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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Conventional Arms Control and Trade

U.S. Signals Shift at UN First Committee

December 2017
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

When it came to voting at the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Trump administration may have said something by saying nothing.

Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, addresses the UN First Committee on November 2 in New York. (Photo credit: United Nations)The U.S. delegation to the First Committee session, which drew extra attention due to the shift in U.S. leadership, abstained from two resolutions that the United States had backed last year, one supporting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the other welcoming the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

On others, the delegation followed many of the positions taken by the Obama administration. The United States co-sponsored a resolution tying together disarmament and international security introduced by Japan, which it had voted for in the past, and continued to express opposition to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Following the ATT resolution vote, Ambassador Robert Wood, U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), said that although the United States “shares the aims” of ATT states-parties, it could not vote in favor because it is undertaking a review of “various” international agreements. The United States did not make a statement after its abstention on the CTBT resolution. Wood said in a Nov. 17 email to Arms Control Today that the United States could not take a position on that resolution due to the ongoing review. The United States was also silent on the CTBT at a September conference on its entry into force. (See ACT, October 2017.)

The United States supported all other treaty resolutions it had voted for in past years, including one calling for a ban on fissile material production and one in support of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It continued to abstain from two other resolutions relating to treaties to which the United States is not party: the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the Mine Ban Treaty.

This year, the United States spoke in support of funding the Biological Weapons Convention, after the resolution related to this treaty was adopted without a vote.

The United States chose to co-sponsor a controversial resolution introduced by Japan because, more than any other, it highlighted “the inseparable link between progress on disarmament and the international security environment,” Wood said in the email.

This resolution was considerably revised from the 2016 version to condition its call for prompt disarmament. The 2017 resolution eliminated several references to the elimination of nuclear arsenals and also scrapped a call to comply with steps toward disarmament agreed at previous nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences. Instead, it added several calls on all states to “ease international tension, strengthen trust between states and create the conditions that would allow for” further steps to disarmament.

The new resolution also weakened its support for achieving the entry into force of the CTBT and negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). It replaced a previous call for all Annex 2 states to adopt the CTBT with a demand for North Korea first to sign and ratify the treaty, claiming that the treaty cannot enter into force until North Korea ceases its nuclear testing. Instead of urging all states to negotiate an FMCT, as the 2016 resolution did, the 2017 resolution merely acknowledged the “widespread call” for such negotiations.

In a statement after the vote, Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s ambassador for disarmament, expressed “disappointment” with the new text, adding that it “risks fracturing the widespread and long-standing agreement on certain fundamental aspects of the international community’s approach to nuclear disarmament.”

The United States and other nuclear-armed states vocally objected to all explicit or implicit references to the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty in almost a dozen First Committee resolutions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States called the treaty “dangerous,” Russia described it as a “mistake,” and Pakistan said it was not inclusive.

The United States opposed references to the prohibition treaty because it is “counterproductive, divisive, and only serves to divert attention from actual effective measures,” Wood said in the email, adding the treaty “will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear warhead or improve the security of any state.” Thomas Hajnoczi, Austrian ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva and leading negotiator of the treaty, argued in a Nov. 8 email to Arms Control Today that the division at the First Committee was caused instead by nuclear-weapon states failing to comply with NPT obligations and that efforts to weaken further such commitments would “seriously harm the NPT Review Process.”

Hajnoczi said France, the UK, and the United States objected to mentioning the prohibition treaty for another reason: to prevent it from becoming customary international law. “They perceive as the best way of not being bound by the prohibition norm in the future [is] to persistently object to it whenever it is mentioned,” he said.

United States abstains on two arms control resolutions.

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

The Trump administration continues to offer arms to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries despite an ongoing crisis within the group. On Nov. 1, the administration notified Congress of a possible $1.1 billion sale to Qatar of design and construction services for runways, hangars, and other facilities. The Persian Gulf country is home to the al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military base in the region, and was by far the largest partner in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in 2016, which included more than $20 billion for 72 F-15QA fighter aircraft and related weaponry. The deal notified last month “is vital to ensuring the [Qatar Air Force] partners can utilize the F-15QA aircraft to its full potential,” according to the U.S. administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps off a plane October 24 at the al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, after flying earlier in the day to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images)Calling in part for Doha to cut ties with Iran and terrorist organizations, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in June severed relations with and imposed a blockade on Qatar, also a member of the group. On June 26, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the committee would hold up further arms sales to GCC countries until there is “a path to resolve” its internal dispute. But the administration has continued to notify deals to the group, including more than $15 billion for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems to Saudi Arabia in October and more than $4 billion for F-16s to Bahrain in September.

