“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005
Shervin Taheran

Select Reactions to the INF Treaty Crisis

*Updated August 2019 President Donald Trump’s sudden decision and announcement on Oct. 20, 2018, to “terminate” the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty due to Russian violations of the treaty was met with bipartisan and international concern. On Dec. 4, 2018 , Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Russia to be in "material breach" of the treaty and announced that the United States planned to suspend U.S. obligations under the treaty in 60 days unless Russia returned to compliance. On Feb. 1, 2019, the administration confirmed that the United States would simultaneously...

Advances Made in Aegis Intercept Test


In a December 11 test, the Aegis Ashore-launched Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor successfully intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target.  (Photo: Missile Defense Agency)For the first time, the Aegis Ashore-launched Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA interceptor successfully intercepted an intermediate-range ballistic missile target using the ability to “engage on remote,” which allows for an earlier attempted intercept of a ballistic missile using a forward-based sensor. The Dec. 11 test occurred on the heels of another test of the interceptor on Oct. 26, which successfully intercepted a medium-range missile target using its native radar to guide the interceptor. Overall, the December test was the third successful intercept by the SM-3 Block IIA out of five total tests. Further tests of the interceptor are needed to validate its capability more fully.

The SM-3 Block IIA was intended to be deployed by 2018 at Aegis Ashore sites in Poland and later Romania under the third stage of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a U.S. initiative backed by NATO to build ballistic missile defense sites in Europe. But that stage, which has caused tensions between the United States and Russia, has been delayed until 2020. (See ACT, April 2018.) The Japanese government also plans to construct two Aegis Ashore sites by 2023 to supplement its Patriot batteries. The SM-3 Block IIA is designed to destroy short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase and is a larger and faster version of the SM-3 Block IA and IB. It is a joint U.S.-Japanese development via Raytheon and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Advances Made in Aegis Intercept Test

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan


Russia’s Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle was successfully tested Dec. 26 in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and will be deployed during 2019, according a Kremlin statement. Putin noted the Avangard system, built to carry a nuclear warhead, will be “impervious to current and future” air and missile defenses of a “potential enemy,” a response to long-standing Russian concern that U.S. missile defense systems in combination with U.S. nuclear forces enable Washington to threaten Moscow’s retaliatory nuclear capability. The latest test is the third reported success out of six reported tests of the Yu-71 configuration since 2013. According to reports, the first two Avangard launchers will be deployed on two SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles based at Dombarovsky in 2019, and a total of 12 are expected to be deployed there by the end of 2027. A hypersonic glide vehicle, which travels at speeds of 5,000 to 25,000 kilometers per hour, can change its trajectory during flight and fly at varying altitudes.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Putin Sets Hypersonic Deployment Plan

France Calls for Global Cybersecurity


French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech November 12 during the opening session of the Internet Governance Forum at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.  (Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)The United States, alongside countries such as China, Iran, and Israel, and Russia did not sign a broad statement of cybersecurity principles unveiled by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Internet Governance Forum sponsored by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris on Nov. 12. The principles, titled “Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace,” were signed by 51 countries, including all states of the European Union, as well as more than 130 companies and 90 universities and nongovernmental organizations. The document was hailed by supporters as a potential framework for a “digital Geneva Convention” and, despite the lack of participation by the United States, has had the support of U.S. powerhouse companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HP, and IBM.

The principles are an outline that urges states to protect civilians, to refrain from using cyberattacks indiscriminately, and to strengthen capabilities to prevent malign activities such as digital manipulation of elections and theft of business information. It encourages cooperation among governments and private entities to promote a safer cyberspace. Despite the broad language, some countries, such as the United States, are reluctant to limit their cyberweapons options. The principles will be followed by further talks on the subject at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum and the 2019 Berlin Internet Governance Forum.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

France Calls for Global Cybersecurity

Pressure Builds on Saudi Nuclear Accord

December 2018
By Shervin Taheran

In the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who was critical of the Saudi government, Democratic and Republican members of Congress called on President Donald Trump to suspend negotiations on a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement, especially because the kingdom is seemingly unwilling to accept a ban on uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during an October 16 visit to Riyadh amid international outrage over the Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The crown prince's alleged role in ordering the killing and his threat to have Saudi Arabia produce nuclear weapons if Iran does so pose new hurdles to concluding a long-delayed U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear cooperation agreement. (Photo: Leah Millis/AFP/Getty Images)Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Todd Young (Ind.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Dean Heller (Nev.) wrote to Trump on Oct. 31 urging that he suspend negotiations on a cooperation accord, known as a 123 agreement, “for the foreseeable future.” They noted that their prior reservations, given Saudi unwillingness to accept the “gold standard” of no uranium enrichment or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, have been “solidified” in light of the Khashoggi murder, as well as “certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon.”

Further, the senators threatened to advance a joint resolution of disapproval as provided for by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, from which section 123 agreements gets the name, to block any such agreement.

On the same day, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released his own letter calling on Trump not only to suspend the 123 agreement negotiations but also to revoke existing Saudi “Part 810” authorizations, which allow for the transfer of nuclear services, technology, and assistance, and to indefinitely suspend any further considerations of Part 810 authorizations for the kingdom.

