"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
News Briefs

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again

September 2021

The U.S. Air Force’s air-launched hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, known as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), failed another flight booster test in July after a failure three months earlier.

Air Force crew prepare for a test of the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in 2020. The hypersonic weapon travels at five times the speed of sound. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The rocket motor for the ARRW test missile did not ignite after the missile “cleanly separated” from a B-52 bomber and “successfully demonstrated the full release sequence” during the July 28 test over Point Mugu Sea Range near southern California, the Air Force said in a July 29 statement. During a booster test in April, the test missile failed to complete the launch sequence. (See ACT, May 2021.)

“Developing first-of-its-kind missiles is difficult business, and this is why we test,” said Brig. Gen. Heath Collins, the Air Force’s program executive officer for weapons, after the test.

The Air Force has said that the ARRW system is designed to provide the ability to destroy high-value, time-sensitive targets and will expand the capabilities of precision-strike weapons systems by enabling rapid response strikes against heavily defended land targets. The service’s fiscal year 2022 budget request included $238 million for continued research and development and $161 million for initial procurement of the hypersonic system. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

The Air Force plans to begin deploying the ARRW system in 2022, but that date may be pushed back. Collins told reporters on Aug. 4 that figuring out what went wrong with the test “may impact our ability to meet our next test window as we go forward.” The hypersonic system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to manufacturer Lockheed Martin so production can begin.

The July booster test followed the first detonation of an ARRW warhead earlier in the month, which the Air Force dubbed as successful in a July 7 statement. The missile will be armed with what is known as a fragmentation warhead, according to a July 16 Aviation Week report, which would limit the ARRW system to destroying soft targets.—SHANNON BUGOS

U.S. Hypersonic Glide Vehicle Test Fails Again

Pentagon Issues First Memo on Space Norms

September 2021

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a memo mandating that the Pentagon follow a set of guidelines regarding responsible space operations and adherence to international space norms. This is the first time that the department has taken this kind of official step, rather than less formal verbal commitments, to set norms of behavior in space, although experts say the guidelines represent only a first step.

The July 7 memo specifies five “tenets of responsible behavior,” which include calls for ensuring safety, limiting the release of long-lasting space debris, avoiding harmful interference, maintaining safe separation from other humans or objects, and maintaining communication.

The guidelines apply only to Defense Department space operations, but are intended to contribute to a broader dialogue involving civilian, commercial, and other organizations that conduct space-related business, according to John Hill, acting assistant defense secretary for space policy. “We will make more progress through efforts to share views on what we think are the best practices and encourage each other to adopt those best practices,” Hill told Space News on July 16.

A majority of experts welcomed Austin’s memo, reported Breaking Defense, which first broke the news on July 19. “I think it’s actually a pretty good start to identifying and formalizing what [the Pentagon] sees as norms of behavior,” remarked Victoria Samson, head of Secure World Foundation’s Washington office.

The guidelines may be part of a larger Pentagon effort to set the agenda on space norms. In February, a U.S. space commander announced that officials from the State and Defense departments were in the process of drafting proposed language for a binding resolution regarding responsible behavior in space. (See ACT, April 2021.)—HOLLIS RAMMER

Pentagon Issues First Memo on Space Norms

India Tests New Agni Missile

September 2021

India’s newly tested Agni-Prime (Agni-P) missile “will give the armed forces the requisite operational flexibility to swiftly transport and fire [the weapon] from anywhere they want,” an official from the government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) announced shortly after the June 28 launch.

The 1,000–2,000-kilometer range of India's new Agni-P missile suggests that the weapon was designed as a counter to Pakistan’s forces, not China's. (Photo by Press Information Bureau on behalf of Ministry of Defence, Government of India)The Agni-P will be inaugurated as “a new-generation advanced variant” of Agni missile, the official confirmed. The solid-fueled missile has a reported range of 1,000 to 2,000 kilometers and can be canisterised, according to Indian defense officials, meaning that the warhead will be mated and stored with the missile, reducing the time required for preparation and launch.

