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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits

U.S., Russia Meet New START Limits


The United States and Russia met their obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) by the February 2018 deadline. The treaty required each country, using agreed counting rules, to reduce its strategic nuclear stockpiles to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and bombs, along with 700 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles by Feb. 5, 2018.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Feb. 5 that the country had 1,444 warheads, with 527 deployed and 779 total delivery vehicles. In a State Department press release Feb. 22, the United States said it had 1,350 warheads, with 652 deployed and 800 total delivery vehicles. Since the treaty entered into force in 2011, the countries have exchanged more than 14,700 notifications related to the location, movement, and disposition of nuclear weapons and conducted 252 on-site weapons inspections.

In its press release, however, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed dissatisfaction with the U.S. commitment to New START, stating that the United States had reconfigured several Trident II submarine ballistic missile launchers and B-52H bombers in such a way that it “could not confirm that these strategic arms have been rendered incapable of employing nuclear armaments” in accordance with treaty procedures. Russia also accused the United States of “arbitrarily” converting some underground missile launch facilities into indistinguishable “training launch facilities.”

New START expires Feb. 5, 2021, but may be extended until 2026 under the treaty terms. Its future is murky, given President Donald Trump’s denunciation of the agreement as “one sided.” (See ACT, March 2017.) Russia’s interest in an extension may be waning, with an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing skepticism about negotiating in light of tense relations.—RYAN FEDASIUK

Posted: March 1, 2018

Aegis Missile Interceptor Fails Test

Aegis Missile Interceptor Fails Test


The Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, the latest in the line of U.S. interceptor missiles designed for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, failed to hit its target in its third intercept test on Jan. 31 after being launched from the Aegis Ashore test site in Hawaii. At a Feb. 1 press briefing, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White confirmed that the test “did not meet our objectives.” A Missile Defense Agency (MDA) statement later that day, however, said that “much was still learned that demonstrated an increase in the effective range” of the overall ballistic missile defense system.

At a Feb. 12 press briefing, Gary Pennett, MDA director of operations, said officials had isolated the failure to the missile itself rather than any sensor or control system in the “engage on remote” apparatus. This was the second failure in three intercept tests of the missile, which is currently being developed jointly by Raytheon Co. and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The system is set to begin deployment this year on U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships, as well as at an Aegis Ashore site in Poland as part of the third phase of the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach. (See ACT, June 2016.) This latest failure raises questions about whether the current deployment schedule can be met.

The Block IIA is a larger and faster version of previous SM-3 missiles. It boasts an improved range and was designed to engage medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase of flight.—MACLYN SENEAR

Posted: March 1, 2018

India Joins Australia Group

India Joins Australia Group


India became the Australia Group’s 43rd member on Jan. 19, following a consensus decision at the group’s June 19 plenary. The Australia Group is dedicated to preventing the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons through voluntary export controls. It is the third nonproliferation consortium India has joined in the past two years, after the Wassenaar Arrangement, a conventional weapons export control regime, in December 2017 and the Missile Technology Control Regime, a group committed to limiting the spread of missiles and related technology, in June 2016. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

“With its admission into the Australia Group, India has demonstrated the will to implement rigorous controls of high standards in international trade, and its capacity to adapt its national regulatory system to meet the necessities of its expanding economy,” according to a Jan. 19 Australia Group press release. Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in a Jan. 19 news briefing that the accession would help “establish…credentials” for India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which restricts the spread of nuclear technology. India has publicly stated its desire to join the NSG, although China blocked its last attempt in June 2016. (See ACT, July/August 2016.)—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: March 1, 2018

Qatar Displays Chinese Missile

Qatar Displays Chinese Missile

Qatar riled its Persian Gulf neighbors when it displayed a previously unseen, Chinese-made short-range ballistic missile system at a military parade. The sale of the missiles had not been public knowledge until they were spotted on transporter-erector launchers in a Dec. 17 rehearsal for the Qatar National Day Parade. Joseph Dempsey, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, recognized the missiles, which he highlighted in a series of Twitter posts. In an observation confirmed by other analysts, he noted that the two eight-axle launcher vehicles in the parade appeared to be configured to carry BP-12A ballistic missile canisters, although they could alternatively carry eight canisters for the smaller, related SY-400 missile.