Complicating matters, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluded was responsible for the Khashoggi killing, said earlier this year that Saudi Arabia would produce nuclear weapons if regional archrival Iran does so. (See ACT, April 2018.) For that, the Saudis likely would need uranium-enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

A U.S. State Department official told Arms Control Today that the two governments “have been in negotiations on a 123 agreement since 2012,” but declined to comment on the substance of negotiations. The Energy Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is seeking to ensure Congress is able to keep any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia at the highest nonproliferation standards. He has been working on legislation that would require positive action by Congress to approval a U.S.-Saudi 123 agreement, and a similar measure is being developed in the Senate.

Under the current process, the president submits a 123 agreement to Congress for automatic approval after 90 days unless Congress objects with a veto-proof majority. Sherman’s bill would require instead that Congress vote in favor of an agreement for it to be implemented. The legislation also would require any accord to include the gold standard provisions and increased inspections authorization for the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as for the White House to produce reports on Saudi Arabia’s state of human rights and its investigations into the Khashoggi murder.

Trump has repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining financial and diplomatic ties to the Saudis, but has not, at least recently, specifically addressed the potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which supporters say could be a boost to U.S. companies in the civilian nuclear energy field, such as bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co. Complicating matters is the fact that Westinghouse was recently acquired by a Canadian asset management company, and Saudi Arabia has a recent edict prohibiting business with Canada as a result of Canadian criticism of Saudi human rights abuses.

Even if the United States does sign a 123 agreement, there is no guarantee the Saudis would go with U.S. companies. For example, the United Arab Emirates, after reaching an accord with the United States, still chose to go with a South Korean company for nuclear-reactor construction. But the agreement is useful to the UAE because it allows for easier transfer of sensitive technology and information.

In its accord, the UAE, the only other Arab nation in the Persian Gulf to have a 123 agreement with the United States, agreed to abide by the gold standard provisions. If the United States relaxes its standards for the Saudis, the UAE could seek to renegotiate a comparable easing of its 123 agreement.

China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are currently vying to build two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, the first of what the Saudis have said could be as many as16 reactors in a multibillion-dollar program over 20 years.

Companies were supposed to be selected by this month, but South Korea said in July that the winner would likely be selected by the Saudis during 2019. That date could slip further in light of Khashoggi’s murder and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s comments in September that the 123 agreement negotiations were going more slowly than desired. (See ACT, November 2018.)

Saudi Arabia’s state-run press agency announced on Nov. 6 that the crown prince had “laid the foundation stone” for several strategic projects, including Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear research reactor. Although not providing details about the construction timing, purpose, or cost of the “low-energy” research reactor, the statement marked an important milestone as the oil-dependent kingdom aims to diversify its energy mix.

Lawmakers call for suspending talks on nuclear cooperation agreement following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Election Shuffles Congressional Leaders

December 2018
By Shervin Taheran

With the House of Representatives flipping to Democratic control next month, along with some significant retirements and losses, the leadership will change for some key defense and appropriations committees dealing with nuclear weapons arms control, disarmament, and budgetary issues.

In January, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to make history as the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee. In photo, Lowey questions a witness during an appropriations committee hearing April 26. (Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images)When a chamber of Congress shifts party control, generally the ranking member or, in some cases, the member previously in the minority with the most seniority becomes the committee’s chair. The committee chair of the losing party generally becomes the ranking member. Under this seniority-based practice, the Democratic leadership of key committees can be anticipated, but the shifts were less clear for their Republican counterparts, who tend to have a more active selection process for the top committee spots.

For instance, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, is poised to take the helm as chairman. He has been vocal about his desire to rein in the U.S. nuclear weapons budget to a more affordable level. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) will likely become chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is in line to become chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to chair the House Appropriations Committee.

Within the appropriations committee, subcommittee ranking members Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) are set to assume leadership of the defense and the energy and water subcommittees, respectively. The latter subcommittee’s jurisdiction includes funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nation’s production of nuclear weapons and some nonproliferation programs.

The top Republican spots for House committees were determined in late November, and subcommittee ranking-member assignments will follow.

On the House Armed Services Committee, current Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), simply will become the ranking member. However, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), current chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, will be assuming the top Republican seat on the Committee on Homeland Security, meaning he likely will not retain the top Republican seat on the subcommittee. On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) beat out a more senior colleague, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), to become the ranking member after current Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) retires.

For the first time, the powerful House Appropriations Committee will be led by women. Along with Lowey as prospective chair, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) beat several challengers to become the ranking member, succeeding retiring 12-term Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). Granger’s new role will alter the minority leadership on key appropriations subcommittees since she was chairwoman of the defense appropriations subcommittee.

Meanwhile, the Senate remains under Republican control, but the composition of the leadership for key committees will see some changes. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is poised to continue chairing the Armed Services Committee, as he did when he took over for the ailing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) will likely continue to serve as ranking member of the committee.

