“I also want to thank Daryl Kimball and the Arms Control Association for allowing me to address all of you today and for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war.”

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
October 2006
Edition Date: 
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Cover Image: 

Senate Vote on U.S.-Indian Deal Delayed

Wade Boese

Despite the high priority attached by the Bush administration and New Delhi to a proposed U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear trade agreement, the Senate did not act on legislation advancing the deal before going into recess. But Senate leaders indicated they would take up the matter after the congressional elections in November.

President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed in July 2005 to a wholesale revision of approximately 30 years of acrimonious U.S.-Indian nuclear relations. Bush pledged to alter U.S. law and international rules governing civilian nuclear trade to accommodate India, which has nuclear weapons and has never signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Meanwhile, Singh committed to opening more of the Indian nuclear complex to international supervision. (See ACT, September 2005. ) The House passed legislation July 26 moving the United States closer toward the president’s goal. (See ACT, September 2006. )

The Senate, however, has not voted on a similar bill, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved June 29. Even if the Senate eventually passes the measure, the upper chamber must reconcile any differences between it and the lower chamber’s bill into a final measure for Bush to sign this year. If a final bill is not produced before the current Congress expires at the end of December, both chambers will need to start from scratch next year.

Several factors contributed to the Senate’s delay so far in taking up the legislation. In addition to debating and voting on other high-profile issues, such as the defense appropriations bill, some Republican lawmakers reportedly raised behind-the-scenes objections to an unrelated measure attached to the U.S.-India bill by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Panel Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and ranking member Joseph Biden (D-Del.) added to the bill implementing legislation for the United States to complete ratification and bring into force an additional protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Senate gave its advice and consent to ratification of the measure in March 2004, but it cannot take effect until approval of implementing legislation authorizing the president to decree regulations permitting new IAEA activities inside the United States.

An additional protocol is a voluntary bilateral instrument providing the IAEA with greater authority to discover any illicit nuclear weapons activities inside a country. The United States signed an additional protocol in June 1998 to underscore its commitment to stemming the spread of nuclear arms and show non-nuclear-weapon states that concluding an additional protocol “will not adversely affect legitimate, transparent, and peaceful nuclear energy development,” the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported in April 2006.

Because the United States already possesses nuclear arms, its additional protocol is essentially symbolic. Indeed, in its April report on the implementing legislation, the panel noted the additional protocol “will not likely result in additional inspections in the United States.” Washington also reserves the right to deny and restrict for national security reasons IAEA inspections and environmental sampling.

Nonetheless, some Republican lawmakers reportedly put a secret hold on the U.S.-Indian deal legislation because of concerns about the additional protocol implementing legislation. A hold is a common practice enabling senators to signal opposition to a particular measure and to tie up future action on it unless concerns are resolved. Lawmakers reportedly resolved their differences on the implementing legislation at the end of September. However, the back and forth on the additional protocol delayed the finalization of a unanimous consent agreement by which the Senate agrees to a specific amount of time and certain number of amendments to be considered during debate on a particular bill.

Meanwhile, India declined offers in September by U.S. negotiators to fly to New Delhi to continue talks toward completing the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, also known as a 123 agreement. The Singh government also has not initiated formal talks with the IAEA on safeguards, which are measures that India has agreed to apply to the civilian sector of its nuclear enterprise to help assure foreign suppliers that their civilian nuclear trade will not flow to the military sector. New Delhi has repeatedly stated that Washington must change U.S. law before India takes steps to fulfill its side of the deal.

Singh, opposition politicians, and the Indian nuclear establishment have already protested that the House-passed bill and the draft Senate bill include provisions inimical to India. (See ACT, September 2006. ) In an interview published in the Sept. 23-Oct. 6 issue of the Indian magazine Frontline, Indian Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar said India should “wait for the outcome of the U.S. legislative process” before determining how to proceed on the deal.



U.S., Russia Sign Plutonium Accord

Wade Boese

The United States and Russia finalized an agreement Sept. 15 resolving a long-standing dispute on a bilateral program to dispose of excess nuclear weapons material. Yet, even though the signing marked the highlight of a recent Washington visit by a senior Russian official to discuss a range of nuclear matters, the program’s future still remains in doubt.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak signed the agreement along with Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph at what the two sides termed the inaugural meeting of a new “strategic security dialogue.” In addition to Joseph, U.S. representation also included officials from the Pentagon and the National Security Council, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 19.

The agreement settled an issue that had been helping to block the United States and Russia from fulfilling a program to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium each. Concluded in principle in 1998 and formally launched in 2000, the program stalled because of a disagreement over assigning responsibility for accidents or damage caused by U.S. personnel working inside Russia. The Kremlin interpreted previous liability formulations as protecting U.S. personnel even if they committed intentional acts of damage.

Negotiators reached a preliminary agreement to resolve the issue in July 2005, but Moscow took more than a year to vet the document through its bureaucracy before signing it. (See ACT, September 2005. )

The agreement addresses Russia’s earlier concerns by establishing a process for the two governments to hold consultations in the case of alleged deliberate damage. If the two sides are unable to reach a settlement within 90 days, the accused personnel could be subject to Russian claims or legal proceedings. Under the settlement, the U.S. government or a private U.S. corporation could not be held accountable for an individual’s transgressions.

Washington is treating the liability protocol as an executive agreement, meaning it does not require Senate advice and consent to take effect. The Kremlin, however, has indicated it will treat the measure as a treaty and seek approval from Russia’s legislature. But Moscow also has asserted it can provisionally apply the agreement if the need arises.

Noting that the total material slated for disposal by the stalled program was equivalent to 16,000 nuclear weapons, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman Sept. 15 hailed the signing of the liability agreement. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) also praised the move the same day as “a significant step forward.”

Yet, support for the program has receded in Congress, and its funding is in jeopardy. Led by House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio), the House cut $320 million from a program for building U.S. facilities to convert the excess U.S. plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear reactors. Hobson has defended the action both as saving money and sensible because Moscow is no longer interested in the MOX approach. “The Russians are not coming,” Hobson adamantly argued May 24. (See ACT, September 2006. )

On the other hand, the Senate Appropriations Committee fully approved funding for the program. If the full Senate follows suit, then lawmakers from the two chambers will need to reconcile their competing funding levels.

Aside from signing the liability agreement, there were no other public results from Joseph’s and Kislyak’s meeting. But a diplomatic source told Arms Control Today Sept. 18 that the United States presented Russia with a draft agreement, commonly known as a 123 agreement, to establish full civilian nuclear cooperation between the two countries. This follows a July agreement between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin to pursue such a relationship. (See ACT, September 2006 .) Moscow is expected to return a revised draft back to Washington in October.

Recently, Russia has indicated that its rationale may have shifted for such an agreement. Previously, Russia had said it wanted such an accord in order to host a depository for U.S.-origin spent fuel from countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, and Switzerland. But this summer Russian nuclear officials told the trade publication Nuclear Fuels that they want such an agreement primarily to import U.S.-origin uranium for enrichment and to exchange nuclear technologies.

In future rounds of talks, Joseph and Kislyak will discuss joint measures to stem the spread of unconventional arms, guard against terrorists using unconventional weapons, and provide “transparency and confidence-building measures in U.S. and Russian nuclear force postures and missile defense,” according to a Sept. 15 State Department press release.

The statement made no mention of nuclear reductions, an objective Russia appears keen on exploring. (See ACT, September 2006. ) Bush administration officials have repeatedly expressed disinterest in this notion.

The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) obligates the United States and Russia to reduce their respective arsenals of approximately 5,500 and 4,400 deployed strategic nuclear warheads down to less than 2,200 each by the end of 2012. The two sides are currently relying on the verification regime of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to help assess progress toward the SORT goal, but START is due to expire in December 2009.

