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

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Issue Briefs

Anything but Conventional

What is the most serious weapons-related security threat? The answer depends on who you are and where you live. For many Westerners, the biggest worry may be catastrophic nuclear terrorism. But for millions of people in conflict-ridden developing regions, the greatest threat emanates from the free flow of and trade in conventional weapons. With global arms sales soaring to more than $44 billion in 2005 and hundreds of thousands of people dying annually from weapons and war, tough new controls on international arms sales are urgently needed.

U.S. and global leaders recognize the high-consequence dangers posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. As a result, they have established a patchwork system of legally binding treaties restricting the possession, proliferation, and use of “unconventional” weapons. However, there is no international treaty regulating the export of conventional arms, which produce more misery and carnage on a day-to-day basis. (Continue)

Daryl G. Kimball

What is the most serious weapons-related security threat? The answer depends on who you are and where you live. For many Westerners, the biggest worry may be catastrophic nuclear terrorism. But for millions of people in conflict-ridden developing regions, the greatest threat emanates from the free flow of and trade in conventional weapons. With global arms sales soaring to more than $44 billion in 2005 and hundreds of thousands of people dying annually from weapons and war, tough new controls on international arms sales are urgently needed.

U.S. and global leaders recognize the high-consequence dangers posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. As a result, they have established a patchwork system of legally binding treaties restricting the possession, proliferation, and use of “unconventional” weapons. However, there is no international treaty regulating the export of conventional arms, which produce more misery and carnage on a day-to-day basis.

During the Cold War, weapons sales were primarily used by Washington and Moscow to win friends and fight proxy wars. Since then, the global arms market has persisted but is driven more and more by profit and interest in sustaining domestic armaments industries.

Partly as a result, countries have sought but been unable to achieve binding restrictions on the global arms trade. After the 1990 Persian Gulf War, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States initiated talks on regulating weapons transfers. The talks limped along until September 1992, when a U.S. decision to sell 150 F-16 fighter aircraft to China’s rival, Taiwan, halted the effort.

Later, in the mid-1990s, a bipartisan congressional coalition sought and failed to establish tougher criteria for U.S. arms sales. The Clinton administration, which relaxed nearly two decades of restrictions on advanced arms sales to Latin America, strongly opposed the adoption of any new standards. A 2001 UN conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons foundered because the Bush administration opposed provisions affecting civilian gun ownership or arms transfers to nonstate actors.

The latest geostrategic rationale for many U.S. sales is the so-called war on terror. For instance, U.S. officials claim that the recent sale to Pakistan of F-16 jets with air-to-air missiles will help in the fight against al Qaeda. In reality, they are for fighting India, and they create a market for selling similar U.S. fighters to India.

The result is a robust global arms bazaar led, in order, by the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China. Sixty-eight percent ($30 billion) of all weapons sales last year were with developing nations, many of which have subpar records on human rights and democracy. Last year, the United States alone signed deals worth $6.2 billion with states such as Egypt, Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates for attack helicopters, missiles, aircraft, and other weapons.

Is the arms trade a cause or a symptom of global conflicts? It is both. As outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently put it, “Arms buildups can give rise to threats leading to conflict, and political conflicts can motivate the acquisition of arms. Efforts are needed both to reduce arms and to reduce conflict.”

In particular, the burgeoning trade in small arms and light weapons, including rifles, machine guns, and mortars, helps increase the level of violence of civil conflicts in many countries, from Angola to Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and the Darfur region of Sudan.

In response to this unacceptable situation, one major supplier state, the United Kingdom helped spearhead and win UN support for a process that could eventually lead to a new global arms trade treaty. In October, the United Nations’ First Committee endorsed a resolution that calls for exploring common standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional weapons. Multilateral negotiations could begin in two years. The goal is not to outlaw arms sales but to require suppliers to operate in a more transparent, responsible, and accountable manner.

The resolution won 139 votes, while 24 states, including Russia and China, abstained. The United States was the only state to oppose it. U.S. officials complain that the effort will produce more meetings and less action and lead to a lowest-common-denominator set of standards. Yet, to paraphrase Churchill, what is wrong with more jaw-jaw if it means less war-war?

Rather than impeding the initiative, the United States should be out front pulling. U.S. diplomats should listen to their British counterparts who point out that key suppliers can and should work together to ensure that the treaty compels states to adopt stronger, not weaker, arms transfer controls.

As the world’s leading arms supplier, the United States has a special responsibility and a clear self-interest in establishing tougher, binding standards on conventional arms transfers. Today, most arms sales have little or nothing to do with self-defense and the arms being sold only help fuel conflicts and tensions in unstable areas, undermining prospects for peace and opportunities for the less fortunate. We can no longer afford to ignore the long-term cost to human security. The time to act is now.

Posted: December 1, 2006

Balancing Nuclear "Rights" and Responsibilities

Daryl G. Kimball

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, efforts to exploit nuclear technology for energy and for profit have complicated the task of reducing the nuclear weapons threat. Now, as states such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa either pursue or consider moving into the business of enriching uranium, the complexities and dangers could significantly deepen.