The chairwoman of the Senate Strategic Forces Subcommittee will likely remain Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), but ranking member Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) lost re-election, leaving open the ranking slot on the committee, which deals with nuclear weapons. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is next in line, but he is currently ranking member on the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He may choose to shift subcommittees because his state is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a part of the nuclear weapons complex.

The no. 2 Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), likely will succeed retiring Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), while re-elected Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is expected to remain ranking member.

Before committee leadership posts are set, the parties must elect their own caucus-wide leadership. Committee chairs, ranking members, and committee members will likely all be confirmed as the new Congress gets underway in January.


Democrats get ready to take charge in the House of Representatives in January.

Missile Defense Review Still Pending

Public release of a congressionally directed missile defense review, originally mandated to be done by the end of last January, has continued to be delayed, and a final timeline for release is unclear as some Defense Department officials say the report is completed and undergoing unspecified “final deliberation.” (See ACT, May 2017.) The tentative timing for release has been repeatedly pushed off for unknown reasons. In addition to a standard procedural final review process, there may be administration concerns about the potential to disrupt negotiations between the United States and North Korea by releasing a document outlining a strategy to counter North Korea’s capabilities. In April, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan explained that part of the postponement resulted from the delayed Senate confirmation of John Rood, who took office in January as undersecretary of defense for policy. The review has been rescheduled from a late 2017 release to February, then mid-May. On Sept. 4, Rood told an audience at the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance that it would be out in the “next few weeks.” In early November, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said that the report was in the final stages of staffing and that the Pentagon wants to make sure that the review is “coordinated.”—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Missile Defense Review Still Pending

India Closes on Russian Missile System Deal

November 2018
By Shervin Taheran

India defied threats of U.S. sanctions by finalizing a $5.4 billion deal to purchase five batteries of the Russian S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft system, following an Oct. 5 summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Russia Business Summit in New Delhi on October 5.  (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)The United States previously said the deal could trigger penalties against India under section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), an action that would complicate the Trump administration’s efforts to expand U.S. trade and diplomatic relations with India. For that reason, some senior administration officials, such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have argued for granting India a sanctions waiver in this case.

The 2017 law provides for imposition of secondary U.S. sanctions against firms or countries that make a “significant” purchase from sanctioned entities in Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. The S-400 contract is with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export agency, which is the subject of U.S. sanctions.

In September, the United States imposed sanctions on China for purchases of the S-400 system. Another buyer, NATO-ally Turkey, has not been penalized yet, although the United States and other NATO members have raised objections to the purchase because the system is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) China was sanctioned after receiving the weapons system from Russia, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Oct. 25 that Turkey will aim to begin installing the Russian air defense systems by October 2019.

A clause in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows the president to issue a waiver to CAATSA sanctions. Trump administration officials, before the formal Indian-Russian S-400 agreement, had been vague on the prospects that the president would grant India a waiver. When asked directly on Oct. 11, U.S. President Donald Trump failed to offer a direct answer, but said that India will find out “sooner than you think.”

India has repeatedly asserted its desire to retain independence and variety in its national defense resources. Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at an Oct. 25 conference that Mattis “understood” India’s need to purchase the system, following their meeting during a defense ministers conference in Singapore.

The S-400 system is an advanced, mobile, surface-to-air defense system of radars and missiles of different ranges, capable of destroying a variety of targets such as attack aircraft, bombs, and tactical ballistic missiles. Each battery normally consists of eight launchers, 112 missiles, and command and support vehicles.

As a historically nonaligned country, many of India’s weapons systems are Russian, but it is also continuing to purchase U.S. weapons and equipment.

Senior U.S. administration officials have noted that they do not want the CAATSA sanctions to alienate strategic allies who may still rely on Russian equipment for historical reasons. In a July 20 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis supported the amendment to the 2019 NDAA to provide waivers for allies who are “transitioning to closer ties” with the United States. Waivers can avert “significant unintended consequences” toward U.S. strategic interests, he wrote.

Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said on Aug. 29 that, “on CAATSA, Mattis did plea for an exemption for India, but I can’t guarantee a waiver will be used for future purposes.” The Pentagon would still be significantly concerned if India purchased major new military systems from Russia, he said.

Other countries considering purchasing the S-400 system are Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In June, the French newspaper Le Monde noted a leaked letter by Saudi King Salman to French President Emmanuel Macron threatening “military action” if Qatar is allowed to deploy the S-400 system, which is viewed as a threat to Saudi security.


Will the U.S. follow through on its sanction threat against New Delhi?

U.S. Officials Hint at Militarizing Space

Vice President Mike Pence left open the door for increased military activities in space and declined to say whether there should continue to be a ban on nuclear weapons in space. However, in an Oct. 23 interview with The Washington Post, Pence noted that, “at this time,” there were no plans to amend the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which forbids countries from deploying in Earth orbit “nuclear weapons or other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.” Pence said the treaty gives nations a “fair amount of flexibility” on military activities in space. On the same day, a senior State Department arms control official, Yleem Poblete, told the UN General Assembly First Committee that Russia has been increasing its military activities in space and that the United States “will prepare to meet and overcome” any such challenges.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

U.S. Officials Hint at Militarizing Space


Subscribe to RSS - Shervin Taheran