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Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
January/February 2006
Edition Date: 
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Global Cleanout: Reducing the Threat of HEU-Fueled Nuclear Terrorism

Alexander Glaser and Frank N. von Hippel

The greatest opportunity for would-be nuclear terrorists or countries seeking a quick bomb or two are poorly secured sites that contain significant quantities of highly enriched uranium, (HEU)—uranium containing a high percentage of the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235. HEU is the material of choice for terrorists or for states that seek to proliferate clandestinely without testing their weapons.

Unlike plutonium, HEU can be worked without special protections. It can also produce a full-yield explosion in a simple gun-type design in which one subcritical mass of HEU is fired into another. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, built with about 60 kilograms of 80 percent enriched HEU, used this design. Today, there is little disagreement that a terrorist group could design a workable gun-type device. It is therefore critical to make current stocks of HEU as inaccessible as possible.

The most effective approach in the long term to the risk of diversion or theft of HEU is to eliminate it from as many locations as possible and blend down excess HEU to low-enriched uranium (LEU). In contrast to HEU, LEU contains less than 20 percent U-235.[1] It is considered non-weapons-useable primarily because the amount of uranium needed to set off a sustained nuclear chain reaction—about one critical mass—is so large.

The United States and Russia have already slimmed down their stockpiles of weapons HEU somewhat. At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States together had about 2,000 metric tons of HEU, enough for about 35,000 gun-type or more than 100,000 implosion-type bombs. Other countries had an estimated 60 tons. Most of this material was in weapons. Due to the downsizing of their nuclear stockpiles, Russia and the United States declared, respectively, 500 and 174 metric tons of HEU as excess.[2] Most is being blended down to LEU for use as power-reactor fuel.[3]

Outside of its use in weapons, HEU also is used as a fuel for naval and research reactors and for the production of certain medical isotopes. Recently, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced that an additional 200 tons of excess U.S. weapons uranium will be reserved for future use as naval reactor fuel (160 tons) and space-reactor and research-reactor fuel (20 tons) and blended down to LEU for use as research and power reactor fuel (20 tons).[4]

The size of the reserve for the nuclear Navy indicates that the naval-reactor fuel cycle will be a major challenge to the goal of reducing global stockpiles of HEU. This issue has been explored elsewhere.[5] We therefore focus here primarily on uses of HEU in land-based civilian reactors.

Although the current global HEU stockpile for land-based reactors (50-100 metric tons)[6] is much less than the quantities of HEU in nuclear weapons and reserved for naval reactor fuel, it is still enough for at least 1,000 gun-type devices. The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) estimated in 2004 that there were 128 research reactors and associated facilities worldwide with at least 20 kilograms of HEU.[7]

Many of these facilities are in urban locations with only modest security, presenting potential targets to would-be nuclear terrorists. A large fraction are in Russia, which has yet to give adequate priority to cleaning out facilities containing HEU that is no longer needed. At several sites, there is enough HEU to make more than 10 gun-type weapons.

Decommission Excess Reactors

Whereas power reactors are fueled with uranium that is less than 5 percent enriched, HEU is still widely used to fuel civilian research reactors. During the 1950s and 1960s, as part of their competing Atoms for Peace programs, the United States and the Soviet Union built hundreds of research reactors domestically and for export to more than 40 other countries. In response to demands for longer-lived fuel and maximum reactor performance, exports restrictions were relaxed, which resulted in most of these reactors being fueled with weapons-grade HEU enriched to more than 90 percent.

Figure 2 shows the countries that have or have had HEU-fueled reactors. Fortunately, according to our research, 13 of these countries no longer have HEU because of international efforts to convert research reactors to LEU and to return their irradiated HEU-containing fuel to its country of origin.

Most of the world’s aging HEU-fueled research reactors are no longer needed. Two International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) research-reactor experts put it this way at the 2003 international Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) conference: “Only reactors with special attributes (such as a high neutron flux, a cold [neutron] source, in-core loops to simulate power reactor conditions) or with commercial customers (such as radioisotope production or silicon doping) are adequately utilized.”[8]

Eliminating excess reactors would reduce the total number of research reactors worldwide from hundreds to tens. In some cases, research reactors could be replaced by accelerator-driven neutron sources. A few years ago, the United States decided to build such a neutron source at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The laboratory had first proposed building a powerful new research reactor but ran into opposition because it was to be fueled with HEU.

Just shutting down an HEU-fueled reactor, however, is not sufficient. To eliminate the danger of diversion or theft, the HEU fuel must be removed, i.e., the reactor must be “decommissioned.” In 2000 the IAEA’s International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group urged consideration of proper decommissioning of 258 shutdown research reactors worldwide. In a follow-up analysis, one reason cited for these reactors not being decommissioned was “the hope that the reactor will be returned to operation.”[9]

To make a decommissioning program attractive in Russia and elsewhere, it might be necessary for concerned countries to invest in strengthening the surviving research-reactor centers. Such assistance should be conditioned, however, on the management being willing to allow research groups from decommissioned facilities to become “users groups” on a nondiscriminatory basis. Such arrangements are standard in the United States and western Europe but are still foreign to Russia, where a group does not have an opportunity to do experiments if it does not have its own reactor.

Reactor Conversion and Fuel Takebacks

So far, the United States has shied away from promoting the decommissioning of reactors. Instead, it has focused on converting facilities to less-risky fuels. Both the Soviet Union and the United States launched efforts in the late 1970s to convert HEU-fueled research reactors to lower-enriched fuel. By 1991 the Soviet Union had converted most of the foreign research reactors that it supplied from 80 percent to 36 percent enriched fuel. The collapse of the Soviet Union halted the program, however, and also created a new group of independent countries with HEU-fueled reactors. The Energy Department estimates that Soviet-designed research reactors inside and outside Russia today use a total of about 350 kilograms of HEU fuel per year.[10] In 1993 the United States began to work in Russia to revive the Russian program with the objective of converting all Soviet-designed research reactors to LEU. The first such conversion, in the Czech Republic, was completed in October 2005.[11]

The United States began its own efforts to convert HEU-fueled reactors to LEU in 1978. The original purpose of the U.S. RERTR program was to convert to LEU foreign reactors to which the United States was supplying HEU fuel. In 1986 the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission required that the nongovernmental research reactors that it licenses in the United States (mostly located at universities) also convert to LEU if such fuel is available and if the Energy Department makes available the funding for the conversion. By the end of 2005, the program had converted or partially converted 31 foreign and 11 domestic reactors. These research reactors had previously required together annually about 250 kilograms of fresh HEU.

The bulk of the task, however, remains to be done. The Energy Department’s list still contains 120 operating HEU-fueled reactors, and this list is incomplete. The Energy Department also estimates that the world’s remaining HEU-fueled research reactors consume about 1,000 kilograms of HEU per year. About 500 kilograms of this HEU is for Western-designed reactors, mostly supplied by the United States, and the remainder provided by Russia and China. The RERTR program estimates that 41 of these reactors can be converted using existing LEU fuels.[12] However, of the Western-designed reactors, 10 that consume the bulk of the HEU cannot be converted until advanced LEU fuels are developed.[13]

These 10 research reactors have compact, high-powered cores designed to maximize neutron intensity for testing reactor fuels and materials to high irradiation levels and for neutron-scattering measurements used to probe the arrangements of atoms in complex materials.

Because a high concentration of U-235 is needed for compact cores, HEU is an ideal fuel. To achieve a similar density of U-235 in an LEU-based fuel has been the primary challenge for the conversion program.

The approach of the RERTR program has been to develop 20 percent-enriched LEU fuels that make up for the lower level of enrichment by increasing the relative concentration of uranium vis-à-vis other elements in the nuclear fuel. In 20 percent-enriched LEU, unlike HEU, each gram of U-235 is diluted with 4 grams of uranium 238. So, the uranium density in the LEU fuel must be about five times higher than in the HEU fuel. Fortunately, the densities of the HEU fuels that have to be replaced are mostly quite low, between 3 percent and 9 percent of the density of solid uranium. The most advanced LEU fuel commercialized thus far has a uranium density of 25 percent of solid uranium. A higher uranium density fuel, which was to be commercialized this year, has not fared well. Because of its unexpected poor irradiation performance, the availability of fuels with the densities required to convert the research reactors into those with compact, high-powered cores has slipped to approximately the year 2010. The most promising fuel currently under development—solid uranium alloyed with molybdenum—has a uranium density of 84 percent of that of solid uranium and could be used to convert all remaining high-powered research reactors.[14]

Spent Fuel

The residual uranium in spent HEU fuel is also still potentially usable for weapons. It typically contains about half of its original U-235. HEU that was originally weapons grade is of special concern because it is still near weapons grade.[15] For some years after discharge from the reactor, the spent fuel is considered “self-protecting” by the IAEA because the radioactive fission products it contains emit highly dangerous gamma rays as they decay.[16]

As this radiation field dies down with time, however, the spent fuel becomes a greater proliferation concern. Typically, research-reactor fuel elements are no longer self-protecting 25 years after discharge.

In 1996, therefore, the United States invited foreign countries that had received U.S. HEU fuel to ship back two common types of spent HEU fuel and began to work in 2002 with Russia similarly to retrieve Soviet/Russian-origin HEU fuel from outside Russia. As of the end of 2005, however, only about a ton of the U.S.-origin fuel had been returned to the United States.[17] Progress in returning Russian HEU is at an even earlier stage. About 122 kilograms of HEU in un-irradiated fuel had been shipped back to Russia, but as of November 2005, fuel originally containing approximately 2,000 kilograms of HEU that had been shipped from Russia to 17 countries remained abroad.[18] The United States in 1999 also established a Materials Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program to acquire excess Russian civilian HEU and blend it down to 20 percent-enriched LEU. This low-profile program has made steady progress. As of the end of 2005, about 7 tons of an estimated 17 tons of excess Russian civilian HEU had been blended down, but as yet, not a single site has been completely cleaned out.[19]

Overall, therefore, although programs to reduce the number of locations where HEU can be found are in place, they have achieved only a small fraction of their objectives, despite the additional impetus given by the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Post-September 11 Developments

In 2004 the Energy Department responded to congressional concern about how slowly the HEU cleanout programs were moving by combining its reactor-conversion and spent HEU fuel takeback efforts into a Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program. Then-Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham committed that the GTRI would help Russia repatriate all Russian-origin fresh HEU fuel by the end of 2005—which has since slipped to 2006—all Russian-origin spent HEU fuel by 2010, and all U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel by 2014. Abraham also pledged to convert all U.S. civilian research reactors to LEU by 2013—now 2014—and to convert all other research reactors “throughout the world.” All told, Abraham promised that the United States would spend about $450 million on this effort. [20] That comes to about $45 million per year over 10 years, which is about the current level of effort.