The 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) grants states the “right” to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, so long as states forswear nuclear weapons and comply with safeguards against the diversion of nuclear technology and materials for weapons purposes.

International safeguards can help detect and deter cheating, but they cannot prevent “breakout” scenarios. Yet, if current trends continue, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has warned that we could “have 20-30…virtual nuclear weapons states, meaning countries that could move within months into converting their civilian capacity or capability into a weapons program.”

About 12 states already possess uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities, or both. These technologies can be used to produce fissile material for bombs. Government-affiliated and subsidized entities in the United States, Russia, and France, as well as a British-Dutch-German consortium, provide an enrichment capacity sufficient to meet current and projected future nuclear energy demands. As President George W. Bush noted in 2004, “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Even though they have small domestic nuclear energy sectors, Argentine, Brazilian, and South African officials, like Iran’s leaders, cite domestic nuclear fuel needs and the possibility of cutoffs in external supply as the rationale for exploring new, multibillion-dollar centrifuge-enrichment facilities. Prime Minister John Howard has called for Australia to enter the uranium-enrichment market although it is also economically infeasible for his country.

However, supply interruptions are only likely—and would be appropriate—if the recipient state violates its nonproliferation commitments. That is not likely, given that these states are members in good standing with the NPT and have supported action toward global nuclear disarmament. But if they insist on having enrichment capabilities, others such as Iran or South Korea, with weaker compliance records and stronger motives to pursue nuclear weapons, are sure to insist on having them too.

To reverse the trend, several states and a leading nongovernmental organization have offered ideas to create assured nuclear fuel supplies for states that forgo enrichment and reprocessing. At a special IAEA conference last month, a range of schemes were discussed. A “global nuclear fuel bank” is an old idea that may someday become a reality and could address the supply concerns, real or imagined, of many states.

Meanwhile, tighter restrictions on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and on the construction of new facilities are in order. Bush’s 2004 proposal that Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) states not sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already have the capability is good but is not enough. It would allow Japan to move ahead with a major plutonium reprocessing plant and the construction of new U.S. and French centrifuge-enrichment plants. Not surprisingly, the NSG has not endorsed this discriminatory approach.

If we are to succeed in limiting the number of states capable of producing nuclear bomb material, all states must be willing to provide responsible leadership and restraint. In the near future, there is no economic rationale for new states to enter the civil uranium-enrichment or plutonium-separation arena. The further pursuit of plutonium separation by states such as Japan, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and especially the United States will only lead to more proliferation risks.

As supplier and buyer states explore options to deal with potential market shortages and interruptions in fuel supply, they must also all agree that recipient states meet basic nonproliferation standards. Otherwise, the growing trade in nuclear fuel and technology could facilitate weapons production. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, member states endorsed a policy requiring “full-scope” safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration, along with France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, is moving to weaken the existing safeguards regime by pursuing full civil nuclear trade with India, which refuses safeguards on all its facilities and produces fissile material for weapons. The leaders of Australia, Brazil, and South Africa have become a part of this problem too. All three have recently said they are prepared to reverse nonproliferation policies in order sell their uranium supplies to New Delhi.

Speaking for many nonaligned, non-nuclear-weapon states, South African officials have resisted restrictions on enrichment and plutonium separation technology that infringes on what they call their “inalienable right” to nuclear energy. Such interpretations of the NPT are dangerous and out of touch. Just as the nuclear powers have an obligation to agree to verifiably halt fissile production and dismantle their weapons stocks, non-nuclear-weapon states must exercise their “rights” in a way that helps avoid the further proliferation of nuclear weapons-related technology and the nuclear anarchy that would ensue.

 

 

Posted: November 10, 2006

Number Nine

Daryl G. Kimball

North Korea’s October 9 nuclear test explosion could cause irreparable damage to an already beleaguered global nonproliferation system. Unless the world’s ninth active nuclear weapons program is verifiably halted and reversed through more effective diplomacy, the test may be the tipping point that prompts other states to follow suit. The blast should also trigger far more energetic action to tighten global nuclear nonproliferation standards and ensure universal compliance with those already on the books.

UN Security Council Resolution 1718 rightly condemns North Korea for its half-kiloton yield nuclear blast and calls for its return to the negotiating table. North Korea’s leaders now say they will rejoin six-party talks on their nuclear program. If they do, the Bush administration must seize what could be the last best opportunity to check Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. It must finally engage in genuine diplomacy to implement the step-by-step process of verifiable disarmament in exchange for normalized relations as outlined in a joint statement last year.

After six-years and four previous rounds of inclusive six-party talks, there can be little doubt that the Bush administration’s approach has failed: Pyongyang has hunkered-down and accelerated its nuclear bomb program. Punitive sanctions alone cannot reverse its nuclear program or force the collapse of the already-isolated Kim Jong Il regime. Nor do North Korea’s insecure leaders appear capable of making a bold, Libya-like decision to completely eliminate their nuclear weapons program for fear it would jeopardize the regime’s survival.

