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"[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

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

"Getting Serious" About North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

Despite the breakthrough agreement in September on a Joint Statement of Principles outlining a series of action-for-action steps to denuclearize North Korea in a verifiable manner, the main antagonists are again at odds over the substance and sequencing of the deal.

Following an unproductive round of six-party talks last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on North Korea to “get serious” about dismantling its nuclear program. North Korea, however, insists that the United States must act first before it freezes and then dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

Enough already. To break the cycle and test Pyongyang’s seriousness, President George W. Bush should borrow a page from his father’s playbook: unilateral, reciprocal actions that demonstrate the good faith of both sides and improve the likelihood of success.

Fourteen years ago, North Korea and South Korea were at odds over an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. To help break the impasse, the first Bush administration decided in late 1991 to remove U.S. tactical nuclear warheads from the peninsula. On December 31 of that year, the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was signed.

Unfortunately, the rules and methods for verification were left for later, and North Korea resisted calls for international inspections. A year later and after considerable internal debate, officials in the George H. W. Bush administration decided to take a second, bold, but low-cost step: it temporarily suspended the annual “Team Spirit” military exercises with South Korea, prompting North Korea finally to announce it would allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Although the denuclearization agreement and the subsequent 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration ultimately fell apart, it was because leaders on each side failed to follow through on their baseline commitments through concrete action.

Today, following the 2002 disclosures about North Korea’s secret uranium-enrichment efforts and its ejection of inspectors in 2003, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States understand they must hammer out verification arrangements in advance. The task is to ensure that North Korea has frozen its nuclear material production activities, accounted for all of its plutonium, and dismantled any nuclear weapons it may have. Washington is reportedly preparing a list of sites that will be subject to intrusive monitoring, a list that the North will not easily accept.

Bush administration officials are urging North Korea to begin the disarmament process by suspending its plutonium separation operations at Yongbyon. Doing so would give both sides more diplomatic breathing space and restore the valuable plutonium production freeze established by the Agreed Framework.

Bush hard-liners, however, have not allowed U.S. negotiators to bargain with North Korea to achieve this result for fear that they appear to be pursuing Clinton’s past policy. That is counterproductive. Unless it reimposes a freeze, North Korea can continue to produce and perhaps to export nuclear bomb material.

For its part, North Korea has said it wants a light-water nuclear power reactor before it “dismantles its nuclear deterrent” and rejoins the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States has balked, saying it will be willing to discuss the civilian nuclear assistance at “an appropriate time.” That is the right stance for now. No state, whether it is India, Iran, North Korea, or South Korea should have access to such nuclear assistance if it is not in compliance with the NPT and does not allow for comprehensive safeguards.

But the nuclear reactor and sequencing issues should not be allowed to become deal-breakers. The United States and others should recognize that Pyongyang’s demand for reactors represents something more fundamental: the importance of tangible steps on the part of each side to show their good-faith commitment to terms of the Joint Statement.

North Korea is particularly interested in steps that recognize its sovereignty and provide assurances against attack. A North Korean government editorial published Oct. 26 by the state-run news agency urges the United States “to show…a practical action to remove mistrust and hostility between the two sides and create an atmosphere of confidence.”

To overcome present-day hurdles, the United States could announce it will cancel the next round of annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which continue to rile the North Korean regime. If North Korea reciprocates by suspending activities at Yongbyon, the United States might also pledge to withdraw some of its strike aircraft from the region to demonstrate its commitment to its pledge in the Joint Statement that it has no intention to attack or invade the North.

The opportunity for progress through the six-party process may be fleeting. All sides, especially the United States and North Korea, must be willing to undertake the bold and necessary steps to keep the diplomatic process moving, reduce longstanding tension, and prevent the emergence of a ninth nuclear-armed state.

 

Of Madmen and Nukes

Daryl G. Kimball

Chinese Major General Zhu Chenghu told journalists last July that China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the United States if it targets Chinese ships, aircraft, or territory in a confrontation over Taiwan. “We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds…of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese,” he warned.

With Zhu’s suicidal nuclear threats as backdrop, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told his military counterparts in Beijing last month that “advances in China’s strategic strike capacity raise questions” about its intentions. Rumsfeld suggested that “greater clarity would generate more certainty in the region.”

Excellent points, Mr. Secretary. But China, of course, is not the only state to amass nuclear weapons to defend and advance its interests. Although other Chinese officials disavowed Zhu’s remarks, he is not the first to suggest, officially or unofficially, that his government is “mad” enough to use massive nuclear force against conventional attacks.

