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"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
March 2006
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
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Books of Note

Striving for Military Stability in Europe: Negotiation, Implementation, and Adaptation of the CFE Treaty
By Jane M. O. Sharp, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, January
2006, 292 pp.

Jane Sharp offers a critical assessment of the role of arms control in promoting security and stability in post-Cold War Europe through the lens of the negotiation, implementation, and adaptation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization states initiated the treaty in 1990. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and the subsequent rush of former Soviet republics to join NATO, however, member-states struggled to modify the treaty to reflect the changing environment. These efforts were complicated by Russia’s Cold War-era military leaders, who balked at adapting to the new Europe seeking instead strategic parity with the ever-expanding NATO. Sharp cautions that the diplomatic process cannot run ahead of political relations. She concludes, however, that the lasting legacy of the CFE Treaty will not be the numerical limits imposed on five categories of heavy military equipment, significant as they are, but the high degree of transparency afforded by the annual information exchanges and schedule of inspections.



The Bomb in the Basement : How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World
By Michael Karpin, Simon & Schuster, January 2006, 416 pp.

This history of Israel’s nuclear program, written by a veteran Israeli journalist, appears at an opportune moment as Iran perhaps moves toward a similar option. Peppered with a colorful portrait of the individuals involved, it shows how Israel was able to evade the less than wholehearted attempts of some foreign powers, particularly the United States, to restrict its illicit nuclear activities. Additionally, it lays out in detail how and why Israel found a willing nuclear supplier in France. Karpin details the conscious decision by Israeli officials to brush aside potential U.S. security guarantees from President John F. Kennedy and to retain their nuclear option; how Israel’s blossoming nuclear capability indirectly affected the 1967 Six-Day War; and how Israel depended on politically influential American Jewish donors to raise money for its nuclear program.



Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence
From Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea
By Jeffrey T. Richelson, W.W. Norton & Company, March 2006, 702 pp.

Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive, draws on interviews and declassified documents to trace the nuclear activities of 15 countries and the efforts of the intelligence community to uncover and understand them. Richelson reveals the powerful role technology plays in assessing nuclear arsenals, especially in the era of Cold War atmospheric testing. He says, however, that the lack of sound human intelligence sources has contributed to some inaccurate assessments. For example, U.S. human intelligence failed to reveal the extent of Iraq’s nuclear and biological weapons programs before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and helped lead the Bush administration to overestimate Iraq’s unconventional weapons efforts before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. His final chapter examines the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, the latest tests for the U.S. intelligence community.


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Striving for Military Stability in Europe: Negotiation, Implementation, and Adaptation of the CFE Treaty. By Jane M. O. Sharp, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, January 2006, 292 pp.

The Bomb in the Basement : How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World. By Michael Karpin, Simon & Schuster, January 2006, 416 pp.

Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence: From Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea. By Jeffrey T. Richelson, W.W. Norton & Company, March 2006, 702 pp.

U.S., NK Meeting Could Aid Six-Party Talks

Paul Kerr

For several months, progress in talks aimed at a negotiated solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis has been held up by Pyongyang’s complaints about U.S. pressure on North Korean financial transactions. But the two sides recently agreed to meet in early March to discuss the U.S. clampdown on North Korea’s illicit activities that has angered Pyongyang , potentially providing an avenue toward restarting broader talks.

North Korea has resisted moving forward with the talks, insisting that Washington first lift what it terms “financial sanctions,” a reference to the Department of the Trea sury’s September 2005 designation of the Macau bank Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.”

The six parties, which also include China, Japan , Russia, and South Korea, began their most recent round of talks in November hoping to build on a September statement of principles for a negotiated solution to the crisis. But the North Korean delegation focused almost exclusively on the bank designation during that meeting, U.S. officials have said. (See ACT, December 2005.) Since then, no further talks have been scheduled.

Washington maintains that North Korea should return immediately to the talks, contending publicly that the U.S. actions against Banco Delta Asia are law enforce ment actions unrelated to the talks. The United States asserts that the bank provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in such activities as drug traffick ing and counterfeit U.S. currency distribution. (See ACT, January/February 2006.) North Korea argues that U.S. actions such as the Banco Delta Asia designation are part of a “hostile policy” designed to collapse Kim Jong Il’s regime. This policy, Pyongyang says, is inconsistent with Washington’s pledge in the September joint statement to respect Pyongyang’s sovereignty and must be reversed in order for the talks to succeed.

Despite the Bush administration’s public claims to the contrary, knowledgeable current and former Department of State officials have told Arms Control Today that targeting North Korea’s illicit activities also is thought by some administration officials to be a useful mechanism for persuading Pyongyang to be more conciliatory in the six-party talks. Other officials have come to see such pressure as a tool to change the North Korean regime.

Since the U.S. designation, Banco Delta Asia has frozen North Korea’s accounts. Other financial institutions have also reportedly curtailed their dealings both with the bank and North Korea. A high-ranking North Korean diplomat told a former State Department official that such actions have cut into Pyongyang’s hard currency earnings, the official told Arms Control Today Feb. 17.

State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli told reporters Feb. 23 that North Korean Deputy Director-General for North America Li Gun will meet March 7 with Treasury Department officials to receive a briefing about U.S. “actions taken in response” to Pyongyang ’s “illicit financial activities.”

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill offered to arrange such a briefing during the November meeting, but Pyongyang had refused.

A flurry of diplomatic activity preceded the Feb. 23 announcement. For example, Hill met in Beijing with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan Jan. 18 in an effort to restart the talks.

Sounding cautiously optimistic, North Korea ’s ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil Yon, said in New York that Pyongyang would return to the talks if Washington “shows sincerity,” South Korea ’s Yonhap news agency reported Feb. 23.

North Korea has recently shown other signs that it may be willing to compro mise. For example, the high-ranking North Korean diplomat said that Pyong yang is willing to prosecute individual citizens if Washington presents evidence of criminal activity. Similarly, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson asserted Feb. 9 that although “there is no evidence” that Pyongyang is guilty of counterfeiting or money laundering, the individuals guilty of such acts “are liable to severe punishment.” North Korea will “actively join the international actions against money laundering,” he added.

The spokesperson also suggested that North Korea accept U.S. “efforts to protect their own state interests and currency.”

The scope of the investigation could prove contentious. According to the former State Department official, the North Korean diplomat said that Pyongyang does not want an open-ended investigation into its financial activities.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow suggested Feb. 9 that Washington will not be satisfied with Pyongyang’s conciliatory gestures. De scribing North Korea’s offer as “interesting,” he added that Washington believes that the North Korean government is involved in illicit activities and must take “concrete actions” to prove that the activities have stopped.

For its part, Pyongyang believes that Washington is not committed to the negotiations. The North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that North Korea “attaches so much importance to the lift of the financial sanctions because it is a touchstone showing whether Washington is willing to make a switchover in its policy.”

A State Department official told Arms Control Today Feb. 17 that the Bush administration is committed to the talks, but added that its “tolerance” for anoth er 13-month wait, like that from June 2004 to July 2005 between the third and fourth round of talks, is “pretty low.”

 

 

Nuclear Deal Center Stage for U.S., India

Wade Boese

U.S. and Indian government officials often evoke the similarities between their two countries and the breadth of their blossoming “strategic” relationship. But in the prelude to President George W. Bush’s March trip to India, one issue commanded attention: nuclear trade. It also featured prominently in French President Jacques Chirac’s February visit to India.

Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed July 18 to expand their countries’ ties. Perhaps the most ambitious and arguably most controversial commitment was Bush’s promise to work toward altering U.S. law and international rules in order to permit full-scale civilian nuclear trade with India. India has been largely ex cluded from this arena for three decades since its 1974 explosion of a nuclear device and subsequent development of a nuclear weapons program. In response to Bush’s promise, Singh pledged that a greater share of the civilian portions of India’s nuclear complex would be subjected to international oversight despite nationalist opposition.

Heady expectations that the two governments would swiftly real ize the agreement accompanied its announcement. The lead U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, predicted July 19 that the administration would provide Congress an implementation plan within the “next month or two.”

But this plan has since been postponed by prolonged negotiations between the United States and India on a mutually acceptable list of Indian civilian nuclear facilities to be subjected to international monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency is entrusted with guarding against the misuse of peaceful nuclear materials and technologies for arms purposes.

