Login/Logout

*
*  

"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Issue Briefs

Surging U.S. Nuclear Weapons Budget a Growing Danger

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 12, Issue 3, March 19, 2020

The projected cost to sustain and upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal continues to grow. And grow. And grow some more. The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request released in February reinforces what has long been forewarned: The administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

“I am concerned that … we have underestimated the risks associated with such a complex and time-constrained modernization and recapitalization effort,” Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 13.

Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, the director of the Navy strategic systems programs, put it even more bluntly to the House Armed Services Committee on March 3. There is a “pervasive and overwhelming risk carried within the nuclear enterprise as refurbishment programs face capacity, funding, and schedule challenges,” he said.

Adm. Richard and Vice Adm. Wolfe support the administration’s modernization approach and believe that delays to the effort could undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent. But their warnings should prompt renewed questions about whether the spending plans are necessary and sustainable. The need for a fundamental reassessment is magnified by the rising human and financial toll that the novel coronavirus is inflicting on the national economy. The threat to worker safety and health posed by the disease could exacerbate the execution challenges identified by Adm. Richard and Adm. Wolfe.

Last year, Congress supported the administration’s nuclear budget priorities despite strong opposition from the Democratic-led House. But the costs and opportunity costs of the plans are real and growing – and the biggest modernization bills are just beginning to hit. Scaling back the proposals for new delivery systems, warheads, and their infrastructure would make the nuclear weapons modernization effort easier to execute and save scores of billions of taxpayer dollars that should be spent on addressing higher priority national and health security challenges. Such adjustments would still leave ample funding to sustain a devasting U.S. nuclear deterrent.

The Fiscal Year 2021 Nuclear Budget Request

The administration is requesting $44.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 for the Defense and Energy Departments to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems and warheads and their supporting infrastructure, a larger-than-anticipated increase of about $7.3 billion, or 19 percent, from the fiscal year 2020 level. This includes $28.9 billion for the Pentagon and $15.6 billion for the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The proposed spending on nuclear weapons constitutes about 6 percent of the total national defense request, up from about 5 percent last year. By 2024, projected spending on the nuclear arsenal is slated to consume 6.8% of total national defense spending. The percentage will continue to rise through the late-2020s and early-2030s when modernization spending is slated to peak.

The largest increase sought is for the NNSA nuclear weapons activities account. The budget request calls for $15.6 billion, an astonishing increase of $3.1 billion, or 25 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $2.8 billion above the projection for 2021 in the fiscal year 2020 budget request. Over the next five years, the NNSA is planning to request over $81 billion for weapons activities, a nearly 24 percent increase over what it planned to seek over the same period as of last year.

To put the NNSA weapons activities request in perspective, $15.6 billion is almost twice as much as the $8.3 billion emergency spending bill signed into law March 6 to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus through prevention efforts and research to quickly produce a vaccine for the deadly disease.

The budget request would support continued implementation of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which called for expanding U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities. In addition to continuing full speed ahead with the previous administration’s plans to upgrade the arsenal on a largely like-for-like basis, the Trump administration proposed to develop two new sea-based low-yield nuclear options (one of which it has already begun deploying) and lay the groundwork to grow the size of the warhead stockpile.

The projected long-term cost of the proposed nuclear spending spree is even more staggering. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected last year that the United States is poised to spend nearly $500 billion, after including the effects of inflation, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal between fiscal years 2019 and 2028. This is an increase of nearly $100 billion, or about 23 percent, above the already enormous projected cost as of the end of the Obama administration. Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion.

These big nuclear bills are coming due as the Defense Department is seeking to replace large portions of its conventional forces and must contend with internal fiscal pressures, such as rising maintenance and operations costs. In addition, external fiscal pressures, such as the growing national debt and the significant economic contraction caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are all likely to limit the growth of – and perhaps reduce – military spending. Indeed, the Trump administration is recommending a lower national defense budget top line in fiscal year 2021 than Congress provided last year.

“The Pentagon must come to terms with the reality that future defense budgets are likely to be flat, which will force leaders to make some tough choices,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Feb. 6.

The costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control. The administration withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019 and has shown little interest in extending the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). If New START expires in February 2021 with nothing to replace it, the incentives for the United States and Russia to grow the size of their arsenals beyond the treaty limits would grow. A new quantitative arms race would cause the already high costs of the modernization effort to soar even higher.

Triad Budget Rises as Planned

The budget request contains large but planned increases to maintain the schedule of Pentagon programs to sustain and rebuild the U.S. triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers.

The request includes $4.4 billion for the Navy program to build 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Air Force is seeking $2.8 billion to continue development of the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, $500 million for the long-range standoff weapon program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile, and $1.5 billion for the program to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with a missile system called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The Pentagon is also asking for $4.2 billion to sustain and upgrade nuclear command, control, and communications systems.

Collectively, the request for these programs is an increase of $3.2 billion, or more than 30 percent, above the fiscal year 2020 level.

Over the next five years, the Pentagon is projecting to request $167 billion to sustain and modernize delivery systems and their supporting command and control infrastructure. The Columbia-class, GBSD, and B-21 programs could each cost between $100-$150 billion after including the effects of inflation and likely cost overruns, easily putting them among the top 10 most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs.

 
 

 

NNSA Budget Explodes

The NNSA budget submission includes large unplanned cost increases for several ongoing warhead life extension programs, the acceleration of the W93 program to develop a newly-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead, the expansion of the production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year, and other large infrastructure recapitalization projects.

The factors driving the NNSA to request such large unplanned increases are unclear. The agency said last year that its fiscal year 2020 budget plan was “fully consistent” with the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review and “affordable and executable.” Under that proposal, the NNSA did not plan to request more than $15 billion for the weapons activities account until 2030.

Several major ongoing programs would reportedly be delayed in the absence of the increase, which would suggest that they have encountered cost overruns. 

It is unlikely that the NNSA will be able to spend such a large increase in one year. Allison Bawden, a director at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the House Armed Services Committee on March 3 that spending the requested amount “will be very challenging.” This view is supported by the fact that the weapons activities account is sitting on approximately $5.5 billion in unspent carryover balances from previous years.

Despite massive budget increases since the Trump administration took office, the executability of NNSA’s plans is highly questionable. The ambition of the agency’s modernization program is unlike anything seen since the Cold War. Bawden noted that the GAO is “concerned about the long-term affordability of the plans.” Former NNSA administrator Frank Klotz said in a January 2018 interview before the release of the Nuclear Posture Review that the agency was already “working pretty much at full capacity.”

According to Bawden, the tightly coupled nature of the NNSA’s modernization program is such that “any delay could have a significant cascading effect on the overall effort.” The agency has consistently underestimated the cost and schedule risks of major warhead life extension programs and infrastructure recapitalization projects. An independent assessment published last year found “no historical precedent” for the NNSA’s plan to produce 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030. The assessment also stated that the agency had never completed a major project costing more than $700 million in fewer than 16 years.

This chart shows the NNSA’s future-years nuclear security program (FYNSP) for each fiscal year starting with FY 2017. The FYNSP reflects what the agency estimates its budget will be for that current fiscal year and the four succeeding fiscal years.Moreover, while the NNSA’s five-year spending projection sustains the enormous fiscal year 2021 funding proposal, outyear funding is slated to grow at a set rate of 2.1 percent. In other words, the outyear projections aren't based on what NNSA believes it will actually need. Several major NNSA efforts, such as developing a warhead for a new sea-launched cruise missile and the full scope of the plutonium pit production and uranium enrichment recapitalization plans, are not yet part of the budget. In sum, if "past is precedent," the outyear projections will exceed growth with inflation.

Nuclear Force Modernization Cannibalizes Conventional Military Modernization

The damaging opportunity costs of the administration’s decision to prioritize nuclear weapons are on full display in the budget request. The Navy has long been warning that the planned recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine force will pose a particularly significant affordability challenge. The request includes funding to purchase the first submarine in the class over the next three years.

“[W]e must begin a 40-year recapitalization of our [SSBN] force,” Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly wrote in a Feb. 18 memo directing the Navy to identify $40 billion in savings over the next five years. “This requirement will consume a significant portion of our shipbuilding budget in the coming years and squeeze out funds we need to build a larger fleet.”

The Navy is requesting $19.9 billion for shipbuilding in fiscal year 2021, a decrease of $4.1 billion below the fiscal year 2020 level.

The shipbuilding budget also paid the price for the enormous unplanned increase for the NNSA. The agency’s budget submission was reportedly a controversial issue within the Trump administration and was not resolved until days before the Feb. 10 public release of the budget. President Trump ultimately signed off on adding over $2 billion to the NNSA’s weapons activities account, forcing a late scramble to make room for the additional funding.

Though the Pentagon has not confirmed the exact amount that was taken to pay for the increase, members of Congress and media reports indicate that the increase for the NNSA prevented the Navy from adding a second Virginia-class attack submarine to the shipbuilding budget. The decision to cut an attack submarine to pay for a budget increase the NNSA said last year it didn’t need is hard to square with the Pentagon’s top overall defense priority of preparing for great power competition with China.

Nuclear Weapons Aren’t Cheap

The Pentagon argues that even at its peak in the late-2020s, spending on nuclear weapons is affordable because it will consume a peak of roughly 6.4 percent of total Pentagon spending in 2029. But this figure is misleading for several reasons. For starters, the figure doesn’t include spending at the NNSA. When NNSA spending is included, nuclear weapons already account for 6 percent of the total FY 2021 national defense budget request. Regardless, even 6 percent of a budget as large as the Pentagon’s is an enormous amount of money. By comparison, the March 2013 congressionally mandated sequester reduced national defense spending (minus exempt military personnel accounts) by 7 percent. Military leaders and lawmakers repeatedly described the sequester as devastating.

Meanwhile, a better measure of the opportunity costs of prioritizing nuclear modernization is to compare spending on that modernization to overall Defense Department acquisition spending. The Pentagon is requesting $17.7 billion for nuclear weapons research, development, and procurement in fiscal year 2021. This amount already accounts for 7.3 percent of the total requested Pentagon acquisition spending. While the Pentagon is projecting a decline in total acquisition spending over the next five years, nuclear acquisition spending is primed for a major increase. The CBO estimated in 2017 that by the early 2030s, spending on nuclear weapons would rise to 15 percent of the Pentagon’s total acquisition costs.

Pentagon officials also repeatedly claim that unless they get every penny that they are asking for to modernize the arsenal, the arsenal will begin to erode into obsolescence. But this is a false choice. The right question is whether the administration’s approach is necessary, sustainable, and safe, especially in the absence of any negotiated restraints on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. And the right answer is that the administration’s current path is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe – and must be rethought.

Recommendations for Congress

The bottom line is that Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans cannot be sustained without significant and sustained increases to defense spending – which are unlikely to be forthcoming – or cuts to other security priorities. The current approach is a costly and irrational recipe for nuclear modernization program delays and scope reductions.

But while the plans pose significant challenges, they need not prevent the United States from continuing to field a powerful and credible nuclear force sufficient to deter or respond to a nuclear attack against the United States and its allies. The administration inherited a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required for deterrence and its approach to modernization and arms control would increase the risks of miscalculation, unintended escalation, and accelerated global nuclear competition.

Instead, the United States could save at least $150 billion in fiscal year 2017 constant dollars through the mid-2040s by adjusting the current modernization approach while still retaining a triad and deploying the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads. Such an approach would reflect a nuclear strategy that reduces reliance on nuclear weapons, emphasizes stability and survivability, de-emphasizes nuclear warfighting, reduces the risk of miscalculation, and is more affordable and executable.

The options include:

  • Buying 10 instead of 12 new Columbia class ballistic missile submarines;
  • Extending the life of the existing Minuteman III ICBM instead of building a new missile and reducing the size of the ICBM force from 400 missiles to 300 missiles (for a detailed discussion of the case for this option, see here);
  • Foregoing development of new nuclear air- and sea-launched cruise missiles;
  • Scaling back plans to build newly-designed ICBM and SLBM warheads;
  • Aiming for a pit production capacity of 30-50 pits per year by 2035 instead of at least 80 pits per year by 2030;
  • Foregoing development of a new uranium enrichment facility; and
  • Retiring the megaton-class B-83 gravity bomb.

Simply reverting to the fiscal year 2020 budget plan for NNSA weapons activities would save over $15.5 billion over the next five years.

Now is the time to re-evaluate nuclear weapons spending plans before the largest investments are made. Of course, pressure on the defense budget cannot be relieved solely by reducing nuclear weapons spending. A significant portion of the overall cost of nuclear weapons is fixed. That said, changes to the nuclear replacement program could make it easier to execute and ease some of the hard choices facing the overall defense enterprise.

In addition to pursuing adjustments to the scope and scale of the modernization program, Congress should also take steps to improve its understanding of the long-term budget challenges. These include:

  • Holding in-depth hearings on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and spending;
  • Requiring the Defense and Energy Departments to prepare a report on options for reducing the scale and scope of their nuclear modernization plans and the associated cost savings;
  • Mandating unclassified annual government updates on the projected long-term costs of nuclear weapons;
  • Requiring an independent report on alternatives to building a new ICBM;
  • Tasking the GAO to annually assess the affordability of the Defense and Energy Department’s modernization plans; and
  • Requiring the NNSA to perform detailed work examining the estimated life of plutonium pits.

Also, lawmakers should more aggressively highlight the relationship between arms control and upgrading the arsenal. The administration’s current one-sided approach both compounds the dangers of the spending plans and flies in the face of longstanding Congressional support for the pursuit of modernization and arms control in tandem.

If the administration continues to insist on nuclear weapons modernization without arms control, then Congress should make it clear that it will not allow the president to increase the size of the arsenal above the New START limits and will be further emboldened to seek to restrain the administration’s excessive and unsustainable spending plans.—Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and Shannon Bugos, research assistant

Description: 

The Trump administration’s excessive strategy to replace nearly the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal at roughly the same time is a ticking budget time bomb, even at historically high levels of national defense spending.

Country Resources:

Responses to Common Criticisms About Extending New START

Sections:

Body: 

Volume 12, Issue 1, February 5, 2020

With the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on August 2, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is now the only remaining arms control agreement limiting at least a portion of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Signed in 2010, New START verifiably caps U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 deployed warheads, 700 deployed missiles and heavy bombers, and 800 deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and bombers. The treaty is slated to expire one year from today on February 5, 2021, but it can be extended by up to five years by agreement of the U.S. and Russian presidents.

