"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
December 2005
Edition Date: 
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Cover Image: 

Russia Joins Diplomatic Push on Iran

Paul Kerr

A Nov. 18 report from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the agency’s Board of Governors indicated that Iran has only partially complied with a September board resolution that found Tehran in “non-compliance” with its agency safeguards agreement. But the board took no action at its Nov. 24 meeting. Instead, the United States is continuing to support European and Russian diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to resume negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

With U.S. and European support, Moscow also has made Iran a potentially face-saving offer tied to a resumption of negotiations. The proposal would allow Iran to operate a uranium-conversion facility permanently if Tehran renounces the ability to enrich uranium on its own territory.

European-Iranian talks, which were designed to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear fuel programs, began in December 2004 but broke down in August when Iran restarted its uranium-conversion facility. Iran had agreed to suspend such operations for the duration of the negotiations. (See ACT, November 2005.)

A Department of State official and a Western diplomat told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the Europeans want to give such diplomacy a chance to succeed before moving forward with a referral to the UN Security Council. They also agreed that even an Iranian refusal to negotiate would help build international support for such a referral and for more effective Security Council action because Tehran would be seen as unwilling to compromise.

Under the IAEA statute, the board is required to notify the Security Council if a member state is found in noncompliance with its agency safeguards agreement. Such agreements, required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties’ declared civilian nuclear activities to ensure that they are not diverted to military purposes. The Security Council may then take action against the offending state.

In September the board found that Iran had not complied with its safeguards agreement but did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters Nov. 21 that Washington believes Tehran “should be referred to the Security Council, but we will reserve the right to seek that action at the time of our choosing.”

Speaking to a Vienna audience Nov. 17, U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Gregory Schulte reiterated the U.S. view that the council would “reinforce” the agency’s efforts, perhaps by giving the IAEA “enhanced” investigative authority. The IAEA has determined that Iran violated its safeguards agreement by conducting clandestine work on several nuclear programs. The agency is still attempting to resolve a number of questions about Tehran’s nuclear activities, especially its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, October 2005.) Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium (LEU), used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope. Uranium-conversion facilities convert lightly processed uranium ore, or “yellowcake,” into several compounds, including uranium hexafluoride. Under the NPT, Iran is permitted to operate uranium-enrichment facilities under IAEA safeguards, but the United States and the Europeans are concerned that Iranian expertise gained from operating enrichment facilities could support a nuclear weapons program.

Diplomacy Continues

The three European governments say that they will not resume negotiations unless Iran suspends operations at its conversion facility, but both the State Department official and Western diplomat said that the Europeans are willing to have discussions with Iran about resuming negotiations. These talks would likely not be conditioned on Iran suspending conversion.

Iranian officials told the Europeans earlier this month that they would engage in talks, but Tehran has shown no sign that it will stop converting uranium. According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran resumed converting yellowcake Nov. 16 after stopping the facility for a short maintenance period.

According to the State Department official, Iran’s European interlocutors have outlined a new diplomatic approach in a paper circulated to other countries. Under this approach, Iran would be allowed to produce uranium hexafluoride but would have to forswear uranium enrichment on its territory. In return, Iran would receive the economic, technical, and security incentives described in a detailed proposal that the Europeans presented in August. Iran has shown no sign of having seriously considered the proposal.

Under the Europeans’ new approach, Iran would be required to limit its conversion activities to only its domestic uranium reserves and export any converted nuclear material, the official said. This provision is apparently designed to prevent Iran from augmenting its limited indigenous uranium reserves, thus constraining Iran’s nuclear aspirations to some extent. The United States estimates that these reserves are sufficient to produce 250-300 nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Permitting Iran to produce uranium hexafluoride is a change from the previous U.S. and European policy of opposing any Iranian conversion capabilities. The Western diplomat explained that the Europeans changed their position because the previous one “had not been getting us anywhere.”

As for Washington, the State Department official said that the Europeans have persuaded Bush administration officials that, by demonstrating a good-faith diplomatic effort on their part to resolve the matter outside the Security Council, the compromise would aid efforts to increase international pressure on Tehran to cooperate. The Europeans also argued that, in the event that Tehran makes a genuine decision to forswear enrichment, its conversion program will then be unnecessary and Iran will end it for pragmatic reasons.

Rallying additional international support, especially from Russia and China, is another key component of the U.S.-European diplomatic strategy. Both countries still oppose referring Iran’s case to the Security Council. Their support is considered to be crucial because, as permanent members of the Security Council, either can veto a council resolution.

Indeed, the United States and Europeans are supporting Russian diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis partly because they believe that Russia will support a referral if those efforts fail.

Both the Western diplomat and the State Department official confirmed press reports that Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov presented a proposal to the Iranians earlier in the month that dovetails with the European approach. The proposal is apparently conditioned on Tehran resuming negotiations with the Europeans and would give Tehran part-ownership of a centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride. (See ACT, November 2005.) Iran would not have access to the centrifuges, the State Department official said.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley expressed explicit U.S. support for Moscow’s diplomacy Nov. 18, calling the Russian proposal “a good avenue to explore.” Although Iranian officials have been cool to the idea, Hadley stated that it has not yet been rejected.

Despite these diplomatic efforts, the United States and the Europeans may be running out of patience. Both Schulte and the European Union (EU) issued statements to the board indicating that Iran only has a limited time to comply with the September resolution. Neither statement specified a date, however.

Report Details

ElBaradei’s report provides a mixed picture of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA board’s September resolution.

The resolution called on Tehran to suspend its conversion efforts, as well as provide agency inspectors with procurement documents, interviews with Iranian officials, and access to two sites where Iran is suspected of conducting undeclared nuclear weapons-related activities. These steps are not required by Iran’s safeguards agreement, but the IAEA believes them necessary for developing a complete history of Iran’s nuclear efforts.

ElBaradei told the board Sept. 24 that “[c]larification of these issues is overdue.”

According to the report, Iran has provided a considerable amount of additional information related to its P-1 centrifuge program but comparatively little with respect to other outstanding issues, such as the nature of Tehran’s program based on more-advanced P-2 centrifuges. Iran also has not yet allowed the IAEA access to all of the sites the agency has asked to visit.

Both U.S. and IAEA officials have said previously that Iran’s failure to account fully for its centrifuge procurement activities may indicate that the government has pursued undisclosed centrifuge programs.

Iran also has failed to take other steps called for by the September resolution, such as reconsidering its ongoing construction of a 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor. Iran claims the reactor is intended for peaceful purposes, but the United States argues that Iran intends to use it to produce plutonium.

Uranium-Enrichment Program

During a series of meetings with the IAEA held in October and November, Iran gave the agency additional documents that Tehran said came from a nuclear procurement network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, who helped found Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Iran also allowed the agency to interview two unnamed Iranian officials.

Iran had previously admitted to receiving centrifuge designs and related components from the Khan network. (See ACT, October 2005.) According to the report, the recently submitted documentation related to offers it received from foreign intermediaries in 1987 and around 1994.

Many of the new documents related to the 1987 offer date from “from the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s,” the report says. They include drawings of P-1 centrifuge components, technical specifications related to assembling centrifuges and manufacturing related components, and drawings for a 2,000-centrifuge plant.

Iran also has provided information about its late 1980s and early 1990s procurement efforts, as well as centrifuge components it obtained in the mid-1990s. The report says that the information about the earlier efforts “seems to be consistent with Iran’s declarations” of what it had procured in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it draws no conclusion about the materials Iran obtained in the mid-1990s.

By comparison, Iran has apparently provided little new information about its P-2 centrifuge program. According to the report, the agency is assessing documentation that Iran has provided since September indicating that an Iranian contractor who had worked on the P-2 program obtained related materials that it had apparently not disclosed to the IAEA.

ElBaradei’s report says that the agency remains concerned that Iran has conducted undisclosed work on the project. The IAEA has requested additional documentation regarding both programs.

The report also says that the agency is still investigating the origin of some LEU particles found in Iran by IAEA inspectors. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to very low levels, but the uncertainty regarding these LEU particles suggested that Iran may have conducted additional centrifuge experiments that it concealed from the IAEA.

According to the report, environmental samples taken from a location in an unnamed country where centrifuge components from the Khan network were stored “did not indicate any traces of nuclear material.” That country is known to be the United Arab Emirates.

