Login/Logout

*
*  

"[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
News Briefs

IAEA Chief Visits Israel to Discuss Iran


July/August 2022

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Israel for talks with the prime minister on June 3 as international tensions rose over Iran’s accelerating nuclear program.

In a statement issued by his office, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities were approaching dangerous levels and called for an international mobilization against Iran. He said Iran was “deceiving the international community by using false information and lies.”

Although Israel “prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement added.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi made the trip ahead of a June 8 meeting in which the IAEA Board of Governors censured Iran, which is continuing to ratchet up its nuclear program, for failing to provide technically credible answers for the presence of undeclared uranium at three locations in Iran. Tehran responded by disconnecting cameras used by the IAEA to monitor Iranian nuclear activities.

These developments occurred in the context of stalled efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, under which Iran accepted limits on its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. Israel has long opposed the deal and reserved the right to respond militarily to perceived Iranian threats. Israel is suspected of assassinating a number of Iranian nuclear scientists and conducting other attacks on Iranian facilities.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry on June 13 criticized Grossi’s trip as showing bias toward Israel. Grossi, in a tweet, said he discussed important issues with Bennett, including the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, is a treaty member while Israel, widely accepted as possessing as many as 90 nuclear weapons, is not.—MICHELLE LIU

IAEA Chief Visits Israel to Discuss Iran

Brazil, IAEA in Nuclear Submarine Negotiations


July/August 2022
 

Brazil is negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to use nuclear fuel for its submarine program, which has been in development for decades.

A computer-generated image of Brazil's first nuclear-powered attack submarine, the Álvaro Alberto, which is under  construction by the Brazilian state-owned naval company ICN. (Image by Brazilian Navy)The talks between the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC) and the IAEA Secretariat were launched in late May, with plans to reconvene before the end of the year, Reuters reported on June 6.

The negotiations center on the safeguards and verification process that Brazil must implement to be allowed to produce or acquire nuclear fuel. Nuclear-powered submarines face heightened regulation under the IAEA because they can remain at sea for a prolonged duration while operating outside of the watchdog agency’s supervision.

During a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on June 6, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi praised Brazil’s “transparent approach and decision to work closely with the agency on this important project.”

According to The Economist, Brazil started developing a nuclear submarine in 1978 after facing political tensions with neighboring Argentina. The program languished for a time, then took on new life in 2008 under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with policymakers arguing that the underwater military platform was needed to protect fossil fuel resources along the Atlantic Coast.

Brazil is developing the nuclear-powered submarine under a contract with Naval Group, a French defense company. If the project is completed, Brazil could be the first non-nuclear-weapon state to have a nuclear submarine. The target for completion is the early 2030s. At the moment, the only countries with nuclear submarines are the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Brazil’s move follows a decision last year by Australia, the UK, and the United States to enter into the AUKUS security pact, under which Australia would be provided with nuclear-powered submarines. That arrangement has required the AUKUS countries also to initiate nuclear technology negotiations with the IAEA. Like Brazil, Australia is a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not possess nuclear weapons.
—MICHELLE LIU

Brazil, IAEA in Nuclear Submarine Negotiations

Colombia, Qatar Named Non-NATO Allies


April 2022

The United States is adding Colombia and Qatar to a list of 19 countries designated as major non-NATO allies, enabling privileges that can facilitate military training and weapons transfers. President Joe Biden announced his intention to designate Qatar during a Jan. 31 meeting at the White House with its emir, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, saying, “I think it’s long overdue.”

U.S. President Joe Biden meets Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, at the White House on January 31. Biden announced that he was adding the Gulf state to the list of major non-NATO allies. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)Qatar is home to the al-Udeid air base, where the U.S. Central Command is headquartered. Qatar has contributed more than $8 billion to develop the base since 2003 and is the second-largest buyer of U.S. weapons, including the F-15 fighter jet, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, with $26 billion in active cases, according to the U.S. State Department. The designation became official on March 10, making Qatar the third such ally in the Persian Gulf region, along with Bahrain and Kuwait.

