Login/Logout

*
*  

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

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Daryl Kimball

Biden and Putin Summit: A Chance to Move Back from the Brink

This week’s summit meeting in Geneva is a pivotal opportunity for the leaders of the world’s two largest nuclear weapons possessors to reduce the growing risk of nuclear conflict and get back on track to reduce their bloated nuclear stockpiles. For months and weeks, we’ve been working hard to highlight and explain what can be done on strategic stability and arms control and to build political support for meaningful post-summit follow-through actions by President Biden and President Putin. Last week, our board chair Tom Countryman and I met with NSC staff at the White House and delivered a...

Engage China on Arms Control? Yes, and Here’s How


June 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

For more than six decades, the United States has been worried about China’s regional influence, military activities—and nuclear potential. For instance, in 1958, U.S. officials considered using nuclear weapons to thwart Chinese artillery strikes on islands controlled by Taiwan, according to recently leaked documents. Then, as now, a nuclear conflict between the United States and China would be devastating.

 (Photo by TEH ENG KOON / AFP/Getty Images)“There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state,” Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, warned in February.

Worse yet, as tensions between the United States and China continue to grow, many members of Congress, along with the U.S. nuclear weapons establishment, are hyping China’s ongoing nuclear weapons modernization effort as a major new threat.

During testimony before Congress in April, Richard claimed that China’s military is engaged in a “breathtaking expansion” of its arsenal of some 300 nuclear weapons. He argued that this requires fortifying the U.S. nuclear armory, which is already 10 times larger than China’s.

Instead, U.S. policymakers need to avoid steps that stimulate nuclear competition with China and pursue serious talks designed to prevent miscalculation and reduce the risk of conflict. The United States also needs to develop a realistic strategy for involving China and the other major nuclear-armed states in the nuclear disarmament process.

According to U.S. projections, China could increase the size of its arsenal. It is deploying new solid-fueled missiles that can be launched more quickly than its older liquid-fueled missiles, increasing the number of its long-range missiles that are armed with multiple warheads, putting more of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on mobile trucks, and continuing to improve its sea-based nuclear force.

These moves, while concerning, do not justify alarmism. China is not seeking to match U.S. nuclear capabilities. Rather, it is clearly seeking to diversify its nuclear forces so it can maintain a nuclear deterrent that can withstand potential U.S. nuclear or conventional strikes.

Beijing’s nuclear plans are also likely designed to hedge against advancing U.S. missile defense capabilities, such as the sea-based Standard Missile-3 Block IIA system, which could potentially compromise China’s nuclear retaliatory potential.

Although China’s arsenal may be smaller, it is still dangerous. Beijing’s nuclear modernization efforts make it all the more important to pursue meaningful progress on nuclear arms control.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed that the Biden administration will “pursue arms control to reduce the dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal,” but has not explained how it will do so.

Leaders in Beijing claim to support nondiscriminatory disarmament and minimum deterrence, yet they have said they will engage on arms control only when U.S. and Russian leaders achieve deeper cuts in their much-larger nuclear arsenals. The United States and Russia can and should do more to cut their bloated nuclear stockpiles. But as a nuclear-weapon state party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, China is also obligated to help end the arms race and achieve disarmament sooner rather than later.

Yet, simply demanding, as the Trump administration did, that China join the arms control process is a recipe for failure. Instead, the Biden administration should adopt a more pragmatic approach that takes into account China’s concerns, and Chinese leaders need to be prepared to respond with constructive ideas.

To start, U.S. President Joe Biden could propose a new bilateral nuclear security dialogue designed to clarify each other’s nuclear postures and establish better lines of communication that could reduce the risks of miscalculation in a crisis.

The U.S. State Department should invite Chinese diplomats to join in developing a plan for fortifying the existing dialogue on nuclear weapons policy and risk reduction among the five nuclear-weapon states: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For instance, these states could consider joint arms control verification exercises based on the U.S.-Russian experience and negotiate a common system for reporting on their respective nuclear weapons holdings. They could also formulate a joint understanding that cybercapabilities will not be used to interfere with other states’ nuclear command and control.

