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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

Turkey Snubs NATO with Russian Arms Deal

Turkey Snubs NATO with Russian Arms Deal


A Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile launcher is displayed Aug. 22 at a military conference near Moscow. (Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)NATO member Turkey turned to Russia to buy an advanced anti-aircraft missile system, a deal estimated to be worth $2.5 billion that has caused unease among its alliance partners. Turkish newspapers on Sept. 12 quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying that Ankara has paid a deposit for the Russian S-400 air defense system. The purchase denies a major deal for Western contractors and will put in place a system that is not compatible with NATO air defenses. Russian media presented the deal, which would also provide Turkey with the technology to produce its own advanced air defenses, as a rebuke to Western governments.

The purchase comes at a time of growing strains between Washington and Ankara as Erdogan cracks down on political opponents and the United States sends arms to Kurdish militias in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists. Complicating matters, the deal may run afoul of U.S. sanctions against Russia. Politico reported on Sept. 14 that Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) wrote to President Donald Trump that the deal would trigger mandatory U.S. sanctions against Turkey under legislation signed into law in August.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: October 1, 2017

Nuclear Fuel Bank Established

Nuclear Fuel Bank Established


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Aug. 29 achieved a long-sought nonproliferation goal of establishing an international storage facility for low-enriched uranium (LEU). (See ACT, October 2015.) The IAEA LEU Bank Storage Facility at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Öskemen, Kazakhstan, can store up to 90 metric tons of LEU for nuclear energy generation. The bank was established to acquire nuclear reactor fuel for countries without enrichment infrastructure or an ability to obtain the fuel from the commercial market or other countries. By ensuring reliable supplies, the bank makes it possible for countries to develop civilian nuclear power programs without the need for enrichment capability, a technology that also can be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

Voluntary contributions from IAEA member states totaled $150 million, which will fully fund the effort for 20 years. The donors include the European Union, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and a nonprofit organization, the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Payments from recipient countries will be used to replenish the facility’s LEU supply. In order to become a recipient, a country must meet stringent IAEA criteria for ensuring the safety and security of supplies.—SAMANTHA PITZ

Posted: October 1, 2017

Bahrain Arms Sale Undoes U.S. Restraint

Bahrain Arms Sale Undoes U.S. Restraint

 

Shiite protesters in Bahrain clash with riot police following a funeral April 5, 2016. (Photo credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images)The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Sept. 8 of nearly $4 billion in proposed foreign military sales to Bahrain, including 19 F-16V fighter aircraft and upgrades to 20 other F-16s already in the Bahraini air force. The notification marks the official intention of the Trump administration to proceed with a third major arms sale, each to different countries, that the Obama administration had held up due to human rights concerns. In May, the administration provided notification of a sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia and in August proposed selling Super Tucano light aircraft to Nigeria. Once notified, Congress has 30 days to review potential sales before the administration can proceed, but deals are often delayed during a preceding informal stage when leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee can vet arms deals.

On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up any further arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal disputes, notably one with Qatar. Corker indicated during a Sept. 12 nomination hearing that this would apply to future sales because the Bahrain deal had been cleared previously during the informal review period. Further, Corker said arms sales to Bahrain and human rights should be delinked, and the nominee to become U.S. ambassador to Bahrain, career diplomat Justin Hicks Siberell, stated that “enhancing our security cooperation with Bahrain does not diminish the enduring emphasis we place on human rights issues.” Siberell added, “We continue to be concerned with government actions against nonviolent political and human rights actors.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: October 1, 2017

States Avoid Discussing Controversial Arms Trade

States Avoid Discussing Controversial Arms Trade


At the third annual conference since the Arms Trade Treaty entered into force in 2014, states-parties again generally avoided formal discussion of controversial arms transfers, especially those to Saudi Arabia. As in past years, civil society members encouraged states to specifically discuss and, in many cases, halt arms transfers into conflict zones, including transfers to the Saudi-led coalition active in the Yemen war. The treaty requires the establishment of national export control systems, as well as assessments of whether exported arms could facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.

Speaking on behalf of the Control Arms coalition on Sept. 11, Yemen-based Radhya al-Mutawakel of the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights said that 19 states-parties and three signatories had agreed to sell or deliver weapons to Saudi Arabia since the outbreak of the Yemen war. In calling for all arms transfers affecting that conflict to stop, she added “Sadly, many ordinary Yemenis have come to know some of your countries through the weapons that have destroyed their homes and killed their families.”

