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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
Press Releases

IAEA Begins Monitoring of HEU Conversion from U.S. Nuclear Stockpile

THE INTERNATIONAL Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began monitoring the conversion of weapon usable uranium from the U.S. nuclear stockpile on December 1 at the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio. Although the international monitoring body is safeguarding the downblending of 600 kilograms of Soviet highly enriched uranium (HEU) brought in 1994 to the United States from Kazakhstan in "Operation Sapphire," it has never before overseen the demilitarization of fissile material produced for the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Using video cameras, sealed measurement devices, tamper resistant seals and isotopic scanning devices, as well as random inspections, the agency will verify the conversion of HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU), a form suitable for use in civilian power plants, but which cannot be used to produce a nuclear explosion.

Since 1995, DOE has been monitoring the downblending of Russian HEU that is being purchased for resale by the U.S. government owned (soon to be privatized) United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and has been adding verification measures to insure the Russian HEU actually comes from dismantled weapons. The new U.S. IAEA program—started at Washington's initiative—will provide a less intrusive method of verifying the elimination of a small portion of U.S. excess HEU on an international basis, but will not determine the origin of the material.

The HEU conversion at Portsmouth is carried out by blending highly enriched uranium hexaflouride gas with gas of lesser enrichment until a level of 3 to 5 percent uranium 235 is reached. The IAEA's role is first to verify the quantity of weapon grade material that goes into the process and then second to ensure the quality—in terms of enrichment—of what comes out. Once the blending process is completed, agency monitoring of the LEU output ends.

Energy Secretary Federico Peña announced the start of the agency's verification activities on December 1 at the National Press Club in Washington. The IAEA is already monitoring the material balance of 12 tons of excess U.S. weapon usable material at three DOE facilities, and the Clinton administration has declared its intention to eventually place all 226 tons of excess U.S. fissile material (HEU and plutonium) under agency safeguards.

 

Larger Goals

Energy and IAEA officials hope the program will accomplish more than just diluting a few tons of fissile material. At the program's announcement, Secretary Peña stated the IAEA monitoring will prove to other countries that the United States is adhering to President Clinton's pledge to make the elimination of excess fissile material irreversible, and will complement negotiations underway since September 1996, among Moscow, Washington and the IAEA on a trilateral accord to allow the agency to monitor U.S. and Russian stocks of excess nuclear weapons material.

According to Berhan Andemicael, the IAEA's chief liaison to the UN, the Portsmouth program will enable the agency to try out new techniques and procedures that may be applicable for use in its international safeguards activities, provide new experience in monitoring enrichment plant operations, and offer the agency a foothold in the field of monitoring disarmament in nuclear weapon states.

Some observers have noted that, unlike the U.S. Russian blending arrangement, the U.S. IAEA program provides no way of knowing whether the HEU being converted at Portsmouth comes from nuclear weapons, and cannot prevent the substitution of HEU from reserves or other sources. In response, DOE has argued that all the excess HEU being converted to LEU is from defense stocks and is suitable for use in nuclear weapons, even though not all of it actually comes from dismantled warheads.

Of the total 174 tons of U.S. excess HEU, 161 tons is in the form of metal, oxide or beryllium alloy, and will probably be downblended at commercial facilities other than Portsmouth, pending arrangement of contracts between commercial LEU dealers, USEC and DOE. The IAEA will be invited by Energy to monitor these additional operations, with DOE offering to pick up the agency's costs, as it is doing with the Portsmouth program.

NATO Proposes Lower CFE Ceilings Not Requiring Actual Force Cuts

AFTER NEARLY three months of intra alliance discussions, NATO members on December 2 presented notional figures for national and territorial ceilings on heavy weapons which would be established under an adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

According to U.S. officials, the initiative would reduce aggregate NATO entitlements by approximately 10 percent, but because actual NATO holdings of treaty limited equipment (TLE) are already 29 percent, or approximately 22,200 items, below its current entitlement of 75,912 items, the alliance would not be required to destroy or remove any TLE. Reluctance by potential NATO members—the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland—to lower their current entitlements and Russian insistence on alliance wide limitations that NATO deems unacceptable are hampering progress in the adaptation process.

Negotiations to adapt the CFE Treaty, which imposes equal numerical limits on five categories of weapons—tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters—that NATO and the former Warsaw Pact may deploy and store between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains, have not advanced much beyond the "basic elements" guidelines endorsed in July 1997. Under those guidelines, the 30 parties agreed in principle to replace the treaty's bloc to bloc structure and concentric zone limits with a system of national and territorial ceilings. National ceilings will limit the TLE each party can possess, while territorial ceilings will cap the total amount of ground TLE (national plus foreign stationed forces) allowed on each party's territory.