For now, North Korea possesses fissile material for fewer than a dozen bombs. It is not yet capable of delivering working nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles. Such a threat is still deterrable without the United States or other countries resorting to nuclear weapons threats. But if the crisis continues to be mismanaged and Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal grows, Tokyo and Seoul will seriously consider building their own nuclear weapons. Japan, with its large stockpile of “civilian” plutonium and new plutonium reprocessing plant, is a virtual nuclear-weapon state. If it were to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and exercise its capability, South Korea would likely do so too, and China would likely increase its arsenal of some 100 weapons.

To head off this proliferation nightmare, President George W. Bush must finally recognize that dialogue with adversaries such as North Korea is not a reward for bad behavior, but a vital tool to deal with nuclear dangers. U.S. officials should be authorized to meet separately with North Korean officials to resolve issues of concern, including U.S. financial sanctions imposed on North Korea in reaction to its money laundering activities.

To keep North Korea at the negotiating table, China’s leaders must also exert maximum diplomatic and economic influence on Pyongyang. To improve the chances that North Korea will deliver on disarmament, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States must clarify not only the costs of further defiance but the benefits of cooperation. They should develop a detailed proposal outlining the security assurances, trade benefits, and energy support that they would be prepared to provide if North Korea dismantles its nuclear complex. The first priority should be to reinstate a verifiable freeze on Pyongyang’s plutonium production, which would limit the amount of fissile material for weapons and possibly for sale to others.

The emergence of North Korea as the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state is yet another reminder that we can no longer afford to lurch from one nuclear crisis to the next. The current U.S. policy of isolating “unfriendly” states to try to prevent proliferation while permitting “friendly” states to possess and improve their nuclear arsenals is unsustainable and a recipe for nuclear anarchy.

Today’s security environment requires a more comprehensive and balanced U.S. nonproliferation and disarmament strategy. To prevent the emergence of additional virtual nuclear-weapon states, all states should observe an indefinite moratorium on all new uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation plants. To cap the size of existing arsenals, all states with nuclear weapons, including India, Pakistan, and Israel, should halt the production of fissile material for weapons and join the global nuclear test ban regime.

Finally, major nuclear-weapon states must restore confidence they will fulfill their NPT obligation to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons and eventually eliminate them. The United States and Russia should resume talks on further verifiable reductions of their strategic and tactical nuclear arsenals, which will still number more than 5,000 warheads each by 2012. All nuclear-weapon states should disavow the development of new types of nuclear weapons and the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states and targets. This would reduce the incentives for other states to develop their own nuclear weapons.

Ambitious? Yes. But the dangers of the bomb are growing. Without more comprehensive global leadership in all, not just some, of these areas, the struggle against nuclear proliferation will fall short and leave behind a more dangerous world for generations to come.

Posted: November 1, 2006

Revive the Test Ban Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

Ten years ago this month, UN member states overwhelmingly endorsed and later opened for signature the longest-sought, hardest-fought nuclear arms control treaty: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Today, despite widespread support for the CTBT and a de facto global nuclear-test moratorium, the treaty still has not entered into force.

The CTBT is a simple treaty with profound value to the struggle against proliferation. By verifiably prohibiting “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion,” the treaty would simultaneously help constrain the qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons, curb proliferation, advance disarmament, and delegitimize nuclear weapons.

Moving forward on the CTBT is an essential step toward restoring confidence in the beleaguered nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime. The nuclear-weapon states’ commitment to achieve the CTBT was a crucial part of the bargain that won the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995.

A decade later, it is feared that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test explosion to demonstrate its suspected weapons capability. Iran is threatening to leave the NPT and may be able to produce bomb-grade material within a few years. The existing nuclear-weapon states, including China, India, and Pakistan, could use another round of testing to perfect new and more dangerous nuclear-weapon capabilities.

Indeed, support for the treaty has steadily grown, as 176 states have signed the CTBT and 135 have ratified it. But the U.S. Senate’s highly partisan 1999 rejection of the CTBT, the ideologically driven opposition of the Bush administration, and the reluctance of nine other CTBT “rogue states” have delayed its formal entry into force and left the door open to renewed nuclear testing.
The current U.S. policy is most problematic and perplexing. Since 2001, the Bush administration has said it will not seek Senate reconsideration and approval for ratification. Senior officials say the CTBT is neither verifiable nor compatible with maintaining the existing U.S. stockpile.

At the same time, there is no requirement for new warheads that would necessitate renewed U.S. testing, and senior officials repeatedly say there is no other need for the resumption of nuclear testing in the foreseeable future. As a signatory, the United States is also bound by customary international law not to take any action contrary to the purpose of the CTBT. The Bush approach requires the United States to assume most CTBT-related responsibilities but robs U.S. diplomats of the moral and political authority to prod other nations to refrain from testing and help strengthen the nonproliferation system.