In analyzing all statements, the nongovernmental group Reaching Critical Will identified just one country, Costa Rica, that specifically mentioned Yemen. A total of 106 countries attended the five-day meeting in Geneva, including 79 of 92 states-parties and 23 of 41 signatories. Discussion primarily centered on treaty working groups, funding, and other administrative matters, as well as linkages between the treaty and sustainable development goals. States-parties provisionally agreed to meet next year in Japan during Aug. 20–24. 

Separately, the European Parliament on Sept. 13 again adopted a nonbinding resolution for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, reiterating a decision made in February 2016 and stating that such transfers are “non-compliant” with the EU’s Common Position on Arms Export Controls. Many of the countries identified as providing arms are EU members. (See ACT, October 2016.) — JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: October 1, 2017

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77

The Man Who "Saved the World" Dies at 77

Stanislav Petrov, a little-known Russian whose decision averted a potential nuclear war, died in May at 77, a family friend disclosed in mid-September. 

As a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Petrov was on duty Sept. 26, 1983, when the early-warning satellite system he was monitoring detected what appeared to be five approaching U.S. nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Petrov was faced with a critical choice that had to be made immediately: treat the warning as a false alarm or alert his superiors, who likely would launch a counterattack. Petrov went with false alarm, later explaining he reasoned that if the United States really were to start a nuclear war, it would do so with more than five missiles. He was correct. The satellites had mistaken the reflection of sun off clouds for attacking missiles.

Petrov’s decision was all the more remarkable because it occurred during a particularly tense period, shortly after the Soviet Union had shot down a civilian Korean jetliner that had passed over its territory, killing all 269 passengers and crew. Rather than being praised, Petrov was reprimanded for allegedly faulty documentation during the key moments. Soviet officials treated the incident as a secret, which it remained until well after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Petrov received international praise, earning the 2013 Dresden Peace Prize and a 2006 award from the Association of World Citizens. A 2014 documentary, “The Man Who Saved the World,” told his story.

In response to news of Petrov’s death, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted, “Times of nuclear tension call for careful restraint. You may not know Stanislav Petrov, but at height of the Cold War, he saved the world.”—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: October 1, 2017

Court Dismisses Marshall Island Case

Court Dismisses Marshall Island Case

U.S. courts cannot find the United States in breach of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 3–0 decision dismissing a case filed by the Marshall Islands. The Pacific island country filed suit in 2014, alleging that the United States failed to fulfill obligations under Article VI of the NPT to pursue negotiations in good faith toward nuclear disarmament. The appeals court, upholding the federal district court’s original February 2015 dismissal, found that the NPT is not “judicially enforceable.” Judge Margaret McKeown wrote, “Asking the federal court to order the United States to negotiate in ‘good faith’ on ‘effective measures’ for nuclear disarmament puts the judiciary in the role of nanny to the executive.”

Laurie Ashton, lead lawyer for the Marshall Islands, called the decision “very disappointing,” arguing that “there has never been a more critical time” to enforce the treaty. The United States conducted 67 nuclear test explosions in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958. The Marshall Islands filed similar cases against the nuclear-armed states at the International Court of Justice, all of which were dismissed last fall on procedural grounds. (See ACT, November 2016.)—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: September 1, 2017

OPCW-UN Investigating Team Visits Syria

OPCW-UN Investigating Team Visits Syria

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) visited Syria in late August as part of its ongoing investigation to determine the group responsible for the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. A Syrian man prays July 12 at a cemetery in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in Idlib province, 100 days after the alleged sarin nerve-gas attack by Syrian government forces that was reported to have killed more than 90 people, including women and children. (Photo credit: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. intelligence agencies allege that Syrian government forces carried out the attack, while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called the incident a “fabrication” shortly after it occurred and has since denied responsibility. “We will offer [the JIM] all facilitations needed for the investigation and to help it arrive to the place where the alleged chemical attack took place,” Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying in an Aug. 12 report in The Washington Post.