According to U.S. government officials, the United States and Germany accepted the largest reductions, while France refused to cut its entitlements. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, despite signing NATO accession protocols on December 16, are hesitant to accept lower limits until they are full members of NATO. But both Moscow and NATO want an adapted treaty in place before the three states join NATO in April 1999.

Analysis of returns from the most recent CFE information exchange on December 12, shows that when the three prospective NATO member's current enti tlements (13,114 TLE) are combined with NATO's proposed reduced entitlement levels, the total exceeds current aggregate NATO entitlements by more than 5,500 TLE, an outcome Russia is sure to oppose, as it has sought an alliance wide limit to forestall any increase in entitlements for NATO as the alliance expands eastward.

One element in NATO's strategy to diminish Russian opposition to NATO expansion is the creation of a "stabilization" zone in Central and Eastern Europe. Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia would have their future territorial ceilings set equal to their current national entitlements. This would necessitate a reduction in national holdings to accommodate any foreign forces which might be stationed there in the future. Sub limits would also be established for TLE deployed in Russia's Kaliningrad military district and western Ukraine.

Securing territorial ceilings on aircraft remains a central Russian objective, but NATO continues to reject the concept of applying territorial limits to air power. The alliance contends that the adapted treaty should adhere to the precedent set in the original treaty's concentric zones, which only limits ground TLE, since air power is considered too mobile to effectively constrain and verify.

Further complicating the issue of territorial ceilings are outstanding questions such as how to define exemptions for military exercises and temporary deployments and how to create mechanisms for revising or reallocating the ceilings once they are in force. Moscow is pressing for stricter definitions to limit NATO's presence and flexibility in new NATO member states.

In a surprise move that could influence the Vienna negotiations, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced on December 3 a unilateral 40 percent reduction of armed forces in Northwestern Russia, but Western government officials have not yet determined whether the initiative pertained solely to troops or also included equipment. Western officials are also uncertain whether this is a new initiative or if it represents anticipated reductions under Russia's military reform program, which calls for a reduction in manpower from 1.7 million to 1.2 million troops.

CWC Parties Hold 2nd Conference; Membership Reaches 106 States

STATES-PARTIES TO the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) met for the Second Conference of States Parties (CSP) December 1-5 in The Hague to review the implementation of the treaty since it entered into force on April 29, 1997, to approve operations for 1998 and to consider some of the challenges the CWC will face in the year ahead. As of the end of December, 106 states had joined the convention; 62 other signatories have yet to ratify the accord. The December conference was convened following a decision by the first CSP in May 1997 to hold the treaty-mandated annual CSP in the same year.

During the conference, Russia and Iran became formal members to the treaty and were among the 81 states-parties in attendance. Both countries, whose participation in the CWC is viewed as important to improving world-wide confidence in the treaty, ratified the CWC in early November, in part to assure their formal participation in the CSP under treaty rules and deadlines. Each also became eligible for representation on the Executive Council and on the staff and inspector corps of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the treaty's implementing body.

OPCW Director-General José Bustani said the main achievement of the conference was "the determination of states-parties to resolve all outstanding issues in a cooperative fashion." The CSP approved by consensus an OPCW operating budget for 1998 totaling $83 million. The conference also adopted a revised scale of assessment for the 1997 and 1998 budget years that set a maximum rate (25 percent) and minimum rate (.01 percent) on the percentage of the budget a state-party should be responsible for. Previously the United States had been assessed at a rate of approximately 27 percent.

States-parties elected 20 new members to the 41-seat Executive Council, which is responsible for the day-to-day monitoring of the treaty, whose tenure will begin May 12, 1998. The council has the authority to block short-notice "challenge" inspection requests by a three-fourths majority vote, a matter that may be of particular concern for Russia and Iran, both of which gained two-year seats on the council. During the ratification debate in the U.S. Senate, Iran and Russia were cited as likely candidates for challenge inspections.

In a precedent-setting move, the conference also approved plans for the conversion of two former chemical weapon facilities, one in the Van Nuys, California, (where componenets of binary munitions were produced for the U.S. Army) and one in the United Kingdom, to peaceful purposes. The CSP's approval and the criteria by which the requests were approved, will prove important to any future Russian requests for conversion. During their address to the CSP, Russian officials asked that the OPCW conversion policy be "rational." Lastly, in addition to a number of other decisions on implementation, the conference scheduled the third CSP, to be held November 16-20, 1998, in The Hague.

As of December 31, the OPCW had completed or was still in the process of conducting 125 inspections in 22 countries. In addition, 73 of 106 states-parties had submitted their initial data declarations by the end of December, of which not all were complete. The treaty requires that the data declarations include the history and present scope of any chemical weapons programs and any facilities that fall under the treaty authority, including private industry.

