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

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Press Releases

Bush, ElBaradei, Discuss Proposals of Nuclear Nonproliferation Talks

Wade Boese


Diplomats from more than 100 states are expected to convene for nearly two weeks beginning April 26 to assess what future measures might be taken to shore up the beleaguered nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In anticipation, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mohamed ElBaradei, the United Nations’ top nuclear expert, met in mid-March to discuss possible proposals.

Although the nuclear nonproliferation regime was recently buoyed by Libya’s December 2003 renunciation of its nuclear weapons program, the exposure of illicit Iranian nuclear activities and the disclosure of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s black market nuclear network highlighted the regime’s ills.

With the help of the Pakistani-based Khan network, NPT states-parties Libya and Iran pursued secret nuclear work for years without being caught. North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the NPT last year, also conducted nuclear-related dealings with Khan. (See ACT, March 2004.)

These revelations have spurred calls for reform from Washington, other world capitals, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for making sure states do not illegally use their peaceful nuclear programs to build atomic bombs covertly.

At Washington’s invitation, ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general, visited the United States March 15-18 to discuss proposals for remedying the ailing nonproliferation regime. ElBaradei met with Bush, top officials from the CIA and the Departments of Energy and State, and members of Congress.

ElBaradei summed up his message to the president in a March 18 PBS interview as “[T]his is a different ball game and we have to revise the rules.”

Possible revisions discussed at the meetings included cleaning up and securing weapons-usable material worldwide, strengthening export controls, and denying uranium-enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them. Currently, 15 states possess such capabilities, which are legal under the NPT but necessary for making nuclear weapons. ElBaradei does not want to see that total grow.

Although Bush and ElBaradei share many of the same concerns and believe that the threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons demands that the past rules of the nonproliferation regime be updated, they have yet to announce a set of agreed specific proposals or general strategy.

Both men have laid out initiatives separately: Bush in a Feb. 11 speech at the National Defense University and ElBaradei in a series of written pieces and interviews. (See ACT, March 2004 and November 2003.) Bush’s proposals have stressed getting individual states to do a better job of clamping down on their own nuclear materials and technologies, while ElBaradei has urged that states subject their nuclear programs to more stringent multinational controls. There is some overlap, such as ending the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in reactors around the globe.

The forthcoming NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting, which is scheduled from April 26 to May 7 in New York, will likely see a full airing of proposals to amend the nonproliferation regime. Indonesian Ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat will serve as the meeting’s chairman.

Treaty compliance and enforcement will be the central themes pushed at the PrepCom by the U.S. delegation, which will be headed by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton.

In a March 12 interview with Arms Control Today, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter said, “Verification and especially compliance are going to be important topics at the PrepCom.” The reason, she explained, is because the treaty “has been under assault by
North Korea, Iran, and other countries of concern.”

If past PrepComs are any guide to what can be expected, the United States will not be the only state reprimanding other NPT members for failing to live up to their commitments. In fact, the United States will face the same charges.

Many states have previously alleged that Washington, as well as Beijing, London, Paris, and Moscow, have not done enough to reduce the role and size of their nuclear arsenals. Article VI of the NPT calls upon all treaty members to work toward disarmament.

In 2000, these five capitals joined in agreeing to 13 steps to advance toward that goal, but they have made mixed progress in fulfilling their pledges. For example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear testing, has not been brought into force, and negotiation of a treaty to end the production of HEU and plutonium for weapons purposes has not been initiated even though a five-year deadline was set for its completion. The Bush administration is now reviewing whether it supports such negotiations. (See ACT, March 2004.)

However, the administration contends it has a solid NPT record, citing its 2002 treaty with Russia to reduce their nuclear forces to fewer than 2,200 deployed strategic warheads each by the end of 2012. “I think we can point toward greater progress under this administration in moving toward the objectives of Article VI than can be pointed to under the entire history of the NPT,” Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker asserted in a Jan. 21 interview with Arms Control Today.

DeSutter said, “I think it would be a very sad thing given the assault we’re seeing on the NPT by virtue of the noncompliance that we’ve got if countries focused on the United States instead of where the problem is.”

 

 

 

 

Diplomats from more than 100 states are expected to convene for nearly two weeks beginning April 26 to assess what future measures might be taken to shore up the beleaguered...

Putin Downsizes Russian Nuclear Agency

Gabrielle Kohlmeier


Russia’s formerly powerful Atomic Ministry stands to lose power in President Vladimir Putin’s second term, with uncertain consequences for the Kremlin’s stance on issues from policy toward Iran to cooperation with the United States on efforts to dismantle Russia’s Cold War stockpile of nuclear weapons and materials.

Just before winning an easy re-election March 14, Putin announced plans to restructure the executive branch to give him more power over the federal bureaucracy. The number of cabinet positions was cut from 30 to 17. One casualty of the downsizing was the Russian Atomic Ministry (Minatom), which was replaced with the new lower-level Federal Atomic Energy Agency. The agency is still headed by former Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev, but it is now under the Ministry of Industry and Energy with a reduced mandate that covers only civilian-related issues. Military aspects will now be handled by the Defense Ministry.

Minatom was in charge of producing and storing civilian and defense nuclear materials, the development and testing of nuclear weapons, and the elimination of excess nuclear warheads and munitions. The Russian government has yet to designate which of these activities will fall to the new agency and which will fall to the Defense Ministry. Putin has said that the new government structure will not be finalized before April.

Rose Gottemoeller, a key liaison with Minatom during the Clinton administration, said that one challenge will be to re-establish a rapport between the corresponding ministers, as U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham’s counterpart will now be Russian Minister of Energy and Industry Viktor Khristenko instead of Rumyantsev. A more difficult question will be whether Russian government reorganization will require a shift in responsibility for existing programs across corresponding U.S. departments. Various Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs had been coordinated between the U.S. Department of Energy and Minatom, but now more of the programs could shift under Russian Defense Ministry control. Traditionally, however, the U.S. Department of Defense, not the Energy Department, deals with the Russian Defense Ministry. If responsibility for programs shifts across U.S. departments, nonproliferation budget allocations could also be affected. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Gottemoeller, who served as the Energy Department’s undersecretary for defense nuclear nonproliferation, also warned that the shift could harm decision-making and implementation of bilateral programs. In particular, the shift could complicate efforts by U.S. officials to gain what they believe is needed access to Russian nuclear facilities.

