"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Author, "African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement
July 1, 2020
January/February 2007
Edition Date: 
Monday, January 1, 2007
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Enforcing International Standards: Protecting Nuclear Materials From Terrorists Post-9/11

George Bunn

For a long time, how nuclear facilities were protected from terrorists and thieves has been largely the prerogative of the facilities themselves or individual governments.[1] But the September 11 terrorist attacks and statements by Osama bin Laden have raised new concerns about preventing terrorists from stealing or attacking nuclear material that is often not well protected. As a result, new international standards have been adopted, calling on states to provide stronger protection for nuclear material.

So far, however, these standards are very general and lack effective enforcement. To remedy these shortcomings, the UN Security Council should consider such measures as providing a greater role for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Since 1977, the IAEA through Information Circular 225 has provided recommended standards for protection of nuclear material.[2] The agency also has long supplied technical assistance to states desiring help. Unlike the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty’s (NPT) requirement of safeguards for nuclear reactors, however, these physical protection standards are voluntary, unless required by a state supplying the nuclear material. No treaty yet gives the IAEA authority to adopt required physical protection standards, and many states have long resisted such standards.

Then-IAEA Director-General Hans Blix, in a preface to the 1993 version of the IAEA’s recommendations for physical protection of nuclear reactors and materials, implied it would be preferable to have required rather than discretionary international standards:

Physical protection against theft or unauthorized diversion of nuclear materials and against the sabotage of nuclear materials by individuals or groups has long been a matter of national and international concern. Although responsibility for establishing and operating a comprehensive physical protection system for nuclear materials and facilities within a State rests entirely with the Government of that State, it is not a matter of indifference to other States whether and to what extent that responsibility is fulfilled.[3]

Yet, neither the NPT nor the 1980 Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) required states to provide protection for nuclear material within their territories. As a result, deciding what protection should be provided within a country was generally left up to the nuclear facility or the national government. Some nuclear supplier states, such as the United States, have asked recipient states to provide fences, walls, or other protections against theft and sabotage, but protection has varied considerably from country to country. By contrast, there were required international standards in the CPPNM for nuclear material transported from one country to another.

New, Required International Standards

Since September 11, 2001, heightened concern about terrorists has begun to produce efforts to improve standards for such protection. In 2004 the UN Security Council adopted a new global requirement for protecting nuclear material within countries as part of new Security Council standards to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The new physical protection requirement for nuclear material is set forth in Resolution 1540, which calls on states to “develop and maintain appropriate effective physical protection measures” to guard their nuclear material and nuclear facilities.

The Security Council did not prescribe the characteristics of the measures the states were to adopt except to require that they be appropriate and effective for implementing the states’ responsibilities under Resolution 1540. Nor did it define what it meant by “appropriate” or “effective,” but it did create a committee to interpret and implement Resolution 1540. This committee’s role so far has been to urge states to supply the reports sought by the council on what the states have done to implement the resolution, to review those reports, and to call on those states that have not answered questions adequately or have not yet submitted a report to do so.

When the 1540 Committee was created by the council, the committee’s life was limited to two years, although Resolution 1540 was to continue in effect indefinitely. The two-year limit for the committee was adopted apparently because council members were in disagreement as to the time needed to get countries around the world to respond to the council’s questions and requirements. That job has not been easy, and the council renewed the committee in 2006.[4] It now has acquired a staff and consultants, and it communicates regularly with member states who have not supplied other requested information.[5]

The legal authority of the Security Council to demand Resolution 1540 reports from UN member states has been questioned by some analysts. Resolution 1540 was adopted unanimously, however, and its committee continues to request that states that have not reported adequately do so.[6] So far, the Security Council itself has not adopted resolutions demanding responses from states, and it has not attempted to adopt new council standards for physical protection of nuclear materials. The 1540 Committee’s second term will expire in less than two years. It is not clear who then will shoulder the administrative responsibility for implementing Resolution 1540, particularly its provisions on physical protection of nuclear material.

In 2005, more than 80 CPPNM states-parties agreed to some new standards for protection of nuclear material within each of their countries,[7] but the CPPNM amendment to which they agreed provides standards that are mostly discretionary. For example, the amendment says that the physical protection required of states that agree to the amendment “should be based on the state’s current evaluation of the threat.”[8] What then is required of CPPNM members that do not feel that their nuclear materials and facilities are threatened by terrorists or thieves? In addition, the CPPNM amendment will not go into effect until ratified by two-thirds of CPPNM members, who now total 112 states. By September 2006, only five had done so.[9]

For a number of years before this amendment was agreed upon, CPPNM members debated whether to accept any international standards for protecting their domestic nuclear activities. They had already accepted standards for nuclear material in international transport by joining the CPPNM, but it took years to persuade most CPPNM members that new provisions should be accepted for protecting nuclear materials within their territories. The amendment that was adopted did not provide high standards for such protection, and CPPNM members do not seem to be in a hurry to ratify the amendment. Perhaps they are waiting for the outcome of the 1540 Committee’s efforts affecting physical protection of nuclear material.

In addition, Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in July proposed a “Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.” They called for a meeting of “willing partner nations” to agree on methods for cooperation to implement the initiative. In October, a first meeting of the states involved in this voluntary initiative took place in Morocco. Those attending the so-called Group of Eight (G-8) Plus Five meeting included G-8 countries Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as Australia, China, Kazakhstan, Morocco, and Turkey. According to Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph, the participants agreed on the goals, principles, and methods for the initiative.

Among the agreed goals was improving the “physical protection systems for nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances.” The agreed principles also included improving domestic measures to account for and secure these materials.[10] Joseph said that “the initiative will help prevent terrorists from acquiring the nuclear and radiological materials needed to set off a nuclear or radiological device” and “will go a long way toward improving the physical security at civilian nuclear facilities.”[11]

The next day, the White House issued a “Statement of Principles by Participants in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism,” stating that the purpose of the initiative was:

to develop partnership capacity to combat nuclear terrorism on a determined and systematic basis, consistent with national legal authorities and obligations they have under relevant international legal frameworks, notably the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism [which calls for cooperation between states in investigation, prosecution, and extradition of nuclear terrorists], the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment, United Nations Security Council [Resolution 1540].[12]

Participants also agreed to develop physical protection systems for nuclear and radioactive materials, enhance the security of civilian nuclear facilities, and prevent the provision of safe haven to terrorists, the statement said.

It remains to be seen what effect this initiative will have. The G-8 Plus Five have within their territories most, but not by any means all, of the world’s nuclear materials and facilities. If they could reach a consensus on more exacting nuclear physical protection standards for the future, that would be a step forward. It is as yet unclear, however, whether states will adopt new requirements as a result of the initiative and whether the recommendations will produce significant improvements within the territories of the participants and those of other states.

Implementation of Resolution 1540

Of the new international standards for protecting nuclear materials within each country, only Resolution 1540 has any public record of implementation efforts. So far, these efforts have focused on collecting and reviewing the many reports that states submitted in compliance with the resolution’s requirements. By December 2006, 133 UN member states had submitted responses, but 58 still had not. The committee has asked those that have not submitted Resolution 1540 reports to do so, and it has raised questions about reports it considered incomplete. The committee continues both to review reports from states and to assist states requesting help in preparing the reports. The committee has not yet asked the council to issue a mandatory order to any state that has not submitted a report.[13]

How far will the 1540 Committee or the Security Council go to enforce Resolution 1540 requirements on noncompliant states? The 1540 Committee is now the place to turn for enforcement of the resolution’s requirement that states provide “appropriate effective” physical protection of nuclear material against terrorists and thieves. The committee has asked the IAEA in turn to advise the committee on what physical protection services the agency provides to its members. The IAEA’s initial response was to provide information on what the agency was already doing to help its members improve the physical protection of their nuclear facilities:

Since 2001, the IAEA has moved rapidly to review and strengthen its programs and activities to provide states with the means of preventing, detecting and responding to sabotage, theft and unauthorized access to, or illegal transfer of, nuclear material and other radioactive substances, as well as their associated facilities. To prevent such events, we must have a comprehensive global approach to nuclear security, based on internationally accepted instruments, and which is implemented worldwide.… Resolution 1540 addresses many of these requirements. The [IAEA] stands ready to assist states in their efforts to implement the resolution.[14]