The United States has so far been unable to submit a complete data declaration because the legislation required to complete the industry section of the declaration has been held up in the House of Representatives since June. At the same time, U.S. officials have indicated that accurate and timely submission of other countries' declarations would be a major factor in determining whether a request for a challenge inspection would be necessary to address compliance concerns. Prompt consideration of the implementing legislation is the Clinton administration's highest CWC-related priority in 1998.

At the CSP, Bustani emphasized the difficulties associated with incomplete or missing declarations, saying, "[I]f this situation of technical non-compliance continues at its current level in 1998, this may have serious implications.... [T]he absence of a declaration, or an incomplete declaration, could precipitate a challenge inspection."

Under the CWC, any party may request a short-notice, on-site inspection to verify compliance concerns, although the Executive Council can vote to block a request. In his speech, Bustani asked states-parties to consider whether a treaty member in non-compliance could request a challenge inspection of another party. Several countries voiced their concern over the number of incomplete data declarations before the CSP, but the conference took no substantive decisions on the link to challenge inspections.

A U.S. official said there were no current plans for issuing a challenge inspection on Iran. The official said the United States was waiting to see how well intelligence estimates correlated with the Iranian declaration, due in early January, "before passing judgment."

Divisions Still Impede Wassenaar Export Control Regime at Plenary

THE 33 COUNTRIES of the Wassenaar Arrangement concluded their December 9-10 plenary meeting in Vienna without resolving outstanding differences over the evolution and operation of the export control regime. As a result of persistent disagreements, members failed to act on initiatives to expand reporting categories, address existing imbalances in reporting requirements and appoint a permanent head for the Vienna-based Secretariat.

Wassenaar, comprised of most industrialized arms exporters with the notable exception of China, aims to facilitate the coordination of members' national export control policies, promote transparency in the export of conventional weapons and dual-use equipment and prevent their destabilizing accumulation. Members are expected to provide information semi-annually on exports to non-Wassenaar members of weapons and "sensitive" dual-use goods that appear on the regime's two control lists: the Munitions List and the Dual-Use Goods and Technologies List, which is divided into basic and sensitive tiers. Denials of "basic" dual-use goods are also to be reported semi-annually, while denials of "very sensitive" dual-use goods and approvals of transactions that were previously denied by another Wassenaar member within the preceding three years are to be notified to the Secretariat within 60 days.

Unlike its Cold War predecessor, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), Wassenaar members cannot veto exports by another member. While Wassenaar's mandate does not target specific states (as COCOM did), members have agreed to refrain from deals with states in areas of tension and heavily armed regions or those countries that generate concern among members.

 

Differences Remain

At the plenary, members reaffirmed earlier decisions not to export to any recipient in Afghanistan and to "exercise maximum restraint" in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. The plenary's sole public statement warned of "potentially destabilizing accumulations of armaments in certain regions," but did not identify any region by name. According to a U.S. official involved with Wassenaar matters, a confidential summary report also called on members to complete their information submissions, indicating that full participation remains a problem.

At Vienna, the United States and Britain proposed additional reporting categories for the regime's Munitions List beyond the current seven (tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships and missile systems) to include power-projection equipment such as transport helicopters and aerial refueling vehicles, but France and Russia blocked this initiative, arguing that the current reporting categories are adequate. Another U.S. official familiar with the plenary meeting indicated that Russia claimed the proposal was designed to deny markets to Moscow and limit its exports.

Members also discussed the creation of a so-called correspondence list that would increase reporting requirements for items appearing on the Munitions List (which now fall outside the seven reporting categories), but are similar to goods on the Dual-Use List and must be reported if exported. For example, night vision equipment on the Dual-Use List exported for a civilian end-user must be reported, while similar night vision equipment on the Munitions List sent to a military end-user does not. Exporters of primarily dual-use goods, such as Japan and Switzerland, pushed for the correspondence list as a means to redress this imbalance, but the initiative failed as some members refused to accept new reporting obligations.

After more than a year of operation, Wassenaar members remain divided over how intrusive the arrangement should be. Some members, particularly France and Russia, do not want Wassenaar to evolve beyond the current information exchanges, while the United States and others have advocated developing a stronger regime that relies on more than solely national discretion to control exports. However, French insistence to wait until the regime's first review conference, scheduled for 1999, to assess Wassenaar's operation will likely stymie any changes in the near future.

Perhaps reflective of the gap between members, the plenary closed without appointing a permanent head of the Secretariat, which has been led by an acting head since Wassenaar became operational in November 1996.