Paul Longsworth, National Nuclear Security Administration deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, testified before a Senate committee March 10 that such efforts had recently been gaining ground with Minatom. “A working group has been established by Secretary Abraham and Minister Rumyantsev to address this issue [of access required by nonproliferation programs] and is testing new procedures for access to more sensitive Minatom facilties,” Longsworth said. However, such sensitive facilities might now move to the Defense Ministry, some sections of which, Gottemoeller said, have previously resisted granting access for U.S.-conducted CTR programs.

Despite these potential difficulties, U.S. officials assert that Russia’s stance on nonproliferation issues is moving in the right direction. In March 18 testimony before the House International Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones stressed the progress in Russian-U.S. cooperation and the importance of continued engagement. Although various members of Congress voiced concerns over Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation, Jones insisted that the “acknowledgement by the Russian government for the first time of their concern that Iran…wanted to develop a weapons program” marked significant advancement and that the Russian government “pledged that they will not ship nuclear fuel for Bushehr,” a civilian light-water nuclear plant that Russia has been building for Iran despite U.S. objections.

Speculation that Minatom’s demise might lead to the cancellation of the Bushehr project was dispelled with the March 22 announcement by the Federal Atomic Energy Agency that a trip to Iran to finalize the agreement to transfer nuclear fuel to Iran was not canceled, merely postponed. Rumyantsev asserted that the Bushehr project will proceed as planned as long as Tehran signs an agreement pledging to return all of the spent reactor fuel to Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russia’s formerly powerful Atomic Ministry stands to lose power in President Vladimir Putin’s second term, with uncertain consequences for the Kremlin’s stance on issues from policy toward Iran to...

NATO, Russia Hold Joint Missile Defense Exercise

Wade Boese


NATO and Russia used to plan missile attacks against each other, but now they are working together to protect against them. The former adversaries held their first exercise March 8-12 to test jointly developed procedures to defend against strikes from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The exercise, which took place in Colorado Springs, Colo., did not involve actual military systems or troops but was done using computer simulations. It focused on how NATO and Russian commanders would communicate with each other and direct their troops if they came under missile attack during a joint operation. Nearly 60 representatives from Russia and nine NATO members participated in the “command post exercise.”

A NATO official said March 23 that the exercise went “very well,” although some “refinements” to the prepared procedures would be needed. Another exercise is expected before the end of 2005.

NATO and Russian officials jointly worked out the test procedures through a working group on theater missile defenses established in June 2002. That group is also conducting a study on how various air and missile defense systems might operate together.

NATO-Russian cooperation on theater missile defense follows earlier U.S.-Russian efforts initiated in September 1994 by then-Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. The two countries have conducted a series of joint theater missile defense exercises since 1996. (See ACT, March 2001.)

Western cooperation with Russia on missile defenses has not involved building actual weapons. Washington and Moscow undertook a 1992 project, the Russian-American Observation Satellite (RAMOS), to build two satellites for detecting ballistic missile launches worldwide, but the Pentagon cancelled it earlier this year. No alternative has been proposed.

 

 

 

 

NATO and Russia used to plan missile attacks against each other, but now they are working together to protect against them. The former adversaries held their first exercise March 8-12 to test...

Top Military Brass Insists Missile Defense Ready to be Deployed

Wade Boese


Despite intense grilling from Senate Democrats and an acknowledgment that the system has yet to be fully tested, top Pentagon officials have not retreated from claims that a planned defense against ballistic missiles would be effective when it is deployed later this year.

“The analysis that has been done clearly shows that this will bring a capability, admittedly rudimentary and initial, but a capability that is of military utility,” Admiral James Ellis, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 11.

President George W. Bush declared Dec. 17, 2002, that the United States would begin operating the initial elements of a projected multilayered defense against ballistic missiles in 2004.

The president’s announcement came only six days after the proposed system had failed in its latest attempt to destroy a mock warhead in space. That failure dropped the system’s intercept record to five hits and three misses, and no similar tests have been conducted since.

Despite the system’s small number of intercept tests, the Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans to fulfill the president’s deployment order, which the Pentagon has since said would take place in fiscal year 2004, which ends Sept. 30.

Beginning as early as June, six ground-based missile interceptors are to be deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and another four interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. By the end of 2005, the ground-based force will include 20 interceptors. Another 10 ship-based missile interceptors designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles are also to be deployed by that time.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the official in charge of developing U.S. missile defense systems, told the armed services panel that the interceptors will be available for emergency use and testing purposes.

Kadish cautioned senators against predicting the proposed ground-based system’s future performance capabilities solely by its intercept record. He explained that MDA relies more extensively on models and computer simulations to gauge how the system will function and said that these tools suggest the defenses will work properly.

One Pentagon witness offered a less certain perspective under pointed questioning from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Thomas Christie, the Pentagon official charged with overseeing final testing of U.S. weapon systems, said it was not clear that the system would be able to destroy a real North Korean missile because of the immature nature of existing models and simulations. A North Korean attack is what the Pentagon routinely postulates as the near-term threat that the system will face, although Pyongyang has yet to flight-test a missile capable of reaching the continental United States.

Christie defended the Pentagon’s current deployment plan as necessary so that the system could be subjected to more challenging testing. He said that system components had to be put into the field so they could be tested in ways that more closely resemble real scenarios and involve real troops as operators, or what the Pentagon calls “operational testing.”

However, when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked whether the Pentagon had any operational tests planned, Christie said, “As of right now, there are no plans for that.” Both Christie and Kadish said that some tests have had operational aspects even though no dedicated operational tests have taken place or are scheduled.

Responding to questions from Arms Control Today, MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner stated March 19 that no plans currently exist to launch missile interceptors out of Fort Greely for testing purposes, although he noted such a possibility “will be considered in the future.”

In addition, a February 2004 report by the General Accounting Office, which does investigations for Congress, noted that the Pentagon has no plans to involve the primary land-based radar supporting the Fort Greely missile interceptors in a flight test scenario for another three years. The study further reported that “none of the components of the initial defensive capability to be fielded in September 2004…has been flight-tested in its deployed configuration.”

Opportunities to flight-test the system’s components have been cut back. MDA recently halved the number of intercept attempts it would conduct this year before the September deadline down to one. Since the summer of 2000, MDA has dropped seven intercept tests.