Although the Western diplomat said these findings indicate that the particles did not come from these components, the State Department official said that Washington is almost certain that, based on an examination of uranium samples taken from Iranian facilities and Pakistani centrifuge components, all the LEU particles in question originated in Pakistan.

Arms Control Today reported in October that, for all practical purposes, the investigation has resolved similar concerns about HEU particles found in Iran.


According to the report, Iran has turned over a document detailing the “procedural requirements” for reducing uranium hexafluoride to “metal in small quantities.” The document also discussed the “casting and machining of enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms.”

Iran claims that the document had been “provided on the initiative of the procurement network,” rather than at Iran’s request.

This revelation has generated additional concern about Iran’s nuclear program because shaping uranium in such a fashion is used in developing explosive cores of nuclear weapons. According to the EU statement to the board, “Such a process has no application other than the production of nuclear warheads.”

The Western diplomat said that the document is not a “smoking gun” but does constitute “potential evidence of weaponization.”

Whether the document is evidence of a previously unknown Iranian capability to develop nuclear weapons is unclear. Iran has previously acknowledged that it was offered equipment for casting uranium but maintains that it has never received any such equipment.

Transparency Visits

After months of agency requests, Iran granted IAEA inspectors access to Iran’s Parchin military complex Nov. 1. The visit was the inspectors’ first since January. According to the report, the inspectors “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited,” but the IAEA is awaiting the results of environmental samples taken during the visit before assessing whether Iran conducted any nuclear activities there.

The United States and the IAEA have both expressed concern that Iran has been testing conventional high explosives at Parchin for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. In such weapons, conventional charges compress a core of fissile material in order to start a nuclear chain reaction. (See ACT, October 2004.)

The report also says that the IAEA wishes to “undertake additional visits” to the site but does not say why. However, the State Department official said that the agency may still have “suspicions” about Iranian activities at the site. The official also confirmed a Nov. 18 Agence France Presse report that the inspectors saw a high-speed camera during their visit. Such cameras can be used to monitor experiments with high explosives, such as those used in an implosion-type nuclear weapon.

Iran has still not cooperated with the IAEA’s investigation of a physics research center that was operating at a site called Lavizan-Shian between 1989 and 1998, the report says. (See ACT, April 2005.)


U.S. Trims Nuclear Material Stockpile

Wade Boese

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced Nov. 7 that the United States would reduce by 200 metric tons the amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU) stockpiled for nuclear weapons. Once the decades-long process is completed, the United States would still retain hundreds of metric tons of this nuclear bomb-making material.

Nuclear weapons require plutonium or HEU to function. A typical U.S. nuclear weapon employs both, a plutonium primary and an HEU secondary.

The 200 tons of HEU, which Bodman said could produce 8,000 weapons, would be allocated for three different purposes. The largest portion, 160 metric tons, would be reserved for powering the U.S. Navy’s nuclear vessels, currently numbering 82 submarines and surface ships. Bodman claimed this move would postpone the need to build a new naval HEU fuel production facility for at least 50 years.

Another 20 metric tons would be preserved for reactors burning HEU fuel and for space missions. The reactor fuel would be needed primarily during a transition period until 2014 when Washington hopes to complete work on converting 105 research reactors worldwide to operate on less bomb-ready fuel known as low-enriched uranium (LEU). By contrast, “space reactor applications would be minimal at this time but may evolve as NASA reexamines its long-term mission needs,” a spokesperson with the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration e-mailed Arms Control Today Nov. 18.

The remaining 20 metric tons would be blended down into LEU for purchase both by domestic and foreign users. This amount is distinct from the September U.S. initiative to blend down 17 metric tons of HEU for an emergency LEU fuel reserve. (See ACT, November 2005.)

The HEU stockpile size for military purposes—weapons and naval fuel—is classified, but government disclosures and actions have provided some basis for estimating its magnitude. In June 1994, the Energy Department revealed that until 1992, when it ceased production, it had churned out 994 metric tons of HEU. Months later, the Clinton administration declared 10 metric tons as excess to the military stockpile and subsequently approved removing another 174 metric tons.

The non-governmental Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimates that the U.S. weapons-grade HEU stockpile, including material in existing warheads, equaled roughly 480 metric tons at the end of 2003. This estimate factors in past use for nuclear weapons tests and other purposes, double counting of some production, and the presumed assignment of 100 metric tons for naval fuel purposes. ISIS also calculates that the U.S. plutonium weapons stockpile at that time amounted to about 47 metric tons.

The latest move when fully implemented would then leave the United States with approximately 280 metric tons of weapons-grade HEU. This translates into enough material for roughly 11,200 nuclear warheads, using Bodman’s scale.


Congress Amends Iran Nonproliferation Act

William Huntington

Congress in November amended the 2000 Iran Nonproliferation Act and renamed it the “Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act.”

The new measure would direct the president to impose additional sanctions against governments and individuals responsible for transferring missile, weapons of mass destruction, and advanced conventional weapons technologies to Syria, now placing transfers to that country on par with transfers to Iran. It would also broaden the scope of the sanctions to cover exports from those countries in addition to their imports and put additional pressure on governments involved in this trade. Whereas the past legislation only held foreign governmental entities liable under the sanctions provisions if they were “operating as a business enterprise,” foreign governments themselves will be liable under the new bill.

The act was amended to remove a clause which could have caused U.S. astronauts to lose access to the International Space Station. That clause prohibits the United States from making space station-related payments to Russia without a presidential certification of Russia’s nonproliferation compliance vis-à-vis Iran. But with the space shuttle program plagued by uncertainty, NASA wanted to retain the ability to use Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for transportation to and from the space station.

House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) chose to add Syria to the legislation when it took up the legislation in October, a congressional source told Arms Control Today. “If the Bush administration was going to weaken an important nonproliferation law, they thought it best to take the same opportunity to strengthen and extend the same nonproliferation law,” this source said. The original Senate version, which was approved Sept. 21, did not contain the Syria provision. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law Nov. 22.

When Congress enacted the law in 2000, it targeted Russia and the Russian Space Agency because of persistent reports that Russia was violating the Missile Technology Control Regime and helping Iran develop ballistic missiles, as well as concern over Russia’s construction of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. The new bill waives restrictions on payments to Russia for space station-related services, including use of the Soyuz. The administration originally requested Congress permanently strike the purchase restrictions, but the new law only allows an exemption from the restrictions through the end of 2011.


North Korea Increasing Weapons Capabilities

Paul Kerr

It is not certain that North Korea has nuclear weapons. But Pyongyang’s continued operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, as well as tests of a new solid-fuel missile engine, have enabled it to make progress toward being able to produce and deliver such weapons.

Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided new details about North Korea’s nuclear program during a Nov. 8 presentation to a Washington, D.C., audience. Hecker visited North Korea in August of this year as well as in January 2004. According to Hecker, North Korea has been able to produce enough plutonium for six to eight nuclear weapons since resuming operations at Yongbyon in early 2003.

The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that Pyongyang acquired enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons before freezing operations of its nuclear facilities under the 1994 Agreed Framework.

Under that bilateral agreement with the United States, North Korea agreed to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor the freeze, which included its five-megawatt graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and related facilities, as well as approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods. But after the most recent North Korean nuclear crisis started in October 2002, Pyongyang ejected the inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel to obtain plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In the ongoing six-party talks, which are designed to persuade North Korea to abandon its current nuclear programs, the United States has refused to negotiate an interim agreement with North Korea that would freeze Yongbyon’s facilities.

It is unclear whether Pyongyang’s reprocessing claim is true. Hecker’s North Korean interlocutors claimed during his first visit, which included a trip to the reprocessing facility at Yongbyon, that reprocessing was completed in June 2003. Hecker was not able to verify this claim but noted in his presentation that it would be technically feasible.

South Korea’s defense minister, Yoon Kwang-ung, offered a slightly different view in February, saying that North Korea had reprocessed “only part of the spent fuel rods.” (See ACT, March 2005.)

During Hecker’s August visit, North Korean officials provided him with an account, consistent with previous North Korean statements, of their more recent activities at Yongbyon. They said that North Korea operated the reactor from February 2003 until the end of March 2005. (See ACT, June 2005.) After refueling the reactor, Pyongyang resumed operations this past June, they said.

Hecker also said he was told that North Korea began reprocessing the batch of recently produced spent fuel rods in June and that the task was nearly complete at the end of August. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Moreover, North Korean officials updated Hecker about their progress in building two larger nuclear reactors, whose construction also had been frozen under the Agreed Framework.

Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) said in September that North Korean officials had told him that they were proceeding with construction on the 50-megawatt reactor. But Hecker’s interlocutors provided him with more details, such as North Korea’s revelation that it has completed redesign for the reactor.

Additionally, one official implied that Pyongyang is attempting to complete construction within “a couple of years” but did not give a completion date. Hecker said he was told that North Korea is working on the reactor core elsewhere, adding that this off-site work explains why recent satellite images have shown only limited construction activity at the reactor site. North Korea has not decided whether to proceed with construction on the 200-megawatt reactor, he said.

New Solid-Fueled Missile

Pyongyang also appears to have made at least a modest advance in its ballistic missile programs, testing its first solid-fueled ballistic missile May 1.

An October report from Australia’s Ministry of Defense describes the missile as a “variant of the Russian SS-21, known as the KN-02.” A road-mobile, solid-fueled ballistic missile, the two versions of the SS-21 have estimated ranges of 70 kilometers and 120 kilometers, according to a 2003 National Air and Space Intelligence Center report.

A senior South Korean Ministry of Defense official told legislators several days after the test that the new North Korean missile’s range is estimated to be 100-120 kilometers, South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported.

Solid-fuel missiles are considered superior to liquid-fueled missiles because they are more mobile, can be deployed more rapidly, and can be launched on shorter notice.

In an Oct. 26 interview with Arms Control Today, a Department of State official would not confirm that the test took place but did say that such a test could be a “stepping stone” to produce solid-fuel engines for longer-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea has deployed longer-range missiles, such as the 1,300-kilometer-range Nodong missile, and flight-tested a 2,000-kilometer-range missile called the Taepo Dong-1. Both missiles, however, are liquid fueled.

The official said that the KN-02 program is unrelated to North Korea’s development of a road-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic missile said to be based on the liquid-fueled Soviet SS-N-6. That missile has a range estimated to be 2,500-4,000 kilometers. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The May test did not violate Pyongyang’s 1999 moratorium on flight-testing ballistic missiles because that pledge applies only to longer-range missiles. North Korea has not flight-tested any such missiles since declaring the moratorium, although its foreign ministry stated in March that Pyongyang is no longer bound by the pledge. (See ACT, April 2005.)


North Korea Nuclear Talks Stall

Paul Kerr

Participants in the Nov. 9-11 six-party talks in Beijing attempted to build on a September breakthrough in resolving the North Korea nuclear crisis, but they apparently made little headway. Differences between the United States and North Korea, especially regarding the proper sequencing of rewards and obligations, continue to block progress.

The participants have divided this round—the fifth since August 2003—into at least two phases. President George W. Bush told reporters Nov. 8 that the session was “really to prepare for the longer meetings” where more detailed discussions would take place. Chinese and South Korean diplomats made similar comments.

Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wu Dawei stated Nov. 11 that the participants have agreed to hold the second session “at the earliest possible date,” but no date has yet been set. Japan and Russia are the other participants in the talks.

The November meeting was the parties’ first attempt to discuss implementing the statement of principles, which was adopted in September to guide future talks. North Korea committed in that statement to abandon all of its nuclear programs and return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In return, the other parties pledged to respect Pyongyang’s sovereignty, normalize their diplomatic relations, and provide North Korea with economic cooperation and energy assistance.

But since the talks ended, the United States and North Korea have accused each other of failing to take the negotiations seriously. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in South Korea Nov. 16 that “the jury is out” on whether Pyongyang is willing “to get serious about dismantlement and verification.”

North Korea continues to question Washington’s commitment to respecting its sovereignty, arguing that the Bush administration remains intent on pursuing a policy of regime change, even while participating in the talks.

The current nuclear crisis began in October 2002 when Washington announced that North Korean officials had admitted to possessing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework. That bilateral agreement froze Pyongyang’s graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and related facilities located at Yongbyon. Both plutonium, which is obtained from spent reactor fuel, and highly enriched uranium can serve as fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Since then, North Korea has expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors charged with monitoring the freeze, withdrawn from the NPT, and taken several steps that have likely enabled it to increase its fissile material stockpile.

The Talks

Washington vs. Pyongyang

The United States and North Korea appear to agree that improved bilateral relations will remove the need for Pyongyang to have a nuclear weapons program. But the Bush administration argues that Pyongyang should first begin the process of eliminating its nuclear programs in order to pave the way for better relations. North Korea takes the opposite view.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill described these different perspectives while speaking to reporters Nov. 11. North Korea “is always urging that there be a good atmosphere in order to make progress,” he said, adding “[m]y point is, if you make progress, there will be a good atmosphere.”

Hill said the previous day that Washington is “prepared to live by” its commitments outlined in the joint statement. But Hill made it clear that the Bush administration wants the current round of talks to focus on devising a plan for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs quickly and verifiably.

The United States wants North Korea quickly to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, as well as prepare a comprehensive declaration of its nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that Washington will not promise rewards to Pyongyang for taking such a step.

The Bush administration did not provide any further details about implementing its part of the joint statement. Hill said that the U.S. delegation would contemplate the recent discussions and return next time “with some very specific ideas.”

A Department of State official familiar with the talks told Arms Control Today Nov. 21 that the United States wants North Korea to demonstrate that it will implement its portion of the joint statement before Washington presents a more detailed proposal. Shutting down the research reactor would be one way for Pyongyang to do so, the official said.

For its part, North Korea proposed to dismantle its nuclear program in several phases, although details remain unclear. According to United Press International, South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said Nov. 14 that North Korea had pledged that it would first refrain from testing nuclear weapons, producing additional nuclear weapons, or transferring nuclear technology or materials to other countries. Pyongyang would then freeze and dismantle its nuclear facilities. Finally, North Korea would return to the NPT and its IAEA safeguards agreement, as well as allow inspectors to verify North Korea’s dismantlement, Chung said. This scheme is not substantively different from previous North Korean proposals.

Hill criticized Pyongyang’s proposed denuclearization approach, arguing that it would unnecessarily prolong the talks.

North Korea did not mention any conditions for halting work at its nuclear facilities, Hill told reporters. But North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, told the Associated Press Nov. 12 that Pyongyang would only freeze its reactors following the provision of an unspecified reward.

Despite the U.S. refusal to negotiate a freeze, a South Korean delegate to the talks indicated that the United States and other parties could take unspecified reciprocal gestures if North Korea were to shut down the reactor, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Nov. 10.

Kim said at the talks’ end that Pyongyang intends to follow through on its commitments but wants Washington to lift “financial sanctions” on North Korea. The Bush administration decided Oct. 21 to freeze the U.S. assets of eight additional North Korean entities for their unspecified “involvement” in the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or related delivery vehicles. The action was taken pursuant to an executive order Bush issued in June. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Hill said that North Korea also protested U.S. efforts to crack down on a bank located in Macau for allegedly laundering money for North Korean firms engaged in illicit activities, such as counterfeiting.

Kim warned that these measures violate the September joint statement and “are going to hinder the implementation of the commitment we have made.”

Pyongyang also has said that other recent U.S. actions, such as labeling North Korea as a state that limits religious freedom, signal the administration’s continued commitment to its “hostile policy.”

Whether these issues will ultimately derail the talks or further complicate them is unclear. North Korea has issued similar threats and complaints numerous times in the past but has never broken off the talks completely. Pyongyang did, however, cite U.S. criticism as a reason for its months-long refusal to attend talks before the previous round. (See ACT, March 2005.)

On the other hand, Hill said that North Korea devoted little attention during the November session to its previous demand that the United States provide a light-water nuclear reactor. North Korea said immediately after the last round that it would not rejoin the NPT or the IAEA until it received such a reactor but later softened this demand. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Other Parties Weigh In

Some other participants continued to exhort both Washington and Pyongyang to be more flexible in their diplomacy. For example, Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said in a Nov. 16 joint statement that “each party to the talks should show sincere flexibility on its position…in order to ensure continued progress in the six-party talks,” Yonhap reported.

South Korea and Japan also attempted to present more concrete proposals for implementing the September statement. Officials from both countries said they proposed that the participants separate outstanding issues into three categories: the dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, provision of economic and energy assistance to North Korea, and Pyongyang’s bilateral issues with Washington and Tokyo.

Hill told reporters that South Korea offered suggestions for implementing each of the principles in the September statement, but he did not elaborate. South Korea had previously proposed a plan that would provide energy assistance to North Korea, but that proposal received little attention during the session, Hill said.