U.S. Test-Fires 'MIRACL' at Satellite Reigniting ASAT Weapons Debate

ON OCTOBER 17, the U.S. Army tested its ground based Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser (MIRACL) against an orbiting U.S. satellite, yielding data which could have applications for antisatellite (ASAT) warfare. The designated emergency ASAT weapon, used in conjunction with the smaller Navy Sea Lite tracking beam, "illuminated" an Air Force satellite, raising concerns that such activity could encourage an international race to develop anti satellite systems and undercut 35 years of U.S. efforts to establish space as a sanctuary for most scientific, commercial and military activities.

To investigate the effects on the imaging satellite's sensors, the laser fired beams of varying durations (1 second and 10 seconds), simulating both an inadvertent lasing and a hostile attack on a satellite. On the third attempt at the White Sands Missile Range in two weeks, the Army called the effort only "a partial success" because the satellite "failed to download data during the lase," according to an October 21 Army information paper obtained by Inside Missile Defense.

Critics question whether any information on satellite vulnerability could be determined in a space test that could not be obtained from ground testing.

The test prompted Russia to issue an October 21 Foreign Ministry press release that said laser programs "may become a step toward creating an anti satellite potential." Though no treaty limits ASAT—U.S. Russian attempts to draw up an ASAT treaty in the late 1970s failed—space nations have exercised restraint in development and deployment of systems that could threaten satellite functions that are considered vital to intelligence collection and high tech warfare as well as commercial communications.

Critics suspect that the test sought to demonstrate an offensive capability, as opposed to just testing satellite vulnerability. Aside from a Russian ground launched coorbital ASAT—dormant since 1982—no countries possess ASAT systems and, according to John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists, "No other country, with the possible exception of Russia, has a laser that could conceivably damage our satellites."

It has been long standing U.S. policy to keep space an open realm, with the exceptions of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty ban on weapons of mass destruction in orbit and the 1972 ABM Treaty prohibition on space based ballistic missile interceptors, including lasers. These ABM limits were extended to theater missile defense systems as well in clarifying amendments signed this year. (See ACT, September 1997.) Current U.S. policy, which reflects U.S. space command's operational requirements for an ASAT, clearly contradicts the goal of maintaining space as a sanctuary.

 

Congressional Involvement

A Democratic Congress, concerned about the costly and provocative nature of ASAT activities, passed an amendment to the fiscal year 1990 defense authorization bill which specifically prohibited test firing MIRACL at a satellite in space. In 1995, a Republican dominated Congress, interested in sustaining the laser project and exploring its ASAT and ABM potential, failed to renew the five year prohibition.

Prior to Secretary of Defense William Cohen's October 2 approval of the MIRACL test, some Congressional leaders, including Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (MS), the ranking Democrat on the House National Security Committee, Ron Dellums (CA) and John Spratt, (SC) ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee called for its postponement. In a September 26 letter to President Bill Clinton they said, "We are deeply troubled that a test of a ground based laser system with such obvious ASAT warfare capabilities would proceed ahead of any debate or deliberate policy development." Senator Tom Harkin (D IA) also expressed his opposition to the MIRACL test in a September 25 letter to Clinton and said, "Demonstration of a developing ASAT capability would seriously harm our nation's international arms control interests by potentially encouraging such development by other countries. The United States should not start an unnecessary and expensive ASAT arms race."

The Defense Department has scaled back the MIRACL project since the 1980s Strategic Defense Initiative, ("Star Wars") and has spent only about $25 million per year for the last three years toward developing the MIRACL laser at the $800 million high energy laser facility. Though the scope of the MIRACL program is classified, the Army says it supports a variety of research and development programs, including subsonic and supersonic missile engagements and tests of the effects of turbulence on high energy laser beams. Additional MIRACL tests against satellites are not scheduled.

U.S. Buys Moldovan Aircraft to Prevent Acquisition by Iran

THE UNITED STATES purchased 21 MiG 29 fighter aircraft from Moldova during October, pre empting Iran's efforts to acquire potential delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. The capability of 14 of the Russian made aircraft to deliver nuclear weapons, although disputed by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, allowed the acquisition to be carried out under the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program.

Under an agreement finalized on October 10, the United States acquired 14 MiG 29Cs, described by U.S. officials as wired to permit delivery of nuclear weapons, six MiG 29As, one MiG 29B, 500 air to air missiles and all the spare parts and diagnostic equipment present at the Moldovan air base where the aircraft were stationed. In return, Moldova will receive a cash payment, humanitarian assistance and non lethal excess defense articles such as trucks. Although the value of the package was not disclosed, Reuters reported on November 5 that Moldovan Finance Minister Valeriu Chitan said the cash payment equaled about $40 million. New aircraft of comparable capabilities cost approximately $20 million to $25 million apiece.

