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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

UN Reports Syrian Chlorine Attacks

A UN report found the Syrian government used chlorine as a weapon four times from January to July 2018, as the international community issued strong warnings against future chemical weapons attacks in a prospective Syrian assault on the Idlib province. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council, has issued 15 other reports, finding that chemical weapons were used in 34 attacks in Syria as of January 2018, most of which were attributed to the Assad regime.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following Syrian regime’s Feb. 4 air strikes on the northwestern town of Saraqeb rest around a stove at a field hospital. (Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)The report blamed the Syrian government for weaponized chlorine use in Karm al-Rasas, near Douma, on Jan. 22 and Feb. 1; in Saraqeb on Feb. 4; and in Douma on April 7. Investigations of the April 7 attack are ongoing, and the report could not confirm if another agent in addition to chlorine was used. (See ACT, May 2018.) The Syrian American Medical Society and the investigative website Bellingcat reported five chemical weapons attacks in January and February and two in March. (See ACT, April 2018.)

France, the United Kingdom, and the United States publicly declared that they will launch airstrikes against governmental targets if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons in Idlib province, where about 3 million civilians are imperiled.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: October 1, 2018

Pentagon Sees Chinese Missile Advances

Pentagon Sees Chinese Missile Advances


The U.S. Defense Department annual report on China’s military power says that Beijing is developing new nuclear weapons delivery systems and is moving to deploy a new missile defense interceptor. The report, released Aug. 16, said China is developing two air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may be nuclear weapons capable. That missile has been flight-tested five times, according to an April report in The Diplomat. This development is significant because air-launched ballistic missiles cannot be intercepted in the boost- or midcourse phase.

China displayed the DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), an enhanced version of the DF-31A, for the first time in 2017 at the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary parade, the Defense Department report notes. China “appears to be considering” additional launch options for the DF-41 ICBM, which is still under development after being tested 10 times, including rail-mobile and silo-based launch options, the report notes. The report also cited Chinese development work on a new nuclear-capable bomber, with an estimated range of at least 8,500 kilometers (5,300 miles), that could debut within a decade.

The HQ-19 midcourse missile defense interceptor, which was still being tested in 2016, “may have begun preliminary operation in [w]estern China,” the report states. The system is designed to intercept medium-range missiles, likely from regional countries such as India and North Korea.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: October 1, 2018

U.S. Space Force to Cost Billions

U.S. Space Force to Cost Billions


The initial cost to stand up President Donald Trump’s envisioned Space Force would be $3 billion, according to an Air Force estimate reported Sept. 18 by Defense News. That expense would be part of the total cost of $13 billion over five years for the new branch of the U.S. military, according to the report. The Air Force document, which sets out a plan to transition Air Force space functions to the new command, objects to the White House proposal to create a new high-level post, assistant secretary of defense for space, to oversee the transition, according to Defense News. (See ACT, September 2018). The Air Force document estimated costs for headquarters elements, Space Force elements, additional personnel to staff a new U.S. Space Command, and construction of a new combatant command.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: October 1, 2018

India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances

India’s Agni-5 ICBM Advances


India's Agni-5 missile is displayed during a dress rehearsal for the Indian Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 23, 2013. (Photo: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), still under development, is expected to be inducted into the strategic arsenal after one more test, which could occur as soon as October. The Agni-5 has been tested six times, most recently in June. (See ACT, March 2018.) It is a three-stage, road-mobile missile able to carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers. India reportedly has been working to develop multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) for the missile, Franz-Stefan Gady wrote in The Diplomat, which would provide India with a second-strike capability. Analysts believe India is developing the long-range missile to bolster its nuclear deterrence with China. The Agni-5 will need to be tested several more times after it has been inducted before it can be operationally deployed.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: October 1, 2018

Arms Flow Despite Yemen Deaths

Arms Flow Despite Yemen Deaths


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo avoided a diplomatic clash with Saudi Arabia by certifying to Congress that the kingdom is taking “demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure” from its airstrikes in Yemen. In doing so, Pompeo overruled State Department specialists after he was warned that alienating Saudi leaders by failing to make the certification could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales, according to a Sept. 20 report in The Wall Street Journal.