As 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.) noted back in 1999, the Senate can and should reconsider the CTBT. “A clear majority of the Senate have not given up hope of finding common ground in our quest for a sound and secure ban on nuclear testing,” wrote Hagel.

If the next president were to press the Senate to reconsider and support ratification of the CTBT, that body would find that all the previous arguments against ratification have been soundly rebuffed. A July 2002 report of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) states that the United States “has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile under [a test ban].” The NAS report documents that no would-be CTBT violator could have confidence that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection. The CTBT international monitoring and on-site inspection system, buttressed by national intelligence, are more than equal to the task.

The United States is not the only guilty party. China, which signed the treaty in 1996, has said for more than three years that “all necessary work is underway in a serious and orderly fashion” to ratify. Beijing owes the world a detailed explanation for its continued delay.

Some prominent non-nuclear-weapon states whose ratification is needed for CTBT entry into force, including Columbia, Egypt, and Indonesia, have not ratified and should do so without delay. Action by these states, along with the United States, could help cure India’s CTBT allergy and lead New Delhi as well as Islamabad to enter into a legally binding test moratorium.

Overcoming the reluctance of the few also requires a stronger effort from the many friends of the CTBT. Unfortunately, top leaders of states committed to the CTBT, including Australia, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, often fail to press their counterparts in the CTBT holdout states when they have the opportunity.

CTBT entry into force is within reach. But because of the inaction of a few states, the viability of a verifiable, comprehensive ban on nuclear tests and the future of the NPT itself is in jeopardy. With the 2008 U.S. election approaching, it is vital that CTBT supporters put the treaty back on the U.S. political map and move to secure ratification by other key states before it is too late.

 

 

Posted: September 1, 2006

Next Stop: The NSG

Daryl G. Kimball

Within months, the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will move from the periphery to the center of a year-long debate about whether India should become eligible for full civil nuclear trade even though it does not yet observe the nonproliferation practices expected of other states. The outcome will have a profound impact on the future of the entire nonproliferation system.

The NSG was formed as a direct response to India’s 1974 bomb test, which used plutonium produced by foreign-supplied reactors that were supposed to be operated only for peaceful uses. Although the group’s guidelines are not binding, it has helped curtail the flow of dual-use technologies, materials, and nuclear fuel and reinforced the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The NSG debate will provide an opportunity for action by the leaders of states who correctly believe the U.S.-Indian proposal could further erode the nonproliferation system and allow India to expand its nuclear stockpile. When that time comes, possibly as soon as October, they have a responsibility to insist on a better alternative.

In June, two key congressional committees approved bills based on a July 2005 proposal from President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They called for granting India an unprecedented exemption from U.S. laws and NSG guidelines that restrict nuclear trade with states, such as India, that do not allow international safeguards of all nuclear sites. Among the provisions added by Congress, however, is a requirement that the president must win consensus approval from the NSG for nuclear trade with India.

So far, the NSG remains split on whether to grant India a country-specific exemption. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the main proponents, while the majority of other states have unresolved questions and concerns. Meanwhile, China and a handful of other states, including Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden remain opposed to creating a loophole for India without additional disarmament commitments from New Delhi.

One of the concerns of the skeptics is that an India-specific exemption from NSG guidelines would compromise efforts to restrict peaceful nuclear trade only to those states that have joined the NPT and meet global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament standards.

The U.S. proposal has already encouraged Russia to ignore NSG guidelines and supply India’s two Tarapur light-water reactors with nuclear fuel. At a later point, China may also seek similar exemptions for Pakistan, one of its allies and nuclear trading partners.

Many concerned NSG members also realize that the proposed separation of India’s civilian and military nuclear facilities and the application of international safeguards to additional civil facilities is more symbol than substance. If India gains access to advanced nuclear equipment, especially uranium-enrichment and plutonium-separation-related technology, it could be replicated and used to improve India’s weapons program.

Despite objections from the White House and New Delhi, the Senate legislation includes a partial prohibition on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology. But unless the NSG states also agree to bar such transfers, India could obtain these dual-use technologies from other willing suppliers.

Given that India has not joined the five original nuclear-weapon states in halting the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for bombs, many NSG governments worry that supplying nuclear fuel to India could allow it to devote its limited supply of uranium exclusively to its weapons program. That could lead to further arms competition among China, India, and Pakistan. So far, Congress has failed to require the president to certify that U.S. nuclear trade does not, in any way, assist India’s bomb program.

Unless the NSG requires that India join a multilateral fissile material cutoff regime before getting the full benefits of peaceful nuclear trade, India could increase its annual bomb production rate from about six to ten bombs to several dozen. The NSG should also condition full nuclear trade on the formalization of India’s eight-year-old nuclear test moratorium.

With Congress poised to vote on the committee-approved legislation for renewed U.S. civil nuclear trade with India, Washington, Paris, and London can be expected to press the NSG to take action this year. But there should be no rush to judgment.