These are laudable goals. Unfortunately, Russia, which accounts for about one-third of the world’s HEU-fueled reactors and more than half of the world’s civilian HEU, has yet to make a commitment to convert or decommission any of its own HEU-fueled research reactors. President George W. Bush took pressure off of Russia to do so at a February 2005 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders agreed to limit to “third countries” U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts to deal with the danger from HEU-fueled reactors.[21] Russian government officials have reportedly used this agreement as a reason for suspending further discussions with the United States on the conversion of Russia’s own HEU-fueled reactors. Fortunately, as discussed below, Russia’s nuclear institutes still appear open to cooperation in this area.

Toward a Comprehensive Program

Current efforts also largely exclude reactor types that make up about half of the world’s HEU-fueled reactors: critical assemblies and pulsed reactors. Worldwide, there are at least 38 HEU-fueled critical assemblies and 19 HEU-fueled pulsed reactors. Most are among the 59 HEU-fueled research reactors listed in the 2004 RERTR Program Execution Plan as “research reactors using HEU fuels that are not part of the RERTR Program.”[22]

These reactors do not consume fuel, but their cores often contain huge quantities of HEU.

Critical assemblies are used to determine the physics properties of proposed reactor-core designs. Most pulsed reactors were designed to determine the effects of neutron bursts from nearby nuclear explosions on nuclear warheads and other objects. The fuel of both types of reactors is only slightly radioactive—orders of magnitude less than required for self-protection.[23]

Once again, most of these reactors could be decommissioned. Most critical assemblies are obsolete because their mission can be accomplished today by inexpensive and highly accurate computer simulations. Indeed, Russia has more than 60 percent of the world’s HEU-fueled critical assemblies because it has decommissioned so few. An effective program needs to be mounted to help it do so. In 2002 the Moscow-based Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, which has 12 HEU-fueled critical assemblies, requested U.S. assistance to decommission most of them. The Energy Department’s MCC program has recently begun discussions with Kurchatov about this proposal.

Likewise, most pulsed reactors are no longer needed because the effects of their neutron bursts can be simulated with computers. In 2004 Abraham cited this as a reason to shut down one of the Sandia National Laboratory’s two HEU-fueled pulsed reactors: “[A]fter operations of three years or perhaps less, the Sandia Pulsed Reactor will no longer be needed, since computer simulations will be able to assume its mission.… When its mission is complete, this reactor’s fuel will be removed from Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, allowing us to reduce security costs at Sandia and further consolidate our nuclear materials.”[24]

For those facilities that will be kept, steps should be taken to convert them to LEU or at least to reduce significantly the enrichment of their fuel. An indication that this is possible is provided by two Russian facilities with huge HEU inventories:


  • One critical facility at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering in Obninsk contains 8.7 tons of HEU, as well as 0.8 tons of plutonium, mostly in the form of tens of thousands of disks less than 2 inches in diameter. Some of the HEU is at a 36 percent-enrichment level, while some is weapons grade (90 percent). It appears that the safer 36 percent-enriched uranium should be sufficient for mocking up large breeder reactor cores, which is the main mission of the facility.[25]
  • A pulsed reactor at the Institute of Experimental Physics in Sarov ( Russia’s counterpart to the Los Alamos National Laboratory) contains 833 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium, enough for 15 Hiroshima bombs. The GTRI program recently committed to fund a proposal from the institute to do a feasibility study on converting this reactor to LEU. The MCC program could potentially help fund the conversion.[26]

Other HEU-Fueled Reactors

There are also other types of civilian HEU-fueled reactors that should be addressed. For example, Russia has a fleet of seven civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers whose 11 reactors currently annually require HEU fuel containing about 225 kilograms of U-235.[27]

The Moscow-based Bochvar Institute, which develops Russia’s nuclear fuels, began in the late 1990s to develop LEU fuel suitable for a floating nuclear power plant whose reactor design is derivative from one used to power Russia’s nuclear icebreakers. The privately funded Nuclear Threat Initiative is negotiating with the Bochvar Institute to build on this work and develop LEU fuel that could be used to convert the nuclear icebreakers.

Russia also has dedicated HEU-fueled isotope-production reactors. Two high-powered isotope-production reactors at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Urals are reportedly fueled with weapons-grade uranium. During the Cold War, they consumed an estimated 800 kilograms of HEU per year, mostly for the production of tritium for weapons.[28]

Today, given Russia’s smaller number of operational nuclear warheads, the primary use of these reactors is probably to produce radionuclides for medical and other civilian purposes. They might therefore be appropriate targets for a cooperative conversion effort.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The recently launched GTRI hopes to achieve complete elimination of HEU-fuel shipments to research reactors outside Russia by 2014. Few of the critical assemblies and pulsed reactors that collectively contain huge quantities of barely irradiated HEU have been targeted yet, however, and Russia has not yet agreed to convert or decommission its own HEU-fueled reactors.

What is needed is a broader international effort to decommission HEU-fueled research reactors that are no longer needed, accelerate the conversion of operating research reactors for which replacement LEU fuel is available, and assure that fuels are developed as soon as possible to convert the remaining HEU-fueled research reactors that are still needed.

The key countries whose cooperation is required are those that have built and exported or that operate large, high-powered, HEU-fueled research reactors, large critical assemblies, or pulsed reactors. China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States account for more than 90 percent of the global civilian HEU inventories and demand. Their joint engagement in an accelerated conversion and cleanout effort would likely bring along the other countries that receive or have received fuel from the major HEU suppliers.

The reluctance of Russia’s government to give this effort high priority domestically at the same time that the leading Russian nuclear institutes have been asking for U.S. funding for projects to convert or decommission their HEU-fueled reactors illustrates the importance of working directly with the institutes as well as on a government-to-government level. This bottom-up approach, in which U.S. programs engage the Russian institutes directly and the institutes help get their government’s approval, has been key to virtually all successful U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear security initiatives.

More serious engagement by high-level U.S. officials is also required. The recent acceptance by the White House of a limitation to U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts on HEU cleanout to “third countries” illustrates the types of misstep that can occur when high-level officials are not adequately informed.

Finally, consideration needs to be given to ways to make it more attractive to decommission or shut down little-used HEU-fueled reactors. In particular, consideration should be given to facilitating the concentration of research-reactor or accelerator neutron services in regional centers of excellence open to all appropriate scientists.

If the international community takes its responsibility to prevent nuclear terrorism and to support nonproliferation efforts seriously, a global cleanout of civilian HEU could be achieved within the next five to eight years.



Ending HEU Use in Medical-Isotope Production

Alexander Glaser and Frank N. von Hippel

Some medical-isotope production reactors use highly enriched uranium (HEU) as a “target” for neutron bombardment to produce the fission product molybdenum-99. The decay product of this isotope, Technicium-99, is used annually in tens of millions of medical procedures.[1] There is currently no domestic producer of this material and the Department of Energy estimates that a total of 85 kilograms of weapon-grade HEU are used for this purpose annually in reactors in Belgium, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and South Africa.[2]

Argonne National Laboratory has developed a means of substituting low-enriched uranium (LEU) for the more dangerous HEU in this process. Two smaller producers have converted to LEU and another is in the process of doing so. But the largest producers do not want to incur the cost of conversion. Two of them, Nordion of Canada and Mallinckrodt, which produces in Europe, backed a successful lobbying effort to include a provision in this year’s Energy Policy Act. This provision suspends the application of a 1992 law that conditions exports of U.S. HEU to foreign users on their willingness to convert to LEU as soon as LEU fuel or targets become available.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.



1. Six-hour half-life technicium-99m emits a 0.14 MeV decay gamma ray used for medical imaging.

2. Office of Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration, “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan,” February 16, 2004.

Alexander Glaser is a member of the research staff of Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and Frank N. von Hippel is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton. An abridged version of this article will appear in the February 2006 issue of Scientific American.


1. See A. Glaser, “About the Enrichment Limit for Research Reactor Conversion: Why 20%?” International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (hereinafter referred to as RERTR conference), Boston, November 2005.

2. See David Albright et al., Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

3. See Laura Holgate, “Accelerating the Blend-Down of Russian Highly Enriched Uranium,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, June 2005.

4. See Wade Boese, “ U.S. Trims Nuclear Material Stockpile,” Arms Control Today, December 2005, p. 29.

5. Chunyan Ma and Frank von Hippel, “Ending the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium for Naval Reactors,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2001, p. 86.

6. David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, “Civil HEU Watch: Tracking Inventories of Civil Highly Enriched Uranium,” Institute for Science and International Security, August 2005. The estimate of 165-184 tons includes 123 metric tons of excess U.S. weapons HEU and 10 tons of BN-350 spent fuel in Kazakhstan not included in our estimate. Also, we believe that their range of 15-30 tons for civilian HEU in Russia may be low.

7. U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Take Action to Further Reduce the Use of Weapons-Usable Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors,” GAO-04-807, July 2004, p. 28.

8. Pablo Adelfang and Iain Ritchie, “Overview of the Status of Research Reactors Worldwide,” RERTR conference, Chicago, October 2003.

9. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “Safety of Research Reactors,” Topical Issues Paper No. 4, p. 10.

10. Office of Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan,” February 16, 2004.

11. NNSA, “NNSA Completes Czech Research Reactor Conversion,” November 4, 2005.

12. Bieniawski, Statement, RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

13. NNSA, “RERTR Program Project Execution Plan.”

14. Pure uranium metal is not suitable as a reactor fuel because it swells seriously under irradiation at only a fraction of the desired fuel life.

15. The enrichment of a high-burn-up fuel that was originally 93 percent would still be above 75 percent. The critical mass of the 75 percent HEU would be only about 30 percent higher than that of the original material.

16. The IAEA considers a spent fuel element self-protecting if the dose rate one meter away exceeds one Sievert (100 rems) per hour. Five Sieverts over a period of less than two weeks is a median lethal dose for an adult. See IAEA, “The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities,” INFCIRC/225/Rev. 4, June 1999.

17. Michael Dunsmuir, interview with author, September 2005. About 13.7 tons (80 percent) of the 17.5 tons of HEU reported as still abroad in 1993 was in the European Union (EU), within which much of the material was traded between facilities and some reprocessed. U.S. officials believe that 2 tons of 35 percent-enriched HEU exported to the EU was blended down there to LEU. See Albright, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996, pp. 245-253.

18. Andrew Bieniawski, Presentation, RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

19. Tom Wander, interview with author, November 2005.

20. IAEA, “Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham,” Vienna, May 2004.

21. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “U.S.-Russia Joint Fact Sheet: Bratislava Initiatives,” February 2005.

22. Table B8 of the RERTR Program Project Execution Plan includes 21 reactors identified as critical assemblies and 10 identified as “fast burst,” “prompt burst,” or pulsed.

23. In the case of critical assemblies, this is because they release fission heat at an extremely low rate, typically only about 100 watts instead of millions. Pulsed reactor fuel accumulates only trace quantities of fission products for a different reason: they operate at high powers but mostly in infrequent pulses for less than one-thousandth of a second.

24. “Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham for the Security Police Officer Training Competition,” May 7, 2004.