Japan proposed that the six parties establish working groups responsible for the first two issue areas. Likewise, Hill said Nov. 11 that the participants may designate groups of lower-level officials to work on the technical details related to North Korea’s declaration and dismantlement of its nuclear facilities. The six parties should also hold “technical discussions” before the next session in order to devise a proper implementation scheme, he added. The other participants appear to support the concept of establishing working groups, but no final plan has been formulated.

Japan, North Korea Meet

Japanese and North Korean officials also met in early November to discuss issues related to normalizing their relations, such as constraining North Korea’s ballistic missile programs and resolving concerns related to abductions of Japanese citizens during the Cold War.

The two sides did not appear to make progress, but Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi suggested that they might meet later in December, the Kyodo News Service reported Nov. 28.


Iraq Intel Back in Senate Spotlight

Paul Kerr

Under pressure from Democrats, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is set to jump-start the languishing second phase of its investigation into pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs. This phase is supposed to examine the role of Bush administration officials in gathering and using this intelligence, an issue that has not yet been formally investigated.

The committee issued a report in July 2004 after completing the first phase of its investigation, which examined the intelligence community’s assessments of Baghdad’s suspected weapons programs. The second, more politically controversial phase was delayed until after the 2004 presidential election. (See ACT, September 2004.)

Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) publicly pledged this spring to complete the investigation, and Republican and Democratic committee staff members told Arms Control Today in March that work on the investigation was ongoing, although there were several evident areas of disagreement. (See ACT, April 2005.) But Democrats argue the committee is proceeding far too slowly and has made minimal progress.

In order to focus attention on the stalled probe, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Nov. 1 invoked a rarely used rule that allows the minority party to halt Senate deliberations and bring the body into closed session. The two sides agreed that same day to appoint a six-member, bipartisan task force to sketch out a plan for completing the investigation.

The Washington Post reported Nov. 17 that the two sides have drafted a schedule for the second phase but have not yet set a date for completing it. The task force also has not agreed on several ground rules concerning such matters as requesting documents from the executive branch and interviewing administration officials, The Washington Post reported.

The panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.V.), said in a Nov. 7 statement that the committee should be able to subpoena both documents and officials from the White House, the Office of the Vice President, and the Department of Defense. Rockefeller had accused the administration Nov. 1 of withholding requested documents from the committee.

The Democrats took action shortly after a grand jury Oct. 28 indicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. Libby is accused of having made false statements both to the grand jury and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the course of an investigation to determine whether administration officials disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer and wife of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Wilson had argued publicly that the Bush administration had misled the public in stating repeatedly that Iraq had attempted to obtain lightly processed uranium from Niger, a claim that was disputed before the war. (See ACT, September 2003.)

Past Investigations

Bush administration officials claimed before the invasion that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. But UN weapons inspectors who had been working in Iraq since November 2002 reported prior to the invasion that they had not found any evidence that Iraq either had illicit weapons stockpiles or had reconstituted its related programs.

A post-invasion investigation by the Iraq Survey Group, the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons, confirmed that the administration’s pre-war claims had been false. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Administration officials continue to attribute their statements to inaccurate intelligence, usually citing an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which stated that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons and was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. An NIE is supposed to be the intelligence community’s most authoritative assessment of a given subject.

Indeed, the July Senate Intelligence Committee report, as well as a March report from the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, harshly criticized the intelligence community’s failure to describe Iraq’s suspected weapons programs accurately. These reports blamed such factors as a shortage of spies in Iraq and poor tradecraft for the community’s botched assessments. (See ACT, May 2005.)

However, competing intelligence priorities also played a role, according to a recently declassified July 2004 report from a group headed by former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Richard Kerr. “Technical [intelligence] collection priorities emphasized coverage of the Iraqi air defense system in southern Iraq in support of U.S. [pre-invasion] military operations and prevented collection on other important targets in Iraq,” the report says, adding that Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs “received higher priority…until late 2002.” The CIA had tasked the Kerr group with reviewing the agency’s performance.

The Senate and commission reports have probed whether pressure from policymakers may have influenced intelligence reporting. For example, the commission said its members “found no evidence” that intelligence had been “politicized” but added that “intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom.”

But Robert Hutchings, chairman of the National Intelligence Council from February 2003 until the end of January 2005, offered a different view during a May 6 interview with Senate Foreign Relations committee staff. Repeatedly pushing analysts to confirm a particular set of judgments, he said, has “the effect of politicizing intelligence, because the so-called ‘correct answer’ becomes all too clear.” Both the Senate and commission reports noted that some policymakers repeatedly tasked intelligence analysts with reviewing intelligence assessments about Iraq.

Such politicization “creates a climate of intimidation and a culture of conformity that is damaging,” Hutchings said.

A July 2002 British memorandum, which summarizes a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair with top advisers and was made public last May, has also fueled public suspicions about the administration’s pre-invasion Iraq policies.

According to the memorandum, British Secret Intelligence Service chief John Scarlett, who had recently returned from Washington, said that President George W. Bush intended to overthrow the Iraqi regime “justified by” its suspected prohibited weapons programs and support for terrorists. “[T]he intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” Scarlett said.

The Second Phase

Democrats want the intelligence committee to investigate whether information obtained and analyzed outside traditional intelligence channels influenced White House judgments about Iraq. For example, Rockefeller in his Nov. 7 statement said that the committee needs to interview such officials as Libby and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith to determine whether they directly received intelligence from Iraqi exiles.

Additionally, Democrats suspect Feith and his colleagues of using this information, along with raw U.S. intelligence reports, to produce inaccurate assessments of Iraq’s suspected weapons and terrorist connections. For example, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, indicated in a Sept. 22 letter to the Pentagon’s inspector general that a Defense Department briefing to the White House may have contained statements “that were not supported by the available intelligence,” such as the assessment that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist organization “had a shared interest and pursuit of” weapons of mass destruction.

The committee may not yet be able to investigate Feith’s office, however. Responding to a September request from Roberts, the Pentagon’s inspector general has agreed to investigate whether Feith was involved in inappropriate intelligence activities, the Associated Press reported Nov. 18. Levin told reporters the same day that Roberts has given his “assurance” that committee members will “be able to look at any other aspects that we want to” after receiving the report.

The panel’s previous report also said it would examine such issues as whether policymakers’ public statements concerning the Iraqi threat were supported by intelligence. Bush administration officials, including the president, made some public statements that appeared not to be fully supported by the NIE, which contained numerous qualifiers and caveats.

Rockefeller said that the committee has a list of statements from various U.S. officials but added that comparing these statements with intelligence community publications is insufficient for determining whether administration claims were “substantiated by the intelligence.” Such determinations will “require analysis and context,” which may necessitate obtaining documents and interviewing administration officials, he said.


GAO Calls for IAEA Improvements

Erin Creegan

A Nov. 7 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to institute better measures to judge the effectiveness of its safeguards and nuclear security activities.

The report by Congress’ nonpartisan watchdog agency also calls for greater IAEA efforts to induce more countries to adopt the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which strengthens safeguards over nuclear activities. Safeguards are inspections, accounting, and analysis the agency uses to detect and deter diversion of nuclear material and technology into weapons programs.

On the management level, the report urges the IAEA to conduct longer-term budget planning and revamp its personnel practices.

The United Nations established the IAEA in 1957 as an autonomous organization with the aim of promoting international cooperation in the peaceful and safe use of nuclear technology. The entry into force of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970 cemented the organization’s role in establishing and administering international safeguards.

Beginning with the discovery of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Iraq in 1991, the mission and scope of IAEA operations have expanded. After being surprised by the scale of Iraq’s nuclear program, the IAEA and its Board of Governors sought greater means for determining whether non-nuclear-weapon states were operating covert nuclear programs. Multilateral negotiations eventually produced the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which requires a greater range of information to be reported by states. Most importantly, such protocols grant the IAEA a much clearer mandate and authority to investigate and determine whether a state is engaged in any undeclared activities.

The IAEA’s role grew further after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Subsequently, the IAEA has moved to help countries improve the physical protection of their nuclear and radioactive materials to avoid an accidental leak to terrorist or other illicit organizations. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The report acknowledges IAEA efforts to cope with its increased workload. The organization has begun executing short-notice inspections, taking extensive environmental sampling to verify nuclear activity, modernizing outdated information managements systems, and developing less comprehensive “integrated safeguards” for particularly compliant countries. The GAO notes that, by utilizing new resources such as satellite information and more comprehensive state reports, the IAEA has begun to “develop the capability to independently evaluate all aspects of a country’s nuclear activities.”