India possesses an estimated 50 to 100 nuclear weapons and re serves the option to produce more. However, the United States, as well as China, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, committed in the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) “not in any way to assist” a non-nuclear-weapon state’s acquisition of nuclear arms. Although New Delhi has not signed the NPT, India under the trea ty’s terms is a non-nuclear-weapon state because it did not explode a nuclear device before Jan. 1, 1967. Hence, New Delhi must clearly separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities so major nuclear suppliers do not violate their NPT obligations.

The U.S. position in the negotiations has been to get India to declare as many sites as possible as civilian, not only to provide as surances that nuclear transfers stay in the civilian sector and do not contribute to an Indian nuclear arms buildup but also to reduce risks of outside tampering or theft. The Department of State responded Jan. 17 to questions posed about the July 18 deal by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) by stating that “it is in India’s own interests to declare the maximum number of programs and facilities as civilian.”

However, the United States is not seeking to put under interna tional supervision existing spent nuclear fuel, which contains plutonium, a key ingredient for making nuclear arms. The State Depart ment in response to written questions by Senate Foreign Relations Com mittee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said that “as most such agreements are not retroactive, we would not expect the agreement to specify that previously produced material must be returned to the plant in order to be placed under safeguards.”

Washington has reportedly pressed for safeguards on India’s fast-breeder reactor program, which the State Department described to Lugar as posing “proliferation risks.” Fast-breeder reactors produce large quantities of plutonium. India is short on uranium, the com mon base for nuclear fuel, and has expansive plans centered on plutonium as a civil fuel source.

The U.S. approach upsets the Indian nuclear establishment. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commission and secretary of the Department of Atomic Energy, told the Indian Express in an interview published Feb. 8 that inclusion of the nascent breeder reactor program was unacceptable. “This would amount to getting shackled,” he stated, explaining that the “fuel cycle is for the same infrastructure which also feeds the strategic program.”

Kakodkar summed up the negotiations as a “difficult exercise.” The fundamental problem, he stressed, is that the Indian nuclear fuel cycles for nuclear weapons and energy are “intimately intertwined.” India has rejected U.S. entreaties to end its production of fissile material (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) for weapons.

Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador to the United States, contended Feb. 21 in Washington that the separation matter has received “undue focus.” He added, “[T]he debate, I think, has been hijacked over here by nonproliferation theologians and in India by those rallying under the banner of self-reliance, even though it might not be con ducive to our overall self-interests.”

Currently, the 45 members of the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group restrict nuclear exports to India because it lacks full-scope safeguards, which entails IAEA supervision of all nuclear facilities and materials. Washington as part of the July 18 deal has said it will seek consensus to exempt India from this rule.

France is eager to expand nuclear trade with India and, according to a Feb. 20 Indian government press release, a French company is involved in “pre-feasibility studies” for a new Indian nuclear power reactor. A joint declaration by the two governments the same day further notes that they are working toward a “bilateral cooperation agreement” on nuclear energy and “look forward to adjustment of [the] international civil nuclear cooperation framework…so that the agreement can be implemented fully.”

One implementation step would involve the IAEA safeguarding India’s designated civilian facilities. In its response to Markey, the State Department observed, “We look forward to working with the IAEA and the Government of India to estimate those costs and to identify how best to meet them without undercutting inspections/ verification efforts in other countries.” These costs will be “signifi cant,” the State Department reported.

 

Bush Plans Changes in Threat Programs

William Huntington

Continuing the shift in emphasis of U.S. threat reduction efforts toward programs with global reach, the Bush administration’s fiscal year 2007 budget request includes cuts to a number of traditional threat reduction programs in the former Soviet Union and modest increases to those with broader regional scope.

The flagship Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program within the Department of Defense is marked for a 10.6 percent cut, while similar Department of State programs received slight across-the-board increases. Nonproliferation projects within the Department of Energy received mixed support in the request, with a large increase for disposition of U.S. fissile material and cuts slated for several programs operating in the former Soviet Union.

Department of Defense

The president’s fiscal year 2007 budget request for the Defense Department includes $372 million for the CTR pro gram, a $44 million cut from current spending. The Pentagon has not yet released a programmatic breakdown for the proposed funding. The CTR program works to secure, dismantle, and dispose of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their fabrication facilities in the former Soviet Union.

In an e-mail to Arms Control Today, Andy Fisher, a spokesperson for CTR champion and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), played down the significance of the cut to the CTR program, noting that additional funds are included in a pending fiscal year 2006 sup plementary budget request for the Defense Department. The added $44 million for warhead storage security in Russia would bring total CTR funding up to current levels.

But an aide to Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and ranking member on the House Budget Committee, told Arms Control Today Feb. 16 that “cutting the funding for CTR in the base budget is the wrong way to go.” Con cerning the inclusion of funds for warhead storage security in the budget supplemental, the aide said, “[P]articularly given that this is for urgent security upgrades, it does beg the question, why is the funding in the supplemental and not the base budget?”

Fisher also noted that the reduced request for CTR programs reflects that the administration has yet to spend funds Congress has already allocated for delayed construction projects, such as a chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuchye in Russia, slated to come on line in 2008. In addition, several other costly weapons destruction programs are winding down, Fisher said.

Department of Energy

The president’s request for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would increase funds for disposition of U.S. surplus fissile materials and cut a number of Russia-oriented programs.

The budget request includes $28.5 million for the Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, which seeks to redirect the expertise of former weapons scientists in Iraq, Libya, and the former Soviet Union toward civilian pursuits. The request is 29 percent below current spending of $39.6 mil lion. NNSA says the lower total reflects diminished program activity in the Russian cities of Sarov and Snezhinsk.

The budget request for the Interna tional Nuclear Materials Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) program, which seeks to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials, is $413.2 million, a 3.3 percent reduction from the 2006 appropriation of $427 million. Within the MPC&A request, a significant increase is slated for the Second Line of Defense program in order to accelerate the installation of radiation detectors in the Caucasus region. Mean while, cuts are proposed for programs providing physical protection upgrades at Russian weapons fabrication sites as well as civilian nuclear sites.

The request calls for $206.7 million for the Elimination of Weapons-Grade Plutonium Production program, an increase of 17 percent from the previous year’s appropriation of $176.2 million. The program aims to shut down the last three Russian weapons-grade plutonium-producing power reactors and replace them with fossil fuel-burning plants.

A 9 percent increase to $106.8 million is requested for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which seeks to repatriate Russian- and U.S.-supplied weapons-grade reactor fuel from around the globe, convert reactors fueled by highly enriched uranium to the use of less vulnerable fuel, and secure radioactive sources worldwide.

A large increase of $169 million is requested for the Fissile Materials Dispo sition program, which works to dispose of U.S. and Russian bomb material. How ever, the vast majority of the $638 million requested for the program, including virtually the entire increase, is allocated to programs within the United States. Furthermore, the $34.7 million request for plutonium disposition efforts in Russia is to be paid out of prior year balances and appropriations, with no additional appropriations requested.

The parallel fissile materials disposition efforts in Russia and the United States have been delayed because of outstanding issues regarding liability protections for foreign contractors in Russia. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told the House Armed Services Committee Feb. 16 that the long-running disagreement over liability will soon be resolved. Calling the negotiations of a liability protocol “successfully completed,” Bodman told committee members that “senior Russian government officials have assured the United States that this protocol will be signed in the near future.”

The NNSA, in an email to Arms Control Today , said that a total of $283 million within their budget request will support implementation of the Bratislava Nuclear Security Initiatives, a February 2005 agreement between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to enhance and accelerate cooperation on nuclear weapons security.

Department of State

The administration requested $139 mil lion for the threat reduction activities of the State Department, a 4.3 percent increase from the previous year’s $133.5 million appropriation within the Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining and Related Programs budget line.

The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund, a unique pool of funds designed to allow for quick responses to unforeseen nonproliferation contingencies, received $38 million in the request, a 1.3 percent increase from the previous year.

The budget request calls for $45 mil lion for the Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance (EXBS) pro gram, a 3.8 percent increase from the 2006 level of $43.4 million. In 2007 the State Department seeks to make the EXBS program “increasingly global,” working with 47 countries to improve border security.

The largest increase for the State Department’s threat reduction programs goes to the Nonproliferation of WMD Expertise program, which is slated to receive $56.2 million, up 6.4 percent from the 2006 appropriation of $52.6 million. This program aims to redirect former weapons scientists into peaceful pursuits.

