Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
April 2006
Edition Date: 
Saturday, April 1, 2006
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April 2006 - Vol. 36 Issue 3

Digital Magazine

U.S. Missile Defense Capability a Mystery

Wade Boese

Is the fledgling ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system deployed nearly 18 months ago by the Pentagon capable of destroying an incoming long-range ballistic missile? In March, lawmakers discovered that the answer depends on who you ask.

Pentagon officials responsible for the system say the answer is yes. But the Pentagon’s independent weapons tester says insufficient proof exists to draw a conclusion. A March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, comes down on the side of the weapons tester.

The GMD system currently comprises eight missile interceptors embedded in Alaska and another two in California. They are designed to collide with enemy missile warheads in space and are primarily supported by an aging missile-launch-detection satellite system, two upgraded early-warning radars, and an extensive battle-management command and control system. By the end of this year, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) hopes to add to the sensors mix a sea-based X-band radar; an upgraded early-warning radar based in Fylingdales, United Kingdom; and a forward-based X-band radar in Japan (see page 36).

Despite the system’s evolving status and the fact that it has yet to be declared operational, top Pentagon officials indicated March 9 to the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that it is ready to perform its mission. In his prepared testimony, MDA Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering described the initial 2004 deployment as making “history by establishing a limited defensive capability…against a possible long-range ballistic missile attack.” At a March 20 briefing with reporters, the general asserted that the system’s ground and flight testing gave him confidence that it could “shoot down an incoming missile” and that testing had not revealed any problems that would be “showstoppers.”

Similarly, Peter Flory, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, told the lawmakers that, “today, the United States has all of the pieces in place that are needed to intercept an incoming long-range ballistic missile.”

David Duma, who heads the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, concurred that “we have all the pieces in place” to try to intercept an incoming missile. But, he added, “the testing to date has not confirmed that you could count on that.”

Back-to-back tests at the end of 2004 and the start of 2005 saw the GMD interceptor fail to leave the ground. After a nine-month flight-testing hiatus, MDA conducted a successful interceptor flight test Dec. 13, 2005. This experiment, which did not involve an intercept attempt, marked the first flight of the interceptor model currently deployed in Alaska and California.

GAO Weighs In

Reviewing the entire gamut of missile defense programs, GAO assessed MDA as making progress on several of them. However, the congressional investigative body criticized the agency for rushing systems into the field “at the expense of cost, quantity, and performance goals.”

GAO described the 2004 GMD deployment as particularly egregious. It implied that President George W. Bush’s December 2002 order to deploy a system by 2004 resulted in hasty and possibly shoddy work as MDA switched focus from developing an experimental system for testing purposes to fielding an operational capability. “Time pressures caused MDA to stray from a knowledge-based acquisition strategy,” GAO reported.

The GMD interceptors might have been negatively affected as a result, according to GAO. It found that “the performance of emplaced GMD interceptors is uncertain because inadequate mission assurance/quality control procedures may have allowed less reliable or inappropriate parts to be incorporated into the manufacturing process.” Some GMD officials, according to the re port, have called for the deployed interceptors to be removed from their silos and any “questionable parts” replaced as part of a service upgrade scheduled to begin as early as this fall.

Any assessment of the GMD system’s performance capability is further complicated by the lack of an “end-to-end flight test…using production-representative components,” GAO concluded. The report observed that the five successful GMD intercept tests, the last of which occurred in October 2002, “used surrogate and prototype components.”

MDA plans this year to conduct three GMD flight tests, two of which will be intercept attempts against targets, using operationally deployed components. In his testimony, Duma labeled these three tests as “operationally realistic.”

GAO concluded that MDA is working to reform some of its management practices but reported that more needed to be done. In general, GAO found the agency has “unusual flexibility to modify its strategies and goals, make trade-offs, and report on its progress.”

Obering said March 20 that, although he has the “utmost respect” for GAO, he thought the latest report was “unfortunately not their best work.” The general said the report ignored important progress made on the sensor side and used outdated baseline goals for measuring progress. He also emphasized that the approach for proceeding with missile defenses is to deploy a minimum capability as soon as possible and improve it over time.


U.S. Shifts Policy on Iran

Matt Dupuis

In addition to pushing for increased multilateral efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program, the United States has taken several unilateral and bilateral measures recently to adjust its relationship with Tehran.

The measures include stepped-up efforts to build a democratic opposition to Iran’s Islamic regime, direct talks with Tehran about its activities in Iraq, and congressional efforts to further tighten U.S. sanctions on those who might aid Iran.

How well these policy strands will work together is not clear. For example, as a Department of State official involved in ongoing diplomacy acknowledged March 17, the administration’s challenge is, “Can we come up with something clever enough to support two aims: one, get Iran to make a strategic decision to give up its nuclear weapons program and two, help bring leadership change and democracy to Iran.”

But the most dramatic step might be the recent agreement by the two countries to participate in bilateral talks about Iraq. Following U.S. requests for such talks, Iran announced on March 16 that it would be willing to participate. A date for the talks has not yet been set.

The United States has sought to end what it terms Iranian interference in Iraq’s political affairs, including its belief that Tehran is pro viding components used in improvised explosive devices found in Iraq and employed by insurgents fighting U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said March 17 that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been authorized for “some time…to meet with his Iranian counterpart if he believes that it would be useful to do so,” a policy that dates back to Khalilzad’s tenure as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

But U.S. officials, including Rice and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, have insisted that the talks will be restricted to that subject and not venture into the nuclear realm. Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, agreed to those conditions in announcing Iran’s acceptance of the talks, and the talks were later publicly endorsed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.

Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, March 16 explained the administration’s rationale for limiting the talks to Iraq. Hadley said that in Iran “there is beginning to be a debate within the leadership, and I would hope a debate between the leadership and their people, about whether the course they are on is the right course for the good of their country. That has only come about because they have heard a coordinated message from the international community. It has been difficult to hold together; it has taken a lot of time.

“And I think when you talk about saying, well, let’s have bilateral diplomatic contacts, you have to ask yourself whether that is going to serve the overall interests or is in fact going to break the international consensus and suggest to Iran that they have an alternative way, other than responding to the demands of the international community,” Hadley added on the nuclear issue.

Other U.S. Policy Moves

However, in a two-part Feb. 27 interview with TIME magazine, Larijani did not rule out directly meeting with the United States on the nuclear issue.

“We have no problems in negotiating on nuclear issues, and also issues of interest to Muslims, things that will bring calm to the region, provided that they are honest and that Mr. Bush does not harangue us. To us, negotiations are not the end. If the aim is clear, then this means can be used too,” Larijani said.

The announcement came against a backdrop of other U.S. policy moves, including veiled threats of military force and ambiguous statements about whether the United States favors a regime change policy in Iran.

Hadley’s remarks, for example, came after a speech in which he released the administration’s newest National Security Strategy. That document, which updates a similar Bush administration document, reaffirms the pre-emptive use of military force as an option in pre venting attacks with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. It also says that, with Iran, diplomacy “must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided” and says that the United States “may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran.”

U.S. officials have also said that their disputes with Iran go be yond resolving the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors vis-à-vis its nuclear program. Other long-standing U.S concerns include Iran’s alleged support for terrorism, its opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its alleged violations of human rights.

In that light, Rice made another policy departure in Feb. 15 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She announced that the administration would ask Congress for $75 mil lion in current-year supplemental funds for democracy promotion inside Iran , with $15 million to support “civic education,” $5 million for sponsoring Iranian student visits to the United States, and $5 million for media efforts to reach people in Iran. The remaining $50 million is to be used to increase U.S. broadcasting efforts inside Iran , likely through Radio Farda. Radio Farda is the broadcast through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that began transmitting into Iran in October 1998 and was renamed in December 2002.

Rice also said the administration planned future funding boosts “to increase our support for the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people as we identify worthy initiatives.” Bush has previously given rhetorical support to such efforts but little funding.

The Islamic Republic News Agency reported on March 13 that the Iranian Foreign Ministry forwarded a letter to the Swiss embassy in Tehran protesting the funds for democracy promotion. The letter reportedly called the move “provocative and interference in Iran’s internal affairs.”

Nonetheless, U.S. lawmakers indicated support for such measures in legislation approved by the House International Relations Committee March 15 on a 37-3 vote. The measure is also aimed at curbing progress in Iran’s nuclear program by updating the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. That law was revised in 2001 and is set to expire later this year. (See ACT, September 2001.) It requires the United States to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million per year in Iranian oil or gas development. No sanctions have ever taken effect under it, however, despite major violations by French, Italian, Malaysian, and Russian entities because of diplomatic opposition to such “secondary sanctions.”

The current legislation would allow for imposing sanctions, at the president’s determination, on any person that exports, transfers, or provides to Iran “any goods, services, technology, or other items” that knowingly aid the ability of Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction or “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons.”

It also urges the administration “to work to secure support at the United Nations Security Council for a resolution” to impose sanctions on Iran “as a result of its repeated breaches of its nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The bill is to remain in effect until Iran has verifiably dismantled its suspected “weapons of mass destruction programs.”

