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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
March 2007
Edition Date: 
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Cover Image: 

Slow Start in 2007 for U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal

Wade Boese

A top U.S. official predicted late last year that if the U.S. and Indian governments “move real fast” in 2007 they would be able to clear India for global civil nuclear trade in six months. But New Delhi has proceeded at a more leisurely pace, waiting until late February to renew nuclear negotiations with Washington and stalling on necessary talks with the world’s nuclear agency.

The two capitals agreed to collaborate in July 2005 when President George W. Bush vowed to end India’s nearly total exclusion from the international nuclear market. Bush conditioned this promise on New Delhi separating its nuclear facilities into military and civilian sectors and accepting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on the latter group. IAEA safeguards are supposed to help ensure that recipients do not use civil trade for nuclear weapons activities, as India did with U.S. and Canadian imports in a 1974 nuclear test.

In March 2006, Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh endorsed a separation plan that by 2014 would subject to safeguards 14 of 22 Indian thermal reactors that are either operating or under construction. (See ACT, April 2006. ) The Bush administration then asked for and won legislation from Congress exempting India from a U.S. law prohibiting trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not submit all their nuclear materials and facilities to IAEA safeguards. (See ACT, January/February 2007 .) Although India possesses nuclear weapons, it is still classified by the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Commencement of U.S. nuclear exports to India, however, requires completion of several other actions. The two sides must finish negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 agreement, per the relevant section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954. India must also conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must reach consensus to permit nuclear commerce with India. Finally, U.S. lawmakers will need to approve the 123 agreement.

U.S. negotiators supplied an initial draft 123 agreement to India last June and then a second draft last November. The United States expected negotiations on the second draft to resume in January, but India did not comment on it until Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon visited Washington Feb. 21-24.

A U.S. official familiar with the negotiations told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that “about five issues” remain unresolved between the two countries. The official confirmed that two of the outstanding matters are India’s opposition to a trade termination clause if it conducts a future nuclear test and India’s demand for preapproved reprocessing rights for U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel.

Shyam Saran, Singh’s designated special envoy on the U.S.-Indian deal, told a New Delhi audience Jan. 10 that it was crucial India receive authority to reprocess. This chemical process separates uranium and plutonium from highly radioactive wastes in spent fuel. Once reclaimed, the material can be used again as reactor fuel or, in the case of plutonium, to make nuclear bombs. The United States has only granted the reprocessing rights India is seeking to Japan and the European consortium EURATOM.

U.S. officials told Arms Control Today earlier in February that they expected the United States would get back to India about a week after receiving its feedback on the second U.S. draft. One official further said that the Bush administration wanted negotiations finalized within about two months, but the official noted that the deadline was not connected to an April 16-20 NSG meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

U.S. officials and representatives of other NSG countries say that deciding on nuclear trade with India is not on the group’s Cape Town agenda. General speculation is that the group could convene an extraordinary meeting for that purpose this summer.

That possibility would depend on completion of the 123 agreement and approval of an Indian-IAEA safeguards arrangement by the agency’s Board of Governors. Yet, IAEA spokesperson Peter Rickwood told Arms Control Today Feb. 16 that there has been “nothing beyond very informal talks” between the agency and India and that “no sense” exists when actual negotiations might begin.

Indian officials reportedly are upset with the agency’s offer of INFCIRC/66 safeguards, which would require all nuclear material imported or produced under safeguards to remain so until the IAEA decides otherwise. New Delhi says it wants “India-specific” safeguards.

Meanwhile, India is already lining up future nuclear deals. During a visit to India by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two governments signed a memorandum of intent Jan. 25 to build four new power reactors at Kudankulam, where Russia is constructing two reactors under IAEA safeguards. In a joint statement, India said that the additional reactors and fuel supplied by Russia would be covered by the new IAEA safeguards agreement to be negotiated.

U.S. Sanctions Iranian, Syrian Entities

Wade Boese

As part of its campaign to bankrupt certain foreign arms programs, the United States recently sanctioned several entities from Syria and Iran, including the fifth-largest Iranian state-owned bank, Bank Sepah.

In June 2005, President George W. Bush authorized the Department of the Treasury in Executive Order 13382 to freeze the U.S. assets of foreign entities suspected of spreading or supporting the development of unconventional arms and ballistic missile programs. (See ACT, September 2005. ) The order bars U.S. citizens, companies, and institutions from doing business or facilitating transactions with sanctioned entities, a term that encapsulates individuals, private companies, or government agencies. Other foreign entities that do business with those already sanctioned risk being penalized as well.

The Treasury Department added nine entities to the executive order’s sanctions roster in three separate announcements in January and February. A trio of Syrian entities was penalized Jan. 4: the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the Electronics Institute, and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory. All three were identified as subordinates of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the Treasury Department previously sanctioned for alleged biological and chemical weapons activities.

In addition to sanctioning Bank Sepah Jan. 9, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the bank’s chairman and director, Ahmad Derakhshandeh, and a wholly owned subsidiary based in the United Kingdom, Bank Sepah International. Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, described Bank Sepah that day as “the financial linchpin” of Iran’s missile acquisition efforts.

Three Iranian entities—the Kalaye Electric Company, the Kavoshyar Company, and the Pioneer Energy Industries Company—each affiliated with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, were sanctioned Feb. 16. The U.S. government charges that the Iranian nuclear program is dedicated to producing weapons, not energy, as Tehran asserts.

Washington is urging other capitals to similarly penalize the Iranian entities, citing obligations imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1737. Passed last December in response to Iran’s failure to comply with previous council demands, the resolution mandates that countries freeze the financial assets of and deny financial assistance to entities identified by the United Nations as “involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) Kalaye Electric Company is named as such in an annex to Resolution 1737.

Senior Treasury officials claim they are seeing results. Levey asserted Jan. 9 that “many leading financial institutions have either scaled back dramatically or even terminated their Iran-related business entirely.” Treasury Department spokesperson Molly Millerwise declined Feb. 20 to provide specifics, but she said that Treasury officials have met with “institutions throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.” One institution publicly cutting ties with Iran is the European banking giant UBS, which has offices in more than 50 countries.

The January and February sanctions raise the number of penalized entities under the U.S. executive order to three dozen. Iranian entities (13) and North Korean entities (11) account for two-thirds of the total, while China and Syria have four entities apiece on the Treasury sanctions roll. Millerwise said the department cannot legally disclose the total value of frozen assets.

Chinese Satellite Destruction Stirs Debate

Wade Boese

In January, China for the first time used a weapon to destroy one of its satellites. Beijing says its feat was not hostile, but it polluted space with a huge amount of potentially harmful debris and sparked debate over China’s professed desire to prevent a space arms race.

China Jan. 11 demolished an aging weather satellite, the Feng Yun-1C, orbiting Earth at an altitude of approximately 850 kilometers. The satellite disintegrated when struck by a projectile carried into space by a ballistic missile launched from the Xichang space launch facility in southwestern China.