The potential sale to Qatar is the first notified this year to that country through the FMS program, indicating the administration is not taking a side in the GCC crisis when it comes to arms deals. “Qatar is an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region,” according to the notification.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Qatar Arms Sale Sidesteps GCC Crisis

Congress Should Not Cede Oversight on Small Arms Exports

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Volume 9, Issue 8, October 5, 2017

In the coming weeks, it is likely that the Trump administration will formally propose new U.S. firearms export rules designed to increase foreign sales but that also make it easier for terrorists and international criminals to obtain lethal weapons. The proposal could also effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

With the Trump administration showing far less restraint regarding the transfer of sophisticated U.S. weaponry, it is essential that the Congress carefully review the new firearms export policy approach and use what levers it has to ward off changes to longstanding policies that have served U.S. national security interests in the past.

Background

Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) questioned witnesses on the role of Congress in the oversight of U.S. arms sales during a Sept. 26 hearing. [Photo credit: Senate Foreign Relations Committee]Early in his administration, President Obama launched the Export Control Reform Initiative, based on a review that found the United States was “trying to control too much.” Indicating that it sought to “strengthen the United States’ ability to counter threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” the administration proposed and/or enacted changes to 18 of the 21 categories of major weapons and technology controlled under the United States Munitions List (USML), moving many items to the Commerce Control List (CCL).

A thrust of the effort was described as “building higher fences around fewer items” and those fewer items were ones that tended to be high-tech and give the U.S. a unique military advantage. Left undone were the first three categories: firearms, close assault weapons and combat shotguns (category I), guns and armaments (II); and their ammunition/ordnance (III).

The Trump administration is now moving to address arms transfers in these three remaining categories. The Defense Trade Advisory Group, a committee of private sector defense exporters and defense trade specialists that advises the State Department, discussed possible revisions Sept. 8. It is expected that proposed changes will be made public later this month, with an expedited 60-day public review period.

Faulty Logic Leads to Dangerous Risks

At the core of export reform push is the mistaken belief that small arms and light weapons do not merit the tighter controls of the USML because they are neither high-tech nor provide unique military advantages. In reality, however, many of the weapons in categories I-III are the ones most frequently used in violent conflict, in perpetuating human rights abuses, and that can most easily fall into hands of those who seek to undermine U.S. national security.

Recognizing this, in 2002 Congress amended its notification threshold so that it would be informed of potential commercial sales of firearms under USML category I when they were valued at just $1 million, as opposed to $14 million for other major weapons sales. During that notification period, as well as during informal prenotifications, Congress can seek to block or delay sales. During a Sept. 26 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, ranking member Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) pointed to forestalling small arms sales to Turkey and the Philippines as recent examples of Congress’ needed role.

No similar statutory requirement of congressional notification exists for most arms sales under the CCL. According to the Security Assistance Monitor, $556 million in firearms notifications have already gone to Congress through July this year

In a cautionary Sept. 15 joint letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senators Cardin, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wrote that: “Moving such firearms from the USML to the CCL would be directly contrary to congressional intent … effectively eliminating congressional oversight of exports of these weapons.”

However, due to the less restrictive nature of the rules surrounding the CCL, the dangers go beyond a lack of Congressional oversight. A number of license exemptions available on Commerce-controlled items may enable illegal procurement and diversion of reclassified weapons, a risk that concerned many current and former enforcement officials interviewed for a recent Institute for Science and International Security report. Different or missing brokering registration and agreement approval requirements, as well as confusion over regulations, may also make it harder to identify and prosecute arms smugglers and illegal exporters. The State Department also has the proper mandate to take into account the impact of firearms transfers on terrorist activity, human rights norms and other considerations beyond commercial interests. Lessening State's role would pose significant risks to longstanding U.S. efforts to advance the support of the rule of law and human rights around the globe.

Next Steps

Given the uncertainty around the impacts of any proposed reclassifications, Congress would be wise to ask the GAO to conduct an assessment of the export control reform initiative to this point and independently identify any risks of transferring items on categories I-III to Commerce control. Leaders should ask the Trump administration to wait until those findings come in so that they can be taken into account in any plans to change current implementation.

Concerned members of Congress should also make their opposition known. If rules are indeed notified this month, they should analyze those closely and weigh in during the comment period. They must also rise above the loud voices that will seek to tie this issue to the Second Amendment. These rules are strictly about the international transfer of firearms, not in any way related to domestic possession.