The IAEA described its programs designed to assist states in improving physical security at their nuclear facilities. For example, the agency helps develop “internationally accepted recommendations and guidelines for the physical protection of nuclear material.” On request, it sends experts to evaluate the national physical protection systems of IAEA members’ nuclear facilities.[15]

In considering the adequacy of Resolution 1540 reports of UN members, the 1540 Committee has thus enlisted the help of the IAEA, as is appropriate given the agency’s authority and experience in recommending better protection of nuclear facilities and materials from theft and sabotage. The IAEA now provides to its members recommended standards for physical protection of nuclear facilities; training for those whom its members employ to deal with physical protection; and, on request, an “inspection” and review of members’ efforts to provide physical protection of their nuclear facilities.[16]

The IAEA’s review of physical protection at the nuclear facilities of its members is different from its implementation of IAEA safeguards to prevent diversion of nuclear materials at these facilities. Unlike safeguards, physical protection is not a requirement of the NPT. The NPT calls for inspections to assure that safeguards standards are met and that the inspected state’s nuclear material is not diverted to nuclear weapons. There is no similar NPT requirement for IAEA review of physical protection to prevent theft and sabotage of nuclear material. Resolution 1540 now requires physical protection for those purposes, but so far, that requirement has been implemented by the Security Council, not the IAEA.


The Security Council would be well advised to consider giving the IAEA a greater role in ensuring that the physical protection requirements of Resolution 1540 are satisfied. The 1540 Committee has acquired expert advisers on necessary physical protection measures. They can hardly be expected, however, to go from country to country as IAEA inspectors do to check that such measures are in place. Nor does it make sense to have two sets of international inspectors for these facilities. It seems worthwhile to consider whether IAEA inspectors could be trained and tasked with checking the adequacy of physical protection at the reactors and other nuclear facilities when they conduct routine inspections. The IAEA inspectors could notify the facilities of any problems and provide the 1540 Committee with copies of their reports.

What more can be done to raise both international standards for physical protection of nuclear materials and compliance with those standards? The pending CPPNM amendments may not do a great deal to raise international standards for physical protection of domestic nuclear facilities because these amendments leave so much to the discretion of each national government. Moreover, they may not go into effect for a few years because of the slow rate of ratification. The general standards for physical protection in Resolution 1540, however, are now in effect. Moreover, the Security Council and its 1540 Committee may have the potential for requiring changes in the physical protection provided for nuclear materials around the world. At the same time, however, the IAEA has greater experience in dealing with physical protection than the 1540 Committee.

The Security Council, backed up by its 1540 Committee, should move ahead to establish effective standards for physical protection of nuclear facilities around the world. It should consider assigning to the IAEA the task of conducting a series of inspections to see whether these standards are being met. Given the current state of physical protection efforts around the world, having the Security Council involved in raising standards to prevent terrorists and thieves from acquiring nuclear material at peaceful nuclear facilities such as power and research reactors could be a useful next step for the protection of these facilities.

George Bunn, the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and later became U.S. ambassador to the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. He is now at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation.


1. See Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) INFICIRC/274, Rev. 1, May 1980, Art. 2.1. See also George Bunn, “U.S. Standards for Protecting Weapons-Usable Fissile Material Compared to International Standards,” Nonproliferation Review (Fall 1998), p. 137; George Bunn, “Raising International Standards for Protecting Nuclear Materials From Theft and Sabotage,” Nonproliferation Review (Summer 2000), p. 146; George Bunn and Fritz Steinhausler, “Guarding Nuclear Reactors and Material From Terrorists and Thieves, Arms Control Today, October 2001, pp. 8-12; George Bunn et al., “Research Reactor Vulnerability to Sabotage by Terrorists,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 11 ( Summer 2003), p. 85.

2. The current version is The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, IAEA INFCIRC/225/Rev.3 (1993).

3. Ibid.

4. See UN Security Council Resolution 1673 (2006) (providing for a new Resolution 1540 subcommittee when the term of the first two-year subcommittee had expired).

5. For a description of the 1540 Committee’s actions, see “Briefing by the Chairman of the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1540,” May 2006.

6. See Daniel Joyner, “UN Security Council 1540: A Legal Travesty?” CITS Briefs, August 2006; Lars Olberg, “Implementing Resolution 1540: What the National Reports Indicate,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 82 (Spring 2006), pp. 2-4.

7. See Paul Kerr, “States Vow to Update Nuclear Materials Pact,” Arms Control Today, September 2005, pp. 42-43. The 2005 agreed text to amend the CPPNM asks states-parties to establish and maintain physical protection measures for nuclear material within the state’s territory, and it lists “fundamental principles” for physical protection that should be applied “insofar as reasonable and practicable.” These include “[t]he responsibility for the establishment, implementation and maintenance of a physical protection regime within a state rests entirely with that State,” and “[t]he State’s physical protection should be based on the State’s current evaluation of the threat.” See IAEA Board of Governors General Conference, GOV/INF/2005/10-GC(49)/INF/6 (September 2005).

8. See CPPNM Amendment of 2004, Arts. 2A and 3G.

9. See “Nuclear Security: Measures to Protect Against Nuclear Terrorism,” IAEA General Conference Res. GC(50) RES/11 (Sept. 2006).

10. “Statement of Principles by Participants in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism,” 2006, October 31, 2006 (hereinafter Global Initiative statement).

11. Jacquelyn Porth, “Nations Meet in Morocco on How to Counter Nuclear Terror Threat,” Washington File, Oct. 30, 2006.

12. Global Initiative statement.

13. See “Briefing by the Chairman of the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1540,” May 30, 2006.

14. IAEA Secretariat, “IAEA Activities Relevant to UN Security Council Resolution 1540,” 2005/Note 22. In September 2005, the IAEA General Conference adopted a long resolution listing the steps that the agency and its members had taken “to improve nuclear security and protection against nuclear and radiological terrorism” and commended the IAEA director-general and Secretariat for their “continued efforts to improve nuclear and radiological security and prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism.”

15. Ibid.

16. See IAEA, “The Physical Protection of Nuclear Material,” Information Circular INFCIRC/225/Rev.3 (1993).

Blair: Retain UK Nuclear Weapons

Wade Boese

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently unveiled a plan to extend until about midcentury his country’s possession of a slimmed-down nuclear weapons arsenal. British lawmakers will vote as early as March on the initiative.

The United Kingdom deploys about 200 nuclear warheads aboard four Vanguard-class submarines. Launched separately between 1992 and 1998, these submarines will start reaching the end of their service lifetimes in the early 2020s.

Blair ruled out letting the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons capability expire along with the current submarine fleet. Describing British nuclear weapons as the “ultimate insurance,” he said Dec. 4, 2006, that it would be “unwise and dangerous” to give them up under current conditions and uncertainty about the future.

Still, Blair proposed that the active force could be trimmed down to less than 160 warheads and maybe three submarines. The prime minister’s plan also envisions a 20 percent cut in the backup warhead stockpile, the size of which is secret.

Blair’s government estimates that designing and building the first replacement submarine will require 17 years. Hence, a decision to begin such an effort, according to the government, must be made this year to be able to continue in 2024 the current practice of always having one submarine on patrol.

Another decision that Blair says must be made this year is whether to participate in the U.S. life extension program for the submarine-launched Trident D5 ballistic missile. British and U.S. submarines are outfitted with this missile, which is currently calculated to last until around 2020. The life extension program is supposed to prolong the missile’s service 20 more years.

The government detailed its case for extending the existing nuclear posture in a 40-page white paper, “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent.” This December 2006 report cites the maintenance and modernization of nuclear arsenals by other major powers, the possibility of additional countries joining the nuclear club, and the threat of nuclear terrorism as reasons for preserving British nuclear forces. “We can only deter such threats in [the] future through the continued possession of nuclear weapons,” the report declares.