The United States and the Soviet Union pursued anti-satellite weapons programs throughout much of the Cold War. Before China’s test, Washington in 1985 had carried out the only previous test in which a satellite was destroyed. In that experiment, an F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft fired a missile armed with a kill vehicle that collided with the U.S. Solwind satellite.

Beijing provided no advance notice of its test and stayed silent for days afterward. The U.S. government confirmed the incident Jan. 18.

China publicly acknowledged the test Jan. 23. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said that day that the test was “not targeted at any country.” He reiterated China’s long-standing position that it opposes the “weaponization” of space, but Liu did not discuss the reasons for the test, an approach the Chinese government has maintained.

Broad speculation has filled the void. Some have interpreted the experiment as a Chinese show of strength and a warning to Washington that its space assets would be vulnerable to attack if the United States and China ever went to war. Others have seen the test as Beijing’s attempt to stimulate the United States to drop its long-standing opposition to Chinese- and Russian-advocated negotiations on prevention of an arms race in outer space.

If the latter was the intent, China appears to have miscalculated, at least in the short term. U.S. Ambassador Christina Rocca told delegates to the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva Feb. 13, “Despite the [anti-satellite] test, we continue to believe that there is no arms race in space, and therefore no problem for arms control to solve.”

Rocca’s statement meshes with the Bush administration’s stance in its national space policy released last October, ruling out future arms control measures for space. In general, the policy emphasized that “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.” (See ACT, November 2006. )

Rocca assured CD members that the United States is “not out to claim space for its own or to weaponize it.” But she also stressed Washington would defend its space assets from threats, noting that the Chinese test “reminds us that a relatively small number of countries are exploring and acquiring capabilities to counter, attack, and defeat vital space systems.”

Pointing out that China launched its satellite-smashing weapon from earth, Rocca questioned whether a space weapons treaty would include terrestrial-based anti-satellite arms. She suggested such definitional issues and potential verification difficulties posed immense problems and pitfalls for any negotiations. Past Chinese and Russian proposals have included obligations against “the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

Other CD members pressed China for an explanation of its test, but some also urged the United States to revise its anti-space negotiations stand. German Ambassador Bernhard Brasack, speaking Feb. 13 for the 27-member European Union, declared it “irresponsible to block the further discussion on [the space issue] for fear of too ambitious goals.” The CD operates by consensus, and the United States for years has staunchly objected to space talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Feb. 10 that Moscow would soon be submitting to the conference a draft treaty banning space weapons. The Kremlin is keen on stopping possible deployment of U.S. anti-missile systems in space, an option the Pentagon wants to start testing around 2012.

Meanwhile, Canada’s ambassador to the CD, Paul Meyer, promoted a multilateral moratorium on anti-satellite tests. He argued Feb. 13 that it was an urgent step, given increasing space debris, which refers to any man-made item in orbit that no longer has a use.

Meyer did not explicitly say so, but China’s test created a lot of space garbage. Indeed, Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris, told Arms Control Today Feb. 22 that the obliteration of the Feng Yun-1C marked “the worst satellite breakup” ever in terms of creating large debris and long-term effects on the “near-Earth environment.”

The United States tracks large debris, any item greater than 10 centimeters, because it could collide with and damage or destroy satellites or manned spacecraft. Because items in space are traveling so fast, even debris as small as one centimeter could prove harmful.

Johnson said the United States is currently tracking approximately 1,000 large debris items out of the more than 35,000 pieces of debris one centimeter or larger that NASA estimates the Chinese test produced. Before the test, roughly 10,000 large debris units existed in space.

Although some of the new debris will soon re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, satellites and spacecraft will have to navigate around some chunks for years, decades, and perhaps a century or more. If the new test debris damages any country’s space assets, China would be liable under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which aims to preserve space for peaceful purposes and protect national and international space assets. Beijing acceded to the treaty in 1983.

Given the high cost of satellites and their significant commercial and military utility, many countries are eager to prevent additional space debris. In February, a subcommittee of the 67-member UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which includes China, Russia, and the United States, adopted nonbinding space-debris mitigation guidelines. The full committee is expected to adopt the guidelines later this year.

The space debris problem clearly ranked as an immediate worry for U.S. officials after the Chinese test, but they also questioned the Chinese political and military motivations behind the test. Senior administration officials labeled the test variously as “very troubling,” “very worrisome,” “destabilizing,” and “quite unpleasant.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 6 that the test showed a capability but does not reveal how it fits within China’s “strategic outlook” or potential-use calculations. U.S. officials say they are seeking such clarifications from Beijing.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued Jan. 29 that Beijing’s intentions are self-evident and that United States should pursue space weapons capabilities, including anti-satellite systems. “We need to have the capability to eliminate a hostile satellite when necessary,” Kyl said.

A senior Air Force official told reporters Feb. 5 that the United States is not interested in such a destructive capability. “We don’t want to do that,” said the official, who also added that the United States is “not real eager to cause a lot of debris in space.”

One idea the official proposed exploring was adding sensors to each satellite to enable it to “see if somebody is coming up close” or to know if it has been “hit by a laser.” Both China and the United States allegedly have been exploring microsatellites that could maneuver close to and disable another satellite, as well as lasers to blind or impair satellites.

 

The USSR’s Past Anti-Satellite Testing

Wade Boese

The Soviet Union pursued anti-satellite (ASAT) programs for decades but apparently never smashed a satellite into bits as China did recently and the United States did in 1985. Still, Washington assessed Moscow’s capabilities as a viable threat to U.S. satellites.

Before instituting a moratorium on ASAT test launches in August 1983, the Kremlin conducted at least 20 ASAT tests beginning in 1968. The Soviet tests involved the use of interceptor vehicles with explosives designed to detonate near their intended target.

None of the Soviet tests resulted in a target’s complete destruction. Indeed, Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief expert on orbital debris, told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that “only one Soviet ASAT target ever released debris as a result of an ASAT engagement.” He reported that four pieces of debris were detected from a November 1968 test.

Nevertheless, Johnson noted that even though targets were not obliterated, the tests were not necessarily failures. “In [the November 1968 test] and other successful engagements, the target satellite might well have been ‘destroyed’ from an operational viewpoint,” he stated.

The Pentagon assessed the Soviet Union as first attaining an operational ASAT capability in 1971. The now-disbanded congressional Office of Technology Assessment reported in an extensive September 1985 report on ASAT systems that “Soviet ASAT capabilities threaten U.S. military capabilities to some extent now and potentially to a much greater extent in the future.”

Moscow continued to investigate ASAT systems, allegedly including lasers, after its 1983 test moratorium, but it is uncertain how extensive and productive those efforts were and what Russia’s exact ASAT capabilities are today.

Chinese Proud, Defensive About ASAT Test

Scarlet Kim

After shooting down one of its weather satellites Jan. 11, the Chinese government maintained a baffling silence until Jan. 23 when it confirmed foreign reports of the event. Since then, government leaders in Beijing have said little, but the same cannot be said for some of China’s 1.3 billion people, who are expressing patriotic pride and defending their military’s technological achievement.