The committee-passed bill includes measures that tighten the application of existing sanctions. In particular, congressional aides said that it seeks to force the executive branch to investigate credible reports of sanctionable activities. The law requires that the president issue a sanctions determination within one year of receiving such a report and clear a two-year backlog of such investigations. It seeks to broaden the net of firms covered by these activities to institutions such as insurers, underwriters, or guarantors who knowingly help finance any investments as well as to foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms. It also encourages U.S. pension funds and mutual funds to divest from foreign companies investing in Iran’s petroleum sector.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, said persuasion will not work with Iran. “We can only hope to inflict such severe economic pain on Tehran that it would starve the leadership of the resources they need to fund a costly nuclear program,” he said .

However, the administration has not fully embraced the measure. In testimony on March 8 before the House panel, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns raised concerns that some provisions in the bill might strain relations with close U.S. allies whose help the United States will need to change Iran’s behavior.


UN Urges Iran to Halt Enrichment

Paul Kerr

UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Iran

After several weeks of contentious debate, the UN Security Council March 29 adopted a presidential statement calling on Iran to resolve the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) concerns about its nuclear program and to re-suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.

The statement, which is not legally binding, instructs IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to report the status of Iran’s compliance both to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council within 30 days. It does not suggest any specific council actions.

According to the Associated Press, Emyr Jones-Parry, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the Security Council, told reporters March 29 that the council “will continue its discussion of this issue and will assume its responsibilities” if Iran fails to comply. But despite this display of consensus, it appears likely that tactical differences among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council will persist for the near future. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States want the council to play a more prominent role in resolving concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear fuel program. Russia and China, however, want the IAEA to remain the main forum for resolving the matter.

Security Council President César Mayoral of Argentina read the statement the day before the foreign ministers of Germany and the five permanent council members met in Berlin to discuss medium- and long-term diplomacy toward Iran. The council statement “notes with serious concern” the conclusions of a Feb. 27 report from ElBaradei to the agency board.

That report said that Iran had failed to resolve a number of “out standing issues” and concerns concerning the country’s nuclear programs, especially its gas centrifuge-based enrichment program. Consequently, the IAEA was unable to “conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran,” he added.

The statement calls on Iran to take the steps required by a Feb. 4 IAEA resolution. That resolution requested that ElBaradei report Iran’s case to the Security Council and update the IAEA board on Iran’s compliance before its March 6 meeting. The permanent council members and Germany agreed at the time that the council should wait until after that meeting before deciding on future action.

The resolution also requested that Iran “extend full and prompt cooperation” to the IAEA and reiterated the board’s past demands that Iran implement several confidence-building measures.

These measures included a resumption of Iran’s enrichment suspension, a reconsideration of its decision to build a heavy-water nuclear reactor, and Tehran’s implementation of “transparency measures” providing inspectors with access to non-nuclear facilities, procurement documents, and the opportunity to interview certain Iranian officials. The board also urged Iran to ratify its additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which would provide the IAEA with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including inspecting facilities that have not been declared to the agency. Tehran has signed the protocol, but its parliament has never ratified it.

According to ElBaradei’s report, Iran has made virtually no progress in complying with these requests. Indeed, Iran accelerated work on its uranium-enrichment program and stopped voluntarily adhering to its additional protocol. (See ACT, March 2006.)

Echoing the IAEA, the UN statement calls the transparency measures “essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose” of Iran’s nuclear program. It also “underlines” that Tehran should resume “full and sustained suspension” of its uranium-enrichment activities. (See ACT, March 2006.)

Iran had agreed in November 2004 to suspend “all enrichment- related activities” for the duration of negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. But the negotiations ended when, beginning in August 2005, Tehran resumed the enrichment process in several stages. Uranium enrichment can produce both low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is used as fuel in civilian nuclear reactors, or highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The permanent council members and Germany have all repeatedly called on Iran to resume the suspension and return to negotiations.

Security Council, IAEA Act

The permanent council members began discussions about the statement shortly after the IAEA board’s March meeting. But it represents the latest step in a months-long diplomatic effort to bring the Iranian nuclear issue before the Security Council.

The board adopted a resolution last September that formally found Iran in “noncompliance” with its agency safeguards agreement but did not specify when or under what circumstances it would refer the matter to the Security Council.

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

The March 29 statement was the product of a compromise that reflected Moscow’s and Beijing’s persistent differences with Iran ’s European interlocutors and Washington. Russia and China abstained from the September IAEA vote because they preferred that the issue be resolved within the agency.

France , Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States all support Security Council action as part of a strategy of gradually ratcheting up pressure on Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained during a March 26 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press that a unified position will alter Iran’s behavior because it “cannot stand…isolation from the international community.”

During the recent council debate, U.S. and European officials repeatedly said that the statement would not mention any punitive measures. Nevertheless, Russia and China were wary of language they believed could lead to such action against Tehran.

For example, Beijing and Moscow reportedly insisted that the statement not use the phrase “international peace and security” because that same language is in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That chapter allows the council to take punitive action, such as imposing sanctions or using military force, against offending countries “to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Additionally, the deadline for ElBaradei’s report was extended from 14 days to 30 days at Russia’s and China’s request.

Russian Diplomacy Falls Through

Russia ’s own diplomatic efforts with Iran have also failed to produce results. Moscow has proposed giving Tehran part-ownership of a gas centrifuge plant located in Russia that would enrich Iranian-produced uranium hexafluoride.

The proposal is an attempt to address Iran’s stated need for an assured nuclear fuel supply while minimizing Tehran’s ability to produce fissile material. Iran and its European interlocutors were unable to reach such an agreement before the talks ended in August 2005.

Russia currently has a fuel supply agreement with Iran for the nuclear power reactor it is constructing near the Iranian city of Bushehr. Russia is to supply LEU to the reactor and take the spent fuel back to Russia. (See ACT, April 2005.)

Iran ’s ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, said that the two sides were “agreed on the basics” of a deal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported March 29. But no final agreement has been reached. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told re porters two days earlier that Moscow’s offer “remains on the table.”

The two sides have disagreed about whether Iran should be al lowed to retain a centrifuge facility. Iranian officials have repeatedly declared that Tehran will retain at least a pilot facility, but some have also indicated that the country might be willing to accept limits on its larger facility.

Russian diplomats were reported to have floated a proposal in early March that would have allowed Iran to operate a pilot enrichment facility for research purposes. But Lavrov denied those claims during a March 7 press conference with Rice. France, the United Kingdom , and the United States have all said that Iran should not be allowed to retain even a small centrifuge plant as that could provide Iran with the necessary skills to operate a similar clandestine facility.

Looking Forward

U.S. and European officials have said that, in the event that Tehran continues to defy the IAEA, they will pursue a Security Council resolution making the agency’s demands for confidence-building measures a legal obligation. Iran’s safeguards agreement does not mandate that it comply with such measures. (See ACT, October 2005.)

A British diplomat asserted in a March 16 letter to his French, German, and U.S. counterparts that such a resolution should invoke Chapter 7 in order to signal to Iran that “more serious measures are likely.”

The letter does not specify what these measures might be, but U.S. officials have said that the council’s next step, if necessary, would be to implement sanctions designed to target the Iranian leadership.

China and Russia, however, remain wary of such actions. The letter acknowledges that Beijing and Moscow will not “accept significant sanctions over the coming months.” Indeed, Lavrov indicated during a March 29 press conference that Moscow does not currently support increased council pressure on Iran.

The British letter also stated that the permanent council members and Germany should propose new incentives for Iran to mothball its centrifuge program, but does not elaborate. In August, the country turned down a proposed European package of incentives.

Tehran has continued to demonstrate little willingness to compromise on its enrichment program. Iran’s permanent representative to the UN Mohammad-Javad Zarif told reporters March 29 that Tehran is willing to “find a negotiated solution to the issue” but only if it is allowed to pursue its nuclear program.

Perhaps displaying some flexibility, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated March 25 that Iran may “reconsider implementing” the additional protocol if the Security Council returns Iran’s dossier to the IAEA, IRNA reported.

During a March 30 press conference in Geneva, Mottaki also suggested a “regional consortium” for the production of nuclear fuel as a possible solution to the nuclear dispute, the agency reported. He provided no additional details.


UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Iran

The United Nations Security Council March 29 approved the following statement on Iran’s nuclear program:

The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of states party, in conformity with Articles I and II of that treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.

The Security Council notes with serious concern the many IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports and resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, reported to it by the IAEA director-general (Mohamed ElBaradei), including the February IAEA board resolution (GOV/2006/14);

The Security Council also notes with serious concern that the director general’s report of 27 February 2006 (GOV/2006/15) lists a number of outstanding issues and concerns, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension, and that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.

The Security Council notes with serious concern Iran’s decision to resume enrichment-related activities, including research and development, and to suspend co-operation with the IAEA under the (Non-Proliferation Treaty’s) Additional Protocol.

The Security Council calls upon Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors, notably in the first operative paragraph of its resolution GOV/2006/14, which are essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear program and to resolve outstanding questions, and underlines, in this regard, the particular importance of reestablishing full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA.