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, U.S. presidents have developed policies and issued statements intended to make nuclear threats appear credible and create uncertainty about when and where they might be used. As unnerving as China’s estimated arsenal of 100-400 nuclear weapons and Zhu’s remarks may be, Beijing’s official no-first-use policy arguably makes its posture more restrained than that of the United States today.

To deter other nuclear-armed states, particularly Russia, from attacking with their nuclear arms, current U.S. strategy calls for the maintenance of a massive arsenal of approximately 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on high alert through 2012 and beyond. In addition, the United States will still possess some 3,000 additional strategic warheads in storage and several hundred substrategic weapons.

The Pentagon’s March 2005 draft “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” also outlines a wide range of options to deal with non-nuclear scenarios. It would allow for the possible first use of nuclear weapons to help support U.S. forces or allies against conventional attacks, such as a conflict with China over Taiwan, as well as other scenarios, including pre-emptive nuclear strikes on suspected chemical or biological weapons targets in non-nuclear-weapon states.

Given the absence of a hostile, well-armed nuclear adversary, U.S. conventional military dominance, and the possibility that additional states might acquire nuclear weapons, is such a large U.S. arsenal and expansive view of the role of nuclear weapons necessary, justifiable, and sustainable? No.

There is no conceivable circumstance in which the United States would need to use or could justify the use of nuclear weapons to fight or terminate a conventional conflict with a non-nuclear adversary. On several occasions, U.S. presidents from Truman and Eisenhower to Kennedy, Nixon, and George H. W. Bush have considered the limited use of nuclear weapons in tactical situations, but they have always rejected doing so. The calculus should be no different today.

Policies that assert a war-fighting role for nuclear weapons only deepen the risk of proliferation. They undermine existing pledges by nuclear-weapon states that they will not use nuclear arms against countries without them. They give states such as North Korea and Iran a cynical excuse to maintain their nuclear weapons options and send a green light to nuclear rivals India and Pakistan to contemplate their battlefield use.

The lessons of the Cuban missile crisis and other U.S.-Soviet confrontations during the Cold War make clear that even limited nuclear engagement risks escalation and unacceptable annihilation. Nuclear weapons are, therefore, not a realistic war-fighting option in a conventional conflict against a nuclear-armed adversary.

Some nuclear acolytes believe new types of weapons are needed to provide “credible” options against future adversaries and targets, including underground bunkers and chemical or biological threats. Such thinking ignores the reality that employing any nuclear weapon would produce disproportionate and unacceptable collateral destruction and severe political fallout.

A saner nuclear weapons policy is feasible and overdue. As long as the United States and others possess nuclear weapons, their role should be limited to deterring other states from using them. Further, if that is their only function, there is no reason why the United States cannot observe a policy of no-first-use. Nor would there be any need to develop and test new nuclear-weapon capabilities or maintain Cold War-sized arsenals on high alert, a condition that risks accidental or unauthorized launch.

It has been 60 years since the last nuclear bomb was used in war. Perhaps more than any other state, the United States has the most to lose if others not only seek to acquire nuclear weapons but come to view them as legitimate and useful instruments of coercion and war. But if U.S. policymakers expect nuclear restraint from China and other states, they must reconsider and readjust the role of U.S. nuclear forces.

 

Preventing a Nuclear Katrina

Daryl G. Kimball

Surveying the devastation the day after Hurricane Katrina struck Gulf Coast towns and cities, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) likened the storm force to a nuclear attack. “I can only imagine this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago,” he told reporters. Not quite, Governor.

The blast, fire, and radiation effects of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945 and injured still more. A similar weapon used today against a major city would wreak similar or even more extensive death and damage.

The nation must and will help the greater New Orleans region recover from the worst U.S. natural disaster in decades, but there is no evacuation or post-disaster triage plan sufficient to deal with a terrorist attack with even a “small” nuclear weapon, let alone a conflict between states involving nuclear weapons. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it mildly when he asked, “[I]f we can’t respond faster to an event we saw coming across the Gulf [of Mexico] for days, then why do we think we’re prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?”

The only cure is prevention. Success primarily depends on depriving terrorists access to nuclear bomb material, which they cannot produce on their own. But it only takes about 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) or 8 kilograms of plutonium to fashion a nuclear bomb. Worldwide, there are about 1,900 metric tons of HEU and more than 1,800 tons of plutonium in civilian and military stockpiles in dozens of countries. In the absence of U.S. support for a global, verifiable ban on fissile material production for military purposes and a phaseout of production for civilian purposes, the stocks will only grow.