Discussion of possible “arrangements” to succeed START will be part of the future dialogue between Joseph and Kislyak, the State Department official told Arms Control Today. “As we approach the expiration of START, the United States believes the U.S.-Russia security relationship should reflect the end of the Cold War,” the official added. The Bush administration has typically made similar statements when arguing that the United States and Russia no longer need bilateral arms treaties because of their warmer relationship.

No date has been set for the next meeting between Joseph and Kislyak.



The United States and Russia finalized an agreement Sept. 15 resolving a long-standing dispute on a bilateral program to dispose of excess nuclear weapons material...

Balancing Nuclear "Rights" and Responsibilities

Daryl G. Kimball

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, efforts to exploit nuclear technology for energy and for profit have complicated the task of reducing the nuclear weapons threat. Now, as states such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa either pursue or consider moving into the business of enriching uranium, the complexities and dangers could significantly deepen.

The 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) grants states the “right” to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, so long as states forswear nuclear weapons and comply with safeguards against the diversion of nuclear technology and materials for weapons purposes.

International safeguards can help detect and deter cheating, but they cannot prevent “breakout” scenarios. Yet, if current trends continue, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has warned that we could “have 20-30…virtual nuclear weapons states, meaning countries that could move within months into converting their civilian capacity or capability into a weapons program.”

About 12 states already possess uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities, or both. These technologies can be used to produce fissile material for bombs. Government-affiliated and subsidized entities in the United States, Russia, and France, as well as a British-Dutch-German consortium, provide an enrichment capacity sufficient to meet current and projected future nuclear energy demands. As President George W. Bush noted in 2004, “enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Even though they have small domestic nuclear energy sectors, Argentine, Brazilian, and South African officials, like Iran’s leaders, cite domestic nuclear fuel needs and the possibility of cutoffs in external supply as the rationale for exploring new, multibillion-dollar centrifuge-enrichment facilities. Prime Minister John Howard has called for Australia to enter the uranium-enrichment market although it is also economically infeasible for his country.

However, supply interruptions are only likely—and would be appropriate—if the recipient state violates its nonproliferation commitments. That is not likely, given that these states are members in good standing with the NPT and have supported action toward global nuclear disarmament. But if they insist on having enrichment capabilities, others such as Iran or South Korea, with weaker compliance records and stronger motives to pursue nuclear weapons, are sure to insist on having them too.

To reverse the trend, several states and a leading nongovernmental organization have offered ideas to create assured nuclear fuel supplies for states that forgo enrichment and reprocessing. At a special IAEA conference last month, a range of schemes were discussed. A “global nuclear fuel bank” is an old idea that may someday become a reality and could address the supply concerns, real or imagined, of many states.

Meanwhile, tighter restrictions on the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and on the construction of new facilities are in order. Bush’s 2004 proposal that Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) states not sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already have the capability is good but is not enough. It would allow Japan to move ahead with a major plutonium reprocessing plant and the construction of new U.S. and French centrifuge-enrichment plants. Not surprisingly, the NSG has not endorsed this discriminatory approach.

If we are to succeed in limiting the number of states capable of producing nuclear bomb material, all states must be willing to provide responsible leadership and restraint. In the near future, there is no economic rationale for new states to enter the civil uranium-enrichment or plutonium-separation arena. The further pursuit of plutonium separation by states such as Japan, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and especially the United States will only lead to more proliferation risks.

As supplier and buyer states explore options to deal with potential market shortages and interruptions in fuel supply, they must also all agree that recipient states meet basic nonproliferation standards. Otherwise, the growing trade in nuclear fuel and technology could facilitate weapons production. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, member states endorsed a policy requiring “full-scope” safeguards as a condition of nuclear supply.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration, along with France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, is moving to weaken the existing safeguards regime by pursuing full civil nuclear trade with India, which refuses safeguards on all its facilities and produces fissile material for weapons. The leaders of Australia, Brazil, and South Africa have become a part of this problem too. All three have recently said they are prepared to reverse nonproliferation policies in order sell their uranium supplies to New Delhi.

Speaking for many nonaligned, non-nuclear-weapon states, South African officials have resisted restrictions on enrichment and plutonium separation technology that infringes on what they call their “inalienable right” to nuclear energy. Such interpretations of the NPT are dangerous and out of touch. Just as the nuclear powers have an obligation to agree to verifiably halt fissile production and dismantle their weapons stocks, non-nuclear-weapon states must exercise their “rights” in a way that helps avoid the further proliferation of nuclear weapons-related technology and the nuclear anarchy that would ensue.



Vienna Meeting Airs New Nuclear Fuel Proposals

Miles A. Pomper

Concerns that global tensions over Iran’s uranium-enrichment program may be the first in a series of future crises are spurring governments and private organizations from nuclear supplier countries to step forward with new efforts to limit the spread of nuclear fuel-cycle technology. But it is not clear if the steps will be enough to dissuade additional countries from undertaking activities that could potentially provide critical materials for nuclear weapons.

New steps include proposals from Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom and a $50 million commitment from the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). Russia and the United States also continue to promote their own proposals. The initiatives were the focus of a special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting Sept. 19-20 to develop a “new framework” for fuel supply issues and will be considered further by the agency in future months.

Although differing in their particulars, the efforts are aimed at encouraging non-nuclear-weapon states to forgo domestic uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of plutonium in spent nuclear fuel. Low-enriched uranium (LEU) or a mixture of plutonium and uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, but highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium can provide the fissile material for nuclear weapons. Questions about whether Iran’s pursuit of enrichment technologies is intended for peaceful or military purposes lie at the heart of the standoff over Tehran’s program.

Trying to avoid future problems, the proposals seek to assure the non-nuclear-weapon states that they will be able to import adequate supplies of nuclear fuel.

NTI co-chairman Sam Nunn, for example, said Sept. 19 that billionaire Warren Buffett would provide $50 million to the IAEA to fund “a last-resort fuel reserve for nations that have made the sovereign choice to develop their nuclear energy based on foreign sources of fuel supply services and therefore have no indigenous enrichment facilities.” The money would be used to create an LEU stockpile and would be contingent on one or more member states contributing an additional $100 million in funds or an equivalent amount of LEU within two years and on agency member states agreeing on a political framework to manage such a stockpile. To date, however, no member-state has come forward and committed funds toward this project.

Assistant Secretary of Energy Dennis Spurgeon told reporters Sept. 19 that the NTI effort would complement a proposal that six nuclear suppliers made to the IAEA Board of Governors in late May. The proposal by France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States would seek to establish a “multilateral mechanism for reliable access to nuclear fuel.”

U.S. officials have said the voluntary IAEA mechanism would include three basic elements. The IAEA would facilitate new commercial arrangements if a country should find its supply interrupted for reasons other than failure to comply with nonproliferation obligations. Reserves of enriched uranium, held nationally or perhaps by the IAEA, would serve as a fuel reserve of “last resort.” The agency would determine eligibility based on a country’s compliance with IAEA safeguards and acceptance of nuclear safety standards, as well as the renunciation of “sensitive fuel cycle activities,” such as uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing. (See ACT, July/August 2006.)

In a related effort, the United States last year pledged to convert more than 17 tons of HEU into LEU for a fuel reserve. Spurgeon said that uranium would have a market value of more than $500 million but also made clear that none of this material would be placed under multilateral control.

Russia has pledged to establish a system of international centers that would produce and provide nuclear fuel under IAEA safeguards. Russian officials have claimed that the first such center in Siberia would be ready for operation next year. For the past year, Russia has sought to encourage Iran to enrich its fuel at such a center, but Tehran rebuffed the offer after showing initial interests.

