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Arms Experts Rap Congress for Backing Bush Administration's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

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A "Setback" for Addressing Global Nuclear Dangers

For Immediate Release: November 7, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107;
Christine Kucia, Research Analyst, (202) 463-8270 x103


(Washington, D.C.): A congressional decision announced today to allow the Bush administration to further explore new nuclear weapons is a “serious error that will be a setback to U.S. efforts to persuade and prevent other nations from developing nuclear weapons,” according to the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to promoting effective arms control policies.

As part of their consideration of the fiscal year 2004 defense authorization bill, House and Senate legislators complied with a White House request to repeal a 10-year-old ban on research leading to development of new nuclear weapons with yields of less than five kilotons, so-called “low-yield” weapons. They also approved Bush administration proposals to continue researching new types of nuclear “bunker busters” to destroy targets deep underground and shorten the time required to prepare for a full-scale nuclear test from 24 months to 18 months.

“Congress and the Bush administration have made a mistake by opening the door to a new wave of global nuclear weapons competition. The diplomatic and security costs of the Bush administration’s proposals to explore new nuclear weapons far outweigh any marginal benefits such arms might yield,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

“This sends a dangerous message that will hamper U.S. efforts to prevent other nations from developing nuclear weapons,” he warned.

Lawmakers have signaled that they also harbor some unease with the administration’s plans to reinvigorate U.S. nuclear weapons research and test preparations. While supporting research into new low-yields weapons, legislators withheld authorization to actually engineer, develop, and test new or modified nuclear bombs. And earlier this week, congressional appropriators cut proposed 2004 funding for studying bunker busters in half-from $15 million to just $7.5 million-and barred the Department of Energy from spending $4 million of an approved $6 million for new weapon concepts until it submits a report on U.S. nuclear stockpile requirements.

This congressional skepticism may help head off future, more dangerous Bush administration nuclear arm proposals, Kimball noted. “Further efforts by this or another administration to win necessary congressional approval for engineering, development, and testing of new or modified nuclear weapons will be vigorously opposed and must be defeated,” he said.

Expert scientists have contradicted the arguments made by proponents of “low-yield” nuclear weapons, saying that new and “smaller” nuclear warheads are dirty, dangerous, and unnecessary. Dr. Sidney Drell, a Stanford University physicist and longtime advisor to the U.S. nuclear program, wrote in Arms Control Today in March, “Even a lower-yield, one-kiloton nuclear warhead (1/13 the size of the Hiroshima bomb) detonated at a depth of 20-50 feet would eject more than one million cubic feet of radioactive debris, forming a crater about the size of ground zero at the World Trade Center.” Drell added, “The result would be a highly contaminated zone and atmospheric fallout that would endanger civilians, as well as military personnel who might be ordered into the area.”

The perceived “usability”of such weapons is a dangerous notion, Kimball argued. “Nuclear weapons should not be considered just another weapon in our arsenal. They are mass terror weapons whether used by the United States or another country,” he stressed.
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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

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Media Advisory

U.S. Reviewing FMCT Policy

The United States has long pushed for a treaty to end the production of the two key building blocks of nuclear weapons, but the Bush administration may change that policy.

Even as the U.S. commitment to other arms control agreements has lagged in recent years, U.S. officials have continued to champion a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would prohibit the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons purposes. Yet, J. Sherwood McGinnis, deputy representative of the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), said Oct. 27 that Washington is “reviewing specific elements” of its policy toward such a treaty. Speaking at the United Nations, McGinnis further added that U.S. support for a resolution that day urging the start of FMCT negotiations by the 66-member CD “is without prejudice to the outcome of that review.” The diplomatic language means that Washington is reserving the right to change its position, although it does not suggest that the United States will necessarily do so.

McGinnis provided no details about the review. Department of State officials in Washington withheld any comment pending the review’s conclusion.

An FMCT has topped Washington’s negotiating priorities at the CD for a half-dozen years, but formal talks had been blocked by other countries’ insistence that the treaty be negotiated in parallel with other agreements on nuclear disarmament or outer space. In August, however, China dropped its demand or U.S.-opposed outer space negotiations, removing what had been seen as the central obstacle to opening talks. (See ACT, October 2003.)

Completion of an FMCT by 2005 was one of 13 steps to which nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty states-parties, including the United States, committed themselves in May 2000. Yet, since taking office, the Bush administration has acted contrary to several of those steps, such as refusing to support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’s entry into force and withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which barred Moscow and Washington from building nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles.