Before the United States can deliver nuclear-related goods under the deal, India must first negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. U.S. and Indian negotiators must also resolve at least six major points of contention on a bilateral agreement for nuclear cooperation.

The Bush-Singh proposal to make a special exception to the nonproliferation rules and standards for India has the potential to undermine the NSG and the nonproliferation system. For NSG states concerned about the fragility of the nonproliferation system and the adverse impact of the India nuclear deal, this is the time for them to stand up in defense of their security priorities and the future of the nuclear nonproliferation system.

 

 

Posted: July 1, 2006

"Completely Nuts"

Daryl G. Kimball

As the international confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program gradually escalates, the Bush administration insists it is seeking a diplomatic solution even as it refuses to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive military strikes against Iran. President George W. Bush himself said last year, "I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table."

One option he certainly should rule out is the use of nuclear weapons. As former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently commented, a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Iran’s nuclear and leadership targets is "completely nuts," for several reasons.

The threat alone reduces the chance Tehran’s leaders will respond positively to multilateral diplomacy designed to persuade them to halt Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and accept more intrusive international inspections. A nuclear or conventional strike on Iran’s nuclear complex would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, enhance popular support for its radical leaders, and provide it with a rationale to pursue nuclear weapons openly. Worse still, it could inflict mass casualties, trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles, and prompt terrorist attacks against U.S. targets abroad and at home. Bush’s foray into Iraq would become even more costly.

Iran has violated its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguards, but it says its program is solely for peaceful purposes and that it has a "right" under the NPT to pursue it. Although outsiders cannot be sure if Iran has made a strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons, Tehran could have the capacity to mass-produce bomb-grade nuclear material within several years if it continues to improve and expand its enrichment facilities.

Since August, diplomatic efforts by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have broken down, and Iran has resumed enrichment and stopped certain inspections. European offers of access to foreign sources of nuclear fuel and economic integration could not overcome the prestige Iran now associates with nuclear technology and Tehran’s concern about U.S.-led regime change intentions.

New U.S. diplomatic overtures are less likely to succeed so long as the threat of force, especially nuclear force, is held out as an option. Unfortunately, credible press reports indicate that the U.S. government is refining plans for conventional air strikes against some 400 key nuclear and leadership targets in Iran. These plans include contingencies for nuclear strikes using B61 Mod 11 bombs against Iran’s major underground uranium-enrichment facilities.

The Bush administration is not the first to convey ambiguous nuclear threats against non-nuclear-weapon adversaries. When asked about the possible use of nuclear weapons against a Libyan chemical weapons installation in April 1996, a Clinton administration spokesperson said, "We would not foreclose any options for dealing with that threat."

Yet, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi continued his pursuit of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for several years. Only after quiet, direct engagement with U.S. and British officials and offers of normalized trade and diplomatic relations, an end to sanctions, and increased foreign investment did Libya agree in December 2003 to renounce its unconventional weapons. Without a public and direct threat of attack, Gaddafi could claim that he arrived at his decision "voluntarily."

Now, the Bush administration believes that if Tehran’s leaders can be made to believe Bush is willing to attack, even with nuclear weapons, they will soften or reverse their position. Think again. Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he is willing to hold talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear agenda but not with Israel or countries that hold "bombs over our head." His defiance has won him broader support in Iran.

The threat of force also makes it more difficult to win international support for a new package of incentives and disincentives that would give Iran a clear choice between the benefits of nuclear restraint and compliance or international financial and economic strangulation.

U.S. officials have sought a fresh UN Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which could lead either to sanctions or the use of military force if Iran does not comply. With the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in mind, veto-wielding China and Russia want it to rule out the use of force. European officials have said they would not support a military attack.

A new and more comprehensive diplomatic push is needed. In exchange for the indefinite suspension of Iran’s uranium-enrichment program and full cooperation with international inspections, the major powers should not only offer Iran guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies and trade benefits, but also normalized diplomatic relations and binding negative security guarantees as well.

Just as Iran should not necessarily exercise its "rights" under the NPT to enrich uranium, which could be used for weapons production, certain U.S. military options should not be considered, let alone pursued.

 

 

Posted: June 1, 2006

Iran: Breaking the Cycle of Escalation

Daryl G. Kimball

Since talks between Iran and three leading European states fell apart last August, the impasse over Iran's nuclear program has steadily worsened. Each time Washington and its European partners ratchet up international pressure on Iran to slow its nuclear efforts and provide greater transparency, Tehran has pushed back and accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program, which could eventually be used to produce bomb-grade material.

Consequently, the main antagonists are moving further away from the diplomatic solution both say they want. As a result, we may eventually see a military confrontation, a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, or both. If such perilous outcomes are to be averted, Washington and Tehran need to engage in direct talks aimed at a grand bargain that addresses each of their concerns.

Last month, in defiance of a UN Security Council statement calling for an immediate suspension of all enrichment activities, Iran announced that it had produced a small quantity of reactor-grade uranium using a test assembly of centrifuges and said it plans to expand the facility's production capacity for "peaceful" purposes.