25. The core of Russian’s BN-600, which is HEU fueled, has a peak enrichment of 26 percent. See O. M. Saraev, “Operating Experience With the Beloyarsk Fast Reactor BN600 NPP,” Technical Committee Meeting on Unusual Occurrences During LMFR Operation, IAEA, Vienna, November 1998, p. 103. Thirty-six percent-enriched fuel therefore should be more than sufficient. See also Frank von Hippel, “Future Needs for HEU-Fueled Critical Assemblies,” RERTR conference, Boston, November 2005.

26. The MCC program pays the Elektrostal Fuel Fabrication Facility and the Dimitrovgrad Scientific Research Institute of Atomic Reactors to acquire and blend civilian HEU down to 20 percent LEU and dispose of the LEU. Part of the payment is passed on to the organization that is releasing the excess HEU. This incentive payment could be used to defray much of the cost of the core conversion, and some of the blended-down material could be used to fuel the converted core.

27. Oleg Bukharin, interview with author, September 2005.

28. “Lyudmila” and “Ruslan” are reportedly light-water reactors, each with a 1000 thermal-megawatt capacity. Oleg Bukharin, “Analysis of the Size and Quality of Uranium Inventories in Russia,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 6 (1996), p. 59.


Taiwan Receives U.S. Warships

Wade Boese

Two refurbished U.S. destroyers sold to Taiwan arrived there Dec. 8, and two more will be transferred this year. But Taiwan’s legislature is blocking other major U.S. arms buys.

President George W. Bush authorized exporting four Kidd-class guided missile destroyers to Taiwan in April 2001. (See ACT, May 2001.) Taiwanese sailors received the first two ships Oct. 29 at a ceremony in Charleston, South Carolina, where the ships have been undergoing upgrades.

In 2001, Bush also offered Taiwan eight diesel-powered submarines and a dozen P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft. Separately, Washington has encouraged Taipei to acquire short-range anti-missile systems. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has fought to win legislative approval of a special budget to procure the U.S. arms, but the Legislative Yuan has balked. Even cutting the original $18 billion request to $11 billion has not swayed the legislature, which is not controlled by Chen’s party. Some legislators have questioned the need for and cost of the weapons.

Chen also has proposed increasing annual defense spending from 2.4 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product to 3 percent. This proposal awaits legislative approval as well.

With an eye on China’s military modernization (see ACT, September 2005), Pentagon officials are urging Taiwan to boost its military spending and arms procurement. Beijing has warned that it will use force against Taiwan, which China claims is a renegade province, if Taiwan declares independence or stalls on reunification.

Brigadier General John Allen, who is the principal director of the Pentagon’s Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs, stated Oct. 29, “As [Taiwan] faces the growing threat of a major [Chinese] military buildup, it is imperative that the people of Taiwan hold their leaders of all political parties accountable for reaching a consensus to increase defense spending.”

Similarly, Reuters quoted the director of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), Lieutenant General Jeffrey Kohler, as complaining Dec. 7 that Taiwan has “turned some of their defense issues into a political football.” The DSCA implements U.S. government arms sales.

A Pentagon spokesperson told Arms Control Today Dec. 8 that future U.S. arms exports to Taiwan hinge on the special budget. In sum, the spokesperson said, “If they don’t have the money, there is nothing to talk about.”


U.S. Lifts Indonesia Arms Embargo

Scott Morrissey

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns announced Nov. 22 that the United States would open the door to major arms sales to Indonesia. The announcement came just days after President George W. Bush met with Indonesian President Yudhoyono at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. In doing so, the administration sidestepped congressional human rights demands on the Indonesian military.

The Bush administration claims that ending the arms embargo and modernizing the Indonesian Defence Force will help Jakarta address mutual security concerns such as terrorism, maritime piracy, narcotics trafficking, pandemic disease, and disaster relief. According to Burns’ statement, Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim state and its third-largest democracy, is “a voice of moderation in the Islamic world” and “plays a unique strategic role in Southeast Asia.”

Lifting the embargo required the Department of State to waive for “national security interests” congressional requirements that the Indonesian military first fully account for human rights violations in East Timor, an island state occupied by Indonesia from 1975 to 1999.

U.S. arms restrictions were first levied on Jakarta in 1991 when Indonesian soldiers opened fire on a pro-independence demonstration, leaving more than 270 East Timorese dead. Indonesia later staged a military intervention in 1999 to prevent East Timor’s secession, killing more than 1,500 civilians and razing 70 percent of its infrastructure. In response, the United States and the European Union both imposed arms embargoes. The European Union chose not to renew its ban in 2000. (See ACT, January/February 2000.)

Recently, however, the United States has moved toward military re-engagement.

In February 2005, Washington reinstated Indonesia’s eligibility for the International Military Education and Training program in order to upgrade the quality of its officer corps. In May 2005, the United States removed restrictions on nonlethal defense equipment such as communications and transport systems. The latest decision lifts the last remaining barrier, a ban on sale of lethal weaponry and related equipment. Still recovering from the Asian financial crisis, the Indonesian government lacks the funds to purchase new armaments but intends to take advantage of the new rules initially to purchase spare parts for its aging fleet of 10 U.S.-supplied F-16 fighters.

In November, in a fiscal year 2006 appropriations bill, Congress restated its preconditions for resumption of full military engagement with Indonesia: proportionate prosecution of military personnel responsible for atrocities, cooperation with civilian and international efforts to resolve human rights violations, and reforms to improve civilian control of the military. Yet, it also allowed the administration to claim a national security waiver. In doing so, Burns pledged that “ U.S. assistance will continue to be guided by Indonesia’s progress on human rights, democratic reform, and accountability.”

Referring to internal developments since the 1999 intervention, Burns stated that “ Indonesia has made significant progress in advancing its democratic institutions and practices in a relatively short time.” Indonesia’s armed forces, which historically played a very formal role in the political process, have been moving steadily toward civilian control. Reforms have included the establishment of a police force separate from the military, the appointment of Indonesia’s first civilian defense minister, and passage of a law banning military officials from holding parliamentary seats.

In September 2004, former General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono became the first directly elected president of Indonesia, winning office with a 60 percent majority. Under his leadership, the Indonesian government coordinated an international relief effort in wake of the 2004 tsunami, negotiated a peaceful truce with separatists in the war-torn Aceh province, and initiated low-level legal proceedings to account for atrocities in East Timor.

Invoking these accomplishments at the APEC conference, Yudhoyono argued that Indonesia has proven itself worthy of resumed military engagement with the United States. While there, he also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about further defense cooperation with Moscow following Indonesia’s 2003 purchase of four Sukhoi warplanes and two MI-35 assault helicopters. In addition to its dealings with the United States and Russia, Yudhoyono is considering purchasing weapons from other potential suppliers, which might include several EU countries, South Korea, India, and China.


U.S. Sanctions Nine Companies for Iran Trade

Wade Boese

The United States imposed sanctions Dec. 23 on nine foreign firms for allegedly making exports to Iran that could contribute to unconventional weapons programs. It also rescinded 2004 sanctions against an Indian citizen.

Six Chinese companies, two Indian firms, and an Austrian company were penalized under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. For two years, the accused will be barred from receiving U.S. government contracts, assistance, or military trade, as well as any goods controlled by the 1979 Export Administration Act, which regulates exports that have both civilian and military purposes.

The Bush administration had sanctioned three of the Chinese firms earlier. One of them, NORINCO, now has been penalized for the seventh time. Still, three of the Chinese companies—Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, LIMMT Metallurgy and Minerals Company Ltd., and Ounion International Economic and Technical Cooperative Ltd.—had not been sanctioned previously.

Similarly, two Indian firms, Sabero Organic Chemicals Gujarat Ltd. and Sandhya Organic Chemicals PVT Ltd., as well as an Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher GmbH, were punished for the first time. The sanctions come at an awkward time for the Indian and U.S. governments, which have lauded India’s nonproliferation credentials as a justification for increasing bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Both New Delhi and Beijing protested the sanctions. A spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs Dec. 28 called the penalties “not justified,” while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dec. 29 expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the U.S. action.

India, however, welcomed the U.S. decision to remove September 2004 Iran Nonproliferation Act sanctions on Dr. C. Surendar, a retired scientist from India’s atomic energy establishment. (See ACT, November 2004.) It also urged that sanctions levied at the same time against Dr. Y. S. R. Prasad be waived.

All told, the Bush administration has imposed proliferation sanctions 134 times against 81 foreign entities. Thirty-three Chinese entities account for 68 of the sanctions. A dozen North Korean firms have racked up 21 sanctions, while seven Indian entities have totaled eight penalties. The remaining sanctions are spread out among 29 entities in at least 13 different countries and Taiwan.


Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India

Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana

President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement on July 18, 2005, laying the grounds for the resumption of full U.S. and international nuclear aid to India. Such international support was key to India developing its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities and was essentially stopped after India’s 1974 nuclear weapons test. India’s subsequent refusal to give up its nuclear weapons and sign the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) has kept it largely outside the system of regulated transfer, trade, and monitoring of nuclear technology that has been developed over the last three decades.

The July agreement requires the United States to amend its own laws and policies on nuclear technology transfer and to work for changes in international controls on the supply of nuclear fuel and technology so as to allow “full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India.” In exchange, India’s government would identify and separate civilian nuclear facilities and programs from its nuclear weapons complex and volunteer these civilian facilities for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection and safeguarding. Yet, as they consider the deal and ways to transform its broad framework into legal realities, political elites in each country have ignored some crucial issues.

Policy analysts in the United States have debated the wisdom of the deal.[1] This debate has been rather narrow, confined to proliferation policy experts and a few interested members of Congress, and largely focused on the lack of specific details with regard to the deal, the order of the various steps to be taken by the respective governments, and the potential consequences for U.S. nonproliferation policy.[2] The larger policy context of a long-standing effort to co-opt India as a U.S. client and so sustain and strengthen U.S. power, especially with regard to China, has gone unchallenged. There is also little recognition of how the agreement could allow India to expand its nuclear arsenal.

The deal has incited a wider and more intense debate in India on questions of national security, sovereignty, development, and democracy. Some would like to see as few constraints as possible on increasing the future capacity of India’s nuclear weapons complex, and others question the extent to which nuclear energy can help meet India’s energy needs. Despite the many claims that the social, economic, and political well-being of the people of India will be enhanced by this deal, there has been little attention paid to the issue of whether India needs nuclear weapons at all, the costly failures of the Indian nuclear energy enterprise, and the possible harm for the people of India from a continued expansion of the nuclear complex.

Misplaced U.S. Goals

The nuclear deal has to be seen in the context of efforts over the last 50 years to incorporate India into U.S. strategy in Asia. After the Chinese revolution, the United States came quickly to believe that newly independent India was the only potential regional power that could compete with China for dominance in Southeast Asia. Despite repeated U.S. efforts to use economic and military aid to promote this policy, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, refused to have his country play this role. He said that a free India would not be a pawn for great powers, and warned that this kind of alliance building by great powers was bad for international relations and could lead to war.[3]

Still, U.S. hostility toward Communist China led to some extraordinary ideas about nuclear cooperation. In the wake of China’s first nuclear weapons test in 1964, senior officials in the Department of State and the Pentagon considered the possibilities of “providing nuclear weapons under U.S. custody” to India and preparing Indian forces to use them. At the same time, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was considering helping India with “peaceful nuclear explosions,” which would involve the use of U.S. nuclear devices under U.S. control being exploded in India.[4] These plans were dropped amid growing fears of the consequences of proliferation for U.S. military and diplomatic power, and the United States turned instead to preventing the further spread of nuclear weapons.