Members of Qatar's armed forces march in national day celebrations December 18, 2017. The parade reportedly included a previously unseen, Chinese-made short-range ballistic missile system.  (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)Officials from the China National Precision Machinery Import/Export Corp. marketed the BP-12A at an international arms show in 2012 as having a range up to 280 kilometers (173 miles) and a payload capability of 480 kilograms. The SY-400 is believed to have a similar or slightly shorter range and roughly half the payload capability. The sale of the BP-12A does not appear to violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which urges its 35 members to restrict exports of missile technologies capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload a distance of at least 300 kilometers.

China’s bid to join the MTCR was rejected in 2004 due to concern that Chinese entities were continuing to provide missile technology to North Korea, although at the time Beijing voluntarily pledged to follow the regime’s export control guidelines and has since generally tightened its export controls. In recent years, China has increasingly marketed and sold the SY-400 and other missile systems to foreign customers, particularly in the Middle East.

The reveal of the missile sale comes amid a months-long dispute between Qatar and other gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where media outlets complained that Qatar’s new missiles potentially could strike targets in their countries. Saudi Arabia also has secretly purchased ballistic missiles from China.—MACLYN SENEAR

Posted: March 1, 2018

China Adds Monitoring Stations

China Adds Monitoring Stations


China has completed certification in the past year of its first five International Monitoring System (IMS) stations of the 12 it is obligated to certify toward the completion of the global nuclear test detection system managed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). China is among the eight countries, including the United States, that need to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for the 1996 treaty to enter into force. Both countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

The first Chinese IMS station, radionuclide station RN21, was certified in December 2016. Two primary seismic stations and two additional radionuclide stations were certified during the September-December 2017 period. These stations “fill in an important geographical coverage gap in terms of event detection in the region,” according to a CTBTO press statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement that the CTBT is “an important pillar of international nuclear disarmament” and that China is “willing to deepen” its cooperation with the CTBTO.

The monitoring system is about 90 percent complete, with more than 290 stations certified. Once complete, the IMS will have 321 monitoring points, consisting of hydroacoustic, infrasound, seismic, and radionuclide stations and 16 laboratories worldwide.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Posted: March 1, 2018

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

‘Killer Robot’ Debates Planned

At the annual meeting of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), delegates from 91 states agreed to continue formal deliberations on the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems, the technology often popularly called “killer robots,” at two conferences this year.

The Defender, an experimental robotic platform able to perform reconnaissance, surveillance, and targeting tasks, is shown in a 2008 photo. The system was designed to be operated remotely by military personnel, although technology advances could make possible a similar system able to operate autonomously. (U.S. Air Force photo)The first meeting of the CCW group of governmental experts on these systems, which included interested states-parties and civil society groups, met on Nov. 13-17 in Geneva to discuss the topic for the first time in a formal session. Annual informal meetings of experts had been convened to discuss the systems from 2014 to 2016. The fifth review conference of the CCW in December 2016 established a formal group to meet in 2017 with a mandate to “explore and agree on possible recommendations” regarding the emerging technologies. (See ACT, January/February 2017). The experts group decided to extend its mandate and hold two more one-week sessions this year. The full conference of the CCW, which met in Geneva on Nov. 22-24, affirmed that decision.

Many nongovernmental groups advocating for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems welcomed the extension, but expressed frustration at the lack of progress in negotiating any legal instruments despite growing concerns among civil society groups, scientists, and parliamentarians. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an international coalition, said in a Nov. 24 statement that it “remains disappointed that all countries seem able to do is roll-over the previously agreed mandate and meet for just 10 days during 2018. This decision does not reflect a sense of urgency.”

According to the group, 22 states now support a legally binding instrument to pre-emptively prohibit these systems before they are deployed by any states. China, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are among the countries developing the technology.—MACLYN SENEAR

Posted: January 10, 2018

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

India Joins Wassenaar Arrangement

India was admitted into the Wassenaar Arrangement as its 42nd member Dec. 7 following the group’s annual plenary in Vienna. The Wassenaar Arrangement, established in July 1996, is a voluntary export control regime. Members share information on conventional weapons transfers and dual-use goods and technologies.

Experts assess that India is interested in joining export control regimes to bolster its bid to be included in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a nuclear technology control group. Despite U.S. backing, that group has not reached consensus on admitting India, which, alongside Pakistan, formally applied to join in June 2016, the same month India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). (See ACT, July/August 2016.)

