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former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

The New NAS Report: The Case is Stronger Than Ever for the Test Ban Treaty

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Volume 3, Issue 5, March 30, 2012

Today, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long-awaited report on technical issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The independent panel of senior scientific and military experts was charged in 2009 with reviewing technical developments related to the U.S. nuclear stockpile and to nuclear explosion test monitoring that have occurred since the 2002 NAS report on the CTBT and the Senate's brief debate and rejection of the treaty in 1999.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, March 30, 2012

Today, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its long-awaited report on technical issues related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The independent panel of senior scientific and military experts was charged in 2009 with reviewing technical developments related to the U.S. nuclear stockpile and to nuclear explosion test monitoring that have occurred since the 2002 NAS report on the CTBT and the Senate's brief debate and rejection of the treaty in 1999.

The new NAS report, The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: Technical Issues for the United States, reaffirms that the United States no longer needs--and would not benefit from--nuclear explosive testing. Renewed nuclear testing would only help improve other nations' nuclear capabilities and reduce U.S. security. And the report documents why U.S. ratification and entry into force of the CTBT would significantly improve our ability to detect and deter nuclear testing by others.

The NAS report lays out a stronger case than ever before for supporting the CTBT:

  • The 2012 NAS report documents that significant technical advances have resolved earlier concerns about the treaty.

The panel concluded that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program "has been more successful than was anticipated in 1999," when the Senate last considered the CTBT. Maintaining an effective nuclear stockpile will require continued diligence, but it does not require nuclear test explosions.

"Similarly," the panel said, "the status of U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System has improved to levels better than predicted in 1999."

The new study cites substantial advances in the U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System capabilities across all of the key verification technologies deployed worldwide to detect and deter nuclear test explosions-seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, radionuclide, and satellite monitoring.

  • More is known today than ever before about the U.S. nuclear arsenal and there is no technical or military reason to resume testing.

As former NNSA administrator and NAS panel member Linton Brooks said in Dec. 2011, "as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again ... in recent years I never met anybody who advocated that we seek authorization to return to testing."

Similar to the 2002 NAS report, the new study finds that if sufficient resources are dedicated to the task the United States has the technical ability to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without resuming nuclear test explosions.

The nuclear weapons labs have more resources than ever before to perform core stockpile stewardship work. Since 2009, funding for the NNSA nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13%. The Obama administration's $7.6 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013 would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more-by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted at a March 21, 2012 appropriations committee hearing, "Regarding nuclear weapons activities, I believe the fiscal year 2013 budget request provides more than sufficient funding to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile."

  • National and international test ban monitoring and verification capabilities have improved immensely.

With the combined capabilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS), national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks, no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

The panel's detailed report also concludes that "[c]onstraints placed on nuclear-explosion testing by the monitoring capabilities of the IMS and ... U.S. NTM, will reduce the likelihood of successful clandestine nuclear-explosion testing, and inhibit the development of new types of strategic nuclear weapons."

The report found that "[o]ther states intent on acquiring and deploying modern, two-stage thermonuclear weapons would not be able to have confidence in their performance without multi-kiloton testing. Such tests would likely be detectable (even with evasion measures) by appropriately resourced U.S. national technical means and a completed IMS network."

The study noted that on-site inspections as allowed under the treaty once it enters into force, "would have a high likelihood of detecting evidence of a nuclear explosion with a yield greater than 0.1 kilotons, provided that the event could be located with sufficient precision ... and conducted without hindrance." The panel noted that an on-site inspection "constitutes a deterrent to treaty violation whether or not an inspection actually takes place...."

  • The security value of the CTBT is greater than ever.

U.S. ratification and entry into force of the treaty would improve our ability to detect and deter nuclear testing that could allow others to improve their arsenals.

The NAS report documents how the CTBT constrains the ability of the established nuclear-weapon states, including Russia and China, to build new types of more sophisticated nuclear warhead designs.

The report also documents why, without the option of nuclear explosive testing, newer testing nations, including potentially Iran, could not perfect sophisticated two-stage thermonuclear warheads that can be delivered on long-range ballistic missiles.

The report found that "the development of weapons with lower capabilities ... is possible with or without the CTBT for countries of different levels of nuclear sophistication, but such developments would not require the United States to return to nuclear testing in order to respond because it already has-or could produce-weapons of equal or greater capability based on its own nuclear-explosion test history."

The United States has detonated 1,030 nuclear test explosions--more than all other nations combined--the last of which was in September 1992. Russia has conducted 715 nuclear tests; China 45; North Korea 2; Iran 0.