The end of the Cold War prompted a rethinking of strategic possibilities and a now infamous 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance prepared for then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, which declared that “[o] ur first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy.” It noted, “We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”[5] In other words, the geopolitical order was to be frozen as it then was, with the United States assured of maintaining its relative superiority in the different regions of the world. A key concern was China.

The first dramatic change in Indo-U.S. relations came during a March 2000 visit by President Bill Clinton to India, less than two years after India’s 1998 nuclear tests. The governing coalition then was dominated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose views are strongly anti-Communist, aggressively pro-nuclear weapons, and opposed to the more traditional strategy of nonalignment. The joint statement issued by the two leaders declared that “ India and the United States will be partners in peace, with a common interest in and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security. We will engage in regular consultations on and work together for strategic stability in Asia and beyond.”

Further developing the idea of the United States and India as strategic partners in managing regional and international security, the “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership,” signed in January 2004, announced that the United States would help India with its civilian space programs, high-technology trade, missile defense efforts, and civilian nuclear activities. The subsequent nuclear deal is but one of the building blocks promised in this larger arrangement. The purpose of the 2004 accord was made clear by a U.S. official who said the “goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.… We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement.”[6] These implications became clearer with the U.S.-India Defense Relationship Agreement of June 28, 2005. The thinking behind this agreement was explained by Robert Blackwill, who served in the first George W. Bush administration as U.S. ambassador to India and then as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning. In a rhetorical question, Blackwill asked, “Why should the U.S. want to check India’s missile capability in ways that could lead to China’s permanent nuclear dominance over democratic India?”[7] Less than a month later, the nuclear deal was announced.

Recruiting India may help reduce the immediate costs to the United States of exercising its military, political, and economic power to limit the growth of China as a possible rival. More generally, the United States sees Asia as central to global politics after the demise of the Soviet Union, and it needs strong regional clients there. The search for allies and friends is all the more important at a time when the United States was criticized because of its invasion and occupation of Iraq. On all these counts, India is seen as a major prize, and support for its military buildup and its nuclear complex seems to be the price the Bush administration is willing to pay.

This goal is, it seems, to be pursued regardless of how it will spur the spiral of distrust, political tension, and dangerous, costly, and wasteful military preparedness between the United States and China, between China and India, and between India and Pakistan. This last dynamic is already coming into view, as Pakistan has demanded from the United States (and been refused) the same deal as is being offered to India, and China wants any exemptions for international nuclear cooperation and trade to be offered not only to India but to be open to others, i.e., its ally, Pakistan.[8] In all these countries, containing about one in three people on the planet, many of whom are very poor, this will amount to a tragic distortion of values and priorities.

An Errant Debate in India

Although the nuclear deal has incited a limited policy debate in the United States, it has become a key concern in Indian domestic politics and has elicited three broad positions. First, there are the nuclear hawks who oppose the deal. They see the nuclear energy and nuclear weapons programs as one more or less integrated complex. They see the deal, particularly the proposed separation of civilian and nuclear facilities, as imposing constraints that would make more difficult the creation of a large nuclear arsenal, which they believe is essential for India to be a “great power.” The clearest expression of this view has come from former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and others in the BJP.

Vajpayee has argued that “[s]eparating the civilian from the military would be very difficult, if not impossible.… It will also deny us any flexibility in determining the size of our nuclear deterrent.” The “flexibility” he desires is the ability to use what may be classified as civilian facilities to increase the pace at which the nuclear weapons program could grow, as well as its eventual size. Similar sentiments have also been voiced by some retired officials from the nuclear complex.

The second position is that of Singh and many other leaders of the Congress Party, which heads the coalition currently governing India. They see the deal as offering recognition of India as a nuclear-weapon state, pointing out that the joint statement says India will have “the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the United States.” More practically, they see it as a way to sustain and expand the nuclear energy program while not restricting the building of what they describe as a “minimum” nuclear weapons arsenal. Even though Indian nuclear strategists and policymakers have never defined the term “minimum,” it is used to suggest that India is being restrained in its nuclear ambitions. At the same time, it is made clear that the minimum could increase, depending on circumstances.

Singh explained to the Indian parliament on July 29, 2005, that the deal offers a way whereby “our indigenous nuclear power program based on domestic resources and national technological capabilities would continue to grow,” with the expected international supply of nuclear fuel, technology, and reactors serving to “enhance nuclear power production rapidly.” At the same time, he made it clear that “there is nothing in the joint statement that amounts to limiting or inhibiting our strategic nuclear weapons program.” As an assurance that India would have the final say in implementing the deal, the prime minister announced that, “before voluntarily placing our civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, we will ensure that all restrictions on India have been lifted.”

A different source of opposition to the deal comes from India’s left-wing parties, which otherwise support the Congress-led government. These parties have traditionally supported the nuclear energy program, but they opposed the 1998 nuclear weapons test and have pressed for India to play a larger role in global disarmament efforts and to do more to reduce nuclear dangers in the region. Their greatest concern is that the deal ties India too closely to U.S. policies. India’s Communist Party leader, Prabodh Panda, said in parliament that the recently concluded agreements with Washington served to reduce India to a “junior partner of the U.S. in fulfilling its global ambitions.” As the first sign of India surrendering its traditional nonalignment and role in representing the Third World, they cite the Indian government’s surprising vote for a U.S.-led resolution against Iran at the September 2005 IAEA Board of Governors meeting, something key U.S. lawmakers and officials had made clear was tied to the nuclear deal.[9]

These positions, which have by and large dominated the debate so far, have many flaws. The first is their shared belief in the success of India’s nuclear energy program and the need to continue with and expand this effort. This fails to recognize that the deal, in fact, marks U.S. acceptance of a long-standing Indian demand for lifting international restrictions on nuclear cooperation and that this demand is itself testament to the failures of the Department of Atomic Energy.

The second problem is the belief shared by the hawks and the government that nuclear weapons are a source of security. They ignore the essential moral, legal, and criminal questions of what it means to have and be prepared to use nuclear weapons. The only difference between these two camps is on the character and number of the nuclear weapons to which they aspire and how many people in how many cities they are prepared to threaten to kill. The left-wing parties are more ambiguous; they support disarmament but have not called for India unilaterally to give up its nuclear weapons arsenal and ambitions. Some of them even feel Indian nuclear weapons may be needed to hedge against a more belligerent U.S. exercise of power and influence.

Standing outside the political parties is a broad network of social movements in India that have become an increasingly important element in its political life. The most prominent of these, the National Alliance of Peoples Movements, an umbrella group of several hundred organizations and campaigns that support the rights of the poor, women, minorities, farmers, and workers, has come out against the deal because they see it as having been concluded without any public debate; as strengthening an unaccountable, dangerous, and costly Indian nuclear energy and nuclear weapons program; and as undermining important nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament goals.[10]

Nuclear Energy Failures

On the Indian side, a primary motivation for the deal has been the history of failure of its Department of Atomic Energy to produce large quantities of nuclear electricity. In 1962, Homi Bhabha, the founder of India’s nuclear program, predicted that by 1987 nuclear energy would constitute 20,000-25,000 megawatts of installed electricity-generation capacity.[11] His successor as head of the Department of Atomic Energy, Vikram Sarabhai, predicted that by 2000 there would be 43,500 megawatts of nuclear power. [12] Neither of these predictions came true.

Despite more than 50 years of generous funding, nuclear power currently amounts to only 3,300 megawatts, barely 3 percent of India’s installed electricity capacity. Indian nuclear capacity is expected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next few years, largely because of two 1,000-megawatt reactors purchased from the Soviet Union in a 1988 deal and now being built by Russia. Even if more such deals were to be made in the future, it is by no means clear that India’s nuclear establishment will be able to keep its promises, let alone contribute a significant fraction of projected electricity demand.

Another of the Department of Atomic Energy’s failures has been in ensuring sufficient supplies of uranium to fuel its nuclear reactors. As an Indian official stated in an interview with the BBC, “The truth is we were desperate. We have nuclear fuel to last only till the end of 2006. If this agreement had not come through, we might have as well closed down our nuclear reactors and by extension our nuclear program.”[13] This is not a new crisis; the former head of the atomic energy regulatory board has reported that “uranium shortage” has been “a major problem…for some time.”[14]

India has been unable to import uranium for its unsafeguarded nuclear reactors because of the rules of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the countries that manage international nuclear trade with a view to preventing proliferation. Apart from two very old imported U.S. reactors, India relies on natural uranium-fueled nuclear reactors, which are based on the two Canadian-designed and -built pressurized heavy-water reactors it acquired in the 1960s. The total electric capacity of these reactors is 2,990 megawatts. At 75 percent capacity, these require nearly 400 tons of uranium every year. The plutonium production reactors, CIRUS and Dhruva, which are earmarked for nuclear weapons purposes, consume perhaps another 30-35 tons annually. We estimate that current uranium production within India is less than 300 tons of uranium a year, well short of the fuel requirements.

The Department of Atomic Energy has been able to continue to operate its reactors by using uranium stockpiled from when its nuclear capacity and thus its fuel needs were much smaller. Our estimates are that, without the nuclear deal, this stockpile would be exhausted by 2007. The department’s desperate efforts to open new uranium mines in the country have met with stiff resistance, primarily because of the health impacts of uranium mining and milling on the communities around existing mines.[15]

For decades, the department has offered the potential shortage of domestic uranium as justification for a plutonium-fueled fast-breeder reactor program, which has involved costly and hazardous reprocessing facilities to recover plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Its efforts to build a breeder, however, have not made much progress: the Fast Breeder Test Reactor started functioning in 1985 and has been plagued with problems while the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is not expected to be completed until 2010 if all goes accordingly to plan. Poor economics and safety and engineering problems have effectively killed such breeder reactor programs in the United States, France, and Germany, but India may choose to try to follow the example of Japan and proceed with its program, ignoring both the costs and risks of reprocessing and the many problems with breeder reactors.

The dismal state of India’s nuclear energy complex, despite 50 years of determined government support and funding, may offer the clearest proof yet of one of the basic assumptions underlying the NPT. The treaty recognized that developing countries would need a great deal of help if they were to establish nuclear energy for peaceful purposes successfully. That is why Article IV of the treaty calls for a trade-off: providing non-nuclear-weapon states with access to international cooperation with nuclear energy in return for a demonstrated commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. In refusing to sign the NPT and in developing nuclear weapons, India had until now sacrificed the benefits of this international support. Now, through the nuclear deal, the United States has promised India all the help it needs for its civilian nuclear program, all without signing the treaty or even accepting any limits on its nuclear arsenal.

How Many Bombs Are Too Many?