That same day, Biden announced his intention to designate Colombia during a meeting with that country’s president, Iván Duque. Biden said Colombia “is the keystone to our shared efforts to build a hemisphere that is prosperous, secure, and democratic.” When the designation is finalized, Colombia would join Argentina and Brazil as the only Latin American countries with major non-NATO ally status. Such designations can become official 30 days after the president notifies Congress of his decision.
—HADEEL ABU KTAISH

Colombia, Qatar Named Non-NATO Allies

Declaration Expected on Explosive Weapons


April 2022

As Russia’s targeting of civilians and civilian areas in Ukraine draws widespread international condemnation, a years-long multilateral effort to address the harm caused by using explosive weapons in populated areas is nearing conclusion.

Countries involved in the effort, led by Ireland, will convene in Geneva on April 6–8 to debate a declaration stating that “armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

Using the word “avoid” to describe the military practices that adherents to the nonbinding declaration would pledge is expected to be a key point. In response to a 2021 draft, the United States recommended replacing “avoid” with “mitigate” and argued that proposed restrictions would exceed what is required under international humanitarian law.

Washington also expressed concern about stigmatizing explosive weapons because they “may be needed to protect civilians during armed conflict.” The UN Secretary-General, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and others have instead argued that an avoidance policy is warranted.

ICRC President Peter Maurer said on Jan. 27, “There is an urgent need for a change of mindset and that belligerents put the protection of civilians back at the center of their policy and practices.”
—HADEEL ABU KTAISH

Declaration Expected on Explosive Weapons

Russia Delays UN Space Threats Group


April 2022

Russia has delayed new international efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space after raising numerous procedural objections at the opening session of a UN-led group focused on orbital arms control.

The UN open-ended working group on reducing space threats first met on Feb. 7 in Geneva for a planning session. Its members were due to gather a week later for the formal inaugural session. But diplomats and observers in attendance said Russia raised many procedural concerns, and the opening meeting was postponed, perhaps until May.

The Russian representative said that too little time had passed since the creation of the group on Dec. 24 for diplomats to prepare to engage on the space agenda. He also complained that details about future meetings and the participation of civil society contained in Russia’s version of the working group’s charter differed from what was originally agreed.

Although the delay does not permanently derail efforts to rewrite the laws of war in space, it sets an ominous tone and may signal Moscow’s reluctance to cooperate on hard-hitting questions about its space activities. Earlier in February, Russia told the United Nations its testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons is well within the bounds of international law. Moscow has faced criticism from other UN members and space experts about the country’s Nov. 15 ASAT test that scattered 1,500 pieces of debris into low-earth orbit. (See ACT, December 2021.)

The UN General Assembly First Committee created the working group after the United Kingdom led efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space. (See ACT, December 2021.)—JOHN BEDARD

Russia Delays UN Space Threats Group

U.S. Halts HEU Exports for Medical Purposes


January/February 2022

The United States will no longer export highly enriched uranium (HEU) to countries producing medical isotopes, marking a significant milestone in nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts.

The United States was shipping HEU periodically to certain countries that produce molybdenum-99, an isotope used in numerous medical procedures. But Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra jointly announced on Dec. 20 that there is sufficient production of molybdenum-99 without using HEU to meet U.S. needs. This certification triggered a congressionally mandated ban on U.S. exports of HEU for medical isotope production.

HEU poses a nuclear security and proliferation risk given that it can be used for nuclear weapons. Granholm described the certification as a “win-win” that makes the world safer and improves health care.

The Obama administration committed in 2012 to work with several key supplies of molybdenum-99—Belgium, France, and the Netherlands—to develop alternatives for producing the isotope using low-enriched uranium (LEU). As part of that agreement, the United States committed to supply HEU to the three states until they could complete the conversion to LEU alternatives. The commitment was made as part of the nuclear security summit process, a series of biannual summits from 2010 to 2016 that aimed to minimize the use of HEU in civilian programs to prevent nuclear terrorism.

