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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

News Briefs

GMD Intercept Test Expected Soon

GMD Intercept Test Expected Soon

The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system successfully intercepted a mock intercontinental-ballistic-missile-range target for the first time in a May 30 test, according to the Missile Defense Agency. “The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program” said Vice Admiral James Syring, the agency director. “The system demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.” The GMD system is designed to protect the United States against a limited long-range missile attack from North Korea or Iran. A total of 36 interceptors are currently deployed in Alaska and California and an additional eight are scheduled to be installed by the end of the year. The May 30 test, known as FTG-15, was the first flight intercept test of the system since June 2014 (See ACT, July/August 2014). In the test, a missile interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California collided with a target, launched from the Army’s Kwajalein Test Site in the Marshall Islands, flying at speeds similar to those of an ICBM. The Missile Defense Agency has now conducted 18 intercept tests of the GMD system, of which 10 have been reported as successful.—CHARLES CARRIGAN

Posted: May 31, 2017

Pentagon Reviews Nuclear Policies

Pentagon Reviews Nuclear Policies

May 2017
By Maggie Tennis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has initiated the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be completed by the end of the year, according to an April 17 Defense Department press release. The NPR will affect defense policy and planning. (See ACT, March 2017.) The review will also influence how the White House proceeds on arms control issues, such as whether to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Trump has expressed an intention to “greatly strengthen and expand” the U.S. nuclear arsenal and an ambition to be at “the top of the pack” of nuclear-armed countries. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, urged that the NPR prioritize strategic stability and nuclear nonproliferation. “It is time to rethink what the priorities should be for a strong yet affordable nuclear arsenal, rather than embarking on a trillion-dollar modernization plan that will drag us into perilous nuclear competition,” he said in an April 17 statement.

Posted: May 1, 2017

New ICBM Cost May Rise Further

New ICBM Cost May Rise Further

May 2017
By Kingston Reif

The Pentagon’s former top acquisition official said that the cost to build a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system could end up exceeding the Defense Department’s current estimate of $85 billion. Frank Kendall, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told Arms Control Today in an April 5 interview that he would be “delighted” if the cost dropped below the current estimate, but said he did not “expect that to happen.” Kendall approved the $85 billion figure last summer as part of the new ICBM program’s so-called milestone A decision, a key early benchmark in the acquisition process. That figure was at the low end of the independent projection prepared by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and, even so, exceeded the Air Force’s 2015 cost estimate of $62.3 billion in then-year dollars. (See ACT, March 2017.) Kendall said that there is more uncertainty than usual about the estimated cost of the program, pending design determination and “more detailed, bottom-up cost analysis.”

Posted: May 1, 2017

Russian Deployed Warheads Decline

Russian Deployed Warheads Decline

May 2017
By Charles Carrigan

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) report released April 1 shows a net decline in deployed Russian warheads, the first since 2015, and a slight increase in U.S. deployed warheads as both countries adjust to limits that take effect in February. With its reduction from 1,796 warheads to 1,765, Russia will need to cut another 215 warheads to comply. Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, has written that he anticipates “that will not be a problem.”

The recent numbers bolster the case for a treaty that President Donald Trump characterized as a “one-sided deal” favoring Russia. The treaty has high-profile supporters, notably among them Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command. The treaty expires in February 2021, but has a provision for an extension for a maximum of five years. The prospect of a renewal was met with disinterest by the new U.S. administration, with Trump saying in a Reuters interview on Feb. 23 that the United States “has fallen behind” in nuclear weapons capacity. The numbers released by the State Department show that the United States possesses at least 150 more strategic launchers than Russia and added 44 deployed warheads, remaining below the limit of 1,550 “accountable” deployed strategic warheads.

Posted: May 1, 2017

U.S. Unblocks Bahrain F-16s Sale

U.S. Unblocks Bahrain F-16s Sale 

May 2017
By Danielle Preskitt

Bahraini men hold placards bearing the portrait of Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Shiite opposition movement Al-Wefaq, during a protest on May 29.  Credit: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty ImagesThe U.S. State Department has informally notified congressional leaders that the Trump administration intends to proceed with the sale of 19 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, dropping the human rights conditions that had held up the deal during the Obama administration. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 29 that the delay in the sale worth as much as $4 billion in aircraft and upgrades to Bahrain’s existing F-16 fleet, due to “concerns of potential human rights abuses in the country, continues to strain our relationship” with the Persian Gulf country. Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim minority leadership, citing what it says are threats from Shiite Muslim Iran, has cracked down on protests predominantly by the majority Shiite population. The informal notification to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee is generally followed by formal notification, which starts a 30-day period during which Congress can block the sale.

Posted: May 1, 2017

Anti-Landmine Efforts Draw Funding

Anti-Landmine Efforts Draw Funding 

May 2017
By Danielle Preskitt

The United Kingdom marked the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance with a pledge of 100 million pounds ($125 million) over three years to support landmine clearance projects in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia, and South Sudan. Prince Harry said the action by the UK government extends the legacy of his late mother, Princess Diana, who drew attention to the “horrific and indiscriminate impact of landmines.” Harry is supporting the campaign to rid the world of landmines by 2025. “Even if the world decided tomorrow to ban these weapons, this terrible legacy of mines already in the earth would continue to plague the poor nations of the globe,” he said in an April 4 speech quoting her in London.