The MiG 29Cs would have qualitatively improved Iran's air force by providing it with a more advanced fighter than its older model MiG 29s, a goal Tehran has sought since the Gulf War. With about 30 Russian made Su 24s, a sophisticated low altitude bomber, and both Scud and Scud variant missiles, Iran already possesses other systems more suited to deliver nuclear weapons than the MiG 29Cs.

Moldova informed the United States in late 1996 of Iranian inquiries regarding the availability of the fighters and subsequently of an Iranian inspection of the aircraft. The Clinton administration, which considers Tehran to be vigorously pursuing the acquisition and development of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, initiated negotiations with Moldova in February 1997 to prevent the sale.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright certified Moldova (along with the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) on March 4, 1997, as eligible for the CTR program, which provides assistance to states of the former Soviet Union in implementing denuclearization initiatives, securing fissile materials and preventing proliferation. The United States and Moldova concluded on June 23 a CTR "umbrella" agreement authorizing future cooperative activities.

According to a report in Ria Novosti, a Russian newspaper, Sergeyev claimed that the Soviet military had removed the "hardware" permitting delivery of nuclear weapons in 1989. The difference between the U.S. and Russian definitions of "nuclear capable" is apparently largely semantic, reflecting whether the appropriate arming hardware has to accompany the necessary connecting wiring for the equipment.

In late October, U.S. crews partially dismantled the fighters and transported them aboard C 17 cargo jets to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where the fighters will be reassembled, analyzed and used for training purposes. The MiG 29Cs are the first ever obtained by the United States and U.S. officials expect these models will provide additional insights into the capabilities of the MiG 29 class, which remains an important element in the active air forces of many former Eastern bloc nations and their client states.

Moldova retained six MiG 29C fighters, but intends to sell them to a state not considered "rogue" by the United States, thereby eliminating its entire air force in an effort to cut costs. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' The Military Balance 1997/98, the states of the former Soviet Union (not including Russia) currently have 284 MiG 29s in their active forces, but a Defense Department (DOD) official estimated that the newer model MiG 29Cs number in the "tens." DOD officials said the United States is not starting a MiG buying spree, but will continue to take steps to prevent rogue states from buying advanced weapons.

Following Summit, Clinton Looks To Activate Sino-U.S. Nuclear Accord

CLAIMING THAT China has made a marked improvement in its non proliferation behavior, President Bill Clinton announced on October 29 during his summit meeting in Washington with Chinese President Jiang Zemin that he will soon submit to Congress the package of certifications needed to activate the never implemented 1985 Sino U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement. The president's announcement marked a milestone in the administration's much criticized policy of engagement with China, and capped two years of intense diplomatic efforts to improve China's non proliferation credentials. Once in effect, the bilateral nuclear accord could mean billions of dollars worth of new contracts to U.S. firms eager to enter China's potentially enormous nuclear market.

For the 1985 agreement to take effect, the president must make two certifications regarding the security and future use of U.S. origin materials and a third verifying that, on the basis of all available information, China is not assisting any non nuclear weapon state in acquiring nuclear weapons and that Beijing has provided "clear and unequivocal assurances" that it is not currently providing such assistance and will not do so in the future. Also required by law is a report to congressional leaders detailing the history and current developments in China's non proliferation policies and practices.

At a background briefing following Clinton's announcement, senior administration officials identified five areas where changes in Beijing's proliferation behavior justified the president's decision to provide the certifications. The most dramatic of these changes occurred during the summit when the two sides reached agreement on a document stating that China would not engage in new nuclear cooperation with Iran, and would end all such cooperation once it completes two nuclear projects now underway: the construction of a "zero power" research reactor at the Esfahan Nuclear Research Center and a plant that will produce the zirconium cladding used in nuclear fuel elements.

Even though Iran is a member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is entitled to peaceful nuclear cooperation, the Clinton administration has sought to prevent all international nuclear trade with Tehran on the grounds that even peaceful nuclear activities will aid Iran's clandestine efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of the NPT. The summit pledge may finally put to rest fears that China would provide Iran with a uranium hexaflouride conversion facility, technology necessary to enrich uranium. However, the exact nature of Beijing's commitment regarding Iran is still unclear because China's "authoritative written communication" was provided on the condition it not be made public. U.S. officials said the secrecy was necessary to get the specific reference to Iran, but stated that members of Congress would be able to review the actual document.

Second, U.S. officials highlighted China's continued adherence to its May 1996 pledge not to provide assistance to nuclear facilities that operate without monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Beijing made the pledge to avoid U.S. sanctions that could have resulted from its 1995 sale to Pakistan of 5,000 ring magnets, used in enrichment of uranium. At the summit, U.S. officials raised concerns about "contacts" occurring between certain Chinese and Pakistani individuals, but came away convinced that China had not violated its commitment.

