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former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

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

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Scheduled international talks this year on lethal autonomous weapons, or so-called killer robots, have been cut by half due to insufficient funding, according to Matthew Rowland, UK ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and 2017 chair of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the forum for the autonomous weapons talks. A meeting of governmental experts planned for Aug. 21-25 was canceled, along with some other CCW activities. A second session scheduled for Nov. 13-17 will be held, assuming sufficient funds, Rowland said in a June 6 letter.

At their fifth review conference in December 2016, CCW states decided to formalize and expand their deliberations by establishing a group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems that would meet in August and November this year. The August cancellation may slow the momentum of previous discussions. Nineteen countries have endorsed a ban, and others have affirmed the need to maintain human control over the selection of targets and use of force, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The CCW’s financial squeeze is due to the failure of several states, most notably Brazil, to pay their assessed dues for the convention’s meetings, according to the advocacy group. “The collective failure of countries to find a solution to their financial woes doesn’t mean they can stop addressing concerns over weapons that would select and attack targets without further human intervention,” said Human Right Watch’s Mary Wareham, the campaign’s global coordinator.—SARA SCHMITT

Posted: July 10, 2017

Moon Orders THAAD Deployment Review

Moon Orders THAAD Deployment Review

A South Korean protester wears a ‘No THAAD’ face mask during an April 28 rally in Seoul against the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. (Photo credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)New South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced on June 7 that deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile launchers would be suspended pending an environmental review. After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the Defense Ministry withheld this information. Moon has been critical of the rushed deployment of two launchers before his predecessor’s impeachment earlier this year, arguing that the decision should have been left for the incoming administration. Although the four additional launchers would have brought the battery to full strength, the two initial launchers will continue to function. Each launcher is equipped with eight interceptors designed to defend against incoming missiles.

Moon, who campaigned on fostering dialogue with North Korea, sought to ease concerns about diverging policies with Washington. “My order for a probe on THAAD is purely a domestic measure, and I want to be clear that it is not about trying to change the existing decision or sending a message to the United States,” he told U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) during a May 31 meeting in Seoul. U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently expressed confidence that the United States could address Moon’s concerns.—TYLER ROGERS

Posted: July 10, 2017

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

NSG Still Stuck on India, Pakistan Bids

A June 22-23 plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) ended inconclusively on the controversial question of parti­cipation by India and Pakistan, which are not signatories to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Meeting chairman Benno Laggner of Switzerland said in a statement on June 23 that he intends to continue the discussion at an “informal meeting” in November.

The NSG, with 48 members, sets guidelines for nuclear trade so that transfers do not contribute to weapons proliferation. Laggner said diplomats, meeting in Bern, Switzerland, discussed “technical, legal, and political aspects” of NSG participation by non-NPT states. China and others have objected to India’s and Pakistan’s membership bids, which were submitted last year. (See ACT, January/February 2017.) The NSG, which operates by consensus, has sought to reach agreement on membership criteria for non-NPT states. NSG guidelines include the prohibition of exports to countries that do not open all nuclear facilities to international inspections. In 2008 the NSG agreed to exempt India from that provision, and in 2010, the United States endorsed India’s bid for NSG membership.—DARYL KIMBALL

Posted: July 10, 2017

Safety at Nuclear Sites Scrutinized

Safety at Nuclear Sites Scrutinized

 

A technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory is shown working on a plutonium “pit,” a key component in nuclear warheads, in a 2011 photograph. The pit, when compressed by chemical explosives, initiates a weapon’s nuclear chain reaction. (Photo credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory)A wide-ranging investigation published in June by the Center for Public Integrity revealed unpublicized safety lapses at Energy Department nuclear weapons sites during the past decade that the group said endangered the lives of laboratory workers and, in some cases, imperiled site operations. The investigation also found that the government imposed relatively small penalties on the contractors operating the sites.