In response, the United States is calling for "strong steps" to force Tehran to abandon its uranium-enrichment program. U.S. officials say they want a Security Council resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would designate Iran's nuclear program as a threat to international security.

Bush administration officials say they favor a diplomatic solution even as they seek to build support for multilateral sanctions and refuse to rule out the possibility of pre-emptive strikes on Iran's underground nuclear complex. Iran's leaders also say they are ready to hold further talks with the Europeans and Russians but have so far been unwilling to accept European offers of economic incentives and assurances of nuclear fuel supplies. If pressured further, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has hinted that Iran might withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Virtually all other states are alarmed by Iran's violation of its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards and refusal to exercise restraint. But Security Council members, including veto-wielding China and Russia, are understandably wary of a Chapter VII resolution because it would create a trip wire for sanctions or military strikes against Iran's underground facilities. This is the same formula pursued by the same U.S. administration in preparation for its imprudent 2003 invasion of Iraq. As a consequence, the council is divided on what to do next.

Avoiding a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is a vital objective for many reasons. If Iran develops a full-blown enrichment capacity, let alone nuclear weapons, several other key states, including Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, might feel compelled to follow suit. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability may also embolden radical groups supported by Tehran.

However, Iran has not mastered uranium-enrichment technology and will not likely be able to amass enough fissile material for bombs for several years. There is sufficient time to adopt and pursue a new diplomatic approach that can break the current cycle of crisis escalation.

Avoiding the worst requires that the United States and Iran engage in direct talks on the nuclear question and take the other's security concerns seriously. Iran's leaders need to accept that the only way to establish confidence that their once-secret nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes is to suspend enrichment work for a substantial period and cooperate fully with international inspectors.

U.S. allies must also press the Bush administration to rule out pre-emptive military action as long as Iran does not openly pursue nuclear weapons development or support attacks of any kind on the United States or our allies in the region. Pre-emptive attacks could spark a wider war and incite Iranian-supported terrorism against U.S. interests. Such strikes would only delay Iran's nuclear program and tilt Iranian opinion in favor of building nuclear weapons.

Given the stakes, Western states, along with Russia, must fortify their previous offers of economic trade and integration, as well as legally binding nuclear fuel supply guarantees and a joint nuclear fuel production partnership in Russia. Russia and other states must also hold off further assistance for Iran's nearly completed Bushehr reactor project and Iran's military forces.

As President George H. W. Bush did 15 years ago, leading states should also convene talks on a framework for arms control and stability that aims to curb the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East. The effort should be designed to establish a regional, verifiable ban on the production and acquisition of weapons-usable nuclear material and the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, including both Israel and Iran.

The current Bush-Cheney vision may be too limited to see the value of these steps. But the administration's strategy of incremental coercive diplomacy is not working and may in fact be an exercise designed to fail. Either way, the stakes are too high not to pursue a new and more effective diplomatic strategy.

 

Posted: May 1, 2006

Another Chance for the Fissile Production Ban

Daryl G. Kimball

Cutting off production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium—has been on the international nonproliferation and arms control agenda for decades. But since the late 1990s, the concept has been relegated to the diplomatic shadows as talks on a global verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) have sputtered due to differences over negotiating priorities. The current impasse is due to U.S. opposition to the negotiation of a verifiable treaty or to discussions on other arms topics at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament.

Now, with its controversial proposal for full civil nuclear assistance to India, the Bush administration has, perhaps inadvertently, put the fissile material cutoff back in the spot light. To jump-start progress on an FMCT and help ensure that civil nuclear trade with India will not aid its weapons program, Congress and the international community must press for concrete action on the fissile production cutoff.

Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush agreed to a plan that would “separate” India’s civil and military nuclear programs and phase-in safeguards on more but far from all of its civil nuclear reactors. Bush then proposed India-specific exemptions to U.S. laws and the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which restrict trade with non-nuclear-weapon states, including India, that do not accept safeguards over all their nuclear facilities.

Singh also agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities. Bush administration officials such as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns acknowledge that “the United States and many of the other nuclear powers do have a moratorium on fissile material production.” On March 23, he told reporters that the administration would “encourage other countries to adopt the same practice.”

In the world of nuclear politics, however, encouragement alone is not enough. Burns and other U.S. negotiators failed to win any tangible commitments from India to limit its fissile material production capacity. Singh proudly declared, “[T]here will be no capping of our strategic program,” and “no constraint has been placed on our right to construct new facilities for strategic purposes.”

Indeed, the plan would allow India to exclude from safeguards all of its military production facilities, plus as many as eight additional power reactors and existing spent nuclear fuel. India’s fast breeder reactors, which are particularly well suited for weapons-grade plutonium production, would be kept off-limits.