The Security Council expresses the conviction that such suspension and full, verified Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA Board of Governors would contribute to a diplomatic, negotiated solution that guarantees Iran’s nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, and underlines the willingness of the international community to work positively for such a solution, which will also benefit nuclear nonproliferation elsewhere;

The Security Council strongly supports the role of the IAEA Board of Governors and commends and encourages the director-general of the IAEA and its secretariat for their ongoing professional and impartial efforts to resolve outstanding issues in Iran, and underlines the necessity of the IAEA continuing its work to clarify all outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program;

The Security Council requests in 30 days a report from the director- general of the IAEA on the process of Iranian compliance with the steps required by the IAEA Board, to the IAEA Board of Governors and in parallel to the Security Council for its consideration.






If it Ain't Broke: The Already Reliable U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

Robert W. Nelson

The Bush administration through the Department of Energy has proposed developing a new family of nuclear warheads to replace the aging weapons in the current U.S. nuclear stockpile. The Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program is intended to improve the “reliability, security, and longevity” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without requiring the United States to resume nuclear testing.[1]

The Energy Department’s ambitious plans would reorient the primary post-Cold War mission of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories from stockpile maintenance to the development of new replacement warhead designs.

At first glance, the RRW program seems a promising solution to the long-term maintenance of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The stated goal is to develop new replacement warheads that will be easier and less costly to maintain than current weapons, will be more reliable and easier to certify, and will meet modern safety and environmental requirements. Moreover, the Energy Department contends that the program could help support future steep reductions in the total number of U.S. nuclear weapons by increasing confidence in the effectiveness of the remaining arsenal.

On closer examination, however, the RRW program seems premature and inherently risky. As administration officials have repeatedly testified, the warheads in the current well-tested U.S. nuclear stockpile are already highly reliable, more so than the missiles that deliver them. Simple changes to existing procedures could increase war head “performance margins” even more . By contrast, even the modest design changes envisioned under the RRW program, ultimately intended to replace large parts of the U.S. nuclear deterrent with untested warheads, will inevitably lead to renewed demands that the United States resume underground nuclear explosive testing. This would encourage other countries, such as China, to resume their own nuclear testing programs and allow them to improve the capabilities of their own nuclear weapons.

Additionally, if the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, Congress and other policymakers should first re-examine the requirements dictated by the nation’s outdated nuclear targeting doctrine. Current U.S. nuclear planning requires the ability to threaten thousands of sites in Russia, China, and elsewhere. It also demands that warheads be far more predictable than other weapons components. Rather than funding a new and costly weapons program, lawmakers would be better served if they confronted the need to end an irrational nuclear targeting doctrine a decade and a half after the end of the Cold War.

 The Current U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and Stockpile Stewardship

The United States has not deployed a new nuclear warhead since 1989. The last U.S. underground nuclear explosive test occurred in September 1992. Later that year, President George H. W. Bush halted further design work on new nuclear weapons and signed legislation initiating a moratorium on nuclear testing. As a result, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories underwent a fundamental change in mission, from an earlier focus on developing and testing new warhead designs to their current focus on maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing.

As of January, the United States possessed nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads. Approximately 5,700 warheads based on nine design types are currently deployed on missiles, bombs, and other operational weapons or otherwise maintained in ready-to-use status. The United States also maintains a reserve stockpile of approximately 4,200 inactive warheads.[2] Although it greatly reduced the number of its deployed nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War, the United States chose to keep a stockpile “hedge,” arguing that additional weapons might be needed if a serious performance problem were ever discovered in an entire class of deployed warheads or if it faced a renewed strategic threat, such as a nuclear buildup by a resurgent Russia, and needed to deploy a larger arsenal rapidly.

Whether the United States could maintain its nuclear deterrent without conducting nuclear explosive tests was hotly debated during the 1990s, but a key endorsement came from the JASON committee, a prestigious group of academic and industrial scientists that has advised the U.S. government for decades. The JASON commit tee determined that, under a ban on nuclear explosive testing, the United States could “have high confidence in the safety, reliability, and performance margins of the nuclear weapons that are designated to remain in the enduring stockpile.” In reaching this conclusion, the group explicitly assumed that the United States would not need to develop new nuclear weapon designs. They also warned that the laboratories should not try to make changes to existing weapons: “greatest care in the form of self-discipline will be required to avoid system modifications, even if aimed at ‘improvements,’ which may compromise reliability.”[3]

The Energy Department currently maintains U.S. nuclear warheads through the Stockpile Stewardship Program, a $6.4 billion per year research, engineering, and monitoring program designed during the Clinton administration to maintain the long-term safety, reliability, and security of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without nuclear explosive testing. Each year, 11 sample weapons of each of the nine warhead types are subjected to an extensive series of tests to ensure they will perform as designed and that no age-related problems have developed.

In some cases, nuclear warheads have been rebuilt as part of the stockpile Life Extension Program: engineers refurbish existing nuclear warheads by fixing or replacing the non-nuclear components before aging-related changes jeopardize warhead safety or reliability. Weapons are rebuilt as closely as possible to original specifications, minimizing design changes that could reduce confidence in the reliability of these weapons.

As a result of this approach, since 1997 the secretaries of defense and energy each year have been able to formally certify to the president that the U.S. nuclear stockpile continues to be safe and reliable. As Linton Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said recently, “[The] Stockpile Stewardship [Program] is working. We are absolutely convinced today’s stockpile is safe and reliable.”[4]

Despite the acknowledged success of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, however, some officials at the Energy Department and at the nuclear weapons laboratories have never been happy with restrictions that prevent them from working on new and more exotic warhead designs. Over the last several years, the Energy Department has sought authorization and funding from Congress—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—to begin design work on new low-yield nuclear weapons (mini-nukes),[5] a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator for destroying deeply buried and hardened targets, [6] a Modern Pit Facility capable of rapidly producing the plutonium cores of new warheads,[7] and a reduction in the time needed to prepare and conduct an underground nuclear test.

The RRW program seems to be the latest and most ambitious Energy Department proposal yet. If approved, it would certainly keep the nuclear weapons laboratories fully engaged and funds flowing for many years.

 RRW Origins

The RRW program emerged in its current form from the Energy Department’s fiscal year 2005 budget request. The Energy Department had asked for funds to study new warhead designs through the Advanced Concepts Initiative. Not wanting to fund a program that he believed distracted the laboratories from their primary steward ship mission, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, zeroed out the $9 million Advanced Concepts Initiative request. Instead, he provided equivalent funding, later increased to $25 million, for a RRW program intended to “improve the reliability, longevity, and certifiability of existing weapons and their components.” Hobson believed the program would “challenge the skills of the existing group of weapons designers…without developing a new weapon that would require under ground testing to verify the design.”[8]

In fact, the RRW program appears to be a broadly expanded version of an earlier Navy/Energy Department collaboration, which focused on developing replacement warheads for the Trident missiles with designs that would have “decreased sensitivity to aging, increased design margins, [and] increased ability for surveillance” but could be “certified without an underground nuclear test.”[9]

Hobson’s subcommittee further made clear its intent to avoid a return to nuclear testing by requiring in its report that “any weapon design work…must stay within the military requirements of the existing deployed stockpile…and within the design parameters validated by past nuclear tests.”[10]

These provisions were elaborated in the statutory requirements of the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization bill that governs current spending.

Almost immediately, the weapons laboratories enthusiastically endorsed the RRW program and greatly expanded its vision. The directors of the national laboratory weapons programs explicitly endorsed an article by four weapons scientists describing the RRW program as a means of “Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise” while portraying the goals of the Stockpile Stewardship Program as “increasingly unsustainable.”[11] They argued the laboratories “should shift from a program of warhead refurbishment to one of warhead replacement.”[12] The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board further described the RRW program as “the first of a family of warheads” for a stockpile that is “continuously modernized through a series of design-production cycles that would al low the stockpile to meet an evolving or changing threat environment.”[13]

Furthermore, the Energy Department’s request for the RRW program is just one part of a more ambitious program that will enable the nuclear weapons complex to transform to a “responsive nuclear weapons infrastructure” capable of quickly producing new warheads “on a timescale in which geopolitical threats could emerge.” The most immediate proposal is to re-establish the capability of designing and manufacturing the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons on a large scale. Although the Energy Department does not propose funding for a Modern Pit Facility in its current fiscal year 2007 budget request, the facility remains a long-term goal.[14]

The budget request describes the RRW program as a program aimed at “identifying [nuclear warhead] designs to sustain long- term confidence in a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile.” Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National laboratories are reported to be in a warhead design competition for replacements for the W76 and W88 warheads used in the submarine-launched Trident I and II missiles.[15]

Congress clearly intended the RRW program to be limited to improvements in existing weapons, but some reports describe the RRW program as potentially leading to weapons with new, more exotic capabilities. The Defense Science Board, for example, recently endorsed the RRW program as part of a larger effort to develop weapons that would produce “special effects,” such as enhanced electromagnetic pulse, enhanced neutron flux (a new neutron bomb), and reduced fission-yield (low- radiation) weapons.[16] Advanced weapon effects like these would clearly involve designs that would have to be tested before entering the stockpile.

Faulty Assumptions

The Energy Department claims that the weapons labs could certify any new RRW design as long as it remains well within the parameters of previously tested designs. At a March 1 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Brooks testified that weapons designers are “confident that their designs will meet our requirements and be certifiable without nuclear testing.”