News of the anti-satellite (ASAT) test trickled into the Chinese mainland hours after the first official U.S. reports appeared Jan. 18. Shortly thereafter, commentary emerged on major Chinese internet forums, a proxy barometer of public opinion. Although some Chinese initially voiced doubts about the authenticity of the news, the reaction was generally positive. A typical opinion appearing on the military forum bbs.military.china.com stated, “[The test] is of great political significance to our country…and a milestone in our country’s scientific advancement. Our army can no longer be considered backwards.”

In a Jan. 26 interview with Arms Control Today, Professor Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at the Beijing-based People’s University, stated that “100% of internet public opinion…enthusiastically applauds this development.” He cautioned, however, that internet views might not be an entirely accurate reflection of Chinese sentiment, noting that those who harbor reservations about the test may fear expressing their opposition openly.

Shi also noted that most Chinese may not be fully aware of the event, owing to sparse Chinese media coverage of the satellite destruction. Still, he concluded, “for those who do know, I suppose that the overwhelming majority is in favor of this development of space military capabilities.”

While Western media have been busy scrutinizing China’s test and growing ASAT capabilities, China’s state-run media has spotlighted the space capabilities and plans of other countries, particularly the United States. As a result, many Chinese may not realize the seeming contradiction between China’s official position in support of limits on space weapons and its recent ASAT test. In the last few weeks, the Chinese government has continued to insist that it wants to prevent the “weaponization” of space.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency published a Jan. 28 article, “United States Issues New Space Policy: An Inventory of American Anti-Satellite Warfare Capabilities.” Relying primarily on U.S. nongovernmental analysis, the article outlines U.S. missile defense capabilities and concludes that Washington is determined to deploy space-based weapons. Other Chinese news outlets have run variations of this piece.

At the same time, some Chinese are concerned that the test could bolster some claims in Washington and elsewhere that China is a growing military competitor. A student at the People’s University wrote in an online academic forum that the test will only “add fuel to the ‘China Threat’ argument,” supporting those “Western conservative politicians who want to restrain China even if she is rising peacefully.”

The Chinese military has dismissed such claims. In a Feb. 2 article in the Global Times, a weekly Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper, Major General Zhang Zhaozhong noted that “if a strong military indicates a large threat,” then by that logic “ China is not the country that poses the biggest threat to the world.”

After shooting down one of its weather satellites Jan. 11, the Chinese government maintained a baffling silence until Jan. 23 when it confirmed foreign reports of the event...

U.S., Europe Anti-Missile Plans Upset Russia

Wade Boese

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings.

Moscow has consistently opposed Washington’s proposal to base long-range ballistic missile interceptors in Europe since it first became public in 2004. (See ACT, July/August 2004. ) But January revelations that Washington has approached Prague and Warsaw to start formal negotiations over deployment options have reinvigorated the Kremlin’s denunciations.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told reporters Jan. 25 that the proposed stationing of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a high-powered radar in the Czech Republic were not aimed at Russia, but primarily Iran. Tehran’s longest-range deployed missile, the Shabab-3, which some Iranian officials claim can fly up to 2,000 kilometers, could reach southern Europe. The MDA contends Iran might acquire a missile capable of striking the United States before 2015.

In a Feb. 10 speech blasting the United States at a high-level security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Iran as a threat justifying the U.S. bases. Putin said the fielding of missile defenses in Europe “cannot help but disturb us.”

Days later, top Russian military officials, including General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of Russia’s general staff, implied Russia could react to the U.S. interceptors by withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This accord, which led to the destruction of 2,692 missiles, bans U.S. and Russian possession of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Putin also indicated Russia was re-evaluating the INF Treaty, although he attributed the deliberations to the accord’s inequity of forbidding Russia from having missiles similar to those being acquired by other countries. “It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security,” Putin stated.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates registered concerns about the treaty’s possible abrogation. He told reporters Feb. 15 that it would be “a problem for us” and a “special problem” for European countries. Gates also said a Russian INF Treaty withdrawal could not be linked plausibly to the proposed European anti-missile units because they pose “no threat to Russia.”

Obering made a similar case Jan. 25, noting that Russia’s hundreds of ballistic missiles vastly outnumber the 10 planned interceptors. He further pointed out that the anti-missile systems would be physically incapable of stopping Russian missiles launched at the United States because the interceptors would be attempting to catch Russian missiles from behind as they fly away from, not toward, the interceptors.

The MDA chief also said he had kept Russian officials informed of U.S. plans and “will continue to work closely with the Russians.” Obering noted, however, that the United States would have to secure the agreement of host governments to permit Russian delegations to visit any future U.S. anti-missile sites on the continent.

If the Polish and Czech governments quickly consent to U.S. plans, Obering said construction could begin in 2008 and the sites could be operational as soon as 2011. He projected costs could total $3.5 billion and said that the United States would pick up the full tab.

U.S. lawmakers last year trimmed requested funding for exploratory site work from $56 million to $32.8 million and provided $63 million for initial work on 10 interceptors that could be deployed in Europe or the United States. MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that the administration’s February fiscal year 2008 budget request asks for about $225 million for the European sites. Fiscal year 2008 begins Oct. 1.

The United States is currently deploying and testing the ground-based interceptor model designated for Europe. The model scored its first intercept of a target last September, while earlier prototypes tallied five hits in 10 attempts during rudimentary testing. (See ACT, October 2006. )

Similar to the Fort Greely, Alaska, interceptor field, which totaled 14 interceptors at the end of February, no interceptors will be flight-tested out of the European site. Obering said that, during a real attack, there probably would not be time to consult a host government before launching an interceptor.

Sovereignty concerns, doubts about the system’s capabilities, and comments by Russian officials that they would target the anti-missile sites have caused mixed opinions among the Polish and Czech populations about the endeavor. Nevertheless, leaders in each country say they are inclined to engage in formal negotiations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy Brian Green told reporters Jan. 25 that the United States has been “very, very pleased” with discussions with the two governments and that Washington has “every expectation that our more intense discussions…will succeed.” Green and Obering said, however, that alternatives existed if negotiations with the two countries failed.

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings. (Continue)

Out of the Valley: Advancing the Biological Weapons Convention After the 2006 Review Conference

Jez Littlewood

At 6:15 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8, 2006, the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was brought to a close with smiles, handshakes, and the resounding applause of 103 delegations in Geneva. Less audible was a collective sigh of relief that the conference ended amicably, unlike its predecessor five years ago. Without opening up old wounds, states-parties reached an agreement that reaffirmed the basic prohibitions against biological weapons and endorsed decisions on further work to strengthen implementation of the convention.