Although the report recognizes the success of the IAEA in uncovering covert nuclear activities in Egypt, Iran, and South Korea, it also expresses concern for the conclusion of a group of safeguard experts that “a determined country can still conceal a nuclear weapons program.”

The report points out three ways that the problem might be addressed. First, it suggests reducing the use of the Small Quantities Protocol. For some years, the IAEA has permitted some NPT state-parties with small quantities of fissionable materials, such as highly enriched uranium or plutonium, to conclude such a protocol suspending certain agency verification requirements. In September, the agency approved more rigorous criteria for states wishing to conclude such agreements and placed further obligations on all present and future states with such protocols. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Secondly, the report notes that 37 countries have yet to bring into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA. The NPT requires states to conclude such agreements within 18 months of becoming a party to the treaty, but 28 have failed to do so more than 10 years after becoming NPT parties, including Kenya, Niger, and Turkmenistan.

Finally, additional protocols are still not in force in most states. As one step, the report urges the United States, which has ratified a protocol but not passed implementing legislation, to do so.

The report recommends that the Department of State work with members of the IAEA Board of Governors and its staff to develop “clear and meaningful measures to better evaluate the effectiveness of IAEA’s strengthened safeguards program and nuclear security activities.” It supports the recommendations of Los Alamos National Laboratory officials, who urged the IAEA “to assess the extent to which its strengthened safeguard activities, such as environmental sampling and complementary access, are sufficient to detect clandestine activities and establish specific performance measures to evaluate these efforts.” Similarly, in the nuclear security realms, the report urges the IAEA to provide better information on the extent to which its efforts have improved security of particular nuclear materials or facilities.

Both safeguards and nuclear security efforts face budgetary challenges as well. The report notes that the agency depends on voluntary contributions for 89 percent of its nuclear security funds—voluntary contributions totaled $36.7 million from 2002 to 2005—limiting its flexibility and planning ability. It recommends that the IAEA develop a systematic process to provide long-term budget forecasts for safeguards as a way of encouraging better and more widespread funding of the agency, particularly from countries other than the United States.

The GAO also addresses the IAEA’s human capital crisis. Because its personnel policy forces retirement at 62, more than half of the agency’s senior safeguard inspectors will be lost over the next five years. Such losses will occur at a time that there is a shrinking pool of people seeking jobs in the nuclear field and fierce competition for such applicants with the private sector. The personnel crunch could be particularly severe when it comes to qualified experts in the crucial field of uranium enrichment: a number of such experts are soon set to retire. This specialty is crucial to identifying clandestine nuclear activity, such as the black market network operated by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. A less than optimal training process compounds this problem, the GAO says.

The State Department generally endorsed the report’s recommendations. But in a written response, the department noted that countries with Small Quantities Protocols or that lack comprehensive safeguards agreements have very limited nuclear activities and are therefore unlikely to compromise the effectiveness of the safeguards system.


Action/Reaction: U.S. Space Weaponization and China

Hui Zhang

Chinese officials have expressed a growing concern that U.S. space and missile defense plans will stimulate a costly and destabilizing arms race. In particular, the prevailing view in Beijing is that the United States seeks to neutralize China’s strategic nuclear deterrent, freeing itself to intervene in China’s affairs and undermining Beijing’s efforts to prod Taiwan to reunify. If U.S. plans are left unchecked, therefore, Beijing may feel compelled to respond by introducing its own space weapons.

Beijing, however, would prefer to avoid this outcome. Chinese officials argue that weaponizing space is in no state’s interest, while continued peaceful exploitation redounds to the benefit of all states. Rather than battling over space, China wants countries to craft an international ban on space weaponization.

U.S. Moves Toward Space Weaponization

China ’s concerns are prompted by evidence that U.S. moves toward space weaponization are gaining momentum. In January 2001, a congressionally mandated space commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld, who is now secretary of defense, recommended that “the U.S. government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to, and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests.”[1]

Moreover, the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 has given the United States a free hand to move forward with missile defenses, and space-based missile defenses are envisioned as part of the U.S. mix. In the clearest official sign yet of support for space weaponization, last year the U.S. Air Force publicized its vision of how “counterspace operations” could help achieve and maintain “space superiority,” the “freedom to attack as well as the freedom from attack” in space.[2]

Already the United States is pursuing a number of military systems[3] that could be used to attack targets in space from Earth or targets on Earth from space. To China, current U.S. deployment of a Ground-Based Midcourse Missile Defense system represents an intentional first step toward space weaponization.[4] China experts argue that the interceptors of the system based in Alaska and California could be used to attack satellites.[5]

After all, such systems could be easily adapted to target satellites, which are more fragile and more predictable than ballistic missile warheads. If the United States is determined to ensure “space dominance,” it would first want to use such weapons to negate an adversary’s satellites.

Beijing is even more concerned about U.S. plans for a robust, layered missile defense system. Such a system would provide the capability to engage ballistic missiles in all phases of flight: soon after they are launched, at the height of their trajectory, and as they descend. These are known as the boost, midcourse, and terminal phases, respectively. In particular, China is concerned about interceptors and other defenses that the United States would like to position in space.

The Pentagon announced in December 2002 that the United States would continue the “development and testing of space-based defenses, specifically space-based kinetic energy [hit-to-kill] interceptors and advanced target tracking satellites.” The Pentagon has indicated that a Space-Based Interceptor Test Bed, intended to develop and test plans for a lightweight space-based kinetic kill interceptor, is expected to conduct its first experiment in 2012.

Within the next year, the Pentagon expects to launch into low-Earth orbit (LEO) its first Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) satellite, designed to gather information on ballistic missiles during the first few minutes of their flight. Although the NFIRE at this point is only charged with gathering information, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had originally planned to include a kill vehicle in the NFIRE’s payload and could presumably change its mind again.

Moreover, research on a Space-Based Laser (SBL) had been conducted for some time for boost-phase missile defense. Although MDA cancelled the SBL program in 2002, a number of directed-energy initiatives can still be found in various other programs. The possibility of reviving the SBL program in MDA is still there.

Similarly, other space programs could be turned into weapons. For instance, the Air Force has a research project on small satellites, the Experimental Satellite System (XSS), that seeks to use such satellites to conduct “proximity operations,” maneuvers around other satellites. Some have said the XSS satellites could be used to inspect, service, or attack other satellites.[6] The Air Force in April launched the satellite XSS-11 as part of the series. In addition, the Air Force has considered using weapons for prompt global force projection through space, such as the common aero vehicle and Hypervelocity Rod Bundles (often termed “rods from God”).[7] Such space-based global strike capability would allow the United States to target and strike any point on earth in less than 90 minutes with complete surprise and provide the capability for flexible strikes for different types of targets, such as hard and deeply buried targets or mobile targets.

Space Weapons and China’s Security

The United States clearly has legitimate concerns about its space assets, given that U.S. military operations and the U.S. economy are increasingly dependent on them. Satellites are inherently vulnerable to attacks from many different sources, including ground-based missiles, lasers, and radiation from a high-altitude nuclear explosion. However, it does not mean that the United States currently faces credible threats from states that might exploit those vulnerabilities.[8] Most analysts believe no country seriously threatens U.S. space assets.[9]

Only the United States and, in the Cold War era, the Soviet Union have explored, tested, and developed space weapons; Russia placed a moratorium on its program in the 1980s. To be sure, a number of countries, including China, are capable of attacking U.S. satellites with nuclear weapons, but such an attack would be foolhardy, as it would almost certainly be met by a deadly U.S. response. Moreover, as many experts point out, space-based weapons cannot protect satellites because these weapons are nearly as vulnerable to attack as the satellites themselves.[10] No wonder that many countries, including China and Russia, have sought multilateral negotiations on the prevention of space weaponization.