In a Sept. 18 interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier chimed in with a proposal for establishing a multinational uranium-enrichment facility under IAEA supervision.

“A multilaterization of the nuclear cycle is necessary in order to avoid similar developments in newly industrializing countries like Iran and strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT),” Steinmeier told the paper.

“There have to be international supply guarantees for the nuclear fuel. This could replace the wish for having your own uranium-enrichment facilities. It could be financed by countries which claim the right to buy nuclear fuel,” he added. Many of the details of this proposal remain unclear.

Still, the moves may not be enough. According to news reports, several countries have recently expressed an interest in building their first uranium-enrichment or plutonium reprocessing facilities, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and South Africa.

Developing countries in particular are jealously guarding what they view as their right to such technologies. The NPT’s basic bargain calls for states to have access to nuclear fuels and technologies for peaceful purposes in return for renouncing nuclear weapons.

For example, at the Vienna gathering, Buyelwa Sonjica, South Africa’s minister of minerals and energy, said that any framework on access to nuclear fuel “should not involve any preconditions that would even hint” at forgoing their “inalienable right to nuclear energy” under the NPT. “We should guard against the notion that sensitive technologies are safe in the hands of some but pose a risk in the hands of others,” she said. “States that may decide to pursue domestic sensitive fuel-cycle activities for peaceful purposes and in conformity with legal obligations should not be discriminated against by excluding them from possible benefits that may derive from such mechanisms,” Sonjica added.


Re: ReSTART? The Need for a New U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Agreement

Nikolai Sokov

Anatoli Diakov and Eugene Miasnikov (“ReSTART? The Need for a New U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Agreement,” Arms Control Today, September 2006) provide an interesting discussion of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to replace START I with a new strategic reductions treaty. But they did not fully touch on several important issues, pertaining to how a final treaty might evolve.

Diakov and Miasnikov are right to argue that START I should be replaced, not extended. Many of its provisions became outdated even before it was signed because the pace of events in the last years of the Cold War overtook negotiations. In fact, the United States and the Soviet Union briefly considered abandoning it halfway in favor of negotiating a new treaty, but then decided to finish the job and instead adopted a special Joint Statement at the June 1990 summit outlining some key provisions of a follow-on treaty.

However, two subsequent attempts to replace START I failed. The 1993 START II never entered into force and was formally abandoned by Russia in 2002 the day after the United States withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty. START III consultations, which were launched by the 1997 Helsinki Joint Statement, never came to fruition and were abandoned by the end of 2000. By contrast, the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) is not a replacement for START I—it is more a joint statement than a full-scale treaty.

Many outdated provisions notwithstanding, START I has done a good job of providing transparency and predictability for the strategic arsenals of the parties. These elements need to be preserved. START I limits, however, are part of the past. It is likely that the substitute treaty will incorporate the targets provided by SORT—1,700-2,200 warheads compared to 6,000 in START I—or establish a new, somewhat lower target.

The biggest question regarding negotiations on the replacement treaty, which for convenience could be dubbed START+, is the scope of changes—provisions that will be dropped or modified. The “game of negotiations” is likely to be tense. Each or almost each proposed change entails a concession to the other side. Consequently, each side will carefully weigh which changes it wants to propose; and, paradoxically, the number of changes might be smaller than one can expect today. Each or almost each bargain will force the sides to consider abandoning the “game” altogether, that is, each will use the threat of withdrawing from negotiations and allowing START I to lapse without replacement.

Diakov and Miasnikov named Russia’s central demand: the right to put multiple warheads on its new Topol-M ICBMs. This appears to be a sine qua non condition: Russia would rather allow START I to expire than have a START+ without it. In fact, in the late 1990s some in the Russian military were even prepared to consider early withdrawal from START I just to clear the way for putting multiple warheads on Topol-Ms. The right to increase the number of warheads on other existing types could be on the agenda as well.

By contrast, a key U.S. demand—one that is likely to be granted—is likely to be new accounting rules that will make START+ similar to SORT. Whereas in START I every type of delivery vehicle is assumed to carry a certain number of warheads, SORT counts only warheads that each party declares deployed (although that number cannot be reliably verified), allowing the parties to claim reductions by removing warheads without eliminating missiles. This is known as “downloading.” Additionally, the United States will probably want the right to replace nuclear warheads with conventional warheads on some sea- and land-based strategic missiles.

Another item on the Russian agenda will be preservation of START I’s verification system. Russian officials consistently emphasize its value, but they also consider it cumbersome and expensive. It seems likely that Russian proposals will be similar to the ones considered for the ill-fated START III. Reportedly, these included reductions in the number of short-notice inspections and their replacement with “visits,” whose procedures would be less taxing than those mandated by START I.

Other likely Russian proposals would likely prove more controversial. These include modifying procedures for verifying the number of warheads so that inspectors can more easily count their actual number and a continued Russian insistence that existing warhead platforms on downloaded missiles be eliminated so that warheads, once removed, could not be put back secretly.

While the United States will probably agree to simplify START I verification rules, it will continue to object to new procedures for downloaded missiles. It will almost certainly have controversial proposals as well—elements of its own START III proposal regarding transparency of warhead stockpiles, including tactical nuclear warheads. Russia rejected these proposals in 2000 and is likely to reject them again.

In the end, negotiations might lead to an intriguing outcome, a START+ combining some of the flexibility of SORT with a simplified START I verification system.

One change that is almost certain concerns the number of parties to START+. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, its place was taken by four newly independent states with START I-limited weapons in their territories: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. The replacement treaty again could be made bilateral.

An element of uncertainty of START+ talks is how the Kremlin will address the issue of missile defense. Russia could insist on restraints on U.S. deployments, particularly in space, a demand that the United States is certain to resist. The result would be deadlock, as occurred with START I and later with START III. Russia might abandon that position, but rather than a change in its policy, this would represent a practical decision to solve only issues that are solvable and to postpone missile defense until some future, more opportune time.

Will START I replacement signal a renewed commitment of the United States and Russia to their nuclear disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty? Hardly. Like SORT, START+ would be primarily about optimizing nuclear arsenals inherited from the Cold War. The key benefits of the new treaty would be that these reductions would be transparent and predictable—features that SORT lacks. This seems a fair gain, worthy of a sincere effort.


Nikolai Sokov is a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He was part of the Soviet delegation to the START I talks.


Who Did It? Using International Forensics to Detect and Deter Nuclear Terrorism

William Dunlop and Harold Smith

On February 2, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon has formed a nuclear forensics team tasked with identifying the attackers should the United States be hit with a nuclear bomb.[1] Adapting nuclear technology to the forensics of exploded nuclear weapons is an old but rapidly evolving field.

It dates back to at least 1949, when analysis of airborne debris, retrieved at high altitude off the coast of China, convinced President Harry Truman that the Soviet Union had exploded a nuclear device on the steppes of central Asia. The technology is neither new nor has it been particularly secret, but the formation of a national nuclear forensics team is newsworthy and a useful development. An international team, however, would be even better.

Although Washington has naturally focused on preventing a nuclear terrorism attack in the United States, a U.S. city is not necessarily the most likely target for nuclear terrorists. It is doubtful that a terrorist organization would be able to acquire a U.S. nuclear device and even more doubtful that it would acquire one on U.S. soil. Accordingly, if a terrorist organization does get its hands on a fission device, it is likely that it will do so on foreign territory. At that point, the terrorists will have an enormously valuable political weapon in their hands and will be loath to risk losing that asset. Given the risks associated with getting the device into the United States, the rational choice would be to deploy the device abroad against much softer targets. For Islamist terrorists, a major “Christian” capital such as London, Rome, or Moscow might offer a more suitable target.