Time for a Thorough, Thoughtful Review

The Senate has not seriously examined these issues in years. In the decade since the Senate last considered the CTBT, 59 Senators have left office; only 41 Senators who debated and voted on the CTBT in 1999 remain.

Good policy depends on good information. Senators and their staff need to take a serious look at the merits of the CTBT in light of the new NAS findings and not rush to judgment on the basis of old information, misconceptions, or partisan politics.

President Obama has repeatedly expressed his commitment to the CTBT, most recently in a March 26 speech in Seoul. But he and his team must provide stronger leadership to ensure the Senate's questions on the CTBT are fully addressed and to create the necessary climate and support for a successful vote in 2013.

The bipartisan approval of New START in 2010 shows that a successful treaty approval process requires months of hearings, answers to thousands of questions, and a serious commitment to building understanding for the national security issues at stake.

U.S. ratification of the CTBT is essential for entry into force and would very likely prompt other states, including China, India, and Pakistan, to follow suit.

The American people expect their leaders to take action to reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons and proliferation. U.S. ratification of the CTBT would advance American national security interests by helping to reduce nuclear threats and enhancing our ability to detect, deter, and confront proliferators. --DARYL G. KIMBALL

For more information on the CTBT, see:

Posted: March 30, 2012

Test Ban Treaty: Myths vs. Realities

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Volume 3, Issue 6, March 30, 2012

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty--Technical Issues for the United States lays out the most compelling case to date, based on the latest classified and intelligence information, that the United States does not need nuclear tests to maintain its arsenal and that the Test Ban Treaty can be verified.

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Volume 3, Issue 6, March 30, 2012

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty--Technical Issues for the United States lays out the most compelling case to date, based on the latest classified and intelligence information, that the United States does not need nuclear tests to maintain its arsenal and that the Test Ban Treaty can be verified.

The NAS report concludes that, without nuclear tests, "the United States is now better able to maintain a safe and effective nuclear stockpile and to monitor clandestine nuclear-explosion testing than at any time in the past."

Nevertheless, critics of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will no doubt continue to repeat misinformation about the treaty. It is well-past time to put these myths to rest.

The Reality: Case For the Test Ban is Stronger Than Ever

The United States was the first nation to sign the CTBT when it was completed in 1996 and the treaty now has 182 members, including all U.S. allies in NATO. Russia and China stopped nuclear explosive testing as a direct result of the CTBT and only one nation (North Korea) has conducted nuclear tests since 1998. The CTBT has halted the regular practice of nuclear explosive testing, reducing the nuclear danger to the United States and its allies.

The United States was able to confidently sign the CTBT because it already has the most sophisticated and well-tested nuclear arsenal in the world. The United States conducted 1,030 nuclear detonations from 1945 to 1992--more than all other nations combined (Russia conducted 715 nuclear tests; China, 45; North Korea, 2; Iran, 0).

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.

The Senate failed to approve the CTBT when it came up for a vote in 1999, mainly due to political considerations and lack of sufficient time to fully debate the issues. But some senators also had concerns about whether the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s stockpile stewardship program (SSP) would be able to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal without testing, and whether the international monitoring system (IMS) to detect clandestine nuclear tests would be as effective as predicted.

Twelve years later, we have now gained enough experience with the SSP and the IMS to know that the predictions were correct. According to the new NAS report, these programs have proven to be even more effective than expected.

Commenting on how the case for the CTBT has improved, 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."

Debunking the Myths

The Senate has a responsibility to reconsider the treaty in light of the new evidence and not rush to judgment on the basis of old information. In particular, senators must dispel the tired myths that CTBT opponents continue to repeat about the treaty.

1. The Test Ban and Non-Proliferation

Ignoring abundant evidence to the contrary, CTBT critics make the unsubstantiated claim that ratification of the CTBT would not strengthen efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. These 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."

Supporting this view, the NAS report states that Russia and China are "unlikely to be able to deploy new types of strategic nuclear weapons" without conducting "multi-kiloton tests to build confidence in their performance." Such large tests, according to NAS, "would likely be detectable (even with evasion measures) by appropriately resourced U.S. national technical means [NTM] and a completed IMS network."

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. China has not conducted a nuclear test since it signed the CTBT, and is reportedly waiting for the United States to ratify before it does so.

The NAS report also found that, "Other states intent on acquiring and deploying modern, two-stage thermonuclear weapons would not be able to have confidence in their performance without multi-kiloton testing."

In other words, potential nuclear-armed states like Iran could use nuclear tests to develop more advanced nuclear warhead designs that could fit on ballistic missiles. Given Tehran's uranium enrichment and missile capabilities, it is important to establish additional barriers against a sophisticated Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the years ahead.