Third, on October 16, Beijing joined the Zangger Committee, a 31 nation nuclear suppliers' arrangement whose members condition the supply of nuclear specific materials and technology on the presence of IAEA safeguards at the transferred items' destination. The Zangger Committee also provides NPT member states with the "trigger list" of materials and technologies requiring IAEA monitoring as a condition for supply.

Fourth, U.S. officials pointed to the adoption in September by China's State Council, or cabinet, of a set of comprehensive export control regulations for nuclear materials and technologies as well as a commitment by Beijing to add new regulations on dual use items by mid 1998. The new Chinese regulations follow months of vigorous diplomacy and working level meetings with U.S. officials who provided copies of U.S. laws and suggested approaches the Chinese might consider in creating an effective export control system that would meet the requirements for U.S. certification.

Finally, the Clinton administration argued that China's growing support for and participation in major multilateral arms control agreements deserves recognition. Since joining the NPT in 1992, Beijing has promised to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), supported the indefinite extension of the NPT, and signed the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Beijing has also supported efforts to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty at the UN Conference on Disarmament, the recent strengthening of the IAEA's inspection authority, and the U.S. led effort to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons potential.

During the summit, U.S. officials also sought additional assurances from China that it would stop selling advanced anti ship cruise missiles to Iran. Since the mid 1980s, China has been Iran's principal supplier of such systems, reportedly providing Tehran with 25-50 C-802s, more than 200 C-801s, and 100 HY-2 "Silkworms" together with the technology to make more indigenously. Although they failed to gain such a pledge, a State Department official said, "We have reason to hope the last shipments have taken place." Chinese officials in the past have linked conventional weapons sales to Iran with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and Beijing's refusal to forswear such sales may allow Beijing to take credit for responsible behavior without giving up any of the diplomatic leverage provided by the potential sale of such weapons.

Opponents of the president's certification decision have drawn attention to China's refusal to end its peaceful nuclear trade with India and Pakistan and join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). A body similar to the Zangger Committee, the NSG requires "full scope" safeguards (monitoring of all of a nation's nuclear facilities), as a condition for supply, rather than the application of safeguards only at the particular facilities where nuclear items will be sent (as required by the Zangger Committee). Critics argue that even though U.S. laws do not require membership in the NSG as a condition for nuclear cooperation, the president should have insisted that China accept the more comprehensive NSG standard for nuclear trade to avoid tacit endorsement of a double standard among nuclear suppliers.

Congressional opponents of certification, which include three key committee chairmen—Senator Jesse Helms (R NC) of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Shelby (R AL) of the Intelligence Committee and Representative Benjamin Gilman (R NY) of the International Relations Committee—have also asserted that China's checkered proliferation record makes its commitments unreliable, and that any U.S. nuclear contracts resulting from certification should be deferred at least a year to see if Beijing is standing by its promises.

In letters to the president, congressional opponents of certification noted that as recently as May the United States sanctioned Chinese companies for transferring chemical weapons precursors to Iran, and in June a CIA report named Beijing as "the most significant supplier" of proliferation technologies and advanced weapons in the last half of 1996.

Congress has also been troubled by Beijing's sales of anti ship cruise missiles to Iran and reports that Tehran's longer range missile programs are receiving technical assistance from Chinese entities, possibly in violation of the MTCR.

Nevertheless, Clinton administration officials, recalling their victory in June in the debate over China's most favored nation trading status, remain confident that Congress will not reverse the president's decision. Under the 1985 congressional legislation approving the Sino U.S. nuclear accord, Congress has 30 days (while in session) to review the president's certification before any licenses for exports can be issued. To reverse the president's decision, both houses would have to pass a joint resolution changing certification requirements by at least a two thirds majority, ensuring a sufficient margin to protect against a presidential veto.

United States Remains on Top Of UN Conventional Arms Register

AS IN PREVIOUS years, the 1996 UN Register of Conventional Arms, released on October 17, continued to be hampered by a lack of participation and inconsistencies in national submissions. Prior to the release of the final 1996 declarations, the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on the UN Register highlighted the regime's shortcomings in a report endorsed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but proposed few solutions to remedy the register's ills.

The register, designed to promote transparency in armaments, publishes information voluntarily submitted by states on their imports and exports in seven categories of conventional weapons—battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers. States are also invited to provide additional data on their military holdings and their procurement through national production, but less than one third (largely European countries) of the 90 reporting states volunteered information beyond the seven categories.

The 26 members of the GGE, selected by the UN Center for Disarmament Affairs to review the register's operation and explore its future development, met for three 1997 sessions (March 3 7, June 16 27 and August 4 15), but failure to achieve consensus on substantive changes to the register limited it to reporting its observations.