The United States, as well as France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, have declared that they no longer produce fissile materials for weapons purposes. China is also understood to have stopped. In addition to codifying these actions, an FMCT would be aimed at blocking India, Israel, and Pakistan from any future production of plutonium or HEU for weapons.

Russia, Iran Finalize Spent Fuel Agreement

Christine Kucia

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev concluded but did not sign an agreement with Iranian officials in late December stipulating that Russia will import the spent nuclear fuel generated over the next 10 years by Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Russia agreed in 1995 to help Iran construct the reactor and to provide the required nuclear fuel, drawing opposition from the United States, which believes Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons. Russia promised the United States that it would import and reprocess spent fuel from the reactor, rather than leave it in Iran, in order to decrease proliferation concerns. But the provisions for returning the spent fuel to Russia have never been formally finalized, and Russia has refused to send nuclear fuel to Iran until they are.

Rumyantsev was expected to sign the agreement December 25 at the conclusion of a visit to Iran, according to a December 16 report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s official news service. Speaking to reporters December 27 in Moscow, Rumyantsev said that other Russian ministries and agencies must first review and approve the accord, but he said, “We hope that such an additional agreement will be signed with Iran within a month.”

Meanwhile, Moscow remains engaged with Tehran in discussions on building as many as six other reactors in Iran. A joint study on whether to construct a second reactor at Bushehr will commence “in the next few months,” Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said at a December 25 press briefing. Rumyantsev indicated at the same briefing that proposals Russia made in July 2002 for constructing reactors at other sites in Iran were already being discussed with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials. (See ACT, September 2002.)

Addressing Washington’s vehement objections to Russia’s cooperation with Iran, Rumyantsev stressed in a press conference December 27, “Our cooperation is in full accordance with all the international commitments of the countries which possess nuclear technologies.” He added, “Before making a decision on building the second unit it is necessary to additionally discuss technical and economic issues.”

Iran is a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the Bushehr reactor will be subject to inspections by the IAEA. When operational, the unit will produce around 1,000 megawatts of electricity for Iran. IRNA reported December 25 that during Rumyantsev’s visit Russia and Iran had agreed to expedite work on the Bushehr reactor, which has fallen behind schedule. It is slated to be operational by the end of 2003.

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev concluded but did not sign an agreement with Iranian officials in late December stipulating that Russia...

Russia Uses Opiate-Based Gas on Militants

Russian law enforcement authorities stormed a Moscow theater October 26 after pumping gas into the building, where Chechen militants were holding more than 700 people hostage. Many hostages were rescued, but 115-117 hostages died from the effects of the gas, according to media reports.

Despite Russia’s early reluctance to name the gas, Health Minister Yuri Shevchenko said in a press conference October 30 that it was based on the opiate fentanyl. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list fentanyl as an “incapacitating” chemical agent.

The death toll and Russia’s early reluctance to identify the gas have raised concerns that the use of the substance might violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Russia ratified in 1997. Shevchenko said, “No chemical substances that could fall within the international weapons convention were used in the course of the operation.”

The CWC does not prohibit “riot control agents,” defined as chemicals that “can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure,” although it bans the use of such agents in warfare. Some analysts expressed concern that the gas used in the theater might violate the CWC because of the fatalities it caused.
It is unclear whether CWC member states, including the United States, which has its own “non-lethal” chemical agent program, will decide to challenge Russia’s use of the gas under the convention.

India, Pakistan Conduct Missile Tests

On October 4, Pakistan tested its Hatf-4 (Shaheen-1) surface-to-surface missile, which can carry a 500-kilogram payload 750 kilometers, followed by a second Haft-4 test October 8. The last time Pakistan tested a ballistic missile was in May 2002, when it tested three nuclear-capable missiles. (See ACT, June 2002.)

Hours after the October 4 test, India tested an Akash surface-to-air missile with a range of 25 kilometers. Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said that India would not respond to Pakistan’s second test, Agence France Presse reported October 8.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said October 4 that Washington was “disappointed” by both countries’ tests because they could contribute to a “destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race.”

India and Pakistan each accused the other of having strategic and political motivations while claiming that its own tests were driven by other considerations. Pakistan said it conducted its tests for technical reasons, a Foreign Office spokesman said in an October 7 press conference, while Pakistani Information Minister Nisar Memon accused India of engaging in an arms race, according to Agence France Presse October 4.