Christie admitted that he would like to see more testing done to increase confidence in the system, but he said that nothing in past testing suggests the system is bound to fail. “I see no technological issues that have jumped up that says we’re not going to be able to do this or that,” Christie testified.

At the same time, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has expressed concerns about the program’s schedule this year in a February report. OMB stated the system’s “cost, schedule, and performance targets are very ambitious and potentially carry a high degree of development risk.”

The aggressive deployment plan reflects the Department of Defense’s new thinking that it is better to put some capability into the field and improve it incrementally rather than keeping a system in development until it is perfected. Some Pentagon officials have described the rationale more simply as “something is better than nothing.”

Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) characterized the Pentagon’s new approach as “gross negligence.” Commenting on the proposed deployment, Dayton said, “It would be unthinkable by corporate prudence, by fiscal sanity, by government oversight, and by public common sense to be undertaking this.”

Further irking some Democratic senators is that the Pentagon’s current fiscal year 2005 budget requests funding for interceptors beyond the first 20. The Pentagon is seeking $470 million to begin preparing for a third set of 10 missile interceptors to be deployed beginning in 2006 and $35 million for another 10 missile interceptors that might be stationed at an undetermined third site. In his prepared testimony, Kadish wrote the third site would be “outside” the United States.

Levin warned Pentagon officials that U.S. law prohibits building weapons systems that have not been operationally tested at a rate surpassing what is known as low-rate production. The officials claimed that current interceptor production rates do not exceed that threshold. A weapons system will generally be produced at a lesser pace than what is possible (low-rate production) until a final commitment is made to procure the system, at which time more items will be manufactured at a greater tempo known as full-rate production.

 

 

 

 

Despite intense grilling from Senate Democrats and an acknowledgment that the system has yet to be fully tested, top Pentagon officials...

IAEA Praises Libya for Disarmament Efforts

Paul Kerr

Libya continues to move forward in fulfilling its December 2003 pledge to eliminate its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its long-range missiles. Perhaps in an effort to encourage other countries to follow Libya’s example, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted a resolution March 10 finding that Libya’s past clandestine nuclear activities “constituted non-compliance” with its IAEA safeguards agreement, while also praising Libya’s subsequent cooperation and dismantlement efforts.

Although the board expressed “concern” about Tripoli’s secret nuclear efforts and called them a “breach of its obligation to comply with…its Safeguards Agreement,” it also commended the government’s “actions….to remedy the non-compliance.” IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the board March 8 that Libya has displayed “active cooperation” with the agency’s efforts to investigate its nuclear activities, allowing inspectors “unrestricted access to all requested locations” and providing the agency with relevant information.

Because of this cooperation, the resolution requested that ElBaradei report Libya’s noncompliance to the UN Security Council “for information purposes only.” The IAEA is required to report findings of noncompliance to the Security Council, which then has the option of taking action against the offending government. There is no indication that the Security Council intends to do so in Libya’s case.

The resolution’s finding of noncompliance is based on a Feb. 20 agency report which provided new details on how, starting in the 1980s, Libya failed to report a variety of nuclear activities to the IAEA—a violation of its safeguards agreement. Such agreements allow the IAEA to monitor states-parties’ compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which Libya joined in 1975. The IAEA first stated in December that Libya violated its safeguards agreement but provided no specifics.

Libya fulfilled another of its December commitments by signing an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement March 10. Such protocols expand the IAEA’s authority to investigate suspected clandestine nuclear activities. Libya had previously agreed to act as if the protocol were in force until it is ratified.

The IAEA is continuing to verify Libya’s claims and investigate its procurement network. ElBaradei is to issue a report on the agency’s progress in time for the board’s next meeting in June.

Disarmament Efforts Continue

International organizations, as well as U.S. and British weapons experts, have continued to assist Libya in accounting for and dismantling its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told the House International Relations Committee March 10 that London and Washington, along with the IAEA, “arranged the removal” of fresh highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the center housing Libya’s Soviet-supplied, 10-megawatt Tajoura Research Reactor. The approximately 13 kg of 80 percent enriched fuel, which, according to an IAEA press release, “can…be processed and used to make a nuclear weapon,” was shipped to Russia March 8. Moscow originally supplied the fuel and “intends to blend down the HEU” into a form unsuitable for weapons use, according to an agency press release.

DeSutter added that, earlier in the month, the United States “removed” additional material related to Libya’s nuclear and missile programs. This material included centrifuge components, “all of Libya’s longest-range missiles,” and missile launchers. The Department of State said in January that it had removed centrifuge components, uranium hexafluoride, ballistic missile guidance systems, and nuclear weapons designs from Libya.

DeSutter also testified that the United States is developing programs “to redirect Libyan WMD and missile scientists, engineers, and technicians to productive civilian pursuits.” A State Department official told Arms Control Today March 22 that the United Kingdom “has the lead” on this effort, which is in the process of gathering information on the relevant Libyan personnel.

At the same time, international efforts to dismantle Libya’s chemical weapons program are progressing. On March 19, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—the organization that verifies compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention—verified Tripoli’s March 5 initial chemical weapons declaration. According to the OPCW, Libya declared “approximately 23 metric tonnes of mustard gas, 1,300 metric tonnes of precursor chemicals, …[an] inactivated chemical weapons production facility, …[and] two chemical weapons storage facilities.”

Between Feb. 27 and March 3, the OPCW also “verified… the complete destruction” of more than 3,500 unfilled bombs “designed to disperse chemical warfare agent,” according to organization press releases. The OPCW stated March 22 that it intends to verify Libya’s destruction of the remaining chemical agents.

The December Deal


A Libyan official has provided more details about Tripoli’s decision to come clean about its weapons activities. Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, told al-Hayat March 10 that Libya made its decision for “political, economic, cultural and military gains” and because it was “on a dangerous path…with the Western countries.” He also implied that Libya had been developing WMD for use in the event of a conflict with Israel, but progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process made such planning unnecessary.

Libya’s December decision resulted from a series of discussions begun after Libya approached the United Kingdom in March 2003 to resolve concerns that it was pursuing WMD. Bush administration officials have claimed credit for Libya’s cooperation, saying that it stemmed from two of their actions: last year’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the Proliferation Security Initiative, under which German and Italian authorities interdicted an October shipment of centrifuge components from the United Arab Emirates to Libya. DeSutter testified that Libya allowed U.S. and British experts “unprecedented access to some of their most secret WMD sites” after the October interdiction.