 

 

Small Arms Talks Hamstrung

Chris Affolter

As the United Nations prepares to host a review conference on curbing trade in small arms and light weapons, disputes over the extent of such measures and whether they should be legally binding are hampering progress. The disputes have helped block participants from even agreeing on an agenda, raising the possibility of a repeat of a 2001 conference that ended without an agreement on binding measures.

More than 50 countries met at a Jan. 9-21 New York preparatory meeting for the June 26-July 7 UN review conference. At the conclusion of the preparatory meeting, Chairman Sylvester Rowe of Sierra Leone compiled a document of possible policy options for the conference, including consideration of legally binding measures. But the lack of consensus on the document brought the meeting to a close without an agreed agenda.

A number of countries, including the United States, resisted any attempt to discuss legally binding measures and also rebuffed efforts to address limits on civilian ownership, legal trade and manufacture, and transfers to nonstate entities.

These views track those the United States put forward in July 2001 when UN members gathered in New York for the first global conference on the illicit international trade of small arms and light weapons. The 2001 conference was unable to agree on le gally binding measures, instead producing the voluntary Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects. This document outlined a series of voluntary measures to stem the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, which range from grenades, pistols, and rifles to machine guns and man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS.

However, in his opening statement to the January gathering, Steven Costner, deputy director for the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, expressed support for some measures advanced in the intervening years. Along with other foreign diplomats, Costner called for the implementation of a new international instrument, adopted in 2005, for the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons. In addition, he voiced support for the goals of the British-proposed Transfer Control Initiative, an effort to forge an international consensus on guidelines for the transfer of small arms and light weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.) It is unclear how participants will deal with these two issues at the upcoming conference.

Some U.S. lawmakers are pressing the Bush administration to pursue a new approach at the 2006 conference. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with a dozen colleagues, sent a Jan. 12 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to “push for strong, specific arms export criteria in or [that would] supplement” the UN Program of Action in June. Such criteria, the letter volunteers, could include the prevention of arms transfers that could result in human rights abuses or terrorism, violations of international treaties and embargoes, or disruptions to regional peace and security.

Similarly, the European Union has called for the creation of international guidelines for the transfer of small arms and light weapons, supporting, for example, the adoption of a legally binding international instrument on the tracing and marking of small arms and light weapons and ammunition. The December 2005 instrument supported by the United States is not legally binding. European countries are particularly concerned about the detrimental effects of illegal small arms and light weapons transfers to sub-Saharan Africa.

In hopes of preparing a formal agenda in time for the conference, countries are planning informal consultations in the interim. Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam of Sri Lanka, president of the review conference, is leading this dialogue. If the effort is not successful, approving an agenda will be the first order of business at the summer conference.

 

Plagued by Errors: New Approach Needed to Tackle Proliferation Threats from Anti-Plague System

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley

The former Soviet anti-plague system stands today as a little-known but profoundly important proliferation challenge facing the international community. The Soviet Union managed this unique system, consisting of more than 80 facilities, to control deadly endemic diseases and to prevent the spread of exotic pathogens. Until recently, however, the anti-plague system’s other role—contributing to the Soviet biological weapons program—has been overlooked.

Today, the anti-plague system retains the raw material and knowledge highly sought after by bioterrorists. What’s more, more than a decade of fragmentation has resulted in lax security, severely underpaid staff, and virtually no accounting system for highly lethal strains of viruses and bacteria. While international donors have taken some steps to contain the system’s physical security threats, existing and prospective nonproliferation efforts are not substantial enough and somewhat off the mark. Such efforts will not be truly effective until they rein force the important public health benefits these facilities offer.

Historical Roots

Created by the tsars in the 1890s to respond to numerous outbreaks of plague, the anti-plague system, then composed of 11 laboratories, experienced a dramatic expansion under Soviet rule. By the late 1970s, the system was composed of 87 facilities engaged in disease surveillance, research, production and testing of vaccines and laboratory equipment, and training of civilian and military personnel. The system employed a staff of 14,000, includ ing 7,000 scientists whose expertise broad ened beyond plague to other endemic zoonotic[1] diseases, such as anthrax, bru cellosis, tularemia, and Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever. Most importantly, the anti-plague system stretched beyond Rus sian borders into Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine , and Moldova, with facilities strategically located in 11 republics.

In the early 1960s, the system, until then primarily engaged in defending the coun try against endemic and exotic diseases, experienced a profound turning point: it was enlisted to support the Soviet biologi cal weapons program. Initially, anti-plague facilities contributed to the defensive biological weapons program by providing the military with samples of dangerous pathogens, conducting research, training military scientists, and producing vaccines for mobilization purposes. Rapid response teams were also created at anti-plague facili ties and were trained to deploy rapidly to an outbreak location in order to determine whether the disease occurred naturally or was the result of a biological attack. In the 1970s, the anti-plague system’s involve ment in the Soviet biological weapons program went a step further, when selected facilities started contributing to the offen sive biological weapons program. This also led to the system’s rapid militarization, with military officers appointed to head key anti-plague facilities.

Three degrees of involvement in the Soviet biological weapons program ex isted within the anti-plague system. The first, and probably the largest, consisted of a “blind” contribution, where scientists’ research was used for the biological weapons program unbeknownst to the researchers. This happened through military monitoring of the work of anti- plague facilities. This process was facili tated by the centralization of research and disease surveillance findings in a central database, and the review of their research findings at two anti-plague institutes in Saratov and Rostov headed by military officers.

The second level of involvement consisted of small teams of researchers work ing on secret programs in various anti-plague facilities, with only the research team leaders aware of the work’s purpose.

A third type of research, concentrated at major anti-plague institutes such as at Saratov, Rostov, and Volgograd, consisted of a more active role in the offensive and defensive programs.

In spite of their biological weapons work, anti-plague facilities preserved their original public health mission of protecting against endemic and imported dangerous diseases. Even at sites that were actively involved in the biological weapons program, civilian and biological weapons work was conducted in parallel but separately. In most cases, biological weapons activities did not adversely affect public health activities.[2]

Post-Soviet Fragmentation

On the eve of the Soviet Union’s dis solution, the anti-plague system had 89 facilities, including six central institutes, 29 regional anti-plague stations, and 53 field stations located in 11 republics of the former Soviet Union. The system employed about 10,000 personnel, including 2,000 scientists. After the Soviet Union’s dissolu tion, anti-plague facilities were reorganized as independent national networks in each newly independent state, with one facility taking the role of the new network’s center.[3]

Yet, the anti-plague system lost its organizational cohesion. Soon after 1992, most ethnic-Russian personnel working at anti-plague facilities in non-Russian former Soviet republics returned to Russia to work at Russian anti-plague facilities or other research institutes. The loss of personnel continued steadily as economic circumstances worsened in the newly independent states.

To make matters worse, conflicts arose in several of these states over the control of the anti-plague system. Some officials favored preserving anti-plague facilities because of their unique experience and knowledge while others sought to integrate anti-plague facilities into the Sanitary Epidemiological System (SES), a network of facilities with more traditional public health responsi bilities such as vaccination and sanitation. These conflicts subsided after a 1999 plague outbreak in Kazakhstan made clear the value of the anti-plague facilities. Plans to integrate the anti-plague and SES systems were shelved.

Nevertheless, this tumultuous period exacerbated the anti-plague facilities’ already precarious financial situation. On average, they lost about 50 percent of their budgets and 40 percent of their staff. The scientists that remained received low salaries and irregular payments, which in 2004 ranged from $20 to $100 per month for senior scientists with 25-30 years of experience. With salaries often lower than the regional average, anti-plague facilities have been unable to replace lost personnel with a new generation of specialists.

Proliferation Threats

The resulting proliferation danger is palpable. Foremost is the high risk of brain drain. Considering the undocumented outflow of personnel that began soon after 1992, it is quite possible that some leak age has already occurred. According to anti-plague system directors and veterans, most of the “lost” personnel were technicians and support staff. Fortunately, facili ties have generally been able to preserve their scientific personnel, many of whom have passed retirement age. None theless, even personnel still employed by the anti-plague facilities may continue to pose a proliferation threat. These include scientists and technicians with biologi cal weapons knowledge, as well as other scientific personnel who may not have, at least knowingly, worked on the biological weapons program but who possess experience and knowledge of biological weapons relevance. More particularly, anti-plague scientists are accustomed to working with low-technology equipment and are trained to isolate pathogens in harsh field conditions, often finding their way to natural foci of dangerous diseases just using their memory. These qualities would be of great interest to criminal or terrorist groups who wish to preserve the secrecy of their activities.