While the administration can proceed with changes to the USML and CCL without Congressional approval, legislators can also pass laws. If needed, for example, Congress could mandate that their oversight role be retained on any weapons moved from the USML to CCL.

In the end, these are the weapons most responsible for so much suffering in the world and ones that could easily be found aimed at U.S. forces. It is irresponsible to lessen control of their export for simple commercial gain or because they are not America’s most sophisticated weapons. As Senators Cardin, Feinstein and Leahy reminded, “combat firearms and ammunition are uniquely lethal; they are easily spread and easily modified, and are the primary means of injury, death, and destruction in civil and military conflicts throughout the world. As such, they should be subject to more – not less – rigorous export control and oversight.”—JEFF ABRAMSON, nonresident senior fellow

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An administration proposal on firearms export rules could effectively undercut the important oversight role that Congress provides.

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States Condemn Cluster Munitions Use


October 2017
By Jeff Abramson

Reacting to the ongoing civilian toll from cluster munitions use in Syria and elsewhere, states-parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions at their annual meeting in Geneva renewed their condemnation of “any use” of such indiscriminate weapons.

A Syrian man shows a cluster bomb, that releases or ejects smaller submunitions, in the northern Syrian town of Taftanaz, in the Idlib province, on November 9, 2012. (Photo credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)Research published by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor before the annual meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) identified use of cluster munitions by Syrian forces in joint operations with Russia that had resulted in at least 837 casualties during attacks in 2016. Syria is not a signatory to the treaty, which prohibits all use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of such weapons.

“This meeting is taking place against the backdrop of alarming reports of the toll on civilians caused by the use of cluster munitions in current armed conflicts,” Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said in prepared remarks, which were presented by a spokesperson, Anja Kaspersen, at the Sept. 4 opening session of the three-day meeting. Although absent from a draft report on the conference, states-parties added language similar to previous meetings that “condemned any use by any actor” in their final report.

Aside from Syria, at least another 20 casualties were recorded in Yemen in 2016 during Saudi-led coalition attacks. All told, the report identified at least 971 cluster munition casualties in 2016, more than double the 417 recorded in 2015. The count includes casualties in a total of 10 countries due to cluster munition remnants that exploded after their initial combat use, in some cases decades later. This continues to occur in Laos, where the United States dropped hundreds of millions of submunitions in the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War. The report identified 51 casualties there in 2016.

Since the 2016 annual meeting, Benin and Madagascar have ratified the treaty, bringing the accord to 102 states-
parties and 17 signatories. On Sept. 5, Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch, head of the South Sudanese delegation, announced that his country had decided to accede to the CCM and the Chemical Weapons Convention, where it would become the 166th state-party.

The United States, which is not party to the cluster munitions convention, did not attend the annual meeting. No cluster munitions appear to be part of any military sales under consideration by the United States, including the notional $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia announced by President Donald Trump in March, and there are no indications of U.S. use of cluster munitions since 2009. In 2016 the last manufacturer of cluster munitions in the United States announced it was ceasing production of the weapons. (See ACT, October 2016.) —JEFF ABRAMSON

The civilian toll grows in Syria, Yemen. 

The Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions (IACTCW) At a Glance

Contact: Jeff Abramson, Nonresident Senior Fellow, [email protected]

On November 21, 2002, the Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions entered into force. Negotiated by the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS)1 and opened for signature in June 1999, the convention is an unprecedented, regional transparency regime that requires its states-parties to annually report on their weapons exports and imports, as well as make timely notifications of their weapons acquisitions, whether imported or produced domestically. Twenty-one countries, including the United States, have signed the convention and seventeen have ratified or acceded to it. (States-parties are in bold and signatories are in italics in footnote 1.)

Terms of the Convention

Annual Reports: No later than June 15 each year, states-parties will submit to the OAS General Secretariat a report on their exports and imports of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile systems. These seven categories mirror those of the voluntary U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which calls on all countries to annually submit reports on their import and export of these same weapons to the United Nations. In their annual OAS reports, states-parties must identify the type and quantity of weapons transferred and name the exporting or importing country. Additional information, such as the designation or model of the weapon, may be volunteered.

Notification of Acquisitions: No later than 90 days after incorporation of a weapon system into a state-party's armed forces inventory, a notification must be submitted to the OAS General Secretariat. This notification requirement applies to both imported and domestically manufactured weapons in the same seven categories covered by the annual report. The United States, a leading proponent of the convention, had sought inclusion of a provision for advance notification, but Latin American countries objected. States-parties are free to provide advance notification if they choose to do so.