It does not make sense to forego the CTBT and leave the door open to the resumption of nuclear testing by Russia, China and others. As Gen. John Shalikashvili, 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.

Another myth is that the CTBT might actually promote proliferation by forcing U.S. allies to question the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The reality is that all U.S. NATO and other allies support the CTBT.

For example, on 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 Utility of Nuclear Test Explosions

Some claim that nuclear tests are still needed, and thus the United States should not limit its options under the CTBT. The reality is that the United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, and does not need nuclear tests today or in the foreseeable future. The NAS report finds that "the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without nuclear-explosion testing."

As NNSA Administrator 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."

And as D'Agostino's predecessor in the Bush administration, Linton Brooks, said in November 2011, "as a practical matter, it is almost certain that the United States will not test again... I have been in and out of government for a long time.  And in recent years I never met anybody who advocated that we seek authorization to return to testing."

The technical strategy for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile without explosive testing has been in place for almost two decades. 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, 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 2012 NAS report found that "The technical capabilities for maintaining the U.S. stockpile absent nuclear-explosion testing are better now than anticipated" when the NAS issued its previous report in 2002.

Moreover, NNSA has more resources than ever before to perform core stockpile stewardship work. Since 2009, funding for the nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13%. The Obama administration's $7.6 billion budget request for fiscal year 2013 would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more, by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted at a March 21, 2012 appropriations committee hearing, "Regarding nuclear weapons activities, I believe the fiscal year 2013 budget request provides more than sufficient funding to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile."

Another myth is that the United States might someday need to test to develop a new type of nuclear weapon. First, this need would only arise in response to a new weapon developed by another state that had conducted nuclear tests, which the CTBT itself would help prevent. Second, 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 clause" and withdraw.

However, given that the United States already has the most advanced nuclear arsenal in the world, setting off 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. Test Ban Verification

One of the most enduring myths is that the CTBT is not verifiable. The reality is that national and international test ban monitoring capabilities have improved immensely over the last decade. With the combined capabilities of the international monitoring system (IMS), U.S. national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks, no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

The 2012 NAS report finds that national and global technical capabilities to monitor nuclear tests "have improved significantly over the past decade." Most (80%) of the stations planned as part of the IMS are now complete, and the United States' own global NTM capabilities are "superior to that of the IMS and can focus on monitoring countries of concern to the United States."

U.S. NTM includes seismic and radiation detection stations, spy satellites, human intelligence, and other tools, and data from these sources can be employed to verify treaty compliance.

NAS finds that these monitoring capabilities will "reduce the likelihood of successful clandestine nuclear-explosion testing, and inhibit the development of new types of strategic nuclear weapons."

North Korea has provided two recent real-world tests of U.S. 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. Radioactive gases from this test were detected by South Korea, the United States 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) in Vienna, "The data would have provided a clear lead to the inspection team regarding where to look."

The NAS study noted that on-site inspections as allowed under the treaty once it enters into force, "would have a high likelihood of detecting evidence of a nuclear explosion with a yield greater than 0.1 kilotons..." The panel noted that an on-site inspection "constitutes a deterrent to treaty violation whether or not an inspection actually takes place."

Another myth suggests 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. Test Ban Treaty "Scope"

A common myth is that states have different interpretations of what the CTBT prohibits and that therefore some states believe that very low-yield tests are permitted.

The reality is that the negotiating record 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.

The CTBT is a "zero-yield" treaty, meaning that it prohibits all nuclear explosions that produce a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction. According to the State Department, the parties made a deliberate decision not to include a specific definition of scope in the treaty so as to avoid loopholes that could arise from a technical list of what specific activities were and were not permitted. A review of the negotiating history and statements by world leaders shows that all states understand and accept the CTBT as a "zero-yield" treaty.

The CTBT follows the precedent of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) that used this same approach. The LTBT has been in force for nearly fifty years, and the language has never been at issue.

Under the CTBT, supercritical "hydronuclear" tests (which produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction) are banned, but subcritical "hydrodynamic" experiments, which do not produce a self-sustaining fission chain reaction, are permitted. According to the State Department, these decisions were made to ensure that the CTBT banned all nuclear testing, but permitted the United States to maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal.

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

Dangerous Mythology

Taken together, these outdated CTBT myths amount to a "do-nothing" approach that would deny the United States the clear benefits of CTBT ratification. Without positive action on the CTBT, the risks of a resumption of nuclear testing by others 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 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

For more information on the CTBT, see:

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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 30, 2012

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

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