Among these, Moscow perhaps presents the most compelling case for international cooperation on post-detonation nuclear forensics. Russia has the largest stockpile of poorly secured nuclear devices in the world. It also has porous borders and poor internal security, and it continues to be a potential source of contraband nuclear material and weapons, despite the best efforts of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. If terrorists obtained the nuclear material in Russia and set Moscow as their target, they would not have to risk transporting the weapon, stolen or makeshift, across international borders. Attacks by Chechen terrorists in Beslan and at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow offer ample proof that a willingness to commit mass murder for fanatical reasons rests within Russian borders, and a foreign source of operatives, particularly from the neighboring Islamic states to the south, is by no means inconceivable.[2] Moscow is also a predominately Christian city where local authorities routinely discriminate against Muslim minorities.

Furthermore, extremists might conclude that a nuclear blast in Moscow could inflict damage well beyond that directly stemming from the attack. The Soviet generation that came to power during the Cold War retained a memory of the United States as an ally in the Great Patriotic War. The present Russian generation has no such remembrance but seems to have retained the animosities and suspicions that were a part of the nuclear standoff. Hence, nuclear terrorists may well believe that they could cause another East-West cold war or even encourage Russia to retaliate against the United States. After all, the sinking of the Kursk was believed by some influential Russians to be the result of U.S. action.[3] How much more likely would be such a view if the Kremlin were destroyed? As long as the world is filled with suspicion and conflict, such reactions are to be expected and, more importantly, anticipated.[4] One has only to remember the early reactions and suspicions in the United States following the 1996 TWA Flight 800 airline disaster.[5]

Because the United States is the technological leader in nuclear forensics, its capability will certainly be offered and probably demanded no matter what foreign city is subjected to the devastation of a nuclear explosion. The entire world, not just Americans, will live in fear of a second or third nuclear explosion, and forensics could play a vital role in removing or at least narrowing that fear. Because of such worldwide dread, there will be an international aspect to nuclear forensics regardless of where the explosion takes place. It would be better to be prepared in advance for such contingencies than to delve into the arcane world of nuclear weapons and radiochemistry on the fly.

Nuclear Forensics

The force of a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion on the streets of Moscow and the radioactive debris that would be deposited locally and ejected into the atmosphere could provide, over a period of time extending from hours to weeks, insight into various aspects of the weapon employed. For example, the international seismic community, assuming a surface burst, would have estimates of the yield of the weaponwithin hours. That measurement could be confirmed by examining the resultant crater using airborne or space-borne photography or by knowing the distance at which windows withstood the force of the shock wave. Both would also be known within hours, and there would be little doubt that the explosion was nuclear: the mushroom cloud is the symbol of the age.

The radioactive debris can provide far deeper insight. Over a period of several weeks, laboratories throughout the world with access to the debris and the equipment and expertise to conduct the necessary measurements could address questions that would potentially shed light on the identity of the perpetrators. Among these would be whether the weapon was based on highly enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium. Other questions that could be answered include:

  1. If the weapon used HEU, scientists could determine the enrichment or share of the uranium-235 that it contained.

  2. If the weapon used plutonium, scientists could determine how much time the fuel had spent in a nuclear reactor to create the appropriate plutonium isotopes, the length of time since this isotope was separated from spent nuclear fuel, and various isotopic signatures that might provide other indications of the production and separation processes.

  3. The sophistication, or lack thereof, of the weapon. Scientists could make this judgment based on the efficiency of the plutonium or HEU fission and whether fusion reactions might have been employed to enhance the yield.

If the isotopic data obtained from the debris could be compared with similar data from plutonium or HEU stockpiles or weapons, it might be possible, under some conditions, to conclude that some of the fissile material did or did not come from a specific arsenal. It might even be possible, given enough time and access to actual weapons designs, to conclude whether a particular type of weapon had been employed.

Such determinations, if credibly obtained and distributed, could prove vital. If it were made clear, a priori, that the supplier of the nuclear material and/or weapon would be held responsible, nuclear forensics might deter potential suppliers. After an attack, nuclear forensics could be combined with other forensics methodologies and information tying involved individuals to places and events. Together this data could help establish the route from the supplier to the user and perhaps facilitate elimination of the supply chain. Furthermore, because the samples that might be collected are very small and have a mixture of isotopes with short, medium and long half-lives,[6] a significant amount of time, measured in days, is needed before the presence of some isotopes with longer half-lives can be measured with certainty. Hence, the time required to make some of these key determinations imposes a temporary moratorium on potentially catastrophic reactions by political leaders, who can legitimately inform their constituencies that appropriate action must wait until the evidence is clear.

Although the technical challenge to fielding an international nuclear forensics team is considerable and the benefits to the international community seem incontrovertible in an era of nuclear terrorism, the political and diplomatic obstacles are enormous, perhaps overwhelming. The world community may for the moment have to be satisfied with a few seemingly small steps that could be vital in setting the stage for an international undertaking of critical importance.

Access to Debris

Unlike the reactor accident in Chernobyl, where the debris drifted northward, the narrow plume of measurable, radioactive debris emanating from an explosion in Moscow would probably drift slowly to the east and would not cross the Russian border until it reached Kazakhstan approximately 24 hours later. Conceivably, the Russian government, if it chose, could deny access to the debris for that period of time, during which it could make its own measurements and determinations and could withhold the information. In all likelihood, such a policy would fail for several reasons:

  1. Russian scientific capability is widespread and sophisticated, particularly in Moscow and its environs. Unauthorized measurements by knowledgeable scientists in Russian laboratories would be eagerly sought and propagated by a hungry press.

  2. If the explosion were near the Kremlin, the U.S. embassy in Moscow would be damaged, perhaps severely, but there would be survivors who would be evacuated to the United States, possibly carrying samples of debris with them.

  3. Foreign experts might have access to the debris as it crossed into Kazakhstan approximately a day or so after the event. Certainly, the government of Kazakhstan would have access, and given the degree of nuclear testing that has been conducted in that country, one would have to presume that forensics expertise and equipment would be available.

  4. It might be possible for the United States or another country to fly over Russian soil to obtain airborne samples of the debris. It is uncertain whether the United States or any other country would mount such a politically risky operation.

  5. The Russian government would also have to worry that foreign governments might conduct clandestine operations on its soil.

Given these considerations, it would be foolish for Russia or any other targeted nation to deny foreign access to the debris. The interests of an attacked country would be better served by inviting international expertise to participate in a forensic examination.

Access to Stockpile Data

Foreign access to the debris is one thing; access to stockpile data for purposes of comparison is quite another. Even if Russia or another country were attacked, current diplomatic realities make it unlikely that a government would grant foreign experts access to relevant stockpile data. In the Russian case, one suspects that the Kremlin would choose to treat the problem as a Russian problem at least until the source were known to them, a period of time ranging from a week to an indefinite future. In the interim, if they so chose, Russia would be free to inform the international community of their suspicions.

Ideally, the nuclear powers, operating under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), would form an international team of nuclear forensics experts. The IAEA seems to be the better choice for a variety of reasons, including its sponsorship of an existing international working group dealing with the pre-detonation identification of nuclear materials.[7] Admittedly, on paper the CTBTO has the advantage of an established mission and an operational charter in some aspects of post-detonation nuclear forensics. It cannot perform many of these missions, however, until the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty enters into force, which will not happen in the foreseeable future.[8]

In either case, the forensics team would be similar to the UN Special Commission inspectors in Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the IAEA inspection teams that verified the dismantlement of the South African weapons program using weapons experts from a number of nuclear-weapon states. In theory, they would have immediate access, a posteriori, to the debris and access, a priori, to nuclear-weapon data. However, until the threat of nuclear terrorism is perceived far more starkly than it is today, the ideal case is not credible. Nuclear powers surround their databases with heavy secrecy and would be unlikely to share such data with an international team no matter what controls were placed on its members.