Indian Defense Ministry spokesman P. K. Bandhopadhyay stated that India was testing “different parameters of the missile,” the Associated Press reported October 4. Another government spokesperson dismissed Pakistan’s tests as politically motivated, saying they were “targeted at the forthcoming general elections” in an October 4 statement.

India held elections in its portion of Kashmir—a territory India and Pakistan have repeatedly fought over—in September and October to elect a new regional state assembly. Pakistan held national parliamentary elections October 10 for the first time since President Pervez Musharraf took power three years ago.

In a potentially positive sign for the region, India announced October 16 that it would withdraw some troops from the international border with Pakistan, and Pakistan followed with a similar announcement the next day. Neither country, however, announced plans to reduce the number of forces stationed along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries.

MTCR Closes Some Loopholes

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) took a step to strengthen their ability to curb cruise missile proliferation during a September 24-27 plenary meeting in Warsaw.

The MTCR is an informal export control arrangement among 33 countries that is designed to stem the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload to a range of 300 kilometers or more. The MTCR, however, did not previously define the terms “range” and “payload” or specify methods for calculating them. This omission has made it unclear whether certain missile systems are covered by the regime.

At the plenary meeting, the member states agreed to add definitions of “range” and “payload,” as well as methods for their calculation, to the MTCR’s Annex, according to a State Department official interviewed October 22. Consisting of two parts, the MTCR includes “Guidelines,” which establish a common export control policy, and an “Annex,” which lists missile-related items that each country is expected to control through its own national legislation.

Cruise missiles have been a particularly complicated issue because of the relative ease with which their range and payload can be modified—a characteristic that makes it difficult to determine the missiles’ maximum capabilities. By calculating ranges at suboptimal altitudes, some members have argued that certain cruise missiles meet the MTCR’s guidelines for export, although if flown at optimal altitudes the missiles would not meet these guidelines, Richard Speier, a former Department of Defense official, said in an October 24 interview.

The new method for calculating the range for cruise missiles reads: “for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems [a category that includes cruise missiles], the range will be determined…using the most fuel-efficient flight profile (e.g. cruise speed and altitude).” According to Speier, the decision to include this language “closed some very important loopholes.”

Cruise missiles have increasingly become a proliferation concern for the United States. A July 3 Congressional Research Service report says that “U.S. and allied forces currently face a threat from short-range, conventionally armed, anti-ship cruise missiles in the hands of a few nations” and warns that efforts to control both the vertical and horizontal proliferation of these missiles might become more difficult as the technology matures.

G-8 Partnership Needs More Funding

U.S. partners have formally pledged about half of the money they promised earlier this year to fund nonproliferation and disarmament projects in Russia, Undersecretary of State John Bolton testified to Congress October 9. Bolton added that legal and logistical obstacles in Russia are hindering negotiations to secure more funding.

At their meeting in June, the Group of Eight (G-8) countries created the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction—an initiative informally known as “10 plus 10 over 10”—which is intended to provide Russia with $10 billion in threat reduction funding from the United States, matched by $10 billion from G-8 and other countries, over the next 10 years. (See ACT, July/August 2002.)

Bolton reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that several large contributors have announced funding, including Germany ($1.5 billion), the European Commission ($1 billion), the United Kingdom ($750 million), and Canada ($650 million). Not all pledges that have been made have been publicly announced yet. Bolton added that countries outside of the G-8 might also choose to join the program.

Some countries have been reluctant to provide funds because previous projects have suffered from “poor coordination within the Russian government and among federal, regional, and local entities,” Bolton said.

In addition, he criticized Russia for assisting nuclear and missile programs in Iran and other countries. “Concerns about Russia’s performance on its arms control and nonproliferation commitments have already adversely affected important bilateral efforts and, unless resolved, could pose a threat to new initiatives, including the Global Partnership,” he said. Bolton urged the Russian government to take action to resolve these concerns.

G-8 senior officials are expected to meet later this year to continue discussions on threat reduction efforts.

Russia Opens CW Destruction Plant

Russia opened its first chemical weapons destruction plant in Gorny August 21 but does not plan to begin actually destroying weapons at the site until December.

Diplomats from Europe, the United States, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons attended a ceremony opening the plant, which has been partially funded by international contributions.

