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– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Daryl Kimball

40+ Nonproliferation Experts Call for Action to Restore the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal

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For Immediate Release: April 21, 2022 

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy (317) 460-8806. 

(Washington, D.C.)—With negotiations to restore compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), at a critical juncture, a group of more than 40 former government officials and leading nuclear nonproliferation experts issued a joint statement today expressing strong support for an agreement that returns Iran and the United States to compliance with the accord. 

“A prompt return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA is the best available way to deny Iran the ability to quickly produce bomb-grade nuclear material,” the experts' statement notes. “It would reinstate full IAEA international monitoring and verification of Iran’s nuclear facilities, thus ensuring early warning if Iran were to try to acquire nuclear weapons—and possibly become the second state in the Middle East (in addition to Israel) with such an arsenal.” 

Despite Iran’s compliance with the accord, former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018, reimposed sanctions that had been waived as part of the agreement, and embarked on a pressure campaign designed to deny Tehran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal. 

Iran continued to meet its JCPOA obligations until May 2019, when Tehran began a series of calibrated violations of the agreement designed to pressure the remaining JCPOA parties to meet their commitments and push the United States to return to the agreement. These violations, while largely reversible, have increased the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. 

“As a result of Trump administration policies,” the experts' statement says, “it is now estimated that the time it would take Iran to produce a significant quantity (25 kg) of bomb-grade uranium (enriched to 90 percent U-235) is down from more than a year under the JCPOA, to approximately one or two weeks today.” 

“Restoring the limits on Iran’s nuclear program will significantly increase (by many months) the time it would take Iran to produce a significant quantity of bomb grade material, which provides the margin necessary for the international community to take effective action if Iran were to try to do so,” they write. 

“Just as importantly,” the experts write, “the JCPOA mandates unprecedented International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring, verification, and transparency measures that make it very likely that any possible future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly.” 

If President Biden fails to bring negotiations with Iran to a prompt and successful conclusion it would perpetuate the failed strategy pursued by the Trump administration and allow Iran to further improve its capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. The result, the nuclear nonproliferation experts write, “would increase the danger that Iran would become a threshold nuclear-weapon state.” 

Failure to bring Iran back under the limits established by the JCPOA would produce long-term adverse effects on the global nonproliferation regime, put U.S. allies at greater risk, and create a new nuclear crisis. 

Signatories of the letter include a former special representative to the president of the United States on nonproliferation, former U.S. State Department officials, the United States' former Ambassador to Israel, Russia, and the United Nations, and leading nuclear nonproliferation experts based in the United States, Europe, and Asia. 

The full text of the statement and list of signatories is available online.

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Experts note that if President Biden fails to bring negotiations with Iran to a successful conclusion, Iran could further improve its capacity to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. 

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New Approaches Needed to Prevent Nuclear Catastrophe


April 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a massive assault on independent, democratic, non-nuclear Ukraine has unleashed a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and raised the risk of nuclear conflict.

At an emergency session of the UNGA March 2,141 member states voted in favor of a resolution deploring "in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and “condemning the decision of the Russian Federation to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces."Instead of reverting to destabilizing Cold War-era behaviors, leaders and concerned citizens in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere need to embrace new thinking and strategies about nuclear weapons and disarmament that move the world from the shadow of nuclear catastrophe.

Putin and other Russian officials have made implied nuclear threats and put their strategic nuclear forces on a heightened state of readiness to ward off a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Ukraine. It is not a new or uniquely Russian idea. U.S. officials also claim that U.S. strategic nuclear forces create “maneuver space” to “project conventional military power.”

Nuclear threats and alerts were not uncommon and were no less dangerous during the Cold War. Such rhetoric and orders to raise the operational readiness of nuclear forces can be misinterpreted in ways that lead to nuclear countermoves, escalation, and a nuclear attack.

Biden wisely has not matched Putin’s nuclear taunts, but the risk of escalation is real. A close encounter between NATO and Russian warplanes, which could result if NATO imposed a no-fly zone in Ukraine, could lead to a wider conflict. Because Russian and U.S. military strategies reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear.

Russian nuclear doctrine states that nuclear weapons can be used in response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction or if a conventional war threatens the “very existence of the state.” Right now, these conditions do not exist. But if the Kremlin believes a serious attack is underway, it might use short-range, tactical nuclear weapons to tip the military balance in its favor.

Unfortunately, U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Nuclear Posture Review states that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks while still leaving open the option for nuclear first use in “extreme circumstances” to counter conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks.

There is no plausible military scenario, and no legally justifiable basis for threatening or using nuclear weapons first, if at all. Once nuclear weapons are used between nuclear-armed states, there is no guarantee it will not lead to an all-out nuclear exchange.

New thinking is needed. The adoption of policies prohibiting the first use of nuclear weapons would increase stability. But even that would not eliminate the dangers of nuclear deterrence strategies and arsenals, which depend on maintaining the credible threat of prompt retaliation in response to a nuclear attack.

U.S. and European citizens need to mobilize and press their leaders to pursue even bolder initiatives to steer the nuclear possessor states away from nuclear confrontation and arms racing.

For example, UN General Assembly members, particularly those who negotiated the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, should consider a “uniting for peace” resolution in response to the immediate threat of nuclear use. Such resolutions have been used in rare cases when the UN Security Council, lacking unanimity among its five permanent, nuclear-armed members, fails to act to maintain international peace and security.

Such a resolution could build on the March 2 vote in the General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion and Putin’s decision to increase the readiness of his nuclear forces and would recall the assembly’s declaration of November 1961 that said that “any state using nuclear…weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the UN, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”

An updated resolution could declare that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is contrary to international law and mandate negotiations on legally binding security guarantees against unprovoked attacks from states possessing nuclear weapons.

The resolution could mandate that any state that initiates a nuclear attack shall be stripped of its voting privileges at the United Nations and recommend collective measures to restore the peace under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Such an initiative would reinforce the nuclear weapons taboo at a critical juncture.

Responsible states must also come together on a meaningful disarmament plan at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in August. Although Putin’s war has derailed U.S.-Russian talks for now on further cuts in their bloated strategic arsenals and new agreements to limit short- and intermediate-range nuclear weapons systems, they are still bound by their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT.

The last remaining U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreement, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, expires in 2026. Without commonsense arms control guardrails, the dangers of unconstrained global nuclear arms racing will only grow.

Putin’s war on Ukraine is a sobering reminder that outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. The only way to eliminate the danger is to reinforce the norm against nuclear use and pursue more sustainable path toward their elimination.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch a massive assault on independent, democratic, non-nuclear Ukraine has unleashed a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, and raised the risk of nuclear conflict.

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