Nor is the secrecy unjustified. The United States and Russia know a great deal about nuclear weapons that could be of benefit to terrorists, particularly if the terrorists attempted to build a nuclear weapon from stolen material of unknown purity or from reactor-grade plutonium. The possibility that the weapons data provided to an international organization for an international forensics team might be leaked or otherwise compromised makes the sharing of data of this type unlikely. In short, the gap is still too wide to cross, and it will remain so until the threat of nuclear terrorism becomes much more feared than it is today.

Interim Steps

Nevertheless, smaller steps toward building a credible forensics team are possible and could proceed on two fronts. The first is to replace the international concept with a series of bilateral arrangements, beginning with one between the United States and Russia. The second is for each partner, individually and then jointly, to examine what data could be provided to a carefully chosen and controlled bilateral team. Much of the secrecy shrouding the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers is based on the fears of the Cold War. Such secrecy may have been important then but is not nearly so now in the face of the new nuclear age involving use of nuclear weapons by terrorists.

In this struggle, the two superpowers are close allies. Russia is deemed by many to be a likely source of fissile material. The United States, meanwhile, is judged to be a likely target, with Russia not too far behind. Such conditions can make allies of even the worst of antagonists. Furthermore, if the United States and Russia agreed to cooperate in this manner, it seems likely that the other recognized nuclear powers— France, the United Kingdom, and perhaps China—would follow. The threat of nuclear terrorism is, after all, international; the response should be the same.

For now, unfortunately, even a tightly controlled, Russian-U.S. bilateral forensics team may be a step too far. The experience of the CTR program, by which the United States assists Russia in dismantling many aspects of its nuclear arsenal, suggests that U.S. access to Russian nuclear weapons data will be extremely difficult to acquire. There are also many U.S. experts who would argue that Washington should be no more forthcoming in providing its data to such a forensics team for similar reasons. Given the potential difficulties, an even smaller step is possible and should be considered.

Building on the Experience of Cooperative Threat Reduction

The CTR experience has demonstrated that progress has only been made after the legal aspects of an endeavor have been resolved to the satisfaction of each country. This suggests that there is a necessary first step that could be taken now. This would not involve exchange of data, but it would put in place all the agreements, including characterization of the data, required to implement a joint forensics team at any point in time, including immediately after a nuclear explosion in any Russian or U.S. city or even anywhere in the world. In short, both governments could agree on the procedures, techniques, equipment, and even personnel that would be used should an attack occur.

The agreements could further ensure that the necessary arrangements are made for rapid transport of specialized technicians and equipment to the scene of the explosion to gather samples or other data. If a precisely defined team were formed, a three-fold advantage would ensue. First, a bilateral team whose capability was made known to all potential suppliers of contraband fissile material would have a deterrent effect as there would be a signature. The signature would admittedly not be as clear as that from a missile launch from an established country, but it would be a signature nonetheless. The deterrent effect would be further strengthened if there were a joint U.S.-Russian statement to the effect that the supplier would be held responsible.

Second, of all the successes the CTR program has achieved during the past decade, one of the most profound and unanticipated has been the close working relationship between a long-standing and unchanging team of experts from the Department of Energy laboratories and the Russian navy. As with most human relationships, a bond of trust has been formed over the years based on professionalism and sense of purpose. The same could be true of the suggested bilateral forensics team. Access to data is also likely to increase as the specter of nuclear terrorism continues to gain credibility. This would naturally cause suppliers to be less willing to arm terrorists.

Third, the unique nature and prestige of such a forensics team would hopefully impress more than suppliers. Political leaders and perhaps even the press would become aware of the existence of an authoritative source of accurate information on nuclear detonations. Public leaders would be more likely to forestall inflammatory pronouncements as the world waited the necessary time for accurate information from a unique and respected source, just as the United States did in the case of the bombing of TWA Flight 800.[9] Surely it would be to the benefit of all to wait a few days or a few weeks before taking extreme measures.


Although the arguments presented here have focused on the advantages and challenges of a U.S.-Russian nuclear forensics team in the face of an attack on Moscow, the symmetry of the situation is readily apparent. If a U.S. city were attacked, Washington would immediately seek to determine the origin of the weapon and its fissile material. The possibility of a Russian source would be high on the list, and there would be no better way to investigate this possibility than through the use of a highly credible bilateral team. Unlike most of the CTR program, where the asymmetry between the U.S. and Russian situations has been apparent and sometimes painful, nuclear forensics in the age of nuclear terrorism could be truly symmetric. The United States and Russia would be clearly seen as equal partners embarked on a project of immense importance, not just to the two countries but to the entire international community.

Although it is conceivable that a U.S.-Russian forensics team could be formed, even that it could be extended to the established nuclear powers of the United Kingdom, France, and China, it is unlikely that other nuclear-weapon states or, more importantly, aspiring nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea would allow access to their nuclear data. Such states might even provide fissile material or weapons to terrorists.

Of what value, then, is multilateral forensics? First, there is the simple process of elimination: there is value in knowing where the weapon did not originate. Second, an urban nuclear detonation would be so horrendous that concerted and cooperative action by the established nuclear-weapon states with regard to finding the source might open the seemingly closed doors of any nation to its nuclear secrets. Finally, the ancient Chinese proverb seems to apply: “the longest journey begins with a single step.”

All hope that the efforts to preclude a terrorist nuclear detonation are successful, but if such an event did occur, timely and credible data is needed on the likely source or sources of the fissile material or the nuclear device. A determination would help in restoring confidence to populations fearful of additional detonations and provide governments with evidence to pursue and find the perpetrators and eliminate further threats. The credibility of the nuclear forensic information would be significantly enhanced if provided or corroborated through a multinational or at least bilateral nuclear forensic team. Such cooperative activities could be fostered by approaches similar to the joint U.S.-Russian CTR programs of the past decade.

Post-Detonation Nuclear Forensics

As responsible governments want to locate nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists before they are detonated, they have tended to focus on improving methods to detect fissile material (pre-detonation) more than using forensic techniques to determine the products generated by fission (post-detonation). Pre-detonation technology includes x-ray machines that may show the presence of a nuclear device and gamma-ray detectors that indicate the presence of fissile material. In post-detonation forensics, the arcane field of radiochemistry plays the major role.

In the event of a nuclear explosion, radiochemists would seek to obtain minute quantities of debris from the nuclear device near ground zero and/or in the atmosphere. They would first separate the atoms into groups of chemically similar elements and then measure the radioactivity of each group. To do so, scientists often employ gamma-ray spectroscopy to measure the time of emission and the energy of each detectable gamma ray, electromagnetic radiation produced by radioactive decay.

The energy of the detected gamma ray is unique to each isotope of a specific element, thereby indicating its presence in the debris. Furthermore, the rate at which that isotope emits its signature gamma ray decays in time according to its unique half-life, thereby providing a second identifier of the isotope. By knowing the chemistry of elements that have been separated, the energy of the gamma rays of any radioactive atoms in that chemical group, and the rate at which the emission of the gamma rays at each particular energy level decays over time, scientists can obtain an accurate measurement of many of the isotopes of the chemical elements in the debris. Because there is always experimental uncertainty, particularly with small samples, all three processes (separation, energy measurement, and time dependence) may be used.

Three types of atoms are of particular interest in a forensic analysis:

  • Atoms of fissile material that did not undergo fission. Examining them allows scientists to identify the material used to make the device and, when compared to the number of fission fragments, to measure the efficiency or sophistication of the weapon.

  • New atoms created by fission and by other nuclear reactions within the fissile material. When scientists compare these, they can obtain considerable insight into the nuclear processes that were involved during the actual explosion.