The outcome of the conference, which had begun three weeks earlier, unequivocally signaled for more than 100 states that biological weapons remain illegitimate and illegal. Triumphant, the president of the conference, Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, said that, “without any exaggeration, this is a historic moment, both for the Biological Weapons Convention and for multilateral security and disarmament.”[1]

Nongovernmental observers were more circumspect, referring to the outcome as a “modest success” at best.[2] Others went further, noting that “the set of accomplishments was meager and far from commensurate with the gravity and urgency of the biological weapons threat.”[3] Even The Economist reflected that it is both a puzzle and a worry that the bar for measuring progress in the BWC has dropped so low, given the scale of scientific developments relevant to biological weapons and the threat of terrorism.[4]

These divergent assessments reflect differing expectations for the review conference and, more fundamentally, differing perceptions of what such a conference can actually do to counter the biological weapons threat. A review conference does not solve problems; if successful, it lays the ground for additional work in a wide variety of areas to address difficulties. This review conference, by healing past wounds and opening up channels for discussion, has created new opportunities for more progress. The key question for the outcome of this conference is not a debate over whether the outcome should be judged a “modest” or “historic” success, but whether states-parties and civil society will take advantage of the opportunities created between now and 2011.

Successes of the Review Conference

The review conference scored some tangible achievements.[5] The obvious successes include the establishment of an implementation support unit to provide administrative and other support to facilitate implementation of the convention as well as an agreement on a work program from 2007 to 2010 to advance the convention. Member-states also pledged greater efforts to achieve universal adherence to the convention, which would require 16 signatories and 24 non-states-parties to join the 155 states that have signaled their rejection of biological weapons under any circumstances.[6]

Just as important, however, agreement was reached in other areas critical to the day-to-day management of biological disarmament. These include the reaffirmation that the use of biological or toxin weapons is effectively a violation of the convention and a clear statement against terrorism and any terrorist use of biological weapons. Linked to these was a renewed signal from the states-parties to provide support and assistance to each other in the event of biological weapons use, regardless of such use being by another state-party, a state not party to the convention, or a nonstate actor such as a terrorist group. The reaffirmation of the scope of the convention’s prohibitions and its application to all scientific and technological developments is also not insignificant. There was continued emphasis on the requirement for effective national implementation efforts, including export controls and penal legislation to implement the BWC. Small but potentially important successes can also be found in the call for the establishment of national points of contact in each state-party to facilitate communication and coordination of efforts and in the acknowledgement of the need to increase the quality and quantity of submissions under the annual confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Finally, the states-parties recognized the convention does not stand alone as a bulwark against biological weapons but is supported by other international agreements and regional and international organizations. States, therefore, endorsed other steps taken to raise the bar against the acquisition or use of biological weapons. These steps included bolstering public health capabilities to cope with possible deliberate biological weapons attacks, enhancing biodefense efforts, and strengthening supply-side controls on materials and equipment that could be used for biological weapons.

This list of tangible achievements is neither short nor without substance. Still, the degree of success in reaching agreement on these decisions in 2006 will and should be judged not by the actual words in the final declaration, but the extent to which these decisions and recommendations are implemented between now and the seventh review conference in 2011.

Moreover, the conference did not achieve everything it might have. Issues that were politically contentious or offered little chance of agreement were sidestepped. The degree to which this matters is open to interpretation. For some states-parties, however, and many nongovernmental observers, issues such as verification, biodefense programs, transparency, and the scale of scientific developments relevant to the convention are important.[7]

The question of verification is perhaps the most obvious failure. The prospect of a verification mechanism for the convention still enthralls some states-parties, appalls others, and is used adeptly by still others for political gains. Residual concerns about the possibility of a standoff between those states-parties that feel strongest about verification proved unfounded. It is clear to any observer that a number of states-parties remain committed in principle to the idea of developing a verification mechanism for the convention. Some, such as the members of the European Union, remain committed to the idea “in the long term.”[8] Others, such as the members of the Nonaligned Movement, reiterated their conviction that a legally binding, multilaterally negotiated, and nondiscriminatory agreement was the only sustainable way to strengthen the convention.[9] Still others noted their views that some kind of verification or compliance framework retained their support. None, however, turned verification into the issue of 2006. Thus, although the idea of verification is far from dead in the BWC, it lacks political viability. Indeed, the concept of verification of the convention received its most vocal support from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) rather than states-parties.

Those for whom verification of the BWC is a serious long-term objective need new thinking on how that might be made to work. Fortunately, such thinking has already begun. Some scholars have put forward fresh ideas on governing technology. Others have challenged the twin poles of the conventional argument about verifiability, that either the BWC is “inherently unverifiable” or that verification of the convention will automatically flow from a return to negotiations in Geneva.[10]

Still, such thinking has yet to mature, and it has not filtered down to all states-parties. Thus, verification in the BWC context is now a project that will take at least a decade, if not an additional quarter-century, to reach fruition, if it ever can.

Enhancing transparency of biodefense work and scientific research and development that might be particularly applicable to offensive biological weapons programs also did not receive the kind of attention for which outside observers might have wished. Detailed debates and discussions on subjects such as global biosecurity standards, international oversight of potentially contentious research, or the need for specific codes of conduct for biodefense scientists are not suited to the work of review conferences. Discussions on these issues are highly technical, politically complex, and take time to mature in the international diplomatic arena. If detailed debates on these issues had been attempted, the differences of opinion and the strength of those differences would have posed significant risks to reaching any outcome. External observers may perceive the failure to address these kinds of issues in detail as a serious shortcoming, but political realities dictate what is possible. If such debates are to be had within the context of the BWC, the groundwork for them will have to be laid out very carefully. Indeed, these debates might be more fruitfully held outside the convention.

Perhaps the most obvious shortcoming of the conference was the lack of detailed agreement for enhancing existing transparency mechanisms, such as CBMs. In the run-up to the review conference, there were hopes among civil society and within some states-parties for a revitalization of the CBMs.[11]

As the conference drew near, however, the many different views on CBMs held by states-parties presented clear signals that any agreement to go beyond their existing scope and modalities would be hard won. More than 45 states-parties indicated their preference to undertake some work on CBMs, but others believed that after 20 years a fundamental review of their operation was required before new, additional, or revised CBMs could be devised.[12] In simple terms, a four-way stalemate developed among states-parties in favor of new and increased commitments, states-parties in favor only of existing or even fewer CBM commitments, states-parties in favor of a fundamental review of CBMs before any new decisions were taken, and states-parties in favor of addressing only technical and procedural issues. Such differences of opinion meant very little substantive work on CBMs could occur at the review conference.

More important in some ways than tangible achievements or failures was the intangible outcome, the psychological effect that the perceived success of the review conference will have on states-parties. In the run-up to the conference, the states-parties were in a metaphorical valley. Behind them lay the failure of 2001 and the verification protocol that cast its shadow over all work undertaken since then. Before them lay the mountain they had to climb to escape this shadow: the sixth review conference. Failure in 2006 would have further undermined confidence in the ability of states-parties collectively to address any of the problems with the convention. With this in mind, those states-parties that undertook some planning for the outcome did so with an eye on what was achievable rather than what was ideal. The steps forward may appear to be small or even inconsequential, but they were chosen carefully and after much deliberation.

As a result, any successful outcome was always going to be modest. There was never going to be a great leap of faith or an attempt to resolve known differences about the past. Now that the conference has passed, states-parties are freer to consider much broader issues, including those that remain politically contentious. The impact of such freedom may not be felt immediately, but new ideas for the BWC will begin to enter into play in the next few years.