Significant quantities of nuclear weapons-usable material remain all too vulnerable as a result of inadequate security and accounting at hundreds of nuclear facilities, particularly in the former Soviet republics. The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented at least 18 cases of theft or smuggling of weapons-usable fissile material since 1993. In July, Georgia disclosed it had thwarted four more attempts to steal HEU over the last two years. Russia also possesses at least 3,000 relatively more portable and less secure tactical nuclear weapons.

Just as essential levee protection and Louisiana coastal wetlands restoration projects were ignored or shortchanged, the president and most members of Congress have also failed to act on many of the recommendations of expert panels on nuclear terrorism. The 2001 bipartisan Baker-Cutler task force report on Department of Energy nonproliferation programs with Russia praised the program’s “impressive results” but warned that diffuse management and budget shortfalls leave an “unacceptable risk of failure” with potentially “catastrophic consequences.”

The panel recommended ramping up funding for nuclear security in Russia to $3 billion annually for 10 years. Nevertheless, critical nuclear threat reduction programs were cut in the fiscal year 2002 budget submission. Congress later restored the funding, and the administration has sought and received substantial contributions from European allies. In the administration’s latest budget request, Energy and Department of Defense programs to secure nuclear material and weapons were approximately $515 million.

Some projects have been accelerated. U.S. officials report they have “secured” 75 percent of Russia’s estimated 600 metric tons of plutonium and HEU and will complete the rest by 2008. Additionally, nearly 50 of Russia’s known nuclear warhead sites now have state-of-the-art security. Still, there may be as many as 100 sites that do not. Clearly, there is more that must be done and quickly.

Congress itself has complicated and slowed the work by requiring the president to certify Russian compliance with arms control agreements before releasing funds for securing and disposing of Russia’s dangerous nuclear and chemical stockpiles. This year, Congress should finally pass legislation to suspend this self-defeating requirement. To overcome lingering distrust, break through disputes about who is liable for accidents, and reaffirm their mutual commitment to the task, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin must corral their own bureaucracies and put nuclear threat reduction at the top of the agenda.

One of their highest priorities should be higher funding and early completion of the Energy Department’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative. This includes returning U.S. and Russian-origin HEU and spent fuel from vulnerable sites throughout the world and converting the 105 civil research reactors that use HEU fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel. They should also agree to new tactical nuclear weapons transparency and security arrangements and begin to decommission and dismantle obsolete tactical nuclear weapons based in Europe and elsewhere.

As Bush himself said in 2001 about the threat of nuclear terrorism, “History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act.” Mr. President, now is the time to accelerate action on effective measures aimed at preventing the ultimate disaster before it is too late.

 

U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation: A Reality Check

Daryl G. Kimball

Leaders in Washington and New Delhi claim their July 18 civil nuclear cooperation and nonproliferation deal is a transformational event that will deepen the ties between the two countries and strengthen the effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. The agreement is indeed historic, but a sober reading reveals that the nonproliferation benefits are vastly overstated and the damage to the nonproliferation regime is potentially high.

The deal calls for broad civil nuclear cooperation for the first time since India’s 1974 nuclear test explosion, which demonstrated that New Delhi was willing to use “civilian” technology assistance to build nuclear weapons and was determined not to join the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

However, President George W. Bush will have to convince Congress to make sweeping changes in U.S. nonproliferation laws that restrict the export and licensing of nuclear and dual-use materials and technologies. Bush also will have to persuade the world’s 44 other major nuclear technology suppliers to bend rules forbidding assistance to nonmembers of the NPT unless they accept comprehensive, “full-scope” nuclear safeguards.

This radical new approach, if implemented, would effectively grant India highly sought-after access to sensitive nuclear technology only accorded to states in full compliance with global nonproliferation standards. It would also treat India in much the same way as the five original nuclear-weapon states by exempting it from meaningful international nuclear inspections. It is a virtual endorsement of India’s nuclear weapons status.

What is wrong with that? It would make the job of blocking the spread of nuclear weapons more difficult, if not now, then in the future. Other “responsible” countries have for decades remained true to the original NPT bargain and forsworn nuclear weapons in return for access to peaceful nuclear technology under strict and verifiable control. Many of these states made this choice despite strong pressure to spurn the NPT and pursue the nuclear weapons path. They might make a different choice in the future if India is allowed to have their radioactive cake and eat it too.

