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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

Boost Sought for Missile Defense

Boost Sought for Missile Defense

The Trump administration laid the groundwork to aggressively expand U.S. ballistic missile defense capabilities when it submitted an amendment to its fiscal year 2018 defense budget request. The supplemental request, sent to Congress on Nov. 6, asked for an additional $4 billion for ballistic missile defense programs, citing the need to “counter the threat from North Korea.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hands over the gavel to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) at the start of an Armed Services conference committee meeting on the National Defense Authorization Act on Capitol Hill October 25. (Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)In a press release later that day, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the chairmen of the armed services committees, welcomed the request, noting their committees “in fact…have already authorized many of these missile defense programs in our respective defense bills.”

The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress’s defense policy bill, authorizes increased procurement of interceptors for currently deployed missile defense systems to address near-term threats while endorsing development of proposed boost-phase and space-based intercept capabilities that could require even more substantial spending in the future.

The supplemental request follows congressional approval in October for the transfer of $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Army operations and maintenance funds to missile defense programs as the administration and Congress make expanding missile defenses a priority. (See ACT, October 2017.) The House overwhelmingly passed the compromise authorization bill on Nov. 14, and the Senate followed on Nov. 16, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature.—MACLYN SENEAR

Posted: December 1, 2017

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

Russian Vetoes End Syria CW Probe

The group charged with determining the party or parties responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria was forced to discontinue its work Nov. 17 after several failed attempts to extend its mandate. The UN Security Council authorized the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in August 2015 with the support of Russia and the United States. Recently, Russia has rejected the legitimacy of the JIM’s findings, which placed some blame on Russia’s Syrian government allies, and argued the process must be substantially reformed if its investigations are to continue.

Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Nonproliferation and Arms Control Department, and other officials hold a press conference in Moscow November 2 to dispute the report by UN investigators which blamed a sarin gas attack in Syria's Khan Sheikhoun on the Syrian government. (Photo credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The council on Nov. 16 failed to pass a resolution to extend the JIM’s mandate. Russia vetoed the U.S.-sponsored measure, which received 11 votes in favor out of 15. The Russian-backed alternative received four votes, far short of nine required for adoption. Japan’s last-minute resolution on Nov. 17 for a 30-day extension also was vetoed by Russia. When Russia vetoed another council resolution Oct. 24, it left open the possibility of changing its position depending on the results of the outcome of the JIM’s work, which subsequently cited the Syrian government for a major sarin gas attack. (See ACT, November 2017.)

“Russia’s actions today and in recent weeks have been designed to delay, to distract, and ultimately, to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Nov. 17. The president of the Security Council in November, Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, claimed that the body will try to find a compromise to continue the JIM’s work. Even so, the disruption in the organization’s operation could lead to substantial delays for resumed investigations.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: December 1, 2017

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

The Trump administration continues to offer arms to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries despite an ongoing crisis within the group. On Nov. 1, the administration notified Congress of a possible $1.1 billion sale to Qatar of design and construction services for runways, hangars, and other facilities. The Persian Gulf country is home to the al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military base in the region, and was by far the largest partner in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in 2016, which included more than $20 billion for 72 F-15QA fighter aircraft and related weaponry. The deal notified last month “is vital to ensuring the [Qatar Air Force] partners can utilize the F-15QA aircraft to its full potential,” according to the U.S. administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps off a plane October 24 at the al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, after flying earlier in the day to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images)Calling in part for Doha to cut ties with Iran and terrorist organizations, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in June severed relations with and imposed a blockade on Qatar, also a member of the group. On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up further arms sales to GCC countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal dispute. But the administration has continued to notify deals to the group, including more than $15 billion for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems to Saudi Arabia in October and more than $4 billion for F-16s to Bahrain in September.

The potential sale to Qatar is the first notified this year to that country through the FMS program, indicating the administration is not taking a side in the GCC crisis when it comes to arms deals. “Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” according to the notification.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: December 1, 2017

NSG Renews Membership Debate

NSG Renews Membership Debate

Participating governments of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) convened an informal meeting Nov. 16 in Vienna to renew consideration of membership criteria for countries that have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an issue that has been discussed on and off since 2011.

The NSG exempted India in 2008 from its long-standing full-scope safeguards requirement for nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states on the basis of political commitments made by India, including a reiteration of its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. In mid-2016, India filed a formal membership bid, with Pakistan submitting a separate membership request shortly thereafter. But the NSG, which operates by consensus, could not agree on a common set of criteria for membership by the two countries, which are not NPT signatories. Confidential discussions involving the 48 member-states did not produce a consensus. (See ACT, December 2016.)

The Nov. 16 meeting convened by the current NSG chair, Benno Laggner of Switzerland, was the first on the issue during the Trump administration. In response to Laggner’s request for input, U.S. representative Richard Stratford wrote Sept. 25 to say that the U.S. position is “that all relevant factors for consideration have been identified and that consensus on these factors is possible, if pursued.” Yet, diplomatic sources indicate that differences persist. China continues to insist that NPT membership must be one of the key criteria, while several other states insist that criteria should include, among other options, a binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions, a declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities, and a commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament regime by working toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Posted: December 1, 2017

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’

The U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) concluded its “Global Thunder 2018” strategic nuclear forces exercise, which leaders said was intended to bolster the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence and the readiness for a possible nuclear conflict. “Quite frankly, if we ever come to a strategic exchange, nobody wins,” Navy Rear Adm. Daniel Fillion, Stratcom director of global operations, said in a Nov. 17 statement. “We are not looking for a fight by any stretch of the imagination, but everybody has to understand that, if pressed, we will deliver a fight and it will be very short and we will come out victorious.”