India’s Press Information Bureau confirmed the launch, the first for this missile, from Abdul Kalam Island. The Ministry of Defence said that “various telemetry and radar stations positioned along the eastern coast tracked and monitored the missile. The missile followed textbook trajectory, meeting all mission objectives with a high level of accuracy.”

The DRDO said that, like other Agni missiles, the new one is nuclear capable.

New Delhi’s development of the Agni-P could be attributed to a push for increased flexibility and expanded targeting options. “Compared with both the Agni-I and -II, imagery suggests that the new missile appears to be wider in diameter, potentially allowing for a larger payload to be accommodated,” Timothy Wright and Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote in a July 29 analysis.

They suggested that, “unless India intends to solely use the Agni-P for nuclear weapons delivery,” the missile’s designation as nuclear capable “potentially leaves open the option that the new missile could be equipped, like some earlier variants of the Agni family, with either conventional or nuclear warheads.”

The Agni-P’s range suggests that the missile was designed to counter Pakistan’s forces, given that the distance is not far enough to reach China, India’s other primary regional adversary. Wright, Dempsey, and other analysts have noted that, once deployed, the Agni-P will serve as a deterrent against Pakistani aggression. Pakistan and China remained silent on the June 28 launch.—JULIA MASTERSON

India Tests New Agni Missile

First TPNW Conference Postponed

September 2021

The first meeting of states-parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been postponed until March 2022, according to a decision by states-parties facilitated by Alexander Kmentt, the president-designate of the conference. The meeting, which was originally set for Jan. 12–14 in Vienna, was delayed to avoid a conflict with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which was rescheduled to Jan. 4–28, 2022, in New York as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The postponement is the latest in a series of international meetings on arms control and nonproliferation that have had to be rescheduled due to the pandemic. The NPT review conference has been postponed several times, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has canceled or postponed various events over the past 17 months. Other gatherings, such as the Conference on Disarmament and the 46th Group of Seven summit, have been shifted, either entirely or partially, to a virtual format. (See ACT, May 2020.)

According to the TPNW, the first meeting of states-parties was supposed to be held within one year of the treaty’s entry into force, which occurred Jan. 22, 2021. The states-parties agreed with Kmentt’s recommendation to waive this requirement “due to the unprecedented circumstances arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Kmentt, the decision to delay the meeting of states-parties to accommodate the new dates of the NPT review conference “demonstrates the flexible and supportive approach” of TPNW states-parties and signatories toward “the entire nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation regime.”—HOLLIS RAMMER

First TPNW Conference Postponed

India Arrests Alleged Uranium Traders

JulyAugust 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

Twice in the past two months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals on charges of illicit trading in uranium. The incidents have raised concerns about what appears to be a growing nuclear security risk in the region.

An intermediate form of uranium called "yellow cake" displayed at India's highly restricted uranium processing facility at Turamdih Uranium Mill at Jadugoda in Jharkhand in India. Twice in recent months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals for alleged illicit trading in uranium, which has applications in nuclear bombs, medicine and electricity production.  (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)In the first case, Indian police arrested two men in Maharashtra on May 7 for allegedly possessing 7.1 kilograms of natural uranium, estimated to be worth more than $2.8 million, according to news reports.

Natural uranium, which has applications in bombs and medicine, would have to be subjected to a substantial extraction process to be usable in nuclear weapons. Even so, it is supposed to be under state control, not available on the black market.

Authorities said the source of the uranium is currently unknown and being investigated.

In the second incident, police in Jharkhand, reportedly acting on a tip, arrested seven individuals on June 3 for allegedly possessing 6.4 kilograms of a substance said to be uranium.

But on June 10, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs disputed that claim. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy “stated that the material seized [on June 3] is not uranium and not radioactive,” the spokesperson said.

No further details on the material were provided.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 4 criticized the Jharkland and Maharashtra arrests as showing “lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.” The agency called for a “thorough investigation.”

The Indian spokesperson countered in a written statement, saying, “The gratuitous remarks about India by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry drawing upon a media report indicate their disposition to malign India without caring to check/verify facts.”