Participation in the register declined to 90 states from 96 in 1995. The GGE noted that at least 90 countries have participated each year and during the first five years of the register's operation 138 states have submitted at least one report, while 49 countries have never participated. As in past years, the leading exporters submitted reports while key importing states of the Middle East did not; only Israel and Iran participated from the Middle East. Exporting states claimed that 2,568 weapons were delivered to non participating states in the region in 1996, of which the overwhelming amount went to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States retained the distinction of being the top exporter, although its 1996 exports amounted to only 48 percent of 1995's. U.S. exports in 1996 totaled 2,342 pieces of equipment as opposed to the previous year's total of 4,843. (See table below. [Not available in web form at this time, please contact ACA for more information]) A 1995 transfer of 2,208 missiles and missile launchers to Greece accounted for much of the discrepancy between the two years.

Russia and Germany, the second and third leading exporters, respectively, in 1995, also reported fewer exports in 1996. Russia's total exports declined from 708 total items in 1995 to 544 in 1996, while Germany's total exports dropped 50 percent to 187. The United Kingdom surpassed Germany, more than doubling exports to 509 in 1996. China and France also increased their exports from 1995, but their reported exports were still relatively low at 137 and 136 items, respectively, in 1996. Other notable changes from 1995 involved an increase of 614 items exported from the Netherlands, of which 590 were ACVs to Egypt, and Turkmenistan's transfer of 1,271 pieces of equipment (mostly tanks and ACVs) to Russia, which Russian data did not confirm.

A total of 26 countries noted exports of 6,489 weapons, while 38 countries claimed imports totaling 3,720 weapons in the 1996 register. A mere 32 percent of the transactions were reported by both parties involved. For example, Hungary reported receiving 520 missiles and missile launchers from Russia, and Pakistan noted accepting 526 from the United States, but neither exporter declared these transactions. The GGE attributed such inconsistencies to the lack of a common definition of a transfer and differing national practices in reporting and processing transfers. In order to diminish inconsistencies between national submissions, the GGE recommended that each nation establish a point of contact to clarify and facilitate reporting and that the deadline for reporting be moved back from April 30 to May 31 to allow states more time to submit information.

Resolving the major discrepancies will require greater participation, a goal the GGE characterized as of "paramount importance." However, the League of Arab States contends the register does not "adequately meet their security needs" and is "neither balanced nor comprehensive" in its present form. Arab states demand an expansion of the register's categories to include weapons of mass destruction and "high technology with military applications" to provide a more accurate portrayal of world military forces. Other developing states have lobbied for including small arms categories or at least an expansion of the existing categories, such as lowering the caliber of artillery systems from 100 millimeter to 75 millimeter to capture lighter weapons, which they consider more relevant to their security concerns. The GGE explored these proposals, but disagreed over whether to recommend such changes as feasible or useful.

Egypt later presented, on October 27, a resolution to the UN First Committee calling for an expansion of the register to include weapons of mass destruction.

U.S., Russia Seek Compromise Over Disputed Computers

AT THE END of October, the United States and Russia appeared to be nearing a solution to their standoff over the future of six American supercomputers improperly acquired by Moscow's premier nuclear weapons labs. The compromise was suggested during an informal conversation between Energy Secretary Federico Peña and Viktor Mikhailov, head of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM), at the September 29 October 3 general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. Mikhailov reportedly proposed that the four Silicon Graphics "Power Challenge L" deskside servers at Chelyabinsk 70 and two IBM machines—a 16 processor RS 6000 at Arzamas 16 and an SP 2—could be moved to non military locations in Russia and operated under U.S. monitoring.

Washington previously insisted Russia return the computers, but State Department spokesman James Rubin said October 27 that the United States is now willing to accept a solution which would shift them to civilian uses. However, Rubin warned that "Russian refusal to cooperate in finding a mutually acceptable solution would jeopardize joint U.S. Russian cooperation" and could lead to tighter "U.S. export controls vis à vis Russia."

The Russian acquisition of the U.S. made supercomputers was announced January 13 by Mikhailov, who told reporters that the new machines at Arzamas and Chelyabinsk were 10 times more powerful than any Russia had ever possessed, and that they would be used to help maintain the safety and reliability of Russia's nuclear arsenal in the absence of nuclear testing. High performance computers are used to assess the reliability of nuclear weapons by mathematical modelling of nuclear explosions under various conditions and comparing the results to expected values and nuclear test data.

Of the six high performance computers, the IBM RS 6000 may be the most powerful, capable of 10,000 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS), while each of the Silicon Graphics machines operates at 3,000 to 4,400 MTOPS depending on the number of processors. The computing speed and whereabouts of the IBM SP 2 are unknown. By comparison, a commercial desktop computer, using a high end Intel Pentium II microprocessor, is capable of about 300 MTOPS.