A Loss of Strategic Nuclear Deterrent Capability

Many Chinese officials assume that China is the real target for U.S. missile defense and space planning. From Beijing’s perspective, it is inconceivable that Washington would expend such massive resources on a system that would be purely defensive and aimed only at “rogue” states. As seen by Chinese leaders, China’s own small strategic nuclear arsenal appears to be a much more plausible target for U.S. missile defenses.[11]

Chinese experts are concerned that even a limited missile defense system could neutralize China’s fewer than two dozen single-warhead ICBMs that are capable of reaching the United States. “It is evident that the U.S. [national missile defense] will seriously undermine the effectiveness of China’s limited nuclear capability from the first day of its deployment,” said Ambassador Sha Zukang, the former director-general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “This cannot but cause grave concerns to China,” he said.[12] Some Chinese fear that, whether or not the U.S. missile defenses are as effective as planned, U.S. decision-makers could act rashly and risk a disarming first strike once the system is operational.

Beijing is particularly concerned about the refusal of the United States, unlike China, to declare a no-first-use nuclear policy. The Bush administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) feeds these anxieties. The NPR specifically mentions the possibility of using nuclear weapons during a conflict in the Taiwan Strait and the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. The Pentagon’s draft Doctrine on Joint Nuclear Operations would maintain an aggressive nuclear posture including the possible use of nuclear weapons to pre-empt an adversary’s attack with weapons of mass destruction and increasing the role of such weapons in regional (theater) nuclear operations.[13] Thus, some experts fret that the U.S. policy of possible first use of nuclear weapons, in combination with its missiles defenses and a lowered nuclear threshold, could encourage Washington to resort to the threat or use of nuclear weapons against China over Taiwan.

U.S. plans for global force projection would pose another threat to China. Some proposed space weapons such as common aero vehicles would be used to target hard and deeply buried as well as mobile targets. Such weapons would pose a major threat to the nuclear arsenal of mobile ICBMs that China is in the process of developing.

Consequently, China worries that the combination of future U.S. space weapons and its missile defense system could subject China to political or strategic blackmail. Such systems would give the United States much more freedom to intervene in China’s affairs, including undermining China’s efforts at reunification with Taiwan. This concern is enhanced by U.S. moves in recent years to boost cooperation in research and development of advanced theater missile defense with Japan and potentially with Taiwan.

Arms Competition in Space and On Earth

One major Chinese concern about U.S. space weaponization plans, as addressed frequently in statements at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), is that the deployment of space weapons “will disrupt strategic balance and stability, undermine international and national security and do harm to the existing arms control instruments, in particular those related to nuclear weapons and missiles, thus triggering new arms races.”[14]

Because space weapons are at once threatening and vulnerable, it is reasonable to assume that other countries would attempt to block such a move by political and, if necessary, military means. One possible response, for example, would be the development of anti-satellite weapons to target space-based weapon systems. It is widely believed that space weapons and sensor satellites would themselves become prime high-value targets and the most vulnerable elements for defense suppression attacks.[15] It is reasonable to believe that other countries could resort to a number of low-cost and relatively low-technology anti-satellite devices to counter those critical and vulnerable U.S. space-based weapons. Eventually, China fears that the U.S. space weaponization plan would lead to an arms race in outer space and turn outer space into a battlefield.

Moreover, space weaponization would seriously disrupt the arms control and disarmament process. The initiation of U.S. space-based missile defenses would likely cause Russia as well as the United States (in response to Russia) to make smaller reductions in their nuclear arsenals. China would likely be forced to build more warheads to maintain its nuclear deterrent, which could in turn encourage India and then Pakistan to follow suit. Also, Russia has threatened to respond to any country’s deployment of space weapons. Failure to proceed with the nuclear disarmament process would also further undermine the already fragile nuclear nonproliferation regime. As Ambassador Hu Xiaodi warned in 2001, “With lethal weapons flying overhead in orbit and disrupting global strategic stability, why should people eliminate [weapons of mass destruction] or missiles on the ground? This cannot but do harm to global peace, security and stability, hence be detrimental to the fundamental interests of all states.”

Limitations on China’s Civilian And Commercial Space Activities

As addressed in a Chinese proposal to hold talks on a proposed agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space (PAROS) at the CD in 2002, Beijing argues that “outer space is the common heritage of mankind and plays an ever-increasing role in its future development.” In its 2004 defense White Paper, Beijing further emphasized that “ China hopes that the international community would take action as soon as possible to conclude an international legal instrument on preventing the weaponization of and arms race in outer space through negotiations, to ensure the peaceful use of outer space.”[16]

China is particularly concerned that space weaponization could limit its civilian and commercial space activities and negatively affect its economic development. Today, China has various operational civilian satellites in space, a family of launchers, a modern space-launch complex, and a growing list of customers in the international satellite-launch market.[17] Since launching its first satellite in 1970, China has made steady progress both in launch vehicle design and in other areas of space technology development for civilian and commercial purposes. China has developed manned spacecraft and a high-reliability launching vehicle. Between November 1999 and December 2002, China launched four unmanned experimental Shenzhou (Magic Ship) spacecraft. In October 2003, China successfully launched the Shenzhou-5 manned spaceship and, in October 2005, the Shenzhou-6 manned spaceship. China is now planning to explore the moon with unmanned spacecraft. The U.S. pursuit of space control would threaten China’s civilian and commercial space activities and perhaps even deny China access to space.

Space Debris

China also fears the increasing population of space debris. Such debris, resulting from 50 years of space activity, already poses a considerable hazard to spacecraft. Under U.S. space weaponization plans, this crowding problem could worsen as a large number of space weapons could be deployed in LEO. The launching and testing of weapons would also increase space debris. Moreover, deploying space-based weapons in the increasingly crowded realm of LEO would leave less room for civilian systems.

Those problems would also occur during periods of peace. If a number of satellites were to be destroyed during the course of a war, some scientists warn, they would create so much debris that it would prevent future satellites from being stationed in space and generally limit space access. Indeed, pointing to the debris problem, Chinese scientists and officials have said that space weaponization should be considered an environmental threat as well as a security problem.

China’s Options

Historically, China’s stated purpose for developing nuclear weapons was to guard itself against nuclear blackmail. Beijing’s official statements do not discuss potential responses to U.S. space weaponization, but many Chinese officials and scholars argue that China must ensure that U.S. efforts do not negate the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent. As one Chinese official stated:

China is not in a position to conduct an arms race with the United States and it does not intend to do so, particularly in the field of missile defense. However, China will not sit idly by and watch its strategic interests being jeopardized without taking necessary measures. It is quite possible and natural for China to review its military doctrine and a series of policies on the relationship with big powers, Taiwan issues, arms control and nonproliferation, etc.

Certainly, the best option for China is to reach an arms control agreement to prevent space weaponization, as it is advocating now. However, if this effort fails and if what China perceives as its legitimate security concerns are ignored, China would very likely develop other responses to neutralize the perceived threat. Because it is not clear what type of missile defense system the United States will finally deploy or whether the U.S. space control plans will be implemented, it is difficult to identify conclusively China’s specific countermeasures. Yet, there are certain options that it would be likely to consider. It should be noted that these discussions are based on China’s capabilities and do not characterize China’s intentions.

Build More ICBMs

One of China’s simplest options would be to build more ICBMs. Until now, although China has the smallest declared nuclear arsenal of the five nuclear-weapon states, its modernization efforts have been aimed more at quality than quantity. The current effort focuses mainly on enhancing the survivability of its strategic nuclear force through greater mobility. By contrast, the size of the force has grown quite modestly. Absent U.S. missile defense plans, China might be expected to build no more than 50 ICBMs by 2015.

China’s plans could change significantly were the United States to deploy a more comprehensive or more operationally successful missile defense. To maintain a credible minimum retaliatory capability, the size and quality of China’s nuclear arsenal would have to shift.

Predicting an exact response is difficult without knowing the specifications of a U.S. missile defense system, including the numbers of interceptors and the firing doctrine. However, one could project the potential changes in size of China’s nuclear arsenal based on a few simple assumptions. For example, China might need about 100-300 ICBMs to defeat the current U.S. system if that system employed 100-250 interceptors. Clearly, China would need even more warheads to penetrate a layered ballistic missile defense system.

Missile Defense Countermeasures

China could also employ a number of technically feasible and cost-effective measures so that its warheads would stand a strong chance of penetrating a missile defense system.

A number of countermeasures could defeat a midcourse missile defense system like the current one in Alaska.[18] For example, each ICBM could be deployed with decoys. Conversely, China might also disguise the warhead as a decoy by enclosing it in a radar-reflecting balloon, covering it with a shroud, hiding it in a cloud of chaff, or using electronic or infrared jamming measures. Beijing has already demonstrated that it can use decoys and similar capabilities. It has been reported that China has already made some missile flight tests with penetration aids, such as the 1999 flight test of China’s new DF-31 ICBM.