Some of this new thinking will emerge organically as the program of work takes shape. Between 2003 and 2005, the codes of conduct debate blossomed beyond all expectations, yet its impact was not solely in the BWC context but in the sense of responsibility it injected into life scientists and the constructive debate between scientific communities and states-parties it engendered. Under the new work program, the discussions on peaceful cooperation offer the opportunity to move beyond rhetoric and platitudes about the relationship between disarmament and development and engage in some substantive discussions. Likewise, the question of assistance and support may open the door to progress on the issue of investigating incidents of noncompliance or violations of the convention. It is highly unlikely that states-parties will agree to new undertakings or additional understandings to provide assistance and support or protection in the event of biological weapons use without also finding a better means of investigating the perpetrators of such acts and bringing them to account for their actions.

Equally, the broad nongovernmental community and civil society actors may find a new lease of life in contributing to efforts by states-parties. For example, an international agreement or lack thereof does not present the largest obstacle to verification. Rather, it is a willingness to think about what verification of biological disarmament actually entails that is missing from many of the civil society and NGO debates. The undertakings in the convention are national undertakings within an international agreement. Compliance with the BWC is the responsibility of each state-party, and verification of compliance ought therefore to begin at home. The final declaration of 2006 includes a number of action points, from establishing points of contact to the submission of CBMs, from maintaining effective national implementation measures to promoting universal adherence by those 40 states that retain the option of biological weapons in their armories. The final declaration, along with its predecessors, is not a complete checklist, but a blueprint exists for what states-parties are expected to do to implement this convention. The expectations for implementation have been set by states-parties; are they going to meet them between now and 2011? Assessing what is being done and how does not rely on an internationally negotiated multilateral framework but on questioning national governments and inculcating a culture of demonstrating compliance through national transparency and action. There is plenty of scope to begin making each state more accountable for and transparent in its undertakings without a verification protocol modeled on Cold War arms control.

Those interested in seeing the global biological disarmament regime strengthened need to consider what it actually means, how it is managed in the real world, and where further work is still required. Space and time for thinking and action has now been created by the outcome of the sixth review conference. Whether that freedom is used creatively and to maximum effect or to rerun old debates that offer little prospect of resolution remains to be seen.

So What Does the Outcome Mean?

Contrary to some observations, the BWC is not in crisis. The convention is not about to break down, and its provisions have not been openly violated by any state. Furthermore, no state-party is threatening to withdraw from the convention. Although the United States continues to identify some, but not all, states it believes are in noncompliance with their obligations, the United States is not alone in its compliance concerns, even if it is the only one to publicly voice them. Despite this, the convention is not prone to collapse under the weight of unresolved noncompliance allegations. The scope of the convention is also not in doubt as there is agreement that the BWC covers all biological and toxin weapons, and its basic prohibitions are comprehensive enough to include all relevant scientific and technological developments regardless of the field of science from which they emerge.

Still, more work is required on actual implementation mechanisms, how to increase the quality and quantity of existing transparency mechanisms, and efforts to share information to demonstrate compliance with all obligations under the BWC.

The outcome of 2006 reflects what was possible at this conference. There is a danger with all review conferences of international conventions, not just the BWC, that such meetings become overburdened with issues, expectations, and demands. Review conferences, however, are a discrete form of international diplomacy. Their task is to review the operation of the agreement to ensure its purposes are being met. If the purposes of the agreement are not being met, then the task at hand is to attempt to reach agreement on collective actions that will steer implementation of the convention back on track. The task of a review conference is not to resolve all known problems, rectify all the deficiencies, remold the agreement every five years, or necessarily to increase or decrease the number of legally or politically binding obligations undertaken by states-parties. Just as an unsuccessful review conference does not signal the demise of a treaty, a successful review conference does not signal the fulfillment of all the treaty’s obligations or agreement on all known differences. To expect solutions to all known problems is to be wildly optimistic.

At its core, the sixth review conference was about putting past disputes behind the states-parties and laying the groundwork for further work to strengthen the anti-biological weapons regime. The BWC is the foundation of that work, and in 2006 those foundations were strengthened. The outcome creates both a political climate that can be wisely exploited and the conditions for additional work against biological weapons for the future gain of all. It is also an outcome that reflects the minimal expectations for implementation of the BWC between now and 2011 for 155 states-parties. The outcome may be modest, but it is a base from which to conduct more work collectively and not a ceiling or a proscribed limitation on what each state-party might do to implement the convention. Each state-party can go farther, do more, and undertake additional actions to strengthen the BWC over the next five years, and it can do so nationally, with its neighbors, with its allies, in concert with others, and with its BWC partners.

 

Another Pendulum Swing?

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) entered into force in 1975, and perceptions of the usefulness of the convention have oscillated between seeing it as a beacon of multilateral arms control and viewing it as irrelevant.[1] The last two decades have seen particularly significant shifts in international perceptions of the treaty.

During the 1990s, states-parties attempted to develop a legally binding compliance protocol to strengthen the convention.[2] In 2001 this effort fell apart. That failure, along with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the later anthrax attacks led certain governments and sections of civil society to damn the convention as weak, ineffective, and out of step with the demands of the contemporary security environment.[3] The result was a widespread view that “something must be done” to enhance efforts at preventing biological weapons use. Disagreement on what that something was and how it was to be done resulted in very different political and practical approaches to bolstering the convention.

Some, such as the United States, believed that efforts to prevent the use of biological weapons had to be undertaken outside the convention through activities such as the Proliferation Security Initiative. Others, such as the hard-line members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), believed that the events in 2001 underlined the need to return to multilateral negotiations on a compliance protocol without delay. A third group, including European countries, moderate NAM members, Australia, and New Zealand, favored a less-ideological approach to countering biological weapons that sought to make use of national and multilateral efforts, as well as everything in between.

The third group carried the day. The political fallout of 2001 was patched over in 2002 at the resumed session of the fifth review conference. An agreement laid out a work program over three years (2003 to 2005) on five topics, with the outcome of that work program to be considered in 2006 at the sixth review conference.[4]

During the intervening period, the work program, which began with very low expectations, developed into a serious and useful forum for considering how the convention should be implemented and which mechanisms had to be adopted by states-parties to fulfill their obligations. The success of the work program was such that, at the recent review conference, states agreed to a similar program for the next five years.[5]

International efforts also continued external to the convention. In 2004 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, requiring all states to take efforts to prevent biological and other weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. In 2006 the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Counter Terrorism Strategy, which, inter alia, encouraged the secretary-general to improve the mechanism for investigating alleged use of biological and chemical weapons.[6]

Moreover, threat perceptions have changed. Although some nonstate actors have openly claimed biological weapons capabilities and threatened to use them,[7] fears of terrorists using sophisticated biological weapons have shifted from worst-case scenarios to a more measured assessment of the threat such groups posed in the immediate future.[8] Moreover, states do not appear to have taken advantage of perceived weaknesses in the BWC and recent scientific and technological developments by bolstering their armories with new weapons. Indeed, no state, whether party or not to the BWC, openly boasts of an offensive biological weapons program. The norm against state use of biological weapons and the legal embodiment of that norm, the BWC, are strong.[9]

Amid these changes, by early 2006 it was clear that a successful outcome to the sixth review conference was possible through agreement on a modest final document that aimed to consolidate the convention as the basis for action against biological weapons across a broad front.[10]

 


ENDNOTES

1. “Second Review Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction: Final Document,” BWC/CONF.II/SR.3, September 18, 1986, p. 6; Douglas J. Feith, “Biological Weapons & the Limits of Arms Control,” The International Interest, Winter 1986/87, p. 39; Iris S. Portny, “U.S. to Oppose Efforts to Change Biological, Toxin Weapons Treaty,” Washington Times, June 9, 1986.