For his part, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities. He agreed to some new nuclear practices, and he reiterated some of India’s modest nuclear restraint commitments. The main selling point is that India would identify its civilian and its military nuclear assets and put the civilian facilities under safeguards and allow tighter inspections under the terms of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

If India were to receive technical assistance for nuclear energy, clearly separating its civilian and military programs is essential to ensure that outside assistance is not directly used to build bombs. But the core purpose of nuclear safeguards and the Model Additional Protocol is to detect and deter the diversion of nuclear weapons material and related technology to the military sector. The application of such safeguards only to the civilian sector would do little or nothing to limit or even monitor India’s production of fissile material for weapons.

If the IAEA negotiates an additional protocol agreement similar to the symbolic ones that apply to the five original nuclear-weapon states, India would be permitted to exclude military-related facilities and even portions of civilian facilities on “national security” grounds. As a result, India might continue to use spent fuel from power generation reactors to acquire plutonium for weapons.

The Bush-Singh agreement also commits India to refrain from transferring sensitive nuclear and missile technology. India deserves credit for these actions, but these are minimal steps that every country with such capabilities should be expected to undertake. At the same time, India continues to engage in a destabilizing missile race with Pakistan.

There are no measures in the July communiqué that would restrain India’s nuclear weapons program. If India wants to become a responsible nuclear-weapon state with a “minimum nuclear deterrent” capability, it must be prepared to stop producing fissile material as the five original nuclear-weapon states claim to have done and actively support the conclusion of a verifiable fissile material production cutoff treaty. It must be prepared to declare at least some of its nuclear material excess to its military programs and place that material under international safeguards. It must also be prepared to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as the original five nuclear-weapon states have done.

Bush’s gambit to radically revise U.S. nonproliferation law and policy demands detailed congressional hearings and revisions. Making far-reaching exceptions to existing international nuclear nonproliferation practices might only be justified if the nonproliferation and disarmament commitments outlined in the Bush-Singh statement significantly strengthened the nonproliferation regime. As of now, they do not.

 

Repairing the Nonproliferation Regime

Daryl G. Kimball

Six decades after the first atomic blasts, the world’s leaders agree that nuclear weapons pose one of the greatest threats to global security and human existence. But as the recently concluded nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference demonstrates, there is a growing divide about how to address this danger. The four week-long conference closed in New York on May 27 without any agreed assessment or plan to bolster the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Future progress will depend on correcting the policies that sank the 2005 review conference. Well before the meeting, the Bush administration signaled that it would not support core disarmament-related commitments and decisions made at the 2000 and 1995 review conferences, including supporting the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, irreversibly and verifiably reducing nuclear arms, and negotiating a verifiable ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. Yet, U.S. representatives claimed their disarmament record is “unassailable.” At the same time, they argued that peaceful nuclear cooperation is put at risk unless cases of noncompliance involving North Korea and Iran are forcefully addressed.

Predictably, Egypt and other nonaligned states did not want to allow the repudiation of past NPT conference commitments, which include pursuit of a nuclear-free Middle East and negative nuclear security assurances. Meanwhile, Iran, under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency for safeguards violations, mischaracterized concern about its nuclear ambitions as an assault on developing states’ treaty “right” to peaceful nuclear endeavors. As a result, participants took weeks reaching agreement on an agenda and none of the three “main committees” could produce consensus reports.

U.S. officials deny any responsibility for the breakdown of the conference and blame Cairo’s stubborn resistance. But Egypt and others might have been more flexible if the United States did not seek to discard prior NPT agreements. U.S. intransigence scuttled the chance for agreement on Western proposals to make treaty withdrawal more difficult; toughen treaty monitoring, compliance, and enforcement; and tighten controls on nuclear weapons-related technology.

The NPT remains vital, but a crucial opportunity to strengthen it was squandered. Overcoming the differences revealed at the 2005 NPT Review Conference and avoiding further setbacks will not be easy but are possible, especially if the United States can adopt a more balanced, pragmatic, and flexible strategy.

The most urgent tasks are the resumption of talks leading to the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and the successful conclusion of an agreement between the European Union and Iran that recognizes Iran’s “right” to pursue peaceful nuclear endeavors but produces a voluntary and indefinite freeze of its uranium enrichment program. Failure on either front could lead neighboring countries to rethink their nuclear options and/or lead to a military confrontation.