The German government confirmed on Sept. 21 that it is proceeding with delivery to the Saudis of counterfire radar systems for artillery. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government deal early this year called for halting weapons sales to any side fighting in Yemen's civil war, although it reportedly excluded already approved exports. (See ACT, March 2018.)

Spain’s new center-left government reversed itself shortly after saying in early September that it had canceled the planned delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs purchased by Saudi Arabia in a 2015 deal under the former conservative government. Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said on Sept. 13 the government will honor the 2015 contract and noted that such so-called precision munitions can reduce dangers to civilians. Halting of the deal had raised concerns in Spain over the risk to a more lucrative contract, signed in July, for state-owned shipbuilder Navantia to supply warships to the Saudis, according to Reuters.

In a late August report, a panel of UN investigators reported that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had taken actions that may amount to war crimes, including conducting airstrikes that have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, torturing detainees, raping civilians, and using child soldiers as young as eight. The report also cited Houthi rebels as committing possible war crimes, including shelling civilians and blocking delivery of humanitarian aid.—TERRY ATLAS

 

Posted: October 1, 2018

Trump Eases Rules for Cyberattacks

Trump Eases Rules for Cyberattacks


Sailors work together during an April 2017 U.S. Cyber Command exercise at Fort Meade, Md. (Photo: U.S. Cyber Command)U.S. President Donald Trump opened the path for the United States to use cyberweapons against adversaries, easing restrictions put in place by his predecessor. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said on Sept. 20 that the new classified rules will give the Defense Department more authority to use digital weapons to enhance deterrence and to punish foes, with fewer bureaucratic restraints on U.S. action. Bolton’s briefing for reporters came as the administration rolled out its first broad cybersecurity strategy, intended to address cyberthreats to vital infrastructure such as the energy grid and banking networks. Although the United States has considerable offensive cybercapabilities through the U.S. Cyber Command, the country is also widely vulnerable to similar retaliation because of dependence on many vital electronic networks that could be disrupted, compromised, or brought down. Previous U.S. rules on unleashing cyberweapons involved consultation among a range of governmental agencies in an effort to ensure that the possible blowback was considered beforehand. The new rules, in Bolton’s description, ease what had been a lengthy, complicated authorization process.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: October 1, 2018

U.S. Elevates India’s Defense Trade Status

U.S. Elevates India’s Defense Trade Status


The United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, elevated India, the world’s largest arms importer, to Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status, putting it in the same tier as the United States’ NATO allies.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross addresses the Indo-Pacific Business Forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 30. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)India’s STA-1 status, announced July 30, will significantly ease export controls for high-tech sales and allow India to access the latest U.S. defense technology. It will also potentially serve U.S. interests in allaying risks associated with China’s rapid military expansion and by reducing Russian arms business on the subcontinent, while making it easier for U.S. arms manufacturers to compete in the Indian market.

“STA-1 provides India with greater supply-chain efficiency, both for defense and for other high-tech products…and it will reduce the time and resources needed to get licensing approved,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, announcing the decision at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington. “We calculate that it will be a competitive advantage for the U.S. in providing those kinds of products to India.” The change would have affected about $9.7 billion in exports over the last seven years, according to the Commerce Department.