2. Jez Littlewood, The Biological Weapons Convention: A Failed Revolution ( Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).

3. For the views of states-parties in 2001, see Graham S. Pearson, “The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention: Report From Geneva,” The CBW Conventions Bulletin, No. 54 (December 2001), pp. 13-26; John R. Bolton, Remarks to the 5th Biological Weapons Convention RevCon Meeting, Geneva, November 19, 2001; The Royal Society, “Controls of Biological Weapons Critically Weakened,” January 19, 2004 (media release); Carolyn M. Leddy, Remarks to “Future Measures for Strengthening the BWC Regime,” Tokyo, February 14, 2006.

4. “Fifth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction: Final Document,” BWC/CONF.V/17, 2002, pp. 3-4.

5. “Council Common Position 2006/242/CFSP of 20 March 2006 Relating to the 2006 Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention” (hereinafter March 2006 EU Common Position); “Intervention of Canada on Behalf of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention Preparatory Committee,” April 26-28, 2006 (hereinafter April 2006 Canada intervention); “Joint Declaration, Preparatory Committee for the Sixth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction,” April 26, 2006 (hereinafter April 2006 joint declaration.)

6. UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/60/288, September 2006.

7. Julie Stahl, “Palestinian Threat to Use Biological, Chemical Weapons Just a Bluff, Expert Says,” CNSNews.com, June 26, 2006.

8. Milton Leitenberg, “Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat,” U.S. Army War College, 2005; Malcolm Dando, “The Bioterrorist Cookbook,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 2005.

9. John C. Rood, Remarks to the Sixth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference, Geneva, November 20, 2006.

10. See March 2006 EU Common Position; April 2006 Canada intervention; April 2006 joint declaration.

 

 


Jez Littlewood is a research fellow at the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies, University of Southampton, and a research associate at the Canadian Centre for Treaty Compliance in the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. Since 2005 he has been a part-time adviser on the Biological Weapons Convention to the Arms Control and Disarmament Research Unit of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He is author of The Biological Weapons Convention: A Failed Revolution (2005). The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.


ENDNOTES

1. Ambassador Masood Khan, “Closing Remarks of Ambassador Masood Khan of Pakistan, President of the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention,” Geneva, December 8, 2006.

2. Alan Pearson, “Modest Progress at the Sixth Review Conference,” BWC Observer, December 11, 2006.

3. “The Sixth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention: Success or Failure? An Interview With Jonathan B. Tucker,” CNS Research, January 4, 2007.

4. “Can the Line Against Bio-Terror Hold?” The Economist, December 16-22, 2006, pp. 60-61.

5. “Sixth Review Conference of the States Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction,” BWC/CONF.VI/6, Geneva, December 8, 2006.

6. Oliver Meier, “States Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention” Arms Control Today, January/February 2007, pp. 27-29.

7. See Trevor Findlay, “Verification of the BWC: Last Gasp or Signs of Life?” Arms Control Today, September 2006, pp. 12-16; Roger Roffey et al., “Crucial Guidance: A Code of Conduct for Biodefense Scientists,” Arms Control Today, September 2006, pp. 17-20; Jonathan B. Tucker, “Preventing the Misuse of Pathogens: The Need for Global Biosecurity Standards,” Arms Control Today, June 2003, pp. 3-10; Christopher F. Chyba, “Biotechnology and the Challenge to Arms Control,” Arms Control Today, October 2006, pp. 11-17.

8. “European Union Council Common Position 2006/242/CFSP of 20 March 2006 Relating to the 2006 Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.”

9. “Statement by H.E. Ambassador Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios, Permanent Representative of Cuba, on Behalf of the Group of the Non-Aligned Movement and Other States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention at the Sixth Review Conference of the States Parties to the BWC,” Geneva, November 20, 2006.

10. Findlay, “Verification of the BWC”; Chyba, “Biotechnology and the Challenge to Arms Control.”

11. “Meeting the Challenges of Reviewing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention: Summary Report,” The Geneva Forum, March 2006; Nicholas Isla and Iris Hunger, “Building Transparency Through Confidence Building Measures” Arms Control Today, July/August 2006, pp. 19-25; “A New Strategy: Strengthening the Biological Weapons Regime Through Modular Mechanisms,” Verification Matters: VERTIC Research Reports, No. 6 (October 2006).

12. For a range of different views on confidence-building measures made public at the sixth review conference, see the opening statements by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, India, South Africa, and Russia, which are available at www.unog.ch.

Security Council Considers New Iran Sanctions

Paul Kerr

Senior officials from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany agreed Feb. 26 in London to draft a new council resolution that could impose additional nonmilitary sanctions on Iran. Discussions were preliminary, however, and the six countries did not lay out a specific course of action.

The agreement followed a report issued by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei four days earlier that said Iran had not complied with Security Council Resolution 1737.

That resolution imposed sanctions on Tehran limiting its ability to obtain materials that could aid its nuclear and missile programs. It said the council would adopt “further appropriate” nonmilitary measures if Iran did not comply with its demands. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

The resolution required Iran to suspend both its uranium-enrichment program and “work on all heavy water-related projects.” It also directed Tehran to cooperate with the IAEA to resolve “outstanding issues” concerning its nuclear programs, as well as ratify an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, which would provide the agency with increased authority to detect clandestine nuclear programs.

Iran has said repeatedly that it wishes to resume negotiations regarding its nuclear program. It has not, however, agreed to comply with the resolution’s requirement that it first suspend enrichment as well as certain other nuclear activities.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters Feb. 26 that Iran will not suspend enrichment. But he reiterated the next day that Tehran would hold talks on the matter “without preconditions.” Ali Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told a Munich audience Feb. 11 that, without such conditions, the relevant issues could be resolved “within a few months.”

Tehran claims that its nuclear programs are exclusively for peaceful purposes, but many in the international community suspect the country of pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Indeed, senior U.S. intelligence officials spoke in support of this claim during recent congressional hearings. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples told the House Intelligence Committee Jan. 18 that the agency “assesses” that Iran “remains determined to develop nuclear weapons.” John Negroponte, who was then director of national intelligence and is now deputy secretary of state, issued a similar assessment during the same hearing.