However, a former senior State Department official who led Clinton administration efforts in the Middle East, has asserted that Libya had long sought to renounce its unconventional weapons programs. In a March 10 Financial Times article, former Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk wrote that Libya offered to give up its chemical weapons program during secret talks in 1999. The Clinton administration refused this offer, he said, because it placed a higher priority on persuading Tripoli to fulfill its remaining obligations under UN Security Council resolutions imposed in response to Libya’s bombings of two passenger airlines during the 1980s.

Other officials have also emphasized the role of prior diplomatic efforts in motivating Libya’s decision. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw pointed out in December that London had been engaged in “diplomacy…going back for six or seven years” with Tripoli. In addition, Flynt Leverett, who previously helped oversee the Bush administration’s Middle East policy at the National Security Council, wrote in January that, during two years of diplomatic discussions beginning in 2001, the United States offered to lift U.S. sanctions on Libya in exchange for “a verifiable dismantling of Libya’s weapons projects.”

Whatever the reason for Tripoli’s decision, U.S. officials seem optimistic that the two countries’ bilateral relationship will improve. Assistant Secretary of State William Burns told the House International Relations Committee March 10 that “U.S.-Libyan relations are on a path of gradual, step-by-step normalization,” citing Libya’s progress in following through on its December commitments to dismantle its WMD programs and renounce support for terrorism. In order for this trend to continue, Burns added, Libya must continue this progress and make improvements in areas such as human rights. Burns visited Libya March 23 to discuss further efforts to normalize bilateral relations.

The United States currently does not have diplomatic relations with Libya and still maintains a number of economic sanctions imposed in response to Libya’s past WMD activities and support for terrorism. However, several steps have already been taken to improve relations. For example, the United States announced in February that it was removing all travel restrictions to Libya and allowing “U.S. companies with pre-sanctions holdings…to negotiate the terms of their re-entry into operations” there. Additionally, the United States has sent a diplomat to staff an interests section in the Belgian Embassy in Tripoli, the first official U.S. representation in more than two decades.

Other steps may be taken soon. Another State Department official interviewed March 22 said that “there is talk” about asking Congress to strike Libya from the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. Under that law, the United States can punish foreign companies for making certain investments in Libya, or providing goods or services that contribute to Libya’s ability to acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

IAEA on Libya

A Feb. 20 report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spelled out Libya's failures to comply with its safeguards agreement with the agency.

Perhaps the most important activities Libya failed to declare are related to its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Tripoli began the program in the early 1980s and revived it in 1995. According to the IAEA, Libya failed to report that it imported uranium hexafluoride, along with other nuclear material, as recently as 2001. When fed into centrifuges, uranium hexafluoride can be used to produce either low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors or highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used in nuclear weapons. U.S. officials first disclosed the program in December, stating that Libya had centrifuge components as well as complete centrifuges but no operating enrichment facility. Libya acquired its centrifuge components from foreign suppliers, including the network run by Pakistani official Abdul Qadeer Khan. (See ACT, March 2004).

Additionally, the agency said that Libya did not report design information for a nine-centrifuge pilot facility. The IAEA is in the process of verifying Libya's claim that it did not introduce any nuclear material into the facility.

The report further noted that Libya failed to disclose the design information for a facility which it used to conduct clandestine uranium-conversion experiments. Natural uranium must be converted into uranium hexafluoride gas before it can be enriched. Libya acknowledges that it produced some uranium compounds, but not uranium hexafluoride.

The Feb. 20 report also disclosed for the first time that, between 1984 and 1990, Libya secretly irradiated small amounts of uranium in its Soviet-supplied 10-megawatt Tajura Research Reactor and separated plutonium from some of the resulting product. The reactor was under IAEA safeguards. Separating plutonium from spent nuclear reactor fuel is another method for producing fissile material for nuclear weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Libya continues to move forward in fulfilling its December 2003 pledge to eliminate its nuclear and chemical weapons programs, as well as its long-range missiles...

Controversy Persists Over Failure to Find Iraqi WMD

Paul Kerr

More than one year after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq with the announced intention to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the failure to find such nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons continues to stir controversy in the United States and overseas.

The debate was fueled in March by the publication of “Disarming Iraq,” Hans Blix’s insider account which details the back-room diplomacy leading up to the onset of the war. Blix, the former executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), charged that U.S. officials ignored UN weapons inspectors’ pre-invasion reports that there was no evidence that Iraq possessed WMD or had reconstituted its weapons programs.

Despite the inspectors’ reports, Bush administration officials “wanted to come to the conclusion that there were weapons” in Iraq, Blix told NBC’s Today show March 15. Blix’s depiction of the U.S. attitude toward Iraq’s unaccounted-for weapons is consistent with U.S. officials’ professed skepticism about the efficacy of UN weapons inspections, as well as with previous statements from administration officials indicating that the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States lowered their tolerance for the perceived risk of Iraqi WMD acquisition. (See ACT, January/February 2004 and April 2003.)

David Kay, former top adviser to the U.S.-led search effort, and Blix have argued that Iraq destroyed its weapons stockpiles during the 1990s—a claim bolstered by a Feb. 27 UNMOVIC report indicating that almost no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq after 1994.

Blix pointed out in a March 15 FOX News interview that the uncertainty about Iraq’s suspected WMD stemmed from its failure to account for those weapons destroyed outside the presence of UN inspectors. Baghdad had still not accounted for these weapons as of the invasion. Rather than admitting uncertainty, however, U.S. and British officials simply counted any unaccounted-for weapons or related materials as weapons that actually existed. (See ACT, March 2004.)

In a March 5 interview with Arms Control Today, Kay attributed this belief to Iraq’s past noncompliance and deception of weapons inspectors, which had encouraged U.S. and British officials to assume the worst about its behavior. Nevertheless, Kay said that Saddam Hussein’s regime likely did not offer proof of the weapons’ destruction for two reasons. The first is that some were destroyed during the “chaos” following the 1991 Persian Gulf War and its war with Iran during the 1980s. The second is that Iraqi officials were “embarrassed to admit” to some of the methods used to destroy the weapons. For example, Iraq disposed of “biological agents in ways that were…dangerous to the health of people in Baghdad” he said.