Similarly, a number of measures could be developed to counter a space-based interceptor.[19] One countermeasure would be to develop technology to boost rockets faster, rendering important boost-phase defenses impotent. China has already made steps in this direction by developing solid-fuel ICBMs that burn faster than its previous liquid-fueled missiles.

If the spaced-based laser were to be revived, specific countermeasures could be developed. The countermeasures could include rotating the missile to distribute the laser energy over a wide area, thus preventing the missile from being damaged, or protecting the vulnerable parts of the ICBM with reflective or ablative coatings.[20] Moreover, the attacker could simultaneously launch several ICBMs or an ICBM with some theater or tactical ballistic missiles used as decoys from a compact area to overwhelm space-based weapon systems.

Anti-Satellite Weapons

Moreover, it is reasonable to believe that China could resort to asymmetric methods, such as anti-satellite weapons, to counter critical and vulnerable space-based components in LEO such as space-based interceptors, a space-based laser, or space-based tracking satellites.

China’s best anti-satellite pick might be small, ground-launched kinetic-kill vehicles, which can be used to destroy their target by colliding with it at extremely high velocity. Such weapons are relatively cheap and technically easy and should be well within China’s grasp. These vehicles could reach a satellite in LEO; if mated with a larger booster, they might be capable of reaching higher orbits. Another possible anti-satellite weapon would be a space mine armed with conventional charges. China could also resort to using missiles to deliver a cloud of shrapnel to a particular spot in LEO at a precise time and destroy a space-based interceptor or space-launch satellite as it arrives there.

Countries such as China that have the ability to place objects in orbit or lift them to geosynchronous altitude can also track objects closely in space. Beijing should thus have the ability to develop weapons that could attack satellites either in low-Earth or geosynchronous orbit.

Still, it should be noted that, although China has some technology capabilities that could be used potentially as anti-satellite weapons, it does not mean China has already developed them or has the intention to do so. Several recent editions of the Pentagon’s Chinese military power report claim China is developing and intends to deploy such weapons, including a direct-ascent system, ground-based laser anti-satellite weapons, and microsatellites for weapons purposes.

However, there is no evidence to back up these claims, and China would have been foolish to pursue such weapons, given the diplomatic damage it would have caused amid its two-decade-long ardent support for preventing the weaponization of outer space. However, if the United States moves forward with space-based weapons, there would far less diplomatic cost to doing so.

Reconsidering China’s Arms Control Participation

U.S.-led space weaponization might also lead China to reconsider its participation in some multilateral nuclear arms control treaties. As Ambassador Sha Zukang stated, “ China cannot afford to sit on its hands without taking the necessary measures while its strategic interests are being jeopardized. China, inter alia, may be forced to review the arms control and nonproliferation policies it has adopted since the end of the Cold War in light of new developments in the international situation.”

For example, a need for more weapons would mean a need for more plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) to fuel those weapons and thus likely hurt China’s support for a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). My conservative estimate is that China’s existing stockpile contains about two tons of weapons-grade HEU and one ton of separated plutonium, which could fuel approximately 300 warheads. Thus, this existing stockpile would be sufficient for its current modernization program. However, if China were driven to expand its ICBM arsenal significantly because of missile defense deployments, it might feel compelled to be able to retain the option to restart production of fissile materials and be unwilling to join an FMCT.

Indeed, China has linked these issues since 2000, contending that the space weaponization issue “is just as important as fissile material cut-off, if not more.” For several years, China demanded that FMCT and PAROS talks be launched at the same time. But the United States opposed any negotiations on the outer space issue, and the disagreement prevented the CD from continuing any arms control negotiations for several years. Aiming to break the deadlock at the CD and to promote the international arms control and disarmament process, China dropped in 2003 its linkage between an FMCT and the PAROS negotiations and agreed to a negotiation of an FMCT. China is still seeking PAROS talks, however.

A U.S. move into space could also lead China to reconsider its support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). China signed the CTBT in 1996 and has not yet ratified it, partly because it was rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1999. However, U.S. missile defense and space weaponization plans would make Chinese ratification even more difficult. China may feel the need for additional nuclear tests if the need to counter a missile defense drives Beijing to develop new warheads that include decoys or maneuverable warheads. Already, China faces concerns from some experts who think that the CTBT will put more direct constraints on China’s nuclear weapons program than on the weapons programs of other states.

Conclusion: A Ban on Space Weaponization

Given the possibility of effective and cheap countermeasures, it seems foolish to many Chinese that the United States would bother to deploy highly expensive space-based weapons or anti-satellite technologies. If Washington really wants to reduce the potential vulnerability of its space assets, there are a number ways to improve space security, including technical approaches, rules of the road, and arms control agreements. By contrast, weaponizing space can only further worsen space security. As Hu emphasized recently, “[F]or ensuring security in outer space, political and legal approaches…can still be effective, while resorting to force and the development of space weapons will only be counter-productive.”

In China’s view, the most effective way to secure space assets would be to agree on a ban on space weaponization. As its working paper to the CD emphasizes, “Only a treaty-based prohibition of the deployment of weapons in outer space and the prevention of the threat or use of force against outer space objects can eliminate the emerging threat of an arms race in outer space and ensure the security for outer space assets of all countries which is an essential condition for the maintenance of world peace.”

China’s stance on banning weapons in outer space has been consistent since 1985 when it first introduced a working paper to the CD on its position on space weapons. China’s most recent working paper on the issue, introduced in June 2002, emphasizes three basic obligations:

  • Not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies, or not to station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

  • Not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects.

  • Not to assist or encourage other states, groups of states, and international organizations to participate in activities prohibited by this treaty.

In order to advance the CD work on the PAROS issue, in August 2004 China together with Russia prepared two nonpapers on the issues of “verification aspects of PAROS” and “existing international legal instruments and the prevention of the weaponization of outer space” and in June 2005 one more nonpaper on the issue of “definition issues regarding legal instruments on the prevention of weaponization of outer space.”

The nonpaper on verification offers a view that a verification regime in a future outer space treaty will be highly complicated and difficult and will encounter great technological and financial challenges. It does not rule out a verification protocol in the future but seeks to sidestep this from becoming an obstacle to getting started on PAROS negotiations. So, it urges that an outer space legal instrument be formulated without verification procedures for the time being. It cites the case of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to show that, even without a verification mechanism, a treaty can be effective and play an important role.

The Chinese initiative has considerable support. In recent years, the UN General Assembly has adopted by overwhelming majorities resolutions calling for the CD to start a negotiation on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space agreement. These votes do not appear to have impressed the United States. John Bolton, then-U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and nonproliferation, told the CD in 2002 that “the current international regime regulating the use of space meets all our purposes. We see no need for new agreements.”

Yet, Bolton is clearly in error. No existing treaties effectively prevent the testing, deployment, and use of weapons other than those of mass destruction in outer space. In addition, none of these instruments covers the threat or use of force from Earth, including land, sea, and atmosphere, against objects in outer space. If the history of proliferation tells us anything, it is that banning the testing and deployment of weapons from the outset is much more effective than attempting disarmament and nonproliferation after the fact.

Hui Zhang is a research associate in the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.


1. “Report to the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization,” Washington, DC, January 11, 2001.

2. U.S. Air Force, “Counterspace Operations,” Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2.1, August 2, 2004.

3. The scope of space weaponry, generally accepted by many Chinese, includes not only weapons stationed in outer space but also weapons anywhere that target objects in outer space. See Liu Huaqiu, ed., Arms Control and Disarmament Handbook ( Beijing: National Defense Industry, 2000).

4. Fu Zhigang, “Concerns and Responses: A Chinese Perspective on NMD/TMD,” Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defense & Alternative Security Arrangements, Ottawa, September 28-30, 2001.

5. Qiu Yong, “Analysis on the ASAT Capability of the GMD Interceptor,” Presentation at the 16th International Summer Symposium on Science and World Affairs, Beijing, July 17-25, 2004.

6. Jeffrey Lewis, “Programs to Watch,” Arms Control Today, November 2004.

7. Bob Preston et al., Space Weapons, Earth Wars, MR-1209 ( Washington, DC: RAND, June 2002); Bruce DeBlois et al., “Star-Crosses,” IEEE Spectrum, May 2005.

8. See Federation of American Scientists, “Ensuring America’s Space Security: Report of the FAS Panel on Weapons in Space,” October 2004.