An OPCW fact-finding mission confirmed the Khan Sheikhoun attack and identified the weapon used as sarin gas in a June 29 report, but it did not assign blame, which is the JIM’s task. German media reported an increase in chemical weapons attacks in Syria in July after a brief respite in May and June. Local groups documented at least seven chemical weapons attacks in and around Damascus in July.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: September 1, 2017

Nigeria Sale Proposed Despite Concerns

Nigeria Sale Proposed Despite Concerns

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Aug. 2 of a proposed $593 million foreign military sale to Nigeria of up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, along with associated weapons, training, and spare parts. The sale is intended to bolster Nigerian troops in their fight against Boko Haram and Islamic State group extremists. President Barack Obama had blocked this sale in the final days of his administration in response to the January bombing of a displaced persons camp by the Nigerian military that reportedly resulted in about 236 deaths. In June, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to withhold approval of the sale until Nigeria implements measures to ensure it observes international human rights and humanitarian law.

The notification said the sale includes “special training on the law of armed conflict and humanitarian rights, and air-to-ground integration to minimize civilian harm in air operations.” Still, former State Department official Dan Mahanty, a senior adviser at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, said in an Aug. 11 email to Arms Control Today that “training is a necessary but rarely sufficient step in avoiding civilian harm. It’s a promising sign that the Defense Department has committed to training in air-to-ground integration. Training has to be reinforced by leadership, policy, doctrine, and most importantly, accountability. It’s also important that the Defense and State departments focus more attention on the way weapons are used, and the consequences of use, as a part of end-use monitoring.”

This sale notification follows the potential sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, a deal that was also blocked by Obama over humanitarian concerns and then approved by the Trump administration.—SARA SCHMITT

Posted: September 1, 2017

Anti-Nuclear Campaigner Tony de Brum Dies

Anti-Nuclear Campaigner Tony de Brum Dies

Tony de Brum, the three-time foreign minister of the Marshall Islands and lifelong advocate for nuclear disarmament, died Aug. 22 at his home in Majuro at age 72.

Tony de Brum in 2013 (Photo credit: Giff Johnson/AFP/Getty Images)At age nine, while fishing with his father, he witnessed the massive 1954 “Castle Bravo” test explosion of a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll, which unleashed 1,000 times more destructive force than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The United States conducted 67 nuclear test explosions over the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958.

“I have seen with my very own eyes nuclear devastation and know, with conviction, that nuclear weapons must never again be visited upon humanity,” de Brum said while accepting the 2015 Right Livelihood Award. De Brum and the Marshall Islands also were recognized with the 2016 Arms Control Person(s) of the Year Award, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

“The Marshall Islands lost a national hero today,” Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine said in an Aug. 22 statement citing de Brum’s contributions to the nation’s independence, nuclear disarmament, and climate justice.

Under de Brum’s leadership in 2014, the Marshall Islands launched two legal cases to push nuclear-weapon states to fulfill legal obligations under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament, one within U.S. courts and another at the International Court of Justice.

Although both courts declined on technical grounds to rule on the cases, John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and a member of the Marshall Islands legal team, said at the Arms Control Association annual meeting June 2 that “simply bringing the cases raised to world attention the failure of the nuclear powers to fulfill the obligation to negotiate and reach a global elimination of nuclear weapons.”

De Brum also played a key role in the Paris climate negotiations, forging a coalition of about 100 diverse nations, the “high-ambition coalition,” which successfully pushed for a global warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: September 1, 2017

China Deploys Sea-Based Nuclear Force

China Deploys Sea-Based Nuclear Force

China has put in place its “first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent” with the deployment of JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), according to the U.S. Defense Department. China is also strengthening other aspects of its nuclear forces with the deployment of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile and development of a long-range strategic bomber “that officials expect to have a nuclear mission,” according to the department’s May 15 report to Congress titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017.”

The report, an annual requirement, indicates that China deployed the JL-2s in the past year. It states that China’s four operational JIN-class nuclear submarines “are equipped with” up to 12 JL-2s, while the 2016 report had stated that submarines “will eventually carry” them. The SLBMs have a range of 7,200 kilometers, according to the 2016 report. The Defense Department report also stated that China has deployed a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26, which was first unveiled in a September 2015 parade. It could reach U.S. bases in Guam. People’s Liberation Army Air Force Gen. Ma Xiaotian announced in September 2016 that China was developing a new generation of long-range bomber, which observers expect to debut sometime around 2025, according to the new report. The bomber is expected to employ stealth technology, according to the report.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: July 10, 2017

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