Blair acknowledged that terrorists most likely would not be dissuaded by the threat of nuclear attack or retaliation, but implied that such considerations could influence regimes that might aid terrorists. The report asserts that “any state that [the British government] can hold responsible for assisting a nuclear attack on our vital interests can expect that this would lead to a proportionate response.” French President Jacques Chirac enunciated a similar policy a year ago. (See ACT, March 2006.)

In general, the report maintains that the use of British nuclear arms would be considered “only in extreme circumstances” of self-defense or of protecting fellow members of the 26-nation NATO alliance. The government will “deliberately maintain ambiguity about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate use of our nuclear deterrent,” the report states.

Keeping with this policy, the report notes that the United Kingdom reserves the option of using nuclear weapons first. China and India are the only two nuclear-armed countries that publicly say they will not do so.

Although the report registers concern about biological and chemical weapons, it stresses the “uniquely terrible threat” that nuclear arms pose and emphasizes that the British nuclear force’s “focus is on preventing nuclear attack.” A British government official told Arms Control Today Dec. 8 that “the reason why we keep a nuclear deterrent” is the possession of nuclear weapons by other states.

South Africa, which announced in 1993 that it had secretly accrued and then disposed of six completed nuclear weapons, criticized Blair’s proposal as “disappointing.” In a Dec. 5 press release, the South African Foreign Ministry argued London missed an “opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons arsenal, consistent with its nuclear disarmament obligations and commitments.”

Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) obligates the United Kingdom, as well as China, France, Russia, and the United States, to work toward disarmament. Moreover, the five countries pledged in 2000 at an NPT review conference to “an unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”

The white paper defends Blair’s proposal as consistent with British commitments. It states, “We believe this is the right balance between our commitment to a world in which there is no place for nuclear weapons and our responsibilities to protect the current and future citizens” of the United Kingdom.

Blair contended that British nuclear disarmament would not be reciprocated by other governments and, therefore, was impractical. “Unfortunately there is no evidence that any major nuclear power would follow such an example,” Blair argued. “And, as for the new, would-be nuclear powers, it really would be naïve to think that they would be influenced by a purely British decision.”

Then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a different argument just days before Blair’s comments. Annan said Nov. 28 that the retention of nuclear weapons by some countries might motivate others to acquire such arms. “By clinging to and modernizing their own arsenals…nuclear-weapon states encourage others…to regard nuclear weapons as essential, both to their security and to their status,” he warned.

Such anti-nuclear weapons views used to prevail inside Blair’s ruling Labour Party, which during the 1980s supported unilateral British nuclear disarmament. But the revival of the party’s fortunes in the 1990s and the election of Blair have been attributed in part to Labour dropping its disarmament stand.

Although some Labour lawmakers in the House of Commons have signaled they will break with Blair in the upcoming nuclear vote, the party’s main rival, the Conservative Party, backs Blair’s proposal. Conservative leader David Cameron stated after Blair’s announcement, “This is our only nuclear weapon, it is a minimum deterrent, and we have the right to replace it.”

The government explored replacement options other than new submarines, but these alternatives, including long-range aircraft and land-based silos, were rejected as more vulnerable and expensive. The government projects that procuring up to four new submarines will cost between $29 billion and $39 billion and extending the Trident’s lifetime will total nearly $500 million.

Russia, West Still Split Over Georgia, Moldova

Wade Boese

The Cold War ended more than 15 years ago, but the legacy of the Soviet Union’s breakup still divides governments. At a recent high-level Brussels meeting, Washington and other Western capitals clashed with Moscow over its lingering military presence related to “frozen conflicts” in Georgia and Moldova.

In a closing chairman’s statement to the Dec. 4-5 ministerial meeting of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht described European political-military affairs as “anemic, if not stagnant.” In particular, he said, “we are not closer to a solution than a year ago on Moldova and Georgia.”

At the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, Russia pledged to withdraw its military forces from the two former Soviet republics. Russia’s commitments to Georgia were part of a political act tied to a revision of the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, and Moscow’s vow to vacate Moldova was noted in the summit’s political declaration.

But these promises remain unfulfilled. Apart from Moscow’s reticence to let go of its foreign outposts in Georgia and Moldova, the withdrawal has been complicated by the location of Russian troops and weapons in separatist regions inside each country.

In Georgia, Russian forces are in the process of leaving two bases, Batumi and Akhalkalaki, by the end of 2008; but some 300 Russian “peacekeepers” occupy one base, Gudauta, in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. A larger contingent of about 1,250 Russian troops is encamped in Moldova’s separatist region of Transdniestria.

The Kremlin says its soldiers prevent hostilities from breaking out, but Georgia and Moldova contend Moscow is meddling in their affairs. Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told the recent OSCE meeting that Russia’s “credibility as an honest broker of the peace process has long been shaken,” while Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Stratan said his country wished to be “free of any form of foreign military or quasi-military presence.”

Led by the United States, Western governments have sided with Georgia and Moldova. Speaking Dec. 4 to reporters attending the Brussels meeting, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns asserted that “if both countries are to be fully sovereign, independent, and truly in control of their territory, then the Russian troops should leave.”

Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, emphasized a day earlier that “it is critical that there be only peaceful solutions to these so-called frozen conflicts.” He noted, “[T]hese [conflicts] seem obscure, but if they go wrong, they’re not obscure.”

The United States and its 25 fellow members of NATO are trying to exert some diplomatic pressure on Russia to withdraw its forces as soon as possible. Specifically, NATO countries are refraining from ratifying the adapted CFE Treaty. This agreement from the 1999 Istanbul summit would replace the original treaty’s bloc and regional deployment limits on major conventional arms with national limits. (See ACT, November 1999.)

All 30 states-parties to the 1990 agreement must ratify the 1999 version for it to enter into force. Moscow is eager for this to happen because the updated accord would relax constraints on Russian arms concentrations on its territory and allow other countries to join the regime. The Kremlin is upset that some NATO members, particularly Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, have no arms limits because they are outside the original treaty, which has no accession option.

Moscow has repeatedly blasted NATO countries as blocking entry into force of the adapted CFE Treaty. In Brussels Dec. 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated a warning that the NATO position “brings into question the viability of the [CFE] Treaty itself.”

The United States and its allies, however, fault Russia for the delay. “Ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty by my government and many others still awaits Russia’s fulfillment of the remaining commitments that were made at Istanbul,” Burns said Dec. 4.

De Gucht further stated, “As for the CFE Treaty, it is hostage to the nonimplementation of the Istanbul commitments, and Istanbul itself is hostage to the nonresolution of the frozen conflicts.” He contended that possible solutions are “now well known” but “what is lacking in most cases is the political will to strike a deal.”

Prospects of this political will emerging soon appear dim. Russia and Georgia continue to disagree over the purpose of a proposed German-led international inspection of Gudauta, and multinational talks on Transdniestria remain suspended.

Yet, in what one OSCE official described Dec. 8 to Arms Control Today as a “small step forward,” Russia and Transdniestria permitted 35 representatives from OSCE members to conduct a Nov. 13, 2006, visit to the main Russian ammunition depot at Colbasna. This marked the organization’s first visit there since Russia last removed some of its estimated 21,000 metric tons of munitions from Moldova in March 2004. Russia has rebuffed Western government requests for follow-on actions.

No Progress at North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

After a lapse of more than a year, representatives of six countries met in Beijing Dec. 18-22 in another attempt to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Yet, although the United States presented a new proposal to North Korea during one of several bilateral meetings, the session ended without any apparent progress.

A Dec. 22 statement from Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said that the parties “held useful discussions” on ways to implement a September 2005 joint statement produced at the end of an earlier round of talks. The parties “put forward some initial ideas,” he said, adding that they had “agreed to recess and report to capitals and to reconvene at the earliest opportunity.” No date has been set for another round.

North Korea agreed to attend the meeting less than a month after conducting its first explosive test of a nuclear device Oct. 9. (See ACT, November 2006.) In the run-up to the latest talks, the various parties held numerous preparatory sessions, including two bilateral meetings between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterparts.