The Bush administration must seize on North Korea’s recently stated intention to resume long-stalled negotiations on its nuclear program and be prepared to offer a new and more practical proposal to resolve the crisis. To increase Iran’s incentives to cooperate and comply with the NPT, the White House must make it clear that it will not seek regime change and that it will support the guaranteed and controlled supply of nuclear energy fuel as a substitute for an Iranian uranium enrichment program.

To prevent the further production and proliferation of weapons-usable nuclear material, the United States, EU, and others should back an indefinite moratorium on all new uranium enrichment and plutonium separation plants. Even with tougher international inspection authority and tighter controls on nuclear technology transfers, confidence in the nonproliferation system will erode if more states produce more nuclear bomb material. The pause would provide time to consider options for the guaranteed supply of nuclear energy fuel services and launch long-stalled talks on a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons.

Finally, the leaders of the nuclear-weapon states must restore confidence that they will continue to reduce the number and the role of nuclear weapons. It is in the United States’ self-interest to resume talks with Russia on verifiable strategic nuclear reductions before START I and its verification provisions expire in 2009. NATO should move to withdraw the obsolete U.S. tactical nuclear weapons stockpile in Europe to encourage Russia to account for and reduce its even larger tactical nuclear arsenal, parts of which could fall into terrorist hands. The nuclear-weapon states should also disavow the development of new types of nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear- weapon states and targets.

The dangers of the bomb are obvious and the need for action is as clear as ever. Without more effective global leadership in all—not just some—of these areas, the struggle against nuclear proliferation will fall short and leave behind an even more dangerous world for generations to come.

 

 

North Korea: Time for Results

Daryl G. Kimball

Nearly one year has passed since the last round of six-party talks between North Korea and the United States and four other Asian powers, designed to contain and reverse Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. With the prospects for dialogue fading and North Korea's capabilities growing, it is time for a new and more effective diplomatic strategy that has the full support of regional allies, keeps North Korea at the negotiating table, and begins to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Since ejecting international inspectors in 2002 and restarting its plutonium operations in 2003, North Korea is believed to have separated enough plutonium for as many as six bombs. In recent weeks, North Korea has shut down its reactor at Yongbyon to harvest a new batch of plutonium.

Now, some U.S. intelligence assessments suggest North Korea may be preparing to conduct a demonstration nuclear test explosion. A test would certainly dispel doubts about North Korea's capabilities, but it could precipitate military confrontation and lead other states to rethink their non-nuclear weapons status. An already dangerous situation would become a disaster.

Despite a failed policy, the Bush administration still insists that tough talk and pressure from China will convince Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table and agree to U.S. terms for disarmament. Not surprisingly, North Korea's insecure and isolated leaders have responded with a series of provocative statements and actions. After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny," North Korean officials made their most explicit claim about having "manufactured nukes."

Rather than changing course, the latest responses from Washington range from inadequate to impractical to imprudent. Some Bush officials try to downplay the crisis and at the same time suggest that rumors of nuclear test preparations should motivate China to cut off energy aid to North Korea and compel Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table. Other "anonymous administration officials" float trial balloons in the news media about possible U.S. efforts to win UN Security Council support for a virtual quarantine of North Korea.

Understandably, U.S. allies and partners in the region are deeply concerned and are as impatient with the United States as they are with North Korea. China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are urging North Korea to return to the multiparty talks and say that a nuclear test would result in strong punitive action. For now, however, China and South Korea are refusing to withhold economic and energy assistance to North Korea out of concern that it would worsen prospects for a peaceful solution.

Leaders in Beijing and Seoul also recognize that, before they exert their last bits of leverage on North Korea, the United States needs to demonstrate greater flexibility to give the next and perhaps last six-party meeting a chance. As former U.S. special envoy on North Korea Charles Pritchard told The Boston Globe, "You have got to explore the possibility of real dialogue before you declare failure. We haven't yet made a good faith effort."

Clearly, China and other states have a vital role to play. But if there still is a chance for diplomacy to work—and there is—it is the United States and North Korea that will ultimately have to strike a deal.

For instance, the White House should drop its long-standing policy not to negotiate directly with North Korea within or even outside the six-party process. Although multiparty talks can deliver maximum international leverage, progress should not be held hostage to process.

Fortunately, the administration may already be moving in this direction. On May 13, U.S. special envoy Joseph Ditrani and North Korea's UN ambassador quietly held direct "working level" talks in New York.

Further meetings, however, will do little in the absence of a realistic U.S. negotiating strategy. Diplomats on all sides must be authorized to go beyond fixed talking points and earlier positions. The last U.S. offer calls for North Korea to disarm before it would get firm security guarantees and economic assistance. North Korea demands the delivery of aid and security assurances first, to be followed by a suspension of some of its nuclear activities. Instead, the two sides should reconsider South Korea's 2004 three-phase plan of corresponding positive incentives in return for the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear capabilities following a clear timetable.