  • Atoms of material near the fissioning core that were subjected to an intense bombardment of neutrons during the explosion and became radioactive as a consequence. These atoms provide insight into the components of the weapon and the energy of the neutrons that activated the components.

Post-detonation forensics are by no means limited to the steps noted above, nor does the description of even these steps do justice to the creativity and sophistication of instrumentation and techniques that have evolved since the beginning of the nuclear age and which continue to evolve and improve in the face of nuclear terrorism. The Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Energy have substantial and continuing research and operational programs in the field.

—William Dunlop and Harold Smith


William Dunlop is a semi-retired senior scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL). He formally led LLNL’s Arms Control and International Non-Proliferation programs and during the 1990s was a scientific adviser to the U.S. delegation involved in negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Harold Smith is a distinguished visiting scholar and professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley. He served as assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs during the Clinton administration. The views reflected here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies of LLNL or the University of California.


1. William J. Broad, “New Team Plans to Identify Nuclear Attackers,” The New York Times, February 2, 2006.

2. See John B. Dunlop, The 2002 Dubrovka and 2004 Beslan Hostage Crises: A Critique of Russian Counter-Terrorism ( Stuttgart: Verlag, 2004).

3. See Mark Kramer, “The Sinking of the Kursk,” PONARS Policy Memo No. 145, September 2000.

4. Dr. Edward Walker of the University of California at Berkeley contributed greatly to these concepts.

5. TWA Flight 800 exploded at low altitude during takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 17, 1996. Initial suspicions were that it was attacked by a ground-to-air missile.

6. The half-life is the time required for half of the atoms in any given quantity of a radioactive isotope to decay, emitting some form of nuclear radiation.

7. Nuclear Forensics Support: International Atomic Energy Agency Nuclear Security Series No. 2, 2006.

8. To monitor and verify compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a global network of radionuclide monitoring stations is nearing completion. The network is already delivering data to a Vienna-based International Data Center, which is making the information available to signatories. Data derived from the stations could potentially provide information relevant for attributing the source of the material used in a nuclear detonation. The on-site inspection functions called for under the CTBT, however, will not be available for use until such time as the CTBT enters into force. Such inspections are primarily designed to determine whether a nuclear detonation has taken place.

9. Conclusive evidence that the explosion was caused by an internal malfunction rather than a ground-to-air missile was not available for many months, but the prestige of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was such that the United States decided not to take action until the NTSB had made its determination. By then, of course, retribution was moot.


U.S.-Russian Nuclear Program Expires

Caitlin Harrington

Last-minute informal U.S.-Russian talks aimed at preserving an eight-year-old program appear to have come up short. The Nuclear Cities Initiative (NCI), designed to keep Russian nuclear weapons specialists from selling their secrets to rogue states, expired Sept. 22 with little hope that it would be revived.

The United States and Russia established NCI in 1998 as a unique program to rejuvenate 10 “closed” Russian cities that had held key portions of the Soviet nuclear weapons complex. At that time, many of them were reeling from the downsizing of the Soviet military machine and brimming with out-of-work nuclear specialists looking for a steady cash flow. The program provided jobs, English language training, small business loans, and other forms of economic relief to these unemployed nuclear workers.

Since these cities were founded, workers have essentially been isolated there by the Soviet and then Russian authorities because of their government’s desire to prevent the spread of nuclear secrets.

But NCI appears to be drawing to an end because the Department of Energy and Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, failed to renew the partnership in 2003 after Russia rejected a U.S. demand for a blanket liability exemption for all Americans working on NCI projects or in a program to dispose of surplus plutonium from nuclear weapons. (See ACT, September 2003). Earlier this month, the United States meted out a compromise with Russia on the plutonium disposition program that they said would apply to all future such programs. But it may be too late to save NCI. In 2003 the two countries agreed on a three-year extension to wrap up ongoing projects, but that period is now coming to an end.

Indeed, current and former U.S. government officials say there may be good reasons to let the NCI project fade away. They point out that the economic relief program may have lost some of its relevance in recent years as the Russian economy has improved. Some Russian government officials have echoed that sentiment, saying that they no longer need to rely on U.S. help to keep workers in closed cities employed. With the Russian economy booming, people living in Russia’s nuclear cities are doing much better than they were back in 1998 when guards at nuclear facilities were known to leave their posts to forage for food in the woods, according to former Clinton administration official Matthew Bunn.

But Kenneth Luongo, also a former Clinton administration official, said that the end of NCI is the latest harbinger of the decline of U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation. NCI’s downfall marks the abandonment of efforts to shrink the footprint of the Russian nuclear weapons complex, Luongo said, and of U.S. efforts to find jobs for scientists who, in the post-September 11 era, could cause security problems for the United States if they seek jobs in Iran, Iraq, or other countries of proliferation concern. Luongo, Bunn, and officials at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) also point to the important, albeit modest, successes of NCI. It created about 1,600 jobs and helped to close down one of the Soviet Union’s largest nuclear warhead factories in Sarov, turning it into a computer center.

Even as the NCI program appears to be coming to an end, however, NNSA officials insist that programs to prevent unemployed nuclear weapons scientists from smuggling parts and selling secrets are still a priority. Last year, NNSA wrapped NCI into a broader program, Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, which still subsists today on a U.S. government budget that averages about $25 million a year. The program pairs former weapons scientists in countries such as Russia and Libya with U.S. businesses to pursue constructive, civilian commercial enterprises, such as producing antidotes for tuberculosis or influenza.

NNSA officials also still say there is a chance that last-minute talks between the United States and Russia could yield a new bilateral agreement to continue the kind of work pursued under NCI. It is too early to know whether those talks with yield results, and it is likely that any new efforts to help the closed cities will look different than NCI.

“Russia and we have had informal discussions about how and whether a new bilateral agreement could usefully advance our security interests, given changes in the security environment since the original NCI agreement was established,” NNSA spokesperson Julianne Smith told Arms Control Today Sept. 21.

Whether NCI is renewed, those focused on reducing the risks posed by Russia’s nuclear weapons complex have their work cut out for them. Over the next several years, Russia is scheduled to shut down its three plutonium-production reactors—two at Seversk and one at Zheleznogorsk—and the two processing plants that serve them in a move that will throw additional thousands of nuclear scientists and technicians out of work.


Japan, Australia Sanction North Korea

Paul Kerr

In a coordinated action, Japan and Australia announced Sept. 19 that they had adopted sanctions targeting multiple foreign entities tied to North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

The governments said that the sanctions were adopted in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1695, which the council adopted in July after North Korea launched several ballistic missiles. (See ACT, September 2006.) The resolution condemned the launches and called on Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks designed to resolve the crisis surrounding the country’s nuclear weapons program. The last round of such talks was held in November 2005. (See ACT, September 2006.)

The resolution requires states to prevent missiles and related “items, materials, goods and technology” from being transferred to North Korea’s missile or chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons programs. This requirement includes preventing the transfer of “any financial resources in relation to” Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

Australia and Japan each punished the same 12 organizations, as well as a Swiss citizen. All are already subject to similar U.S. sanctions. (See ACT, May 2006.) Japan also designated three additional institutions as suspect.

The sanctions restrict the designated entities’ ability to conduct financial transactions in the two countries. In Australia, the designees are prohibited from conducting financial transactions without prior approval from the Reserve Bank of Australia, the country’s central bank. A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 28 that Tokyo’s sanctions prohibit financial transactions between the designated entities and Japanese citizens or institutions.

During a Sept. 19 press briefing, Tomohiko Taniguchi, deputy press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would not say whether Tokyo plans to renew other sanctions previously imposed after the missile tests. These included barring North Korean officials and a North Korean passenger ferry from entering Japan.

