"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
April 2007
Edition Date: 
Sunday, April 1, 2007
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UK Nuclear Submarine Plan Wins Vote

Wade Boese

Despite some opposition within the ruling Labour Party, British lawmakers recently approved a plan to start designing a new class of nuclear-armed submarines. The vote puts the country on course toward retaining nuclear weapons until around midcentury, although top officials say that could still change.

Last December, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government proposed building successors to the four current submarines composing the United Kingdom 's entire nuclear delivery force. (See ACT , January/February 2007. ) The first two boats of the existing Vanguard-class fleet are expected to be retired by 2024, and the government contends the inaugural replacement vessel must be operational by then to maintain the current posture of always having one submarine on patrol.

Estimating that it will take 17 years to get the first new submarine from the drawing board to the sea, Blair called on legislators to support the project this year. The House of Commons complied March 14, voting 409-161 to start the proposed submarine design phase. Immediately before, lawmakers defeated 413-167 an initiative to postpone the vote.

Opponents offered a variety of reasons for why a decision was unnecessary this year. Some lawmakers said that the Vanguard-class submarines might be modified to last longer than presumed, while some argued that the new class of boats should take no longer to develop than the 14 years required for the Vanguard fleet. Other lawmakers said it was premature to consent to such a consequential and long-term endeavor at such an early stage.

Blair and his backers, however, argued that the claim that development of the Vanguard fleet took only 14 years neglected to take into account all the work needed to complete the system. They also said that lawmakers should welcome the opportunity to give their input sooner rather than later and warned that if delays mounted, British industry might not be staffed and positioned properly to carry out the project.

Blair assured the House of Commons March 14 that this would not be the final opportunity for lawmakers to have a say on the program. “This parliament cannot bind the decisions of a future parliament, and it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues,” the prime minister stated. He implied one chance would be between 2012 and 2014 when the main contracts for design and construction are supposed to be awarded.

Approximately one-quarter of the 352 members of the Labour Party, which campaigned for unilateral British nuclear disarmament during much of the 1980s, were on the losing side of the two votes. Their defection was offset by strong support for the proposal from the main opposition party, the Conservatives.

The final measure included a commitment to pursue additional steps toward nuclear disarmament in compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Countries without nuclear weapons pledged to forswear them through that 1968 accord, while nuclear-armed states, including the United Kingdom , promised to eventually eliminate their atomic arsenals.

Whether London would break its NPT obligation by building new submarines was a key issue pitting Labour Party members against each other. Indeed, four members of the government resigned their positions in protest over Blair's proposal. One of them, Nigel Griffiths, who was deputy leader of the House of Commons, argued March 14 that “we must lead the world in campaigning for the eradication of the nuclear threat and we must lead by example.”

Other Labour members echoed Griffiths during the nearly six-hour debate that preceded the two votes. They warned that developing another generation of nuclear-armed submarines would undermine the NPT by signaling that nuclear weapons were vital for preserving a country's security. One Labour member, Jeremy Corbyn, questioned whether adding “vastly enhanced” submarines would be “contrary to the whole spirit of the treaty and likely to encourage proliferation rather than reduce it.”

Blair, other Labour officials, and Conservative speakers asserted the United Kingdom was and would remain in compliance with the NPT, citing past and proposed nuclear reductions. Although developing new submarines is the core of the prime minister's plan, it also calls for shrinking the country's operational nuclear forces by 20 percent, to fewer than 160 warheads. London 's secret stock of reserve warheads is supposed to undergo an equivalent cut.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett blasted as “complete and utter rubbish” the notion that constructing new submarines would provoke the spread of nuclear weapons. She further dismissed the possibility of other countries following the United Kingdom 's lead even if it abolished nuclear weapons, saying, “[W]e have been disarming over the course of the past 10 years, with singularly little response.” Since the Cold War's end, the United Kingdom is the sole recognized nuclear-weapon state that has trimmed its nuclear capability to a single type of delivery option and claims to have reduced its nuclear explosive power by about 75 percent.

Submarine proponents repeatedly pointed to other countries' possession of nuclear arms and the suspected pursuit of such arms by other states. The prime minister and his supporters also contended the new submarines would be insurance against the uncertainty of the future, particularly the risk that “rogue” states or terrorists might acquire and use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

Opponents responded that terrorists would not be deterred regardless of what armaments the United Kingdom brandished and that such a threat was less likely than other dangers, such as global climate change, requiring attention and money. Michael Ancram, a rare Conservative critic, asserted the submarine acquisition costs constituted “a pretty hefty premium against a pretty unlikely threat.”