The Soviet Union’s dissolution also gravely affected the implementation of security measures at anti-plague facili ties. In Soviet times, the sophistication of the anti-plague facilities’ security systems depended on their degree of involvement in the biological weapons program. The systems ranged from on-site KGB officers, Ministry of Interior troops guarding facil ity perimeters, and fences topped with barbed wire to police communication lines and alarm systems with motion detectors on doors and windows, particularly in the pathogen collection rooms.

There were also strict regulations on the storage and transportation of dangerous pathogens. For instance, pathogens were either transported by a special service with armed guards or transferred by at least two members of the scientific staff by car, train, or plane. Strict safety regulations were also imposed for labora tory work with dangerous pathogens. Even though the governments of the newly independent states adopted Soviet-era regulations on safety and security, funding and personnel shortfalls severely affected their implementation. The security systems have collapsed in most facilities. Ministry of Interior and police protection are no longer available; barbed wire on fences are often stolen and sold as scrap metal; alarm systems no longer work due to frequent power cuts and lack of maintenance; and fences have collapsed due to lack of repairs, leaving the territory of these facilities essentially open to intruders.

The low level of physical security together with an inadequate accounting system also put at risk anti-plague facilities’ collections of pathogens. These constitute a unique historical database of hundreds of strains from various regions of the former Soviet Union assembled over several decades. Although most strains have been isolated from nature, some possess features making them ideal raw materials for biological weapons: high virulence and inherent antibiotic resistance. Yet, pathogens are typically stored in kitchen refrigerators secured with simple locks or wax seals, making them highly vulnerable to diversion or theft. Moreover, vials con taining the pathogens are typically labeled, facilitating their identification by intruders. In addition, accounting of pathogens is done on paper logs that are generally stored on bookshelves and could become acces sible to intruders.

Another security risk is the absence of background security checks. Without the support of police or security services, most anti-plague facilities abstain from conduct ing such checks. Many facility directors admit that the only job requirements today for new applicants are “scientific qualifica tions and good health.”

Diversion of pathogens could also occur during pathogen transfers from the natural foci where they are isolated to a field or regional station or during later transfers to central institutes for long-term storage. Neither reliable communications nor any position-location technology exists should emergencies arise. For instance, in the late 1990s an epidemiological team monitoring a plague focus in Kazakhstan’s desert got lost and had a serious car accident. Out of radio contact range and without any bear ing, several team members succumbed to injuries before their extended absence led to rescue operations. Should incidents oc cur during transfers, whether they are acciden tal or malevolent, there is a high probability that the chain of pathogen custody will be broken.

Geography Matters

Roughly 60 anti-plague facilities are lo cated in Central Asia and the Caucasus, which concentrate the largest and most active natural disease foci. This area, however, is the meeting point of all the proliferation chain components: suppliers, established trafficking networks, and potential buyers. It is also a region where borders remain largely unprotected. [4]

Many anti-plague facilities are located on or near the trafficking routes for drugs, small arms, and weapons of mass destruc tion-related material that cross Central Asia and the Caucasus and proceed northwest through Turkey into Europe.

Several terrorist groups are also active in the region, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which seeks to overthrow the Uzbek president and install an Islamic regime. The wars in neighboring Afghani stan and Iraq have only exacerbated the problem. Moreover, since the Soviet Union’s dissolution, political unrest and civil wars have fostered regional instability, as demonstrated by the recent revolutions in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan and public protests in Uzbekistan. This potentially explosive mixture puts anti-plague facilities at greater risk of being caught in factional entanglements and makes them more susceptible to intrusion or theft, with unpredictable proliferation consequences.

To be sure, there have been no indica tions to date that local terrorist groups have demonstrated an interest in or the capability to use biological weapons. Although there have been numerous outsider facility intrusions over the years, most often they involved intoxicated individuals or people interested in stealing scrap metal. Anecdotal accounts about the theft or attempted insider diversion of pathogens have not led to any known arrests because facility management preferred solving these problems without local police.

Nevertheless, more effective security measures at anti-plague facilities are im perative. In present conditions, dangerous biomaterials, as well as the knowledge and skills of system personnel, are at risk. More particularly, anti-plague specialists’ ability to work in a low-technology environment and in field conditions makes them attrac tive to terrorist groups or states with limited access to high-technology bioequipment. Revelations about Iraq’s use of calutrons for electromagnetic separation of uranium isotopes in the 1980s, a technology declassified by the United States in 1949, should serve as a reminder that technologies regarded as obsolete may still pose threats.

International Assistance Wanting

At present, the anti-plague system receives little assistance from the international community. Perhaps the most significant contribution, however, has come from the United States through its Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program.

The CTR program currently supports security upgrades at three facilities in Ka zakhstan , Uzbekistan, and Georgia. Security upgrades at the anti-plague institute in Almaty, Kazakhstan, transformed a facility with no security features into a secured area with a high fence topped with barbed wires, armed guards, motion detectors, and rein forced doors, among other things. Similar upgrades are planned or are under way at the anti-plague institutes in Tashkent, Uz bekistan , and Tbilisi, Georgia. With the recent signature of agreements with Ukraineand Azerbaijan, similar programs will be implemented at two anti-plague facilities in these countries.

To prevent brain drain, CTR has funded five scientific cooperative projects at the same facilities thus far: three at the Almaty institute, which also involves personnel at regional stations, and one each at the Tashkent and Tbilisi institutes. Together, these projects employ 52 scientific personnel and deal with dangerous pathogens of public health and security relevance.

Long-standing CTR intentions to implement a Threat Agent Detection and Response (TADR) system also appear to be making some progress. The TADR sys tem aims to create a disease surveillance network composed of central strain re posi tories and several sentinel laboratories in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia to furnish early detection of a possible malevolent release of pathogens causing human or animal diseases. State govern ments, in cooperation with the Depart ment of Defense, will decide which facilities to include in the TADR network. To date, the anti-plague institutes in Almaty, Tashkent, and Tbilisi have been chosen to be central strain repositories in each country, and one anti-plague station in Georgia was selected as a sentinel station. It is not clear yet how many other facilities will be chosen as sentinel laboratories.

CTR Program Effectiveness

Despite its positive results, the CTR program remains insufficiently comprehensive to address the system’s proliferation threat. CTR-funded biosecurity upgrades, as well as cooperative research projects, reach only three anti-plague facilities while dozens of facilities still require support.

Although the TADR system is a model project because it addresses both security and public health concerns of national and international importance, it only superfi cially benefits the anti-plague system. Anti-plague facilities account for only a small number of TADR facilities, which include veterinary institutes, the SES, and epide miological hospitals. It is at once surprising and mystifying that a program resting on disease surveillance to detect and prevent the malevolent use of dangerous pathogens does not exploit the very system with the best skills and experience in the field. The fault, however, does not necessarily lie with the CTR program. In some countries, revived conflicts between supporters of the anti-plague system and the SES have thwarted the inclusion of anti-plague facilities in the project.

Even assuming that the CTR program will eventually expand to include a greater number of anti-plague facilities, it may still fail to address the system’s proliferation threats because of a conceptual flaw in the U.S. approach. In the biological weapons area, the CTR program aims to consolidate dangerous material at a small number of sites to facilitate their protection. This approach makes sense with former biological weapons facilities that were, in Soviet times, primarily en gaged in military work because many have struggled unsuccessfully to find a new civilian or commercial mission.

When applied to the anti-plague sys tem, however, this approach negatively impacts the system’s public health mis sion because it ignores the nature of the anti-plague system’s work. The prevention of outbreaks necessitates the constant monitoring of natural foci and the isola tion of natural strains. Funding limits and the loss of qualified personnel have already decreased anti-plague facilities’ disease surveillance activities by 60 percent since 1992. As a result, whole areas endemic for plague, anthrax, and other dangerous diseases have remained un monitored, some for more than a decade. In this context, consolidating facilities or closing them will only exacerbate the public health threat, and ignoring them will increase the proliferation threat.

A More Comprehensive and Nuanced Approach

Addressing threats associated with the anti-plague system requires a more comprehensive and nuanced policy composed of measures that simultaneously grapple with security and public health chal lenges. CTR-funded projects, because they concentrate on a narrow set of security threats, constitute only a small part of this approach. Other agencies in Canada, Europe, the United States, and other Group of Eight members must become engaged to deal with the other security and public health challenges posed by the system. Newly independent state governments must also be involved to ensure that pro grams funded by the international com munity will be useful and sustainable in the long term.

