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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

NSG Renews Membership Debate

NSG Renews Membership Debate

Participating governments of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) convened an informal meeting Nov. 16 in Vienna to renew consideration of membership criteria for countries that have not joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an issue that has been discussed on and off since 2011.

The NSG exempted India in 2008 from its long-standing full-scope safeguards requirement for nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states on the basis of political commitments made by India, including a reiteration of its unilateral nuclear testing moratorium. In mid-2016, India filed a formal membership bid, with Pakistan submitting a separate membership request shortly thereafter. But the NSG, which operates by consensus, could not agree on a common set of criteria for membership by the two countries, which are not NPT signatories. Confidential discussions involving the 48 member-states did not produce a consensus. (See ACT, December 2016.)

The Nov. 16 meeting convened by the current NSG chair, Benno Laggner of Switzerland, was the first on the issue during the Trump administration. In response to Laggner’s request for input, U.S. representative Richard Stratford wrote Sept. 25 to say that the U.S. position is “that all relevant factors for consideration have been identified and that consensus on these factors is possible, if pursued.” Yet, diplomatic sources indicate that differences persist. China continues to insist that NPT membership must be one of the key criteria, while several other states insist that criteria should include, among other options, a binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions, a declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency that identifies all current and future civilian nuclear facilities, and a commitment to support and strengthen the multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament regime by working toward the total elimination of nuclear weapons.—DARYL G. KIMBALL

Posted: December 1, 2017

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’

Stratcom Completes ‘Global Thunder’

The U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) concluded its “Global Thunder 2018” strategic nuclear forces exercise, which leaders said was intended to bolster the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence and the readiness for a possible nuclear conflict. “Quite frankly, if we ever come to a strategic exchange, nobody wins,” Navy Rear Adm. Daniel Fillion, Stratcom director of global operations, said in a Nov. 17 statement. “We are not looking for a fight by any stretch of the imagination, but everybody has to understand that, if pressed, we will deliver a fight and it will be very short and we will come out victorious.”

A 509th Security Forces Squadron member controls access to a B-2 Spirit during “Global Thunder 2018” at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., November 1.  (Photo credit: Taylor Phifer/U.S Air Force)Navy Rear Adm. William Houston, deputy director for strategic targeting and nuclear mission planning, said in the same statement that “effective” deterrence efforts now rest on more than just nuclear capabilities. “There are significant challenges we face in multiple domains: integrating space, cyber and our strategic weapons into the overall strategic deterrence we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “Those are key elements because any one of those areas could lead to a strategic imbalance between potential adversaries.”

Russia also held nuclear forces exercises in October, in which President Vladimir Putin participated. Putin test-fired four nuclear-capable ballistic missiles during the exercise, the Russian news agency Interfax reported on Oct. 27.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: December 1, 2017

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Pentagon Gets More Missile Defense Funds

Congress last month approved the transfer of an additional $440 million in unspent fiscal year 2017 Defense Department funds to missile defense programs amid on ongoing administration review of U.S. missile defense strategy and growing concern about North Korea’s advancing ballistic missile capabilities. Of that amount, $136 million would support increasing the number of ground-based long-range missile defense interceptors in Alaska by up to 20 beyond the currently planned 40.

A ground-based interceptor missile sits inside its underground silo August 23 at the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely, Alaska. (Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Capt. Jennifer Beyrle)The additional money, which had originally been earmarked for Army operations and maintenance accounts, would also fund missile defense sensors, upgrades to the Navy’s Aegis missile defense program, and classified programs to augment U.S. cyber capabilities for missile defense. The Defense Department submitted the reprogramming request to Congress on Sept. 7.

The administration is currently conducting a congressionally mandated review of the U.S. approach toward missile defense. (See ACT, May 2017.) The review is slated for completion by the end of the year. The Trump administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018, released May 23, seeks $7.9 billion for the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, a decrease of $334 million from the current level but an increase of $470 million from the projection in the final Obama administration submission. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

President Donald Trump said at an Aug. 10 news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, that he would “be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with” missile defense. It remains to be seen if the administration will submit a so-called supplemental request to lawmakers for additional missile defense funds beyond its request for fiscal year 2018, which began Oct. 1.

The House and Senate versions of this year’s defense authorization act would permit expanding the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska. The two chambers are currently in negotiations to produce a final bill by early December.—KINGSTON REIF

Posted: November 1, 2017

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

U.S. Sets Major Saudi Missile Defense Sale

The Trump administration notified Congress of the largest piece thus far of the controversial $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia first announced in May. The Oct. 8 notification covered 360 interceptor missiles, 44 launchers, seven radars, related components, and support for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, with an estimated value of $15 billion. Aimed at intercepting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the THAAD system would support the “long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” according to the notification. The notification came just days after reports that Riyadh had agreed to buy Russian S-400s, a mobile surface-to-air missile system, calling into question whether the Saudis are playing Russia and the United States against each other.

Yemeni children gather at a bomb crater from a reported air strike October 7 by the Saudi-led coalition that allegedly hit a health center in the northern province of Hajjah. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia have drawn extra attention due to the Saudi-led coalition’s conduct of its war in Yemen, which has resulted in many direct and indirect civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia and its allies have prevented ships carrying humanitarian aid from reaching Yemeni ports. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who voted in June to block the sale of $500 million in precision-guided munitions to the Saudis, threatened to block the nomination of Jennifer Newstead as legal adviser in the State Department. During confirmation hearings, Young pressed Newstead on the Saudi actions in Yemen. Young said that the Saudi obstruction of humanitarian aid violates Rule 55 of customary international humanitarian law (as listed by the International Committee of the Red Cross) and undercuts “our national security interests and our moral values.” —ARSEN MARKAROV

Posted: November 1, 2017

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

OPCW Council Selects New Leader

The Executive Council of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Oct. 12 selected Fernando Arias to become the organization’s next director-general. Arias is Spain’s permanent representative to the OPCW and previously served as Spain’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

The 41-member Executive Council will recommend the Spanish ambassador to the larger OPCW conference of states-parties, which meets from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. Once formally elected at that session, Arias’ four-year term leading the OPCW, the implementing organization of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, will begin on July 25, 2018.

Ambassador Fernando Arias (Photo credit: OPCW)

Arias was selected from a pool of seven candidates, including arms control notables such as Kim Won-soo, former UN undersecretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, and Tibor Tóth, former executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. (See ACT, September 2017.) Arias has said his vision for the OPCW includes preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons, incorporating new technology, fighting terrorism, and engaging in public outreach.

The field of candidates narrowed over several months as individuals withdrew their names following poor showings in a series of informal straw polls conducted within the Executive Council. By Oct. 7, only two candidates remained: Vaidotas Verba, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the OPCW, and Arias.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: November 1, 2017

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

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