Although Russia has indicated its support for a clean, unconditional extension, the Trump administration remains officially undecided about whether to extend the treaty and is seeking a more comprehensive arms control agreement that includes more types of Russian weapons as well as China.

If New START lapses without an extension or replacement, there will be no legally binding constraints on the world's two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in half a century. The risk of unconstrained U.S.-Russian nuclear competition, and of even more strained bilateral relations, would grow.

Below are responses to some of the most common objections raised against New START. The criticisms range from understandable, to misleading, to disingenuous. None of them merit a decision to allow the treaty to lapse.

Claim: New START doesn’t include the new strategic nuclear delivery systems that Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in March 2018.

Response: In a March 2018 speech, Putin said that Russia is developing several new strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems designed to ensure that Russia can maintain an adequate nuclear deterrent in the face of unconstrained U.S. missile defenses. These systems include a new heavy ICBM (the Sarmat), hypersonic glide vehicle (the Avangard), nuclear-powered cruise missile (Skyfall), and nuclear-powered underwater torpedo (Poseidon).

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 30 that “if we were simply to extend New START now, without touching those other systems, which the Russians have been invested in, we’re tying our hands in not limiting what...the Russians see where their growth [is]…in their strategic assets.” Given the range of the new Russian weapons, it is reasonable to ask why they shouldn’t be limited by New START.

But Russia’s development of the weapons actually strengthens the case for extending New START. Russia has stated that the two systems closest to deployment (the Avangard, which began combat duty in late December, and Sarmat) would be captured by the treaty. Russia will be limited in how many of these weapons they can deploy, and the treaty’s verification regime will give the United States a clearer picture of how many of these weapons there are and where they are located. Russia last November exhibited the Avangard to U.S. inspectors per the terms of the agreement.

As for the other two weapons—Skyfall, a recent test of which resulted in a deadly explosion, and Poseidon—they are still in development and unlikely to be deployed in large numbers or before the mid-2020s at the earliest, according to independent open source and intelligence assessments. This means that these systems likely wouldn’t be fielded until after the expiration of an extended New START, which should make them less relevant in the administration’s current analysis of whether to extend the treaty.

(Putin also unveiled an air-launched ballistic missile, the Kinzhal, in his 2018 address. The missile reportedly began trial deployment in December 2017. Russia is currently planning to field the weapon on the shorter-range MiG-31 aircraft, in which case Kinzhal would not be accountable under New START.)

Moscow says that it is open to discussing limitations on the Skyfall, Poseidon, and Kinzhal in the format of strategic stability talks, but that capturing them would require an amendment to New START or a new agreement, in which case Moscow would have its own list of U.S. capabilities that should be addressed. Article V of the treaty states: “When a Party believes that a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging,” the two sides can discuss how to take the systems into account. Both sides are discussing the new systems, making use of this provision.

Extending New START provides the best and only chance to limit Russia's new strategic weapons. It would be illogical and irresponsible for the United States to forego another five years of limits on Russia's enormous arsenal of hundreds of existing strategic nuclear weapons because Russia might deploy some new weapons not covered by the treaty over five years from now.

Claim: New START doesn’t include Russia’s large arsenal of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Response: Russia maintains a large arsenal of approximately 2,000 non-strategic nuclear warheads for short-range delivery. The United States is estimated to possess about 200 such weapons, approximately 180 of which are housed on the territory of five European NATO member states. David Trachtenberg, who served as Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from October 2017 to July 2019, wrote last November that New START “ignores the significant and growing Russian advantage in non-strategic nuclear forces.”

Contrary to popular belief, Russia’s arsenal of non-strategic nuclear warheads, which are believed to be housed in central storage, has actually decreased significantly since New START was negotiated.

Talks on limiting both countries’ non-strategic nuclear weapons are nonetheless long overdue. The Senate during its review of New START in 2010 called for future negotiations with Russia to address the imbalance between the two sides in non-strategic nuclear weapons.

But New START was designed to focus on limiting Russian strategic nuclear weapons that can directly threaten the U.S. homeland. Talks to limit non-strategic nuclear warheads would be time-consuming and difficult. Russia insists that a future agreement limiting a broader range of nuclear weapons also limit U.S. missile defenses and advanced conventional strike weapons and include British and French nuclear forces. Russia is also likely to demand that any agreement limiting Russian short-range nuclear weapons mandate the removal of the U.S. short-range weapons deployed in Europe and possibly conventional forces near Russia’s border. The Trump administration has given no indication that it is willing to address these Russian demands.

Extending New START would buy five additional years with which to engage in negotiations with Russia to attempt to capture weapons and technologies not limited by the treaty while retaining limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. Ditching the treaty on the other hand would leave all types of Russian weapons unconstrained. Threatening Russia with New START’s expiration is not going to force the Kremlin to unilaterally concede to U.S. demands on non-strategic weapons.

Claim: New START doesn’t include China.

Response: The Trump administration argues that China must be included in the arms control process. “[I]t is vital that nuclear arms control adapt itself to the modern strategic environment; we are committed to involving both Russia and China…by negotiating a trilateral nuclear arms control agreement,” said Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher Ford in a Dec. 13 speech in Brussels. “There can be no serious future for arms control that does not involve both Moscow and Beijing, and they know it,” Ford claimed.

Seeking to convince China, which has never formally participated in the arms control process, to get off the arms control sidelines is an important and worthwhile goal. But there is no realistic possibility of concluding an unprecedented trilateral deal with Russia and China before New START expires in 2021. Though Trump has repeatedly claimed that China is excited to begin trilateral talks, China has repeatedly made its opposition to such talks clear.

Currently, the United States and Russia each have a total of about 6,000 nuclear warheads, while China has about 300. If negotiations on a new agreement including China are to become a real possibility, either “the U.S. agrees to reduce its arsenal to China’s level or agrees for China to raise its arsenal to the U.S. level,” Fu Cong, director of the arms control department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Nov. 8.

In addition, nearly a year after the Trump administration first called for including China in arms control talks, officials have yet to articulate their goals for a multilateral accord or strategy for achieving it. Nor does the administration appear to have the personnel to negotiate such a deal.

Jettisoning New START’s limits on Russia’s enormous existing arsenal of deployed strategic nuclear weapons—just because it doesn't cover all Russian weapons or include China's much smaller arsenal—would be akin to cutting off our nose to spite our face. As Pranay Vaddi, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written, “there is no chance for arms control with China if New START is permitted to expire. It is unimaginable that China would join the arms control process if the U.S. and Russia walked away.”

Fortunately, extending New START is perfectly compatible with seeking to engage China on arms control and is a necessary foundation from which to pursue more ambitious arms control talks. In the near-term, the United States should pursue a sustained strategic stability dialogue with Beijing focused strengthening crisis stability, reducing the risk of unintended escalation, and exploring what would be required to enhance transparency about China’s nuclear forces and cap the growth of those forces.

Claim: Holding out on extending New START provides leverage to bring Russia and China to the negotiating table on a broader arms control agreement.

Response: As the administration continues to weigh whether to extend New START, some officials argue that whatever the final decision, it would premature to extend now. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec. 5 that “if the United States were to agree to extend the treaty now, I think it would make it less likely that we would have the ability to persuade Russia and China to enter negotiations on a broader agreement.”

The claim that holding out on extension provides the United States with leverage over Russia and China is unconvincing for several reasons.

First, New START is useless as a bargaining chip unless the administration is willing to walk away from the treaty if Russia and China don’t meet U.S. demands for talks. But making New START a chip in a high-stakes poker game with Russia and China is a dangerous gamble because the treaty is too important to be gambled away.

Second, the Trump administration does not have a good track record when it comes to attempting to leverage existing nuclear agreements into better deals. In the case of the Iran Deal, the administration’s threats to withdraw failed to convince Iran to agree to better terms. In the case of the INF Treaty, the administration’s threat to withdraw failed to convince Russia to return to compliance. President Trump ultimately withdrew from both agreements with no viable plan to replace them.

Third, as Vincent Manzo and Madison Estes wrote last July, the longer the administration waits to extend New START, “the more attention U.S. defense, intelligence, and diplomatic officials will likely devote to figuring out how to manage the challenges that would emerge without New START—and the less they will have to conceptualize and negotiate new and plausible arms control arrangements for the emerging strategic landscape.”

Fourth, Russia has provided no indication that it would trade an extension of New START for talks on limiting weapons not covered by the treaty. Russia has repeatedly made clear the U.S. concessions it is seeking in return for a new agreement capturing additional types of weapons. Moreover, Moscow is no doubt aware that most U.S. allies strongly support a clean extension and would likely blame Washington for the treaty’s collapses. While Moscow would prefer to extend New START, it also appears content with a world in which the treaty dies and the United States is left holding the bag.

Finally, there is no evidence that China supports New START so strongly that it would reverse its longstanding policy and join trilateral talks with the United States and Russia to avert the treaty’s collapse.

Claim: Russia is violating other arms control agreements.

Response: The Trump administration has stated that Russian noncompliance with other arms control agreements is one of the factors it is considering in weighing whether to extend New START. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford said last September that “it’s difficult for me right now in the wake of the violation of the INF Treaty to say automatically that I support extending START.”

Despite its concerns with Russian noncompliance with other agreements, the United States continues to assess the Russia remains in compliance with New START. Attempting to “punish” Russia’s violations of other agreements by abandoning New START would senselessly and counterproductively free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021. Moreover, letting New START expire won’t discourage Russia from future violations, especially since the United States is likely to be blamed for New START’s collapse.

Claim: The United States hasn’t sufficiently modernized its nuclear arsenal.

Response: Some opponents of extending New START argue that the treaty should be allowed to die because modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not proceeding swiftly enough. As Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) claimed last May, “We just haven't followed through on it [modernization] and it's—it's very unfortunate. One of the many reasons why I oppose…a gratuitous five-year extension, given where we are.”

New START was negotiated with U.S. nuclear modernization in mind and is consistent with the Pentagon and Energy Department’s planned recapitalization of U.S. nuclear forces and their supporting infrastructure.

In November 2010, when the Senate was debating New START, the Obama administration pledged to spend about $85 billion between fiscal years 2011 and 2020 on nuclear weapons activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). (Separately the Defense Department identified $100 billion in planned spending on delivery system sustainment and modernization, though it was never entirely clear what this number included).

Spending on NNSA weapons activities over the 10-year period between fiscal years 2011 and 2020 exceeded what was projected. The Obama administration initially kept pace with the pledged levels, then had to cut back due to the unwillingness of House Republican appropriators to fund the requested amounts and later the 2011 Budget Control Act, and then returned to the pledged levels in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The Trump administration for its part has blown way above the levels projected in 2010, and press reports indicate that the FY 2021 budget request will continue that trend. Spending on nuclear weapons by the Defense Department has greatly exceeded $100 billion since fiscal year 2011.

The question then is not whether the U.S. arsenal is being upgraded (it is), but whether the administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are necessary or sustainable. The answer is that they are not. In fact, the costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control. As Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) noted last September, “bipartisan support for nuclear modernization is tied to maintaining an arms control process that controls and seeks to reduce Russian nuclear forces…We’re not interested in writing blank checks for a nuclear arms race with Russia.”

Congress should support both extending New START and adjusting the administration’s modernization plans because doing so makes sense for U.S. security. —KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

Description: 

New START expires on Feb. 5, 2021, but can be extended by up to five years. Here are responses to the common criticisms about an extension of the treaty.

Country Resources:

Assessing the Risk Posed by Iran’s Violations of the Nuclear Deal

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 9
Updated January 29, 2020

(This issue brief was originally published December 17, 2019. It was updated to reflect Iran's fifth breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.)

Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced in May 2019 that Tehran would reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has breached limits imposed by the agreement every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Under the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is subject to stringent limitations on its nuclear program and intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In return, the P5+1 (the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU and, formerly, the United States) committed to waiving sanctions imposed on Iran. United Nations Security Council also endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231 (2015), which lifted UN sanctions on Iran and levied restrictions on Iranian conventional arms and ballistic missile transfers.

Despite acknowledging Iran’s compliance with the multilateral agreement, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018. A White House press release issued May 8, 2018, condemned the Iran deal and cited Iran’s “malign behavior” and its support for regional proxies as an impetus for the U.S. withdrawal. Trump also ordered the reimposition of sanctions that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA, violating U.S. obligations under the accord. Since May 2018, the Trump administration continues to aggressively deny Iran any benefit of remaining in compliance with the nuclear deal and is pressing the P4+1 to join Washington’s pressure campaign.

The P4+1 continues to support the JCPOA and engage in efforts to maintain legitimate trade with Iran, but the extraterritorial nature of the U.S. sanctions eliminated most of the benefits to Tehran envisioned by the deal. The P4+1’s failure to deliver on sanctions relief in the year after Trump’s announcement drove Rouhani to announce that Iran would begin violating the JCPOA, and would continue to breach limits every 60 days, until oil sales, banking transactions, and other areas of commerce were restored.

Since Rouhani’s announcement in May 2019, Iran has breached JCPOA limits on uranium enrichment, research and development on advanced centrifuges, and stockpile size. When announcing the fifth breach in January 2020, Iran stated that its uranium enrichment program no longer faced any restrictions. To date, the actions Iran has taken in violation of the JCPOA appear to be calculated steps designed to increase pressure on the P4+1 to deliver on sanctions relief and are not indicative of a dash to a nuclear bomb. While concerning, the breaches do not pose a near-term risk and are quickly reversible, supporting Rouhani’s assertion that Iran will return to compliance with the JCPOA if its conditions are met. Iran’s continued implementation of the more intrusive monitoring and verification mechanisms put in place by the JCPOA further support the assessment that Iran is seeking leverage in negotiations with the P4+1 and is willing to return to compliance if its demands are met, not dashing for a bomb.

1) Breaching the Stockpile Limits on Enriched Uranium and Heavy Water

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared in a May 8 speech that Tehran would no longer observe JCPOA restrictions on its enriched uranium and heavy water stockpile. Rouhani said the decision was a reaction to the U.S. reimposition of sanctions and that “once our demands are met, we will resume implementation.”

