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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
News Briefs

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

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise


December 2021

NATO has wrapped up its annual week-long nuclear deterrence exercise, called Steadfast Noon, across southern Europe with aircraft and personnel from 14 allied countries.

“The exercise is a routine, recurring training activity, and it is not linked to any current world events,” NATO said in a statement on Oct. 18 as the exercise began. “This exercise helps to ensure that NATO’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.”

A different NATO country hosts Steadfast Noon each year.The alliance normally does not identify the host country, with the exception of last year when NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg publicly visited Volkel Air Base in the Netherlands, the main operating base for the exercise. (See ACT, December 2020.)

Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists determined that the 2021 exercise was likely hosted by Italy out of Ghedi and Aviano air bases, which are home to an estimated 15 and 20 U.S. B61-3/-4 gravity bombs, respectively. Another 65 B61-3/-4 bombs are believed to be deployed in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey.

The United States is developing the more accurate B61-12, which will replace all existing gravity bombs and is scheduled to have the first production unit completed in late 2021. Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands are in the process of acquiring the new F-35A fighter jet, which conducted in September its final flight test to complete the nuclear design certification process and ensure compatibility with the B61-12. (See ACT, November 2021.)

“The combination of the F-35A and B61-12 represent a significant improvement of the military capability of the NATO dual-capable aircraft posture in Europe,” Kristensen wrote in an Oct. 20 blog post.

Steadfast Noon is designed so NATO can practice and assess its nuclear capabilities deployed in Europe. The aircraft do not carry live bombs during the exercise flights.

This year’s exercise occurred during NATO’s defense ministerial meetings, which started Oct 21. “NATO’s goal is a world without nuclear weapons,” said Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings. Yet, “a world where Russia, China, and other countries like North Korea have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is simply not a safer world.”
—SHANNON BUGOS

NATO Concludes Annual Nuclear Exercise

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure


November 2021

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voiced support for censuring Iran during the agency’s Board of Governors meeting in November, although he acknowledged that the situation could change as the agency works to resolve the “most immediate challenges” with Iran.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi spoke at an Oct. 21 event hosted by the Stimson Center during his trip to Washington to meet Biden administration officials and members of Congress. He said the trip came at a “difficult juncture” in the IAEA efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear program and hoped he would travel to Tehran soon to discuss these issues.

France, Germany, and the United Kingdom considered pursuing a resolution censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with IAEA requests at the September Board of Governors meeting, but suspended the effort after Grossi reached an agreement with Tehran to stave off a monitoring crisis. (See ACT, October 2021.)

That Sept. 12 agreement allowed inspectors to service remote surveillance cameras at sites that inspectors have not accessed since February, when Iran reduced compliance with agency monitoring. (See ACT, March 2021.) But Iran blocked inspectors from installing new cameras at a centrifuge component manufacturing site at Karaj during an IAEA visit to the site on Sept. 26. Iran removed the surveillance equipment from that facility after the equipment was sabotaged in June and said the Sept. 12 agreement does not cover that location.

Grossi told The Washington Post on Oct. 20 that if the monitoring dispute and other issues are not resolved, it will be “extremely difficult” to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Although he said the IAEA is not a “main actor” in efforts to restore the JCPOA, the agency is an “essential element,” given its verification role. He said on Oct. 21 that the IAEA is doing what it can to ensure a baseline of information about Iran’s nuclear program, which is “indispensable” for any future negotiation.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Grossi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed during their Oct. 19 meeting “the need for Iran to meet its nuclear verification obligations and commitments, cease its nuclear provocations, and return to the diplomacy it says it seeks.”

Several members of Congress, including Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, were more explicit in supporting censure. After meeting Grossi on Oct. 19, Risch called for “strong U.S. leadership in seeking accountability for Iran’s nuclear activities and pressuring Iran to fulfill its obligations to the international community.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in September that action by the IAEA board would negatively impact negotiations to restore the JCPOA.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

IAEA Chief Supports Iran Censure

North Korea Tests SLBM


November 2021

North Korea has tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) amid rising regional tensions over its missile provocations, marking Pyongyang’s first launch of an SLBM in two years.