The OAS General Secretariat will transmit the annual reports and notifications received to all states-parties, though the information will not be made publicly available. States-parties are free to consult with each other on the shared information.

Background

The convention grew out of a June 1997 OAS General Assembly resolution calling on members to consider a legal framework for advance notification of arms acquisitions. Shortly thereafter in August 1997, the Clinton administration dropped a two-decade-old policy of "presumption against" the export of advanced weapons to Latin America. This policy change cleared the way for U.S. arms manufacturers to compete for weapons sales to the region. Former President Jimmy Carter and several Latin American heads of state, both past and those in office at the time, criticized the new Clinton arms transfer policy as one that would divert scarce resources from more important government investments, such as education, and lead to increased regional tensions. Since the U.S. policy change, the United States completed a deal to sell 10 F-16 fighter jets to Chile and offered combat aircraft to Brazil. Citing other economic priorities, Brazil postponed in January 2003 a decision on buying fighter jets.

In comparison with other regions, Latin America is a relatively small arms market. The region's arms imports accounted for roughly two to five percent of the world arms market from 1990-2000.

Note
1. The 35 members of the OAS are Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, PeruSt. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. 

Conventional Arms Issues

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Nuclear Restraint Agreements Under Serious Threat

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Volume 9, Issue 7, September 5, 2017

Since the dawn of the nuclear age over 70 years ago, rarely has the world faced as difficult an array of nuclear weapons-related security challenges as it is facing now. Unfortunately, Congress will soon enact legislation that could further imperil the global nuclear order.
 
The Senate is scheduled to take up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 National Authorization Act as early as this week. The House approved its version of the NDAA July 14 by a vote of 344-81. Both bills contain several problematic provisions that if enacted into law would deal a major, if not mortal, blow to several longstanding, bipartisan arms control and nonproliferation efforts and increase the risks of renewed nuclear arms competition with Russia.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in the East Room of the White House on December 8, 1987. (Photo credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have worsened over the past few years, thanks to Moscow’s election interference, annexation of Crimea, continued destabilization of Ukraine, alleged violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and support for the Assad regime in Syria. Nevertheless, the two countries continue to share common interests. In particular, as the possessors of over 90 percent of the roughly 15,000 nuclear weapons on the planet, they have a special responsibility to avoid direct conflict and reduce nuclear risks. The downward spiral in relations makes these objectives all the more urgent.
 
While some meaningful cooperation continues, such as adherence to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and implementation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, there is no ongoing dialogue on further nuclear risk reduction steps.
 
Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen the existing architecture of arms control and nonproliferation agreements, key pillars of which have their origin in the vision of President Ronald Reagan. These agreements constrain Russia’s nuclear forces, provide for stability, predictability, and transparency in the bilateral relationship, and have only increased in value as the U.S.-Russia relationship has deteriorated.
 
Below is a summary of the current status and arguments in support of four key agreements put at risk by the Senate and/or House NDAAs. 
 


The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
 
Background: The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires that the United States and Russia each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear forces to no more than 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems by 2018. The agreement, which is slated to expire in 2021, can be extended by up to five years if both Moscow and Washington agree.
 
Current Status: So far both sides are implementing the agreement and there are no indications that they do not plan to continue to do so. Russia has indicated that it is interested in beginning talks with the United States on extending the treaty, but the Trump administration has yet to respond to these overtures. In January phone call with President Putin, President Trump reportedly dismissed the idea of an extension and called the treaty a “bad deal.” The House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would prohibit the use of funds to extend the New START treaty unless Russia returns to compliance with the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/NewSTART

Key Points:

  • New START caps the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and provides the United States with additional tools to monitor Russia’s forces. The treaty includes a comprehensive suite of monitoring and verification provisions that help ensure compliance with treaty limits and enable the United States to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile, which aids U.S. military planning.
  • The deterioration of the U.S.-Russian relationship has only increased the value of New START. The treaty provides for bilateral stability, predictability, and transparency, thereby bounding the current tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
  • The U.S. military and U.S. allies continue to strongly support New START. For example, in March 2017, Gen. John Hyten, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), “I am big supporter of the New START Agreement.” Hyten added that “bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements are essential to our ability to provide an effective deterrent.”
  • Connecting New START extension with INF treaty compliance is senseless and counterproductive. By “punishing” Russia’s INF violation in this way, the United States would simply free Russia to expand the number of strategic nuclear weapons pointed at the United States after New START expires in 2021. If the treaty is allowed to lapse, there will be no limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces for the first time since the early-1970s. Moreover, the United States would have fewer tools with which to verify the size and composition of the Russian nuclear stockpile.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
 
Background: The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. Russia and the United States destroyed a total of 2,692 short/medium/intermediate-range missiles by the 1991 deadline.
 