In particular, the deal promises to allow India access to the international uranium market. If the deal goes through, New Delhi will be able to purchase the uranium it needs to fuel those reactors it chooses to put under IAEA safeguards. This will free up its domestic uranium for its nuclear weapons program and other military uses and would allow a significant and rapid expansion in India’s nuclear arsenal. India is believed to have a stockpile of perhaps 40-50 nuclear weapons, with fissile materials stocks for as many more, and plans that reportedly involve an arsenal of 300-400 weapons within a decade.[16] Realizing these plans will require the production of much larger quantities of fissile material and at much higher rates than India has achieved so far. Such production of fissile materials specifically for nuclear weapons is not constrained by the deal.

India could use its newly unallocated domestic uranium to meet its fissile material needs in several ways. It could choose to build a large plutonium-production reactor to add to CIRUS and Dhruva, its two weapons-grade plutonium-production reactors at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay. CIRUS and Dhruva could continue to produce about 25-35 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year. Another Dhruva-sized production reactor could yield an additional several bombs worth of such plutonium each year.

Another way in which India could increase its fissile material stockpile is to expand its small-scale centrifuge enrichment program and make highly enriched uranium (HEU) for nuclear weapons. So far, it is only believed to have enriched its domestic uranium to make fuel for the nuclear submarine that has been under development since the 1970s and has recently completed testing of its nuclear reactor.[17] India could make HEU both for weapons and enriched fuel for its submarine if it no longer needs to rely on domestic uranium to fuel its power reactors.

There is also the possibility, as hinted at by some hawkish critics, that India’s nuclear power reactors may become part of the weapons complex. For instance, if kept out of safeguards and with sufficient uranium supplies on hand, power reactors could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium by limiting the time the fuel is irradiated. Run this way, a typical 220-megawatt pressurized heavy-water reactor could produce 150-200 kilograms per year of weapons-grade plutonium when operated at 60-80 percent capacity. This could mean as much as an eightfold increase in the existing rate of plutonium production. The penalty to be paid in terms of the increased and less efficient use of uranium would be covered by access to imported uranium to be used in other power reactors. There would no longer be a trade-off between uranium for electricity generation and weapons plutonium production.

Neither does the deal constrain how India uses the weapons-useable materials produced so far. A major source of such weapons-useable material is the plutonium in the spent fuel of the unsafeguarded Indian power reactors. Over the years, some 9,000 kilograms of reactor-grade plutonium may have been produced in these reactors, though a large fraction of this plutonium is probably still not separated from the spent fuel. Even though it has a slightly different mix of the plutonium isotopes from the weapons-grade plutonium normally used for weapons, reactor-grade plutonium can be used to make a nuclear explosive.[18] The United States conducted a nuclear test in 1962 using plutonium that was not of weapons grade, and one of India’s May 1998 nuclear tests is reported to have involved such material.[19] An estimated 8 kilograms of such plutonium is needed to make a simple nuclear weapon. If this spent fuel is not put under safeguards as part of the deal, India would have enough plutonium from this source alone for an arsenal of approximately 1,100 weapons, larger than that of all the nuclear-weapon states except the United States and Russia.

Finally, the fast-breeder reactor under construction also will be a source of plutonium. The Department of Atomic Energy has always resisted placing the breeder program under international safeguards and is doing so again when asked to do so as part of the deal. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, has said that the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor will not be under safeguards because it is a research and development program and “any research and development programme, we are not going to put under safeguards.” He has also pointed out that “only that which is clearly of no national security significance, only that part will be civilian.”[20] The department’s resistance to safeguards on the breeder program begs the question as to whether this is or ever was intended only for civilian purposes.

Why Nuclear Electricity?

Both Indian and U.S. supporters of the deal claim that the growth of nuclear energy generation capacity in India is a practical and even a necessary way to maintain India’s current rate of economic growth. The evidence suggests otherwise.

According to our estimates, the cost of producing nuclear electricity in India is higher than the non-nuclear alternatives.[21] Construction costs are high, and construction times are long, making the capital cost of a nuclear reactor very high when compared, for example, to coal-based thermal stations. In a country where there are multiple demands on capital for infrastructure projects, including for electricity generation, this makes nuclear power a poor economic choice.

Other considerations that go against nuclear power are the possibility of catastrophic accidents and the problem of nuclear waste. In studying the safety of nuclear reactors and other hazardous technologies, sociologists and organization theorists have come to the pessimistic conclusion that serious accidents are inevitable with such complex high-technology systems. The character of these systems makes accidents a “normal” part of their operation, regardless of the intent of their operators and other authorities. In India, as elsewhere, there have been many small accidents at nuclear facilities. Given its high population density, a nuclear reactor accident in India involving the release of large quantities of radioactive materials could cause tremendous damage. Finally, there remains the problem that no country has resolved: the disposal of large amounts of waste that will remain radioactive for many tens of thousands of years.

The issue that really needs to be discussed but has hardly figured in the debate is whether India needs any nuclear power plants at all. There are many who believe India would be better off giving up this costly and dangerous technology and finding ways to meet the needs of its people that do not threaten their future or their environment.

A 2003 study by the Confederation of Indian Industry found that there is great scope for improving Indian energy intensity (energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product), which is high compared to other countries, and called for increased cooperation with the United States in this area. It has been estimated that Indian industry could save as much as 20-30 percent of its total energy consumption and that nearly 30,000 megawatts, i.e., more than the total planned nuclear capacity by 2020, could be saved through energy conservation programs.[22] This would also be cheaper than building new generating capacity, especially additional nuclear capacity. This study also noted that, in the 1999 Indo-U.S. Joint Statement on Cooperation in Energy and Related Environmental Aspects, India had declared a goal of a 10 percent share for renewable energy by 2012 and a 15 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2008 and was seeking U.S. help to meet these targets.

The real challenge facing India is the growing divide between the energy-intensive pattern of development of its cities, with increasing demands for electricity and petroleum, and the continuing dependence on fuel-wood and animal-dung energy by the majority who live in its many villages. Nuclear energy as a large, centralized, and costly source of electricity will do little for meeting the basic energy needs of rural India because connecting these areas to a central power grid is expensive, involves high transmission losses, and is financially unsustainable. The UN Development Program’s World Energy Assessment in 2000 observed that “past efforts to deliver modern energy to rural areas have often been ineffective and inefficient” and that, “above all, planning for rural energy development should have a decentralized component and should involve rural people—the customers—in planning and decision-making.”[23] By working with the rural poor, it may be possible at last to develop and provide the small-scale, local, sustainable, and affordable energy systems that they need.


If approved by Congress and India’s parliament as well as the NSG, the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal will prove costly and dangerous. It will feed a cascade of mistrust, insecurity, and instability, diverting resources to a fateful military competition that will envelop China, India, Pakistan, and the United States. More broadly, it is difficult to see the deal as anything other than a fundamental rejection of the nonproliferation regime, as it abandons the assumption that access to nuclear fuel and technology must be within the terms of the regime. It undermines the aspirations of the vast majority of nations seeking global and regional nuclear disarmament.

The deal also will create the potential for the rapid buildup of a much larger Indian nuclear arsenal. It will bail out a failing Indian nuclear energy program that has had little regard either for the economics or the environmental and health consequences of its activities. It is also likely to offer little real benefit to India’s poor. It is not often that so much harm may be done to so many by so few.


Zia Mian is a research scientist in the program on science and global security at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and M. V. Ramana is a faculty member at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development in Bangalore, India.


1. See George Perkovich, “Faulty Promises: The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” Policy Outlook, September 2005; Fred McGoldrick et al., “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal: Taking Stock,” Arms Control Today, October 2005; and Wade Boese, “ U.S. Puts Onus on India for Nuclear Ties,” Arms Control Today, December 2005.

2. See “Issues and Questions on July 18 Proposal for Nuclear Cooperation With India” at www.armscontrol.org (Nov. 18, 2005, letter to members of Congress).

3. See Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War on the Periphery (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

4. George Perkovich , India ’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999).

5. “Excerpts From Pentagon’s Plan: Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival,” The New York Times, March 8, 1992.

6. “ U.S. Unveils Plans to Make India ‘Major World Power,’” Agence France Presse, March 26, 2005.

7. Robert Blackwill, “A New Deal for New Delhi,” Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2005.

8. Mark Hibbs, “ China Favors NSG Solution on India That Facilitates Trade With Pakistan,” Nuclear Fuels, November 7, 2005.

9. Wade Boese, “U.S.-Indian Nuclear Prospects Murky,” Arms Control Today, October 2005.

10. Sandeep Pandey, “Condemnation of India-U.S. Nuclear Deal,” Statement by the National Alliance of People’s Movements, October 26, 2005.

11. David Hart, Nuclear Power in India: A Comparative Analysis (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983).

12. Vikram Sarabhai, Science Policy and National Development (Delhi: Macmillan, 1974).

13. Sanjeev Srivastava, “Indian PM Feels Political Heat,” British Broadcasting Corp., July 26, 2005.

14. A.Gopalakrishnan, “Indo-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation: A Nonstarter?” Economic and Political Weekly, July 2, 2005.

15. Xavier Dias, “DAE’s Gambit,” Economic and Political Weekly, August 6, 2005, pp. 3567-3569.

16. See “India’s Nuclear Forces, 2005,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2005, pp. 73-75; David Albright, “India’s Military Plutonium Inventory, End 2004,” Institute for Science and International Security, May 2005.

17. “ATV Project: India Crosses Major Milestone,” The Hindu, November 25, 2005.

18. J. Carson Mark, “Explosive Properties of Reactor-Grade Plutonium,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1993, pp. 111-124.

19. George Perkovich , India ’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999).

20. T. S. Subramaniam, “Identifying a Civilian Nuclear Facility Is India’s Decision,” The Hindu, August 12, 2005.

21. M. V. Ramana et al., “Economics of Nuclear power From Heavy Water Reactors,” Economic and Political Weekly, April 23, 2005, pp. 1763-1773.

22. V. Raghuraman and Sajal Ghosh, “Indo-U.S. Cooperation in Energy-Indian Perspective,” Confederation of Indian Industry, 2003.

23. “Rural Energy in Developing Countries,” in World Energy Assessment: Energy and the Challenge of Sustainability (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and World Energy Council, 2000.)


U.S. Combat Aircraft Delivered to Pakistan

Wade Boese

The United States delivered two F-16A combat aircraft to Pakistan Dec. 13, marking the first such transfer since 1990 when Washington had halted exports of F-16s to Islamabad because of its nuclear weapons program. The planes can be converted to deliver nuclear bombs.

The Pentagon supplied the two fighters through its Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, which enables foreign governments to acquire arms or military equipment retired from U.S. military service. These exports are generally conducted with little or no charge and provided “as is.” In this case, Pakistan did pay for some refurbishment work, a Pentagon spokesperson told Arms Control Today Dec. 16.

More F-16s might be in the EDA pipeline for Pakistan, but the Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on that possibility. Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in August that “at least 10 additional refurbished” F-16s could be supplied in 2006.