The JCPOA caps Iran’s stockpile at “under 300 kg of up to 3.67% enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) or the equivalent in other chemical forms.” 300 kilograms of UF6 equates to 202.8 kilograms of uranium (Annex I, Section A, para. 7).

On July 1, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, announced that Iran exceeded that limit. A report released by the IAEA on the same day verified that Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.67 percent uranium-235 totaled 205.0 kilograms, constituting Tehran’s first breach of the JCPOA.

Iran has continued to grow its stockpile since first breaching the limit in July. Most recently, the IAEA reported in November that Iran’s stockpile had reached 372.3 kilograms of uranium enriched to less than 4.5 percent.

At present, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile continues to pose a relatively low proliferation risk, and its breach of the JCPOA stockpile limits has only marginally shortened the one-year nuclear breakout time established by the deal. To manufacture one nuclear bomb, Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (under five percent uranium-235) and would then need to further enrich this material to weapons-grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235).

However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Salehi, has indicated that Iran intends to produce close to five kilograms of enriched uranium per day. If true, Iran’s stockpile could hit 1,050 kilograms in less than four months. The breakout time would be longer, however, as additional time would be needed to enrich the material to weapons-grade. The time it would take to reach weapons-grade would depend on how many centrifuges are use and the efficiency of the machines.

Iran did not breach the 130 metric ton heavy water limit until November. The IAEA reported Nov. 17 that Iran’s stockpile measured 131.5 metric tons. Heavy water, which contains the isotope deuterium, is used as a coolant in some types of reactors, including the Arak heavy water reactor currently under construction. Heavy water itself does not pose a proliferation risk. However, heavy water reactors are generally considered a proliferation-sensitive technology because they typically produce higher amounts of weapons-grade plutonium-239 in the spent fuel.

Both of the stockpile breaches are quickly reversible. Iran could easily blend down or ship out excess low-enriched uranium and sell or store overseas the excess heavy water.

If the 40-megawatt Arak reactor had been completed as originally designed, it would have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for two bombs on an annual basis. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to collaborate on rebuilding and modifying the Arak heavy water reactor to mitigate the proliferation risk. (Annex I, Section B) Under the modified design, the 20-megawatt reactor will run on low-enriched uranium, resulting in the production of about a quarter of the plutonium-239 necessary to produce a nuclear weapon on an annual basis. Tehran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years.

In January 2016 the IAEA verified that Iran had removed and cemented the original reactor core and has subsequently reported that Tehran has not resumed construction on the reactor based on its original design. Iran threatened in July 2019 to resume activities at the heavy water reactor based on the original design, but given that work modifying the reactor continues, there is no proliferation risk posed by Iran’s breaching of the heavy water stockpile limit at this time.

If the United States ends sanctions waivers allowing cooperative work on the Arak reactor to continue, Iran may follow through on its threat to abandon modifications and resume construction on the original design. If so, it would still take years for the reactor to become operational.

2) Breaching the Limit on Uranium Enrichment

Behrouz Kamalvandi, Spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced July 7 that Iran would exceed the 3.67 percent uranium-235 enrichment level imposed by the JCPOA for 15 years. (Annex I, Section F, para. 28). On July 8, Kamalvandi told reporters that Iran began enriching uranium to about 4.5 percent uranium-235.

The IAEA verified that Iran was enriching uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) to greater than 3.67 percent uranium-235 at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant July 8, according to an agency report released that day.

The IAEA’s Nov. 11 report indicates that Iran’s enriched uranium remains at or below a 4.5 percent uranium-235 enrichment level, and that of Iran’s 372.3-kilogram low-enriched uranium stockpile, about 159.7 kilograms have exceeded the JCPOA-designated 3.67 percent enrichment limit.

The extent to which this modest increase in the enrichment level poses a proliferation risk is dependent upon how many centrifuges are used for higher-level enrichment and how much material is stockpiled.

Uranium-235 is a fissile isotope that occurs in only 0.07 percent of naturally occurring uranium. Uranium enrichment is a process through which natural uranium, which is 99.3 percent uranium-238, after conversion into gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6), is enriched to increase the concentrations of uranium-235. Uranium enriched to less than five percent is typically used to fuel nuclear power reactors.

A sophisticated uranium-based nuclear bomb requires approximately 12 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium (greater than 90 percent uranium-235). The IAEA uses 25 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium as the threshold for a “significant quantity,” and given that Tehran has never produced HEU for a bomb, this higher threshold is likely a more accurate estimate of what Iran might need if it chose to pursue a nuclear weapon.

A large stockpile of low-enriched uranium, once amassed, would shorten the time needed to enrich up to weapons-grade. The quantity that Iran has produced to date is not considered a near-term proliferation risk. Though provocative, this breach is easily reversible and did not substantially shorten the one-year window of time that it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

3) Abandoning Limits on Advanced Centrifuges

On Sept. 5 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that “all of our commitments for research and development under the JCPOA will be completely removed by Friday.”

Under the nuclear deal, for 10 years, Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile is limited to output from 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant. The deal allows for Iran to continue research and development (R&D) on a limited number of advanced machines for the first 10 years, so long as such activities do not contribute to an accumulation of enriched uranium.

Specifically, for 10 years after implementation (or until the year 2025), Iran is permitted to conduct R&D on a specified number of IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 model centrifuges. R&D on cascades of up to 30 IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges is only permitted 8.5 years after the deal’s implementation (Section G, para. 35-37).

The IAEA verified on Sept. 7 that Iran had installed or was in the process of installing 22 IR-4 centrifuges, one IR-5 centrifuge, 30 IR-6 centrifuges, and three IR-6s centrifuges. On Sept. 8, Iran alerted the Agency of its intention to install piping to accommodate two cascades: one of 164 Ir-4 centrifuges and one of 164 IR-2m centrifuges.

On Sept. 25, the IAEA observed that three cascades: one of 20 IR-4 centrifuges, one of 10 IR-6 centrifuges, and one of 20 IR-6 centrifuges “were accumulating, or had been prepared to accumulate, enriched uranium.” The IAEA also reported that the installation of 164 IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing. The IAEA later verified in November that operational cascades of 164 IR-2m and 164 IR-4 centrifuges were accumulating enriched uranium.

In October, Iran alerted the IAEA of its intention to install additional advanced machines, including new IR-7, IR-8, IR-9, and IR-s model centrifuges. Iran is permitted under the JCPOA to develop new machines using computer modeling but requires approval from the body set up by the accord to oversee its implementation before testing. Iran does not appear to have obtained that permission. Tehran indicated that these new machines, once installed, would be used to further accumulate enriched uranium.

Taken together, Iran’s actions breached both the R&D testing limitations and the prohibition on accumulating enriched uranium from advanced machines imposed by the JCPOA.

With advanced machines, Iran can enrich uranium faster and more efficiently. However, Iran’s initial introduction of a limited number of advanced machines for research and for low-enriched uranium production did not, by itself, constitute a near-term proliferation risk. Similar to Iran’s earlier steps to breach the accord, this action is also quickly reversible, should Iran choose to return to compliance with the accord. Iran will have gained knowledge about advanced centrifuge performance that cannot be reversed, but the advanced machines can be quickly dismantled and put in storage under IAEA seal.

Whether enrichment using advanced machines will pose a long-term proliferation risk is dependent upon the number of machines used and their efficiency, the level of enrichment, and the amount of enriched uranium accumulated. It appears that Iran intends to continue installing and operating advanced machines, but the efficiency of the advanced models is not reported by the IAEA.

The introduction of additional advanced centrifuges, coupled with enrichment to levels higher than 4.5 percent uranium-235 or resulting in a substantial accumulation of low-enriched uranium, would pose a heightened proliferation risk. At present, however, due to the relatively small size of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile and the small number of operating advanced centrifuges, enrichment using these models does not significantly shorten the time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

4) Resuming Enrichment at Fordow

Rouhani announced Nov. 5 that Iranian technicians would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into centrifuges at the Fordow facility. Specifically, Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran would enrich uranium using 696 of the IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow and use the remaining 348 for the production of stable isotopes. Iran requested that the IAEA monitor the resumption of enrichment.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is permitted to conduct uranium enrichment only at the Natanz Enrichment Facility. Fordow, where Iran once enriched uranium up to 20 percent uranium-235, is to be converted into a nuclear, physics, and technology center in accordance with the deal (Annex I, Section H). The deal requires the P5+1 to assist Iran with the conversion and the Russian nuclear energy company, Rosatom, was working with Tehran on stable isotope production.

According to a Nov. 11 IAEA report, a cylinder of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was transferred from Natanz to Fordow Nov. 6. On Nov. 9, the Agency verified that Iran had fed UF6 into two cascades of IR-1 centrifuges and commenced uranium enrichment at Fordow.

The IAEA reported that Iran continues to comply with intrusive agency inspection and verification practices. If Iran increases uranium enrichment at Fordow or begins enrichment to levels greater than 4.5 percent, inspectors will quickly detect the deviations.

Enrichment at Fordow contributes to Iran’s growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and the slowly decreasing window of time it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb. But similar to the earlier steps, it is quickly reversible.

While the increased enrichment capacity at Fordow does not pose a near-term risk, the international community considers the Fordow facility to pose a greater proliferation risk than Natanz because Fordow is nestled deep within a mountainous range and its location renders it relatively invulnerable to a military strike. While military action would only set Iran’s program back several years and would likely encourage Tehran to openly pursue nuclear weapons, U.S. presidents have repeatedly stated that the military option is on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

While Iran has stated its intention to continue isotope production at Fordow, it is unclear if that work will go forward. After the breach, the U.S. Treasury terminated a sanctions waiver that allowed Rosatom to work with Iran on the Fordow facility conversion. On Dec. 9, Rosatom formally suspended nuclear cooperation with Iran, citing technical issues impeding collocated stable isotope production and uranium enrichment.

5) Abandoning Operational Restrictions

Iran announced Jan. 5 that its nuclear program will no longer be subject to “any operational restrictions” put in place by the JCPOA and that going forward Iran’s activities will be based on its “technical needs.” Zarif, however, specified that Iran will continue to fully cooperate with the IAEA, indicating that Tehran intends to abide by the additional monitoring and verification requirements put in place by the JCPOA. Zarif also said that, like the prior four breaches, the Jan. 5 measures are reversible if its demands on sanctions relief are met.

The extent to which this fifth violation increases the proliferation risk posed by the Iran’s nuclear program depends on how Iran operationalizes the announcement. Unlike prior breaches, Tehran did not provide specific details as to what steps it planned to take that would violate JCPOA limits. The Jan. 5 statement referenced the cap on operating centrifuges as the “last key component” of the nuclear deal’s restrictions that Iran was adhering to, suggesting that Tehran will breach the limit on installed IR-1 machines enriching uranium.

Under the JCPOA, Iran’s uranium enrichment is limited to 5,060 first generation IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz facility (Section A, para. 1-7). The nuclear deal also permitted Iran to keep 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow for isotope research and production. The IAEA confirmed in November that Tehran was still abiding by these limits on installed IR-1 centrifuges (as noted above Iran is enriching uranium at Fordow using some of the machines at that site in violation of the 15 year prohibition set by the deal, but the IAEA has not reported that Iran installed any machines in excess of the permitted 1,044 IR-1s).

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had installed about 18,000 IR-1 centrifuges, of which about 10,200 were enriching uranium, and about 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges, none of which were operational. Fordow housed about 2,700 of the IR-1 machines, of which 700 were enriching uranium. The remaining machines, including the IR-2s, were installed at Natanz. The JCPOA required Iran to dismantle excess machines and store them at Natanz under IAEA monitoring.

Iran’s statement that its nuclear program will now be guided by “technical needs” provides little insight into how many additional centrifuges Tehran may choose to install and operate in violation of the JCPOA’s limits, or if Iran will take other steps to further violate restrictions breached in 2019. Iran has no need for enriched uranium at this time; its nuclear power reactor at Bushehr is fueled by Russia and the JCPOA ensures that Iran will have access to 20 percent enriched uranium fuel for its research reactor. The Trump administration has continued to waive sanctions allowing the transfer of reactor fuels.

The ambiguity of Iran’s announcement gives Tehran considerable flexibility in calibrating its response. Slowly installing and bringing online additional IR-1 centrifuges to produce uranium enriched to less than five percent would keep Iran on its current trajectory of transparently chipping away at the 12 month breakout established by the JCPOA. This action would also be quickly reversible as Tehran could shut down excess machines in a relatively short time and then dismantle them to return to compliance with the agreement.

If Iran wants to ratchet up pressure more quickly, Tehran could further increase its enrichment level beyond 4.5 percent uranium-235, or more rapidly accumulate a large amount of low-enriched uranium. These steps would decrease more rapidly the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon and increase the proliferation threat.

The E3’s Decision to Trigger the Dispute Resolution Mechanism

The remaining parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the EU) responded to Iran’s first four violations by condemning Tehran’s actions, but continuing to express support for the JCPOA. After the fifth violation, however, the E3 triggered the dispute resolution mechanism laid out in the JCPOA to address issues of noncompliance.

According to the process laid out in the JCPOA,

  • The Joint Commission, which is set up by the JCPOA to oversee implementation and is comprised of the parties to the deal, will have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus. (It appears that the parties have already agreed to extend the time period, as the dispute resolution mechanism was triggered in January and the Joint Commission is not set to meet until mid-February.)
  • If the Joint Commission fails to address the issue, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the participating states have 15 days to resolve the issue, although that period can be extended by consensus.
  • Instead of, or in parallel to the Ministerial Review, an advisory board can be appointed to provide a non-binding opinion on how to address the allegation of noncompliance. The board will be comprised of three members, one appointed by each side of the dispute and a third independent member. The advisory panel has 15 days to deliver an opinion and the Joint Commission then has five days to consider it.
  • If, at the end of the process, the dispute is not resolved, the complaining party can notify the UN Security Council. The Security Council then has 30 days to adopt a resolution to continue lifting the UN sanctions. Failure to pass such a resolution snaps UN sanctions back into place.

The E3 have made clear that their intention is to resolve the dispute and preserve the JCPOA, so it is unlikely that they intend to refer the matter to the Security Council. Referral to the Security Council is almost certain to snapback of UN sanctions, which would collapse the deal.