Current Status: The United States has accused Russia of testing and deploying ground-launched cruise missiles in violation of the treaty. Moscow denies it is violating the agreement, and instead has accused Washington of breaching the accord. Both the House-passed and Senate Armed Services Committee versions of the FY 2018 NDAA would authorize programs of record and provide funding for research and development on a new U.S. road-mobile GLCM with a range of between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The House bill also includes a provision stating that if the president determines that Russia remains in violation of the treaty 15 months after enactment of the legislation, the prohibitions set forth in the treaty will no longer be binding on the United States. A similar provision could be offered as an amendment to the Senate bill.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/INFtreaty
 
Key Points:

  • The United States and Russia need to work to preserve the INF Treaty. This should include using the Special Verification Commission, the treaty’s dispute resolution mechanism, to address mutual concerns. The Trump administration should make it clear to Moscow that so long as Russia remains in violation of the treaty, the United States will pursue steps to reaffirm and buttress its commitment to the defense of those allies threatened by the treaty-noncompliant missiles.
  • Development of a new GLCM sets the stage for Washington to violate the agreement and would take the focus off Russia's violation. Russia could respond by publicly repudiating the treaty and deploying large numbers of noncompliant missiles without any constraints.
  • Development of a new GLCM is militarily unnecessary and Pentagon has not asked for one. The United States can legally deploy air- and sea-launched systems that can threaten the same Russian targets. There is no reason to believe that development of a new GLCM will convince Russia to return to compliance. A new GLCM would also take years to develop and suck funding from other military programs for which there are already requirements. The administration's statement of policy on the House NDAA objected to the INF provision on requiring a new GLCM.
  • NATO does not support a new GLCM and attempting to force it upon the alliance would be incredibly divisive. It is thus a weapon to nowhere. A divided NATO would also be a gift to Russia.
  • Mandating that the United States in effect withdraw from the INF treaty if Russia does not return to compliance by the end of next year raises constitutional concerns. If Congress can say the United States is not bound by its obligations under the INF Treaty, what is to stop it from doing the same regarding other treaties?

The 1990 Treaty on Open Skies
 
Background: The Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and has 34 states parties, aims to increase confidence in and transparency on the military activities of states, particularly in Europe, by allowing unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants for information gathering purposes. The parties have equal yearly quotas of overflights and must make the information they acquire available to all Treaty parties.
 
Current Status: The United States has raised numerous concerns about Russia’s compliance with the treaty. Republican lawmakers have voiced concern that Russian flights under the treaty, which now employ more advanced sensors and cameras as allowed by the treaty, amount to spy missions. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would annually bar, for each of the next five years, any U.S. Open Skies Treaty skies flights until Pentagon and intelligence community submit a plan for all of the treaty flights in the coming year. The bill would also bar DOD from acquiring a more effective, more timely, more reliable digital imaging system for conducting flights over Russian territory.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/openskies

Key Points:

  • The Open Skies Treaty provides a significant contribution to the security and stability of North America and Europe. According to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear and Strategic Policy Anita E. Friedt, almost a dozen U.S. and NATO member flights over Ukraine and Western Russia in 2014 during the Ukraine crisis “resulted in valuable data and insights.” The treaty mandates information-sharing about military forces that increases transparency among members, thereby contributing to stability and improving each participating state’s national security.
  • U.S. allies continue to value and rely on the Open Skies Treaty for imagery collection. The United States and its allies typically carry out many more overflights than Russia. These flights strengthen ties between the United States and its allies and reassure non-NATO members on Russia’s periphery.
  • Russia would gain a unilateral advantage as a result of restricting funding for upgrading aircraft used by the United States for treaty observation flights. This would stymie U.S. efforts to match Russian sensor upgrades, thereby limiting the value of the Open Skies treaty to U.S. national security.
  • The Russian sensors and cameras in question do not pose a threat to U.S. security. According to Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, director of Navy Strategic Systems Programs, all states party to the Open Skies treaty are permitted to certify new sensors and aircraft. Furthermore, he said, “the resolution of Open Skies imagery is similar to that available in commercial satellite imagery.” He added that Russian information compiled as a result of Open Skies flights is “of only incremental value” among Russia’s many means of intelligence gathering. 