A man in Seoul watches a television report, showing a news broadcast with file footage, of a North Korean missile test on October 19. The South Korean military said the test was believed to involve a submarine-launched ballistic missile.  (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)The South Korean military detected the launch of an “unidentified ballistic missile” from the waters near Sinpo, where North Korean submarines are based, on Oct. 19. The missile flew approximately 430 to 450 kilometers.

The missile launch came hours after the Biden administration confirmed that Sung Kim, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, will soon meet with allies in Seoul to discuss the resumption of negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for additional launches,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Oct. 19.

Analyses of the test are ongoing. It remains unclear whether the missile was launched from the water and whether it was fired from a submarine vessel or from a submersible test barge, as was the case for the last North Korean SLBM test, a Pukguksong-3 missile in October 2019. (See ACT, November 2019.)

According to Reuters, military analysts in South Korea and the United States are investigating whether the missile tested on Oct. 19 is among the new systems displayed at North Korea’s defense exhibition held in mid-October. Ankit Panda, an expert on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, described the displayed system as an apparent “navalized version of the KN23 short-range ballistic missile.” That it was staged alongside the Pukguksong-1 and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs strongly suggests the new missile is also an SLBM, Panda wrote in an analysis for NK News published Oct. 19.

Pyongyang confirmed the launch Oct. 20 and said the test was of a “new type” of SLBM.

In response to the test, the United States and the United Kingdom requested a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, which was scheduled for Oct. 27.—JULIA MASTERSON

North Korea Tests SLBM

U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group


November 2021

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has suspended shipments of radioactive materials to China’s state-owned and -operated nuclear company, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). The action includes restrictions on deuterium, a hydrogen isotope used in nuclear reactors and boosted nuclear weapons.

Concerned about China’s growing nuclear weapons program, the NRC decided Sept. 27 that a suspension was "necessary to further the national security interests of the United States and to enhance the United States common defense and security consistent with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.” The nuclear cooperation act governs U.S. nuclear trade of sensitive nuclear materials with China and other countries and distributes licenses for “the exportation of nuclear material, reactors, and related technologies” if states party to the act meet specified standards. In 2015 the United States and China signed a 30-year cooperation agreement under terms of the act.

Washington’s apprehension about Beijing’s nuclear advances has been growing for more than a decade. In July 2018, Chris Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, warned of China’s “military-civil fusion” policy. The NRC described its order regarding CGN as “an extension of the [2018] licensing framework for civil nuclear exports from the United States to China established by the Executive Branch,” when U.S. President Donald Trump restricted nuclear trade with China to prevent nonmilitary and unauthorized use of nuclear technology. That same year, the U.S. Energy Department outlined policy guidelines aimed at deterring Beijing from illegally transforming nuclear technology for civilian use to technology for military purposes.

In April, Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, warned that a new generation of Chinese nuclear power facilities are based on technology that could greatly expand the production of weapons-grade plutonium. It is expected that Beijing will double its nuclear warhead stockpile over the next decade.

The United Kingdom is also planning to remove CGN from the nuclear power plant under construction in Suffolk by selling China’s 20 percent stake in the project.—MARY ANN HURTADO

 

U.S. Suspends Nuclear Trade With Chinese Group

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract


November 2021

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Rolls-Royce of North America a $2.6 billion contract to produce 608 jet engines for the B-52 intercontinental bomber, enabling the iconic Cold War aircraft, which first flew in 1952, to remain in active service until well into the 2050s.

A US B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, in 2016 in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)The existing fleet of 76 operational B-52s is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s TF33 engine, but these systems are nearing the end of their service life and must be replaced if the bomber is to continue flying beyond 2030. By replacing the TF33s—eight are mounted on each B-52—with a new, more modern engine, the Air Force plans to keep the bombers flying for another quarter century beyond that. “The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force, and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into the 2050s,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at the Air Force Global Strike Command, when the award was announced Sept. 24.

When first conceived in 1946, the B-52 Stratofortress was largely intended as a long-range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons on enemy, presumably Soviet, territory. Although it still retains its role as a nuclear delivery system and, as such, is counted under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), it has also been used to deliver conventional bombs and missiles, most recently in Afghanistan. —MICHAEL KLARE

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract

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