Speaking to reporters Dec. 22, Hill expressed disappointment at the talks’ outcome, explaining that the United States had wanted to reach an agreement on implementing the joint statement, in which Pyongyang agreed in principle to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for incentives from other participants, which also include Japan, Russia, and South Korea.

Washington had received “indications” prior to the talks that Pyongyang was willing to take some steps to implement the statement, Hill said, but added that the North Korean negotiators lacked the proper diplomatic instructions to do so.

The six parties need to make “tangible progress” relatively soon, he argued, warning that the United States cannot otherwise “sustain political support for this process.”

Issues concerning the Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia apparently continue to obstruct progress. Hill said Dec. 21 that the North Korean delegation “had strict instructions from their capital that they cannot engage officially” on Pyongyang’s nuclear program until the issue is resolved. The United States expected that discussions of the matter would be confined to a separate discussion with officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, he said.

North Korean Vice Minister Kim Gae Gwan appeared to confirm this in a Dec. 22 press conference. According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, he told reporters that, during the talks, the North Korean delegation said it would discuss the nuclear issue after the United States lifts what Pyongyang calls “financial sanctions.”

This position is similar to one that Pyongyang had articulated in a previous session of talks. During the six parties’ meeting in November 2005, the North Korean delegation focused almost exclusively on the Banco Delta Asia matter. The Treasury Department designated the bank as a “money laundering concern” in September 2005.

The United States asserts that Banco Delta Asia provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in illicit activities such as drug trafficking. Since the U.S. designation, the bank has frozen North Korea’s accounts, and other financial institutions have curtailed their dealings with Pyongyang. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Kim reiterated that North Korea views the sanctions as part of what it terms a U.S. “hostile policy,” which aims to undermine the regime in Pyongyang.

During the six-party talks, a U.S. delegation headed by Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary of the treasury for terrorist financing and financial crimes, held two days of bilateral discussions with North Korean counterparts about the financial issues. Although Glaser told reporters Dec. 19 that the meetings were “businesslike and useful,” no agreements were reached. The two sides “discussed the possibility of meeting next month,” he added, but no further meetings have been scheduled.

Other parties to the talks expressed concern that the issue had impeded progress in resolving the nuclear issue. For example, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a Dec. 16 television interview that the U.S. actions regarding the bank “have obstructed this process.” South Korea’s top nuclear negotiator, Chun Young-woo, expressed similar sentiments, the semi-official Yonhap News Agency reported Dec. 12.

The North Koreans also demanded a light-water nuclear reactor, Hill told reporters Dec. 20, a demand that provoked controversy during past rounds. (See ACT, October 2005.)

A U.S. Proposal

Hill presented a “detailed, concrete proposal” to his North Korean counterparts, Chun confirmed Dec. 20.

Yonhap reported that same day that the United States proposed a multistage denuclearization plan in which North Korea would freeze its operating nuclear reactor, declare its nuclear-related programs, and dismantle its nuclear facilities.

For his part, Kim told reporters that the United States asked Pyongyang to “freeze” its nuclear facilities and allow the freeze to be verified. In addition to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor, which produces spent fuel that can be “reprocessed” to yield plutonium for a nuclear weapon, the United States argues that North Korea has a uranium-enrichment program, which could potentially produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The Oct. 9 North Korean nuclear test explosion almost certainly used plutonium. (See ACT, December 2006.)

The U.S. proposal suggested that if North Korea complied with U.S. demands, Washington would provide Pyongyang with a written security guarantee and increase economic assistance to North Korea, Yonhap reported. According to the Associated Press, Chun provided more details about the U.S. proposal during a Dec. 26 television interview, saying that the United States also offered to normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea, remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, and conclude a peace treaty that would formally end the Korean War.

The United States has indicated in the past that it would provide similar inducements; most are contained in the September 2005 joint statement.

That statement says that the six parties would implement the rewards and obligations of any final agreement “in line with the principle of ‘commitment for commitment, action for action.’” Whether and to what extent the U.S. proposal included such a sequence is unclear, although Yonhap reported that the United States offered to provide the security guarantee in exchange for the reactor freeze.

Such sequencing has been a persistent source of disagreement between the two sides.

Letter to the Editor: The North Korean Test and the Limits of Nuclear Forensics

Jungmin Kang, Frank N. von Hippel, and Hui Zhang

Harold P. Smith (“Nuclear Forensics and the North Korean Test,” Arms Control Today, November 2006) writes:

Any nuclear explosion creates radioactive noble gases, notably xenon and krypton, that do not combine with other elements in the geologic structure. Therefore, they can more easily leak to the surface and into the atmosphere where they can be detected beyond national boundaries. Because at least two different gases escape, it is possible for radio-chemists to determine if the fissile material was plutonium or uranium, which of course is exactly what happened. (Press reports said the material was plutonium.)

Smith is accurate in writing that the press reported that the material was plutonium, but U.S. officials have not done so publicly. In fact, the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said nothing about the fissile material used when it announced that it had detected “radioactive debris” two days after the test.[1] We have no doubt that the material was plutonium, and we do not claim to be experts on this subject, but we are skeptical about Smith’s statement that measurements of radioactive noble gases alone can determine the fissile material used in the North Korean test, particularly if detected as much as two days after a test.

The dominant fissile isotopes in a plutonium or a highly enriched uranium (HEU) bomb are plutonium-239 and uranium-235, respectively. We therefore limit our discussion to them. When they fission, various products are created, including several radioactive noble gases. Among these, Xenon-131m, Xenon-133, Xenon-133m, and Xenon-135 are often detected from underground tests.[2]

Smith mentions the radioactive krypton isotopes, but we are not aware that they have been detected from underground tests, and it would be particularly hard to do so from the small North Korean test. Most krypton isotopes have very short half-lives; Krypton-85 is the only one produced in fission with a half-life of more than five hours. In fact, it has a very long half-life (11 years), but it has another attribute that makes identification difficult: it is released in large quantities when spent fuel is reprocessed.

Since Krypton-85 has such a long half-life and spent fuel reprocessing has taken place in a number of countries, large quantities of this isotope have accumulated in the atmosphere. It would be difficult to pick out the small amount of Krypton-85 leaking from a small underground test from this large background. We therefore disregard the radioactive kryptons in the remainder of this discussion.

Moreover, since the amount of the xenons that is released by an underground test is very uncertain, any clue to the nature of the fissile material would have to come from looking at isotope ratios. These ratios are different for uranium-235 and plutonium-239 fissions. The table below shows the fission-spectrum yields of the xenon isotopes that have been detected after nuclear tests in Nevada. We show separately the amounts that are produced directly and those produced indirectly through the decay of iodine-131, iodine-133, and iodine-135, which have half-lives of eight days, 0.87 days, and 0.27 days, respectively. As the chart illustrates, most xenons are produced indirectly, and the isotope ratios from indirectly produced xenons do not differ greatly between plutonium and HEU weapons.

Xenon Isotope Yields per Fission

If one were able to analyze the resulting mix within the first few hours [after an explosion], when the directly produced xenons dominate, it would be possible to distinguish between the xenon from plutonium and uranium explosion[s]. If the air samples were taken two days after the test, however, as Negroponte’s office said, such determinations would be far more difficult. That’s because xenon isotopes produced indirectly through iodine decay predominate, and the ratios of these indirectly produced xenon isotopes do not differ greatly between plutonium-239 and uranium-235 fission (See January/February 2007 print edition of Arms Control Today for accompanying information graphic ). Also, the dilution resulting from atmospheric mixing would make it far more difficult to measure these ratios exactly.

An additional complication is that the parent iodine isotopes of the indirectly produced xenon may not be released from the ground with the directly produced xenons in the same proportions as they are produced. Some iodine might, for example, condense in the ground (the melting and boiling points of iodine are 114[oC] and 184 oC, respectively) or be captured in ground water before the gas from the explosion reaches the atmosphere. This would change the xenon isotope ratios downwind.[3]

Our point here is only to question what can be learned from xenon isotopic ratios alone. We do not question that, if fissile material from the North Korean test was released into the atmosphere by a significant failure of containment and detected downwind, much could be learned, including whether or not the North Korean device was based on plutonium or HEU.