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)
 
Background: The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is the the intergovernmental organization that promotes the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which has yet to enter force, and maintains the global International Monitoring System (IMS) to deter and detect nuclear test explosions.
 
Current Status: The United States currently contributes nearly a quarter of the annual CTBTO budget. In April 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined with other Foreign Ministers at the G-7 foreign minister summit in a statement expressing support for the CTBTO. The Trump administration’s FY 2018 budget request would fund the U.S. contribution to the CTBTO at roughly the same level as the Obama administration. The House-passed version of the FY 2018 NDAA would prohibit funding for the CTBTO and calls on Congress to declare that the September 2016 UN Security Council Resolution 2310 does not “obligate…nor does it impose an obligation on the United States to refrain from actions that would run counter to the object and purpose” of the CTBT.

At-a-Glance Factsheet: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/test-ban-treaty-at-a-glance

Key Points:

  • The CTBTO and IMS support and provide detection capabilities that supplement U.S. national intelligence capabilities to detect nuclear testing. Reducing U.S. funding for the CTBTO would  adversely impact the organization’s ability to operate and maintain existing nuclear test monitoring stations. This is due to the fact that a wide range of organization’s personnel and assets directly or indirectly support the IMS.
  • The CTBTO is a neutral source of information that can help to mobilize international action against any state that violates the global norm against nuclear testing. U.S. action to restrict funding could prompt other states to reduce their own funding for the CTBTO or lead states to withhold data from CTBTO monitoring stations that are based in their territory, thus undermining the capabilities of the system to detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing. Contrary to what the Cotton-Wilson bill implies,
  • Resolution 2310 (which was endorsed by 42 states, including Israel) does not impose any new obligations on the United States. Rather, it encourages states to “provide the support required” to the CTBTO and the IMS, and urges states to refrain from nuclear testing and urges those states that have not ratified to do so. It also takes note of a Sept. 15 joint statement by the five permanent Security Council members that formally “recognized” that a nuclear explosion would “defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT.” 
  • Asserting that the United States is not required to respect our obligations as a CTBT signatory would signal to other states that that the United States may be seeking to back out of its commitment to a global and verifiable nuclear test ban and is considering the resumption of nuclear testing. With North Korea having conducted a sixth nuclear test explosion, it is essential that the United States reinforce, not undermine, the CTBTO and the global nuclear testing taboo. 

—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy

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Instead of rushing to hasten their demise, Congress must seek to preserve and strengthen these four key pillars of arms control and nonproliferation.

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Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) At a Glance

September 2017

Contact: Jeff AbramsonNon-Resident Senior Fellow for Arms Control and Conventional Arms Transfers, [email protected]

Seeking to restrict or outlaw specific types of weapons used in armed conflict, 51 states negotiated the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 1980. The agreement is formally known as the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. It is also sometimes referred to as the Inhumane Weapons Convention. The convention aims to protect military troops from inhumane injuries and prevent noncombatants from accidentally being wounded or killed by certain types of arms. When it entered into force in December 1983, the treaty applied to incendiary weapons, mines and booby-traps, and weapons designed to injure through very small fragments. Since then, treaty states-parties—numbering 120 total as of August 2017—have added provisions to ban blinding laser weapons and address lingering dangers posed by unexploded munitions leftover after combat ends.

The Convention

The operative provisions of the CCW are contained in several protocols annexed to the convention. States that become CCW members must sign on to at least two of the convention’s protocols, but do not have to become party to all of them. Currently, there are five protocols in force (see below). All states-parties must agree to the addition of a new protocol. Each protocol is only binding on those states-parties that ratify it. 

Initially, the scope of the convention covered only international armed conflicts. However, states-parties amended a single protocol in 1996 to apply to intrastate conflicts and in 2001 elected to extend that modification to the entire convention. Still, the change only applies to those states-parties ratifying the amendment, and it does not automatically extend to new protocols. Henceforth, states-parties must specify whether new protocols they ratify cover intrastate conflicts in addition to interstate wars.

The convention lacks verification and enforcement mechanisms and spells out no formal process for resolving compliance concerns.

A state-party can refute its commitment to the convention or any of the protocols, but it will remain legally bound until one year after notifying the treaty depositary, the UN Secretary-General, of its intent to be free of its obligations.

Protocols to the Convention

Protocol I: Non-detectable Fragments

Protocol I prohibits the use of any weapon designed to wound or kill with small fragments that cannot be detected by x-rays. Conventional x-ray imaging cannot locate small pieces of glass, plastic, or wood lodged in human tissue. This makes it prohibitively difficult for doctors to remove the fragments, effectively preventing victims from receiving necessary treatment.