An even more ambitious approach would be for Washington and Moscow to propose that China, France, and the UK freeze the size of their nuclear stockpiles so long as the United States and Russia continue to achieve deeper verifiable reductions in their arsenals.

At the same time, the Biden team must resist calls for new U.S. weapons deployments, including land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Asia, that would compound nuclear tensions with China and give Beijing a cynical excuse to expand its arsenal.

Engaging China on effective arms control and disarmament will be difficult and will take time, but it is necessary because there are no winners in an unconstrained arms race.

For more than six decades, the United States has been worried about China’s regional influence, military activities—and nuclear potential.

States Finally Settle on Next Leader for CTBTO

June 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

After an unusually contentious process that lasted for months, representatives from the member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) finally agreed to appoint Robert Floyd of Australia to serve as its executive secretary.

After a contentious months-long contest, Robert Floyd, who heads Australia's safeguards and nonproliferation office, will succeed Lassina Zerbo, a geophysicist originally from Burkino Faso, as executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization Preparatory Commission (CTBTO). (Government of Australia)Floyd, who is currently the director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, said in an April 12 statement on Twitter in which he outlined his candidacy that he was “hopeful for new opportunities for the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)] in 2021, a year marking the 25th anniversary of the treaty’s opening for signature.”

“I am looking forward to opportunities such as the upcoming NPT Review Conference to stress the importance of the CTBT for international peace and security and to move us closer to the goal of entry into force,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of engaging all member states and putting the organization “on firm financial footing in difficult economic times.”

Floyd will become the fourth executive secretary of the organization, succeeding Lassina Zerbo, who was seeking a third term. Zerbo’s second four-year term will expire July 31.

The process for selecting the next executive secretary has been more controversial than in the past, in part because Zerbo was seeking an unprecedented third term. Although there are no rules against that, many states, including the United States, have stressed the general practice of heads of international organizations serving two terms. Some states argued that Zerbo would provide needed continuity through the difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but others disagreed. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Floyd’s appointment was secured when he won the support of 96 states, exactly two-thirds of the states voting, in a fifth round of balloting held on May 20. Through the earlier rounds of voting, which began May 17, Floyd won the support of more than 60 percent of the member states voting, while Zerbo was supported by less than 40 percent.

The organization, with an annual budget in excess of $100 million, is responsible for maintaining and operating the test ban treaty’s global verification regime, including the International Monitoring System (IMS) and International Data Centre (IDC). It is also responsible for developing and demonstrating on-site inspection capabilities in preparation for the treaty’s entry into force, as well as for promoting entry into force of the agreement.

To date, the CTBT has been signed by 185 states and ratified by 170 states, but the treaty has not entered into force due to inaction by eight holdouts, including the United States and China.

Following an inconclusive voting process in December 2020 involving Floyd and Zerbo that left the Australian just one vote short of securing two-thirds approval (see ACT, January/February 2021), the CTBTO chair for 2020, Faouzia Mebarki of Algeria, set a Feb. 5 deadline for new nominations. 

On Jan. 8, Australia resubmitted Floyd’s nomination. Despite lagging far behind Floyd in the vote totals, Zerbo on Feb. 2 confirmed for a second time his “ability and commitment to continue working and contributing as executive secretary.” Through early 2021, the new CTBTO chair, Ivo Šrámek of the Czech Republic, engaged in intensive informal consultations aimed at reaching consensus on the selection process. 

The CTBTO decided by consensus on March 26 that all member states that had taken part in the December 2020 voting, as well as new CTBT signatories and states that had paid their assessed financial dues, would be invited to cast votes. The member states also authorized Šrámek to facilitate a process leading to a first round of balloting no later than May 17.

Zerbo, a geophysicist originally from Burkina Faso, has made a significant impact on the CTBTO. He first joined the organization in 2004 to head the IDC and was chosen to be executive secretary in 2013. Since then, he has led work to complete the monitoring and verification system by bringing key monitoring stations in China online and strengthening the connections between the CTBTO and the global scientific community. 