The E3 calculus could change, however, if Iran reduces compliance with inspections or takes steps that significantly increase the proliferation risk posed by the nuclear program, such as resuming enrichment to 20 percent uranium-235 and stockpiling that material. These actions would increase the proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program and further negate the security benefits that the deal provides to Europe.

Iran threatened to pull out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if the E3 refer Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA to the Security Council. This step would be a significant escalation that would only isolate Iran and subject the country to international pressure. Even states such as China and Russia, which opposed the E3’s decision to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism and the U.S. pressure campaign, would likely join efforts to pressure Iran back into the NPT.

Implications Going Forward

While any breach of the JCPOA is concerning, Iran’s current nuclear activities do not pose a near-term proliferation risk. Though the window of time it would take for Iran to produce the fissile material necessary to manufacture a nuclear weapon is slowly decreasing, the JCPOA imposes a permanent prohibition on weaponization activities. Tehran also continues to comply with the IAEA’s intrusive monitoring and verification safeguards, including the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, allowing the agency to ensure with a high degree of confidence that fissile materials are not being diverted for weapons production and giving inspectors access to any site to investigate evidence of illicit activity.

While Iran’s systematic breaches of the JCPOA limitations are serious violations of the agreement, the objectives of the deal itself remain uncompromised. Iran’s nuclear program is, at present, exclusively peaceful, and poses far less of a proliferation risk than it did in 2013 when Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium gas was more than 7,000 kilograms and it would have taken just 2-3 months for Tehran to produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb. This gives the remaining parties to the deal time to continue working with Tehran to bring Iran back into compliance with the deal.

However, taken together and placed in the context of Tehran’s mounting dissatisfaction with the P4+1’s failure to offer relief promised under the JCPOA, a growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased output from advanced centrifuges, and additional, fortified, enrichment facilities are cause for concern. Having already breached many of the explicit limitations and restrictions designated by the JCPOA, Iran’s next step to breach the deal in early January will likely compound the severity of its violations and jeopardize the future of the deal.

A collapsed JCPOA would have severe implications for regional stability and international security. Dissolution of the JCPOA would significantly compromise the likelihood of Iran engaging in future nuclear nonproliferation agreements and could also spur other states in the region to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Without the deal, the international community could be faced with a similar crisis to that which prompted JCPOA negotiations. It is critical that the remaining parties to the JCPOA continue efforts to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the deal and press Iran and the United States to return to compliance with their obligations.—JULIA MASTERSON, research assistant, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

 

 

Description: 

Since May 2019, Iran has breached limits imposed by the JCPOA every 60 days. While none of the violations pose a near-term proliferation risk, taken together, Iran’s systematic and provocative violations of the nuclear deal are cause for concern and jeopardize the future of the deal.

Country Resources:

The Post-INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 8, August 7, 2019

*(Updated Aug. 19)

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated and signed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was one of the most far-reaching and successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet missiles based in Europe. It helped bring an end to the Cold War nuclear arms race and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The pact served as an important check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. INF-class missiles, whether nuclear-armed or conventionally armed, are destabilizing because they can strike targets deep inside Russia and in Western Europe with little or no warning. Their short time-to-target capability increases the risk of miscalculation in a crisis.

Despite its success, the treaty has faced problems. A dispute over Russian compliance has festered since 2014, when the United States first alleged a Russian treaty violation, and has worsened since 2017 when Russia began deploying a ground-launched cruise missile, the 9M729, capable of traveling in the treaty’s prohibited 500-5,500 kilometer range.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.The Trump administration developed a response strategy in 2017 designed to put pressure on Russia to address the U.S. charges, but in October 2018, President Trump abruptly shifted tactics and announced the United States would leave the agreement.

On Feb. 2, 2019, the Trump administration formally announced that the United States would immediately suspend implementation of the INF Treaty and would withdraw in six months if Russia did not return to compliance by eliminating its 9M729 missile.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Russia was still in “material breach of the treaty” and announced the United States had formally withdrawn from the INF Treaty.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Russians possess four battalions of 9M729 missiles (including one test battalion). The missiles are “nuclear-capable,” according to the Director of National Intelligence, but they are probably conventionally armed.

Without the INF Treaty, the potential for a new intermediate-range missile arms race in Europe and beyond becomes increasingly real. Furthermore, in the treaty’s absence, the only legally binding, verifiable limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals come from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is due to expire in February 2021 unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it by up to five years.

Reactions to the U.S. Withdrawal from the INF Treaty

Following the U.S. withdrawal announcement Aug. 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated, “The denunciation of the INF Treaty confirms that the U.S. has embarked on destroying all international agreements that do not suit them for one reason or another.”

A few days later, Aug. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that Moscow will mirror the development of any missiles that the United States makes. “Until the Russian army deploys these weapons, Russia will reliably offset the threats…by relying on the means that we already have,” he said. Putin also ordered “the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said in a statement: “A situation whereby the United States fully abides by the treaty, and Russia does not, is not sustainable.”

At the same time, some European countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have expressed regret over the termination of the treaty and concerns about potential new U.S. missile deployments.

On Aug. 2, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the end of the INF Treaty meant that Europe was “losing part of its security.” Maas also told Germany’s Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: “We cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer.”

Also Aug. 2, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that NATO “will respond in a measured and responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence and defence.” Stoltenberg suggested that NATO will increase readiness exercises programs; increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and bolster air and missile defenses and conventional capabilities in response to the termination of the INF Treaty.

According to press reports, the NATO response strategy may involve more flights over Europe by U.S. warplanes capable of carrying nuclear warheads, more military training, and the repositioning of U.S. sea-based missiles.

What Missiles Could Each Side Now Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

With the treaty’s termination, each side is now free to develop, flight test, and possibly deploy previously banned INF-range systems in Europe and in Asia.

President Putin stated Dec. 18 that in the event of U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, Russia would be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could involve additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers, as well as its Kaliber sea-based cruise missile system.

Even before the Aug. 2 termination date, the Trump administration was seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

Last year, Congress approved a Defense Department request for $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department requested nearly $100 million for fiscal year 2020 to develop three new missile systems that would violate the range limits of the treaty.

One new missile program of interest to the Pentagon is a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. On Aug. 19, the Department of Defense announced it conducted "a flight test of a conventionally-configured ground-launched cruise missile at San Nicolas Island, California. The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight." The missile was reportedly launched from a Mk. 41 mobile launcher.

Another option under consideration is a new intermediate-range ballistic missile designed to strike targets in China. The day after the formal U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty, newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he was in favor of deploying conventional ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia “sooner rather than later,” but “those things tend to take longer than you expect.”

China’s reaction has been negative. “If the U.S. deploys missiles in this part of the world, China will be forced to take countermeasures,” said Fu Cong, director-general of the arms control department at China's foreign ministry, speaking to reporters Aug. 6. “I urge our neighbors to exercise prudence and not to allow the U.S. deployment of intermediate-range missiles on their territory.”

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of the INF Treaty

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. They are also militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies or U.S. allies in Asia given that existing air- and sea-based weapons systems can already hold key Russian and Chinese targets at risk.

Any U.S. moves to actually deploy these weapons are likely to prompt Russian and Chinese countermoves and vice-versa. The result could be a dangerous and costly new U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese missile competition.

Therefore, the U.S. Congress can and should step forward to block funding for U.S. weapons systems that could provoke a new missile race—and provide the time needed to put in place effective arms control solutions.

In January 2019, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the “Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019,” which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile—with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers—until the Trump administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions. These include identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system and, in the case of a European country, demanding that all NATO countries agree to that ally hosting the system.

In July, the House of Representatives narrowly approved an amendment introduced by Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020. The amendment prohibits funding for missile systems noncompliant with the INF Treaty unless the Trump administration demonstrates that it exhausted all potential strategic and diplomatic alternatives to withdrawing from the treaty and unless the Secretary of Defense meets certain conditions.

In addition, with the end of the INF Treaty now official, it is critical that President Trump, President Putin, and NATO leaders explore more seriously some arms control arrangements to prevent a destabilizing new missile race:

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any missiles in Europe that would have been banned by the INF Treaty so long as Russia does not field once-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove its 50 or so 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia.

    The United States and Russian presidents could agree to this “no-first INF missile deployment plan” through an executive agreement that would be verified through national technical means of intelligence. Russia could be expected to insist upon additional confidence-building measures to ensure that the United States would not place offensive missiles in the Mk 41 missile-interceptor launchers now deployed in Romania as part of the Aegis Ashore system and, soon, in Poland. (Russian officials have long complained to their U.S. counterparts about the missile-defense batteries’ dual capabilities.)

    This approach would also mean forgoing President Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no military need for such a system.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under New START can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other—ideally including a means of verifying the commitment—that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range) capable of striking each other’s territory.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Be Worse.

With the collapse of the INF Treaty, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles is New START. Signed in 2010, this treaty limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each. It is due to expire Feb. 5, 2021, unless Presidents Trump and Putin agree to extend it for up to five years, as allowed for in the treaty text.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on the record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

In addition, the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 includes bipartisan efforts to preserve New START. The House bill includes legislation proposed by Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), for the administration to extend New START and require reports from the secretaries of state and defense plus the director of national intelligence on the possible consequences of the treaty’s lapse. For its part, the Senate version of the NDAA does not include an provision calling for the extension of the treaty, though in May, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling for the administration to consider an extension of New START and begin discussions with Russia. On Aug. 1, Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) also introduced legislation calling for an extension of New START until 2026.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton may be trying to sabotage this treaty. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks. In June, Bolton also said in an interview with The Washington Free Beacon that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” that the administration will move to extend the treaty. In late July, he further said that the treaty “was flawed from the beginning” and that, “while no decision has been made,” the administration needs “to focus on something better.”

Extension talks should begin now in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would then be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

Bottom Line

Without the INF Treaty and without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, Congress as well as other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary in order to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and advance progress on nuclear disarmament.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, executive director, and SHANNON BUGOS, research assistant

Description: 

Without the INF Treaty—or new proposals from Washington and Moscow—creative and pragmatic solutions are needed to advance progress on nuclear disarmament.

Country Resources:

Renewing Waivers for Nuclear Projects with Iran Serves U.S. Interests

Sections:

Body: 

Volume 11, Issue 7, April 29, 2019

A critical decision in the long-running effort to block Iran’s potential path to nuclear weapons is just days away. The Trump administration must decide by May 2 to renew sanctions waivers allowing required nuclear cooperation projects with Iran detailed in the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal to continue or let the waivers lapse. Failure to grant the waivers would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increase the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse. Tehran is already threatening to withdraw from the JCPOA and, more seriously, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) after the United States announced April 22 that it would no longer grant waivers to states seeking to purchase Iranian oil.

When the Trump administration first issued the 180-day nuclear cooperation waivers Nov. 5, it stated that allowing these projects to go forward would “impede Iran’s ability to reconstitute its weapons program and lock in the nuclear status quo until we can secure a stronger deal”—a clear acknowledgement that the U.S. benefits from these crucial nonproliferation projects.

The waivers were necessary after U.S. President Donald Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran–despite Tehran’s clear record of compliance—and withdrew from the accord in May 2018. Had the Trump administration not issued the waivers, the United States could have penalized foreign entities involved in the nuclear projects for conducting legitimate work required by the JCPOA and endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231.

Despite the fact that these nuclear cooperation projects help to reduce Iran’s nuclear weapons potential, the White House may allow the waivers to expire in order to try to ratchet up the pressure on Iran even further. Six Republican Senators wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo April 9 encouraging the Trump administration to allow the waivers to lapse in order to put additional pressure on Tehran. These members of Congress and some officials within the Trump administration appear to believe that the United States can coerce Iran’s leaders into a new set of negotiations designed to produce a “stronger deal” that addresses Iranian regional activities that Washington views as destabilizing and requires Tehran to capitulate to all U.S. demands on the country’s nuclear program. So far, this strategy has only isolated the United States and damaged Washington’s credibility.

In an April 11 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Pompeo said the decision regarding the nuclear cooperation projects is “complicated,” but did not indicate if the waivers would be renewed. Reportedly, Pompeo favors granting the waivers, but Iran hardliners in the National Security Council are opposed to renewal.

Failure to renew the waivers for JCPOA-related nuclear cooperation projects will not advance the Trump administration’s plan to maximize pressure on Iran in pursuit of a mythical “better deal,” which appears to be a thinly disguised call for regime change. Rather, it would be an own goal that sets back U.S. nonproliferation priorities and compounds Trump’s irresponsible decision to jeopardize the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions. It also risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the JCPOA (China, France, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the EU) in violation of the deal by preventing them from meeting obligations under the agreement to assist Iran with certain nuclear projects, thus giving Iran a further justification to abandon the agreement.

Jeopardizing Critical Nonproliferation Projects

If the Trump administration does not issue the waivers, it will put at risk critical projects that serve U.S. and international nonproliferation and security interests, particularly the conversion efforts at the Arak reactor and the Fordow facility, a former uranium enrichment site.

Arak: Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak posed a proliferation risk that the United States and its negotiating partners sought to mitigate with the nuclear deal. If Iran had completed the reactor as originally designed, it would have produced enough plutonium for an estimated two nuclear weapons per year.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran removed the calandria, or core, from the Arak reactor, filled it with concrete, and committed not to undertake any additional work at the site based on the original design. The IAEA verified the removal of the calandria and continues to monitor the reactor site. In addition, Iran committed to modify the reactor so that, when operational, it would produce a fraction of the necessary plutonium for a nuclear weapon on an annual basis.

Iran also agreed to ship out the spent fuel from the reactor for 15 years, preventing Tehran from accumulating several years’ worth of plutonium and then reprocessing it into a form suitable for nuclear weapons. The JCPOA established a working group “to support and facilitate the redesign and rebuilding” of the Arak reactor. (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraph 5.1.) China agreed to lead the work with the United States providing critical support verifying the design. When the Trump administration withdrew from the deal, the UK took over the U.S. role.

If China is prevented from fulfilling its contract on the Arak work, Iran may decide at some point to restart construction on the reactor, perhaps based on the original design. If Tehran were to go down that path, it would pose a proliferation risk and provide Iran with a source of plutonium, which when separated, could be used for nuclear weapons.