Given the current state of the anti- plague system, priority should go to improving security to prohibit unau thorized access to dangerous pathogens. Unlike the traditional one-size-fits-all approach used thus far in the CTR program, tailored security solutions should be implemented depending on a facility’s location and size, the character of its pathogen collection, and the activity level of the natural foci it monitors.[5]

All anti-plague facilities have collec tions of pathogens, but some house temporary collections while others retain permanent ones. Central anti-plague facilities in each country serve as national repositories, housing large and permanent collections. These require a complex security system, involving fences, alarm system, guards, video cameras, outside lights, and secured refrigerators to store the pathogens. Ac counting system modernization is also essential; a computerized system would provide fewer opportunities to conceal the movement of pathogens. The use of bar codes to replace the existing labels on vials would reinforce the system by making it more difficult for intruders to identify the pathogens.

Regional anti-plague stations, which store pathogens for six months to a year before transferring them to an anti-plague institute, require a lower level of security, primarily composed of secured refrigerators and alarm systems. A computerized accounting system might be useful but not necessary. If the facility is not located in an area that presents specific security concerns, introducing an access-restrict ing system such as magnetic card access and secure storage for accounting logs will be sufficient.

An even lower security level may be envisioned for stations located at driv ing distance from the central institutes by providing vehicles and allowing more frequent transfers. Field stations, which store pathogens from a few days to a few weeks, primarily need equipment to secure the pathogens for short periods and during transfers. Local governments may also find innovative solutions to reduce the threat associated with pathogen collections.

In Kazakhstan, for instance, all danger ous pathogens will be consolidated at the central institute. Regional stations will receive simulants instead to conduct their research work. Such an approach, however, means more frequent transfers of pathogens from regional sites, making secure transfer imperative.

The location of a facility will also affect the type and level of security upgrades. One located in an area where major illicit trafficking occurs regularly, such as in the south of Kazakhstan, or with terrorist activity nearby obviously requires a higher level of security. Similarly, facilities monitoring particularly active natural foci also require a higher degree of security, as they isolate and store a larger number of strains each year.

Reinforcing the chain of pathogen cus tody during field work and transfers is also an essential task. This can be achieved by providing Global Positioning System receivers, satellite phones, and all-terrain vehicles to enhance secure transportation and foster continuous communications be tween teams in the field and their facilities.

A second priority is the prevention of brain drain. In this regard, it is important to involve anti-plague specialists in inter national cooperation projects that will not only support them financially but also use their knowledge to benefit the international community. It is important to engage scientists and technicians who have contributed to the Soviet biological weapons program as well as other anti-plague specialists who, without working on biological weapons programs, still have years of unique knowledge and experience working with dangerous pathogens.

Disease surveillance is also vital. Euro pean countries in particular should contribute to such efforts since an epidemic in these states would most likely spread to Europe, as shown by the avian flu and SARS out breaks recently. In addition, European countries could strengthen the alert and response system by establishing telephone lines to reach local hospitals and doctors in isolated areas. Supporting information campaigns for the local population living on natural foci and training local doctors to recognize the symptoms of endemic dangerous diseases would also improve disease surveillance. These activities were in Soviet times part of the anti-plague system’s duties. Today, however, very few facilities have maintained such activities because of the lack of funding.

Using the experience of Soviet-era rapid response teams would also help in the fight against bioterrorism. Their training in identifying the source of an outbreak quickly and deploying an appropriate response would certainly improve the level of preparedness for such events whether in the United States, Europe, or the former Soviet states.

Besides security upgrades and brain drain prevention, improving laborato ry equipment is essential in order to miti gate the consequences of laboratory incidents. Ventilation systems at anti-plague facilities conducting research on danger ous pathogens—regional stations and anti-plague institutes—are desperately needed, especially those located in resi dential or urban centers. Today, researchers sometimes work with open windows due to the absence of ventilation or air con ditioning systems. Upgrades, however, should not lead to excessive reliance on technology. Soviet-era methods, empha sizing rigorous and technique-driven training, should be maintained and encouraged to ensure biosafety.

In these three priority areas, the defini tion of each anti-plague facility’s needs should be the result of discussions among anti-plague representatives; their supervising agency, usually the Ministry of Health; and donor countries. The involvement of health organizations from donor countries in the process is critical to inject a dose of realism in host government expectations, by discussing sustainable options that address both security and public health concerns. Particular national requirements should also be taken into account while identifying present and future needs.

To reinforce security, steps should be tak en to establish systems for managing back ground security checks. anti-plague spe cial ists should also be educated on proliferation issues and ethics. The Department of State Bio Industry Initiative sponsors such training programs for scientists employed at facilities with Bio Industry Initiative-funded projects; these programs could be extended to anti-plague specialists.

Finally, it is essential to engage Russian anti-plague facilities that still remain closed to international cooperation. Europe and Canada may be better suited to do this because the Defense Department sharply decreased its biological weapons nonproliferation programs in Russia due primarily to failure to sign an implementing agreement with Moscow.

In the end, implementing cooperative threat reduction measures to deal with the former Soviet anti-plague system is necessary but not sufficient to cope with the system’s complex dual-use nature. From the outset, the U.S. CTR program has acted in a fireman capacity by trying to put out the most urgent proliferation fires. To be sure, the system merits the CTR program’s attention with respect to securing and consolidating dangerous pathogens, preventing their diversion, and forestalling brain drain. Yet, the anti-plague system differs fundamentally from other threat reduction challenges in that it has had and still assumes a critically important public health role. This capac ity desperately needs to be sharpened if the international community is effectively to cope with the prospects of future and perhaps global epidemics.

 


Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley is a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Between 2002 and 2004, she and her colleagues conducted a study of the Soviet anti-plague system, which will be published in two reports; the first, “History of the Soviet Anti-Plague System,” is forthcoming.


ENDNOTES

1. Animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

2. The exception being the Volgograd Institute, which worked exclusively on the biological weapons program.

3. In many cases, the facilities were given new names and sometimes merged with other public health organizations. For simplicity’s sake, we will refer to them here as anti-plague facilities.

4. Sonia Ben Ouagrham, “Proliferation Threat From Former Biological Weapons Facilities in the FSU,” The Liechtenstein Institute for Self-Determination, Princeton University, 2003.

5. A natural focus is considered “active” when strains have been isolated during the previous monitoring campaigns. The activity of a natural focus is cyclical; the bacteria or virus may appear as dormant for several years and then become active again. It is therefore important to consider the data for a number of years to determine the activity level of a focus.

 

Warhead Initiative Looms Large in NNSA Plans

Wade Boese

The Bush administration is asking lawmakers for more than $6 billion to support U.S. nuclear weapons activities in its fiscal year 2007 budget request. But administration officials are portraying the future of the U.S. nuclear stockpile as hinging on a relatively modest $28 million program to renovate existing warheads, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).

The weapons request unveiled Feb. 6 con cerns funds for the Department of Energy’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). NNSA maintains the current U.S. arsenal of approximately 10,000 warheads, which is set to be cut in about half by 2012. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Absent from the budget request are several weapons initiatives, including a modified nuclear warhead to destroy underground targets, previously opposed by Congress. However, the RRW program could prove contentious because of its ambiguous nature.

The average age of a U.S. nuclear warhead is about 20 years old, and NNSA is charged with making sure that these weapons remain in good working order without nuclear testing, which the United States ceased in 1992. Officials at NNSA and the Los Alamos , Lawrence Livermore, and San dia national nuclear laboratories contend that some existing warhead types are im perfect and difficult to maintain, perhaps leading to a decline in the performance of the arsenal over time.

Under the RRW program, NNSA hopes to design new replacement components for existing warheads without resorting to nuclear explosive testing. If successful, advocates argue, the initiative would lead to warheads that are easier to maintain and more certain of working.

Since testing ended, NNSA has relied on the Stockpile Stewardship Program to conduct subcritical testing, computer simulations and modeling, surveillance, and the refurbishment of non-nuclear components to ensure warheads will work as intended. In his Feb. 16 prepared testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman stated that the program “is working; the stockpile remains safe and reliable.”

But RRW, according to Bodman, could pave the way for deeper reductions of U.S. reserve forces beyond 2012. He explained that, with the combination of RRW and a revamped, or “responsive,” nuclear infra structure, the United States would not need to retain as many warheads because new ones could be churned out fast enough to respond to new threats or to replace war heads with technical problems. “Success in realizing this vision for transformation will enable us to achieve over the long term a smaller stockpile, one that is safer and more secure,” Bodman testified.