India also received a sanctions waiver for the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) through an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019. The waiver will relieve India from punitive measures it would have otherwise experienced for importing weapons systems from Russia. In the past, India has explicitly denounced country-specific U.S. sanctions and rejected U.S. demands that it not buy the Russian S-400 long-range missile system. "We have told the U.S. Congress delegation [that visited India] that this is U.S. legislation and not a UN law,” Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

The U.S. actions fit with the Trump administration’s vision for increased arms sales, but how they fit with India's major push for a U.S.-style private defense sector of its own remains to be seen.—TRUSHAA CASTELINO

Posted: September 1, 2018

Defense Department Seeks Hypersonic Funding

Defense Department Seeks Hypersonic Funding


The Defense Department asked Congress on July 11 to redirect $248 million in unspent funds to hypersonic weapons-related activities in an effort to keep pace with China and Russia. The speed, flight altitude, and maneuverability of such weapons result in less warning time than in the case of higher-flying ballistic missiles and make them much more difficult to target with missile defenses. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

The Pentagon requested $160 million for the Conventional Prompt Strike program, an effort to develop a hypersonic glide vehicle that could be deployed on long-range missiles to strike targets anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour. The Pentagon request also includes $49 million for two prototyping projects, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon and the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon; $20 million for the hypersonic Tactical Boost Glide, an air-launched tactical-range system; and $19.4 million for further developing defense capabilities against hypersonic weapons.

Spending on offensive and defensive hypersonic weapons has increased in recent years, with $380 million appropriated for that purpose in fiscal year 2018. The administration has requested $913 million for fiscal year 2019, but the House and Senate appropriations committees have indicated they will increase that amount.—MONICA MONTGOMERY

Posted: September 1, 2018

Senators Want Limits in Saudi Nuclear Accord

Senators Want Limits in Saudi Nuclear Accord


Energy Minister Suhail Mohammed Faraj al-Mazroui of the United Arab Emirates leaves the stage following his address to the Nuclear Power in the 21st Century International Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi on October 30, 2017. The U.S.-UAE nuclear cooperation agreement is considered the “gold standard” for nonproliferation safeguards.  (Photo: Nezar Balout/AFP/Getty Images)The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution July 26 calling for any U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia to prohibit the kingdom from enriching uranium or separating plutonium and require it to bring into force an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement. The resolution comes as the Trump administration negotiates a so-called 123 agreement with the Saudis, and it reflects the complications following recent threats by Saudi leaders to seek nuclear weapons if Iran does so. (See ACT, June 2018.) A 123 agreement, named after the relevant section of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, sets the terms for sharing U.S. nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with other countries.

A key issue is whether the United States will insist that Saudi Arabia agree to forgo making nuclear fuel, as its neighbor the United Arab Emirates did in 2009 to obtain its 123 agreement. To date, Saudi Arabia has resisted the ban and suggested that it seeks to make its own reactor fuel. In addition, Riyadh has neither signed nor ratified an additional protocol, which provides the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with expanded verification rights. Prospects for consideration of the resolution by the full Senate are uncertain.—MONICA MONTGOMERY

Posted: September 1, 2018

U.S., Japan Extend Nuclear Agreement

U.S., Japan Extend Nuclear Agreement


The United States and Japan automatically extended a 1988 civilian nuclear pact on July 17 as Japanese officials pledged to address concerns about Japan’s substantial plutonium stockpile. The agreement allowed either side to request a review of the deal, but neither side chose to do so. Under its terms, the pact remains in force in perpetuity but each side, if it chooses, is able to terminate the agreement by giving six months’ written notice. Japan’s civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 agreement setting U.S. terms for sharing nuclear energy technology, is unique and controversial due to the blanket consent that it provides Tokyo to enrich uranium and extract plutonium from U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel. Enrichment and reprocessing activities are considered sensitive because they can be used to make fuel for power reactors and produce the explosive material for nuclear weapons.

Japan had more than 47 tons of plutonium as of 2016, enough to produce around 6,000 nuclear warheads. Ten tons of this material are stored in Japan while the remainder is held in France and the United Kingdom. Critics fear that these materials could be used to build nuclear weapons, thereby granting Japan a latent nuclear weapons capability. The Nikkei Asian Review reported that prior to the pact’s extension, the United States demanded Japan make efforts to reduce the stockpile. On July 31, Japan’s nuclear energy commission adopted a guideline to cap plutonium production and eventually reduce the stockpile, but it provided no timeline or specifics on a plan to do so.—MONICA MONTGOMERY

Posted: September 1, 2018

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