Moscow succeeded in purchasing the U.S. computers after the Commerce Department turned down two requests in October 1996 from IBM and the Convex Company, a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard, to sell supercomputers to Arzamas 16. (See ACT, March 1997.) Russian officials claim that, during negotiations for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1995, U.S. negotiators hinted that U.S. computer technology would be made available to Moscow's scientists if Russia signed the treaty. The Clinton administration counters that U.S. supercomputers were never offered to Russia and, while the United States is willing to participate in unclassified scientific exchanges, official policy is not to assist Russia in maintaining its nuclear stockpile.

Based on an October 27 report in The New York Times, it appears the IBM machines were purchased by Moscow based computer re seller Ofort under false pretenses in the fall of 1996 from IBM dealers in Germany. Ofort declared a Russian software firm called Pangea as the intended end user, but Pangea and Ofort are both partly owned, the Times reported, by Jet Info Systems—the middleman for the previously rejected sales.

Officials from Silicon Graphics claim not to have known that their buyer, the All Russian Scientific Research Institute for Technical Physics at Chelyabinsk, was a nuclear weapons lab, and insist they were duped, having been told the computers would have non military uses. Both sales, in which the burden was on the sellers to determine the credentials of the end users, are the subject of criminal investigations by the departments of Commerce and Justice.

Disturbed by reports of U.S. made supercomputers showing up in Russian and Chinese military facilities, the House adopted on October 28 the fiscal year 1998 defense authorization act which included an amendment that would tighten some of the high speed computer export controls which the Clinton administration relaxed in 1995. The Senate is expected to take up the measure shortly. Under current policy, U.S. manufacturers can sell to states of proliferation concern—the so called Tier 3 countries of China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, some Eastern European and all Middle Eastern countries—computers capable of up to 2,000 MTOPS for military or proliferation related end users, and up to 7,000 MTOPS for civilian users without obtaining prior approval from the Commerce Department.

The proposed congressional changes would require a 10 day interagency review period of any proposed sale of a computer capable of at least 2,000 MTOPS to a Tier 3 country. Other provisions would require annual post shipment verification by the Commerce Department for all computers above 2,000 MTOPS exported to Tier 3 states, and would give Congress six months to review presidential changes to the computer export control thresholds, and four months to examine changes to the Tier 3 list of countries.

CIA Says Seismic Event Near Russian Test Site Not a Nuclear Explosion

IN EARLY NOVEMBER, the CIA announced that the August 16 seismic event located in the general area of the Russian nuclear test site at Novaya Zemlya was not a nuclear explosion. The CIA determination ended speculation as to whether Russia had abandoned its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing and violated international law by defeating the "object and purpose" of the Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty, which it has signed. Despite this announcement, however, the agency has not concluded whether the seismic event was an earthquake or an explosion.

The controversy surrounding the seismic event became public in late August when The Washington Times reported that U.S. officials suspected that Russia had conducted an underground nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya. (See ACT, August 1997.) Although Russia had strongly denied conducting such a test, there was no consensus within the U.S. government at that time as to either the nature of the event or its location. As the U.S. investigation proceeded, however, it became clear that the seismic event did not occur at Novaya Zemlya but rather 130 kilometers away below the bottom of the Kara Sea. Even though the location lent strong support to the view that the seismic event was an underwater earthquake, the U.S. government took more than two months to rule out the possibility that it could have been a nuclear explosion.

According to the November 4 CIA statement summarizing the conclusions of an independent panel convened by Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to review the seismic event, Russia had conducted nuclear weapons related experiments at Novaya Zemlya in mid August. The panel concluded, however, that the seismic event, "was almost certainly not associated with the activities at Novaya Zemlya and was not nuclear." Nevertheless, it asserted that, based on the seismic data, "experts cannot say with certainty whether the Kara Sea event was an explosion or an earthquake." The panel also maintained that the activity at Novaya Zemlya, and the simultaneous event in the Kara Sea "demonstrate the difficulty of accurately identifying and assessing weapons experiments or tests with very low yields."

The panel consisted of Richard Kerr, former deputy director of central intelligence; Sidney Drell, a Stanford University physicist; Roger Hagengruber, vice president of Sandia National Laboratory; and Eugene Herrin, a Southern Methodist University physicist.

Although the U.S. government has announced that the seismic event was not a nuclear explosion, its reluctance to characterize the event as an earthquake is at odds with the views of many respected seismologists. For instance, Lynn Sykes, a professor at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said October 20, "a strong consensus has developed among experts in the seismological communities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and Canada who are concerned with nuclear verification that the event of the 16th was, in fact, a small earthquake."

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