Pakistan has grander plans. Islamabad reportedly was negotiating much of last year for a separate purchase of some 70 new F-16s. But Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf said in November that his government would postpone the F-16 buy while the country recovered from a devastating earthquake one month earlier.

The Bush administration announced in March that it would favorably consider Pakistani requests for F-16s. (See ACT, May 2005.) Washington had provided 40 of the fighters to Pakistan before 1990. But that year, President George H. W. Bush concluded that he could no longer certify to Congress that Islamabad did not possess a nuclear explosive device. U.S. law prohibited military exports to Pakistan in such an instance.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush, eager to secure Islamabad’s help in the U.S.-declared global war on terrorism, waived this restriction and others imposed for Pakistan’s May 1998 nuclear tests. At the same time, Bush lifted similar sanctions on Pakistan’s neighbor and nuclear rival, India. But he held back from selling either country advanced fighters. (See ACT, October 2001.)

Now, Washington is offering U.S. fighters to New Delhi as well. A traditional Russian arms client, India is weighing the purchase of 126 new combat aircraft.


Russian Nuclear Ambitions Exceed Reality

Wade Boese

Top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, boasted several times last year that Russia’s future nuclear arsenal will be unrivaled. Russia’s recent nuclear activities suggest this is more of a long-term goal rather than a short-term possibility.

To be sure, Russia conducted its first flight test of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and reportedly a second successful test of a new warhead. Still, Moscow’s new weapons may be years from deployment, and Russia is retiring aging missiles faster than it is deploying new ones because of limited budgets. This downward trend also coincides with U.S.-Russian arms reduction agreements.

Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces released a Nov. 30 statement touting that all of its 2005 missile flight tests had been successful. All but two of Russia's 2005 experiments, however, involved Soviet-era delivery systems. Such tests have been needed because Russia has extended the service of some missiles, such as the 10-warhead SS-18, beyond original deployment plans in order to preserve some parity with U.S. strategic force levels.

The two tests breaking new ground occurred Sept. 27 and Dec. 21. They involved the launch of a Bulava missile, or RSM-56, by a modified Soviet-era Typhoon submarine. Moscow has not publicized the solid-fuel missile’s payload, but general speculation is that it can carry up to 10 warheads.

When the Bulava will finish testing and be ready for service is also unknown. Two new Project 955 Borey-class submarines are undergoing construction to be outfitted with the missiles, but the operational date for the first vessel was recently postponed by one year to 2007.

Meanwhile, Russia, as part of its 1991 START reporting obligations, revealed in July that it removed 20 SLBMs and their 200 nuclear warheads from service during the previous six months. Data for the rest of 2005 has not yet been publicly released.

Moscow also noted that it eliminated 26 ICBM launchers with some 150 warheads over the first six months of last year. A Department of State official told Arms Control Today Dec. 13 that Russia continued reductions through the end of the year, including scrapping its last rail-based SS-24 systems. Together, the ICBM and SLBM reductions left Russia with approximately 4,350 deployed warheads by START’s terms.

Along with the United States, Russia is bound by the May 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) to lower its strategic arsenal to 1,700-2,200 deployed strategic warheads by the end of 2012. Russia’s force levels are widely projected eventually to drop below the bottom limit.

Still, Russia is slowly fielding some new ICBMs. Since 1997, Moscow has deployed some 40 silo-based SS-27 Topol-Ms. The Kremlin also completed flight-testing of a road-mobile version of this missile at the end of 2004, and deployments of it might begin this year.

Although the SS-27 is envisioned as the mainstay of Moscow’s future strategic forces, Russian production has remained modest, at roughly a half dozen per year. No indications exist that Russia plans to ramp up production.

Russian officials have mentioned the possibility of adding warheads to the single-warhead SS-27 to maintain a higher number of deployed warheads in light of the new missile’s slow production rate. But START limits the SS-27 to a single warhead because it is a variant of the single-warhead SS-25. Moscow’s options if it decides to arm the SS-27 with more warheads, therefore, are to modify the SS-27 so it is a different type of missile than the SS-25 or wait until START expires in December 2009.

More ambiguity surrounds Russia’s exploration of what Russian and Western media have identified as a “maneuverable warhead” but what could also be a re-entry vehicle. A re-entry vehicle shrouds a warhead to enable it to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.

Putin last September said that Russia was developing “new strategic high-precision systems” that can alter “course and height.” The purpose behind such capabilities is to make a warhead a more elusive target for anti-missile systems, such as those the United States is pursuing, a point Russian officials repeatedly emphasize.

The system reportedly has been flight-tested in early 2004 and this past November. The Washington Times implied Nov. 21 that U.S. officials confirmed that the latest test involved a vehicle that “can change course and range.” Russian officials have not specified when the system might become operational.

Although Russia is actively exploring ways to enhance its arsenal, Moscow has also expressed interest in negotiating lower strategic arms limits with the United States.

But Bush administration officials, who have expressed no anxiety about Russia’s strategic nuclear developments, have dismissed the prospect of negotiating additional limits. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)


Russia, West Clash over Troop Pullouts

Wade Boese

Moscow recently warned Western governments that their continuing insistence that Russia fulfill past political commitments to pull its military forces out of Georgia and Moldova is jeopardizing a treaty capping conventional weapons deployments in Europe. However, U.S. and most European governments say that Russia’s failure to fulfill its past withdrawal pledges is the real problem.

In 1990, NATO and its Soviet-led counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, concluded the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty to limit the number and location of heavy weapons, such as battle tanks, deployed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. The 30 states-parties overhauled the accord in 1999 so each country would have individual weapons ceilings. (See ACT, November 1999.) Yet, the 1990 accord is still in effect because only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine have ratified the adapted version, which will not enter into force until all the original agreement’s states-parties ratify it.

Speaking Dec. 5 at an annual ministerial meeting of the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “If steps are not taken to ratify [the adapted CFE Treaty] in the very near future, we will be in danger of losing the whole regime of control over conventional arms in Europe.” He added, “I don’t think any of us are interested in having that situation arise.”

NATO members are tying their approval of the revised accord to Moscow ending its lingering Cold War-era military presence in Georgia and Moldova. Lavrov Dec. 7 dismissed NATO’s reasons for not ratifying as “far-fetched pretexts.”

The adapted CFE Treaty was agreed at a 1999 summit in Istanbul, at which the Kremlin also pledged that in 2000 it would conclude a timetable for closing its remaining military bases in Georgia. Moscow further committed that, by the end of 2002, it would completely withdraw its armed forces from Moldova.

Russia and Georgia finally reached a preliminary deal last May for the full departure of Russian forces by the end of 2008 (see ACT, July/August 2005), but it has yet to be finalized. Much less progress has been made with Moldova, where approximately 1,400 Russian troops remain and an ammunition dump totaling nearly 21,000 metric tons awaits disposal. The last shipment of Russian weaponry out of Moldova occurred in March 2004.

Although applauding Russia for its agreement with Georgia, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Dec. 5 that Moscow must do more. “Fulfillment [of the Istanbul commitments on troop withdrawals] continues to be a prerequisite for the ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty,” Burns stated. Explaining the U.S. and NATO position to reporters the next day, Burns said, “We must defend principle and frankly defend the interests of Georgia and Moldova.”

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the rotating head of the OSCE for 2005, also criticized Russia. Rupel declared Dec. 5, “There is no excuse for systematic failure to live up to the responsibilities to which we’ve committed ourselves.” He continued, “For example, it is unfortunate that after six years we are still debating the 1999 Istanbul commitments on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova.”

Moscow claims that its forces are helping keep peace between the Moldovan government in Chisinau and the separatist region of Transdniestria, where the Russian forces are stationed. The Kremlin also has said that the pro-Russian separatists are blocking the withdrawal. However, the general opinion among U.S. and European officials familiar with the matter is that Russia easily could resume the withdrawal at any time.

Largely because of disputes over Moldova, OSCE members failed to reach consensus on a final document to summarize their meeting. Instead, Rupel issued a Dec. 6 statement that “most ministers” support the Istanbul commitments, welcome the Russian-Georgian agreement, and “note also the lack of movement in 2005 on withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova.”

NATO and Russia are likely to continue sparring over Russia’s withdrawal efforts during the next several months. Georgia, Germany, and Russia are expected to resume talks this spring on arrangements for an international team to verify whether Russia, as it asserts and Georgia disputes, has vacated the Gudauta base located in Georgia. Russia claims the remaining troops at the base are serving as peacekeepers. In addition, CFE Treaty states-parties will convene a treaty review conference in May.


North Korean Nuclear Crises: An End in Sight?

Bong-Geun Jun

After 25 months and on-and-off negotiations, the six-party talks finally produced a milestone joint statement on September 19, stipulating goals and principles leading to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Yet, as the failure of a subsequent November round to achieve significant progress makes clear, this is only the beginning of another long journey full of surprises and uncertainties.

As the parties participating in the talks with North Korea—China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States—seek to move forward, they must take heed of the disappointing history of nuclear negotiations (see sidebar). Occurring every few years since 1991, these nuclear negotiations show a clear cyclical pattern. First, there is a crisis, then there is an improvised and incomplete nuclear deal. Then, the deal collapses, and another crisis erupts.

The cycle reflects a number of recurring patterns. The United States tends to neglect relations with North Korea aside from crises. Once the two sides negotiate, deep distrust and animosity makes compromise, middle-ground solutions on most issues very difficult. The result is that Pyongyang and Washington only paper over differences before they begin the cycle anew.

North Korea bears much of the responsibility for this litany of failures. North Korea has a habit of reopening negotiations in order to squeeze out additional rewards or delay the fulfillment of its own obligations. Even worse, North Korea also tends to renege and withdraw from agreements once the cream is skimmed off the top or pressure is gone.

Yet, the United States also bears its share of the blame. Pyongyang’s frustrating negotiating tactics have led Washington to pursue an “all or nothing” approach in which it has demanded airtight and complete agreements with North Korea rather than more limited measures. Until Pyongyang becomes a more responsible member of the international community, however, the chances of reaching such a detailed agreement with Pyongyang are very low, while the diplomatic and financial cost of not achieving this goal is very high.

Rather than seeking a perfect agreement, the United States would be better off concentrating on following up and managing incremental agreements, something which it has thus far neglected to do. Building on such incremental promises and implementations offers the best chance of moving the six parties to the next level.

It is a good sign for the future of the talks that, by its actions in September, the United States seems to have decided on this more practical and incremental approach. In addition, new political and security trends on the Korean peninsula and in the Northeast Asian region are helping to form a favorable environment for the resolution of the nuclear issue. Despite lingering uncertainties and doubts—and history—there are substantial grounds for believing that the six-party process will yield real progress in ending the North Korean nuclear program permanently.

Competing Approaches and Solutions

Behind the previous negotiating failures lie inconsistencies in policy toward the North Korean nuclear issue both in the United States and South Korea and between the two allies. Internal conflicts in both countries between hawks and doves have often led to paralysis in decision-making processes and a failure to take timely actions. In addition, the consultation and coordination process between the United States and South Korea has often been neither smooth nor effective. Fortunately, both within and among the two capitals, policymakers now seem to have agreed on a fairly consistent approach to the talks.