Beyond an ingrained mindset, Blix and Kay have blamed poor coalition intelligence for their inaccurate assessments of Iraq’s arsenal of unconventional weapons. Blix said in a March 16 CNN interview that his inspectors received useful coalition intelligence on only three occasions, arguing that U.S. and British reliance on defectors as intelligence sources likely accounted for the divergence between the U.S. and UN assessments of Iraq’s weapons activities. The UN inspectors did not use defectors as sources, he added.

CIA director George Tenet acknowledged in February that some U.S. intelligence came from defectors who were sometimes unreliable. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also stated in a March 5 speech that these human sources “were apparently less reliable than the [intelligence community] thought” and suggested that “other potential intelligence sources [indicating that Iraq had no WMD programs] may have been dismissed.”

Intelligence Controversy

As investigations into U.S. intelligence on Iraq continue, increased attention has been focused on the role of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) for Policy in disseminating raw intelligence about Iraqi WMD to senior administration officials. Former OSD staff member Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Karen Kwiatkowski wrote in a March 10 article for Salon magazine that personnel in the office had a close relationship with Iraqi defectors and produced “talking points” for briefing more senior administration officials that included information at variance with U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s suspected weapons programs.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith said in a recently-released June 2003 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) that he had tasked some OSD staff with reviewing existing intelligence concerning terrorist networks. Feith stated in a press briefing that same month that these staff members found “linkages between Iraq and al Qaeda” and also “looked at” WMD. Additionally, Feith’s letter revealed that OSD personnel briefed staff from the National Security Council and Office of the Vice President on their findings regarding Iraq’s suspected links to terrorists. Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 9 that he was unaware such a briefing had taken place.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announced in February that they would look into Feith’s efforts in their ongoing investigation into the intelligence controversy.

The OSD briefing is not the only time that administration officials have appeared to ignore the CIA’s judgments. For instance, Tenet told the committee that the CIA did not approve a Jan. 20, 2003, report to Congress signed by President George W. Bush which referenced Iraq’s “attempts to acquire uranium.” Although Tenet had succeeded in stopping several senior administration officials’ attempts to insert this reference into other presidential speeches, Bush still made the charge during his 2003 State of the Union address. Subsequent revelations have disproved this claim. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Reports that administration officials pressured intelligence analysts to alter their conclusions about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have also been controversial. In her March speech, Harman stated that “some analysts” who worked on the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iraq threat told her that they believed that the “decision to go to war had already been made [in the fall of 2002], and that their mindset was to advise military commanders” on the dangers of Iraqi battlefield WMD. Harman added that analysts’ belief that they “had to come down on one side or the other” on the question of Iraqi weapons generated “categorical statements” about Iraq’s weapons capabilities in the NIE. Cheney has acknowledged questioning intelligence analysts frequently but denies pressuring them.

 

 

 

 

 

More than one year after U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq with the announced intention to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the failure to...

IAEA Condemns Iran—Again

Paul Kerr

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors has again adopted a resolution criticizing Iran for failing to cooperate fully with the agency’s investigation into its suspected nuclear weapons program, raising the stakes in Tehran’s dealings with the United Nations’ nuclear arm and, indirectly, the United States. The resolution calls on Iran to intensify its cooperation with the agency but defers possible action against Tehran until the next board meeting in June.

Although the resolution, adopted March 13, acknowledges that Iran has recently been “actively cooperating” with the IAEA, it also notes that “Iran’s cooperation so far has fallen short of what is required [and] calls on Iran to continue and intensify its cooperation.” A February report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei detailed Tehran’s failure to disclose several nuclear activities, despite past promises to comply with IAEA resolutions requiring such disclosure. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The board reserved its harshest language for Iran’s failure to previously disclose a research and development program for an advanced type of gas centrifuge, known as the “P-2.” The IAEA learned about that program this winter, even though Iran had claimed in October to have given a complete accounting of its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. Gas centrifuges are used to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in nuclear reactors, but they may also produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for use as the explosive material in a nuclear weapon. Iran had previously disclosed a large enrichment program which uses a simpler type of centrifuge, the “P-1.”

ElBaradei told the board March 8 that this failing was inconsistent with Iran’s October pledge to provide the IAEA with all information about its nuclear programs, terming it “a setback to Iran’s stated policy of transparency.” As part of that agreement, Iran also agreed to sign an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement and suspend its uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, November 2003.) Iran signed the protocol in December 2003 and has pledged to act as if the agreement were in force until it is ratified.

IAEA safeguards agreements are to ensure that states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) do not divert civilian nuclear activities to military purposes. Iran maintains that its program is solely for peaceful purposes. Additional protocols expand the IAEA’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs and increase the number of nuclear-related activities that member states must declare to the agency. The March resolution “urges” Tehran’s “prompt ratification” of the protocol.

Iran’s director-general for international political affairs, Amir Zamaninia, told the board March 13 that Iran omitted its advanced centrifuge program from its October report to the IAEA because the relevant “technical” personnel thought its pledge only required Tehran to report information about less-advanced centrifuges they had tested using nuclear material. Iran intended to report its more advanced program in accordance with its obligations under the additional protocol, he said.

The resolution also “calls on Iran to be pro-active in taking all necessary steps...to resolve all outstanding issues” outlined in ElBaradei’s February report. In addition to the advanced centrifuge program, these include Tehran’s experiments with polonium, a radioactive isotope that can be used to trigger a chain reaction in a nuclear weapon; the “nature and scope” of its laser-based uranium-enrichment program; and “LEU and HEU contamination” at two facilities associated with Iran’s centrifuge program.

Iran’s hesitant cooperation with the IAEA has caused concern since ElBaradei first visited Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility in February 2003. For months, Iran lagged in providing information about its nuclear activities to the agency and in granting inspectors full access to facilities.

The resolution also “calls on” Tehran to maintain and expand its October commitment to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities. According to ElBaradei’s February report, Iran had suspended most of its enrichment-related activities but continued to assemble centrifuges and manufacture related components. Iran agreed in February to stop both of these activities.

Controversy

The days leading up to the resolution’s adoption were contentious, the final version being the product of a compromise between the United States and other board members. For example, a U.S. Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 18 that Washington wanted the resolution to condemn Iran’s actions in stronger terms and include the fact, discussed in ElBaradei’s February report, that “military industrial organizations” own “most” of the workshops associated with Iran’s centrifuge programs. Washington, however, is “satisfied” with the resolution, the official said.