Pakistan in recent years has improved its controls on nuclear materials, but it and India still rank near the bottom of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 2020 Nuclear Security Index, which annually rates states’ efforts to secure nuclear materials and protect nuclear facilities at home.

India possesses around 156 nuclear warheads and Pakistan has an estimated 165 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2021 report. Both countries are expanding their nuclear weapons arsenals and fissile material stockpiles.

Although India has two functional uranium mines in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, it is attempting to accelerate its domestic uranium mining efforts to offset its dependency of uranium imports from such states as Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan.

With 22 nuclear reactors in operation and 21 under construction, India can hypothetically use highly enriched uranium to produce even more lethal capabilities by manufacturing thermonuclear or boosted-fission nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan are not members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but they are technically bound by international norms such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to withhold any support to non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons, and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which urges states to enforce stringent measures for nuclear security.

Indian authorities arrest individuals for reportedly trading illicitly in uranium.

NPT Review Delayed Again

July/August 2021

The pivotal 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has been postponed again, until sometime in 2022, according to multiple diplomatic sources.

The meeting, which typically occurs every five years and involves hundreds of representatives from most of the 191 states-parties to the treaty, was originally set to begin in April 2020 at UN headquarters in New York. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 led to an initial decision to reschedule until “no later than April 2021.” (See ACT, April 2020.) In October 2020, conference president-designate Gustavo Zlauvinen announced that states-parties decided to postpone again, until August 2021. (See ACT, November 2020.)

But with the COVID-19 virus still posing a public health threat in many parts of the world, a majority of states-parties have told Zlauvinen they want a further postponement, until 2022. They have not yet settled on a new date for the month-long meeting.

One option would have been to start the conference on Jan. 17, 2022, but sources indicated that China objected because that would conflict with the opening session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. An alternative option under discussion is to start earlier, on Jan. 4, but that would conflict with the first meeting of states-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, now set for Jan. 12–14 in Vienna. (See ACT, May 2021.)

The NPT review conference caps a five-year cycle of meetings during which states-parties review implementation and compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on action steps to overcome new nonproliferation challenges and to fulfill core goals and objectives.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

NPT Review Delayed Again

OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

July/August 2021

An investigation into 77 allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria has concluded that chemical weapons were likely or definitely used in 17 cases, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported to the UN Security Council on June 3.

A mother and father weep over the body of their child, who was killed in a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, in August 2013. The OPCW says there have been 17 cases of chemical attacks in Syria, including Khan Shaykhun and Ltamenah, both in 2017. (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias announced that the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will be addressing new issues during future consultations with Syria, including “the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.” He said that the organization had notified Syria of its intention to conduct on-site inspections and requested visas for its expert team, but never received a response.

That is not the first time that Syria has declined to cooperate. In April 2020, the OPCW Executive Council demanded further information regarding three alleged chemical weapons attacks that took place in 2017. Syria declined, and in response, the organization in April suspended Syria’s “rights and privileges,” marking the first time that the OPCW had taken such action since its formation in 1997. (See ACT, May 2021.)

Russia has consistently defended Syria and criticized the OPCW and its investigators. In response to Arias’ report, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the OPCW of exclusively using information “from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government” and of relying on “pseudo witnesses,” according to media reports. He also claimed the OPCW “was established illegitimately” and that therefore it is unfair to expect Syria to comply with its regulations. Russia joined 14 other states, including China, in voting against the measure to restrict Syria’s rights within the multilateral organization.

Richard Mills, U.S. deputy ambassador to the OPCW, called for accountability and further investigation into all alleged cases of weapons use. He defended the OPCW’s legitimacy.

Despite Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 under heavy international pressure, questions remain about the validity of the country’s chemical weapons declarations. Arias reported that one of the deadliest attacks took place in 2017, three years after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons program was complete.—HOLLIS RAMMER

OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

UN Adopts Nonbinding Arms Embargo On Myanmar

July/August 2021

More than four months after the Myanmar military overthrew the country’s elected leaders, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that “calls upon all member states to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar.”