Since 1991, Washington and Seoul have generally pursued four schools of thought and approaches to the North Korean nuclear issue: collapse, non-engagement, negotiation, and sunshine.

Washington has tended to fall into one of two camps. The first was a set of policies enacted in President George W. Bush’s first term that were directed to end the North Korean regime: collapse. Despite the emotional appeal in the United States of terminating the evil North Korean regime, the collapse approach was neither welcomed nor supported in the Northeast Asian region, as it tended to feed confrontation and crisis and led to North Korea’s withdrawal and isolation from the international community.

The second most common U.S. approach, non-engagement, has involved pursuing a strategy of muddling through in an attempt to avoid either military measures or appeasement. This approach is both reactive and crisis-prone, thus prolonging the status quo of nuclear stalemate. From 1995 to 2000, this policy toward North Korea was not so much a result of choice as it was a stalemate resulting from the confrontation between the Clinton administration and the Republican-led Congress over North Korea policy. By contrast, during Bush’s first term, non-engagement was sometimes followed as well, at times as a conscious choice and at other times as a reflection of a stalemate between the Department of State and other officials over North Korea policy. This stalemate persisted until Bush made a conscious choice to pursue dialogue seriously last year.

Seoul, on the other hand, has tended to follow two other sets of policies on the other end of the policy spectrum from Washington: sunshine and negotiations. The Kim Dae-jung government (1998-2002) pursued a sunshine policy tinged with nationalistic sentiment toward the North. This policy called on the United States and South Korea to take a number of steps to placate North Korea without requiring that North Korea first reciprocate.

The best policy results, such as the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 2005 Joint Statement, have been achieved when both Seoul and Washington have actively pursued a policy of negotiation. It was only after much trial and error, for example, that the Bush and Roh Moo-hyun administrations agreed last year that Washington’s collapse and non-engagement policies and Seoul’s sunshine policy should be coordinated and converged into the more moderate position of negotiation.

It is crucial for Washington and Seoul, the two critical players with the strongest interests in denuclearization, to maintain a joint position of negotiation even against domestic pressures to diverge in opposite directions. Past experience tells us that policy coordination between and within the governments becomes all the more important as divergences and disparities of policies usually result either in policy paralysis or inaction. Moreover, China, Japan, and Russia also tend to stick to the position of negotiation.

Four Reasons for Optimism

Assuming that the major players are able to learn from experience and stick to a policy of negotiation, there are some grounds for believing that the chances for success are significantly greater than in the past. Most notably, there are some new phenomena and trends that could increase the chances of a complete resolution of the nuclear issue. The following four factors stand out:

The Benefits of a Multilateral Approach

The six-party talks have become an effective tool to keep all the participants in the process. The six-party process also will provide an effective implementation guarantee mechanism once the implementation stage begins. All participants to the talks will be witnesses to and guarantors of the agreements. If one party tries to renege on its obligations, it has to confront criticism from the other five. In the 1990s, when North Korea failed to implement either the Joint Denuclearization Declaration or the Agreed Framework, Washington and Seoul alone could not mobilize any effective punitive measures against Pyongyang other than verbal reprimands. In the six-party process, although punitive measures might still be limited, numbers do count. Parties that traditionally support North Korea, such as China and Russia, would be obliged to join the United States and South Korea in taking joint action against Pyongyang.

The binding and restraining power of the six-party process, however, goes both ways. Although the United States started the six-party talks to mobilize multilateral pressure against North Korea, it turns out that the United States itself is also subject to the group mechanism. For example, at the urging of the other participants at the third round of six-party talks in June 2004, the United States refrained from expressing its previous demand for “complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament” so as not to give North Korea an excuse to boycott the negotiations. In addition, at the fourth round of six-party talks, Washington also made a symbolic concession to Pyongyang’s demands for peaceful use of nuclear energy and light-water reactors, after learning that the rest of the participants were sympathetic to South Korea’s position that such a right could be recognized as a matter of principle.

This new trend of multilateralism in the six-party talks also has made possible multilateral security cooperation in the Northeast Asian region. In the 1990s, any suggestions of regional security cooperation were rejected as not ripe or a perceived lack of common culture and ideologies in the region. For the first time at the government level in the region, all six states agreed to “explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation.”

Once multilateralism begins to function, it is not easy to break away unless one is ready to take all the blame. It is an effective mechanism to constrain and bind the behavior of the participants.

China’s Role

Second, China is playing an effective role as the mediator as well as the host of the six-party talks. Because the United States and North Korea do not trust each other, it becomes crucial to have a respected mediator. At the beginning of the first round of the six-party talks in August 2003, China initially only served as host, but increasingly and successfully, it has developed its role as a mediator. China’s active role in the six-party talks also coincides with China’s interest in being perceived as a responsible leader in Northeast Asia working toward regional peace and stability and not a regional hegemon.

Pyongyang’s External Dependence

Third, North Korea has become more dependent on assistance from and trade with the international community, including South Korea and China, for its survival. North Korea also has been undergoing significant socioeconomic reforms and opening since the 2000 inter-Korean summit. These economic changes and increasing dependence make North Korea more vulnerable to outside pressure than it was in the 1990s.

North Korea underwent a serious economic crisis in the 1990s when the Communist trade bloc collapsed. Worsening food shortages finally caused mass starvation from 1995 to 1998, when drought and flood alternately swept through North Korea. Pressed to undertake economic reforms, North Korea, one of the most closed societies in the world, introduced elements of the market economy into its revised Socialist constitution in 1998 and through the Economic Management Improvement Measures of July 1, 2002. Its economy and industry, which reportedly run below 30 percent of capacity, cannot be sustained unless supported by foreign aid and cooperation. If North Korea keeps expanding its nuclear arsenal, however, neither the international community nor Seoul can indefinitely continue economic cooperation and assistance. Memories of its severe economic and food crises and dependence on the outside will be an added restraint to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

U.S. Policy Shifts

Most importantly, U.S. policy toward North Korea seems to have become more practical, with an emphasis on diplomacy and negotiations instead of containment and pressure. The negotiation strategy of the policy team led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill has proven effective. In fact, the United States has a higher chance of diplomatic success on the Korean peninsula than in any other trouble spot around the world.

Unfortunately, Bush lost four critical years during his first term, moving back and forth between the policies of collapse and non-engagement and failing to coordinate its North Korea policy with Seoul. In the meantime, North Korea restarted its nuclear activities and multiplied its weapons capability.

A New Package Deal

What might a deal look like that truly ended the North Korean nuclear crisis? The new formula would have to be comprehensive, phased, mutually beneficial, and multidimensional. It would likely require several implementation stages to foster trust that both Pyongyang and Washington will follow through on their commitments. Likewise, North Korea and its interlocutors would have to carry out reciprocal actions. These agreements would have to include countries other than North Korea and the United States so as to aid implementation and ease Pyongyang’s security concerns. And to guarantee that all of the six parties view the situation similarly, clear and effective verification processes would be essential.

 Moreover, permanent denuclearization will require progress and close coordination in five separate areas: dismantlement, security assurance and diplomatic normalization, economic aid, peace-regime building on the Korean peninsula, and Northeast Asia security cooperation.

For example, in a first stage Pyongyang might freeze all of its nuclear activities at Yongbyon, allow monitoring, and pledge to refrain from long-range missile tests. The United States would offer tentative security guarantees. The United States and other countries would resume shipments of heavy fuel oil suspended in 2002 while South Korea would begin discussions with North Korea on conducting surveys and drawing up plans to provide electricity.

In a second stage, North Korea would begin to dismantle any nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel cycle programs and facilities. The United States would begin negotiations on normalizing relations and easing sanctions. And other countries would aid North Korea’s economic and agricultural development and help Pyongyang prepare to join the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

In a final stage, North Korea would complete dismantlement and resolve any outstanding issues about its nuclear program, its long range missile efforts, or accusations that it has an arsenal of biological and chemical weapons. The United States and Japan would normalize relations and remove sanctions, and South Korea would begin providing North Korea with electricity. At this point, the United States and other countries might also again consider providing North Korea with light-water reactors when its nonproliferation bona fides have been proven.  

Given new diplomatic realities and a renewed willingness to denuclearize the peninsula, such an outcome is feasible. But the United States will need to make further diplomatic efforts and exercise further strategic flexibility. If it does so, it will be able to count on strong regional support both for the six-party talks and for the ultimate goals of dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

Recurring North Korean Nuclear Crises

Bong-Geun Jun

The past 15 years have seen a series of nuclear crises on the Korean peninsula, followed by agreements that collapsed, precipitating new crises. Some crises have been conspicuous and acute, others less so.

The First Crisis

The first nuclear crisis occurred when North Korea refused to sign a full-scope safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). When North Korea joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in December 1985, it was obliged to sign a safeguards agreement within 18 months. Taking advantage of an IAEA mistake in sending a wrong document, North Korea refused to meet the first deadline of June 1987 and then failed to meet a second deadline of December 1988. The crisis ended in December 1991 when North Korea suddenly accepted a South Korean proposal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and signed the long-overdue safeguards agreement in January 1992. The United States then rewarded Pyongyang by suspending annual U.S.-South Korean “Team Spirit” military exercises and arranging the first-ever meeting of high-ranking U.S. and North Korean officials in New York.

The Second Crisis

The first nuclear package deal collapsed a year later, however, when North Korea realized that the U.S.-North Korean high-level meeting would prove a one-time event and that the Team Spirit exercises were to resume in early 1993. Meetings between South Korea and North Korea under a Joint Nuclear Control Commission fizzled.

In addition, when the IAEA pressed for special inspections on suspected nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, North Korea announced in March 1993 its withdrawal from the NPT, thus bringing about another crisis on the peninsula. The United States responded by opening a new round of negotiations, which produced a joint statement in which North Korea “decided unilaterally to suspend as long as it considers necessary the effectuation of its withdrawal from the NPT.” In return, the United States provided North Korea with assurances against the threat and use of force. The United States also promised to continue a dialogue among equals with North Korea.

The Third Crisis

In May 1994, North Korea surprised the world by blatantly and in the absence of IAEA inspectors unloading spent fuel from the five-megawatt graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon, providing it with the means of producing plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons.

These North Korean provocations put Pyongyang on a crash course with Washington and nearly led to a war on the peninsula as the Clinton administration began reviewing surgical-strike options against North Korean nuclear facilities. Amid a heightened crisis, the United States and North Korea were pressed to choose between war and a nuclear deal. At this point, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter intervened and struck a deal with then-North Korean President Kim Il Sung. This dramatic intervention led to an agreement known as the Agreed Framework on October 21, 1994.

The agreement was a nuclear-for-nuclear package deal: North Korea would freeze and eventually dismantle its graphite-moderated nuclear fuel cycle, and in return, the United States and its allies would provide “proliferation-resistant” light-water reactors (LWRs) in addition to other means of energy, economic, and diplomatic compensation. Further, the IAEA would be able to account for what North Korea had done with all of its spent fuel.

