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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
Senator
January 28, 2004
News Briefs

NPT Review Conference Postponed Again


November 2020

The tenth review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has been postponed until August 2021, according to the United Nations. Originally scheduled to begin in April 2020 at UN headquarters, the review conference has been repeatedly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. (See ACT, April 2020.)

The UN General Assembly Hall will have to wait until August 2021 to host the delayed 2020 NPT Review Conference.  (Photo: Sophia Paris/UN)Conference president Gustavo Zlauvinen of Argentina wrote to NPT states in late October that he “will request the [UN] Secretariat to book the necessary facilities and conference services for the period 2–27 August 2021 for the holding of the tenth NPT review conference at United Nations Headquarters, consistent with the review conference’s original requirements.” Zlauvinen requested a decision under the silence procedure with a deadline of Oct. 28.

In an October communication, Zlauvinen, who also serves as Argentina’s deputy foreign minister, had originally sought to reschedule the conference during Jan. 4–29. Those dates, however, proved difficult for many governments, according to diplomatic sources who spoke with Arms Control Today. In addition, the pandemic still makes it impractical to hold large meetings in the near future, they noted.

In his most recent communication, Zlauvinen noted that the new August 2021 dates are based “on the assumption that conference facilities and operations at UN Headquarters have fully returned to the pre-pandemic levels and with the understanding that it can only be confirmed at a later date, when all UN official mandated meetings have been programmed.”

The review conference typically involves hundreds of representatives from most of the 191 states-parties to the treaty, as well as nongovernmental organizations and meeting support personnel. The conference, which will take place 51 years after the NPT entered into force, is designed to review implementation and compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on action steps to overcome new challenges and fulfill core treaty goals and objectives.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

NPT Review Conference Postponed Again

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles


November 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested adding “mutual verification measures” to his proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of missiles formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

These measures, he said on Oct. 26, would focus on Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems deployed at NATO bases in Europe and on Russian military facilities in Kaliningrad. Putin claimed that the latter measure would confirm the absence of the 9M729, a ground-launched cruise missile that the United States says violated the INF Treaty and cited as a reason for U.S. withdrawal from the accord in Aug. 2019. (See ACT, September 2019.)

Putin also reiterated that Russia believes the missile was compliant with the treaty and that Russia will continue “not to deploy 9M729 missiles in European Russia” as long as NATO members do not field similar missiles in Europe.

Thus far, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom have acknowledged Putin’s offer, but none have definitely accepted or rejected it. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea called the proposal "a non-starter."

The United States believes that Russia has deployed four battalions of the 9M729, for a total of about 100 missiles, in areas of the country able to strike NATO countries. (See ACT, March 2019.)

Washington is moving quickly to develop and deploy this type of missile, according to Trump administration officials, but questions remain about exactly what missiles would be developed and where they would be based. (See ACT, October 2020.)

Putin first proposed the idea of this moratorium in Aug. 2019. NATO rejected it the following month. The United States has also dismissed the idea.—KINGSTON REIF and SHANNON BUGOS

Russia Expands Proposal for Moratorium on INF-Range Missiles

Cluster Munitions Used in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict


November 2020

Long-simmering tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh region bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out in late September with shelling between Azerbaijani forces and those of the Armenian-backed but internationally unrecognized state of Artsakh. The conflict has seen the use of cluster munitions, and civilian casualties have resulted.

Azerbaijan has been accused by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of using Israeli-made M095 cluster bombs. Switzerland, as president of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, issued a statement expressing deep concern and condemnation of any use of the weapons by any actor involved. The treaty, which has 110 states-parties, bans the use of the weapons. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Israel have not signed the pact.

Azerbaijan made counterclaims that Armenia used cluster munitions in its own attacks on Azerbaijan, but has yet to provide evidence.

Cluster munitions, which are air dropped or artillery delivered, release up to several hundred smaller submunitions that often fail to explode as intended, at times detonating years later. Civilians account for the vast majority of victims.

States-parties to the convention are scheduled to meet for the treaty’s second review conference on Nov. 23–27.—ALEXANDER BERTSCHI WRIGLEY

Cluster Munitions Used in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards


October 2020

Saudi Arabia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are engaging in talks to amend the country’s safeguards agreement, seeking to provide the agency with additional tools to verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s expanding nuclear program.

Khalid Al-Sultan (left), leader of Saudi Arabia's nuclear energy program, meets with Cornel Feruta, the acting IAEA director-general, in September 2019. Saudi and IAEA officials have continued to discussing upgrading the nation's safeguards agreement with the agency. (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)Saudi Arabia currently has in place a small quantities protocol (SQP) with the IAEA, concluded in 2005. SQPs are applied to nations with little or no nuclear activities. They were designed in the early 1970s to fulfill the IAEA’s safeguards mandate without overburdening agency resources on states with negligible safeguards-applicable activities and material. Under the original SQP, the IAEA has a limited tool kit with which it can inspect and verify the peaceful nature of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program.