The council unanimously adopted Resolution 1737 in December 2006 after Iran failed to comply with Security Council Resolution 1696 demanding that Tehran suspend enrichment and take other steps. That resolution followed a June 2006 offer of incentives from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany designed to persuade Iran to end its enrichment program. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Officials from the five permanent council members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have repeatedly stated their willingness to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear program according to the terms of Resolution 1737, which encouraged Tehran “to engage with” the June proposal. The resolution also stated that, should Iran suspend its enrichment-related activities, the council would “suspend the implementation of measures if and for so long as” the suspension holds. Similarly, the council “shall terminate” the sanctions if it has determined that “ Iran has fully complied with its obligations.”

The council gave Iran 60 days to comply with Resolution 1737 and requested that ElBaradei submit a report on Iran’s compliance within that same time period.

ElBaradei also submitted a related report on Feb. 9. That report describes the steps that the IAEA has taken to comply with a relevant portion of Resolution 1737, which states that the agency should limit its technical cooperation with Iran to “humanitarian purposes” except when necessary for projects directly related to light-water reactors. It says the IAEA, among other steps, has “placed on hold” 10 technical cooperation programs “pending action” by the agency’s Board of Governors.

Council Members Meet

British Foreign Office Political Director John Sawers described the Feb. 26 meeting as a “productive first discussion,” adding that the countries began work on a new resolution. The discussions are to continue, he said.

The six countries have not agreed on the details of any new council measures, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters Feb. 27. The spokesperson would not provide details about the discussions but said that the “idea is to see if some of the measures in [Resolution] 1737 can be made more binding and if other measures can be added.”

The other countries must find “some common ground” with Russia and China, who have been more hesitant to adopt sanctions against Iran, the spokesperson acknowledged. Indeed, adoption of the December resolution required prolonged negotiations, mainly to satisfy the concerns of Moscow and Beijing.

A European diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 26 that although there was a “surprising amount of cohesion” at the London meeting, the negotiations could be “long and tortuous.”

The Security Council sanctions appear to be aimed in part at affecting internal Iranian political debate on the regime’s nuclear policies. The French Foreign Ministry spokesperson, as well as several U.S. officials, argued that Resolution 1737 had prompted such a debate. In fact, some current and former Iranian officials have again called for the country’s leadership to exercise greater caution in its nuclear diplomacy.

For example, former presidential candidate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently the head of Iran’s Expediency Council, argued that Iran should aim to develop “nuclear energy for peaceful purposes” but should adopt a more low-key diplomatic approach, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported Feb. 11. Tehran “should avoid creating enemies” by “adopting an active diplomacy of moderation,” Rafsanjani said.

Similarly, Iran’s former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, said in an Iranian newspaper interview published Feb. 6 that Tehran’s negotiating behavior has been “provocative” since the 2005 election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He also cautioned that Resolution 1737 could “pose serious threats to Iran’s economy and national interests.” Meanwhile, an internal European Union report published Feb. 13 by the Financial Times states that the resolution “has had an impact in Iran,” explaining that the sanctions “have limited direct effect but they come at a moment when the economy is performing poorly, partly because of Iranian mismanagement.” Foreign investment in Iran “has all but dried up, partly because of the nuclear issue,” the report adds.

The report cautions that “problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone.” It also notes that Tehran “feels strengthened” in the region by several factors, including the perception that U.S. troops are “bogged down” in Iraq, which the United States invaded in 2003.

HEU Smuggling Sting Raises Security Concerns

Justin Reed

Georgia and the United States revealed in January that in early 2006 they had arrested a Russian man attempting to sell 100 grams of weapons-grade uranium. The seizure was one of the largest of its kind and raised questions about the security of nuclear stockpiles in the region.

A joint Georgian-CIA operation nabbed Oleg Khinsagov in Tbilisi along with several Georgian accomplices. The sting was set up after Georgian authorities discovered extensive smuggling operations in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“When we sent buyers, the channels through Abkhazia and South Ossetia began to expand, and we started seeing a huge flow of materials…. Sometimes it was low-grade enriched materials, but this was the first instance of highly enriched material,” Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told the Associated Press.

Khinsagov was carrying a plastic bag full of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in his jacket pocket. “He was offering this as the first stage in a deal and said he had other pieces,” Merabishvili said. “We don’t know if that was true,” he added. Georgian authorities sentenced Khinsagov to eight to 10 years in prison.

Efforts to discover the origin of the HEU have been hampered by squabbling between Russia and Georgia. Georgia gave a sample of the smuggled material to Russia for analysis but Russia’s Scientific Research Institute of Non-Organic Materials called the quantity of the sample “insignificant.” Only a few grams of HEU are needed to perform a full forensic analysis, however.

The Russian prosecutor-general is considering an inquiry.

Georgian and Russian officials blame each other for not being fully forthcoming. Tensions have been high since President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected in 2004 on a pro-U.S. platform. His election exacerbated disagreements over the stationing of Russian troops in border regions. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

In a related development, the United States and Georgia signed a deal in February 2007 to increase cooperation in preventing nuclear smuggling. The agreement will facilitate information sharing between U.S. and Georgian offices, train Georgian experts, adequately store discovered radioactive substances, and increase border patrols.

The United States has already provided similar assistance to Russia to prevent nuclear smuggling.

Israeli Cluster Munitions Use Examined

Wade Boese

The Department of State recently informed Congress that Israeli use of U.S.-origin cluster munitions in Lebanon last summer might have broken U.S. export rules. Washington has yet to announce if it will take any action against its close ally, but some lawmakers are proposing new U.S. cluster munitions export and use policies.

Responding to an attack by Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas last July, Israel launched a military offensive into its northern neighbor. During the ensuing month-long campaign, Israel employed cluster munitions, which are weapons dropped by aircraft, shot from artillery, or launched by rockets that can scatter up to several hundred small bomblets or grenades over broad areas. The dispersed submunitions sometimes fail to explode as intended, sowing wherever they land with potentially lethal or harmful explosives.

The UN Mine Action Service recently reported that, by mid-February, some 840 cluster munitions strike areas had been identified and that an estimated one million unexploded cluster submunitions litter southern Lebanon. It also noted that 30 deaths and 186 injuries have resulted from the detonation of leftover cluster munitions and other ordnance.

The United States launched an investigation last fall into whether Israel may have used U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in Lebanon contrary to a bilateral export agreement restricting their use. The regulations are secret, but they are generally understood to bar the use of cluster munitions against targets that are in populated areas or that are not strictly military. Washington initially imposed the regulations after previously suspending cluster munitions exports to Israel from 1982 to 1988 following allegations that Israeli forces improperly used such arms in attacks against Lebanese civilians.

In a classified report delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, the State Department made a preliminary finding that there “could have been some violations” of U.S. export rules during last year’s war, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Jan. 29. He told reporters that he would not speculate on actions Congress or the administration might take in response because the investigation was still ongoing.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that “we are continuing to gather information.” The official added, “As we learn more, we will take action as appropriate.”

Some lawmakers are not waiting on a final investigation outcome to address the cluster munitions issue. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Feb. 14 to prohibit U.S. use, sale, or transfer of cluster munitions that have submunitions with failure rates greater than one percent. The bill also requires that cluster munitions only be used against “clearly defined military targets” and not in areas where civilians are present or normally inhabit. The president for national security reasons could waive the first restriction on failure rates, but not the second limitation.