The government projects that it might cost up to $39 billion to procure four new submarines and nearly $3 billion annually to operate them. Costs could be reduced if London builds only three new submarines, an option Blair has floated.

Skeptics say spending will be higher than estimated because arms programs are prone to exceeding budgets. They point to the United Kingdom 's ongoing and roughly $2 billion over budget Astute-class conventional attack submarine program as the latest example.

A majority of Labour members backed Blair despite, or perhaps because of, their party's past abolition advocacy. Some members appear to attribute, at least partially, the party's poor electoral results during the 1980s to that policy. Explaining his support for Blair's proposal, Labour member Gerald Kaufman stated, “It is one thing to revisit the scene of the crime; it is quite another to revisit the scene of the suicide.”

Still, Beckett said, “today's decision does not mean that we are committing ourselves irreversibly to maintaining a nuclear deterrent for the next 50 years.” She noted lawmakers will have chances in the coming years to affect the United Kingdom's nuclear status by deciding on replacing or renewing British nuclear warheads as well as the U.S.-made and -leased Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles that carry the warheads.

After China's Test: Time For a Limited Ban on Anti-Satellite Weapons

Geoffrey Forden

China 's Jan. 11 test of a sophisticated hit-to-kill anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon should have shattered complacency about the dangers posed by these arms. Much press commentary has focused on the threat to U.S. military systems, but these are less vulnerable than is popularly perceived. The real danger lies less in the military realm than in the long-term risk to civilian communications, weather forecasting, and pure scientific research conducted by all space-faring nations.

The possibility of great harm to the major civilian economies and a lack of real military utility should bring all nations together to outlaw these weapons. To date, it has proved difficult to achieve international consensus on banning these systems and is likely to remain so. China , for one, is concerned about the U.S. missile defense system, and the Bush administration wants to keep open the option of fielding these weapons.[1] If these disagreements can be overcome, however, a technical agreement detailing limits on “closing speed” and maneuvering provides the appropriate basis for a verifiable and robust ban on the most dangerous of these arms.

The Chinese ASAT Test

Closing speed is the key to understanding the sophistication of China 's ASAT capabilities. This relative speed between the interceptor and the satellite determines the complexity of the ASAT weapon's onboard tracking and guidance systems and the control of its rocket engines. After all, one cannot simply “plug in the satellite's coordinates” because one risks making an error of at least several kilometers in locating where the satellite is at any given moment.[2]

China 's ASAT weapon hit its target, the obsolete Feng Yun-1C weather satellite, almost head on with a rapid closing speed of just more than 8 kilometers per second.[3] To accomplish this, it almost certainly used an onboard optical tracker. This is basically a video camera that would see the satellite as a bright star, albeit one that moved very fast relative to the other stars. If so, China has been developing this weapons system for quite some time with previous flight tests of the tracking system, perhaps mounted on experimental satellites.

China 's ASAT weapon, unlike those tested by the Soviets, for example, appears not to have used an exploding warhead. It relied instead on the interceptor's substantial kinetic energy; at the time of the collision, it packed as much energy as 10 times its weight in TNT. No wonder it created substantial debris, more than 1,000 pieces large enough to be tracked from Earth. Debris from this collision has been observed at altitudes as great as 3,600 kilometers, four times as high as the original target satellite. It is possible that some pieces actually escaped the pull of the Earth's gravitational field altogether.

Although we cannot determine the ASAT weapon's mass precisely, we do know from an analysis of the resulting debris pattern that it was less than 600 kilograms, possibly much less.[4] Therefore, at least three such interceptors could be placed on China's smallest space launch vehicle capable of lofting satellites into geostationary transfer orbits. At these orbits, they could attack more strategically important satellites, such as communications and early-warning satellites or, at somewhat lower orbits, GPS satellites.

Assessing the Threat

Even though this was a test of a very sophisticated weapon, it was still only a single successful test. China , with its history of deliberate weapons development, is unlikely to feel confident in this system until it has undergone a significant number of additional tests against similar targets. China would then almost certainly want to test many of the ASAT weapon's subsystems in geostationary transfer orbits so Beijing could have confidence in attacks against higher-orbit satellites. China might choose to do so using close flybys that would not create the debris or international uproar its last test did.