To maintain progress, regional powers, including China, must do their part and make clear that, if North Korea's deviates from any agreed deal, they are prepared to impose uncompromising economic and political pressure.

President George W. Bush is fond of noting that the "consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated...means little unless it is translated into action." Now is the time for meaningful action, before it is too late.

 

 

Replacement Nuclear Warheads? Buyer Beware

Daryl G. Kimball

Soon after President George W. Bush took office, the Pentagon proposed a controversial new plan for U.S. nuclear forces that calls for new low-yield warheads and enhancements of existing high-yield earth-penetrating weapons to expand U.S. nuclear attack options against future adversaries.

For two years, Congress grudgingly went along with the administration's new weapons research proposals. But last year, in a refreshing blast of common sense, a bipartisan coalition blocked funding for new design concepts and modi.cations of existing warheads to create a new Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). Lawmakers rightly concluded that the pursuit of such weapons undermines vital efforts to convince other states to exercise nuclear restraint as well as the credibility of U.S. disarmament commitments in the context of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Unfortunately, at the Pentagon's urging, the administration did not cut its losses on RNEP. Instead it has proposed that Congress spend another $22.5 million over the next two years to finish the research phase. The proposal is as flawed as before and should be rejected again.

Recognizing the lack of political support for new weapons, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is now trying to market a nuclear weapons product: new "reliable replacement warheads to sustain existing military capabilities" at lower cost and without nuclear test explosions. Last month, NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks told Congress the goal of the effort should be to develop and produce a "small build" of the new warheads by 2012-2015.

Reliable replacement warheads may sound more attractive, but in reality, the proposal is problematic. The rationale for the program is dubious, the scope is vague, and the potential effects far-reaching and dangerous. Congress must carefully define the scope and direction of the program, and it should not write a blank check.

First, new replacement warheads are not necessary to preserve existing U.S. nuclear-weapon capabilities. Each year, a representative sample of the existing arsenal is inspected to check for signs of deterioration, and limited-life components are replaced if necessary. Even the warhead's nuclear core can be remanufactured according to previously tested specifications.

As Brooks correctly notes, existing warhead designs are sophisticated and were designed to minimize size and weight and maximize yield, making them sensitive to significant changes and upgrades, especially to the nuclear components. But the reliability of existing warheads can be maintained if the weapons labs avoid unnecessary alterations to the existing weapons during refurbishment. In addition, the reliability of existing warheads can be improved without new designs or testing by adding more boost gas to increase the explosive energy of the primary stage of the weapon well above the minimum needed to ignite the secondary, or main, stage of the warhead.

The bottom line is that the existing Stockpile Stewardship Program is working. At best, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is a solution in search of a problem. Worse still, the RRW program could, if not carefully circumscribed, become a back door for the administration to circumvent congressional opposition to new warhead designs for new and destabilizing nuclear strike missions.

For now, Brooks and others claim that the RRW program is intended solely to provide "comparable military capabilities as existing warheads in the stockpile." Yet, Department of Defense officials and Brooks continue to cite the need for new loweryield nuclear weapons that can knock out shallow bunkers and defeat biological and chemical munitions and "are geared for small-scale strikes."

Yet, if weapons scientists get the green light to build more rugged nuclear weapons, the Bush administration may be able to achieve their controversial new nuclear weapons ambitions without getting approval from Capitol Hill. In a revealing comment to The Oakland Tribune, outgoing NNSA deputy administrator Everet Beckner said, "[T]hat's not the primary objective, but [it] would be a fortuitous associated event."

Finally, replacing existing, well-proven nuclear warhead designs with "new" and "improved" replacement warheads or warhead components could, if carelessly pursued, increase pressure to conduct nuclear explosive proof tests. Like a car buyer looking at a first-model-year car, key political or military officials may insist on taking a test drive before buying a new set of untested nuclear bomb designs.

So long as the United States maintains a nuclear arsenal, stockpile maintenance efforts should focus on preserving the reliability of existing warheads using methods validated by past experience. The role of the arsenal should be limited to deterring a nuclear attack by another nuclear-weapon state. Otherwise, the "reliable replacement warheads" may introduce, not reduce, stockpile reliability concerns and open the way to the counterproductive new nuclear weapons program voided by Congress last year.

 

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