In contrast to its lobbying efforts prior to the last IAEA resolution concerning Iran, the United States did not push for the board to find Iran in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement. Such a finding would have required the board to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. The State Department official said, however, that the board should do so “at the appropriate time.” The official did not specify what actions Washington hoped the Security Council might take, but argued that they could include issuing a Security Council President’s statement or imposing economic sanctions.

The last resolution, adopted in November, employed language intended to avoid the requirement to send the matter to the Security Council, while conveying that Iran’s secret nuclear activities had violated its safeguards agreement. (See ACT, December 2003.)

The board referred North Korea to the Security Council last year in response to its refusal to cooperate with the agency, but the council has yet to take any action.

For its part, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported March 17 that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told reporters that Iran is “dissatisfied” with the resolution but will continue to cooperate with the IAEA. Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA had suggested March 10 that Iran might review its cooperation with the agency if Tehran did not approve of the resolution, according to IRNA.

The ambassador caused additional friction March 12 when he announced Iran was postponing an upcoming IAEA inspection. Although the ambassador explained that the delay was necessary because of the approaching Iranian New Year, Khatami indicated March 17 that its decision was a reaction against the resolution. ElBaradei announced March 15 that Tehran would allow the inspectors to visit March 27.

The State Department official said that even this two-week delay was “regrettable” because Tehran could use the time to cover up evidence of nuclear activities. The official added that Washington believes Tehran is continuing to conceal part of a secret nuclear weapons program and observed that Tehran only changed its stance on the recent inspections “after some other countries intervened.” The United States has repeatedly changed Iran with having a nuclear weapons program.

Iran also raised eyebrows when Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stated that Iran will “definitely resume [uranium] enrichment when our relations with the agency become normal,” IRNA reported March 10. Iran has repeatedly emphasized the temporary nature of its suspension agreement, but Kharrazi’s statement was one of the strongest to date on the matter. Iran is legally allowed to enrich uranium under the NPT, but the United States wants a permanent halt to these activities because of concerns that Iran will be able to use its facilities to produce fissile material covertly.

Next Steps

The resolution requests ElBaradei to issue a report on Iran’s activities “before the end of May” and states that it will consider the agency’s “progress in verifying Iran’s declarations,” as well as a response to Iran’s “omissions.” The IAEA is also continuing to investigate Iran’s foreign suppliers, which includes a network headed by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The State Department official said that the United States will continue to allow the IAEA to take the lead on resolving concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. In a March 18 interview on PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, ElBaradei said that he had suggested to U.S. officials during a March visit to the White House that they begin a direct “dialogue” with Tehran. The State Department official said Washington rejects this approach because the appropriate steps for Tehran to take are outlined in the IAEA resolutions and bilateral dialogue would undermine the IAEA process.

 

 

 

 

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors has again adopted a resolution criticizing Iran for failing to cooperate fully with the agency’s investigation into its...

GAO Says Feds Lax in Countering Cruise Missile, UAV Threats

Wade Boese


A congressional watchdog has charged key federal agencies with complacency in addressing the growing danger presented by the global spread of cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), provoking a round of dissent from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, and State.

At a March 9 congressional hearing, representatives of the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Congressional Research Service, the State and Commerce Departments, and the Pentagon offered conflicting views on the adequacy of measures to prevent cruise missiles and UAVs from ending up in the hands of terrorists or hostile states. The hearing before a House Committee on Government Reform subcommittee was convened to discuss a January 2004 GAO report that found U.S. and international trade controls on such weapon systems inadequate.

GAO, which conducts investigations for Congress, estimated that at least 70 states currently possess cruise missiles and some 40 states own UAVs. Most of the world’s roughly 75,000 cruise missiles are anti-ship models with short ranges and small payload capabilities. However, GAO reported that at least a dozen states, including six defined as “countries of concern,” are working on land-attack cruise missiles, which could be used to strike U.S. territory from forward launching areas, such as from the deck of a ship.

Cruise missiles and UAVs pose a different type of challenge for defenses than ballistic missiles, which are only powered during the first few minutes after launch as they ascend to high altitudes and then rely on gravity to reach their target. Cruise missiles and UAVs are powered throughout their entire flight and can fly and maneuver at low altitudes, making them hard to track and shoot down. The flight characteristics of cruise missiles and UAVs are also very similar to planes, making it hard for battlefield radars and defenses to determine whether an incoming object is an enemy projectile or a friendly aircraft.

The Patriot missile defense system’s record in Iraq last year underscored the difficulty that militaries face in trying to defend against cruise missiles. Although Patriot systems destroyed nine Iraqi missiles, no Iraqi cruise missiles were successfully intercepted. Moreover, Patriot systems mistakenly blew up two friendly fighter aircraft and targeted a third. A September 2003 Army report assessing the Patriot’s record stated, “[T]he ability of these older cruise missiles to penetrate friendly airspace and reach their targets should serve as a warning to joint and Army leaders that the emerging cruise missile threat must be addressed.”

The ability of cruise missiles and UAVs to fly at specific altitudes and speeds makes them suitable for dispersing chemical or biological weapons. Because of their relatively smaller size, cruise missiles and UAVs are not ideal for carrying nuclear warheads. The United States and Russia are the only two states known to have nuclear cruise missiles. China is also believed to be developing a nuclear-capable cruise missile.

In its report, GAO warned that federal agencies are not conducting enough checks on U.S. exports of cruise missiles, UAVs, and related technologies to make sure that they are not falling into the wrong hands. Reviewing exports between fiscal years 1998 and 2002, GAO reported that the State Department followed up on only four of 786 licenses that it issued for cruise missile and UAV technologies and the Pentagon did not do a single check on more than 500 cruise missiles shipped to other states. The Commerce Department had a similar record, conducting end-use visits for only 1 percent of the nearly 2,500 missile-related export licenses it approved.

Although officials from the three departments all agreed with a GAO recommendation that more post-export checks be carried out, they defended past practices at the March 9 hearing. They observed that GAO did not report any evidence indicating that previous U.S. exports had contributed to or abetted proliferation.