But the Energy Department’s plans for the RRW program are based on a set of misleading and faulty assumptions that, if acted on, are likely to worsen rather than improve U.S. national security.

Assumption 1: Stockpile Reliability is Degrading.

First, the very name, “Reliable Replacement Warhead program,” wrongly suggests that existing U.S. weapons may be unreliable and need to be replaced. Indeed, the weapons laboratories have reinforced this perception with vague and speculative assertions: “Over the longer term, we may face concerns about whether accumulated changes in age-affected weapons components, whose replacements might have to be manufactured by changed processes, could lead to inadequate performance margins and reduced confidence in the stockpile.”

In fact, there is nothing unreliable with the nuclear weapons the United States already maintains. As a result of the Stockpile Stewardship Program’s basic research efforts, weapons scientists understand the performance and reliability of U.S.nuclear warheads better today than they did when full-scale nuclear weapons tests were allowed. Further, the Energy Department has offered no public evidence to suggest the Stockpile Stewardship and the Life Extension Programs have been anything but remarkably successful.

To the contrary, Seymour Sack, one of the nation’s most prolific weapon scientists who designed most of the nuclear primaries in the current nuclear arsenal, asserts, “We’ve got a reliable stockpile. We have a test base for it. We have now in the last 10 or 15 years far more sophisticated computational abilities than we had doing these designs originally, so things are extremely well understood in terms of the performance.… I don’t see any reason you should change those designs.”[17]

Indeed, the critical nuclear components appear to be lasting longer than originally expected. Earlier concerns that the plutonium pits would be damaged by self-irradiation as they age have not yet been realized. The Energy Department is scheduled to release the results of these “accelerated aging” experiments later this year, but administration officials have already hinted that minimum pit lifetimes are likely to be much longer, and initial reports have suggested lifetimes in excess of 90 years.[18]

Moreover, the JASON committee suggested as early as 1995 a simple way to improve the warhead “primary performance margins” simply by changing the composition of the tritium boost gas or by replacing it more frequently.

Assumption 2: Design Changes Can Be Made Safely, Cheaply, and Without Nuclear Tests.

Second, there are few design changes the laboratories could make to existing weapons without compromising safety or other military requirements and without requiring nuclear test explosions.

When the United States still conducted nuclear tests, any new or modified warhead was required to undergo a series of nuclear explosive tests during the development and production phases before it could be certified to enter the stockpile. Indeed, a 1991 report to Congress estimated a minimum of three to four nuclear explosive tests would have to be conducted in order to certify a replacement warhead for the W88.[19]

In contrast, the RRW program proposes to make changes to the nuclear explosive package itself, the core of the weapon containing the fissile and thermonuclear materials.

Weapons designers could increase the predictability of the primary by adding additional plutonium and increasing the amount or altering the type of the chemical high explosive that initiates the explosion. Doing so, however, would have a ripple effect on other relevant design dimensions for warheads: their weight, size, shape, and safety.

The Department of Defense requires that any new warhead not alter the aerodynamic characteristics of the re-entry vehicle that would carry it to its target. Current warheads were designed to minimize size and weight so that multiple warheads could fit on long-range ballistic missiles as well as to meet minimum safety requirements. Adding additional plutonium or high explosive to current designs would make warheads heavier or larger than existing weapons or alter their shape. If the warhead has a different shape or has its mass distributed differently than current designs, it might affect how the re-entry vehicle flies. The Defense Department would then be faced with the major expense of either recertifying that the re-entry vehicle achieves its military goals or designing and flight-testing a new re-entry vehicle to accommodate the new warhead.

In fact, the Navy in 1993 considered and rejected the opportunity to upgrade the safety of the W88 warhead to use insensitive high explosive in large part because of the expected cost required—$3.8 billion in 1993 dollars—to retrofit the Trident third-stage rocket motor. Redesigning a new re-entry vehicle or even a new bus for the Trident missile could be far more expensive than developing a new warhead.

A new design might also create new safety concerns. U.S. nuclear weapons are required to be “one point safe”—having a very small probability of generating a nuclear explosion if struck by a bullet or projectile, for example, or if exposed to a high temperature fire or a nearby chemical explosion. Yet, adding plutonium to in crease “reliability” would bring the primary fission device closer to its critical mass, making it easier to detonate at full yield. This would increase the primary performance margins, but it would also increase the probability that the warhead could detonate accidentally and hence be less “safe.” As a consequence, designers are limited to how much they can increase performance margins without undermining existing safety restrictions.

Assumption 3: The RRW Program Will Mitigate, Not Increase, Political Pressure to Test.

Finally, even if the nuclear weapons laboratories somehow manage to stay within the design parameter “space” of previously tested warheads and produce nuclear primaries with higher performance margins, there would be tremendous political pressure for the United States to conduct nuclear explosive tests before new warheads can enter the stockpile. After all, the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999, in part because of skepticism that the laboratories could guarantee confidence in the existing well-tested stockpile without continued testing. The U.S. nuclear arsenal is based on 50 years of research and more than 1,000 underground nuclear tests. It is implausible that that the Pentagon or a future Congress would accept new war heads, ultimately replacing the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, based on designs that have never been tested.

As Sidney Drell, a physicist and longtime adviser to the government and the nuclear weapons labs, has said, “I can’t believe that an admiral or a general or a future president, who are putting the U.S. survival at stake, would accept an untested weapon if it didn’t have a test base.”

A worldwide resumption of nuclear testing would decrease U.S. security. Were the United States to resume underground nuclear testing, it is highly likely that Russia, China, and other countries would resume their own test programs as well. Those countries could improve their own nuclear arsenals far more than could the United States if there was a return to testing. Resumed testing by China, for example, would help it to miniaturize its own warhead designs, allowing it to deploy multiple warheads placed on a single missile. Such a breakdown in the moratorium would also profoundly undermine efforts to limit nuclear proliferation.

A Look at Targeting

Warhead reliability ultimately enters the Pentagon’s nuclear war-fighting calculations in predicting the mathematical likelihood that a planned nuclear strike will destroy its intended target. Although specific numbers are classified, a U.S. nuclear warhead is thought to be required to detonate with an energy within 10 percent of their design yield, under worst-case battlefield conditions.

Yet, the target “damage expectancy” depends on more than just the precise size of the explosion. It depends far more, in fact, on the performance of the non-nuclear components of the weapon, particularly the accuracy of the final re-entry vehicle in reaching its target. An improvement in accuracy by a factor of two, for example, decreases the required explosive yield by a factor of eight. It hardly matters, for example, if the W76 warhead detonates with a yield of 100 kilotons or 90 kilotons, when a 15-kiloton explosion will do.

The reliability of these non-nuclear components is high, but their uncertainty still greatly exceeds any uncertainty in the reliability of the core nuclear package. In order to increase the damage expectancy significantly, the Pentagon would have to redesign and improve the reliability of all of these components at very great expense.

Rather than doing that, the Pentagon builds in a great deal of redundancy as it selects weapons and modes for any particular targeting scenario. It may increase the yield or the number of weapons targeting a particular site to hedge against any uncertainty.

So, ultimately the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the need to maintain a large hedge of inactive warheads derives not from small uncertainties in the precise yield of our stockpiled weapons, but in the belief that the United States needs to maintain the ability to put at risk the thousands of sites on its current target list. Before initiating a major rebuild of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, Congress and other policymakers should re-examine the implications and logic of the U.S. nuclear targeting posture.

 The Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons

Almost 15 years ago, President George H. W. Bush determined that the United States had no need to continue to design new nuclear weapons. This policy made it possible for the United States to push for an end to the development and testing of new nuclear weapons by all countries and to negotiate the CTBT. Although the Senate has not ratified the CTBT, the global moratorium on nuclear testing still stands and has prevented other countries, such as China, from advancing their own thermonuclear designs.

A great danger, as Congress and other policymakers consider the merits of the RRW program, is that they may accept the false premise that the U.S. nuclear deter rent is already degrading. If this happens, there will be tremendous pressure for the United States to resume underground nuclear testing whether or not a more reliable warhead could technically be developed without testing.

The debate over the RRW program also obscures a more fundamental and practical development: the utility of U.S. nuclear weapons is receding in importance with high-precision conventional weapons increasingly capable of accomplishing many missions that, until recently, would have required nuclear yields. Given that the United States has overwhelming superiority in conventional weaponry, U.S. military strength is undercut, not enhanced, by actions that ascribe greater importance to nuclear weapons. If the world’s greatest military power continues to rely on nuclear weapons, then why would countries that the United States considers to be a threat not see even greater reason to acquire nuclear weapons of their own?

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.


What Does Reliability Mean?

Robert W. Nelson

What does it mean for a nuclear warhead to be “unreliable”? To the Departments of Energy and Defense, a warhead is considered un reliable if it risks detonating with an explosive energy slightly different from its design yield even if it still is guaranteed to destroy its target. But any uncertainty in the target “kill probability” stems primarily on the non-nuclear components of the weapon.