Germany will have provided more than $39 million for the plant’s construction by the end of 2002, making it Germany’s largest nonproliferation project in Russia, according to the German embassy in Washington. The European Union has also provided almost $5.9 million.

Russia’s July 2001 chemical demilitarization plan calls for beginning operations at Gorny in 2002 and completing destruction of the weapons stored at the plant, mostly mustard and lewisite agents, by 2005. Under the plan, Russia would begin scrapping chemical weapons at two other facilities, Shchuch’ye and Kambarka, in 2005. (See ACT, September 2001.)

The Chemical Weapons Convention, to which Russia is a state-party, calls for member states to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles by 2007, but the Russian plan indicates that Moscow will miss that deadline and not complete its chemical demilitarization until 2012. The convention allows for an extension of up to five years, and Russia has asked the OPCW, which oversees implementation of the CWC, to grant it extra time.

The United States has also said it will miss the 2007 deadline because of delays in its chemical weapon destruction program. (See ACT, November 2001.)

U.S. Steps up Missile Defense Marketing Abroad

The Pentagon and U.S. arms companies have increased efforts following the June 13 U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to get foreign governments and businesses more involved in U.S. missile defense programs, but their labors have yielded few tangible results as yet.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, who directs U.S. missile defense programs, has repeatedly said in recent months that one of the chief benefits of withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty was that it opened the door to foreign participation in strategic missile defense work against long-range ballistic missiles. The accord prohibited Washington and Moscow from transferring any strategic missile defense systems or components to other countries and, in Kadish’s words, from sharing “blueprint data.”

Germany, Israel, Italy, and Japan are all currently participating in theater missile defense projects with the United States to protect against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, defenses the ABM Treaty permitted.

The Pentagon held a series of July meetings with foreign governments on ballistic missile defense, including a collective meeting with NATO members July 18 in Brussels. Pentagon officials presented briefings about the current ballistic missile threat as well as the status of U.S. missile defense programs. They also outlined possible ways in which foreign governments could contribute to or participate in various missile defense projects.

U.S. officials further pressed NATO’s other 18 members to agree to include a statement endorsing missile defense in their final communiqué at the upcoming NATO summit in Prague, which is scheduled for November 21-22.

Foreign reaction to the U.S. missile defense push has been mixed, with Germany reportedly expressing the greatest reservation. Although several key European countries made public their skepticism and opposition to U.S. strategic missile defense plans a few years ago, most European capitals have softened their tone after the U.S. treaty withdrawal and Moscow’s muted response.

Boeing, a top contractor for U.S. missile defense systems, signed agreements July 23 with three different European companies to explore possible future cooperation on missile defense, although specific projects or products have not been identified. The agreements, each termed a “memorandum of understanding,” were concluded with BAE Systems, a British company; Alenia Spazio, an Italian company; and EADS, a joint French, German, and Spanish company.

U.S. Opens Door for Arms Sales to Afghanistan

On July 2, the State Department announced that, for the first time in a decade, U.S. arms companies would be permitted to sell weapons and military equipment to Afghanistan. Under the new policy, U.S. arms manufacturers may make deals with the current Afghan government or with UN-authorized international security forces in the country, but arms exports to any other entity in Afghanistan remain outlawed.

Few export licenses have been requested since the policy change. Near the end of August, the Office of Defense Trade Controls, which licenses arms deals carried out directly between U.S. companies and foreign customers, had approved one proposed deal for communications equipment and was reviewing two other export requests. U.S. government officials are not anticipating a flood of possible deals because Afghanistan lacks the funds to make many purchases.

President Bush, however, signed the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act August 2, which authorizes $50 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds for Afghanistan and $20 million for peacekeeping efforts there. Buyers of U.S. arms can use FMF financing, which comes in the form of a grant or a loan, to make purchases of weaponry, military hardware, services, or training from private U.S. companies or the Pentagon. Initial Afghan buys are not expected to be for major weaponry but for items such as canteens and uniforms.

Pentagon officials encouraged the State Department’s July 2 move because they wanted the policy governing commercial arms sales to match their interest in allowing sales to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which is administrated separately. It is not clear exactly when the Pentagon decided to permit arms sales to Afghanistan through the government-to-government FMS program, but the Pentagon now considers Afghanistan an eligible recipient for U.S. arms.

The United States maintained an informal policy of denying all weapons trade with Afghanistan or any entity in the country from 1992 until June 1996, when the policy became official.

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