Jungmin Kang is a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. Frank N. von Hippel is professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security. Hui Zhang is a research associate in Harvard University’s Managing the Atom Project.


1. The complete text of the DNI statement was as follows: “Analysis of air samples collected on Oct. 11 detected radioactive debris confirming that North Korea conducted an underground nuclear explosion in the vicinity of P’unggye on Oct. 9. The explosion yield was less than a kiloton.”

2. Nevada Operations Office, U.S. Department of Energy, “Radiological Effluents Released From U.S. Continental Tests, 1961 through 1992,” DOE/NV-317, Rev. 1, 1996. With regard to the nomenclature of these isotopes, in Xenon-133m, for example, the number 133 designates the atomic number (neutrons plus protons). The suffix m indicates a long-lived (metastable) excited state of the nucleus.

3. Some correction for this effect could be made by measuring the iodine as well as xenon isotopes in the cloud. Martin Kalinowski’s unpublished article, “Characterization of Prompt and Delayed Atmospheric Radioactivity Releases From Underground Nuclear Tests at Nevada as a Function of Release Time,” does not identify evidence for such “fractionation” effects, but they still might be significant at the accuracy with which measurements would have to be made to distinguish between a plutonium and HEU bomb. Hui Zhang plans to carry though a more detailed analysis of this question.

Harold Smith Responds:

The Office of National Intelligence is, as it should be, cryptic in its official public announcements. The press is far less so. On Oct. 14, 2006, Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times reported on the North Korean nuclear test that a “senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the results were still preliminary and that final analysis of the data would not be completed for several days.”[1] Three days later, Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, experienced and respected New York Times reporters, wrote that “American intelligence agencies have concluded that North Korea’s test explosion last week was powered by plutonium that North Korea harvested from its small nuclear reactor, according to officials who have reviewed the results of atmospheric sampling since the blast.”[2] The question is, how did these anonymous officials reach their conclusion, which seems to be based solely on analysis of airborne radioactive debris, the skepticism of Kang, von Hippel, and Zhang notwithstanding?

The answer rests, in all probability, in the degree of accuracy required in the intelligence community (IC) versus that of the scientific community. It must be recognized that intelligence estimates are just what they purport to be, i.e., they are estimates. They are made on incomplete data under conditions quite unlike a laboratory, and most importantly, they have to be made in a timely manner. In this case, the IC could not wait for more data or further analysis; it had to decide within days whether the weapon was fueled by plutonium or uranium.

Based on activity during the past few years, plutonium seems far more likely. Indeed, Kang, von Hippel, and Zhang go to some pains to note that “we have no doubt that the material was plutonium.” But if the fuel were uranium, the government’s understanding of the nuclear capability of North Korea, already meager, would become even darker and more worrisome. Major and possibly counterproductive changes in strategy would be needed. Hence, it is entirely possible that, so long as the radio-chemical data was not inconsistent with a plutonium bomb, the IC felt comfortable in announcing, anonymously through the press, that the fuel was plutonium. Incontrovertible evidence, as Kang, von Hippel, and Zhang seem to want, would be nice, but it cannot be a requirement. It appears that nuclear forensics provided the necessary degree of comfort.

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.


1. Mark Mazzetti, “Preliminary Samples Hint at North Korean Nuclear Test,” New York Times, October 14, 2006.

2. Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, “North Korean Fuel Said to Be Plutonium,” New York Times, October 17, 2006.

Iran, North Korea Deepen Missile Cooperation

Paul Kerr

North Korea has long been known to be a key supplier of missile technology to Iran. Concern about this cooperation, however, has increased in recent months as both countries have expanded their nuclear and missile programs.

Pyongyang launched a series of ballistic missiles in July 2006 and tested a nuclear device about three months later. (See ACT, November 2006.) For its part, Tehran has continued to develop both ballistic missiles and its uranium-enrichment program. It is not clear whether Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, December 2006.)

Perhaps the most important recent development is Iran’s apparent purchase from North Korea of missiles with a range possibly exceeding that of Tehran’s longest-range deployed ballistic missile, the Shahab-3. The Israeli newspaper Ha`aretz quoted Major General Amos Yadlin, the head of the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch, as saying that Tehran had purchased the missiles, some of which had already arrived in Iran. A knowledgeable former Department of State official told Arms Control Today Dec. 19 that the reports are “certainly credible.”

The United States believes that North Korea has been deploying the same missile, which is reportedly based on the Soviet SS-N-6. Washington believes Pyongyang is deploying the missile in a road-mobile mode, although the SS-N-6 was a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The United States and South Korea estimate that the missile, which North Korea has never tested, could potentially have a range of 2,500-4,000 kilometers, according to press reports. The most advanced version of the SS-N-6 had an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers. Any new missile’s range would vary considerably depending on the size of its payload. (See ACT, September 2004.)

During a Nov. 12 television interview, Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps indicated that Iran tested a Shahab-3 capable of traveling 2,000 kilometers. Tehran has previously claimed to possess a missile with such a range.

The United States has repeatedly claimed that Pyongyang has provided assistance to Tehran’s ballistic missile programs. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph told reporters in September 2006 that “ North Korea has been…the principal supplier to Iran of ballistic missile technologies.” The Shahab-3, which has an estimated range of 1,300 kilometers, is based on the North Korean Nodong missile, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center reported in 2006. The report added that Iran has deployed fewer than 20 such missiles.

Safavi acknowledged during a Nov. 6 television interview that Tehran had obtained Scud B and Scud C missiles from “foreign countries like North Korea” during the 1980s.

A CIA report covering 2004 indicates that Iran continued to receive “ballistic missile-related cooperation” from entities in North Korea as well as Russia and China. However, foreign assistance enabled Tehran to “move toward its goal of becoming self-sufficient in the production of ballistic missiles,” the report adds. Safavi claimed that Iran no longer requires foreign assistance for its missile programs.

In addition to material assistance, Pyongyang also has provided Tehran with technical advice for its ballistic missile programs, according to current and former U.S. officials. For example, the former State Department official said that the Shahab-3 was developed with North Korean expertise.

Moreover, at least one Iranian official may have been in North Korea to witness the July missile tests. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill testified during a July 20 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that it is Washington’s “understanding” that such officials were present. However, he told reporters the next day that he had not meant to “confirm” reports about the matter.

Similarly, North Korean officials may have visited Iran to assist with Tehran’s missile programs, a knowledgeable former congressional staff member said in a Dec. 19 e-mail.

U.S. officials suspect that Pyongyang may also have provided missile flight-test data to Tehran, according to both the former State Department official and Michael Green, President George W. Bush’s National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs until December 2005. However, there is no “specific evidence” of such cooperation, the official acknowledged.

Whether North Korea’s assistance to Iran is “the byproduct of individual, short-term, and isolated decisions” or “an element of a more formal agreement between the two nations” is an “open question,” the former congressional staffer said.

Congress Exempts India From Nuclear Trade Rules

Wade Boese

President George W. Bush Dec. 18 signed into law legislation making India eligible for broad U.S. civil nuclear exports for the first time in roughly three decades. But commencement of such trade still hinges on a series of negotiations that India’s leader warned would be “difficult.”

At a White House signing ceremony, Bush hailed the act as “one of the most important steps” toward reviving U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation. U.S. nuclear trade with India essentially ceased after New Delhi’s 1974 test of a nuclear device derived partially from Canadian and U.S. technologies transferred for peaceful purposes.

The measure signed by Bush was a merger and revision of two separate bills passed earlier in 2006 by lawmakers. (See ACT, September 2006 and December 2006.) Senators unanimously approved the compromise legislation a day after the House adopted it Dec. 8 by a 330-59 vote.

The act sets conditions for U.S. nuclear exports to nuclear-armed India. It also includes implementing legislation that clears the way for the United States to complete ratification and bring into force an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Such measures grant the agency greater authority to gather information inside a country on possible illicit nuclear weapons activities. In the case of the nuclear-armed United States, however, the instrument is mostly symbolic.