Zerbo also improved access to IMS-generated data on seismic events for member states, thus providing real time data for tsunami early warnings, as well as for nuclear detonations. Zerbo and his team provided detailed updates on North Korean nuclear test explosions. He also succeeded in keeping the CTBT in the international nonproliferation conversation despite the slow pace of the treaty’s entry into force.

Robert Floyd, director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Nonproliferation Office, was chosen to replace incumbent Lassina Zerbo after a contentious process.

Reinforcing the Norm Against Chemical Weapons: The April 20-22 Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention

Sections:

Body: 

May 10, 2021
10:00 AM Eastern Time

The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, in cooperation with the Arms Control Association, hosted this briefing to review the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime. 

Opening remarks were provided by H.E. Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW. Following, we heard from 

  • Amb. Lisa Helfand, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OPCW
  • Amb. Gudrun Lingner, Permanent Representative of Germany to the OPCW
  • Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, independent disarmament and security researcher at The Trench
  • Dr. Paul Walker, moderator, Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition

KEY QUOTES

Director-General Fernando Arias:
“The civil society community of non-governmental organizations, researchers, scientists, and other relevant stakeholders are essential partners in achieving the OPCW’s mission and raising awareness about the risks posed by certain chemicals. The Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition has played a critical role in this regard by coordinating and supporting civil society engagement with the OPCW through the Conference of the State’s Parties.”
“The report of the Fact Finding Mission related to the incident in Douma on the 7th of April 2018 is still the object of discussion between some member states. The Fact Finding Mission released its report on the 1st of March, 2019. In its report, the Fact Finding Mission concluded reasonable grounds that the use of chlorine as a weapon likely took place. ... None of the 193 member states of the organization have challenged the findings of the Fact Finding Mission that chlorine was found on the scene of the attack in Douma.”
“As we count down to mark the 25th anniversary of the organization in 2022, we need to acknowledge that our world today is very different to the one in 1997 when it was founded. To meet the challenges, it is imperative for us to keep adapting and evolving in an ever changing global landscape. Preventing re-emergence will require the commitment and the efforts of all stakeholders - civil society, government, and chemical industry.”

RESOURCES
The following resources provide supplemental information on the topic of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and strengthening the norm against chemical weapons use. 

If you wish to remain informed on this or other topics, including future webinars, please sign up and indicate your interests at www.armscontrol.org/get-the-latest

 

Description: 

 this briefing on the results and implications of the 25th Conference of States Parties for the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the CWC regime.

Subject Resources:

Arms Control and Russia

News Date: 
April 30, 2021 -04:00

Back From the Brink? Next Steps for Biden and Putin


May 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two major nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled he will confront Russia when necessary. But, he also stressed, “where it is in the interest of the United States to work with Russia, we should, and we will”—specifically on reducing the risk of nuclear conflict.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks from the White House on April 15, 2021 and calls on Russia to engage in "a strategic stability dialogue to pursue cooperation in arms control and security." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)In remarks April 15, Biden said his proposed summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin could be a launching point for talks on strategic stability and nuclear arms control. Serious, sustained disarmament diplomacy is overdue and essential, but achieving new agreements will be challenging.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean region in 2014, long-simmering U.S.-Russian tensions have risen to a boil. Disarmament discussions have been pushed to the back burner. Instead, treaty compliance disputes have dominated bilateral engagements. Meanwhile, each side is rushing to replace and upgrade its bloated nuclear arsenal. China and the United Kingdom, among other nuclear-armed states, are also increasing their nuclear capabilities.

As Melissa Dalton, acting assistant defense secretary for strategy, plans, and capabilities, recently told a House committee, “The range of Chinese and Russian nuclear modernization makes the task of making progress on further arms control all the more necessary.”

Early this year, Biden and Putin wisely agreed to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for five years. As a new bicameral congressional working group on nuclear arms control noted in its April 20 letter to the president, “Although New START is necessary, it is not by itself sufficient to tackle the threat that nuclear weapons present.”