Yet, Joseph Christoff, the director of GAO’s international affairs and trade office that conducted the study, stated that response misses the point. “While the departments contend that there is no evidence of wrongdoing, their conclusion is based on the small [number of] (33) post-shipment verifications they conducted over a four-year period,” Christoff wrote in a March 13 response to questions from Arms Control Today.

General Tome Walters Jr., who directs the Pentagon agency overseeing arms sales to foreign governments, claimed the United States only sells weapons to friends and that U.S. exports are not the problem. Walters, who said his agency has not exported any UAVs, asserted that the Pentagon has exported or agreed to export almost 200 fewer cruise missiles during the reviewed period than GAO claimed. Past cruise missile deliveries went to the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, and Taiwan, according to Walters. He said there are pending deliveries to Oman, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Among others, GAO identified Egypt, Kuwait, and Israel as additional U.S. cruise missile recipients.

The managing director of the State Department’s office of defense trade controls, Robert Maggi, faulted the GAO review for not taking into account other processes, such as pre-license checks, to vet potential buyers. However, GAO pointed out that the State Department only carried out six such inquiries for its 786 approved cruise missile- and UAV-related licenses.

GAO further charged in its report that it discovered a loophole in U.S. export controls that could enable proliferators to acquire cruise missile and UAV technologies surreptitiously. The U.S. government does not explicitly control all technologies related to cruise missiles and UAVs because they are so widely available and have legitimate commercial uses. However, a “catch-all” requires that even items not appearing on export control lists be restricted if destined for specific states or programs. The U.S. catch-all currently applies to requests from 20 states and 12 foreign missile projects.

Citing the fact that a New Zealand man was able to purchase uncontrolled items to build a cruise missile, GAO concluded that the catch-all is too narrow.

Matthew Borman, the deputy assistant secretary for export administration at the Commerce Department, said the catch-all is currently under review but questioned GAO’s New Zealand example. “Our engineers…are skeptical that a functioning cruise missile could be constructed out of uncontrolled parts and components,” Borman stated.

In a written response to the GAO report, the Commerce Department, which is responsible for promoting American business exports, also responded, “Any modifications to the catch-all policy should be carefully considered in order to ensure that the controls protect U.S. national security, but avoid unnecessary burdens on U.S. trade.”

GAO did not confine its criticisms to just U.S. export controls. It also looked at cruise missile and UAV control efforts by the 33-member Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the 33-member Wassenaar Arrangement—both of which the United States belongs to. MTCR calls on its members to restrict exports of missiles and UAVs capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, while the Wassenaar Arrangement specifies missile, aerospace, and dual-use items that its members are expected to control. Both MTCR and Wassenaar are voluntary and operate by consensus.

Although the two regimes have increased attention and controls on cruise missile and UAV sales over the past few years, GAO said their effectiveness is limited by the fact that not all exporters of these types of arms are regime members. For instance, China and Israel do not currently belong to either regime, although China is exploring MTCR membership and Israel has committed itself to abide by that regime’s guidelines. Iran, India, and Taiwan are also nonmember states that manufacture cruise missiles and may soon be looking to export them.

Moreover, GAO pointed out that not even members always agree on what constitutes an appropriate deal. France is a member of both regimes, but it went ahead with a sale of its Black Shaheen cruise missile to the UAE despite U.S. protests. Similarly, Russian assistance to India in developing the Brahmos cruise missile has raised concerns among some of Moscow’s fellow MTCR members.

GAO also knocked the regimes for not facilitating timely and efficient exchanges of information between members on their potential deals and export denials. Delays in sharing such information could prevent a member from raising concerns it may have about another’s transactions.

 

 

 

 

A congressional watchdog has charged key federal agencies with complacency in addressing the growing danger presented by the global spread of cruise missiles and...

U.S. Points to Libya as Disarmament Model: An interview with Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter

Wade Boese

Since December, Paula DeSutter, a top Department of State official, has been working long hours to ensure that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi fulfills his pledge to abandon irrefutably all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) ambitions and programs. Based on that experience, she has a simple message for the leaders in Iran and North Korea: follow Gaddafi’s lead if you want better relations with the United States.

In a March 12 interview with Arms Control Today, DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, described as “breathtaking” Libya’s Dec. 19 vow to end its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and subsequent steps to make good on that pledge. A former four-year professional staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, DeSutter said the United States wants “Libya to be a model for other countries” and that North Korea and Iran stand to reap greater benefits and security from ending their weapons programs than continuing them.

The United States has long charged North Korea and Iran with covertly pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea, which kicked out international arms inspectors in December 2002, has admitted as much, while Iran staunchly denies the allegations despite a growing list of illegal nuclear activities exposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA is responsible for deterring and detecting attempts by states to use their peaceful nuclear programs as a cover to build atomic arms illicitly.

The Bush administration has made clear that neither Iran nor North Korea can hope for improved relations with the United States unless each unambiguously abandons their nuclear weapons programs, or make what DeSutter deems a “strategic commitment.”

According to DeSutter, Libya made such a strategic commitment. It invited U.S., British, and international inspectors into the country; gave inspectors full access to all the facilities they wanted to see; and turned over weapons and related equipment for removal and destruction. In sum, states genuinely intent on disarming “volunteer information,” DeSutter stated.

For example, DeSutter said that Libyan officials on one occasion voluntarily took inspectors to a turkey farm where some chemical munitions were secretly stored. If they had not done so, she asserted, “we almost certainly would not have been able to identify [the farm as an arms storage area] independently.”

Since making its decision to disarm, Libya has destroyed 3,200 unfilled chemical bombs and allowed the United States to remove more than 1,000 tons of WMD-related equipment, including centrifuge components, and five Scud-C ballistic missiles. Tripoli has also agreed to stop using highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons, to fuel its reactor at Tajoura.

If Iran and North Korea chose to copy Libya, DeSutter gushed about the possibilities. “I can imagine tremendous movement in terms of how close the United States would want to be to Iran,” DeSutter said. She added, “I can see an awful lot of national needs that [North Korea] has that would be best served by making a strategic commitment to give up its weapons of mass destruction.”

Yet, the Bush administration, which also condemns the two states for their poor human rights records and undemocratic systems, has never specified what kind of benefits the regimes could derive from disarming.

DeSutter implied both states would be safer if they gave up their suspected weapons programs because there would be less reason for other states to be concerned about them militarily. “It’s still a little hard for me to say this out loud, but Gaddafi got it right when he said that their WMD programs made them less secure not more secure,” she stated.