The official Energy Department definition of nuclear weapon reliability is “the probability of achieving the specified yield, at the tar get, across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of environments, throughout the weapon’s lifetime, assuming proper inputs.”[1]

The “specified yield” is a classified number for each warhead, but it has historically been understood to mean the design yield “with an allowable variation of 10 per cent.” In other words, if there is more than a minimal probability that a 350-kiloton warhead might detonate with a yield less than 315 kilotons or greater than 385 kilotons, that warhead would be considered unreliable even if it was certain to destroy its intended target.

A reliable warhead must be able to operate in the “hostile environment” of a nuclear battlefield. “Across the Stockpile-to-Target Sequence of environments” means the war head must survive the intense temperature and radiation effects of other nuclear detonations, for example, if an enemy were to develop a nuclear-tipped missile defense. The warhead also must function “throughout the weapon’s lifetime,” even under the worst-case scenario where its tritium boost gas is at its lowest level.

Yet, these reliability requirements on the nuclear explosive package itself are reportedly more stringent than on the missiles’ delivery systems. These requirements are quantified in the damage expectancy, the mathematical likelihood that a planned nuclear strike will destroy its intended target. The damage expectancy depends not only on the warhead’s explosive yield but on the overall weapon performance: a successful missile launch, the separation of the first and second missile boost stages, the performance of the missile guidance system, the disengagement of the multiple re-entry vehicle warhead from the missile bus, and the accuracy of the final re-entry vehicle in reaching its target. These damage expectancies, in turn, are embedded in the thousands of lines of computer code used in the Single Integrated Operation Plan (SIOP), the Pentagon’s comprehensive plan to conduct thermonuclear war.[2]

Any remaining uncertainty comes far less from the warhead’s nuclear components than its non-nuclear-components: the arming and fusing mechanism, the chemical high explosive, and the neutron initiator. These are regularly tested without explosive nuclear tests as part of the stockpile maintenance program. As long as these non-nuclear components perform correctly, current U.S. nuclear weapons are extremely reliable.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, if the firing, neutron-generator, and boost-gas subsystem function within their specified tolerances, the nuclear subsystems in the enduring stockpile historically have been certified to achieve the specified yield range with 100 percent certainty over the entire range of specified stockpile-to-target sequences.”[3]



1. R. L. Bierbaum et al., “DOE Nuclear Weapon Reliability Definition: History, Description, and Implementation,” Sandia National Laboratories, April 1999. See S. I. Schwartz, “Defining Reliable,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (March/April 2001), pp. 55-56.

2. The United Sates has actually formally changed the name of its strategic nuclear war plan. Known throughout the Cold War as the Single Integrated Operations Plan, it is now known as Operations Plan 8044. See Robert S. Norris and Hans Kristensen, “ U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January/February 2006), pp. 68-71.

3. National Academy of Sciences, “Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” 2002, p. 25.



Improving Warhead Reliability: Boosting the Boost Gas

Robert W. Nelson

During the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories developed more than 100 types of nuclear warheads and conducted more than 1,000 nuclear explosive tests.

Their primary goal was to develop ever- smaller and -lighter warheads that could be carried in groups over intercontinental distances by long-range ballistic missiles and bombers.

The first deployed thermonuclear weapon was almost 24 feet long and weighed more than 40,000 pounds.[1] In contrast, the 1980s-era W87 warhead weighs approximately 500 pounds and was originally designed to fit with a total of 10 warheads mounted on the MX (Peacekeeper) ICBM.

Most if not all U.S. nuclear warheads are two-stage thermonuclear devices (hydrogen bombs) with plutonium primaries. The “primary” plutonium trigger is really a small atomic bomb, similar in concept to the Nagasaki weapon, used to generate the high temperatures needed to ignite a “secondary” device containing fusion fuel.

A key technology that dramatically in creased the efficiency of the primary and decreased the required size and weight of nuclear warheads is thermonuclear “boosting.” The plutonium pit is shaped in a hollow spherical shell and filled just before detonation with a gaseous mixture of hydrogen isotopes: tritium-deuterium “boost” gas. When the weapon is detonated, a chemical explosion first compresses the plutonium shell to supercriticality, initiating a fission chain reaction. The fission energy released compresses and heats the boost gas enough for it to undergo thermonuclear fusion; the boost gas releases a burst of high-energy neutrons into the imploded plutonium shell, which subsequently fission a much larger fraction of the plutonium than would otherwise occur. This process thus dramatically increases, or boosts, the yield of the primary to a level where it can detonate the secondary thermonuclear device. A boosted primary thus uses a minimum amount of plutonium material and chemical high explosive, decreasing the overall size and weight of the warhead.

By contrast, the physics governing the performance of the secondary is relatively simple: as long as the primary explosion releases a certain minimum energy, the secondary is guaranteed to burn all of its fusion fuel and the weapon will detonate with its designed explosive yield.[2]

Consequently, the yield of the boosted fission primary is designed to always exceed, by the “primary margin,” the minimum energy required to ignite the secondary, even under worst-case conditions . The major uncertainty in the performance of the warhead physics package is thus determined by any uncertainty in the primary margin.

Because tritium in the boost gas decays over time, with a radioactive half-life of 12 years, at some point there will not be enough to guarantee that the primary has the yield needed for the secondary to burn all its fusion fuel. To guard against this, the tritium gas must be replenished at regular intervals. Primaries are said to be in their worst-case condition right before these replenishments take place. The Department of Energy already guards against any diminution in reliability by requiring that primaries be capable of triggering a boosted explosion even if the tritium gas is at the end of a transfer interval.

Because of these design parameters, there are simple ways to ensure warhead reliability without resorting to a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW)-type program. The easiest way is to add additional boost gas to the primary or decrease the time interval when the gas is replaced. As early as 1995, the JASON defense advisory committee recommended such an approach to the Energy Department. “The primary yield margins can be increased by simple changes in initial boost-gas composition, shorter boost-gas exchange intervals, or improved boost-gas storage and delivery systems. These modifications have been validated by previous nuclear test data and would not require additional testing.”

Thus, the Energy Department could improve the reliability of the weapons in the existing nuclear stockpile without making any changes to warhead design simply by adding additional boost gas or decreasing the time interval between gas transfers. These simple steps had not been taken as of 1999, however, when the JASON committee expressed “disappointment at the slow pace, low priority and limited scope of the lab/Energy Department efforts to provide enhanced primary performance margins.”[3]



1. Mk-17 weighed 19 metric tons and had a yield of 15-20 megatons.

2. R. L. Garwin and V. Simonenko, “Nuclear Weapons Development Without Nuclear Testing,” Pugwash Workshop on Problems in Achieving a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World, October 1996.

3. “Primary Performance Margins,” JASON Report JSR-99–305, December 1999, found at www.fas.org.



Legal Authority for the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program

The following language in the fiscal year 2006 Defense Authorization Bill provides the current legal authority for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. The key legislative language is excerpted below:

(a) Program Required—The Secretary of Energy shall carry out a program, to be known as the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which will have the following objectives:

1. To increase the reliability, safety, and security of the United States nuclear weapons stockpile.

2. To further reduce the likelihood of the resumption of underground nuclear weapons testing.

3. To remain consistent with basic design parameters by including, to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the objective specified in paragraph (2), components that are well understood or are certifiable without the need to resume underground nuclear weapons testing.

4. To ensure that the nuclear weapons infrastructure can respond to unforeseen problems, to include the ability to produce replacement warheads that are safer to manufacture, more cost-effective to produce, and less costly to maintain than existing warheads.

5. To achieve reductions in the future size of the nuclear weapons stockpile based on increased reliability of the reliable replacement warheads.

6. To use the design, certification, and production expertise resident in the nuclear complex to develop reliable replacement components to fulfill current mission requirements of the existing stockpile.

7. To serve as a complement to, and potentially a more cost-effective and reliable long-term replacement for, the current Stockpile Life Extension Programs.

(b) Report—Not later than March 1, 2007, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report on the feasibility and implementation of the Reliable Replacement Warhead program required by section 4204a of the Atomic Energy Defense Act, as added by subsection(a).

The report shall—

1. identify existing warheads recommended for replacement by 2035 with an assessment of the weapon performance and safety characteristics of the replacement warheads;

2. discuss the relationship of the Reliable Replacement Warhead program within the Stockpile Stewardship Program and its impact on the current Stockpile Life Extension Programs;

3. provide an assessment of the extent to which a successful Reliable Replacement Warhead program could lead to reductions in the nuclear weapons stockpile;

4. discuss the criteria by which replacement warheads under the Reliable Replacement Warhead program will be designed to maximize the likelihood of not requiring nuclear testing, as well as the circumstances that could lead to a resumption of testing;

5. provide a description of the infrastructure, including pit production capabilities, required to support the Reliable Replacement Warhead program;

6. provide a detailed summary of how the funds made available pursuant to the authorizations of appropriations in this Act, and any funds made available in prior years, will be used; and

7. provide an estimate of the comparative costs of a reliable replacement warhead and the stockpile life extension for the warheads identified in paragraph (1).


Robert W. Nelson is a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.


1. For a recent discussion of the RRW program goals, see Linton Brooks, Presentation on “The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” Washington, DC, January 25, 2006, found at www.armscontrol.org (hereinafter Brooks presentation); Raymond Jeanloz and David Mosher, Remarks on “The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” Washington, DC, January 25, 2006, found at www.armscontrol.org.

2. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “ U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (January/February 2006).

3. “JASON Nuclear Testing Study: Summary and Conclusions,” JASON Report JSR-95-320, 1995.

4. Brooks presentation.

5. Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “What’s Behind Bush’s Nuclear Cuts?” Arms Control Today , October 2004, p. 6.

6. Wade Boese, “Congress Cuts Nuclear Bunker Buster Again,” Arms Control Today, December 2005, p. 23.

7. Steve Fetter and Frank von Hippel, “Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?” Arms Control Today, May 2004, p. 10.

8. David Hobson, Address to the Arms Control Association, “ U.S. Nuclear Security in the 21st Century,” February 3, 2005.

9. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Nuclear Weapon System Sustainment Programs,” May 1997, p. 18. For a more in-depth discussion, see Natural Resources Defense Council, “End Run: Simulating Nuclear Explosions Under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” 1997.

10. Conference report of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee accompanying the fiscal year 2005 energy and water development appropriations bill, H.R. 2419.

11. K. Henry O’Brien et al., “Sustaining the Nuclear Enterprise—A New Approach,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory, May 2005.

12. Ibid.

13. The Department of Energy, “Recommendations for the Nuclear Weapons Complex of the Future: Report of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Nuclear Weapons Complex Infrastructure Task Force,” July 13, 2005.

14. See Fetter and von Hippel, “Does the United States Need a New Plutonium-Pit Facility?”

15. See Ian Hoffman, “Times Good for Bomb Designers: Scientists Drawing Up Plans for New Nuclear Weapons With Aim of Replacing U.S.Arsenal,” Tri-Valley Herald, February 5, 2006.

16. Department of Defense, “Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Future Strategic Strike Forces,” February 2004.

17. See Ian Hoffman, “Lab Officials Excited by New H-bomb Project,” The Oakland Tribune, February 7, 2006.

18. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “a study due later this year will project an extended life span for plutonium bomb components, of perhaps 100 years,” J. Sterngold, “Upgrades Planned for U.S. Nuclear Stockpile; Agency Leader Expects Significant Warhead Redesigns,” San Franciso Chronicle, January 15, 2006. For a discussion of the technical issues related to warhead aging, see Raymond Jeanloz, “Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship,” Physics Today, December 2000, pp. 44-50.

19. R. Kidder, “Assessment of the Safety of U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Related Nuclear Test Requirements: A Post-Bush Initiative Update,” UCRL-LR-109503, December 10, 1991.


North Korea, U.S. Talks Inch Forward

Paul Kerr 

Although another session of multilateral talks regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has yet to be scheduled after more than four months, North Korea and the United States appear to have made incremental progress toward convening another such meeting.

The participants in the talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia , and South Korea, began their most recent round of talks in November attempting to build on a September 2005 statement of principles for a negotiated settlement, but the talks stalled.

Despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts to restart the talks, no further meetings have taken place. North Korea has refused to attend, citing its objections to U.S. measures that Pyongyang terms “financial sanctions,” a reference to the Department of the Treasury’s September 2005 designation of the Macau bank Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.” (See ACT, March 2006.)

Washington asserts that the bank provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in such illegal activities as trafficking in narcotics and distributing counterfeit U.S. currency. Since the U.S. designation, Banco Delta Asia has frozen the relevant accounts, and other financial institutions have also curtailed their dealings both with the bank and North Korea.

North Korea and the United States have attempted to resolve the standoff. On March 7, officials from the U.S. Treasury Department briefed North Korea’s deputy director-general for North America, Li Gun, as well as other North Korean officials about the U.S. actions taken with respect to Banco Delta Asia. Li told reporters afterward that his delegation proposed several methods for resolving U.S. concerns, South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported. Among them was a suggestion to form a joint U.S.-North Korean consultative committee of experts that would discuss such issues as counterfeiting and money laundering.

Nonetheless, Washington and Pyongyang have continued to accuse each other of obstructing progress toward another session of talks.

The View From Pyongyang

Behind closed doors, North Korean officials are said to acknowledge that some of their citizens have been involved in the illegal activities. But they say that the United States is using the issue as a means to pressure North Korea regarding its nuclear programs rather than to address legitimate law enforcement concerns. Knowledgeable current and former administration officials say that the United States is actually using the actions to achieve both goals. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

At a March 6 meeting in New York hosted by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, North Korean officials did not deny that illicit activities had taken place in their country. But they repeated Pyongyang’s previous claim that its government is not involved in such activities. North Korea has said it will punish any guilty individuals, as well as participate in international efforts to stop money laundering.

A March 13 article in the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by North Korea’s ruling Communist Party, described the “financial sanctions” as “obstacles” to the talks’ progress. Pyongyang argues that such measures are part of a “hostile policy” intended to under mine North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s regime. North Korea says this policy is inconsistent with Washington’s pledge, contained in the September joint statement, to respect Pyongyang’s sovereignty. (See ACT, November 2005.)

Pyongyang also contends that Washington is applying “financial sanctions” in order to extract concessions from Pyongyang during future six-party negotiations. Specifically, North Korea asserts that the United States is trying to force Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear facilities before receiving any U.S.-provided benefits.

Despite its objections, Pyongyang says it is willing to return to the talks, although whether it is demanding any concessions in return for doing so is unclear.

Li told reporters March 7 that Pyongyang would not return to the talks “in the midst of the continued U.S. pressure,” Yonhap News Agency reported.

North Korean officials were more specific during the private March 6 meeting in New York. A meeting participant told Arms Control Today March 21 that the North Koreans did not demand that the Bush ad ministration end its “financial sanctions” as a condition for returning to the talks. Pyongyang does, however, want the Bush administration to engage in bilateral discussions with them about the matter.

The View From Washington

Washington has not yet issued a formal response to Li’s proposals. But a Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 21 that North Korea’s requests and stated U.S. policy “do not match,” particularly in terms of establishing a consultative committee.

North Korea has repeatedly sought to engage the Bush administration in bilateral negotiations, but the United States has only conducted such discussions on the sidelines of the six-party talks.

However, the administration has recently indicated some flexibility regarding its measures to curb North Korean illicit activities. Although the administration publicly maintains that the matter is unrelated to the nuclear issue, State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli indicated during a March 17 press briefing that issues related to North Korea’s financial system could potentially be discussed in the six-party talks.

In a March 8 hearing before the House International Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill argued that North Korea is “stalling” because the regime has not yet committed to working out the details of dismantling their nuclear programs.

Although U.S. officials have said that North Korea should end its illicit activities, the Bush administration has not publicly articulated specific actions that Pyongyang should take to satisfy Washington’s concerns. When asked about the matter during a Feb. 22 interview with JoongAng Ilbo, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow said only that it is “really hard to say what would be sufficient.”

During a March 7 interview with Arms Control Today, Michael Green, until recently President George W. Bush’s National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs, described the Bush administration’s North Korea policy as an “effective harmony of different goals.”

Green, who left government last December, explained that the dual-track policy of countering North Korean illicit activities while also negotiating with Pyongyang synthesizes the views of two camps of administration officials. One has advocated increased pressure on the North Korean regime while the other has supported greater engagement with Pyongyang.

Green indicated that he believes the two tracks are coordinated but somewhat independent. The United States will continue to take action against illegal North Korean activities regardless of the six- party talks’ status, he said. But he added that Washington thinks such measures complement the talks by forcing Pyongyang to turn to legitimate economic activities for revenue. The greater need to engage in legitimate economic activities will increase the probability that the government will make a “strategic decision” to end its nuclear weapons program, he said.

Additionally, “the [Bush] administration believes there is no flexibility or backing off when it comes to enforcing the law,” he said.

Asked whether some administration officials view targeting Pyongyang ’s illicit activities as a tool for regime change, Green replied that some officials believed several years ago that such a strategy represented a viable option. But there is now a “pretty strong consensus” across agencies that the United States should pursue its current two-track strategy, he said.

Green added that Bush administration officials generally believe that the talks are worth pursuing because, at least in the short term, they help dissuade North Korean from taking more aggressive actions, such as testing nuclear weapons. The talks also build cooperation among the relevant parties that, in the event that current talks fail, might translate into future support for increasing pressure on Pyongyang.


Missile Threat: Does It Add Up?

Wade Boese

By March, the annual process of federal government officials marching up to Congress to justify their budget requests is in full swing. Missile defense officials took their turn in early March but did so in a way that raised questions about the data behind one of their key justifications.

Testifying March 9 before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering told lawmakers that “last year there were nearly 80 foreign ballistic missile launches.” But Obering did not give specifics on which countries conducted those launches.

In follow-up interviews, an MDA spokesperson declined to elaborate, saying that such figures would have to be released by the intelligence community, while the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency have not responded to Arms Control Today inquiries. An informal analysis appears to indicate that these launches only involved a handful by countries against which missile defenses are currently configured; none of these countries conducted a long-range ballistic missile launch.

According to Bush administration and Pentagon officials, current strategic missile interceptors are intended to stop a ballistic missile attack from North Korea or the Middle East, particularly Iran. Despite the implication by the July 1998 so-called Rumsfeld Commission that both countries could have ICBMs within five years (see ACT, June/July 1998), neither has yet to flight-test even an intermediate-range ballistic missile successfully.