As Riyadh moves to grow its civilian nuclear program, including by pursuing construction of a facility possibly used for the production of uranium yellowcake, IAEA officials and states within the region have called on Saudi Arabia to expand the scope of its safeguards agreement with the agency. (See ACT, September 2020.) Saudi Arabia also plans to operate two large nuclear power reactors and is currently constructing its first research reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Al Jazeera reported on July 21.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said on Sept. 14 that the agency is in talks with Saudi Arabia, adding that the kingdom is “interested in developing nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes of course.”

News of discussions between Saudi Arabia and the IAEA came amid a greater effort by Grossi to strengthen implementation of a revised SQP. “In 2020, the old standard SQP is simply not adequate,” Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on Sept. 14.

The agency adopted a revised SQP in 2005 that expands the IAEA’s safeguards privileges. Where the original SQP limited IAEA verification activities and did not require states to submit a declaration of nuclear activities, the revised SQP updates certain requirements, most notably the submission of a declaration report and the possibility of IAEA safeguards inspections.

Ninety-four qualifying states have adopted the revised SQP, but 31 maintain agreements under the original version, according to the IAEA. Saudi Arabia was the last state to conclude an SQP with the original text and has not amended its agreement. “I have decided to reinvigorate the agency’s efforts to encourage all remaining states to amend or rescind their SQPs,” Grossi urged.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program remains in its early developmental stages, meaning that it can still be effectively safeguarded under an SQP model agreement. But should Saudi Arabia introduce nuclear materials, such as low-enriched uranium, and operate a nuclear reactor, it will be obligated to rescind its SQP and transition to a full-scope comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency.

“When they upgrade their activities including by the introduction of nuclear material in the kingdom, then we will have to have a stronger safeguards system,” Grossi confirmed.

Grossi said Riyadh and the IAEA are also discussing implementation of an additional protocol to the nation’s safeguards agreement, which would further strengthen the agency’s safeguards in Saudi Arabia.
—JULIA MASTERSON

Saudi Arabia, IAEA Discuss Safeguards

CEND Moves Forward


October 2020

A September meeting of the leadership group of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) initiative marked the starting point for executing the programs of work the initiative agreed on in November 2019 in advance of the 2020 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

“We are now at a critical threshold,” said Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, in his opening remarks at the Sept. 3 virtual meeting. The initiative is moving “from laying the groundwork for the deep thinking and far-ranging inquiry that the disarmament challenge demands to actually setting off down that path of thoughtful exploration,” he said.

Diplomats from 43 countries are involved in the initiative, according to Ford, which includes nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states and some countries not party to the NPT.

Three working subgroups compose the initiative, with each group focused on one specific issue: the reduction of the perceived incentives for states to acquire or increase their nuclear stockpiles, the function and effectiveness of existing nuclear disarmament mechanisms and institutions, and potential interim measures to reduce risks related to nuclear weapons. Following the November meeting, each subgroup developed its own program of work to be carried out over two years. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The leadership group consists of the two countries appointed to lead each subgroup: Morocco and the Netherlands, South Korea and the United States, and Finland and Germany, respectively. Representatives from some nongovernmental organizations also participate.

Sources familiar with the initiative told Arms Control Today that the organizers plan to virtually convene a meeting of the full group in November.—SHANNON BUGOS

CEND Moves Forward

Iran, IAEA Reach Agreement


September 2020

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement that will allow inspectors to access two sites in Iran as part of the agency’s investigation into possible undeclared nuclear activities and materials.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to reporters in Vienna on Aug. 26 after returning from Iran, where he and Iranian officials agreed to resolve an inspections dispute.  (Photo: Dean Calma/IAEA)The agreement was announced Aug. 26 during IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi’s trip to Tehran. The agency first requested access to the two locations, which are not part of Iran’s declared nuclear program, in January 2020.

According to IAEA reports issued in February and May, the nuclear activities and materials at the two undeclared locations pertain to Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear weapons program and are not ongoing. The IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors passed a resolution in June calling upon Iran to cooperate with the agency’s investigation.

Iran told the IAEA in June that it was willing to comply with the agency’s requests, but certain legal ambiguities needed to be addressed.

The joint IAEA-Iran statement said that Iran will voluntarily provide IAEA inspectors with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and will facilitate “the IAEA verification activities to resolve these issues.” The statement said a date for the inspection was set, but did not provide any detail on when the IAEA visits will occur.

The Aug. 26 statement said that in the “present context” the IAEA does not “have further question to Iran and further requests for access,” but looking forward, Grossi told reporters in Vienna the same day that “if we have information that warrants asking questions and, if necessary, access, we will do it.”—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Iran, IAEA Reach Agreement

Nuclear Ban Treaty Nears 50th Ratification


September 2020

Four nations used the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to announce their ratification of the 2017 Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The ratifications by Ireland, Nigeria, and Niue, announced on Aug. 6, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, announced on Aug. 9, bring the number of states ratifying the accord to 44. The treaty will enter into force 90 days after the 50th state deposits its instrument of ratification. To date, 82 states have signed the treaty.