Prince Harry attends the Landmine Free World 2025 reception on International Mine Awareness Day April 4 in London. Credit: John Phillips/Getty ImagesThe UK is not alone in making further commitments to mine-action funding this year. Switzerland promised $3.5 million through 2019 for projects in Cambodia. Japan donated approximately $7.5 million for UN Mine Action Service projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Canada pledged $5.8 million for anti-mine work in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine. The Netherlands promised $2.1 million to train demining teams in Syria. Mexico donated $1 million to support work in Colombia. The United States, the largest funder, provided about $119 million in 2015, according to the Landmine Monitor, which found that total international funding declined from about $500 million in 2012 to $352 million in 2015.

Posted: May 1, 2017

G-7 Lowers Voice on Nuclear Disarmament

G-7 Lowers Voice on Nuclear Disarmament

May 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations, in an April 11 statement following their meeting in Italy, softened previous backing for nuclear disarmament and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). They made only brief reference to nuclear disarmament with a call for “an inclusive step-by-step, progressive approach . . . to create conditions that could allow a world without nuclear weapons.” In contrast, the foreign ministers referenced nuclear disarmament repeatedly in an April 2016 declaration in Hiroshima, Japan, acknowledging the suffering of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and committing the G-7 to be “persistent and active advocates of continued reductions in nuclear weapons globally.” Their endorsement of the CTBT was also weaker this year, noting the CTBT’s “potential contribution” to nuclear disarmament and encouraging states to complete the treaty-related International Monitoring System. In 2016, they urged that all states sign and ratify the CTBT “without delay and without conditions to achieve early entry into force of the treaty.”

Posted: May 1, 2017

South Korea Tests Longer-Range Missile

South Korea Tests Longer-Range Missile

May 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

South Korea tested a new ballistic missile capable of longer ranges than its existing systems, according to officials quoted in South Korean papers. The ballistic missile, known as the Hyunmu-2C, has an estimated range of 800 kilometers, enabling South Korea to target any part of North Korea. A test launch, although not conducted at full range, was reported to have been successful. The test took place in early April at the Agency for Defense Development’s Anheung test site near Taean.

South Korea and the United States reached an agreement that allowed South Korea to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload in 2012. (See ACT, November 2012.) Previously, South Korea was limited under a 2001 agreement with the United States to restrict its ballistic missiles to a range of 300 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload. The Hyunmu-2C is not the first ballistic missile that Seoul has tested under the extended-range agreement. Seoul also developed the Hyunmu-2B, which has a range of 500 kilometers. South Korean officials have said on several occasions that the Hyunmu-2C will be deployed by the end of 2017.

Posted: May 1, 2017

U.S. Shifts HEU End-Use Terms

U.S. Shifts HEU End-Use Terms

May 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Some U.S. highly enriched uranium (HEU), originally intended to be used in France to manufacture fuel for Belgium’s BR-2 research reactor, instead will be used for commercial isotope production at the Institute for Radioelements (IRE) facility in Belgium. On April 3, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Nonproliferation and Arms Control issued a change of end-use notice for a 2010 export license covering 93.5 kilograms of HEU. The BR-2 reactor switched fuel providers last year and no longer needs all the U.S.-supplied HEU. Some experts raised concerns that the availability of excess weapons-grade uranium in Europe will slow the Belgian facility’s already gradual transition to low-enriched uranium (LEU) targets for isotope production. “One danger of exporting large amounts of HEU is that it can create overseas surpluses of U.S. HEU that may be used to undermine U.S. nonproliferation policy,” said Alan Kuperman, an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin in an April 14 email to Arms Control Today. Kuperman urged the United States to tell the IRE facility that it will limit future HEU exports in order to encourage the facility’s complete conversion to LEU.

Posted: May 1, 2017

Nuclear Weapons Ban Talks Begin

115 non-nuclear-weapon states began discussing March 27 a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. 

April 2017

Defying opposition by the world’s nuclear powers, 115 non-nuclear-weapon states began discussing March 27 a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons. Meeting for five days at United Nations headquarters, delegates discussed elements to be included in the treaty’s preamble and core provisions. There was general agreement to reference the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and existing legal frameworks. They agreed on several core prohibitions, including banning the use, possession, acquisition, transfer and deployment of nuclear weapons, although other prohibitions, such as on testing, financing and the threat of use of nuclear weapons, were more controversial.

The United States and other nuclear-weapon states boycotted the historic undertaking. “There is nothing I want more than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said in a statement. Most U.S. treaty allies followed suit. Japanese Ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa said his country couldn’t join in the talks “in a constructive manner and in good faith.” However, the Netherlands, the only NATO member present at the opening of negotiations, agreed to participate, while emphasizing that the treaty would have to be compatible with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Treaty advocates, including Mexico, Austria, and Brazil, have expressed frustration at the lack of progress in the Conference on Disarmament and what they consider to be reluctance of nuclear-weapon states to fulfill NPT commitments on nuclear disarmament. Supporters of a ban include Pope Francis, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, and many nonproliferation groups. The conference aims to adopt a treaty draft in the second round of negotiations June 15-July 7.

Posted: March 31, 2017

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