However, once the reactor is converted, it would be more difficult and time consuming for Iran to use it for weapons purposes or to revert back to the original design. Given the nonproliferation benefits of modifying the Arak reactor and the risks of Iran returning to its original plan for the reactor, supporting and allowing conversion efforts to continue clearly serves U.S. interests.

Fordow: A similar argument can be made for the Fordow site. Prior to the negotiation of the JCPOA, Iran was enriching uranium to 20 percent uranium-235 at Fordow. While 20 percent uranium-235 is still far below the 90 percent considered weapons grade, it poses a greater proliferation risk as it is easier to increase enrichment from 20 percent to 90 percent than it is to move from 3.67 percent (reactor grade and Iran’s current limit under the JCPOA) to 20 percent.

As a result of the JCPOA, Iran is prohibited from enriching uranium and having any nuclear material at the Fordow facility for 15 years. Iran also had the reduce the number of centrifuges at Fordow from about 2,700 first generation IR-1 machines to 1,044. Of the 1,044 centrifuges, two cascades (348 centrifuges) will be used for stable isotope production.

The JCPOA stipulates that Iran will convert the facility into a “nuclear physics, and technology centre ” and encourage international collaboration in certain areas of research. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section H, Paragraph 44.) The IAEA is also permitted daily access to the site under the JCPOA and the deal notes that Russia will assist with the conversion efforts.

Turning Fordow into a nuclear physics center, reducing the centrifuges at the site, and using a portion of them for stable isotope production serves U.S. and international nonproliferation interests. It significantly reduces the risk that Iran will reconstitute the facility for uranium enrichment and, by having a regular Russian and IAEA presence at the site, it provides greater assurance that if Iran were to begin to transition Fordow back to a uranium enrichment plant, the international community would quickly be alerted to that fact.

Additionally, the Fordow facility is located within a mountain that would render it nearly impossible to destroy using conventional military means. A military strike is not a viable option for addressing Iran’s nuclear program should Tehran exit the JCPOA and resume more troublesome nuclear activities, and it is more likely to incentivize the country to pursue nuclear weapons. But the invulnerability of Fordow to a strike underscores the importance of retaining the JCPOA and preventing the proliferation risk that would come if Iran were to reconstitute uranium enrichment at the Fordow site.

Other Projects: Additional JCPOA-supported projects that could be impacted if the United States does not grant waivers include the transfer of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel to Iran for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which produces medical isotopes, and Russia’s assistance at the Bushehr nuclear power reactor.

Under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed to import limited quantities of fuel enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 under IAEA monitoring for the TRR. The P4+1 are required by the deal to assist Iran in obtaining the fuel. (See JCPOA, Annex I, Section J, Paragraph 60.) If Tehran is unable to purchase the 20 percent material, it could lead Iran to resume enrichment to that level, which poses a far greater proliferation risk than the 3.67-percent uranium-235 limit that Iran is required to abide by for 15 years under the JCPOA.

At Bushehr, Iran’s sole civil nuclear power reactor is fueled by the Russians. Russia also removes the spent fuel. Sanctioning Russian entities involved in the operation of the reactor and the spent fuel removal risks incentivizing Iran to increase its enrichment capacity to fuel that reactor, again posing a greater proliferation threat.

Additionally, these projects, particularly the conversion of Fordow to a stable isotope production and research center and the modifications of the Arak reactor, are tangible benefits for Iran that incentivize its continued compliance with the nuclear deal. Currently, as a result of Trump violating the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions, Iran’s economy has suffered, and foreign entities have withdrawn from the Iranian market. Nevertheless, research and development activities like the Fordow and Arak projects still provide Iran with benefits and incentives to remain in the agreement.

Putting U.S. Partners and Allies in Violation of the JCPOA

In addition to halting projects that benefit U.S. security and nonproliferation objectives, failure to grant the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue risks putting the remaining P4+1 parties to the deal in violation of the agreement.

The impact of halting nuclear cooperation differs from the impact of foreign entities exiting the Iranian market in order to avoid being penalized under U.S. sanctions reimposed by Trump. Reimposing sanctions put the United States in violation of the JCPOA, but the deal does not guarantee Iran any particular level of economic benefit or require the P4+1 to guarantee that companies will do business with Iran. Therefore, the decision by companies to sever contracts with Iran did not abrogate P4+1 commitments under the deal.

However, unlike the economic sanctions, certain nuclear cooperation projects are required by the JCPOA and have been endorsed by the UN Security Council. If entities involved in these projects halt work out of fear of being sanctioned and the P4+1 are unable to meet their obligations to assist with these projects, it risks putting them in violation of the deal.

On Fordow, Annex III of the JCPOA states that “the transitioning to stable isotope production of two cascades will be conducted in a joint partnership between the Russian Federation and Iran, on the basis of arrangements to be mutually agreed upon.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section C, Paragraph 7.1.) Russia’s work at Bushehr would also be at risk if the Trump administration does not issue a waiver. In addition to providing fuel for the reactor and removing spent fuel, Rosatom, Russia’s state-run energy organization, is currently working on an additional two reactor units at the site.

If the United States does not grant a waiver allowing Russia’s state-run energy organization Rosatom to continue working at Bushehr and Fordow, it will put Moscow in the difficult decision of deciding between meeting its explicit commitments under the JCPOA and risking U.S. penalties or violating the nuclear deal.

Similarly, Annex III of the JCPOA states that the Arak working group “will provide assistance needed by Iran for redesigning and rebuilding the reactor” and agree upon steps to provide an “assured path forward to modernize the reactor.” (See JCPOA, Annex III, Section B, Paragraphs 5.1; 5.5.)

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is the primary entity involved in the Arak reactor redesign project and the CNNC and Iran agreed upon a contract in 2017 for the initial phases of the work. However, despite receiving a wavier in November, Iran has raised concerns about the pace of work at Arak, as CNNC reportedly considers the guidance provided by the Trump administration on the waiver to be vague and insufficient. Given CNNC’s global reach and ambitions, the company is likely adverse to any risk of sanction by the United States and would be unwilling to continue the project without a waiver.

There are additional implications for revoking the waivers beyond the nuclear deal with Iran. Rosatom, for instance, is involved in a number of nuclear cooperation projects with U.S. entities. If Washington refuses to grant the waivers allowing legitimate work under the JCPOA to continue, Rosatom and others could choose to retaliate by terminating projects with U.S. based entities. That could inhibit competitiveness of the U.S. nuclear industry and adversely impact their operations.

The General Nonproliferation Value of Nuclear Cooperation

Beyond the nonproliferation and JCPOA-compliance benefits of issuing the waivers, there is value to encouraging and supporting additional nuclear cooperation projects suggested in Annex III of the agreement. Unlike the work at Arak, Fordow, the TRR, and Bushehr, these projects are optional, yet fulfilling them would have significant nuclear security and safety benefits. Additionally, it would continue to provide greater transparency into Iran’s civil nuclear activities.

Iran currently operates two reactors, the TRR and the Bushehr reactor, and has ambitious plans to expand its nuclear program for energy generation. Yet Iran lags behind international standards and best practices for nuclear safety and security. Iran is not a party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment, nor the Nuclear Safety Convention. Iran also does not publish its nuclear regulatory practices, so it is difficult to determine if Tehran is meeting international standards for governing its civil nuclear activities. Annex III of the JCPOA encourages cooperative work to address these critical gaps on nuclear security and safety, including measures such as strengthening emergency preparedness, training and workshops on nuclear safety and security, the establishment of a nuclear safety center, and assistance to strengthen physical protection at nuclear facilities.

Cooperative work on several of these areas is already underway. The EU-Iran high-level seminars on nuclear cooperation have begun the initial phases of constructing a Nuclear Safety Center and assisting Iran with updating its regulatory frameworks to reflect international best practices. This work is proceeding and does not appear, at this time, to be impacted by U.S. sanctions.

This type of assistance project benefits not only Iran, but the entire region. A nuclear incident, caused either by accident or an intentional act of sabotage, would have an impact beyond Iran’s borders. It is in the best interests of Middle Eastern countries, particularly those in the Persian Gulf, that Iran’s nuclear activities are safe and secure. Without the JCPOA, or if the United States aggressively targets entities involved in legitimate nuclear cooperation, it is unlikely that these projects will continue.

Conclusion

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions was irresponsible and unjustified. If the Trump administration refuses to renew the waivers allowing nuclear cooperation projects to continue it would compound his dangerous decision to abandon the agreement.

Supporting nuclear cooperation with Iran benefits U.S. nonproliferation priorities and national security. It also allows the remaining parties to the deal to meet JCPOA requirements. Additionally, these projects provide greater insight and transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities and can provide important safety and security benefits.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy

Description: 

Failure to grant the sanctions waivers detailed in the 2015 Iran nucelar deal would jeopardize U.S. nonproliferation priorities and increases the risk that the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will collapse.

Country Resources:

Responses to Violations of the Norm Against Chemical Weapons

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 6, April 3, 2019

The use of chemical weapons throughout the eight-year conflict in Syria has challenged the international norm against the well-established chemical weapons ban and horrified the international community. Despite multiple UN reports confirming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s responsibility for sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas attacks, Assad has continued to use these terrifying weapons against his own people.

The international community has constructed a number of investigative bodies to uncover the facts of these atrocious crimes, but attribution and accountability gaps remain. In order to hold Assad accountable for his violation of international law in the future, investigations into responsibility for chemical weapons use must restart as soon as possible.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime’s Feb. 4 air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest around a stove at a field hospital. (Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

Over the course of the horrific eight years of Syrian civil war, the government of Bashar al-Assad, his Russian allies, and extremist fighters have committed numerous war crimes. At least 500,000 people have died, and more than 10 million have been displaced.

Among the most heinous aspects of the war has been the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime beginning in late 2012, including the massive August 2013 sarin gas attack that killed more than 1,400 civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The Ghouta attack led the United States in August and September 2013 to threaten the use of force to try to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.

This threat prompted Moscow to work with Washington to develop and compel Assad to accept an ambitious agreement mandating the verified removal and elimination of Syria’s arsenal of 1,308 metric tons of chemical agents, storage and production facilities and associated equipment under the auspices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). 

The UN Security Council unanimously approved the OPCW timeline for destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal through Resolution 2118 and allowed for measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Syria does not comply or otherwise violates the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The complex, multinational disposal operation was a major milestone that effectively eliminated the threat of further large-scale chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime against the Syrian people and neighboring states.

Ongoing Chemical Weapons Attacks

Despite the success of that operation, smaller-scale but still deadly and terrifying chemical attacks by Assad have continued. The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) found the Syrian government responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks, including in April 2014, March 2015, March 2016, and April 2017.

The JIM also confirmed that Assad has continued to drop barrel bombs filled with chlorine from Russian-supplied military helicopters on civilian areas, even identifying which helicopter flights,  air bases, and Syrian Army Air Squadrons (the 253rd and 255th) were involved. It also determined that the Islamic State was responsible for chemical weapons attacks involving mustard agents in August 2015 and September 2016.

Reports of chemical weapons use in Syria continue to surface.

Although less destructive and deadly than sarin nerve agent, Assad’s industrial chlorine barrel bomb attacks violate the CWC and are war crimes. These are the first-ever documented cases that a CWC member state has used chemical weapons. 

This serious matter concerns all states and requires a strong and unified international response from the UN Security Council and the 193 states-parties of the OPCW.

Unfortunately, Russia has tried to shield the Syrian regime from tougher UN sanctions and accountability. In late 2017, after the sarin attack on civilians in Khan Sheikhoun launched by Syrian aircraft, Russia used its Security Council veto to block the UN from maintaining the JIM. 

Efforts to Investigate Chemical Weapons Violations in Syria

A number of international bodies have been engaged in investigating alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, although attribution and accountability gaps remain to be filled.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was created in 2011 by the Human Rights Council to investigate violations of international human rights law in Syria.

The commission of inquiry’s 16th report, released in September 2018, identified four instances of chemical weapons use in Syria between January and July 2018. The commission has documented 38 chemical attacks in total, mostly perpetrated by the Syrian government.

The International Impartial Independent Mechanism on the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM), was established in 2011 by the UN General Assembly and it works in close cooperation with the UN Independent Commission.

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission was established in 2014 to determine if chemical weapons were used in reported attacks, and if so, to report on what type of chemical weapon was used and on other relevant details of the attack.

As of June 2018, the FFM has investigated over 80 alleged attacks and confirmed chemical weapon use in 16 of those cases. The Fact-Finding Mission does not have the authority to investigate which party is responsible for using chemical weapons, however.

The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was established by UN Security Council Resolution 2235 in 2015 to determine which party is responsible for chemical weapons attacks. The JIM had the mandate to investigate the responsible actor in instances of chemical weapons use in Syria confirmed by the Fact-Finding Mission. In its two years of operation, the JIM issued seven reports and found the Syrian government responsible for four chemical weapons attacks and the Islamic State guilty of two.

The JIM’s mandate had to be renewed by the UN Security Council every year to continue operating, but Russia used its Security Council veto power to block the renewal of the mandate of the JIM in late 2017.

Investigation and Identification Team: In June 2018, a special session of CWC states-parties voted to establish another mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks. OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias announced in March 2019 that Ambassador Santiago Oñate would head the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) and that it was being finalized.

With that veto, the mechanism’s mandate expired and it ceased to exist. Russia claimed to be upset about the “unprofessional” manner in which inspections were conducted, but in reality, it was dissatisfied with the body’s conclusions that its ally, Syria, was guilty of violating international law.

Toward a Stronger International Response

An inadequate international response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime will only increase the risk that some of the world’s most dangerous, indiscriminate, and inhumane weapons will be used to commit atrocities in the future, erode the integrity of the CWC, and undermine the authority of the Security Council.

Other states have tried to overcome the obstacles to identifying those responsible so they can be held accountable. They also continue to press Syrian government officials to fill the gaps in their 2013 official declaration to the OPCW in order to ensure that Syria fully eliminates its chemical warfare capacity, including any further production of barrel bombs. 

In January 2018, the French government established the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, an association of 38 countries and international organizations. Its purpose is to supplement the international mechanisms to combat the use of chemical weapons. This intergovernmental initiative is a forum for cooperation on the issue of impunity for the perpetrators of chemical attacks worldwide. Participating states have committed to:

  • gather information on chemical weapons users;
  • facilitate information sharing on instances of chemical weapons use to later hold perpetrators accountable;
  • identify and document the individuals and entities involved in chemical weapons use
  • support multilateral action to sanction those identified as being involved in chemical weapons use;
  • publish online the names of all individuals, entities, groups or governments that have been sanctioned for involvement in chemical weapons use; and
  • help states in need of assistance to help collect information or implement national legislation to prosecute the perpetrators of chemical attacks.