But some lawmakers and scientists are wary of RRW. They worry that too many changes might result in radically different warheads requiring nuclear testing to prove that they work. Another concern is that RRW could serve as a pathway to new types of nuclear arms for new missions.

To guard against such possibilities, Congress last November placed restrictions on the fiscal year 2006 funding of $25 million so that “any weapon design work done under the RRW program must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile and…the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests.” (See ACT, December 2005.)

Nevertheless, Bodman suggested that RRW might contribute someday to the de velopment of new nuclear warheads. In detailing the Energy Department’s vision for the nuclear weapons complex in 2030, he testified, “The weapons design community that was revitalized by the RRW program will be able to adapt an existing weapon within 18 months and design, develop, and begin production of a new design within 3-4 years of a decision.” In its budget overview, NNSA also noted, “It may be prudent to field replacement warheads that address different needs, are easier and less costly to manufac ture, and are less expensive to maintain than the current designs.”

Weapons designers at Lawrence Liver more and Los Alamos are currently competing to come up with RRW options. They are expected to submit preliminary designs in March 2006, and a final design will be selected in September by NNSA.

NNSA Heeds Congress

In other areas, NNSA has moved to address congressional objections. NNSA dropped from this year’s budget request its previously contentious proposal to modify an existing nuclear weapon to destroy targets buried deeply underground. For the past two years, Congress had denied funding for Energy Department work on this project, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. (See ACT, December 2005.)

The nuclear agency also shelved for now an initiative to build a new production factory, known as a Modern Pit Facility, for the plutonium cores of nuclear warheads. Weapons officials contend that the United States eventually will have to revive full-scale plutonium pit production to replace aging pits. But Congress zeroed out a request last year for the facility, saying it was not clear how large a plant is needed given the shrinking size of the U.S. arsenal and indications that plutonium might last longer than previously presumed.

In the interim, Bodman testified that, over five years, NNSA would seek to ramp up annual production at Los Alamos from about 10 pits to as many as 40. “This production rate, however, will be insufficient to meet our assessed long-term pit production needs,” the secretary stated. Last year, he said that at least 125 pits per year eventually would need to be manufactured.

NNSA also abandoned another effort in the face of continued congressional opposi tion: a move to lessen the time required to conduct a nuclear test to 18 months. Instead, NNSA appears to have accepted 24 months as the shortest time that it will have for such preparations. The Bush ad ministration says it has no plans to conduct a nuclear test but that the United States should be fully prepared in case one is nec essary.

 

 

Missile Defense Funding Soars to New Heights

Wade Boese

President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2007 budget re quest reaffirms his administration’s commitment to deploying an array of anti-missile systems, including to Europe , despite continuing uncertainty about whether they work. Submitted to Congress Feb. 6, the roughly $11.2 billion request for missile defenses is the largest ever by the Bush administration.

The proposed anti-missile funding is part of a total Pentagon bud get request of $439 billion, although this does not include military spending for Afghanistan and Iraq.

The largest portion of the missile defense funding request, $9.3 billion, is slated for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Another $899 million would go for perfecting and procuring the Patriot, the Army’s short- and medium-range missile interceptor. Nearly $669 million is tapped for the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System- high, which is a satellite constellation that is supposed to spot missile launches worldwide. The troubled system is years behind schedule, and cost estimates have more than doubled. Most of the rest of the funds are spread out among the Air Force, Army, and Navy for integrating and operating various systems as they are fielded. If approved by Congress, this funding would cover activities between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30, 2007.

Pentagon officials count three systems as deployed or ready for emergency use: Patriot, which had mixed results during the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion (see ACT, November 2003); the fledgling Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) against long-range ballistic missiles; and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System for countering short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. These systems, as well as the nascent Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to intercept ballistic missiles near the end of their flights, are singled out for the largest slices of funding. The GMD is earmarked for almost $2.9 billion of the MDA funds, while Aegis and THAAD will get roughly $1 billion apiece.

GMD funding plans call for adding an unspecified number of long-range interceptors to the eight already deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska. MDA stated last December that it would no longer announce when new interceptors are deployed “in the interest of operational security.” (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Still, in a recent budget document, MDA projects that in 2007 there will be up to 20 ground-based interceptors stationed in Alaska, along with the two already emplaced in California. It further predicts that 24 Aegis system interceptors will be deployed, as well as 534 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.

By that time, MDA also is envisioning a fuller complement of radars to help interceptors get a better fix on enemy ballistic missiles. Currently, two upgraded early-warning radars are operating in Alaska and California. The additional radars will include a sea- based X-band radar, two mobile land-based radars (one in Japan and another in an undisclosed location), and upgraded early-warning radars based in the United Kingdom and Greenland.

As early as 2010, MDA is also aiming to deploy long-range missile interceptors in Europe. The recent budget proposal includes $56 million to begin exploring interceptor sites on the continent, agency spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 16. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have all held discussions with the U.S. government about hosting missile defenses. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Although generally taking an expansive approach to its various systems, MDA did scale back plans but not funds for two programs: the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI). These boost-phase systems are geared toward destroying ballistic missiles during the first few minutes of their flight.

The ABL, which involves arming a modified Boeing 747 with a powerful laser, was supposed to attempt to shoot down its first target in 2003, but that plan has slipped until 2008. Given this delay and the technical challenges still facing the system, MDA has demoted the program to a demonstration project and will postpone plans on producing additional ABL aircraft until after the scheduled 2008 experiment is completed.

Similarly, the deployment schedule for the KEI, a fast-accelerating land-based interceptor, has been pushed back another year to 2014. MDA is aiming to conduct the inaugural KEI flight test in 2008 but has no firm date for when such a system might be tested against a target.

Another longer-term MDA goal is to deploy up to five space-based interceptors for testing purposes by about 2012. MDA Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering told Arms Control Today in September 2005 that funding for this effort would begin in 2008 (see ACT, November 2005). And Lehner confirmed that the recent budget request contains no money toward that end.

Performance Doubts Persist

In its Feb. 3 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon listed the deployment of missile defenses as one of its accomplishments since 2001. It stated that this action provided a “nascent defensive capability.”

Yet, the Pentagon’s own testing office and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) both published less sanguine assessments in January.

Evaluating the overarching complex of anti-missile systems, the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation found “there is insufficient evidence to support a confident assessment of Limited Defensive Operations.” However, the office noted, “[t]here is developmental test data that suggests the system may have some inherent defensive capability.”

In 2005, MDA conducted one THAAD flight test, two Aegis intercept tests, and two GMD interceptor flight tests. The Aegis tests were successful intercepts of targets, while the other three tests did not involve targets.

The GMD system last intercepted a target in October 2002, and at that time it employed a prototype interceptor that is not the same as the current model deployed in Alaska and California. The Pentagon testing office stated GMD testing was “limited by the immaturity of some components” and lacked “operational realism.”

CRS national defense specialist Steven Hildreth similarly found GMD testing data to be “insufficient” for drawing a conclusion about whether the system could destroy a long-range ballistic missile fired at the United States. In general, Hildreth described missile defense testing as producing “mixed and ambiguous results,” although he reported that testing for systems against short- and medium-range missiles “appears more promising.”

 

President George W. Bush’s fiscal year 2007 budget re quest reaffirms his administration’s commitment to deploying an array of anti-missile systems, including to Europe , despite continuing uncertainty about whether they work. Submitted to Congress Feb. 6, the roughly $11.2 billion request for missile defenses is the largest ever by the Bush administration. (Continue)

Latin American Arms Sales Moving Forward

Wade Boese

Spain plans to proceed with arms sales to Venezuela despite U.S. claims that the exports might upset Latin American security. Meanwhile, the United States recently delivered advanced combat aircraft to Chile, marking the first such transfer to the region in more than two decades.

Spain agreed in March 2005 to sell a dozen military transport aircraft and eight naval patrol vessels to Venezuela. (See ACT, May 2005.) Washington quickly protested Madrid’s action and in Janu ary announced that it would not allow Spain to export the planes because they contain U.S. components. U.S. law requires foreign governments to obtain permission from Washington to export arms incorporating U.S. technology or parts. The patrol boats do not contain U.S. parts and are not subject to a veto.

Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack criticized the Spanish arms package Jan. 13 as “not consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests.” The United States brands Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as an undemocratic and volatile leader and charges that recent Venezuelan arms buys exceed the country’s defense needs.