A concerted Bush administration campaign to persuade lawmakers to eliminate or dilute provisions from the House- or Senate-passed bills that upset the Indian government had mixed results.

Legislators maintained provisions that limit exports of enrichment, reprocessing, and heavy-water technologies to India to special cases. Such exports can be used to make bombs as well as energy, and U.S. policy is to deny their transfer. New Delhi had complained that this restriction singles out and slights India.

U.S. lawmakers also retained provisions for verifying that U.S. exports to India are not diverted to unintended destinations or purposes. India previously criticized the measures as distrustful. In a report accompanying the act, lawmakers argued the requirements “do not intend to impose a more intrusive regime than arrangements” for other U.S. nuclear pacts with foreign countries.

But Congress bowed to some pressure. A clause in the House bill that would have terminated trade if an Indian entity exported items contravening the export control guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or the Missile Technology Control Regime was modified to enable cooperation to continue if the president determines the Indian government was not involved or took corrective action. India is not a member of the two voluntary regimes, but New Delhi pledged to adhere to their export guidelines as part of the July 2005 U.S.-Indian cooperation framework agreed to by Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (See ACT, September 2005.)

In addition, Congress softened a provision requiring that the U.S. government seek to block nuclear trade by other foreign suppliers to India if Washington ceases cooperation. Instead of explicitly mandating such an action, lawmakers made it a statement of policy.

Congress similarly relaxed a requirement that India actively support U.S. and international efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program. Senators had made such collaboration a condition for U.S.-Indian nuclear trade, but the final legislation does not. The administration, however, is supposed to report annually to Congress on India’s cooperation. The annual reports also are to include information on Indian nuclear weapons developments.

The act maintains that winning India’s help in keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check is a U.S. policy goal. But Bush noted after signing the act that all of its policy statements would be treated as “advisory.”

The original sponsor of the Iran-related condition, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), blasted Bush’s statement as a sign of the president’s view of Congress “as a nuisance rather than an equal branch of government.” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who opposed the deal, described Dec. 18 as a “sad day in the history of efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and materials around the world.”

Bush administration officials, however, lauded the final product. Both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns hailed the act as “historic.” Burns told White House reporters the day of the signing that the legislation represents the “symbolic centerpiece” of a new U.S. strategic relationship with India.

Indian reactions were less enthusiastic. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reacted harshly, claiming in a Dec. 10 statement that the act “aims at capping, rolling back and eventually eliminating India’s nuclear weapons capability.” It urged Singh to reject the act’s “humiliating” conditions.

Singh took a more positive line Dec. 18, but vaguely stated that there were “extraneous issues” and “areas which continue to be a cause for concern.” The prime minister contended these would need to be discussed before finalization of a 123 agreement, which is the instrument that the U.S. government uses to codify foreign nuclear trade under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. “Clearly, difficult negotiations lie ahead,” Singh said.

U.S. and Indian negotiators have met twice concerning the 123 agreement, which must be approved by Congress. Although Burns claimed that there “aren’t any major issues left to decide,” negotiators have a half-dozen unresolved matters. India’s vehement opposition to a U.S. termination clause for an Indian nuclear test is the most well-known dispute, but New Delhi is also apparently seeking a blanket right to reprocess U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel.

Still, Burns downplayed the differences. Although acknowledging in New Delhi Dec. 8 that “there is a long process toward the finish line,” Burns also stated that “it is not going to be…as difficult as the last 18 months.” He further said the United States wanted to “accelerate” negotiations in January.

The two sides also will be busy trying to complete other steps to allow for U.S. nuclear exports to begin flowing to India.

Indian negotiators must conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, including approval by the IAEA Board of Governors, to take advantage of enhanced nuclear trade under the deal. Safeguards are measures to ensure that civilian nuclear technologies and materials are not diverted to building bombs. The new U.S. law conditions congressional consideration of the future 123 agreement on India and the agency having a safeguards agreement ready for signature. The safeguards would apply to at least eight additional reactors that India has told the United States it would declare as civilian.

The act further conditions future U.S.-Indian trade on a consensus decision by the 45-member NSG to exempt New Delhi from a 1992 group rule that currently bars most nuclear trade with India because it has never joined the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and does not permit safeguards over its entire nuclear enterprise. Some key members, such as Russia, France, and the United Kingdom, support the U.S. initiative, but many others are undecided or opposed. The regime’s next decision-making meeting will be in April in South Africa.

Ever the optimist, Burns told reporters at the White House that he was “confident” the NSG would act favorably. All told, Burns predicted everything could be finished in as little as six months.

China Updates Nuclear Export Regulations

Paul Kerr

For the first time in almost 10 years, China has updated its export controls on nuclear technology. China’s State Council published the changes Dec. 1, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

According to Xinhua, the regulations, originally issued in 1997, are intended to give the government “more control over the end use” of exported nuclear technology. The revised regulations also provide more explicit guidance for importers and exporters of Chinese nuclear technology.

For example, the regulations give what appears to be new power to China’s customs authorities, which may now request that Chinese exporters obtain proper documentation of their shipments.

The regulations also describe more specific penalties for export control violations. The previous regulations said only that violators would be punished according to the relevant laws.

Furthermore, recipients of Chinese uranium-enrichment technology are now prohibited from using it to produce uranium containing more than 20 percent uranium-235.

Uranium enrichment, which increases the concentration of the fissile isotope uranium-235, can be used to produce both nuclear reactor fuel and fissile material for nuclear weapons. Uranium used as fuel in nuclear power reactors is typically enriched to less than 5 percent uranium-235; enriched uranium used in nuclear weapons typically is about 90 percent uranium-235.

The revised regulations also place new emphasis on preventing nuclear attacks by terrorists, adding, for example, “guarding against nuclear terrorist acts” as a rationale for controlling nuclear technology. Moreover, the regulations contain a new provision that allows Beijing to “suspend” nuclear exports to a recipient “if there is the danger of…nuclear terrorism.”

These changes continue a positive trend. In 1998, Beijing issued regulations governing the export of dual-use nuclear items. In 2004, China joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a voluntary group of states that have agreed to coordinate their export controls governing transfers of civilian nuclear material and technology. (See ACT, June 2004.)

The regulations do not appear to affect China’s 2004 agreement, completed before its accession to the NSG, to supply Pakistan with a nuclear reactor. Although governments are not obliged to follow NSG standards for any contracts completed before joining the group, the deal has been controversial because it is inconsistent with NSG guidelines.

Beijing also has been strengthening other types of export controls. For example, in 2002 it adopted regulations governing the export of missiles and related components, as well as chemical and biological materials and related equipment. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

U.S. statements acknowledge that Beijing has improved its efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation but also claim that Chinese entities continue to aid certain countries’ nuclear programs.

For example, Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, told the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in September 2006 that China’s nuclear export control system “appears designed to ensure adequate review for those [nuclear materials and technology] exports that come to the attention” of the relevant authorities. But Washington is concerned about “whether these authorities choose to properly exercise their authority,” she added.

Similarly, a CIA report covering 2004 stated that “ China’s record is strongest with respect to nuclear nonproliferation, as Beijing has largely curtailed government-sanctioned assistance to most countries.”

However, an August 2005 Department of State report indicates that Beijing may be aiding two unnamed countries’ nuclear weapons programs. U.S. intelligence officials have testified as recently as 2004 that Chinese entities have provided such assistance to Iran and Pakistan.

Chemical Weapons Deadlines Extended

Caitlin Harrington

A Dec. 5-8 meeting in The Hague of members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) granted the United States and Russia a five-year extension to a 2007 deadline for destroying their chemical weapons stockpiles. Both countries, however, will likely need more time.

The OPCW is charged with verifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which went into effect in April 1997. The CWC calls on all member-states—now 181 countries—to stop developing weapons and destroy their stockpiles by April 29, 2007.

Prior to the meeting, outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged states “to destroy these cruel and inhumane weapons within already established deadlines.” Even before the meeting began, however, it seemed likely that the 2007 deadline would be extended for the treaty maximum of five years to accommodate the United States and Russia, owners of the world’s largest supplies of nerve and blister agents.