North Korean public statements suggest Pyongyang believes the opposite. They extol the North Korean nuclear weapons program as the only viable protection against attacks by more powerful states, in particular the United States.

Absent a strategic commitment to disarm, DeSutter indicated the United States would have little confidence in verification measures to provide assurances that Iran or North Korea had truly shelved their weapons programs because of their past records of cheating on agreements.

The presence of international arms inspectors would do little to ease her concerns. “No number of inspectors is an adequate substitute for a firm commitment on the part of the government to yield its weapons programs,” DeSutter declared.

Inspections can be of limited utility if items with both civilian and military uses are being scrutinized, DeSutter explained. She said, “As things get smaller, as things become more dual-use, then the verification challenge is going to grow.”

Still, DeSutter said she favors making greater use of the right of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to conduct challenge inspections to settle suspicions on whether fellow members are truly complying with that treaty. The CWC has been in force since April 1997, and there have been charges of cheating, but no challenge inspections have yet been carried out. DeSutter observed, “Because [the challenge inspection right] has not been used in the past, it becomes increasingly difficult to use it.”

Although very keen about shedding more light on the weapons programs of states hostile to the United States, DeSutter showed little interest in the same for governments friendly to Washington, such as Pakistan, which has nuclear arms and was recently exposed as the home base for an extensive proliferation network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb. (See ACT, March 2004.) Claiming Khan acted in his own interests and worked outside of Pakistan, DeSutter said, “Access to the Pakistani program wouldn’t have necessarily given us insight into what was being produced in Malaysia.”

For a complete transcript of this interview please click here

 

 

 

 

Since December, Paula DeSutter, a top Department of State official, has been working long hours to ensure that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi fulfills his pledge to abandon irrefutably all...

Congress Critical of Bush Nuclear Weapons Budget

Karen Yourish Roston


As they make their annual rounds on Capitol Hill on behalf of the president’s proposed budget, Bush administration officials are finding themselves in the hot seat defending President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2005 request for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). Lawmakers are also peeved that they have yet to receive the administration’s overdue nuclear stockpile report.

Arms Control Today reported last month that the president’s 2005 budget proposal lays out a five-year schedule for RNEP that foresees production of the new weapon by the end of fiscal year 2009. (See ACT, March 2004.) Administration officials maintain the program is still in the study phase and that no decision has been made to develop or produce the weapon, but they have not convinced key members of Congress.

“I find it really hard to conceive of any circumstances under which this country would even use a nuclear weapon again,” Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, told Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham at a March 11 hearing. “Despite those constraints, [the Department of Energy] seems to think they should spend another half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ dollars to explore and test the concept of Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.”

During a March 23 hearing, Hobson’s Senate counterpart, Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), traditionally a staunch supporter of the Energy Department, told Linton Brooks, head of the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), that he was “surprised” to see nearly $500 million provided for the RNEP in out-year funding.

Moreover, both lawmakers expressed frustration at the administration’s failure to deliver a nuclear stockpile plan to Congress.

“This kind of, quote, Money is no object, unquote, thinking might have been the norm for the nuclear weapons complex during the Cold War years, but I think it’s completely out of touch with the political and fiscal realities that we face today,” Hobson said. “[U]ntil we receive a revised stockpile plan from [the Department of Defense] that shows real change in the size and the composition of the stockpile, and until [the Energy Department] re-calibrates its planning, workforce facilities, and budget to support the smaller stockpile, I do not believe that we should spend our limited budget resources on expansion of NNSA’s nuclear weapons activities.”

Facing similar prodding from Domenici, Brooks responded that the report “is being worked on, literally, as we speak, but because of the importance, I think this will have to be personally approved by the president and I can’t predict how long that will take.”

Still, Brooks did clarify at a March 24 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces that, although the United States plans to "substantially" reduce its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads as called for by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), it will retain a significant number of additional warheads in storage. He said “sufficient warheads” need to be retained “to augment the operationally deployed force in the event that world events require a more robust deterrent posture.”

Signed May 24, 2002, by Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, SORT requires the United States and Russia each to reduce its number of deployed strategic warheads from today’s 5,000-6,000 to no more than 2,200 by the end of 2012, when the treaty will expire. The agreement requires that the warheads be removed from their delivery systems but does not require their destruction, permitting each side to keep as many warheads and delivery vehicles as they want for future use. Washington intends to store enough so it could field up to 4,600 warheads in as little as three years after the treaty ends. Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged in Senate testimony in July 2002 that the accord does not limit the amount of warheads either country can possess. “The treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want,” Powell stated. (See ACT, September 2002.)

Even as he battled over the stockpile plan, Brooks characterized RNEP as “the single most contentious issue in our budget.” He said the out-year projections are included in the budget request only “to preserve the president’s option,” should he decide to move beyond the study stage.

“[T]here is a clear military utility to this weapon,” Brooks stated. “[D]espite this obvious utility…we will move beyond the study stage only if the president approves and if funds are authorized and appropriated by Congress.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted in a March 8 report that the president’s 2005 budget plan casts “serious doubt” on administration claims that the RNEP is just a study.

Nuclear earth penetrator weapons, sometimes called “bunker busters,” burrow deeply into the ground before detonating, increasing their ability to destroy hardened underground targets. In May 2003, the Air Force began studying modifications to convert existing B61 or B83 nuclear bombs to an earth penetrator configuration.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued in a March 8 letter to Brooks that “the planning and budgeting for further steps in the…process in the next five years speaks to a clear intent to develop these modified nuclear weapons at a time when the feasibility study has not been completed and the Department of Defense has not submitted a request for this weapon.”

Some in Congress are more forgiving. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said during the March 24 hearing that the administration is “kind of caught between the rock and a hard spot.…[I]f you don’t put in the money, then somehow or the other they think you’re hiding it. If you do put in and you save for it, then you can be accused of trying” to move ahead with the program without congressional approval.

“I’ve looked at this figure, too, and that, obviously, sticks out there,” Allard continued. “But, on the other hand, I think we need to have some estimate in case we decide to move ahead with [RNEP] about where those future costs will be.”

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

 

 

 

 

As they make their annual rounds on Capitol Hill on behalf of the president’s proposed budget, Bush administration officials are finding themselves...

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