Amended Protocol II: Landmines, Booby-Traps, and Other Devices

Protocol II, which was amended in May 1996, regulates but does not ban the use of landmines and booby-traps. Anti-personnel landmines (APLs) must be kept in clearly marked and protected minefields or be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms that disarm and render the mine unusable after a certain period of time. Mines dropped from aircraft or delivered by artillery or missiles must be outfitted with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. All APLs must further be detectable using common mine detection equipment to enable them to be located and safely removed after a conflict ends. The responsibility for clearing any mines is on the government controlling the territory where the mines are located.

Amended Protocol II entered into force in 1998. The 102 countries bound by the protocol include most of the world’s major current or past landmine producers—China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States—which have refused to join the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines.

Protocol III: Incendiary Weapons

Protocol III regulates the use of weapons designed to set fire to or burn their target. The protocol proscribes targeting civilians with incendiary weapons and restricts the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons against military targets in close proximity to concentrations of noncombatants. It also prohibits parties from targeting forests or other plant cover unless the vegetation is being used to conceal military forces. The protocol only covers weapons created intentionally to set fire or burn, such as flamethrowers. Weapons that ignite fires or burn as a side effect are not subject to the protocol.

Protocol IV: Blinding Lasers

Added in 1996, this protocol prohibits the use of lasers specifically designed to cause permanent blindness. It further obliges states-parties to make every effort to avoid causing permanent blindness through the use of other lasers. While prohibiting the use of blinding lasers, the convention does not rule out their development or stockpiling. However, it does outlaw any trade in such arms.

Protocol V: Explosive Remnants of War

In November 2003, states-parties approved this protocol to deal with unexploded and abandoned ordnance left over after fighting ends—so-called explosive remnants of war (ERW). The protocol, which entered into force Nov. 12, 2006, covers munitions, such as artillery shells, grenades, and gravity bombs, that fail to explode as intended, and any unused explosives left behind and uncontrolled by armed forces. Such weapons pose severe threats to civilians because they could explode without cause or accidentally be triggered to detonate. Like the landmines protocol, the government controlling an area with explosive remnants of war is responsible for clearing such munitions. However, that government may ask for technical or financial assistance from others, including any party responsible for putting the munitions in place originally, to complete the task. No state-party is obligated to render assistance.

Other Issues

CCW states-parties have been unable to reach consensus on starting negotiations on several other matters, including adding a compliance mechanism to better ensure that states-parties live up to their commitments and a provision to ban small-caliber bullets because they can cause major internal injuries by ricocheting or tumbling around inside a body. One controversial issue is whether the body should negotiate on limiting the use of anti-vehicle mines, including requirements that such mines be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. Some countries, such as China and Russia, have objected to this proposal.

Frustrated with the CCW process, some treaty members led by Norway in February 2007 launched negotiations outside the CCW to ban cluster munitions “that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” The Cluster Munitions Convention was adopted in May 2008 and has 102 states-parties as of August 1, 2017. See Cluster Munitions at a Glance for more information. 

Conventional Arms Issues

Fact Sheet Categories:

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale


July/August 2017
By Jeff Abramson

In a sign of growing criticism of President Donald Trump’s approach toward arming Saudi Arabia, 47 senators voted to disapprove of an approximately $500 million arms sale to the kingdom, falling just short of a majority. A vote in 2016 on a controversial billion-dollar tank sale to the Saudis garnered the opposition of 27 senators. (See ACT, October 2016.)

Yemenis stand on the rubble of houses near the presidential palace in Sanaa that were destroyed in a June 9 air strike attributed to the Saudi-led coalition. Four civilians, including two teenagers, reportedly died in the strike. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)In May, the State Department notified Congress of its intent to sell more than $500 million in precision-guided munitions components and related services to Saudi Arabia, starting a 30-day clock during which Congress could block the deal if each chamber passed a resolution of disapproval. The Obama administration had put the deal on hold in December, in part due to independent reports that Saudi forces have repeatedly struck civilian areas in Yemen, including locations the United States asked to be placed off-limits.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said June 7 that he would oppose the sale, citing concern about the civil war in Yemen. The administration’s decision to proceed with the sale “absent leadership to push all parties toward a political process for a negotiated settlement, including Saudi Arabia, sends the absolutely wrong signal to our partners and our adversaries,” he said in a statement.