At the meeting, OPCW members also formally approved the request of five other countries to extend their deadlines. China and Japan received five-year extensions to destroy weapons abandoned by the Japanese army in China during World War II. South Korea received an extension until 2008; India received an extension until 2009; and Libya’s deadline was moved to 2010. The only country likely to meet the original deadline is Albania, which has only a small stockpile of mustard agent.

As a condition of their extensions, Russia and the United States agreed to accept visits by members of the OPCW Executive Council starting in 2008. Council members will pay at least one visit to each chemical weapons destruction facility to verify the ability of the United States and Russia to meet the 2012 deadline. Given the current state of chemical weapons destruction programs in Russia and the United States, however, OPCW officials will likely find that neither country is on track to fulfill their obligations by the time allotted. (See ACT, May 2006. )

Both countries have struggled to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles on schedule because of a raft of complex policy issues and spiraling costs.

Financial woes have been a major obstacle for Russia. The country redesigned its chemical weapons destruction program in the hopes of destroying its entire 40,000-metric-ton stockpile by April 2012. By April 2006, however, it had destroyed less than three percent. Russian officials have said they will need international financial assistance to meet their goal. Yet, even with international aid, it is unclear whether Russia will be able to destroy its stockpiles by the deadline.

The United States also faces its share of setbacks, including financial constraints, political resistance, and technical challenges. Like Russia, the United States seems unlikely to meet the new deadline. In fact, U.S. officials recently estimated that they will be unable to dispose of the country’s massive stockpile, which still totals some 18,000 metric tons, until 2023. To date, destruction has been completed at only two of seven storage depots. Efforts to destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles have been stymied by technical problems, such as unanticipated heavy-metal contamination and fires at destruction sites. Political resistance at the state and local level also has slowed progress, with local communities raising concerns about health and safety. Finally, limited funding has contributed to a snail-like pace of destruction at U.S. Army chemical weapons disposal sites in Pueblo, Colorado, and Blue Grass, Kentucky.

The consequences of a U.S. or Russian failure to meet the CWC’s final deadline are unclear. Article XII of the convention permits states-parties to take measures to address issues of noncompliance but does not spell out any automatic penalties. CWC states-parties could choose to pursue various individual or collective actions against the United States. (See ACT, June 2005. ) However, U.S. officials have argued that they do not expect other states-parties to impose any serious sanctions and have downplayed the possibility of amending the CWC to extend the deadline.

Other, less-punitive possibilities could call for the United States and Russia to explain the reasons for further delay and how they plan to get back on track. They may also have to provide more reporting to the OPCW on their progress.

Several countries in addition to Russia will need international aid to destroy their stockpiles. The delegations at the meeting approved a 2007 budget that includes 75 million euros, roughly the same funding level as in 2006, for verification activities to monitor chemical weapons destruction, to help states destroy their stockpiles, and to protect states against chemical weapons attacks.

Countries also again pledged support for a 2003 action plan to help bring all states into the treaty. Countries that have not yet ratified the treaty include states in the Middle East, some parts of Africa, and North Korea. Rogelio Pfirter, director-general of the OPCW, told Arms Control Today in September 2005 that persuading Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria to join the treaty would be his most difficult challenge.(See ACT, November 2005. ) Pfirter said most of these countries tie nuclear weapons to chemical weapons, and the OPCW is now working to encourage countries to consider the weapons categories separately.

The Middle Eastern states appear to be showing some signs of interest. Israel, one of the eight states that have signed the treaty but have not yet ratified it, attended the conference as an observer. Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, which have not signed or ratified the treaty, also attended as observers.

Iraq has officially expressed its intentions to join the treaty and to accede to international nonproliferation norms, according to a Dec. 15 OPCW release. In December the organization provided training to Iraqi officials on aspects of the CWC.

Corrected online August 29, 2008. See explanation.

NEWS ANALYSIS: States Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention

Oliver Meier

The sixth review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) concluded Dec. 8, approving a range of measures to strengthen the 1972 treaty. The agreement on a final declaration at the end of the three-week meeting marks the first successful review of the bioweapons ban since 1996.

The agreement triggered a collective sigh of relief from conference participants. The president of the conference, Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan, in his closing statement to the participants from 103 states-parties and 10 signatory states called the agreement on a final document historic “both for the BWC and for multilateral security and disarmament.” A senior U.S. official in an interview with Arms Control Today Dec. 21 said the outcome was satisfactory and constructive from a U.S. standpoint. The official said that one of the landmarks of this review conference is the “real recognition by states-parties that the nature of the biological threat and therefore the means by which they have to try to focus the convention as a means to try counter that threat has changed over the last 30 or 40 years.”

Bumpy Road to Consensus

The review conference had gotten off to a good start Nov. 20 despite fears that the meeting might again end in discord. The previous review conference in 2001 was suspended after the United States insisted on the termination of talks on a verification protocol.

Some expected that Iran might trigger a new confrontation by its insistence on a resumption of negotiations on a verification protocol or that U.S. allegations of noncompliance by BWC states-parties would sow discord among the participants. (See ACT, November 2006.) Despite some fractious exchanges, an impasse was averted.

In his opening statement Nov. 20, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John C. Rood accused Iran of “probably” having “an offensive biological weapons program in violation of the BWC.” Rood also pointed the finger at North Korea for allegedly having a biological weapons capability and at Syria for signing but not ratifying the convention and conducting research and development for an offensive biological weapons program.

The Department of State’s 2005 report entitled Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments also accuses Russia of being in breach of the BWC and raises questions about Chinese and Cuban compliance.

The senior official said that Iran, North Korea, and Syria were named as “exemplars and [that the United States] mentioned them for specific reasons in terms of their relevance for the review conference.”

As in the past, the United States refused to detail its allegations and did not attempt to activate BWC compliance procedures.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Reza Moaiyeri called the U.S. allegations “baseless” and “contrary to the cooperative spirit of [the review conference] as well as the articles of the convention.”

Despite these differences, a consensus quickly emerged that a new set of annual meetings should take place before the next review conference and that some kind of secretariat should support these meetings and act as a clearinghouse on a range of issues. The conference quickly settled down to discuss the details of those agreements as well as a final declaration.

At the insistence of several Western states, particularly the United States, the final declaration includes new and revised language referring to the importance of national implementation of BWC obligations by states-parties and the dangers of the spread of bioweapons technology to nonstate actors, including terrorists.

It also emphasizes the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which makes it mandatory for all states to establish strict national controls to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to terrorist groups.

Developing countries, by contrast, emphasized the value of cooperating in the exchange of biotechnology for peaceful purposes. The importance of international efforts to improve disease surveillance is one element under this heading that received increased attention.

However, the United States pushed for the weakening of a draft passage confirming the importance of past final declarations. The senior official explained that the United States saw the reference as a code to “resurrect past activities which the U.S. still believes are not relevant, not productive, and not constructive,” referring to the talks on a verification protocol to which Washington objected in 2001.

A New Intersessional Process

During the first week of the conference, Khan presented a list of 11 topics taken from various states-parties’ working papers that could be discussed between 2007 and 2011. That list was consecutively shortened as proposals that did not enjoy consensus were eliminated.

The work program for annual meetings agreed by the conference mandates discussions in:

• 2007 on better national implementation of the BWC, including law enforcement as well as regional and subregional cooperation on BWC implementation;

• 2008 on improving biosafety and biosecurity measures as well as oversight, education, and awareness raising, for example, through codes of conduct for scientists to prevent the misuse of bioscience and biotechnology research;

• 2009 on enhanced international cooperation, assistance, and exchange in biological sciences and technology for peaceful purposes, including disease surveillance; and

• 2010 on assistance and cooperation in cases of alleged use of biological weapons, including the improvement of national capabilities for disease surveillance.

Privately, some delegates were dissatisfied with this list because the set of issues to be discussed is similar to the 2003-2005 work program and because some issues that enjoyed near-consensus support were dropped.

Better confidence-building measures (CBMs) were taken off the work program, even though many states-parties would have liked to see more substantive work on this issue in order to improve transparency on bioweapons-related activities.