The TPNW is the first international instrument to comprehensively ban the development, testing, production, stockpiling, stationing, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons. All states-parties engaging in these activities are bound to submit and implement a plan to divest themselves completely of nuclear weapons upon ratification.

At an Aug. 6 event to mark the new ratifications, Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica, who presided over the negotiations on the treaty, called for renewed determination to ensure that no other city suffers the same as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She noted that “the presence in the room of the hibakusha ensured that we wouldn’t leave the room without completing the task.”

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria, the current president of the UN General Assembly, called on “all member states to sign and ratify [the TPNW]. We must prevent such destruction from ever happening again.”

Treaty supporters hope to secure the additional ratifications necessary to bring the treaty into force by the end of 2020. More states are expected to ratify the treaty next month as the United Nations on Sept. 26 marks the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Nuclear Ban Treaty Nears 50th Ratification

UAE Reactor Reaches Criticality


September 2020

The United Arab Emirates on Aug. 1 became the first Arab country to operate a nuclear power plant when officials announced that the first of four planned reactors at the Barakah nuclear power station achieved criticality by completing a sustained fission reaction. According to the UAE leadership, once all four units at the Barakah plant are operational, nuclear power will account for a quarter of the country’s electricity and reduce the nation’s reliance on oil and gas.

The UAE’s nuclear progress has highlighted concerns about the security implications of an uptick in nuclear programs in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is in the early stages of developing its nuclear program, and Iran has a demonstrated uranium-enrichment capability. Israel has an assumed arsenal of nuclear weapons.

But according to Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at The Century Foundation with expertise in the Persian Gulf region, the UAE nuclear program does not pose a proliferation risk. Abu Dhabi has taken deliberate measures to publicly signal the strictly peaceful application of its nuclear program, Esfandiary told Arms Control Today. These measures include the country’s decision to forgo uranium enrichment, among other things. The UAE is also a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has had an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency in place since 2009. (See ACT, October 2019.)—JULIA MASTERSON

UAE Reactor Reaches Criticality

China Deploys New Missile Submarines


July/August 2020

China deployed two new submarines capable of carrying nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles in April, expanding the sea-based leg of the country’s nuclear triad to include six vessels categorized as nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).

A Chinese Jin-class nuclear submarine participates in a 2019 naval parade in in Shandong Province. (Photo: Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images)The two new subs shore up the third leg of China’s air-, land-, and sea-based nuclear triad. An effective sea-based leg is likely intended to demonstrate China’s second-strike capabilities and to deter first-strike nuclear attacks from other states. Fielding a robust SSBN fleet is consistent with Beijing’s nuclear doctrine, which is believed to center on a small but effective nuclear arsenal to be used only in self-defense. Beijing’s 2009 white paper on its nuclear doctrine states that “China remains committed to the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, pursues a self-defensive nuclear strategy, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with another country.”

The two newly deployed SSBNs are variants of China’s Type 094, or Jin-class, submarine. They are outfitted with sophisticated radars and sonars and are equipped to carry up to 16 of China’s JL-2 intercontinental ballistic missiles. (See ACT, June 2013.)

According a 2020 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the current JL-2 missiles may soon be replaced with a longer-range and more advanced JL-3 missile. The JL-3 is not yet in service, but initial flight tests suggest its range nears 10,000 kilometers. (See ACT, July/August 2019.)—JULIA MASTERSON

China Deploys New Missile Submarines

Japan Suspends Aegis Ashore Deployment


July/August 2020

Japan will not deploy two U.S.-made Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense systems designed to protect Japan against North Korean ballistic missiles, officials announced in June, citing growing financial costs, unresolved technical issues, and local opposition.

“Due to considerations of cost and timing, we have stopped the process of introducing the Aegis Ashore system,” said Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono on June 15. The cost was too high, he said, to develop enough confidence that the system’s rocket booster would not fall on Japanese residents and buildings after detaching from the interceptor. Attempts to revise the missile’s software to ensure this outcome had failed, and costly hardware modifications will be necessary, Kono said. Japanese officials had proposed to site the two systems at the north and south ends of the nation’s main island, a decision met with protests from local communities and officials.

Purchasing, operating, and maintaining the two Aegis Ashore systems for 30 years had been estimated to cost about $4.2 billion, and Japan has already invested about $1.8 billion in the project, according to Japanese news sources.

With the cancellation, Japan’s missile defense capabilities will now rely solely on naval vessels armed with Aegis weapons. Japan plans to deploy eight such destroyers, the last of which began sea trials in June and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2021, Defense News reported.—MACKENZIE KNIGHT

Japan Suspends Aegis Ashore Deployment

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