Such opposition is unusual because committee leaders typi­cally give approval before official congressional notification occurs. Ultimately, all but five Democratic senators voted for the resolution of disapproval. The anti-sale Democrats were joined by Republicans Dean Heller (Nev.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Rand Paul (Ky.), who all also opposed the 2016 tank deal, as well as first-term senator Todd Young (Ind.).

After the June 13 vote, resolution co-sponsor Paul said, “This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take a stance against waging an undeclared war and fueling an arms race in the Middle East.” Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added that “today’s vote total would’ve been unthinkable not long ago, but Congress is finally taking notice that Saudi Arabia is using U.S. munitions to deliberately hit civilian targets inside Yemen.”

What future steps Congress might take are unclear. During a visit to Riyadh in May, Trump announced $110 billion in prospective arms sales to Saudi Arabia, specific details of which will need to be worked out in the coming years and be subject to congressional oversight.

One step may be to place conditions on actual arms transfers, which typically occur years after notifications. A dozen House members and eight senators have sponsored resolutions to suspend deliveries of certain air-to-ground munitions, including precision-guided munitions, until the president certifies that the Saudis show commitment to fighting terrorism, facilitating the flow of humanitarian and commercial goods, and protecting civilians in Yemen. The week before the Senate vote, Congress received pre-delivery notification of air-to-ground munitions based on a $1.3 billion November 2015 deal with Saudi Arabia. (See ACT, March 2016.)

In May and June, the Trump administration notified Congress of potential foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia totaling nearly $1.7 billion for naval and air force training, as well as radar and related support.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Opponents Challenge Saudi Arms Sale

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Scheduled international talks this year on lethal autonomous weapons, or so-called killer robots, have been cut by half due to insufficient funding, according to Matthew Rowland, UK ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and 2017 chair of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the forum for the autonomous weapons talks. A meeting of governmental experts planned for Aug. 21-25 was canceled, along with some other CCW activities. A second session scheduled for Nov. 13-17 will be held, assuming sufficient funds, Rowland said in a June 6 letter.

At their fifth review conference in December 2016, CCW states decided to formalize and expand their deliberations by establishing a group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems that would meet in August and November this year. The August cancellation may slow the momentum of previous discussions. Nineteen countries have endorsed a ban, and others have affirmed the need to maintain human control over the selection of targets and use of force, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The CCW’s financial squeeze is due to the failure of several states, most notably Brazil, to pay their assessed dues for the convention’s meetings, according to the advocacy group. “The collective failure of countries to find a solution to their financial woes doesn’t mean they can stop addressing concerns over weapons that would select and attack targets without further human intervention,” said Human Right Watch’s Mary Wareham, the campaign’s global coordinator.—SARA SCHMITT

Money Woes Curtail ‘Killer Robot’ Talks

Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

Body: 

For Immediate Release: June 13, 2017

Media Contacts: Jeff Abramson, senior fellow (646) 527-5793; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107)

(Washington, D.C.)—Congressional votes to block major arms deals are very rare, but today a substantial, bipartisan group of 47 Senators voted to support S.J. Resolution 42, a resolution of disapproval to transfer U.S. precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, which is waging a controversial military campaign in Yemen. The close vote was a rebuke of Trump’s Middle East policy. In the final tally, 47 Senators voted for full consideration of the resolution, while 53 rejected that step.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 19, 2017. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. BrantleyThe growing opposition to the roughly $500 million sale indicates that President Trump will face tough resistance should he try to move forward with other elements of the still mostly undefined $110 billion arms package he announced last month to Saudi Arabia.

“The Senate’s bipartisan stand today against the sale of precision guided munitions to Saudi Arabia puts the Trump administration on notice that their approach is off target,” said Jeff Abramson, nonresident senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.

“The United States should not be sending more weapons into an unwinnable conflict and into the hands of a country that uses U.S. weapons against civilian targets. Instead, the Trump administration should use its influence to find a political solution to the disastrous war in Yemen, which has led to a massive humanitarian crisis,” Abramson added.  

“Current U.S. conventional arms transfer policy includes the goal of ‘Ensuring that arms transfers do not contribute to human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.’” Abramson noted.

“With today’s vote, the Senate is sending a strong message that U.S. arms transfers should not go to states that target civilians and violate human rights.”

Additional resources

  • “Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain Should Be Rejected,” Arms Control Association Issue Brief, Volume 9, Issue 3, May 2017.
  • “Defiant Congress Sparks Showdown With Trump Over Saudi Arms Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2017.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Senate Puts Trump’s Saudi Arms Sales Plans on Notice

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