CBMs were first agreed on at the second BWC review conference in 1986 and involve exchanges of information on a range of activities. (See ACT, July/August 2006. )

Russia and the United States, with backing from China, reportedly opposed the inclusion of CBMs as a topic for the intersessional process. Moscow and the United States both argued that it does not make sense to alter the format of CBMs as long as participation in them remains poor. “Finding out more details about a few countries that are not part of the nature of the threat is not the way to make the BWC more relevant,” the U.S. official stated. In 2006, 54 states-parties submitted CBMs. This is an all-time high but still equates only to one-third of the 155 members of the convention.

Others, including the European Union, believe that simpler declaration formats may be one way to improve the number and quality of returns. Finnish Ambassador Kari Kahiluoto, speaking on behalf of the EU, noted Dec. 8 that the EU “would have liked to see a more ambitious outcome” on CBMs and that Europeans remain “willing to work on further improvement of the CBM process.”

Bioterrorism also was dropped from the agenda of annual meetings, particularly at the insistence of Russia. A Russian diplomat explained to Arms Control Today Dec. 7 that Moscow believes that “the issue is better dealt with by other international instruments,” including UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Group of Eight. The diplomat also pointed out that “the BWC is an agreement between states and not nonstate actors” and therefore not well suited to tackle the bioterrorist threat. The senior U.S. official believes that bioterrorism was not ignored but “appropriately integrated into the various topics we have in the work program,” such as biosafety, biosecurity, penal legislation, and response to an attack.

Each annual meeting of states-parties will be prepared by a one-week meeting of experts. All meetings will take place in Geneva. In the end, conference participants could only agree that annual meetings should “discuss, and promote common understanding and effective action” on topics listed in the work program, the same mandate as for the 2003-2005 meetings.

Those meetings were merely able to take stock of measures undertaken nationally by states-parties, and it is not clear whether new meetings will be able to achieve anything more. The United States does not believe that annual meetings should make decisions that would be binding on all states-parties.

A member of the South African delegation told Arms Control Today Dec. 8 that he expects that future meetings “cannot take decisions” because of their limited mandate. Others point out that the agreed language in no way prevents annual meetings from developing universal and binding standards. “Meetings of states-parties are not bound by the mandate agreed at the review conference,” a German diplomat argued in an interview with Arms Control Today Dec. 15. The official acknowledged the political difficulties of agreeing on binding measures but stated that “it will depend on the creativity of participants what will become of the annual meetings.”

The Implementation Support Unit

Many participants and observers of the conference hailed the agreement on an Implementation Support Unit (ISU) for the BWC as a major achievement. In the view of the South African delegate, “the ISU is the most positive thing coming out of the review conference.” Khan, in his closing remarks Dec. 8, predicted that the BWC “will be getting a professional, efficient, and dedicated unit that will make a significant contribution to our important work over the next four years.”

During the past years, a total of 1.7 staff (on a part-time basis) within the UN Department for Disarmament Affairs supported the annual meetings. Now and at least until 2011, three full-time staff, paid by BWC states-parties, will work in the Department for Disarmament Affairs to support the BWC. The ISU will serve as a focal point for treaty implementation as well as a clearinghouse for various types of information exchanges. Other tasks include administrative support for intersessional meetings and for activities related to national implementation and universalization of the convention. In addition, the unit’s staff will process and develop electronic formats for CBMs, as well as post submissions on a secure website, accessible only to states-parties.

Some had hoped for more, both in terms of size and quality of the supporting institution. Several states had proposed to mandate the ISU to follow up on declarations under the CBMs, and Switzerland even wanted to give the ISU the power to “check the plausibility of submitted information.” Opponents of the creation of a stronger institutional support for the convention, led by the United States, blocked those attempts. Washington sees support for the work program as the principal function of the ISU, the senior U.S. official explained to Arms Control Today. The next review conference will evaluate the unit’s performance and mandate. Such a “sunset clause” had been one of the conditions for U.S. acceptance of such an institution.

Difficult Endgame

In the end, the conference got held up over divisions on the balance between the nonproliferation and cooperation aspects of the convention.

During the meeting, three “action plans” that were to be attached to the final declaration, emerged from discussions. The “Action Plan on Universalization,” later demoted to a chapter on “Promotion of Universalization” in the final declaration, was aimed at drawing additional states into the convention. The plan, largely based on proposals from EU member states, resembles a similar effort under the Chemical Weapons Convention and was uncontroversial. It lists a number of specific measures to convince states to join the BWC. For example, the rotating chairs of annual meetings will coordinate member states’ universalization activities and issue an annual report on related efforts.

Two other action plans on national implementation and on Article X, which relates to cooperation for peaceful purposes under the convention, proved to be more contentious. The former had emerged from Western states, the latter was drawn up in reaction by members of the group of nonaligned countries.

The United States objected to having a separate action plan on technical cooperation. The senior official stated that the United States sees the BWC as an arms control and international security document and that Washington was “not going to allow” a number of countries to “to distort that by saying that the BWC has other principal purposes.” The United States has advanced similar arguments in the context of other WMD regimes. By contrast, the nonaligned countries, when presenting their action plan, called cooperation for peaceful purposes a “vital element in strengthening implementation of the convention.”

Khan sought to overcome the division by merging both documents into one “Action Plan for Comprehensive Implementation of the Convention.” Two days before the scheduled end of the conference, the United States apparently again objected to passages related to peaceful cooperation in that revised action plan. The draft would have tasked the ISU with managing information exchanges on activities related to peaceful uses of biotechnology among states-parties and encouraged treaty members to cooperate on the peaceful use of biotechnology, for example, by promoting the development and production of vaccines and drugs to prevent and treat infectious diseases.

Iran, reportedly supported by other nonaligned states such as Algeria, China, Cuba, and India, took up the challenge and insisted that the relevant passages be kept in the final document.

The debate quickly turned into a bilateral confrontation between Iran and the United States. Delegates from other states-parties watched with a mix of anger and frustration during the closing stages of the meeting. There was also a sense of déjà vu because U.S.-Iranian acrimony contributed to the failure of the May 2005 review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)

In the end, Khan was able to resolve the standoff but only at the price of deleting all action plans and transferring several passages from them to other sections of the final document. Several delegations publicly bemoaned the loss of the comprehensive implementation action plan, but Indian Ambassador Jayant Prasad told Arms Control Today Dec. 8 that the deletion of the action plan was “no great loss” because the intersessional process provides such “a rich menu” of issues. Other conference participants from Western states privately echoed this sentiment.

Delegations avoided other contentious topics so as not to endanger agreement. Verification of the convention remained a redline for Washington. Many delegations highlighted the need for a monitoring regime but most recognized that an agreement on a universal and binding verification regime has now turned into a long-term goal. A proposal by outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to assemble a forum of BWC stakeholders from industry, science, public health, and government was also not picked up by the conference.

The Wider Arms Control Context

Despite the trimmed down final document, conference participants were united in celebrating the outcome of the meeting. There was unanimous praise for Khan and his active leadership. Australia, speaking on behalf of the group of Western states, noted during the closing session that Khan had “set a fast pace,” and privately some delegates complained that he was at times moving too fast, editing the final declaration in real time on a PowerPoint projector in the conference room.

Many hope that the agreement will revitalize multilateral arms control. Khan argued in his closing statement Dec. 8 that the meeting was a “demonstration of multilateralism at its best.” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov stated the BWC experience “shows that no state can go it alone.” He added that he hoped the meeting “will have a good effect on the Conference on Disarmament and the Preparatory Committee meeting of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” slated to take place in Vienna in May.

Khan, who has been nominated to chair the 2007 annual meeting, argued in his closing remarks that the successful review of the treaty’s implementation “in itself is a strong message to the international community that the convention is alive and well and remains effective as the fundamental norm against biological weapons.”

Other participants, however, mostly speaking privately, point out that the meeting made little substantive progress on crucial issues and did not result in a strengthening of multilateral tools to tackle the bioweapons threat. A member of the South African delegation noted that although the BWC may be in better shape now than in 2001, the convention “is still very, very ill.”


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