What’s Next

In June 2018, after additional attempts by UN Security Council members to establish another mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks failed, a special session of CWC states-parties voted to give the OPCW the mandate to assign blame for such violations of the Convention.

The new Investigation and Identification Team that is now being put together by the OPCW secretariat should promptly work to identify those responsible for violating international norms by the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Preventing the erosion of the global taboo against chemical weapons usenot to mention the  use of weapons of mass destruction more broadlyis a core U.S. and international security interest. The international community must act decisively and with unanimity to preserve these norms and to better protect civilians caught up in the conflict in Syria and elsewhere in the years ahead. —ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE, research assistant, and DARYL KIMBALL, executive director.

Description: 

A number of international bodies have been engaged in investigating alleged chemical weapons use in Syria, although attribution and accountability gaps remain to be filled.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

What Comes Next in U.S.-North Korean Negotiations?

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 5, March 20, 2019

The second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended abruptly in Hanoi without any agreement on the next steps to advance the shared goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula. While both Trump and Kim described the meeting as valuable and appeared committed to continuing dialogue, the future of the diplomatic process is unclear. The summit ended without a plan for future talks and Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice minister for foreign affairs said March 15 that Pyongyang is considering halting the diplomatic process because Kim “may have lost the will” to continue negotiations.

Since the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore last year, the negotiating process has not yielded concrete results that reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and put it on a path to full denuclearization. Nevertheless, diplomacy remains the best option for addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis. It is critical that the Trump administration does not squander the opportunity for engagement with Pyongyang.

But to meaningfully advance the goal of denuclearization and reduce the risk of conflict in the region, the two sides will need to establish a more effective and sustained negotiating process and recognize that an incremental, action-for-action approach provides the best pathway for progress.

What Happened in Hanoi?

Going into the Feb. 27-28 Hanoi summit, it was clear that gaps remained between the U.S. and North Korean positions on a deal involving reciprocal, concrete steps on denuclearization in exchange for actions addressing Pyongyang’s economic and security concerns. Even though the original U.S. schedule for Feb. 28 included a signing ceremony—suggesting that the Trump administration anticipated that reaching some type of agreement may have been possible— it is not clear if the ceremony referred to a limited deal trading denuclearization steps for U.S. actions or another set of issues. It also appears that the two sides were prepared to discuss a declaration ending the Korean War and the opening of joint liaison offices during the summit meeting.

While it is difficult to assess with any certainty what happened at Hanoi, it appears that both Trump and Kim may have attempted to expand the scope of the discussions, rather than focusing on bridging gaps between their negotiating teams on a more modest step toward the shared goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding.

Trump, in his news conference following the talks, attributed the failure to reach an agreement on North Korea’s demand that the United States lift sanctions “in their entirety” in return for partial steps toward denuclearization. Trump said he “had to walk away” because the United States “couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”

In a news conference following the summit, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Kim proposed dismantling fissile material production capabilities at Yongbyon under U.S. monitoring and formalizing North Korea’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing in exchange for relief from UN Security Council sanctions imposed in 2016 and 2017 that “hamper the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people.” But Trump insisted North Korea take “one more step” on denuclearization, which North Korea appeared unprepared to discuss at the summit and was not acceptable to Kim.

The extent of the sanctions relief that North Korea wanted from the United States was significant. It is unclear if Kim expected Trump to agree to his demands or if the proposal was just a starting point for further bargaining. Pyongyang’s proposal, however, is further evidence that North Korea is primarily focused on receiving sanctions relief early in the process and does indicate that there is space to pursue a limited deal trading steps at Yongbyon for economic relief.

While the Trump administration has not yet publicly provided a detailed description of its proposal, the United States appeared focused on reaching a more specific agreement with North Korea on the overarching goals of the negotiating process, including a shared definition of denuclearization, and then pursuing incremental steps that roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and that advance peacebuilding. A senior State Department official later told press Feb. 28 that Trump urged Kim to go “all in,” which may be referring to Kim’s reluctance to negotiate in further detail on a definition of denuclearization and the end goals.

The Trump administration has also conditioned sanctions relief on completion of the denuclearization process. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun reiterated again March 11 at the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference that “the lifting of sanctions will come with attaining” the goal of fully verified denuclearization.

North Korea has flatly rejected the Trump administration’s approach, which is unsurprising given the delay in sanctions relief. Most recently Choe said in her March 15 news conference that North Korea has “no intention to yield to U.S. demands” and said Pyongyang is not willing to “engage in negotiations of this kind.”

While no new measures were agreed to in Hanoi, Trump said Kim pledged to continue abiding by its April 2018 moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests and that the United States would continue to modify joint military exercises with South Korea.

Following Trump’s statement, the United States and South Korea formally announced March 3 that two annual exercises that North Korea views as provocative, Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, would be terminated, but North Korea has raised the possibility of resuming long-range missile testing. In her March 15 news conference, Choe said North Korea may resume intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches unless the United States is willing to take reciprocal actions. Satellite imagery also shows that North Korea has reconstructed elements of the Sohae Satellite Launch facility that were dismantled last year. North Korea may be signaling that its patience with the negotiations is limited and that it expects more from the United States earlier in the process.

Bridging the Gaps

The Hanoi summit highlighted two significant gaps between the U.S. and North Korean approaches to the negotiating process.

First, the Trump administration appears to be seeking a more detailed understanding of the end-state of negotiations before agreeing on incremental steps to advance toward those goals. It is clear for instance that Trump and Kim have different understandings of “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” a goal agreed to at their first meeting in Singapore.

The definitional differences are well-documented, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress in July 2018 that despite agreeing on “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” the two countries do not have a shared understanding of the term. The United States is focused on verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, nuclear-capable delivery systems, and the means of production. North Korea’s definition is much more expansive and includes the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the region, the removal of U.S. troops trained on nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, and an end to nuclear threats.

Post-Hanoi, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton widened the gap further by saying March 3 that the United States considers dismantlement of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons programs as elements of denuclearization. Trump has at times referenced that the negotiations would cover these programs but typically U.S. officials have limited “denuclearization” to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its nuclear-capable delivery systems.

There is value to agreeing on the scope of the talks early in the process. An agreed-upon end-state allows both sides to develop roadmaps and incremental steps toward the goal. It also demonstrates that their interests will be addressed as part of the process. A shared understanding of the scope and envisioned outcome can also help maintain momentum.

There is, however, a risk—particularly if the United States has expanded the definition of denuclearization to include chemical and biological weapons—that the United States and North Korea could get bogged down in negotiating the details of the end-state and jeopardize the opportunity to reduce the risk of conflict in the region and the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. As the negotiating teams pursue an agreement on an end-state, it would be in the interests of both sides to negotiate additional confidence-building measures that demonstrate good faith in the diplomatic process and maintain momentum.

A second gap relates to the timing of sanctions relief during the negotiating process. Ri made clear in his post-Hanoi news conference that North Korea is prioritizing receiving relief—particularly from UN sanctions targeting sectors of the economy—early in the process and in exchange for steps on denuclearization. This proposal is also consistent with Kim’s focus on economic improvement in his 2019 New Years Day address.

The United States, however, has consistently stated that sanctions relief will only come late in the process, once verifiable denuclearization is complete. U.S. officials, however, have said that the Trump administration is willing to take other steps in parallel with North Korean actions. Biegun said March 11 that there are “other areas that we can explore outside of the lifting of sanctions” to advance the Singapore summit goals.

It is unclear if the U.S. position on holding sanctions relief under the end of the process is absolute or if it is open to negotiating limited relief earlier in the process. While reserving relief from some of the more significant sanctions until verifiable denuclearization is complete could serve as an incentive for Pyongyang to see the process through, the Trump administration should consider allowing limited, reversible relief earlier in the process to address North Korea’s more pressing economic interests. This could be accomplished through waivers that would be reversible in the event that negotiations collapse. The Obama administration took a similar approach in negotiating with Iran: waiving select sanctions in return for certain nuclear restrictions as part of an interim deal while holding out relief from the more significant sanctions until a comprehensive agreement was negotiated and Iran implemented its nuclear commitments.

The Value of a Step-by-Step Approach

While there appears to be disagreement over whether to begin with a more detailed definition of the end-state of negotiations, both the United States and North Korea still appear to be willing to work in phases toward that goal. The North Koreans have stated their preference for a step-by-step approach and the Trump administration appears to endorse incremental, parallel actions by both sides (excluding sanctions relief) to work toward the more detailed, agreed-upon goals of the process.

Irrespective of whether it is described as an incremental or step-by-step approach, there is value in working in phases. Trying to negotiate a comprehensive agreement risks the talks ending without any concrete actions that reduce nuclear risk and increase stability in the region. Additionally, drawn-out talks could ultimately play in North Korea’s favor, as it would reap the benefits of engaging in negotiations, while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons program.

The time factor also plays against negotiating a more comprehensive agreement. The U.S. presidential election in 2020 and the South Korean presidential election in 2022 provide a narrow window of opportunity to advance the diplomatic process. A step-by-step process stands a better chance for maintaining continuity and momentum between changing administrations, whereas if negotiators fail to reach a comprehensive deal, talks may falter in the transition to a new administration.

A step-for-step approach with the end goals of complete, verifiable denuclearization and regional stability stands a greater chance of achieving concrete results that reduce the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and the threat of conflict. Unlike a comprehensive "big" deal, a step-by-step approach builds confidence in the process and, if structured correctly, demonstrates to Kim that the survival of North Korea is not dependent on a nuclear arsenal.

Heading into the Hanoi summit, it appeared that a deal trading verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon in exchange for U.S. actions—perhaps opening liaison offices and ending the Korean War—was under discussion at the working level. Post-Hanoi, it would be valuable for the U.S. and North Korean negotiating teams to pick up on these discussions and pursue such an agreement—perhaps with the addition of limited sanctions relief—to advance the goals of both sides.

For the United States, verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon would be a significant step in rolling back North Korea’s nuclear program and decreasing its fissile material production. The Yongbyon nuclear complex includes a uranium enrichment plant and the 5MWe reactor and reprocessing facility, which North Korea used to produce plutonium. There are a number of other facilities on-site, including a small research reactor (the IRT-2000 Nuclear Research Reactor), an isotope production laboratory, and a new experimental 20-30 MWe light-water reactor, which is still under construction.

If an agreement were to be reached for North Korea to dismantle all of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, experts assess it would effectively end its weapons-grade plutonium production and significantly curb but likely not end its uranium enrichment, as Pyongyang has built other covert uranium enrichment sites.

Although North Korea offered only to allow U.S. inspectors into Yongbyon in its Hanoi proposal, the United States should press for the International Atomic Energy Agency to be involved in verifiably halting and dismantling nuclear facilities to increase transparency and legitimacy and to set a better precedent for any similar inspections in the future.

These initial steps would build confidence in the diplomatic process, serve as an important test of Kim’s intentions, and would help ensure that North Korea could not expand its arsenal while the longer-term negotiations and denuclearization steps continue.

In return for the verifiable dismantlement of Yongbyon, the United States should offer a package that addresses North Korea’s economic and security concerns, scaled to match Pyongyang’s concessions. Even if North Korea puts dismantlement of the entirety of the Yongbyon complex on the table and is willing to allow international inspectors, lifting the bulk of sanctions imposed on North Korea by the Security Council in 2016 and 2017 is an unreasonable demand. Instead, the Trump administration could offer limited relief from select U.S. and UN measures. As part of that package, the United States could include waivers for inter-Korean projects that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has prioritized but are stalled due to U.S. sanctions. Allowing these projects to go forward would show support for South Korea and contribute to advancing the inter-Korean relationship. In addition, the United States could offer other inducements, such as an end-of-war declaration and pursuing liaison offices that would contribute to regional stability.

It will take time to negotiate the details of an agreement trading Yongbyon dismantlement in return for a limited sanctions relief deal. In the meantime, North Korea should reiterate that it remains committed to its voluntary moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help retain confidence in the diplomatic process.

The Importance of an Effective Process

Reaching an agreement on the next steps and defining the goals of the Singapore summit will require establishing an effective process for negotiations going forward. As a first step, this must include transitioning talks from the head-of-state level to the working-level negotiating teams.

While beginning the negotiations at the head-of-state level may have been a necessary step to signal to North Korea that Washington was willing to transform its relationship with Pyongyang, the details of a deal to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula are too complex for Trump and Kim to resolve themselves.

Unfortunately, neither the Singapore summit nor the Hanoi summit established an effective process to engage in the detailed discussions necessary to agree on concrete steps to advance the Singapore summit goals. While working-level meetings did commence just ahead of the summit in Hanoi, ultimately there was not enough time for negotiators to bridge gaps in positions and reach agreement. U.S. and North Korean negotiating teams should commit to meet consistently and often to reach agreement on a step-for-step deal.

Moving forward, Trump should empower Biegun and his team to engage in regular, detailed discussions with the North Korean team and make clear that another head-of-state summit will not take place absent agreed-upon, concrete steps by North Korea that advance denuclearization alongside corresponding U.S. actions.

If the Trump administration chooses to pursue a step-by-step approach, the U.S. negotiating team must also develop a roadmap for a comprehensive process. Such a roadmap can help demonstrate to the North Koreans that the United States is embedding verifiable denuclearization as part of a broader process that transforms the U.S-North Korean relationship. It will also help ensure that the United States retains sufficient leverage to incentivize North Korea to continue taking steps toward denuclearization.

Working-level negotiations will also function better with consistent messaging by the administration so that negotiators are not undercut by conflicting statements from senior officials. Divergent descriptions of the U.S. negotiating positions not only complicate the work of U.S. negotiators but will also make it more difficult for North Koreans to trust that positions expressed at lower levels reflect Trump’s views.

Establishing an effective diplomatic process should also include robust administration outreach to Congress. As past negotiations with North Korea have shown, the support of Congress, or lack thereof, can play an influential role in the success or failure of diplomacy. If Congress is not briefed on the negotiations and on the administration’s strategy, it increases the likelihood that Congress may take steps that complicate talks or reduce Trump’s flexibility to negotiate.