9. See Jeffrey Lewis, “False Alarm on Foreign Capabilities,” Arms Control Today, November 2004.

10. See David Wright et al., The Physics of Space Security: A Reference Manual ( Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, May 2005); Bruce DeBlois et al., “Space Weapons: Crossing the U.S. Rubicon,” International Security, vol. 29, no. 2 (Fall 2004).

11. Sha Zukang, “U.S. Missile Defense Plans: China’s View,” Disarmament Diplomacy, no. 43, 2000.

12. Sha Zukang, “The Impact of the U.S. Missile Defense Programme on the Global Security Structure,” CPAPD/ORG Joint Seminar on Missile Defense and the Future of the ABM Treaty, Beijing, March 13-15, 2000.

13. Hans Kristensen, “The Roles of U.S. Nuclear Weapons: New Doctrine Falls Short of Bush Pledge,” Arms Control Today, September 2005.

14. Statement by Ambassador Hu Xiaodi at the Plenary of the 2nd Part of the 2005 Session of the Conference on Disarmament, June 30, 2005.

15. See Ashton Carter, “The Relationship of ASAT and BMD Systems,” in Weapons in Space, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986).

16. Information Office of the PRC State Council, “White Paper on China’s National Defense in 2004,” December 27, 2004.

17. Information Office of the PRC State Council, “White Paper on China’s Space Activities,” November 22, 2000.

18. Andrew Sessler et al., “Countermeasures: A Technical Evaluation of the Operational Effectiveness of the Planned U.S. National Missile Defense System,” April 2000; Huang Hai, “Technical Analysis of National Missile Defense and Its Effects on World Arms Control,” Presentation at the 13th International Summer Symposium on Science and World Affairs, Berlin, July 21-30, 2001.

19. American Physical Society, “Report of the APS Study Group on Boost-Phase Intercept Systems for National Missile Defense,” Washington, DC, July 2003.

20. See Du Xiangwan, Science and Technology Foundation for Nuclear Arms Control (Beijing: National Defense Industry, 1996).


Congress Cuts CTBTO Funding

Jacob Parakilas

Congress on Nov. 10 approved a Bush administration request to cut the U.S. contribution to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) by nearly $5 million in fiscal year 2006. The Senate had tried to restore the funding over the summer, but after opposition from the House a final appropriations bill passed with the cuts included.

For fiscal year 2005, the U.S. contribution to the CTBTO was $19 million, which is more than that of any other state and a significant portion of the organization’s $105 million budget. The United States, which signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in September 1996, has continued to support the organization—despite the Senate’s 1999 51-48 vote to reject the treaty and the Bush administration’s stated opposition to it. Much of the U.S. contribution goes toward the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS), a worldwide network of sensors that, when completed, will be able to detect a nuclear test anywhere in the world. Notably, the United States has not contributed financially to CTBTO on-site inspection preparations since 2001.

In his February budget request for the fiscal year that began in October, President George W. Bush called for a cut in the U.S. contribution to $14.4 million. The CTBTO had estimated that Washington’s appropriate share would be about $22 million. At the time, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained that the cuts were a matter of tight budgets, not opposition to the CTBTO’s mission. U.S. contributions have regularly fallen short of CTBTO assessments since the 2001 Bush administration decision not to fund CTBTO’s on-site inspection activities.

In a Nov. 23 written response to questions from Arms Control Today, Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the CTBTO’s Provisional Technical Secretariat, said the cuts would hamper some operations although he was not specific about the impact.

“Each dollar in our budget corresponds to some program element or to fixed costs like salaries. Shortfalls in contributions therefore have a direct impact on the program we are able to execute,” Tóth wrote.

He added that “We hope that the shortfall we will face next year is only a temporary problem that will be rectified in the following year. That is our understanding of the explanations given on the political level.”


Congress Cuts Nuclear Bunker Buster Again

Wade Boese

Congress and the Bush administration differed sharply this year over the future direction of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

For the second consecutive year, lawmakers denied the Department of Energy’s request to explore modifying a nuclear warhead to penetrate deeper underground before detonating. They also restricted administration plans to make nuclear warheads more durable, rebuffed an effort to construct a new facility to build plutonium cores for nuclear weapons, denied a request to shorten the time needed to conduct a nuclear weapons test, and pushed for faster warhead dismantlement work.

Led by Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), legislators last year eliminated funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), which is also known as a bunker buster because of its intended mission to destroy targets buried deep underground. The administration sought to revive funding for studying the weapon as part of its fiscal year 2006 budget request, asking for $4 million for the Energy Department and $4.5 million for the Air Force to study the weapon. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Hobson, who chairs the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, again spearheaded opposition to the nuclear bunker buster and prevailed. Congress in November passed a $30.5 billion energy and water appropriations bill that contains no Energy Department funding for RNEP as part of the $6.4 billion assigned to nuclear weapons activities. The president signed the bill into law Nov. 19.

Lawmakers have yet to finalize the defense appropriations bill, which includes the Air Force portion of the study, and Hobson is not certain about what the final RNEP outcome will be. “I have to watch in the defense bill to try and make sure they don’t go around me,” Hobson was quoted as saying in The Columbus Dispatch Nov. 13. The Ohio paper further quoted Hobson as declaring, “I don’t think [the Pentagon has] given up,” based on a meeting he had with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

The Senate earlier this year supported funding the Energy Department’s RNEP efforts, setting up a showdown with Hobson and the House, which had allocated nothing for the project. But Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, announced Oct. 25 that the funding would be zeroed out because the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had dropped the request. “The NNSA indicated that this research should evolve around more conventional weapons rather than…nuclear devices,” Domenici stated.

An excerpt of the statement sent to Domenici by the NNSA, which is the Energy Department’s semi-autonomous agency responsible for the nuclear stockpile, differs from the senator’s description of it. The NNSA stated that, as information gleaned from planned RNEP activities would be “valuable in the development of conventional earth penetrators, the [d]epartment supports renaming the program.” Nevertheless, now there is no Energy Department program because of Hobson and Domenici.

Congress also axed the administration’s $7.7 million request to move forward on a Modern Pit Facility to build new plutonium cores for nuclear warheads. The administration contends that, because plutonium degrades over time, the United States needs eventually to resume mass production of these cores to keep warheads in good working order. However, Hobson has questioned the administration’s underlying assumptions about how fast plutonium degrades and how many new warhead cores need to be produced for a shrinking arsenal.

Currently, the United States possesses roughly 10,000 warheads, but the administration announced in June 2004 its intention to cut this stockpile “almost in half.” (See ACT, July/August 2004.) Lawmakers are urging the administration to accelerate this work. They boosted the administration’s request for warhead dismantlement by $25 million up to $60 million and, citing “the importance of an aggressive warhead dismantlement program,” instructed NNSA to provide a report by March 1, 2006, on increasing the U.S. “dismantlement capacity.”

The administration’s program to make warheads easier to maintain and last longer by replacing their parts with new components enjoyed similar support. Indeed, Congress almost tripled the administration’s Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) request of $9 million—the funding level approved last year—to $25 million.

But lawmakers are not granting the program free rein. Concerned that too many changes might result in a radically different warhead that could prompt calls for testing to prove that it would function properly, the Senate and House directed that “any weapon design work done under the RRW program must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile and…the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests.” The United States last conducted a nuclear test in 1992.

Despite assurances that it has no plans to conduct a nuclear test, the Bush administration has been seeking to reduce the amount of time needed to resume nuclear testing to 18 months in case a technical problem impairs existing warheads or a new threat emerges. Lawmakers rebuffed this effort, ordering that the current test-readiness posture of 24 months be maintained.

Departing from long-standing U.S. policy, Congress, again spurred by Hobson, approved $50 million to launch a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing initiative with the aim of starting construction on at least one advanced nonmilitary reprocessing facility beginning in fiscal year 2010. This involves separating plutonium and uranium from some other radioactive wastes found in spent reactor fuel so they can be used again as new fuel.

Although France currently reprocesses spent civilian reactor fuel and Japan has an ambitious plan of its own, the United States essentially abandoned commercial reprocessing in the 1970s as too expensive and too dangerous because it produced surplus nuclear bomb-ready material that could fall into the wrong hands. Instead, Washington decided to mothball spent nuclear fuel in huge geological repositories, the first of which is supposed to be at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. However, legal and political battles have forestalled the opening of this repository.



Subscribe to RSS - December 2005