A 509th Security Forces Squadron member controls access to a B-2 Spirit during “Global Thunder 2018” at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., November 1.  (Photo credit: Taylor Phifer/U.S Air Force)Navy Rear Adm. William Houston, deputy director for strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning, said in the same statement that “effective” deterrence efforts now rest on more than just nuclear capabilities. “There are significant challenges we face in multiple domains: integrating space, cyber and our strategic weapons into the overall strategic deterrence we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Those are key elements because any one of those areas could lead to a strategic imbalance between potential adversaries.”

Russia also held nuclear forces exercises in October, in which President Vladimir Putin participated. Putin test-fired four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles during the exercise, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Oct. 27.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: December 1, 2017

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Congress last month approved the transfer of an additional $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Defense Department funds to missile defense programs amid on ongoing administration review of U.S. missile defense strategy and growing concern about North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile capabilities. Of that amount, $136 million would support increasing the number of ground-based long-range missile defense interceptors in Alaska by up to 20 beyond the currently planned 40.

A ground-based interceptor missile sits inside its underground silo August 23 at the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jennifer Beyrle)The additional money, which had originally been earmarked for Army operations and maintenance accounts, would also fund missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. The Defense Department submitted the reprogramming request to Congress on Sept. 7.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $7.9 billion for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, a decrease of $334 million from the current level but an increase of $470 million from the projection in the final Obama administration submission. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Donald Trump said at an Aug. 10 news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he would “be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with” missile defense. It remains to be seen if the administration will submit a so-called supplemental request to lawmakers for additional missile defense funds beyond its request for fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1.

The House and Senate versions of this year’s defense authorization act would permit expanding the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska. The two chambers are currently in negotiations to produce a final bill by early December.—KINGSTON REIF

Posted: November 1, 2017

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

The Trump administration notified Congress of the largest piece thus far of the controversial $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia first announced in May. The Oct. 8 notification covered 360 interceptor missiles, 44 launchers, seven radars, related components, and support for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, with an estimated value of $15 billion. Aimed at intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the THAAD system would support the “long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” according to the notification. The notification came just days after reports that Riyadh had agreed to buy Russian S-400s, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, calling into question whether the Saudis are playing Russia and the United States against each other.

Yemeni children gather at a bomb crater from a reported air strike October 7 by the Saudi-led coalition that allegedly hit a health center in the northern province of Hajjah. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia have drawn extra attention due to the Saudi-led coalition’s conduct of its war in Yemen, which has resulted in many direct and indirect civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia and its allies have prevented ships carrying humanitarian aid from reaching Yemeni ports. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who voted in June to block the sale of $500 million in precision-guided munitions to the Saudis, threatened to block the nomination of Jennifer Newstead as legal adviser in the State Department. During confirmation hearings, Young pressed Newstead on the Saudi actions in Yemen. Young said that the Saudi obstruction of humanitarian aid violates Rule 55 of customary international humanitarian law (as listed by the International Committee of the Red Cross) and undercuts “our national security interests and our moral values.” —ARSEN MARKAROV

Posted: November 1, 2017

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

The Executive Council of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 12 selected Fernando Arias to become the organization’s next director-general. Arias is Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously served as Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The 41-member Executive Council will recommend the Spanish ambassador to the larger OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. Once formally elected at that session, Arias’ four-year term leading the OPCW, the implementing organization of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will begin on July 25, 2018.

Ambassador Fernando Arias (Photo credit: OPCW)

Arias was selected from a pool of seven candidates, including arms control notables such as Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, and Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, September 2017.) Arias has said his vision for the OPCW includes preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, incorporating new technology, fighting terrorism, and engaging in public outreach.

The field of candidates narrowed over several months as individuals withdrew their names following poor showings in a series of informal straw polls conducted within the Executive Council. By Oct. 7, only two candidates remained: Vaidotas Verba, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the OPCW, and Arias.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) holding an annual plenary in October sought to address challenges facing the 30-year-old accord, including emerging technologies and regional proliferation. MTCR members agree to control exports of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the voluntary regime began in 1987, its membership has grown from seven to 35 countries.

The meeting, co-chaired by Iceland and Ireland, discussed intangible-technology transfers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “catch all” controls, regional proliferation, and outreach to non-MTCR countries, according to an Oct. 20 joint statement.

Members also renewed their commitment to exercising “extreme vigilance” in restricting technology transfers that could contribute to North Korea’s missile program, according to the statement. For the meeting, the United States prepared a proposal that exports of certain UAVs, now tightly restricted as being equivalent to cruise missiles, be treated more leniently, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters report. That reflects an interest by the Trump administration and UAV manufacturers in pursuing increased U.S. drone exports, Reuters said. A State Department official praised the MTCR in an Oct. 25 email to Arms Control Today but provided no details about the confidential discussions.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

The Syrian government is responsible for the April 4 sarin nerve-gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed almost 100 people, including many women and children, international investigators concluded in a report sent Oct. 26 to the UN Security Council. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia casts a veto of a UN Security Council resolution to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, on October 24 at the United Nations.  (Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)The report went to the council two days after Russia vetoed renewal of the mandate for the international investigative group that produced it. The authorization for the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), unanimously created by the council in 2015 and renewed in 2016, is due to expire in mid-November. Russia left open the possibility that it would reconsider its position, depending on the outcome of the report on Khan Sheikhoun. Russia, which supports Syria’s Assad regime, has frequently tried to deflect blame to anti-government forces. Last year, the JIM found that the Syrian government was responsible for at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas. The new JIM report also concluded that Islamic State militants had carried out an attack using sulfur mustard agent in Um-Housh, in Aleppo Province, on Sept. 16, 2016.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: November 1, 2017

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