Conclusion

The failure of the Hanoi summit to produce tangible steps to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding is disappointing but it is not a disaster. Both Trump and Kim characterized the meeting as useful and the two countries appear to remain committed to pursuing diplomacy.

The window of opportunity for negotiations, however, will not remain open indefinitely. The United States has a unique opportunity to reduce the risk posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to verifiably roll it back. Doing so, however, will require Trump to pursue reciprocal, step-by-step actions toward denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.—KELSEY DAVENPORT, director for nonproliferation policy; and ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE, research assistant

Description: 

The failure of the Hanoi summit to produce tangible steps to advance denuclearization and peacebuilding is disappointing but it is not a disaster. The window of opportunity for negotiations, however, will not remain open indefinitely.

Country Resources:

INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps

Sections:

Body: 

Volume 11, Issue 4, February 1, 2019

The Trump administration announced today that effective tomorrow, Feb. 2, the United States will suspend implementation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and formally notify other parties to the treaty that it will withdraw in six months if Russia does not return to compliance by eliminating its ground-launched 9M729 missile, which the United States alleges can fly beyond the 500-kilometer range limit set by the treaty.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the Russians now have four (up from three) battalions of the offending missile, with a total of just under 100 missiles, including spares. The compliance dispute has festered since 2014 and it has worsened since Russia began deploying the system in the field in 2017.

The 1987 INF Treaty, negotiated and signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, is one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements in history.

The INF Treaty led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe. The treaty helped bring an end to the Cold War and paved the way for agreements to slash bloated strategic nuclear arsenals and to withdraw thousands of tactical nuclear weapons from forward-deployed areas.

The INF Treaty continues to serve as a check on some of the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia could deploy. Without the treaty, there is a serious risk of a new intermediate-range, ground-based missile arms race in Europe and beyond.

Trump Policy Is Counterproductive and A New Approach Is Needed

Unfortunately, the U.S. threat to terminate the treaty will not bring Russia back into compliance and could unleash a dangerous and costly new missile competition between the United States and Russia in Europe and beyond.

Worse yet, the Trump administration has no viable strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding more intermediate-range missiles in the absence of the agreement.

Diplomatic options that could bring Russia back into compliance are possible but have not yet been explored. Each side appears to be more interested in winning the blame game than taking the steps necessary to save the treaty.

Any new efforts by the Trump administration to develop or deploy missiles once prohibited by the treaty will be strongly opposed by many NATO members, and the U.S. Congress should withhold funding for procurement of such weapons systems.

This week, 11 U.S. senators reintroduced the "Prevention of Arms Race Act of 2019," which would prohibit funding for the procurement, flight-testing, or deployment of a U.S. ground-launched or ballistic missile – with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers – until the Trump Administration provides a report that meets seven specific conditions, including identifying a U.S. ally formally willing to host such a system, and in the case of a European country, have it be the outcome of a NATO-wide decision.

Any new U.S. intermediate-range missile deployments would cost billions of dollars, take years to complete, and are militarily unnecessary to defend NATO allies because existing weapons systems can already hold key Russian targets at risk.

With the INF Treaty’s days numbered, new arms control arrangements are needed to head off a dangerous and costly new missile race in Europe. One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance member will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory.

And if the treaty is terminated, it becomes more important than ever for Washington and Moscow to agree to extend the New START agreement by five years beyond its 2021 scheduled expiration date. Otherwise, there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.

The INF Treaty prohibited all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The official figures above show missiles deployed November 1, 1987, shortly before the INF Treaty was signed. The treaty also required destruction of 430 U.S. missiles and 979 Soviet missiles which were in storage or otherwise not deployed. The treaty prevented the planned deployment of an additional 208 GLCMs in the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The Pershing IAs, under joint U.S.-German control, were not formally covered by the INF Treaty but were also to be eliminated by U.S. and West German agreement.

Where Do Efforts to Resolve the Compliance Dispute Stand?

Since President Trump threatened on Oct. 20, 2018 to “terminate” the INF Treaty, there have been two meetings between U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov (in Geneva on Jan. 16 and in Beijing Jan. 31 on the margins of a P5 meeting on disarmament issues). Neither meeting led to progress.

While the recent Russian offer to exhibit the 9M729 is a useful first (and overdue) step in the direction of greater transparency, it has been deemed insufficient by the U.S. side (because it doesn’t allow for independent verification). U.S. officials could propose an alternative that does, but they do not seem to pursue this path because they believe the missile violates the treaty.

Another problem is that the United States is not recognizing the validity of the Russian concerns that U.S. Mk-41 launchers (that are part of the Aegis Ashore missile defense deployment in Romania) could be used to launch offensive missiles. To be clear, Russia is not saying the Mk-41s are an INF violation, they are saying they could be in the future. This is a valid concern and one that could be addressed through site visits or other confidence-building arrangements.

U.S. officials want Russia admit it has violated the treaty (which of course it will not do) and eliminate all of the 9M729s. The U.S. government believes that Russia has, to this point, deployed four battalions of the missiles (probably just under100 total, including spares) with some of those located in Western or Southern Russia, which puts targets in Europe within their estimated range (probably around 1,500-2,000 kilometers). It is not clear whether these missiles are nuclear-armed (probably not), but they are nuclear capable.

Russia claims the 9M729 has a range of 480 kilometers and that they have not conducted any surface-to-surface missile flight tests between 2008 and 2014 that exceeded 500 kilometers. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence says Russia did test the 9M729 from a fixed launcher at a range in excess of 500 kilometers, which means the 9M729 has that capability and is noncompliant.

Diplomatic Options Before August Termination Deadline

Both sides can still pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. But there is no chance for progress so long as the two sides refuse to adjust their current positions.

The Arms Control Association and our independent, nongovernmental colleagues in the U.S.-Russian-German "Deep Cuts Commission" and others have proposed the following solution that begins with reciprocal verification and inspections of the two systems at issue. This could be negotiated and implemented bilaterally. So far, the United States has rejected this idea, which has been proposed to Trump administration officials by some NATO governments:

  • Washington and Moscow should agree to reciprocal site visits by their respective technical experts to examine the missiles or launchers in dispute (the 9M729s and the SM-3/Mk-41s) at their deployment sites. If the 9M729 missile is determined to have a range that exceeds the INF Treaty’s 500-kilometer range limit (which the U.S. experts will likely claim it does) Russia should, as a matter of ‘good faith’ agree to either modify the missile to ensure it no longer violates the treaty or, ideally, halt production and eliminate any such missiles in its possession, including those 9M729s that have been deployed.
     
  • For its part, the United States should agree to modify the Mk-41 missile-defense launchers that Russia believes could be used for offensive purposes, in a way that allows to Russia to clearly distinguish them from launchers that fire offensive missiles from U.S. warships, or agree to other transparency measures to allay Russian suspicions that the launchers contain offensive missiles.

This could be a win-win deal. Such an arrangement would address the concerns of both sides and restore compliance with the treaty without Russia having to acknowledge its original violation of the treaty.

What Missiles Could Each Side Deploy in the Absence of the INF Treaty?

As Kingston Reif reports in Arms Control Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on Dec. 18 that if the United States “breaks the treaty,” Russia will be “forced to take additional measures to strengthen [its] security.” He further warned that Russia could easily conduct research to put air- and sea-launched cruise missile systems “on the ground, if need be.” This could include additional numbers of the 9M729 ground-launched cruise missile on mobile launchers.

For its part, the Trump administration is already seeking to develop new conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missiles to “counter” Russia’s 9M729 missile. The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act required “a program of record to develop a conventional road-mobile [ground-launched cruise missile] system with a range of between 500 to 5,500 kilometers,” including research and development activities.

The Defense Department requested, and Congress approved, $48 million in fiscal year 2019 for research and development on and concepts and options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems in response to Russia’s alleged violation of the INF Treaty.

One option might be a ground-launched variant of the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile or the Navy’s Tomahawk sea-based cruise missile. Another option could be an intermediate-range ballistic missile could be derived from the U.S. Army’s short-range Army Tactical Missile System, a surface-to-surface missile with a reported range of just under 500 kilometers. The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials say, "It is unlikely that flight tests of these new systems would be conducted before the end of the [the INF Treaty’s] six-month withdrawal period.”

However, key NATO states have already expressed opposition to basing any such systems in Europe. Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister told Spiegel Online Jan. 11, 2019: "Even if we are unable to save the INF Treaty, we cannot allow the result to be a renewed arms race. European security will not be improved by deploying more nuclear-armed, medium-range missiles. I believe that is the wrong answer."

Alternative Risk Reduction Strategies in the Absence of INF

Because the loss of the INF Treaty would open the door to a new Euro-missile race, there are steps that can and must be pursued that would benefit the security interests of Russia, Europe, and the United States, as well as the prospects of future arms controls agreements.

  • One option would be for NATO to declare, as a bloc, that no alliance members will field any INF Treaty-prohibited missiles or any equivalent new nuclear capabilities in Europe so long as Russia does not field treaty-prohibited systems that can reach NATO territory. This would require Russia to remove those 9M729 missiles that have been deployed in western Russia. This would also mean forgoing Trump’s plans for a new ground-launched, INF Treaty-prohibited missile. Because the United States and its NATO allies can already deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten key Russian targets, there is no need for such a system. Key allies, including Germany, have already declared their opposition to stationing new intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Key members of Congress have introduced legislation that would block procurement funding for any U.S. system currently banned by the treaty.
     
  • Another possible approach would be to negotiate a new agreement that verifiably prohibits ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic or cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. As a recent United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research study explains, the sophisticated verification procedures and technologies already in place under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) can be applied with almost no modification to verify the absence of nuclear warheads deployed on shorter-range missiles. Such an approach would require additional declarations and inspections of any ground-launched, INF Treaty-range systems. To be of lasting value, such a framework would require that Moscow and Washington agree to extend New START by five years. New START is now scheduled to expire in 2021 and talks on extension have not yet begun.
     
  • A third variation would be for Russia and NATO to commit reciprocally to each other – ideally including a means of verifying the commitment - that neither will deploy land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, or nuclear-armed cruise missiles (of any range), capable of striking each other’s territory.

There may be still other options that would meet each sides’ security and help to avoid a replay of the 1980s, in which each side had a justifiable fear of sudden nuclear attack.

INF Termination Is Bad. Failure to Extend New START Would Make Things Worse.

If the INF Treaty collapses, as appears likely, the only remaining agreement regulating the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles will be New START. That 2010 treaty, which limits the two sides’ long-range missiles and bombers and caps the warheads they carry to no more than 1,550 each, is due to expire in 2021 unless Trump and Putin agree to extend it by a period of up to five years, as allowed for in the accord’s Article XIV.

Key Republican and Democratic senators, former U.S. military commanders, and U.S. NATO allies are on record in support of the treaty’s extension, which can be accomplished without further Senate or Duma approval.

Unfortunately, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton may try to sabotage that treaty too. Since arriving at the White House in April, he has been slow-rolling an interagency review on whether to extend New START and refusing to take up Putin’s offer to begin extension talks.

Extension talks should begin now, in order to resolve outstanding implementation concerns that could delay the treaty’s extension.

Without New START, there would be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972. Both countries would be in violation of their Article VI nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament....”

Bottom Line

The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Without serious talks and new proposals from Washington and Moscow, other nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.—DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

Description: 

The INF Treaty crisis is a global security problem. Nations will need to step forward with creative and pragmatic solutions that create the conditions necessary to ensure that the world’s two largest nuclear actors meet their legal obligations to end the arms race and reduce nuclear threats.

Country Resources:

Paths Forward on Action-for-Action Process for Denuclearization and A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula

Sections:

Body: 


Volume 11, Issue 3, January 29, 2019

Months after the historic June 2018 Singapore Summit, the United States and North Korea are still at the starting point of the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

Because the window for diplomatic progress with North Korea will not remain open indefinitely, the second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry. Absent progress, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs—and the security risks they pose—will continue to grow.

Stagnation Since Singapore

In the Singapore Summit joint statement, Trump and Kim made an “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” and recognized that progress on denuclearization depends on joint “efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime” on the peninsula. But these vague goals were not accompanied by obligations for each side to take specific actions or by any structure for the process of diplomacy going forward.

Clear differences over the scope and sequence emerged in the first follow-up meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials in Pyongyang in July, disparities that have prevented the initiation of direct, expert-level negotiations on the actions necessary to reach the summit’s agreed goals.

At the July meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly insisted that North Korea provide a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program as a first step. The Trump administration also emphasized that North Korea must fully denuclearize before the United States would grant concessions such as sanctions relief.

Select North Korean Nuclear-Capable* Missiles
NameEstimated RangeStatus
Hwasong-5300 kmOperational
Hwasong-6500 kmOperational
Hwasong-7700-1,000 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-11,200 kmTested/Development
No-Dong-11,200-1,500 kmOperational
Pukkuksong-21,200-2,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-102,500-4,000 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-124,500 kmTested/Development
Hwasong-135,500-11,500 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-13 Mod 28,000-10,000 kmDevelopment
Hwasong-1410,000+ kmTested/Development
Hwasong-1513,000 kmTested/Development
*Nuclear capable as defined by the Missile Technology Control Regime Guidelines

North Korea, on the other hand, has clearly stated it prefers an action-for-action approach to advance the goals of the Singapore declaration and looked for the Trump administration to take the first step. Pyongyang views its April 2018 commitments to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing, and actions the following month to destroy tunnels at its nuclear test site, as steps toward denuclearization that the United States should reward.

While the North Korean leadership subsequently offered to take further denuclearization steps, including verifiable decommissioning of its Yongbyon nuclear complex, those measures would be contingent upon “corresponding steps” by the United States. The Pyongyang regime did not demand specific actions from the Trump Administration but has periodically called for limited sanctions relief and U.S. support for a joint political declaration ending the Korean War.

Despite the lack of follow-through, the historic 2018 Trump-Kim summit certainly eased tensions. Intense diplomatic work between North and South Korea has also led to agreement on concrete measures to ease tensions along the Demilitarized Zone.