The two sides can and must move quickly to find effective new solutions before New START expires in 2026. To make progress, they will need to tackle four difficult but resolvable issues.

Reducing strategic arsenals further. A key objective of the next round of talks should be deeper, verifiable reductions in the total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems. In 2013 the Obama administration, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, determined that the United States and Russia could further reduce their strategic nuclear forces by up to one-third below New START levels, to approximately 1,000 warheads, and still meet core nuclear deterrence goals. These limits will need to factor in new systems being developed by both sides, including hypersonic weapons.

Tackling tactical nuclear weapons. New START follow-on negotiations should also address nonstrategic nuclear weapons, beginning with a transparency agreement requiring detailed declarations on tactical nuclear stockpiles, including warheads in storage. Making progress on tactical nuclear arms control, however, should not become a prerequisite for lower ceilings on the two sides’ strategic nuclear arsenals.

Limiting strategic interceptors. U.S. efforts to further limit Russian nuclear weapons and bring China into the arms control process are unlikely to gain traction unless Washington agrees to seriously discuss constraints on its long-range missile defense capabilities. Fielding sufficient numbers of U.S. missile interceptors to mitigate the threat of a limited ballistic attack from North Korea or Iran and agreeing to binding limits on the quantity, location, and capability of missile defense systems should not be mutually exclusive.

Averting a race on intermediate-range missiles. In the absence of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the risk of a new missile race is Europe will grow. Biden, in coordination with NATO, should counter Russia’s 2020 proposal for a verifiable moratorium on the deployment in Europe of missiles formerly banned by the INF Treaty. Although imperfect, the Russian proposal is a starting point. Another option would be to verifiably ban nuclear-armed ground-launched and sea-launched cruise and ballistic missiles.

To broaden the disarmament effort, Biden and Putin could call on China, France, and the UK to report on their total nuclear weapons holdings and freeze their nuclear stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia pursue deeper verifiable reductions in their far larger arsenals.

New crises, such as the Kremlin’s mistreatment of Russian political dissidents or further Russian meddling in Ukraine, could make U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation even more difficult. Still, as Biden notes, “[t]hroughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.”

It is by no means certain that the two sides will continue to have enough good luck, responsible leadership, and managerial competence to avoid catastrophe. Once a nuclear weapon is used by accident or miscalculation or in response to nonnuclear aggression, there is no guarantee that all-out nuclear war can be averted. Sustaining progress on disarmament is not a choice but a necessity for human survival.

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two major nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled he will confront Russia when necessary.

TPNW States to Meet in January in Vienna


May 2021

The first formal meeting of the states-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will be convened at UN facilities in Vienna on Jan. 12–14, Austria announced on April 15.

Alexander Kmentt, one of the diplomatic drivers of the treaty, has been named the president-designate for the conference, which will be the first since the treaty entered into force in January 2021. The decision on the date and location for the meeting was made April 15 by unanimous consent following the second round of informal consultations on the meeting.

“We are embarking together on setting up a brand-new treaty regime in challenging times,” Kmentt wrote in a message to states-parties in March outlining plans for a series of informal consultations ahead of the first meeting of the states-parties.

“[T]he current limitations of physical meetings also provide us with the opportunity to discuss and coordinate across continents in the most inclusive way with modest cost implications. It also allows us to draw in leading expertise to advise us on all the decisions before us and take them in the most informed manner possible,” Kmentt said.

On Jan. 22, the TPNW formally entered into force following the 50th state ratification of the treaty last year. The treaty bans nuclear weapons development, production, possession, use, and threat of use and the stationing of another country’s nuclear weapons on a state-party's national territory. The TPNW will also require states to provide assistance to those affected by nuclear weapons use and testing. Review conferences are to be held every six years. To date, 86 states have signed the treaty, and 54 have ratified it.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

TPNW States to Meet in January in Vienna

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Daryl Kimball