Once again, though, the nuclear deal was never fully implemented. Most importantly, the United States was never enthusiastic about the idea of providing the LWRs, with some Clinton administration critics saying the reactors represented a type of bribe and that fuel from them could still be diverted to nuclear weapons use. Major construction work to build the LWRs started only in 2000, six years after the conclusion of the 1994 Agreed Framework. Additionally, the Clinton administration, under attack from Republicans in Congress for supposedly succumbing to Pyongyang’s nuclear blackmail, only partially implemented its commitment to ending economic sanctions and improving U.S.-North Korean relations. For its part, North Korea rejected IAEA inspection requests needed to determine what it had done with its spent fuel.

The Fourth Crisis

Still, the two countries managed to muddle through the 1990s without a conflict, and the freeze at Yongbyon remained in place. In October 2002, however, the United States accused North Korea of developing the capabilities to enrich uranium (another potential building block for nuclear weapons), in violation of the 1991 Joint Denuclearization Declaration and the 1994 Agreed Framework. It also claimed that Pyongyang had acknowledged that it had done so. Washington retaliated by nullifying the Agreed Framework and stopped provision of heavy-fuel oil and construction of the LWRs. The situation was further aggravated by the Bush administration’s distaste for North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Il, as shown in explicit expressions such as “axis of evil” and “tyrant.”

North Korea reciprocated with the expulsion of IAEA inspectors from the Yongbyon complex in December 2002 and announced that it would withdraw from the NPT permanently. Pyongyang also restarted the five-megawatt reactor and began reprocessing spent fuel.

Amid increasing tensions, China began hosting six-party talks in August 2003, but it was not until the third round of the talks in June 2004, when the United States made its first concrete offer, that either Pyongyang or Washington appeared to treat them as a serious forum to hash out differences. Prior to that point, the United States attempted to use the talks to exert multilateral pressure on Pyongyang, while North Korea resisted any negotiations other than bilateral talks between itself and the United States. It was only after the second-term Bush administration decided to seriously pursue diplomacy in August that the six-party talks became a truly viable negotiating forum, with both sides showing give-and-take.



Bong-Geun Jun is director-general for national security and unification studies at South Korea’s Institute for Foreign Affairs and National Security.


North Korean Talks Hit Impasse

Paul Kerr

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis appear to have hit an impasse only months after six-party talks produced a set of principles for a peaceful solution.

North Korea has not yet agreed to attend the next session of six-party talks designed to resolve concerns about its nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang is angry over recent U.S. actions apparently designed to increase pressure on the regime. For their part, U.S. officials have expressed exasperation with the talks’ pace. “We can’t just sit there, stalemated session after stalemated session.… We need to see progress,” Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill told the Associated Press Dec. 2.

The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, began the latest round of talks in November, hoping to build on a September statement of principles to guide future negotiations. Although the November meeting made little headway, U.S. officials indicated subsequently that the parties had informally agreed to hold a second session in January. (See ACT, December 2005.)

Since then, however, North Korea’s irritation with the Department of the Treasury’s September designation of a Macau bank as a “money laundering concern” appears to have become a major obstacle to the talks. The United States asserts that Banco Delta Asia provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in such activities as drug trafficking, counterfeit U.S. currency distribution, and smuggling of counterfeit tobacco products.

U.S. Pressure

Multiple North Korean statements also have expressed anger with harsh U.S. rhetoric about Pyongyang, particularly a Dec. 7 reference to North Korea as a “criminal regime” by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow. Likewise, Pyongyang sharply criticized a speech delivered in Seoul by Jay Lefowitz, the U.S. human rights envoy to North Korea, in which he lambasted the Communist regime’s poor human rights record.

Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency Dec. 19 reiterated a previous North Korean position that it cannot discuss abandoning its nuclear program unless the Bush administration ends its “hostile policy” designed to topple the North Korean regime. North Korea argues that this policy, which includes pressuring Pyongyang on its human rights record and taking action against suspected North Korean illicit activities, is inconsistent with Washington’s pledge in the September joint statement to respect Pyongyang’s sovereignty.

North Korea committed in that statement to abandon all of its nuclear programs and return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The other parties pledged to respect Pyongyang’s sovereignty, normalize their diplomatic relations with the North Korean government, and provide North Korea with economic cooperation and energy assistance. (See ACT, October 2005.)

Although a Dec. 16 statement adopted by the two Koreas said that the September agreement “should be implemented at an early date,” North Korea repeatedly said in December that it will not return to the talks unless the United States first lifts what Pyongyang calls “financial sanctions,” a reference to the Banco Delta Asia designation. According to knowledgeable Department of State officials, the North Korean delegation focused almost exclusively on the matter when the six parties met in November.

The Treasury Department has proposed a rule that, if adopted, would bar U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining accounts for Banco Delta Asia. U.S. officials have also put pressure on Macau to take action against the bank.

North Korea has said that the two countries should settle the matter through negotiations, but the United States has refused to do so, arguing that it is a law enforcement issue unrelated to the talks. U.S. officials, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have said that North Korea can avoid any such punitive actions by the United States by halting its illegal activities.

In lieu of negotiations, Hill during the November meeting offered to arrange a working-level briefing about relevant U.S. regulations for North Korean officials, a State Department official familiar with the talks told Arms Control Today Dec. 12. North Korea has turned down this offer, as well as an effort by U.S. nongovernmental organizations to host a similar briefing, the official confirmed.

Hill said Dec. 20 that the United States remains willing to provide such a briefing, South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson offered a different version of events Dec. 2, stating that Hill had actually agreed to discussions between the “heads of the delegations” to “settle the issue of financial sanctions.” Washington “reneged” on the agreement by offering the working-level briefing, the spokesperson added.

Other talks participants have raised concerns that U.S. pressure on North Korea could negatively impact the negotiations. South Korean Foreign Ministry officials have criticized Vershbow’s rhetoric and indicated that Washington should coordinate its efforts with Seoul before taking further measures like the Banco Delta Asia designations.

Future Diplomacy

Although the next six-party meeting has yet to be scheduled, the State Department official said the United States plans to table the same proposal it presented during the third round of talks in June 2004. The official added that Washington is willing to discuss all the elements of that offer, which proposed a two-phase process in which North Korea would freeze, then dismantle its nuclear facilities in return for fuel oil provided by the talks’ other participants, as well as several U.S.-initiated incentives. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

The two sides also continue to disagree about the proper sequencing for implementing the joint statement. The United States continues to insist that North Korea quickly shut down its nuclear facilities and prepare a comprehensive declaration of its nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities before receiving any rewards from the United States or other parties.

Throughout the six-party talks, North Korea has continued to operate its five-megawatt graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and related facilities, which had been frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. Pyongyang claims to have built nuclear weapons with plutonium obtained from the spent reactor fuel, but the veracity of this claim is unknown.

Additionally, U.S. and South Korean officials expressed concern at North Korea’s Dec. 19 announcement that it would “pursue” the construction of larger “graphite-moderated reactors,” an apparent reference to two reactors whose construction also had been frozen under the 1994 agreement.

North Korean officials had discussed the operation of these additional reactors with Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa). But this announcement was Pyongyang’s most definitive public statement on the matter. The officials told Hecker and Leach that North Korea was conducting work on the smaller 50-megawatt reactor. Pyongyang, however, had not yet decided whether it would resume work on the larger 200-megawatt reactor, according to a presentation Hecker gave in November. (See ACT, December 2005.)

North Korea has demanded compensation for freezing its nuclear facilities, but Hill has repeatedly stated that the United States will neither negotiate for a freeze nor promise rewards to Pyongyang for taking this step alone.

A bilateral meeting before the November talks illustrates this conflict. U.S. officials told the North Koreans that Hill would pay his first visit to the country if it agreed to shut down the reactor, the State Department official said. North Korea rejected the proposal.

The State Department official, however, indicated some U.S. flexibility on the matter, saying that North Korea could receive a reward if it halts the reactor’s operation as part of a broader plan for dismantling the nuclear facilities. North Korea uses the term “freeze” to refer to a temporary shutdown, the official explained.

The North Koreans during the November meeting discussed a plan to dismantle their nuclear program, but citing the Banco Delta Asia designation, they decided not to table a formal proposal, according to the official.

In addition to North Korea’s commitment under the September joint statement, it has previously issued proposals that would have resulted in the dismantlement of the Yongbyon facilities. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Even if the sequencing issue is resolved, reaching agreement on implementation details could prove difficult. According to the State Department official, the parties have yet to iron out the details of such issues as verifying North Korea’s declaration, dismantling its nuclear facilities, and providing energy and other forms of economic assistance to Pyongyang. Administration officials have said that these issues need to be resolved in discussions among groups of experts, but these groups do not yet exist.

U.S. Policy—Another Track?

In addition to its actions against Banco Delta Asia, the Treasury Department exhorted U.S. financial institutions Dec. 13 to take “steps to guard against” future North Korean abuse of their financial services.

The United States has also pursued other methods of curbing North Korean illicit activities.

For example, the administration decided in October 2005 to designate eight North Korean entities as being involved in the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or related delivery vehicles. This designation, taken pursuant to an executive order President George W. Bush issued in June 2005, freezes any U.S. assets that these entities may have. It also prohibits transactions between these entities and any U.S. citizens or companies.

Whether this action will have any practical effect on these entities is unclear. The Treasury Department cannot disclose whether designated companies have any U.S. assets, a department spokesperson told Arms Control Today Dec. 19. Moreover, these entities’ assets may already be frozen because the Treasury Department similarly designated their parent companies in June 2005. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)

U.S. officials have generally stated in public comments that law enforcement actions taken against North Korean illicit activities are entirely separate from the six-party talks.

But a knowledgeable current State Department official, along with several former State Department officials familiar with the matter, indicated otherwise in interviews with Arms Control Today. They said that targeting North Korea’s illicit activities also was thought to be a mechanism for pressuring North Korea to compromise on its nuclear program.

Likewise, David Asher, who worked on North Korean issues in the State Department until July 2005, indicated a connection between the two tracks during a speech last October. Asher said that Pyongyang’s earnings from its illicit activities have enabled the government to withstand political isolation and to “resist demands” that it end its nuclear weapons program.

The current and former officials interviewed said that U.S. officials began working as early as 2002 to determine the full scope of North Korea’s illicit trade and to improve interagency coordination to stop such activities. These efforts accelerated after Australia seized a North Korean ship carrying heroin about four months before the first round of six-party talks. At that time, several administration officials advocated targeting North Korea’s hard currency earnings to bring Pyongyang to heel. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The role of these enforcement actions has been unclear since the six-party talks began. One State Department official said that the department was not consulted about the timing of the Macau bank designation, adding that “these things have a life of their own.”

Other current and former State Department officials described a split in the administration. They said that some officials view targeting North Korea’s illicit activities as a way to augment the talks and persuade Pyongyang to be more conciliatory. Others have come to see such pressure as a tool to change the North Korean regime.



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