In 2020 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to export HEU to Belgium through December 2021. The commission noted at that time that Belgium should complete its conversion to use of LEU alternatives by mid-2022. Other major supplies of the medical isotope—the Netherlands, Australia, and South Africa—are already using LEU fuel sources for production.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

U.S. Halts HEU Exports for Medical Purposes

Russia Officially Leaves Open Skies Treaty

January/February 2022

Russia officially withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty on Dec. 18, leaving the remaining 32 states-parties to figure out how to maintain the utility of the treaty without either the United States or Russia.

The Tupolev Tu-214ON Zherdin is one of the planes Russia used to carry out the Open Skies Treaty, before it officially withdrew on Dec. 18. (Photo by Dmitry Zherdin)“Responsibility for the deterioration of the Open Skies regime lies fully with the United States as the country that started the destruction of the treaty,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Dec. 18 statement.

The Trump administration withdrew the United States from the treaty in November 2020, and the Biden administration informed Moscow in May that it would not seek to rejoin. (See ACT, June 2021; December 2020.) Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off in June on the decision to kick-start the six-month withdrawal process. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

After the U.S. withdrawal, Moscow sought written guarantees from the remaining states-parties that they would neither continue to share data collected under the treaty with Washington nor prohibit overflights of U.S. bases in Europe, but states-parties dismissed the request.

“Regrettably, all our efforts to preserve the treaty in its initial format have failed,” the ministry statement said. “Washington set the line towards destroying all the arms control agreements it had signed.”

Under the treaty, Russia formed a group of states-parties with Belarus. Minsk initially seemed to plan to withdraw from the treaty alongside Moscow, but now appears likely to remain a state-party.

“What is important now is for the remaining states to continue implementation, modernize the treaty (digital cameras and new sensor types), and seriously discuss additional forms of use, i.e., cross-border disaster relief or environmental monitoring,” Alexander Graef, a researcher at the Institute for Peace, Research, and Security Policy in Hamburg, tweeted on Dec. 17.

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

Russia Officially Leaves Open Skies Treaty

Lawmakers Pressure Biden to Waive India Sanctions


December 2021

Members of Congress are urging the Biden administration to waive potential sanctions on India, considered a key U.S. strategic partner in the competition against China, for purchasing Russian air defense systems.

India faces U.S. sanctions as a result of its decision to purchase S-400 missile defense systems from Russia. This one was used during a Russian military exercise in July 2021 near the village of Plotnikovo. (Photo by Kirill Kukhmar\TASS via Getty Images)On Oct. 26, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked President Joe Biden in a letter not to impose the sanctions that are required under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The law, signed by President Donald Trump in 2017, imposes sanctions on countries engaging in certain transactions with Iran, North Korea, and Russia.

Cornyn and Warner wrote that waiving the sanctions was a “national security imperative” that would “reinforce India’s status as a Major Defense Partner” and “provide another avenue to counter [Chinese] influence in the Indo-Pacific” region.

Three days later, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Todd Young (Ind.), and Roger Marshall (Kan.) introduced a bill that would shield Australia, India, and Japan from CAATSA sanctions as members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The dialogue, which includes the United States, was established in 2007 to counter China’s growing power.

In a statement, Cruz insisted that “now would be exactly the wrong time” for sanctions against India because they would “do nothing except undermin[e] our shared security goals of combatting China’s aggression and forcing India to become dependent on Russia.”

India agreed to purchase five batteries of S-400 systems, valued at $5.4 billion, from Russia in 2018. (See ACT, November 2018.) Since 1961, Russia has been the largest overall provider of weapons to India.

During a visit to New Delhi in October, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters the United States has “been quite public about any country that decides to use the S-400.” She called such purchases “dangerous and not in anybody’s security interest.”