A Sept. 19 Department of State press release praised the actions by Japan and Australia and indicated that Washington might place additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the missile tests.

The statement added that the United States “strongly encourage[s] other states” to take actions similar to Australia’s and Japan’s, but none have yet done so. For example, South Korea halted food and fertilizer assistance to North Korea following the tests but has not announced any further measures.

For its part, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters Sept. 19 that Beijing “opposes” the new sanctions.

More Talks?

Taniguchi stated that the measures are meant to send a “powerful message” that North Korea should return to the six-party talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang, however, has not indicated that it will do so.

Meanwhile, the United States appears to have somewhat softened its resistance to engaging in bilateral talks with North Korea before the six-party talks resume. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow indicated during a Sept. 21 interview with South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill would be willing to travel to Pyongyang for bilateral meetings should North Korea agree to return to the talks.

North Korea has expressed interest in such a meeting. A June Foreign Ministry statement invited Hill to visit the country and “directly explain” the Bush administration’s position regarding the talks.

Hill has never visited North Korea, but the two countries have previously held bilateral meetings elsewhere. For example, U.S. officials met with their North Korean counterparts during past rounds of the six-party talks and held lower-level meetings in New York. (See ACT, September 2005.) Furthermore, U.S. officials told North Korea last fall that Hill was willing to visit the country if Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor. North Korea rejected the proposal. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

Vershbow’s recent statement indicates a slight shift in the administration’s position. U.S. statements in recent months have suggested that the United States would only hold bilateral talks with North Korea during another session of the six-party talks.

Other participants in the talks have argued that Washington and Pyongyang should meet to resolve concerns about the September 2005 U.S. designation of Macau-based Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.”

Pyongyang has repeatedly cited that designation, which was followed by Macau’s decision to freeze the bank’s North Korean assets, as the reason for its refusal to return to the talks.


Israel Looks to Bolster Arms Capabilities

Wade Boese

After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines.

Reacting to the July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants, Israel launched a four-week offensive to root out and eliminate members of the radical Shiite group in southern Lebanon. As Israeli air strikes pounded targets across southern Lebanon and its ground forces poured across the border, Hezbollah unleashed a torrent of rocket attacks against northern Israeli cities.

By the time hostilities ended Aug. 14, 3,970 rockets and missiles had struck inside Israel, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The projectiles killed 43 Israeli civilians and forced more than a million people to seek protection in shelters, the ministry reported.

Israel possesses two operational anti-missile systems: the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow and the U.S.-manufactured Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2). Although both systems were activated during the recent conflict, no interceptors were fired because the incoming rockets were of a shorter range capability than the two missile defenses are designed to counter.

An estimated 80 percent of the rockets that struck Israel were 122-millimeter Katyushas with ranges of 20 kilometers or less and flight times of roughly one to two minutes. Hezbollah also fired 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter rockets but did not apparently launch many Fajr-type missiles, with ranges of 40 to 70 kilometers, or a single one of its longest-range missiles, the Zelzal, which has an estimated range of up to 200 kilometers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that it succeeded in destroying some of these more potent missiles before they could be fired.

Prior to the recent conflict, the Israeli government had estimated that Hezbollah had stockpiled up to 12,000 rockets and missiles primarily from its patrons in Iran and Syria. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted in an Aug. 15 statement that “most of the missiles [that] hit Israeli cities were manufactured by Iran.”

To prevent Hezbollah from importing additional arms, UN Security Council Resolution 1701, approved Aug. 11, calls on countries to prevent arms shipments into Lebanon except to the Lebanese government. The resolution also reiterates a demand from Resolution 1559 two years ago that Lebanon disband and disarm all militias inside its borders.

On Sept. 12, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had provided personal assurances that his country, a key conduit for arms into Lebanon, would “undertake all necessary measures” to implement the arms embargo. The Lebanese government also pledged to deploy more troops along its border with Syria to prevent arms flows into Lebanon and requested that the United Nations help step up maritime patrols along the 200 kilometers of Lebanese coastline. France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom have pledged to provide forces for this mission.

Still, Israel harbors doubts about the potential effectiveness of the embargo, particularly because it blames Lebanon for failing to disarm Hezbollah over the past two years. The group “would never have obtained the missiles and military equipment at its disposal had the Lebanese government not allowed this weaponry to reach Lebanon,” according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hezbollah remains defiant. In a Sept. 22 speech, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed the group still possessed 20,000 rockets and that “no army in the world” could disarm it, according to several press reports.

Consequently, Israel is looking to secure itself, in part, by augmenting its missile defense capabilities to intercept shorter-range rockets. Earlier this year, Israel started moving in this direction by selecting Raytheon Corp. and Israel’s Rafael Corp. to develop the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD). This program is supposed to produce an interceptor missile that is faster and has a greater range than the PAC-2.

Yet, the system will be geared toward destroying projectiles with greater ranges than the Katyushas, leaving Israel vulnerable to attacks by these and similar shorter-range rockets. To address this void, Israel is evaluating a series of weapons concepts, including lasers, with the goal of selecting an option by the end of this year.

The United States and Israel previously explored a joint laser system, the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, for the Katyusha-type threat, but Washington terminated the program in September 2005. Dan O’Boyle, a spokesman for Army missile defense programs at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, told Arms Control Today Sept. 20 that the program was cancelled because of “higher priority funding requirements and pressing financial obligations to support our deployed soldiers.”

In general, Israel relies on U.S. funding to pursue its anti-missile projects. For example, the United States has provided roughly $1.5 billion since 1988 to the Arrow program. Israel keeps its missile defense funding secret.

With U.S. help, Israel is also aiming to improve the Arrow. Israel wants to expand the interceptor’s range, enable it to conduct intercepts at a higher altitude, and possibly shift it to a kinetic, or hit-to-kill, capability. Current Arrow interceptors employ a conventional explosive warhead.

Israel’s motivation for pursuing these upgrades is to stay ahead of what it views as Iran’s efforts to enhance its ballistic missile arsenal and develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s Shahab-3 is estimated to be capable of striking Israel. (See ACT, November 2004. )

The recent conflict with Hezbollah, which Israel considers an Iranian proxy, appears to have sharpened Israel’s concerns about Iran. “I think the Iranian threat is now also clearer,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters Sept. 13 in Washington.

In a move aimed at bolstering its military capabilities vis-à-vis Iran, Israel in July signed a contract to purchase two Dolphin submarines from Germany. The deal came to light in August.

Israel already has three earlier versions of the diesel-electric-powered vessels, which allegedly have been outfitted to carry nuclear-armed missiles. (See ACT, November 2003. ) Although generally suspected of building up an inventory of nuclear weapons numbering in the tens to low hundreds, Israel adheres to a policy of nuclear ambiguity, only saying that it will not be the first country to “introduce” nuclear arms into the region. The German government has said the submarines are not designed to deliver nuclear weapons.



After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines. (Continue)

Iran, EU Struggle to Start Nuclear Talks

Paul Kerr

As September drew to a close, European and Iranian negotiators were attempting to reach an agreement regarding ground rules for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The permanent five members of the UN Security Council, along with Germany and Italy, agreed Sept. 19 to give Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, until early October to reach an agreement with his Iranian interlocutors.

Solana met several times during September with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, but was unable to strike an accord over which would come first, the beginning of the negotiations or the suspension of Tehran’s gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program.

Iran faces possible UN Security Council sanctions because of its failure to comply with an Aug. 31 council deadline requiring it to suspend its enrichment program. Uranium enrichment can produce low-enriched uranium, used for fuel in civil nuclear reactors, as well as highly enriched uranium, which can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

A package of incentives and disincentives offered to Iran in June by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States requires Iran to enact such a suspension before negotiations can begin. Tehran has indicted that it is willing to consider suspending the program but continues to resist doing so before beginning negotiations.