As a result, a growing number of congressional members and NSG states believe the administration gave up too much and got few, if any, nonproliferation benefits. They are concerned that the proposal would implicitly endorse, if not indirectly assist the growth of India’s nuclear arsenal. Indeed, foreign nuclear reactor fuel supplies could free up India’s limited uranium reserves for the sole purpose of adding to its arsenal of 50-100 nuclear bombs. Not only would the U.S. proposal undermine the nonproliferation system, but it could also lead Pakistan to increase its fissile production and tempt China to resume fissile production for weapons.

Many policymakers are also asking why there should be a special loophole for a state that has not agreed to halt fissile material production or sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as the international community has called on India to do. Following India’s and Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear blasts, the United States and the rest of the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1172, which urges both states to “stop their nuclear weapons development programmes [and] cease any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.”

U.S. and Indian diplomats have tried to deflect suggestions that the deal should place limits on India ’s bomb program, noting that India has declared support for U.S. efforts to negotiate an FMCT. This pledge means little given that India understandably prefers a verifiable cutoff treaty, a goal the Bush administration opposes and claims (incorrectly) is unattainable.

Given the current political stalemate in Geneva, talks might only begin if the United States finally agreed to negotiations on an FMCT “without prejudice” to the final outcome on verification and allowed discussions on other weapons issues of concern to China, Russia, and non-nuclear-weapon states. Getting talks started would be useful but insufficient. China, India, Pakistan, and possibly others could produce more material for weapons as negotiators spend years trying to resolve thorny differences over verification and other issues.

To leverage action on an FMCT and begin to address the flawed proposal for nuclear assistance to India, Congress and NSG member states should refuse to relax nuclear trade rules with India until it halts production of fissile material for weapons purposes. At the same time, they should urge others to halt fissile material production pending the conclusion of a verifiable FMCT. If they do not, the proposal for nuclear cooperation with India would constitute a dangerous sellout of core nonproliferation goals and could become the catalyst for an Asian nuclear arms race.

 

Posted: April 1, 2006

Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle

Daryl G. Kimball

Three years after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had secretly built uranium-enrichment facilities, diplomatic opportunities to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are narrowing fast.

To improve the chances for success, U.S. and European leaders must pursue a more comprehensive diplomatic strategy. They must further reduce Iran’s incentives to enrich uranium and motives to acquire the bomb. They also need to strengthen the IAEA’s authority while maintaining broad international support for greater Iranian restraint and compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

In August 2005, Iran rejected inducements by the European Union to suspend its enrichment program and restarted enrichment-related work. That gave IAEA member states little choice but to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreements in September and to report Iran’s file to the UN Security Council last month.

Despite the 27-3 IAEA Board of Governors vote, Iran’s leaders seem more determined than ever to proceed with uranium enrichment, which they say is solely for nuclear reactor fuel production but which can also create bomb-grade fissile material. In recent days, Tehran ended its voluntary cooperation with enhanced IAEA inspections and restarted small-scale enrichment experiments in defiance of IAEA member-state requests not to do so.

In response, the United States and the EU, along with Russia and possibly China, are expected to pursue a strategy in the Security Council of targeted political and economic sanctions. By itself, this will not likely induce Iran to suddenly reverse course, let alone stick with a decision to suspend uranium enrichment.

It offers little gain and high costs, but the pursuit of nuclear technology has become a popular rallying cry for Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s leaders are betting they can avoid meaningful penalties or, as India and Pakistan did, wait for international support for nonproliferation-related sanctions to erode.

Although there is no direct evidence of an illegal nuclear weapons program today, neither has the IAEA been able to determine that Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran requires several more years to master the operation of centrifuge cascades and construct a large-scale plant that can produce highly enriched uranium for bombs. It would also take time to develop a bomb capable of delivery on a missile. But if Iran can master enrichment on research scale, Iran could pursue a clandestine nuclear weapons program, especially in the absence of intrusive inspections.

To avoid such an outcome, several steps must now be pursued and others avoided. The EU and Russia should redouble their efforts to provide Iran with a face-saving option to continue uranium-enrichment research and get a guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel through the managed use of Russian facilities. This approach would not require Iran to disavow its “right” as a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to “peaceful” nuclear pursuits.

At the same time, the international community must demonstrate it will respond to Iran’s defiance by strengthening the IAEA’s authority in Iran and elsewhere. The Security Council could adopt a resolution stipulating that if a state is in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement, the agency’s verification authority will automatically expand until questions about possible nuclear weapons activity are resolved. The council could also require a noncompliant state to accept permanent, facility-specific IAEA safeguards. This would legally preclude the state from using equipment, facilities, and nuclear material for weapons purposes if it decides to withdraw from the NPT.

Such measures would not only strengthen the NPT but would ensure that IAEA inspections and reports, rather than potentially politically biased national intelligence assessments, serve as the basis for compliance actions. They would also provide noncompliant states a way to demonstrate they have taken corrective steps and help deter states from frivolously withdrawing from the NPT in the future.

