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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) holding an annual plenary in October sought to address challenges facing the 30-year-old accord, including emerging technologies and regional proliferation. MTCR members agree to control exports of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the voluntary regime began in 1987, its membership has grown from seven to 35 countries.

The meeting, co-chaired by Iceland and Ireland, discussed intangible-technology transfers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “catch all” controls, regional proliferation, and outreach to non-MTCR countries, according to an Oct. 20 joint statement.

Members also renewed their commitment to exercising “extreme vigilance” in restricting technology transfers that could contribute to North Korea’s missile program, according to the statement. For the meeting, the United States prepared a proposal that exports of certain UAVs, now tightly restricted as being equivalent to cruise missiles, be treated more leniently, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters report. That reflects an interest by the Trump administration and UAV manufacturers in pursuing increased U.S. drone exports, Reuters said. A State Department official praised the MTCR in an Oct. 25 email to Arms Control Today but provided no details about the confidential discussions.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

Panel Cites Syrian Regime in Sarin Attack

The Syrian government is responsible for the April 4 sarin nerve-gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed almost 100 people, including many women and children, international investigators concluded in a report sent Oct. 26 to the UN Security Council. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia casts a veto of a UN Security Council resolution to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, on October 24 at the United Nations.  (Photo credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)The report went to the council two days after Russia vetoed renewal of the mandate for the international investigative group that produced it. The authorization for the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), unanimously created by the council in 2015 and renewed in 2016, is due to expire in mid-November. Russia left open the possibility that it would reconsider its position, depending on the outcome of the report on Khan Sheikhoun. Russia, which supports Syria’s Assad regime, has frequently tried to deflect blame to anti-government forces. Last year, the JIM found that the Syrian government was responsible for at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas. The new JIM report also concluded that Islamic State militants had carried out an attack using sulfur mustard agent in Um-Housh, in Aleppo Province, on Sept. 16, 2016.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: November 1, 2017

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

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