A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Sept. 25 that both the United States and Iran will have to be flexible regarding the timing of a suspension announcement, adding that “some sort of face-saving” measure would be necessary. Although U.S. and European officials would not speak publicly of a specific deadline, the diplomat confirmed press reports that the relevant countries had agreed that Iran had to respond satisfactorily by early October. These countries now include Italy, which was not a party to the initial offer, but has since taken a more prominent role.

Security Council members have been discussing a resolution that could implement sanctions, but they apparently have not yet reached consensus on the matter.

Resolution 1696, which the Security Council adopted in July, requires Iran to suspend its enrichment program, and calls on it to undertake other measures, such as fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) investigation of its nuclear programs, in order to build confidence that its nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes. According to the resolution, the council intends to adopt “appropriate measures” short of military force if Iran refuses to comply. No such measures will be adopted if Iran cooperates. (See ACT, September 2006.)

But an Aug. 31 report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei requested by the Security Council resolution indicates that Iran has neither suspended its enrichment work nor provided the agency with significant cooperation on outstanding issues of concern.

Elements of a Deal?

Tehran’s lack of compliance was foreshadowed by its Aug. 22 response to the June proposal. Iran’s 21-page response, a copy of which was made public in September, describes the proposal as containing “useful foundations” for “long-term cooperation” but does not explicitly accept the conditions for beginning negotiations.

Iran further said in the response that it wants clarification of what it describes as “ambiguities” regarding some of the package’s provisions. For example, Tehran wants its interlocutors to clarify the scope of any potential nuclear cooperation agreements, as well as provide “irreversible and irrevocable guarantees” that any such agreements will be carried out.

The June package contains several proposals for providing Iran with nuclear energy, including part ownership of a Russian enrichment facility, a five-year “buffer stock” of enriched uranium stored under IAEA supervision, and multilateral ventures to provide a light-water nuclear power reactor. Additionally, the proposal includes measures for economic cooperation with and technology transfers to Iran.

In Iran’s response, however, it says it cannot rely on international fuel-supply assurances and still plans to enrich uranium on its own territory. Tehran did reiterate, however, that it is willing to do so “through consortium with other countries.” Although the June package was designed to persuade Tehran to end its enrichment program, it does allow for a final agreement to include a provision that would permit Iran to have an enrichment facility on its own territory at some point in the future.

Iran’s response also suggests a willingness to meet some of the demands described in both the Security Council resolution and the June proposal.

The six countries have insisted that, before beginning negotiations, Iran, in addition to suspending its enrichment program, would have to “commit to addressing all the outstanding concerns of the IAEA” and resume implementing its additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement.

Additional protocols provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs, including by inspections of facilities that have not been declared to the IAEA. They supplement mandatory IAEA safeguards agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed but not ratified its additional protocol. Tehran had been implementing the agreement but stopped doing so in February after the IAEA board referred its nuclear file to the Security Council.

In its response, Tehran says it will “facilitate the necessary working conditions” to resolve the IAEA’s outstanding questions regarding its nuclear program. Iran also expresses a willingness to implement its additional protocol “voluntarily.” However, it attaches several conditions to that offer and does not say that it will ratify the protocol—another Security Council demand.

As for suspending its enrichment activities, Tehran’s reply states that it is “ready to discuss” suspending its enrichment activities during “the course of negotiations.”

The country is also apparently open to considering other methods to reassure the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The response suggests that Iran may take actions that go beyond its safeguards requirements, although it provides little detail. It also says that Tehran is willing to “guarantee in an appropriate manner” that it will not withdraw from the IAEA or NPT.

The response, however, says that this offer is contingent on the other parties’ participation in “simultaneous mutual confidence-building” measures on security matters. These measures include a commitment to persuade Israel to sign the NPT and to support the pursuit of a regional nuclear-weapon-free zone. Iran also wants the six countries to prevent “all hostile and restrictive acts,” including economic sanctions and “any kind of military action or threat” against Iran. The June package vaguely addressed security issues, saying that the parties would “support a new conference to promote dialogue and cooperation on regional security issues.”

Reflecting a long-standing Iranian concern, the reply repeatedly states that Iran does not want Security Council involvement in resolving the nuclear issue. It also indicates that Tehran will end its cooperation and “choose a different course of action” if “parties with adventurous inclinations” pursue action against Iran through the Security Council.

Iran also articulated other demands such as lifting economic and trade sanctions. Furthermore, Tehran wants a “limitation” on the negotiations’ duration. The country has previously complained that its previous talks with the Europeans dragged on without producing satisfactory results. Iran had suspended its enrichment program in late 2004 before beginning negotiations with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Those talks ended when Iran took several steps to renew enrichment-related activities beginning in August 2005 after terming the European offer inadequate. (See ACT, September 2005.)

Diplomatic Discussions

There have been indications that the two sides could reach a compromise that would allow negotiations to begin. Other potential participants may be willing to accept a compromise under which Tehran would agree to suspend its programs at the beginning of negotiations rather than as a precondition.

French President Jacques Chirac, for example, discussed a possible compromise in an interview with USA Today published Sept. 19. He indicated that Paris could support an agreement where the United States would join negotiations with Iran after Tehran announced a suspension. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley further indicated during a Sept. 18 press briefing that the United States could agree to such an arrangement. Chirac also said that the two sides could reach an agreement regarding the talks’ duration prior to the negotiations.

Perhaps significantly, Iranian and U.S. officials have suggested that negotiations, should they begin, could include issues other than Tehran’s nuclear program. Asked during a Sept. 15 Washington event whether the United States would consider discussing such concerns as security guarantees and bilateral relations, Department of State Counselor Philip Zelikow replied that “all those kinds of issues could be discussed” if Iran meets the conditions for beginning the negotiations.

For his part, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with The Washington Post published Sept. 24 that “it is possible to talk about everything.”

Whither Sanctions?

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told reporters Sept. 6 that Iran is moving ahead “very aggressively” with its enrichment program, adding that “it is now essential that we move to adopt sanctions.”

However, Security Council members, including key members China and Russia, have continued to balk at taking punitive measures against Tehran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Vremya Novosti Sept. 11 that “sanctions are possible” but cautioned that such measures will only serve to drive Iran and the Security Council “into a corner.” Similarly, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sept. 5 that sanctions could “prove counterproductive,” Reuters reported.

Chirac also displayed a lack of enthusiasm for sanctions during a Sept. 18 radio interview, stating that although the Security Council may need to impose such measures, he did not believe them to be “very effective.”

Rice told reporters Sept. 11 that the UN may adopt several resolutions that would impose increasingly severe sanctions on Iran. However, the council does not appear to have agreed on specific measures.

U.S. officials have publicly discussed a variety of potential sanctions that would likely target Tehran’s nuclear and missile programs initially, as well as individuals involved in those programs. Such measures could include efforts to impede Iran’s ability to acquire relevant materials and spend revenues derived from oil sales.

Additionally, the Bush administration is continuing its unilateral efforts to persuade other governments and private institutions to refrain from doing business with Tehran. The Department of the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Stuart Levey, stated during a Sept. 8 speech in Washington that some European financial institutions have already curtailed their dealings with Iran because of the government’s position on its nuclear program.

Levey and other senior Treasury Department officials also traveled to other countries to further such efforts. U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations John Bolton told reporters Sept. 18 that U.S. officials are talking with “governments and financial institutions about the risks of transactions with front companies set up by the government of Iran to help finance” the country’s nuclear and missile programs.

The European diplomat said that Washington would likely continue to push such measures even if negotiations were to begin. But a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 25 that the United States may reconsider such actions “if Iran is negotiating in good faith.”



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