMBALL

See ACA's ATT Resource Page for more information.

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Posted: August 12, 2011

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