A protester holds the flag of the National League for Democracy, the party of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while making the three-finger salute during a flash mob demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on June 25. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)Although supported by 119 of the assembly’s 193 member states on June 18, the resolution lacks the binding nature that can come with UN Security Council resolutions and is more of a political message than a punitive measure. Among the Security Council’s five permanent members, China and Russia abstained, typically an indication that a binding Security Council embargo resolution would not be adopted.

Arms trade with Myanmar, still called Burma by U.S. officials, has long been controversial, with Western countries at times shunning weapons sales during the country’s most undemocratic periods. Not surprisingly, EU member states were well represented among the original sponsors of the resolution. The European Union has maintained some form of arms embargo on the country since the 1990s.

The United States also voted for the resolution. Within the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the majority of members supported the measure, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam, as well as Myanmar, whose pre-junta ambassador is still recognized by the United Nations.

According to the latest reporting by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on global trends on the transfer of major conventional weapons, Myanmar accounts for less than 1 percent of global arms imports, with China, India, and Russia supplying more than 80 percent of those weapons. India was among the 36 countries that abstained on the resolution. Only Belarus voted against it—JEFF ABRAMSON

UN Adopts Nonbinding Arms Embargo On Myanmar

U.S. Will Not Rejoin Open Skies Treaty

June 2021

The Biden administration has officially notified Russia that the United States will not seek to rejoin the 1992 Open Skies Treaty.

A U.S. OC-135 reconnaissance aircraft. (Photo: Department of Defense)Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the administration’s final decision on May 27, the Associated Press reported. A State Department spokesperson later confirmed the news and attributed the decision to “Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance” with the treaty.

Washington had raised concerns that Moscow is in violation of the treaty because it has limited the distance for observation flights over the Kaliningrad region to no more than 500 kilometers from the border and prohibited missions over Russia from flying within 10 kilometers of its border with the conflicted Georgian border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Ryabkov criticized the U.S. decision as “another political mistake, inflicting a new blow to the European security system” in remarks on Friday to the Russian news agency Tass. “We gave them a good chance, but they failed to take it. They continue to circulate fallacies about Russia’s alleged violations of the treaty, which is completely absurd,” Ryabkov said.

When the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the accord in November 2020, President-elect Joe Biden condemned the withdrawal and expressed support for the treaty, although he stopped short of committing to reenter the agreement. Once he took office, the Biden administration opened a review of “matters related to the treaty” and held consultations with U.S. allies and partners earlier this year. (See ACT, March 2021; December 2020.)

Moscow, meanwhile, launched domestic procedures in January for withdrawing from the treaty. The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, approved legislation supporting the move May 19; the upper house, the Federation Council, is expected to vote on the bill June 2. The bill will require Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signature. Once submitting official notice to states-parties, Moscow would kick-start the six-month period before the withdrawal takes place.

Entering into force in 2002, the Open Skies Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.—SHANNON BUGOS

The Biden administration has officially notified Russia that the United States will not seek to rejoin the 1992 Open Skies Treaty.

Biden, Putin to Meet in June

June 2021

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on June 16 in Geneva, the two countries have announced.

“The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on May 25. “We expect they will spend a fair amount of time on strategic stability, where the arms control agenda goes following the extension” of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), she said.

The Kremlin statement also emphasized that the two will discuss “problems of strategic stability.”

Washington and Moscow agreed in February to extend the treaty for five years. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Biden expressed in April his hope that, after the two leaders meet, “the United States and Russia could launch a strategic stability dialogue to pursue cooperation in arms control and security” that would build on the New START extension. 

The United States will pursue “arms control that addresses all Russian nuclear weapons, including novel strategic systems and nonstrategic nuclear weapons,” Robert Wood, U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament, told the conference on May 11. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented the same day that discussions must “consider the problems of strategic stability, taking into account all factors and systems without exception, offensive and defensive, which have a direct influence on this strategic stability.”

Biden first proposed the idea of a summit with Putin in April. (See ACT, May 2021.) A May 19 meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Lavrov in Reykjavik and a May 24 meeting between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev in Geneva helped pave the way for the official summit announcement.—SHANNON BUGOS 

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on June 16 in Geneva, the two countries have announced.


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