Other tactics, such as punitive economic sanctions against a major oil exporter such as Iran, could divide and immobilize the Security Council or else provoke Iranian countermoves and even lead Iran to withdraw from the NPT. Washington-funded “regime change” initiatives will only harden Iranian resistance. The effect of a pre-emptive strike by Israel or the United States on Iran’s nuclear complex would be temporary, provide a rationale for Iran openly to pursue nuclear weapons, and could trigger a regional war involving exchanges of ballistic missiles.

Rather than rushing toward confrontation with an uncertain outcome, the Bush administration must overcome its historic antipathy toward meaningful engagement with Iran. The people of Iran need to see that nuclear restraint and compliance will put Iran on a path toward peace and prosperity. Too much is at stake not to offer a better U.S.-Iranian political relationship, including a mutual nonaggression pledge, which is essential to changing Iranian perceptions that it should retain a nuclear weapons option.

There is no quick fix. Renewed and more creative diplomacy remains the only practical way to resolve the Iranian nuclear puzzle.

 

Posted: March 1, 2006

India's Choice, Congress' Responsibility

Daryl G. Kimball

Sometime this year, Congress will be formally asked to allow the resumption of full civil nuclear cooperation with India, which was restricted following New Delhi’s 1974 nuclear bomb test.

If Congress and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) approve the deal, which was unveiled in July 2005, countries could supply nuclear fuel and equipment to India for civil purposes under international safeguards. In exchange, India has claimed it will separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as the five original nuclear-weapon states.

But as more members of Congress are realizing, the purported benefits of the proposal are illusory, and unless they legislate significant changes to the original plan, the damage to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) could be severe.

The existing terms of the proposal would not oblige New Delhi to undertake the same practices as the five original nuclear-weapon states, including signature of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Nor would it commit India to an “early cessation of the arms race” and disarmament, as Article VI of the NPT requires.

Furthermore, the deal could erode overall confidence in the already fragile NPT regime because it might provide India—one of only a handful of NPT holdouts—with the benefits of membership without requiring it to live up to the responsibilities of the treaty’s 183 non-nuclear-weapon states. Such states are eligible for civil nuclear assistance only if they comply with comprehensive, “full scope” safeguards. The NSG agreed in 1992 to limit trade only to states that accept full-scope safeguards, a policy championed by the administration of George H. W. Bush.

But perhaps worst of all, the arrangement could violate one of the most fundamental principles of the global nonproliferation system: Article I of the NPT stipulates that states shall “not in any way” assist the nuclear weapons programs of others. To avoid such an outcome, Congress should insist on permanent, facility-specific safeguards on a mutually agreed and broad list of current and future Indian civilian nuclear facilities. In addition, India must halt the production of fissile material for weapons (as the five original nuclear-weapon states have done) pending a verifiable global production ban.

So far, India has pledged only to accept “voluntary” safeguards over nuclear facilities that it chooses to designate as civilian. That could allow India to withdraw any nuclear facility or nuclear weapons-usable material from international safeguards for national security reasons. Such an arrangement provides no objective guarantee that foreign nuclear technology or spent fuel might not be used for India’s nuclear bomb program.

Such concerns are well founded. India improperly utilized the Canadian-supplied and U.S.-fueled CIRUS reactor to produce the plutonium for its 1974 test and to help increase its fissile stockpile, which is now estimated to be enough for 50 or more nuclear bombs.

In recent statements, senior Bush administration officials have adjusted their pitch, noting that Congress and the NSG will not tolerate the deal unless it is “credible from a nonproliferation perspective.” On Nov. 2, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told a congressional committee that “voluntary” safeguards are not acceptable and they “must be applied in perpetuity.”

That’s a good start. But in the absence of a fissile production cutoff, foreign nuclear fuel supplies could free up India’s existing capacity to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons. Indian nuclear hawks such as K. Subrahmanyan openly argue that, in order to expand India’s arsenal, it should “categorize as many reactors as possible as civilian” to facilitate foreign refueling and conserve India’s scarce “native uranium fuel for weapon-grade plutonium production.”

Indian officials and their paid lobbyists insist that the proposal should have nothing to do with India’s strategic program. They say that a fissile production cutoff is not on the table. According to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, “These suggestions are deal-breakers.”

Perhaps they are. But if India is really only interested in a “minimum credible deterrent,” there is no need for additional fissile production. Alternatively, the continued expansion of India’s arsenal would force Pakistan to increase its nuclear and missile arsenal and encourage China to continue modernizing its forces. Rather than facilitating an arms race in Asia, U.S. and Indian policy should be aligned to halt and reverse it.

Some baldly assert that the deal is worth the high costs because it would draw India within the U.S. sphere of influence. Such talk is fanciful given India’s fiercely independent political history and interest in preserving good relations with China, Russia, and even Iran on its own terms.

It is, of course, up to India to choose whether it keeps its nuclear weapons options open or whether it wants to expand its energy output with nuclear technology. But it is the responsibility of the president and Congress not to aid and abet any other state’s nuclear bomb program and unravel the nonproliferation system.

 

Posted: January 1, 2006

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