Reviewing media reports and government statements for 2005, Arms Control Today found evidence of a single North Korean ballistic missile launch involving a short-range missile and no Iranian ballistic missile launches. However, Tehran did conduct a ground test of a solid-fuel rocket motor for the first time last spring.

The findings on Iran matched those of Yiftah Shapir, a former Israeli air force officer, who now works at Israel’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, which publishes The Middle East Military Balance. Shapir also told Arms Control Today March 22 that Syria conducted three short-range ballistic missile launches last year.

Russia and China are the only countries that actually possess flight-tested missiles that can strike the continental United States , but the Pentagon says its missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California are not directed against either country.


LOOKING BACK: Lessons From the Denuclearization of Brazil and Argentina

José Goldemberg

Later this year, the world will celebrate an arms control milestone: December 2006 will mark the 15th anniversary of the Quadripartite Agreement, which finalized the arrangements for effective inspections of the nuclear programs of Brazil and Argentina. In practical terms, the agreement ended a period in which Brazil conducted covert activities in military installations that could have led to the production of nuclear weapons. Argentina too had such aspirations.

As Brazil’s secretary of state for science and technology at the time, I was intimately involved in the preparations that led to this agreement. Previously, when I was an outside academic critic of Brazil’s previous military regimes, I had represented many Brazilian scientists in criticizing Brazil’s plans for nuclear energy, particularly the potential that nuclear technology could be diverted to nuclear weapons.

These experiences taught me that although the controls and rules exercised by the current nonproliferation regime can help to delay the acquisition of nuclear capabilities, the most effective nuclear nonproliferation strategy is to reduce the underlying incentives for states to acquire such weapons. In such a strategy, the role of regional neighbors is likely to prove crucial. It is a lesson that might well be applied to other regions, such as in the Middle East.

Southern Cone Nuclear Programs

Some might belittle the efforts to “denuclearize” the Southern Cone of Latin America, arguing that Brazil and Argentina lacked the technological expertise to ever produce nuclear weapons. Such an assumption is false, as both countries demonstrated that developing countries with technical elites can master many if not all of the technical steps required. Argentina and Brazil, for example, were able to produce the fissile material—enriched uranium or separated plutonium—necessary for nuclear weapons.

At the time, both countries claimed to have produced the material for purely civilian purposes in an effort to gain access to the full nuclear fuel cycle from uranium enrichment to plutonium reprocessing. To be sure, following such a strategy, a country does not have to make an explicit early decision to acquire nuclear weapons. In some countries, such a path is supported equally by those who genuinely want to explore an energy alternative and by government officials who either want nuclear weapons or just want to keep the option open.

Until it lost power in 1985, Brazil’s military government had clearly sought to keep the nuclear weapons option open.[1] Brazil had begun its nuclear efforts in 1975 when it signed a cooperation agreement with Germany. The government claimed the nuclear program was a response to the 1973 oil crisis, which threatened the country’s trade balance. This was clearly not true as electricity in Brazil was and still is produced mainly in hydroelectric plants and not from petroleum. Building nuclear reactors would not reduce oil imports, which are used for transportation and industry. In addition, there was no shortage of electricity. Indeed, Itaipu, the 12,000-megawatt hydroelectric plant on the Paraná River—the largest plant in the world—had just been started and would satisfy increases in electricity demand during the subsequent years. As chairman of the Physics Department of the University of São Paulo, I criticized the nuclear program from the start, arguing that there was no justification for massive investments in nuclear energy at the expense of other, more acceptable energy alternatives.

When a civilian nuclear energy deal with Germany that included uranium-enrichment facilities crumbled under U.S. pressure in the 1980s, three separate “parallel” nuclear weapons programs were launched in the country under the navy, air force, and army. The air force focused on laser enrichment, the army on using natural uranium in a graphite reactor, and the navy on centrifuge enrichment. The navy program, which was run by officers trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, succeeded in the crucial task of enriching uranium. The navy’s official rationale for this task was to enrich fuel for a compact power plant used in submarine propulsion.

The United States viewed these programs with great suspicion and included Brazil on a list of countries suspected of conducting secret programs for the production of nuclear weapons. As a result, Brazil’s access to some modern technologies was blocked, such as high-speed computers, needed by Brazil’s oil company Petrobras, the National Space Research Institute, and universities. Although these computers were purchased from U.S. companies, they were not delivered because the U.S. Department of Commerce blocked export of such items.

In addition, the controversy spilled into broader U.S.-Brazilian relations with the United States less inclined to support Brazil ’s efforts to win much-needed loans from international organizations and other financial institutions.

Argentina , which started a nuclear program earlier than Brazil, installed several nuclear reactors and built a small gas difusion enrichment plant. There are no clear indications, however, that Buenos Aires intended to engage in a parallel program that might lead to a nuclear weapon.

Nonetheless, efforts by the United States and others to hold back the nuclear programs of Argentina and Brazil fell flat. The programs continued to move ahead, even if more slowly and even if, in Argentina’s case, it was less clear that it was prepared to consider producing nuclear weapons.

Generally speaking, countries strive to acquire nuclear weapons for a number of reasons, many of which are immune to outside influence:

• The search for enhanced security against or the wherewithal to intimidate and coerce regional or international rivals.

• The “status” and prestige associated with mastering nuclear technology.

• National pride, because nuclear technology, as well as space technology, are viewed as a passport to the First World.

• Domestic policies and bureaucratic self-aggrandizement by the nuclear establishment.[2]

If countries are determined to acquire nuclear weapons, it seems it is nearly impossible for any other country’s policy of denial ultimately to stop them. Similar efforts, after all, failed in India, Pakistan, and Israel. Yet, nonproliferation efforts can slow pro grams geared to produce nuclear weapons so that internal political change can catch up and stop them before it becomes too late.

Such changes are what ultimately derailed the potential weapons programs in the Southern Cone. The end of military rule and the election of civilian presidents in 1990 led to a sweeping re-examination of Brazil’s and Argentina’s nuclear programs. With the return to democracy, both countries realized that their dreams of grandeur, of becoming great powers, served special civilian and military interest groups more than the interests of the state. The idea of pursuing semiclandestine nuclear activities lost priority.

Democracy also brought more transparency to government activities, resulting in oversight of previously secret programs. As I argued successfully in 1991 in convincing Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello to give up the quest for nuclear weapons, the road to enter the First World is not the development of nuclear weapons but solving the problems of underdevelopment.

This new civilian president had appointed me as his secretary of state for science and technology. At the time, there were repeated press reports that preparations were under way to test a nuclear explosive device near an air force base at the Serra do Ca chimbo in the State of Pará.[3]

The president asked me to investigate. This required me to visit all military installations where there was ongoing work on nuclear weapons. Aside from the army installation, I had visited all of these installations before and suspected that all the secrecy was in reality a ruse to magnify the importance of the activities and justify budget increases. I found out that there was no significant work being conducted on nuclear weapons production in any of the military laboratories and duly reported that fact to the president.

Yet, the rumors persisted. Feeling that his authority was being threatened, Collor de Mello therefore staged a visit to the alleged test site in the State of Pará and, in front of the army, navy, and air force ministers, symbolically closed a well that had been dug for eventual use in a nuclear test. (It was 1,000 feet deep and three feet in diameter.) Shortly afterward, all the “parallel” nuclear programs experienced severe financial constraints. The Experimental Center at Aramar alone dismissed 700 of its 1,600 employees between August 1994 and March 1995.

The president’s actions, widely publicized, signaled the end of the so-called nuclear arms race with Argentina that, in the heyday of the military’s rule, had been the excuse for some groups to engage in nuclear work. Argentina , which also had just elected a civilian as president after many years of military rule, was more than willing to reach an agreement with Brazil banning nuclear weapons. The two governments quickly negotiated an agreement, creating the Argentina-Brazil Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Material (ABACC) in July 1991.[4]

The Bilateral and Quadripartite Agreements

In addition to the creation of the ABACC, Argentina and Brazil made the following commitments under the Bilateral Agreement for the Exclusively Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy of July 1991:

• To use the nuclear material and facilities under their jurisdiction or control exclusively for peaceful purposes;

• To prohibit and prevent in their respective territories, and to abstain from carrying out, promoting or authorizing, directly or indirectly, or from participating in any way in the testing, use, manufacture, production or acquisition by any means of any nuclear weapon; and the receipt, storage, installation, deployment or any other form of possession of any nuclear weapon.

The agreement also established that, in case of any serious noncompliance by either party, the other party could abrogate the agreement or discontinue its application, either completely or partially by notifying the secretary-general of the United Nations and the secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

Aside from the agreement itself, Brazil and Argentina then agreed to adhere fully to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which had in 1967 established the framework for a Latin American nuclear-weapon-free zone, and accepted full-scope nuclear safeguards.

The ABACC and the Brazilian and Argentinian governments formed three of the four legs of the Quadripartite Agreement agreed to later in 2001. The other leg belonged to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agreement (INF CIRC/435), which became effective in March 1994, stipulated that the ABACC and the IAEA would perform their verification activities without unnecessary duplication of safeguards but, at the same time, be able to reach independent conclusions.