Still, a Spanish diplomatic source told Arms Control Today Feb. 17 that Spain will replace the U.S. technology on the planes to complete the deal. EADS-CASA, the aircraft manufacturer, will “present the Venezuelan government a new proposal in a month’s time,” according to the source.

Playing down U.S. worries, Spain contends the weapons will not destabilize the region. Instead, they “should help Venezuela to control its borders and territorial sea and fight against drug trafficking and other threats,” the Spanish official explained.

The United States is also working to stop Brazil from supplying its Super Tucano, a light-combat/trainer aircraft, to Venezuela. Brazil has not publicly stated what it plans to do with the planes, which contain some U.S. components.

Although actively seeking to deny Venezuela arms, the United States delivered two F-16C/D fighters to Chile Jan. 31. The final eight fighters of the estimated $636 million order are also to be delivered this year. At a Santiago ceremony marking the transfer, U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs Bruce Lemkin declared the F-16 “an instrument of peace.”

In August 1997, President Bill Clinton paved the way for the Chil ean F-16 deal by reversing a 20-year-old restriction on advanced U.S. arms sales to Latin America. (See ACT, August 1997.) Prior to Clinton ’s move, the only exception to the de facto ban had been the 1982 sale of 24 F-16A jets to Venezuela.

 

 

Questions Surround Iran's Nuclear Program

Paul Kerr

IAEA Resolution on Iran

Since its investigation of Iran’s nuclear programs began during the latter half of 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has discovered a series of clandestine nuclear activities, some of which violated Iran’s safeguards agreement with the agency.

Others did not, but have nevertheless raised suspicions regarding Iran’s claim that its nuclear programs are exclusively for peaceful purposes. During the course of the investigation, Iran has failed both to disclose some of its nuclear activities to the agency and misled inspectors about others.

Iran, as a member state of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), has an IAEA safeguards agreement allowing the agency to monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities and facilities to ensure that they are not used for military purposes.

Based on interviews with knowledgeable officials, IAEA Deputy Director-Gen eral Olli Heinonen’s Jan. 31 report to the agency’s Board of Governors, and previous IAEA reports, this article describes some of the unresolved questions concerning Iran’s nuclear activities as of Feb. 24.

Iran ’s Nuclear Programs

Tehran is developing a gas-centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program and con structing a heavy-water moderated nuclear reactor. Both programs could potentially produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Gas centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride gas at very high speeds in order to increase the concentra tion of the uranium-235 isotope. They can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which can be used in nuclear power reac tors, and highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors and as fissile material.

Iran has a pilot centrifuge facility, which so far contains a cascade of 164 centrifuges, and is constructing a much larger commercial facility. Tehran has told the IAEA that the pilot facility will eventually contain approximately 1,000 centrifuges and the commercial facility will ultimately house more than 50,000 centrifuges.

Iran also has a uranium-conversion facil ity, which converts uranium oxide (lightly processed uranium ore) into several com pounds, including uranium tetrafluoride and uranium hexafluoride. Heinonen reported that the country’s current “conversion campaign,” which began in November 2005, is expected to end this month.

Tehran claims that it wants to produce LEU for its light-water moderated nuclear power plant currently under construction near the city of Bushehr, as well as additional power plants it intends to construct.

Iran says that its heavy-water reactor, which is being constructed in Arak, is intended for the production of medical iso topes. But the IAEA is concerned that Iran may use the reactor to produce plutonium, and the board has asked Iran to “reconsider” the project. Tehran has told the IAEA that the reactor is to begin operating in 2014.

The spent nuclear fuel from both light- water and heavy-water reactors contains plutonium—the other type of fissile mate rial in use. But clandestinely obtaining weapons-grade plutonium from light-water reactors is considerably more difficult.

Uranium-Enrichment Program

Tehran has been conducting research on two types of centrifuges: the P-1 and the more advanced P-2. Iran acquired its cen trifuge materials and equipment from a clandestine supply network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Iran has not been fully forthcoming to the IAEA about either of these programs. The agency is concerned that Tehran may have conducted undisclosed work on both types of centrifuges and may also have an ongoing clandestine centrifuge program.

Iran ’s capability to produce enough centrifuges for its programs is unclear. A diplomatic source in Vienna close to the IAEA told Arms Control Today recently that Iran currently lacks the expertise to pro duce P-2 centrifuges. Tehran can build large numbers of P-1 centrifuges but not enough to meet the commercial centrifuge facility’s planned capacity, the source said.

Procurement Efforts

The IAEA’s investigation of these efforts has been hampered by Iran’s lack of full cooperation. Tehran has both lagged in fulfilling IAEA requests for documentation and provided the agency with false information regarding its centrifuge procurement efforts.

Iran has acknowledged receiving centrifuge components and related materials dur ing the late 1980s and 1990s. Tehran has provided the agency with some informa tion regarding these acquisitions as well as related offers from foreign suppliers.

According to a November 2005 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei, Iran has recently provided the agen cy with substantial amounts of additional documentation regarding its P-1 procure ment activities. This information appears to have resolved some of the discrepancies in Iran’s previous accounts, but the IAEA has requested additional documentation. For example, Heinonen reported that “ Iran has been unable to supply any documentation or other information about the meetings that led to the acquisition of 500 sets of P-1 cen trifuge components in the mid-1990s.”

Heinonen’s report also says that Iranian officials’ accounts of “events leading up to” the mid-1990s centrifuge deal offer “are still at variance” with accounts provided by “key members of the [secret procurement] net work.” The report provides no details about these discrepancies but does note Iran’s claims that “there were no contacts with the network between 1987 and mid-1993.”

Iran claims that it conducted no work on its P-2 centrifuge program between 1995 and 2002, but the IAEA is skeptical of this claim.

Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, told Arms Control Today Jan. 23 (see page 9) that Iran suspended work on the program dur ing those years because Iran had not yet “achieved mastery” of the P-1 centrifuge.

However, this response does not appear to address the basis for the agency’s con cern. According to ElBaradei’s September 2005 report, the agency suspects that Iran may have conducted undeclared centrifuge work because an Iranian contractor was able to make modifications for certain centrifuge components “within a short period” after first seeing the relevant drawings.

Additionally, ElBaradei reported in No vember that the agency is assessing documentation provided by Tehran indicating that an Iranian contractor who had worked on the program obtained related materials that the government had apparently not disclosed to the IAEA.

Heinonen’s report states that the IAEA, after sharing with Tehran information “indicating the possible deliveries” of P-2 centrifuge components, asked Iran in No vember “to check again” whether it had received additional components after 1995. Both the Vienna source and a former De partment of State official familiar with the issue confirmed that the IAEA’s information originated with Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a businessman who has been detained by Malaysia for his role in the Khan network.

Both sources also noted that Tahir only recently revealed this information, although he has been in custody since the spring of 2004. Tahir had no documentation for his claim, the former U.S. official added.

Enriched Uranium Particles

According to Heinonen’s report, the IAEA is still investigating the origin of some LEU and HEU particles found in Iran by agency inspectors in 2003. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to 1.2 percent uranium-235, but the presence of LEU particles enriched to higher levels has suggested that Iran may have conducted other centrifuge experiments that it concealed from the IAEA. Tehran claims that the particles in question came from imported centrifuge components.

IAEA inspectors took environmental samples from a location in the United Arab Emirates where centrifuge components from the Khan network were stored before being shipped to Iran. The samples showed no “traces of nuclear material,” according to ElBaradei’s November report.

A Western diplomat told Arms Control Today in November that the sample results indicate that the LEU particles did not come from these components—a finding that could contradict Iran’s account. But according to interviews with a State Department official, Washington is almost certain that all the LEU particles found in Iran originated in Pakistan and believes that any further discoveries of undeclared Iranian-produced LEU would likely reveal previously concealed P-1 experiments, but no similar P-2 experiments.

ElBaradei reported in September 2005 that “most” HEU particles found in Iran by agency inspectors came from imported centrifuge components. Both the source in Vienna and a State Department source says that, for all practical purposes, the HEU issue has been resolved.

Uranium Mining

The IAEA is investigating questions about the ownership and operation of Iran’s Gchine uranium mine. U.S. and European officials have told Arms Control Today that Iran’s military or an affiliated organization might have been working at the mine in an effort to obtain an independent uranium source.

Plutonium

ElBaradei first reported in November 2003 that Iran had conducted plutonium-separation experiments. Iran first said that it completed this work in 1993 but later admitted continuing experiments until 1998. The agency is still investigating the matter.