But contrary to Trump’s self-aggrandizing claim that there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” Pyongyang continues to improve its ballistic missile capabilities and produce bomb-grade nuclear material.

Defining Denuclearization and Peace

Denuclearization is a complex, technical task. North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs involve dozens of sites, hundreds of buildings, and thousands of people. Additionally, the United States and North Korea do not yet agree on the scope of the denuclearization process. Rapid progress toward denuclearization should be the goal, but comprehensive, verifiable denuclearization will take years.

A stepwise process that emphasizes threat-reduction in the shorter term does not mean “accepting” North Korea’s status as a nuclear-weapon state. Rather, it underscores the urgency of halting these programs and negotiating an effective deal that reduces the threat posed by these capabilities and leads to their verifiable elimination.

In the long term, any such deal must account for North Korea’s violation of its existing obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The North’s verifiable denuclearization and its return to NPT compliance are necessary steps to preserve and strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Complicating matters is the fact that the U.S. and North Korean sides still do not have a common understanding, in writing, about what denuclearization entails. For more than a decade, the United States has insisted on the “complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear programs. UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea use similar terminology.

North Korea’s concept of denuclearization is broader and applies beyond the country’s borders. Initially, North and South Korea agreed in the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons” or to “possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.” They also agreed to mutual inspections for verification. However, in 2003, North Korea declared the 1992 agreement to be “dead.” So it is unclear if North Korea will seek to maintain uranium enrichment or reprocessing for a peaceful nuclear program in an agreement.

Furthermore, North Korea’s concept of “denuclearization” encompasses the entire Korean peninsula, (as opposed to unilateral nuclear disarmament by North Korea). It includes prohibitions on the deployment of U.S. strategic assets in the region and the basing of U.S. troops trained to use nuclear weapons in South Korea, as well as threats to use nuclear weapons.

Getting Diplomacy Back on Track

If the two sides approach the second summit with realistic expectations and a readiness to take reciprocal measures that build confidence in the process, it is possible to move closer to the joint goals of denuclearization and peacebuilding on the Korean peninsula and further from the risk of a catastrophic war.

Freezing, Reversing, and Eliminating Nuclear and Missile Capabilities

North Korea’s voluntary commitment to halt nuclear and long-range ballistic missile testing has eased tensions, but the moratorium is not yet permanent and it was a relatively low-cost commitment for Kim. In his 2018 New Year’s Address, Kim declared North Korea’s nuclear arsenal complete and announced that the country would focus on mass production of nuclear warheads. Kim’s statement implies that North Korea had already decided to halt certain testing activities before announcing the moratorium and focus on expansion of the nuclear weapons stockpile.

North Korean Nuclear Weapons and Testing
Nuclear Weapons StockpileNorth Korea is estimated to have assembled 10-20 nuclear warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
Nuclear TestingNorth Korea has conducted six nuclear tests explosions, beginning in 2006. Its most recent test in Sept. 2017 had an estimated yield of over 200 kilotons (TNT equivalent).

The testing freeze does prevent North Korea from making certain qualitative advances in its nuclear weapons program. An important next step will be to solidify the testing halt and pursue a partial freeze on fissile material production. Given North Korea’s goal of expanding its arsenal, Pyongyang’s willingness to halt fissile material production would be a critical indication of its commitment to denuclearize. Specific, verifiable arrangements to accomplish these goals could begin with:

  • solidifying North Korea’s voluntary nuclear test moratorium by allowing inspectors to confirm the closure of the existing test site at Punggye-ri and securing North Korean signature of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • expanding on its missile testing halt to include short- and medium-range ballistic missiles;
  • halting fissile material production at Yongbyon and beginning to verifiably decommission all facilities at the site. This would necessitate a partial declaration of the facilities to be decommissioned; and
  • halting fissile material production at undisclosed sites. Initially, this could be verified using remote monitoring technologies if North Korea were unwilling to let inspectors verify a fissile material production freeze.

These initial steps would build confidence in the diplomatic process and would help ensure that North Korea could not expand its arsenal while the longer-term negotiations and denuclearization steps continue.

There are several additional major steps in the denuclearization process, each of which will be challenging. These include:

  • securing a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, materials, and weapons to be verified later by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The guidelines and techniques established by the IAEA Model Additional Protocol for nuclear safeguards provide a good foundation for verifying and monitoring the fuel-cycle portions of the declaration;
  • agreeing to a process and a timeline for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile. It is estimated that North Korea has assembled 10-20 warheads and produced enough fissile material for an estimated 30-60 nuclear weapons.
  • achieving a verifiable halt to the production of ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons and to the dismantlement of deployed medium- and longer-range ballistic missiles and launchers;
  • accounting for and securing all separated fissile material. This work would likely have to be supervised by specialists from nuclear-weapon states in cooperation with North Korean technical experts; and
  • beginning to dismantle other nuclear facilities (beyond Yongbyon) under international supervision, including IAEA inspectors. A major negotiating issue at this stage would be which facilities are for civilian purposes and whether North Korea, given its history, should be allowed to retain such capabilities even under tighter international safeguards against misuse. This would be a major undertaking that could build on experience from U.S. and Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction programs, which helped eliminate excess Cold War-era stockpiles, employed former weapons scientists, and repurposed military sites.

“Corresponding Steps”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not give up North Korea’s nuclear weapons if he believes doing so will compromise North Korea’s security. North Korea has clearly stated that steps on denuclearization must go hand in hand with steps toward reducing tensions and building a peace-regime on the Korean peninsula.

Trump’s post-summit decision to suspend and modify certain joint military exercises with South Korea that Pyongyang views as provocative was an important confidence-building measure. But more will be necessary.

The next steps designed to reduce tensions and build a “peace regime” in return for initial North Korean actions to verifiably freeze and roll back certain parts of its nuclear weapons program might include:

  • reaching a three-party declaration on the end of the Korean War;
  • permanently pledging to remove U.S. strategic bombers and offensive-strike assets from future joint military exercises.
  • easing sanctions blocking humanitarian aid and certain projects designed to build closer economic and cultural ties between North and South;
  • lifting some of the most recent UN Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea, perhaps including those involving oil and coal;
  • establishing a hotline agreement to help avoid miscommunication in a crisis; and
  • taking steps toward the normalization of relations, beginning with the opening of diplomatic interest sections in Pyongyang and Washington.

Later steps, as the denuclearization milestones are completed could include:

  • initiation of negotiations on a formal peace treaty. The conclusion of such a treaty could coincide with verified and complete denuclearization and it would trigger a removal of nuclear-related sanctions; a significant reduction of military forces on both sides of the demilitarized zone, and formal security assurances against the initiation of hostilities by either side; and
  • further corresponding sanctions relief, including through the revision of existing UN Security Council resolutions with sanctions targeting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

If the Trump administration could move the Korean peninsula demonstrably closer to these ambitious, long-term outcomes, it would be a major breakthrough. But one meeting will not be enough to get the process on track.

To achieve even just some of the additional steps toward the long-term goal of denuclearization of the peninsula and a durable peace regime, the Trump-Kim summit will need to produce agreement on a balanced framework for sustained, direct, high-level negotiations on denuclearization and peace.

The overall goal should be to continue to move as quickly as possible toward halting, reversing, and eliminating the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and away from a renewed crisis that risks bringing the region back to the brink of war. – DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director, and KELSEY DAVENPORT, Director for Nonproliferation Policy

Description: 

The second summit between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un—tentatively planned for late February—must emphasize substance over pageantry.

Country Resources:

Trump’s Dangerous Missile Defense Buildup

Sections:

Body: 

Volume 11, Issue 2, January 17, 2019

The Trump administration’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review, which was released today, proposes a significant and costly expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses that is likely to exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat to their strategic nuclear deterrents, undermine strategic stability, and further complicate the prospects for additional nuclear arms reductions.

Of particular concern was President Donald Trump’s statement during his remarks at the Pentagon that the goal of U.S. missile defenses is to “ensure we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” This would be a costly, unachievable, and destabilizing departure from longstanding policy and contradicts the text of the review, which limits U.S. homeland missiles defense to their traditional role of defending against limited attacks from North Korea or Iran. In addition, the review proposes “to further thicken defensive capabilities for the U.S. homeland” with the new Aegis SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, hundreds of which could eventually be deployed on land and at sea across the globe.

As Congress scrutinizes the Missile Defense Review, members would do well to recognize that rushing to fund an open-ended and unconstrained missile defense buildup is misguided and would diminish U.S. security.

Congress in 2016 mandated the Pentagon to conduct a broad review of missile defense policy and strategy. Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis initiated the review in the spring of 2017 and it was originally slated to be published alongside the Nuclear Posture Review in February 2018. The reasons for the delay in the completion of the review are unclear.

The review expands the purpose of missile defense to defend against cruise and hypersonic missiles, proposes more aggressive defense against Russian and Chinese regional missile threats, alludes to the future development of airborne interceptors for "boost-phase" missile defense (i.e. when missiles are traveling at their slowest right after launch), and proposes to augment the defense of the U.S. homeland with additional ground- and sea-based Aegis SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors.

Even before the release of the review, Congress during the first two years of the Trump administration approved record appropriations for the Missile Defense Agency to expand existing regional and missile defense systems and advance the development of new technologies.

The review reaffirms preexisting Trump administration plans to:

  • try to destroy enemy missiles before launch (known as “left of launch”),
  • arm unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with lasers to zap long-range missiles during their boost phase,
  • test the SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class target by 2020,
  • expand the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system in Alaska and California from 44 to 64 interceptors by 2023, and
  • develop multiple kill vehicles for the GMD system.

Costly and Technically Risky

United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars since the 1950s in an effort to field effective ballistic missile defenses and has but a limited capability against a small number of relatively unsophisticated missile threats to show for it. More realism is needed about the costs and limitations of defense capabilities and the long-standing obstacles that have prevented them from working as intended. For example, the $67 billion GMD system designed to defend the U.S. homeland against a North Korean or Iranian threat has an intercept test record of just over 50% and none of the tests have included realistic decoys and countermeasures that the system would likely face in a real attack.

Several of the new technologies proposed in the review face significant technical hurdles. A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “boost-phase missile defense—whether kinetic or directed energy, and whether based on land, sea, air, or in space—is not practical or feasible.” Additionally, broad area defense against emerging hypersonic missiles will pose an even greater challenge than defending against ballistic missile threats, which generally fly on a more predictable trajectory.

The review discusses how the administration will proceed with several controversial proposals, including space-based interceptors and building a third GMD site in the eastern part of the United States.

On space-based interceptors, the review proposes a near-term feasibility study “of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses.” It adds that the study “may include on-orbit experiments and demonstrations.” During the George W. Bush administration, Congress rejected proposals to fund a space test bed that would put prototype interceptors in space. Further study of putting interceptors in space should end with the same conclusion previous studies have: space-based interceptors are unaffordable, unworkable, and massively destabilizing.

The review states that no decision has yet been made on whether to deploy a third GMD site and that the location for a potential site “will be informed by multiple pertinent factors at the time.” The Missile Defense Agency has repeatedly stated that the estimated $3-$4 billion cost to build such a site would be better spent on improving the capabilities of the existing GMD system.

That this Pentagon is punting, at least for now, on a decision on fielding space-based interceptors and an additional GMD site goes to show how expensive and rightly controversial they are.

Adverse Impact on Russian and Chinese Threat Perceptions

Although the Pentagon’s wish list stops short of green-lighting some of the most controversial missile defense concepts, the new plan could significantly exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat U.S. missile defenses pose to their nuclear retaliatory capabilities.

The review comports with longstanding U.S. policy in stating that homeland missile defense capabilities will be sized to defend against “rogue states’ offensive missile threats” and not “more sophisticated Russian and Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.” But in his remarks on the review, Trump went beyond the text of the review and stated that “We will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers...regardless of missile type or geographic origin.” Moscow and Beijing may understandably wonder whether Trump’s statements or the text of the review reflect U.S. policy.

Furthermore, the administration’s plan to test the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor against an ICBM target by 2020, and to build hundreds of the interceptors by the 2030s, threatens to cross the line between expanding missile defense capabilities to counter regional and “rogue” state threats to the homeland, and the development of capabilities that can counter Russian and Chinese long-range missiles.

Such concerns could potentially be mitigated if Washington agreed to limit the number, location, and capabilities of this systems, but the Missile Defense Review asserts that the United States will forswear any limits on U.S. defenses.

Russia fears that advancing U.S. defenses and offensive conventional strike capabilities could soon allow Washington to threaten Moscow's secure second-strike capability. Moscow has also conditioned further reductions to its nuclear arsenal below the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on limits on U.S. missile defenses.

In a speech last year touting several new Russian nuclear delivery systems such as an intercontinental undersea torpedo and hypersonic glide vehicles, President Vladimir Putin described the rationale for the new weapons largely in terms of concern about U.S. missile defense systems.

China may already be augmenting its smaller nuclear strike capabilities in response to current U.S. missile defenses and an expansion of these defenses could prompt Beijing to make additional qualitative and quantitative improvements to its arsenal. Such improvements would make it even more difficult to achieve further reductions to the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

The Missile Defense Review comes at a time when the bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control architecture is under siege. The 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is on the verge of collapse and the future of New START is uncertain.

Both sides are citing the other’s missile defense deployments and plans as rationales to outfit their strategic nuclear arsenals with more capable weapons. Neither Moscow nor Washington is taking into account the concerns the other has about their offensive and defensive developments sufficiently seriously to avoid increased risks of instability.

Bottom Line

Rather than rush to spend billions on a potentially dangerous expansion of U.S. missile defenses, a more disciplined approach would focus on improving the shortcomings that continue to plague current systems, such as GMD, and improve capabilities to detect and track missiles. Moreover, the United States should pursue wide-ranging dialogues with Russia and China on strategic stability, including the impact of missile defense, and not pursue particularly destabilizing steps, such as pursuing space-based interceptors and testing the SM-3 Block IIA against ICBMs.—KINGSTON A. REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

Description: 

The Trump administration’s long-awaited Missile Defense Review, which was released today, proposes a significant and costly expansion of the role and scope of U.S. missile defenses that is likely to exacerbate Russian and Chinese concerns about the threat to their strategic nuclear deterrents, undermine strategic stability, and further complicate the prospects for additional nuclear arms reductions.

Subject Resources:

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Issue Briefs