Under CAATSA, the president must either impose sanctions on offenders or submit a waiver to Congress explaining how sanctions would harm national security. U.S. allies and strategic partners are not exempt. In December 2020, the United States, citing security concerns, imposed CAATSA sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally, for its S-400 purchases from Russia. (See ACT, January/February 2018.) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in September that Turkey has not ruled out buying additional S-400 systems.—WILLIAM OSTERMEYER

Lawmakers Pressure Biden to Waive India Sanctions

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits


December 2021

Russia and the United States are continuing to adhere to the limits on their strategic nuclear arsenals established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) as the two countries engage in a dialogue on the future of arms control.

Under New START, Moscow and Washington exchange data twice a year to confirm that they are complying with the cap of 1,550 nuclear warheads deployed on 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. The treaty also limits deployed and nondeployed heavy bombers and launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs to 800.

As of Sept. 1, the United States has 1,389 warheads deployed on 665 delivery vehicles, while maintaining 800 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers. Russia has 1,458 warheads deployed on 527 delivery vehicles, in addition to 742 deployed and nondeployed ICBM and SLBM launchers and heavy bombers.

Since the treaty’s implementation in February 2018, the number of deployed nuclear warheads in each country has fluctuated roughly between 1,300 and 1,450.

This latest data exchange came as the United States and Russia hold discussions within their bilateral strategic stability dialogue on the future of arms control after New START expires in 2026. The two sides last met at the end of September. (See ACT, November 2021.)

The Biden administration’s goal is to hold the third round of the dialogue since the start of the administration by the end of the year.

The dialogue is separate from more formal negotiations on an arms control agreement that could follow New START, but the Biden administration has yet to establish a timeline for transitioning the dialogue into a negotiation with Moscow.

Meanwhile, treaty inspections that had been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic were scheduled to restart on Nov. 1, according to an October statement from the U.S. Defense Department. Asked for comment by Arms Control Today on Nov. 15, the State Department suggested that inspections have not resumed.

“The United States is currently exploring measures for resuming inspections while mitigating the risks to U.S. and Russian personnel,” said a State Department spokesperson.

The inspections are intended to confirm the information contained in the biannual data exchanges.
—SHANNON BUGOS

Russia, U.S. Adhere to New START Limits

Countries Grapple With 2025 Landmine Goal


December 2021

Aware of the continued threat from anti-personnel landmines in many parts of the world, states-parties to the Mine Ban Treaty again granted extensions to countries that still need to clear contaminated land. The action was taken at the treaty’s annual conference on Nov. 15–19, held virtually from The Hague.

Delegates to the Mine Ban Treaty annual conference watch video of athletes wounded by landmines. The meeting was held Nov. 15-19 at The Hague. (Photo by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands)At the treaty’s 2019 review conference, members set the global goal of completing landmine clearance by 2025. Despite that aspiration, the Mine Action Review found that the majority of contaminated countries are not on track to meet their national deadlines, some of which already extend beyond 2025. Under the treaty, countries have 10 years to clear areas contaminated by landmines, but may seek extensions that set new deadlines.

States-parties granted treaty-compliant extension requests to Cyprus, Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, and Turkey. They “expressed serious concern” that Eritrea remained in noncompliance by not requesting an extension to its 2020 deadline.

On the positive side, the Mine Action Review found that more than 159 square kilometers of land was cleared of landmines in 2020, the highest worldwide total since 2015. The Landmine Monitor noted that financial contributions to support clearance and other mine action activities was 6 percent higher in 2016–2020 than during the previous five-year period, and international support in 2020 totaled $565 million, a small increase over 2019.

The Landmine Monitor also reported more than 7,000 casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war in 2020, a sixth year of high annual totals. Nearly 1,500 of those casualties were in Afghanistan, where the Taliban takeover is disrupting internationally supported clearance efforts.

The United States, the world’s largest financial contributor to mine clearance, attended the annual meeting as an observer, as it has done since 2009. In 2020, President Donald Trump renounced the Obama-era policy to someday accede to the treaty. In April, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said President Joe Biden “intends to roll back this [Trump] policy, and our administration has begun a policy review to do just that." A State Department official confirmed to Arms Control Today via email on Nov. 18 that the review is ongoing.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Countries Grapple With 2025 Landmine Goal

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - News Briefs