This move was complimented by the subsequent decisions of both countries to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Argentine authorities presented the legal instruments for the country’s adherence in February 1995. Brazil joined the NPT in 1998.

Lessons for Other Regions

Does the denuclearization of the Southern Cone of South America offers lessons for other areas in the Indian subcontinent, the Korean Peninsula, and the Middle East?

A short answer is that the “neighbor- controlling-neighbor” approach used in South America has the best chance of succeeding in regions that do not yet include nuclear powers. The Korean Peninsula might still meet this criteria given the lack of clarity about Pyongyang’s purported nuclear arsenal and the regional approach of the six-party talks. South Asia is a more difficult case as India and Pakistan already have nuclear weapons but confidence-building steps could de fuse a nuclear arms race in that part of the world. Both countries became nuclear powers not because they needed nuclear power for civilian purposes, but in pursuit of enhanced status and bureaucratic self-aggrandizement.

In the Middle East, only political agreements and solid no-first-use guarantees from nuclear powers in that region might change Iran’s attitude and behavior. It is clear that Tehran’s program is dictated mostly by internal political considerations, particularly perceived security needs, because it is difficult to justify a large nuclear program for civilian purposes in Iran on the basis of economic grounds. If the world community wants to slow Iran ’s drive to acquire such weapons, it would be best to focus on altering these underlying security concerns rather than traditional nonproliferation tools.


José Goldemberg is secretary for the environment for the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo. He has served as the country’s secretary of state for science and technology as well as minister of education and was also president of the Brazilian Association for the Advancement of Science.


1. Gaspari, A Ditadura Encurralada ( São Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 2004).

2. M. B. Reiss, “The Nuclear Tipping Point: Prospects for a World of Many Nuclear Weapons States,” in The Nuclear Tipping Point, eds. K. M. Campbell et al. ( Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

3. L. P. Rosa et al., A Política Nuclear no Brasil (São Paulo: Greenpeace, 1991).

4. E. Palacios, “From the Declaration of Foz de Iguaçu to Integrated Safeguards,” Presentation at the Argentina Council for International Relations, Buenos Aires, September 28, 1999.


Letter to the Editor

A Long Wait for an Indian ICBM

When discussing India’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities (“U.S. Space Aid to India: On a Glide Path to ICBM Trouble?” Arms Control Today, March 2006), it should be noted that, in the near term, bureaucratic and technological obstacles would hinder India from fielding an ICBM. And, in the long term, bilateral and multilateral political initiatives can thwart India from building ICBMs.

First, historically, India’s missiles have been developed in a technologically inefficient manner. India’s defense enclave has taken 10 to 20 years to build missiles that could have been produced in a few years, and it often builds missiles that are not well suited for strategic missions. For example, India launched its first satellite-carrying rocket in 1979. India’s defense scientists could have used the nine-ton solid- fuel booster from this rocket to build missiles by 1980-81, but they took years to develop and flight test Agni-1 and Agni-2 missiles from this booster. India launched an Agni technology demonstrator missile in 1989. It tested the militarily useful 700-kilometer-range single- stage Agni-1 in 2002. Earlier, in 1999, it launched a 2,000-kilometer-range two-stage Agni-2, whose strategic utility is questionable: its range far exceeds that needed to strike Pakistan, and it falls short of China’s major cities.

To take another example, the Agni-3 missile that has a range of approximately 3,000 kilometers is designed to reach China’s heartland. Indian scientists had designed a 3,000-5,000-kilometer-range missile with a 35-40-ton solid-fuel first stage and a 1.8-meter diameter in the early 1980s. Yet, Agni-3 development only began in the late 1990s, more than a decade after the missile was initially conceptualized, and the missile was only ready for flight tests this year. Overall, because of continued bureaucratic and organizational inefficiencies and funding constraints, India’s ICBM efforts are likely to proceed as slowly and technologically haphazardly as its prior missile endeavors.

Second, it is important to clarify how India may build an ICBM. One way is to use solid- and liquid-fuel technology from India’s heavier space rockets. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) uses a 130-ton solid-fuel engine and a 37-ton liquid-fuel engine. The geostationary satellite launch vehicle uses one 130- ton booster, five 37-40-ton systems, and one Russian-supplied 12-ton cryogenic engine. An Indian ICBM could use several liquid-fuel engines, but such a missile may take too long to refuel and is therefore not appropriate for quick-launch military operations. Alternatively, it could use the 130-ton solid-fuel engine, but such a missile could be too heavy for road-mobile launchers. Thus, if Indian defense scientists build an ICBM from PSLV technology, this would not be a very capable missile, and if Indian scientists build an entirely new engine, that is, different from that used in the Agni-3 or the PSLV, for a more capable ICBM, this would take years to develop.

Third, on political grounds, New Delhi’s decision-makers have few reasons to seek ICBMs versus the United States. U.S.-Indian ties are likely to remain stable; bilateral relations have improved under both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington and left-centrist and right-leaning governments in New Delhi.

Finally, the best political measures to prevent an Indian ICBM are a bilateral U.S.-Indian understanding against such a missile or a global ban against testing new missiles. The latter agreement, first suggested in international disarmament negotiations in the late 1950s, could prevent not just India but also all other emerging missile powers from building ICBMs.


Dinshaw Mistry is an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati and author of Containing Missile Proliferation (2005).


Japan Embracing Missile Defense

Wade Boese

Several years of U.S.-Japanese cooperation on anti-missile systems bore fruit in a successful experiment March 8. The test marked an important milestone in the two countries’ collaboration as Japan expands its missile defense activities and has emerged as the leading overseas missile defense partner of the United States .

Japan began its foray into missile defenses in 1999 with research on four components for a ship-fired missile interceptor. Now, Tokyo is preparing to host an advanced U.S. missile tracking radar, develop a more powerful missile interceptor with the United States, and deploy the initial elements of a Japanese land- and sea-based missile defense system.

The March 8 test involved one of the four products of the initial U.S.-Japanese partnership. In the experiment, a U.S. Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor 88 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean employed for the first time a Japanese-designed “clamshell” nosecone. In an actual missile intercept attempt or test involving a mock warhead, the nosecone would release a kill vehicle to collide with a target hurtling through the atmosphere. But in this case, only a telemetry device to gather data on the new nosecone’s operation was released. U.S. nosecones require the SM-3 to conduct maneuvers to eject the kill vehicle; the Japanese nosecone avoids the need for maneuvers by opening up like a clamshell.

Still, the two governments have not determined whether the clamshell nosecone will be incorporated into a future SM-3 interceptor they will build based on a new 60-centimeter rocket motor also under development by Japan. This rocket motor is supposed to increase the interceptor’s range and make it capable of destroying long-range missiles. A contract for the new interceptor is expected to be signed in April, and an inaugural intercept test is set for 2014 or 2015, a U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) official told Arms Control Today March 15.

The United States has tested and deployed an earlier version of the SM-3 interceptor as part of its ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System to counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The system has had six hits in seven intercept attempts, and nine SM-3 interceptors have been delivered to the Navy for deployment. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, reported in March that U.S. plans envision deploying about 100 of the interceptors by the end of 2011.

Japan also intends initially to employ the current SM-3 interceptor aboard its four planned missile defense ships, the first of which is expected to be ready by 2007. At the same time, Japan hopes to field four land-based Patriot Advanced Capability- 3 systems, which are supposed to destroy short-and medium-range ballistic missiles near the end of their flights. Japanese procurement plans call for eventually acquiring another 12 firing units and two backup units. Japan currently deploys six early- model Patriot systems.

Japanese interest in missile defenses is animated primarily by a perceived missile threat from North Korea, although residual concerns about China also exist. In August 1998, North Korea conducted a surprise test of a ballistic missile, which flew over Japanese territory. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)

Tokyo and Washington are intent on improving their vigilance of North Korean missile activities. Toward this end, the United States will deploy a forward-based X-band radar on Japanese territory before this year ends. A Japanese government official told Arms Control Today March 15 that the two governments are currently searching for an “optimum site.”

The new radar is supposed to provide improved tracking and discrimination information on ballistic missiles in flight. Data gathered by the radar is to be shared between Japan and the United States for operating their respective anti-missile systems.

Pentagon officials testifying at a March 9 hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee applauded Japan ’s growing missile defense role, which totals approximately $1 billion in spending annually. Peter Flory, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, ranked Japan as “our largest international partner.”

Australia , Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom also are leading U.S. missile defense partners. In addition, the 26-country NATO alliance is working to knit together a system that will allow its members’ individual battlefield anti-missile systems to operate together. The group is also exploring options for protecting their national territories.

Washington is also considering the Czech Republic , Poland, and the United Kingdom as a basing site for 10 long-range U.S. missile interceptors. An MDA spokes person told Arms Control Today in February that $56 million had been requested in the latest Pentagon budget submission to advance this project (see ACT, March 2006), but that sum actually totals $120 million, according to Flory.

Since 1985, the Pentagon has spent approximately $90 billion on anti-missile projects and foresees spending nearly $58 billion more over the next six years, according to the March GAO report.



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