In one particularly serious incident documented in the investi­gation, technicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico “placed rods of plutonium so closely together on a table in 2011 that they nearly caused a runaway nuclear chain reaction, which would likely have killed all those nearby and spread cancer-causing plutonium particles.” The accident prompted the shutdown until last year of the facility at the lab that houses virtually all the country’s plutonium operations, including the testing and production of the plutonium pits for U.S. nuclear weapons. In a June 19 statement, Frank Klotz, administrator of the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, defended the agency’s safety record and said it withheld more than $82 million in contractor payments in the 2013-2016 period due to “a range of safety and operational issues at Los Alamos.”—KINGSTON REIF

Posted: July 10, 2017

Iran Hits Syria With Ballistic Missiles

Iran Hits Syria With Ballistic Missiles

 

Iran launched six ballistic missiles at the Islamic State group in Syria following a June 7 terrorist attack in Tehran. The June 19 strike used Zolfaghar missiles, a solid-fueled system with a claimed range of 700 kilometers. According to Israeli news reports, three missiles fell in Iraq, short of the target in Syria. Iranian Gen. Ramazan Sharif described the strike as successful and threatened more if there are further attacks by the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the June 7 attack on Iran’s parliament and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mausoleum.

This was Iran’s first use of ballistic missiles since its war with Iraq in the 1980s, and it is unclear if the launch runs counter to the July 2015 UN Security Council resolution that endorsed the Iran nuclear deal. Security Council Resolution 2231 calls on Iran not to undertake “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The Zolfaghar’s specifications likely meet the international standard for nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which is defined as one capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers. Iran has argued after testing missiles meeting the nuclear-capable specifications that its activities do not run counter to the resolution because the systems are not “designed” to carry nuclear weapons.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: July 10, 2017

FARC Surrenders Weapons

FARC Surrenders Weapons

Colombia’s largest rebel group completed its disarmament on June 27, giving up weapons under last year’s peace agreement ending its half-century guerrilla war. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, surrendered its remaining weapons to UN monitors. The handover of some 7,000 rebel weapons, as well as identification of FARC weapons caches, was a key element in the agreement ending a war in which 220,000 people were killed. As the peace process moves into its next phases, the United Nations will establish a verification mission to support the reintegration of about 10,000 former FARC fighters and the implementation of security guarantees, UN Special Representative Jean Arnault, head of the UN Mission in Colombia, told the Security Council on June 30.—TERRY ATLAS

Posted: July 10, 2017

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

U.S. Waives Sanctions Under Iran Deal

A supporter of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who backed the nuclear deal with world powers, celebrates in Tehran after he won the presidential election on May 20. (Photo credit: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)The Trump administration renewed sanctions waivers on Iran, meeting requirements under the July 2015 nuclear deal between the United States and its negotiating partners and Iran. The May 17 waivers are the first by President Donald Trump to maintain U.S. compliance with the agreement he has repeatedly denounced. Most sanctions waivers must be renewed every 120 days, and President Barack Obama issued waivers shortly before leaving office in January. If Iran continues to comply, these sanctions could be lifted statutorily by 2023. The waivers follow a certification by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in April that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the deal. The certification to Congress is required by U.S. law.

In the press release announcing the waivers, the State Department said that the Treasury Department was sanctioning additional Iranian entities and a Chinese network for suppling items applicable to ballistic missile development to Iran, which is “inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2231.” The resolution, passed in July 2015, endorsed the nuclear deal and lifted some UN sanctions, but called on Iran to refrain from testing ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. Iran has continued to test ballistic missiles, arguing that the systems are not designed for nuclear warheads.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Posted: May 31, 2017

Decision on Missile Defense Site Delayed

Decision on Missile Defense Site Delayed

The Defense Department announced that a final environ­mental statement designating a preferred location for a new ballistic missile interceptor site has been delayed again and will be further studied as part the department’s broad review of U.S. missile defense policy. “We will not be able to provide additional information” on the additional site until the ballistic missile defense review concludes, said Leah Garton, a Missile Defense Agency spokesperson, in a May 19 email to Arms Control Today.

The policy review, to be completed by the end of the year, will “identify ways to strengthen missile-defense capabilities, rebalance homeland and theater defense priorities and provide the necessary policy and strategy framework for the nation’s missile defense systems,” according to a Defense Department press release on May 5. The review could significantly alter long-standing policy and have far-reaching implications for U.S. strategic relationships with Russia and China. (See ACT, May 2017.)

The current system to protect the U.S. homeland against a limited, long-range missile attack, known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, consists of interceptor sites in Alaska and California. Pentagon officials have repeatedly stated that there is no military requirement for a third site and that the estimated $3-4 billion price tag would be better spent to upgrade the existing GMD system. (See ACT, January/February 2017.)—KINGSTON REIF

Posted: May 31, 2017

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