Alexandre Ziegler, France’s ambassador to India, welcomed the admission decision, calling it in a tweet “one more recognition, after MTCR, of the growing role India plays in the world.” Critics contend that India should not have been admitted because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which was a requirement for the admission of other Wassenaar Arrangement members.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: January 10, 2018

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

Defense Bill Restricts CTBTO Funding

The most recent annual National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law on Dec. 12, includes language restricting U.S. financial contributions to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), except for funds related to the International Monitoring System, which detects nuclear test explosions. The CTBTO is the international organization that promotes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in advance of its entry into force and builds up its verification regime.

Infrasound arrays at the International Monitoring System station in Greenland is shown in this August 13, 2009 photo. The U.S. defense authorization bill allows for continued contributions to the monitoring system operated by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization.  (CTBTO Preparatory Commission photo)The provision was originally inserted into the House version of the bill. Although not included in the Senate bill, the measure was incorporated into the conference bill, which passed the House on Nov. 14 and the Senate two days later.

The bill also includes an assertion that UN Security Council Resolution 2310, passed in September 2016, calling for the treaty’s early entry into force and the continuation of nuclear testing moratoria does not “obligate the United States nor does it impose an obligation” to refrain from actions that would run counter to the treaty. The amendment’s supporters argue that the United States should not be bound by or contribute financially to a treaty the Senate has not ratified. Opponents of the provision contend that it could signal a weakened U.S. commitment to the global moratoria on nuclear testing and undercut support for the treaty.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: January 10, 2018

U.S. Undoes Cluster Munitions Ban

U.S. Undoes Cluster Munitions Ban

In a policy shift, the United States removed a ban on the use of most of its cluster munitions inventory that was to take effect at the end of 2018. A Nov. 30 memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan revised a 2008 policy that called for completely phasing out the possible use of cluster munitions that fail to operate as intended more than 1 percent of the time.

The new policy keeps those weapons in active U.S. stocks until the “capabilities they provide are replaced with enhanced and more reliable munitions.” How that might occur remains unclear. The last U.S. manufacturer who produced cluster munitions that Washington claims meet the 1 percent threshold stopped making them in 2016 and does not intend to renew production, according to The New York Times. The United States stopped buying new cluster munitions for its military in 2007 and, except for a single strike in Yemen in 2009, has not used them since early 2003.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse explosive submunitions over wide areas. Many submunitions fail to detonate as designed, leaving explosive remnants that later injure or kill civilians. More than 100 countries are states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of the weapons. At the latest convention meeting, treaty members, which include a majority of NATO countries and many U.S. allies such as Australia and Japan, renewed their condemnation of any use. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The new policy retained the previous policy’s requirement for a combatant commander to authorize the use of cluster munitions that would have been phased out. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who in April 2017 introduced legislation that would have barred the use of such weapons, criticized the new policy. “It’s a shame the United States will continue to be a global outlier in using these unreliable and dangerous weapons, and I call on the president to reverse course and reinstate the 2008 policy,” Feinstein said.

Although the policy memo did not list specific places where cluster munitions would be needed, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Dec. 4 said the administration made a “prudent decision to preserve cluster munitions to deter North Korean aggression.”—JEFF ABRAMSON

Posted: January 10, 2018

Turkey Signs Missile Deal With Russia

Turkey Signs Missile Deal With Russia

Turkey and Russia signed an agreement for Moscow to supply Ankara with advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, according to a Dec. 29 Turkish government statement. The deal is controversial because Turkey is a NATO member and normally would buy weapons from allied-country suppliers that could be integrated with NATO’s defense architecture.

A Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system is displayed on August 22, 2017 during the first day of the International Military-Technical Forum Army 2017 near Moscow. NATO-member Turkey announced it is buying the Russian system, which is incompatible with NATO’s defense architecture.  (Photo: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)The deal reportedly is valued at $2.5 billion and has been in the works for more than a year, Reuters reported. On Dec. 27, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, told the Kommersant that Russia would supply Turkey with four S-400 batteries. In a statement, Turkey’s Undersecretariat for Defence Industries said that an initial delivery is planned for the first quarter of 2020. The Turkish government said the deal covers two S-400 batteries, with one being optional, and added the systems would be used and managed “independently” by Turkish personnel, rather than Russian advisers, according to Reuters. Turkish newspapers cited President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying Turkey would get a Russian loan in rubles to help finance the purchase. Russia’s English-language RT news service headlined the deal as a “Blow to NATO?”

The Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported in December that Moscow is close to a deal for Saudi Arabia, another U.S. ally, to buy the S-400 system. A sale to India is also close to completion, according to Russian officials cited by Tass.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: January 10, 2018

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