Feinstein and Leahy proposed similar legislation last year as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill, but the Senate rejected it 70-30. Opponents argued the measure might impair U.S. military operations.

U.S. policy since the fall of 2004 has prohibited the Pentagon from procuring new cluster munitions with submunitions that have failure rates greater than one percent. The policy, however, does not forbid U.S. armed forces from using some 5.5 million older, stockpiled cluster munitions that might not meet the higher performance standard.

“The impact of unexploded cluster bombs on civilian populations has been devastating,” Feinstein said Feb. 14, citing estimates that past U.S. use of such weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Laos has caused thousands of civilian casualties. She also noted that she had been motivated in part by “recent developments in Lebanon.”

Israeli officials contend they took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, including warnings to noncombatants through leaflets, talks with local leaders, and phone calls to evacuate areas where Hezbollah fighters were present. Still, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initiated a review last November of its cluster munitions use in Lebanon.

David Siegel, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told Arms Control Today Feb. 21 that the IDF inquiry was “still underway” but nearing completion. He also said Israel had provided “detailed responses” to U.S. investigators.

In the conflict’s aftermath, Siegel also said Israel had provided assistance “as extensive as possible,” including maps, coordinates, and training, to help locate and clear the cluster munitions remnants. Some UN officials and nongovernmental humanitarian and demining groups have contended that Israel has not given enough specific details to help with the cleanup.

Governments, including the United States, have donated at least $21.5 million for cleaning up and disposing of the cluster submunitions contaminating southern Lebanon. The UN Mine Action Service predicts the work might be completed by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, 46 governments agreed Feb. 23 in Oslo, Norway, to negotiate by 2008 a legally-binding treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause “unacceptable harm to civilians.” Participating countries, which currently do not include Israel or the United States, will meet again in May in Lima, Peru.

Bush Seeks Budget Boost for Future Warhead

Wade Boese

The Bush administration wants lawmakers this year to nearly quintuple spending on what it claims will be the prototype future U.S. nuclear warhead. But as of the end of February, Congress was waiting on the administration to choose between two competing prototype designs.

Initiated in 2004, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program has emerged as the centerpiece of the administration’s proposed overhaul of the complex maintaining the U.S. inventory of approximately 10,000 nuclear warheads. The long-term goal, administration officials say, is to elevate warhead production capabilities while cutting actual warhead numbers. Current plans call for nearly halving the arsenal by 2012. (See ACT, July/August 2004. )

The RRW program fits into the administration’s plan for a simple warhead that the revamped weapons enterprise ostensibly could produce quickly and maintain easily and safely. Proponents claim the minimalist nature of RRW warheads also would eliminate any need to test them, but skeptics doubt Congress and the military will ultimately accept swapping proven warheads for untested ones.

The United States stopped nuclear testing in 1992, and Congress has established that it wants the RRW program to avoid sparking a revival. Some lawmakers, such as House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), have floated linking support for the RRW program to U.S. ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Senate rejected in October 1999 and the Bush administration opposes.

Warheads are currently validated through surveillance and refurbishment efforts under the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program. RRW proponents assert, however, that as time passes and changes accumulate, the risk grows that warhead performance might diminish.

Still, the administration recently reported in its Feb. 5 fiscal year 2008 budget request documents that “Stockpile Stewardship is working…the stockpile remains safe and reliable.” Recent studies also have concluded that plutonium, the material at the core of each U.S. bomb, may last as long as a century without degrading the warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

In its proposed budget, the administration is seeking $6.5 billion in nuclear weapons spending. This total, which is about $100 million more than current spending, would continue the current stewardship approach while ramping up the RRW process and the overhaul of the complex, which is dubbed Complex 2030 for the year it is to be realized.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency of the Department of Energy, administers U.S. nuclear weapons spending. The latest annual budget request is for the year beginning Oct. 1.

The RRW program is receiving $25 million in the current fiscal year expiring Sept. 30, but the proposed NNSA budget would increase funding to about $89 million. The Navy also is seeking $30 million to support the RRW program.

The first warhead that the RRW program is slated to replace is the W76 warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In principle, RRW models are supposed to replicate the capabilities and purposes of the warheads they replace, but NNSA officials say the program eventually could tailor bombs for new missions.

The administration projects direct costs for the RRW program climbing each year and eventually reaching $179 million in fiscal year 2012. The NNSA is seeking to have the first warhead of the series available that year or 2014 at the latest. The agency hopes to begin full-scale RRW production by 2025.

The Nuclear Weapons Council, comprised of officials from the NNSA and the Pentagon, had fallen months behind in announcing which RRW design it intends to build. The Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear laboratories both submitted designs last spring for a scheduled decision last fall.

Reports suggest that the council had endorsed a hybrid of the two proposals but had not convinced all the stakeholders of that approach. Nonetheless, the proposed budget contains funds to “conduct a conceptual study for additional RRW options.”

While the NNSA is seeking to jump-start work on future warheads, the agency has fallen far behind on disassembling retired warheads. If the agency achieves its proclaimed goal of accelerating such work, the dismantlement backlog will not be eliminated until nearly 2024. The NNSA said this work is important because “reducing the total number of U.S. nuclear warheads sends a clear message to the world that critical modernization programs such as [the] RRW [program] do not signal a return to the arms race of the Cold War.”

Slightly more than $52 million is budgeted for dismantlement, which is roughly $22 million below last year’s request. The NNSA says this reduction still squares with the aim of boosting future work because the “upfront costs” of hiring additional people and procuring new equipment for that effort occurred this year.

For warheads remaining in the inventory, the NNSA is seeking $1.4 billion in directed stockpile funding to maintain them and extend their lifespan. The submarine-launched W76 is slated for the largest slice of this spending, at nearly $245 million.

The NNSA requested money for two new programs to help prevent or respond to a nuclear attack against the United States. One program, for $16 million, would seek to develop technologies to allow relatively inexperienced teams of first responders to be able to isolate and stabilize a detected nuclear or radiological threat. Another $12 million would be devoted to establishing a National Technical Nuclear Forensics program to enable the identification and sourcing of material in a nuclear device both pre- and post-detonation. (See ACT, October 2006. )

The agency has not yet calculated the future costs of implementing its Complex 2030 vision. It contends that the overhaul will ultimately save money because the number of facilities, staff, and weapons will shrink, as will the security costs of protecting nuclear materials consolidated at fewer sites. Although the NNSA says it will maintain all eight sites of the existing complex, the NNSA asserted Jan. 31 that each location “would look much different than today” and the entire complex would require one-quarter or one-third less personnel.

Still, some lawmakers have questioned whether the administration’s makeover is ambitious enough for what they contend is a bloated, outdated, and wasteful weapons enterprise. Chief among these gadflies has been Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), who had been serving as the chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which takes the lead on determining funding for the weapons complex. If the NNSA had been hoping for some relief with the Democratic election victory last fall, it may be disappointed. The new chairman, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), shares views similar to Hobson.

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