ElBaradei stated in September that the IAEA has not received requested informa tion regarding Iran’s efforts to obtain equipment for hot cells, which are facilities that can be used to produce medical isotopes as well as separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel. ElBaradei reported that Iran has attempted to procure hot cells with specifications more consistent with plutonium separation than medical isotope production.

Iran says it is no longer attempting to build hot cells.

Possible Nuclear Weapons Research

The IAEA is also investigating several activi ties and documents suggesting that Iran may be attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

Uranium-Casting Document

According to Heinonen’s report, Iran has shown agency inspectors a 15-page document detailing the procedures for re ducing uranium hexafluoride to “metal in small quantities” and “casting…enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispheres.” But the document did not “include dimensions or other specifications for machined pieces for such components,” the report says, reiterating information ElBaradei first reported in November.

This revelation has generated additional concern about Iran’s nuclear program be cause shaping uranium into hemispheres is used in developing explosive cores for nuclear weapons. The report acknowledges that the procedure is “related to the manufacture of nuclear weapon components.”

Whether the document is evidence of a previously unknown Iranian capability is unclear. Iran has previously acknowledged that it was offered equipment for casting uranium but maintains that it has never received any such equipment. Tehran claims that the document had been “provided on the initiative of the procurement network,” rather than at Iran’s request.

During a January 2006 visit, Iran allowed agency inspectors to “examine the docu ment again and to place it under IAEA seal,” Heinonen’s report says. Tehran, however, declined the IAEA’s request to provide a copy of the document, according to the report.

Parchin Military Complex

According to ElBaradei’s November report, Iran granted IAEA inspectors ac cess to Iran’s Parchin military complex Nov. 1, the inspectors’ first visit since January 2005. The inspectors “did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited,” but the IAEA is awaiting the results of environmental samples taken during the visit before assessing whether Iran conducted any nuclear activities there.

The United States and the IAEA have both expressed concern that Iran has been testing conventional high explosives at Parchin for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon.

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

Other Possible Military Projects

The former State Department official confirmed press reports Feb. 22 that the United States acquired a laptop computer, believed to be of Iranian origin, contain ing information documenting what appear to be several related projects that may constitute evidence of a nuclear weapons program. The United States has provided this intelligence to the IAEA, the Vienna source said.

According to Heinonen’s report, the agency received information describing the “Green Salt Project.” “Green salt” is another name for uranium tetrafluoride, the precursor for uranium hexafluoride. The former State Department official also confirmed that the computer contained designs for a “small-scale” facility to produce green salt. The most recent documents related to the project are dated 2003, but it is not known whether the project ended at that time, the official added.

The intelligence also indicates that Tehran has conducted “tests related to high-explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle,” Heinonen said. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in August 2005 that the United States has what it believes to be documentary evidence suggesting that Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear-weapon payload for its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. (See ACT, September 2005.)

But whether and to what extent such a re-entry vehicle design would improve Iran’s ability to deliver a nuclear weapon is unclear. The former State Department official said that a nuclear warhead built according to a design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too large to fit in the re-entry vehicle that Iran may have designed. (See ACT, March 2004.) That acquisition has sparked concern that Tehran also may have obtained similar designs, but no evidence has emerged that Iran has actually done so.

Nevertheless, the official cautioned that “[n]ot enough is known about the Iranian bomb-making capabilities” to determine whether Iran is capable of building a warhead suitable for the re-entry vehicle described in the laptop documents.

Tehran responded to a December IAEA request for a meeting by dismissing the agency’s recently acquired intelligence as “related to baseless allegations.” But Iranian officials later agreed to meet with Heinonen Jan. 27.

During that meeting, IAEA inspectors pro vided Iranian officials both with a diagram “related to bench-scale conversion” as well as communications related to the Green Salt Project. The Iranians promised to “provide further clarifications [about the project] later” but “declined to address the other topics during that meeting,” Heinonen’s report says.

Apparently calling into question Iran’s claims that its nuclear program has no military dimension, the report says that the uranium project, high-explosives tests, and re-entry vehicle design all have a possible “military nuclear dimension and appear to have administrative connections.” This claim is based partly on the fact that the relevant documentation was all found on the laptop.

Lavizan-Shian Physics Research Center

According to Heinonen’s report, Iran has increased its cooperation with the IAEA’s investigation of a physics research center that operated between 1989 and 1998 at a site called Lavizan-Shian that had been connected to the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

Iran razed the site in late 2003 and early 2004, a move that raised suspicions that Tehran might be trying to cover up evidence of undeclared nuclear activities. However, ElBaradei reported in September that Iran provided information consistent with the government’s explanation for this action.

ElBaradei reported in November that the IAEA wished to take samples from a trailer that had been located at the site and contained dual-use nuclear equipment. The agency also sought to interview Iranian officials who had been involved in the center’s efforts to obtain equipment related to uranium enrichment, he said.

According to Heinonen, Iran provided IAEA inspectors with some requested information Jan. 26 regarding Tehran’s efforts to acquire equipment with poten tial uranium-enrichment applications. The inspectors, however, were not allowed to interview a key official involved in the center’s procurement efforts.

Iran did provide the IAEA with informa tion regarding other dual-use acquisition efforts and allowed the inspectors to take environmental samples of some dual-use equipment, Heinonen said. The report says nothing about the trailer discussed in ElBaradei’s report.

According to the former State Department official, the United States has “good reason” to believe that Iran has moved the research center elsewhere but added that Washington has no “evidence” that Tehran actually did so.

Polonium-210 Experiments

The IAEA has also not been able to resolve residual uncertainties regarding Iran ’s experiments involving the separation of polonium-210, which is a radioisotope that can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction in certain types of nuclear weapons. ElBaradei reported in November 2004 that the IAEA is “somewhat uncertain regard ing the plausibility” of Iran’s claim that the experiments were not for nuclear weapons because the civilian applications of polonium-210 are “very limited.”

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

 

 

IAEA Resolution on Iran

In its Feb. 4 resolution on Iran’s nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors said that “a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.” Following are key excerpts from the resolution.

1. Underlines that outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s programme by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence building measures which the Board has made on Iran, and in this context deems it necessary for Iran to:

• Re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the Agency;

• Reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water;

• Ratify promptly and implement in full the Additional Protocol; pending ratification, continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol, which Iran signed on 18 December 2003;

• Implement transparency measures, as requested by the Director General, including in GOV/2005/67, which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual-use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations;

2. Requests the Director General to report to the Security Council of the United Nations that these steps are required of Iran by the Board and to report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions, as adopted, relating to this issue;

3. Expresses serious concern that the Agency is not yet in a position to clarify some important issues relating to Iran’s nuclear programme, including the fact that Iran has in its possession a document on the production of uranium metal hemispheres, since, as reported by the Secretariat, this process is related to the fabrication of nuclear weapon components; and, noting that the decision to put this document under Agency seal is a positive step, requests Iran to maintain this document under Agency seal and to provide a full copy to the Agency;

4. Deeply regrets that, despite repeated calls from the Board for the maintaining of the suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities which the Board has declared essential to addressing outstanding issues, Iran resumed uranium conversion activities at its Isfahan facility on 8 August 2005 and took steps to resume enrichment activities on 10 January 2006;

5. Calls on Iran to understand that there is a lack of confidence in Iran’s intentions in seeking to develop a fissile material production capability against the background of Iran’s record on safeguards as recorded in previous Resolutions, and outstanding issues; and to reconsider its position in relation to confidence-building measures, which are voluntary, and non legally binding, and to adopt a constructive approach in relation to negotiations that can result in increased confidence;

6. Requests Iran to extend full and prompt cooperation to the Agency, which the Director General deems indispensable and overdue, and in particular to help the Agency clarify possible activities which could have a military nuclear dimension;

7. Underlines that the Agency’s work on verifying Iran’s declarations is ongoing and requests the Director General to continue with his efforts to implement the Agency’s Safeguards Agreement with Iran, to implement the Additional Protocol to that Agreement pending its entry into force, with a view to providing credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and to pursue additional transparency measures required for the Agency to be able to resolve outstanding issues and reconstruct the history and nature of all aspects of Iran’s past nuclear activities;

8. Requests the Director General to report on the implementation of this and previous resolutions to the next regular session of the Board, for its consideration, and immediately thereafter to convey, together with any Resolution from the March Board, that report to the Security Council; and

9. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

 

 

 

 

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