Contrary to some analysts' assertions,[5] China would then likely have an ASAT system capable of threatening all U.S. space assets, not just those in low-Earth orbit. China has already mastered the techniques of placing satellites in medium[6] and higher orbits: first placing the satellite and its booster's third stage into low-Earth orbit, then using the third stage to boost the satellite into a highly elliptical transfer orbit,[7] and finally using the satellite's onboard engine to place it in a higher-altitude circular orbit. An ASAT attack against a navigational satellite or higher communications satellites would almost certainly involve the first two steps.[8]

At higher altitudes, moreover, the final attack is easier because at these altitudes satellites need to move less quickly to stay in orbit because of the Earth's weakening gravitational field. Likewise, an ASAT weapon does not need to approach its target satellite with as great a closing speed (information graphic available in the print edition). Thus, an attack on a geostationary satellite would be considerably less stressing for an ASAT weapon's tracking, guidance, and control systems than the scenario already successfully tested by China 's ASAT system.

It might be possible to protect low-Earth-orbit satellites either by passive countermeasures (maneuvering out of the way of the interceptor) or active defenses (destroying the incoming interceptor before the collision). Active defenses are possible at such low altitudes because most of a suborbital interceptor's debris would fall to earth within minutes. Unfortunately, neither measure is effective at higher altitudes and could be counterproductive. If it missed the first time, an ASAT weapon placed in an elliptical transfer orbit could simply wait for its next pass. For a geostationary satellite, the interceptor would have another shot about 24 hours later. Furthermore, to escape, the target satellite would undoubtedly have had to accelerate at several times that of gravity, likely causing booms or large, high-gain antennas to shear off. If on the other hand, the defender was foolish enough to try to destroy the interceptor, it would simply create a shotgun blast of debris traveling in essentially the same trajectory as the interceptor; eventually this widening swarm would destroy the target. The advantage is definitely on the side of the attacker.

On the other hand, an attacker would have to destroy a considerable number of satellites in order to have an immediate effect on military operations. There are on average about 10 GPS satellites visible at any given time and point on the Earth's surface even though a high positional accuracy requires only six. An attacker would have to destroy at least six satellites to affect precision-guided munitions even momentarily because other GPS satellites would soon appear as their orbits took them into view. A country would need to disable nearly one-half of the United States' 24 NAVSTAR/GPS satellites currently in orbit to eliminate the ability to employ precision-guided munitions for more than a few hours each day.[9] Likewise, the United States has a number of alternatives for communications satellites in the short term. Other space assets, such as weather and mapping satellites, although important in the long term, are not as time critical.

Missile Defense and ASAT Systems

Any attempt to ban ASAT weapons development will have to figure out how to square such an agreement with the existence of U.S. ballistic missile defenses. Although the effectiveness of these defenses against missiles has been questioned, there is no doubt that they could hit a satellite in low-Earth orbit. Their tracking, guidance, and control systems have been developed and successfully tested against incoming warheads in engagements that have closing speeds in excess of 11 kilometers per second. Such closing speeds are much higher than those it would encounter against even the lowest satellite and certainly higher than those the Chinese overcame in their January test.

Missile defenses also pose an obstacle to making diplomatic progress on ASAT weapons systems. The United States believes these defenses are critical to protecting itself from attacks by rogue states, but China fears they could also be used to deter it in any conflict with the United States, such as over Taiwan.[10] In recent years, China, at first alone but later with Russia, has made several proposals to the United Nation's Conference on Disarmament on possible elements for a future treaty banning the weaponization of space. At times, the proposals have taken in all U.S. missile defenses, not merely U.S. consideration of deploying space-based interceptors.

Beijing 's and Moscow 's June 2001 proposal, for example, required signatories not to “test, deploy or use in outer space any weapons, weapon systems, or their components.”[11] As part of the proposed treaty, a list of definitions was offered that included defining outer space as starting at an altitude of 100 kilometers and a weapon as any device or facility that could “strike, destroy or disrupt directly the normal functions of a target.” These definitions are hardly controversial, but they would ban the United States from even testing its current defense shield, which is supposed to strike and destroy an incoming warhead at altitudes far higher than 100 kilometers.

In what could very well have been a response to these difficulties, China , in collaboration with Russia , proposed a new draft in June 2002.[12] This draft obligated signatory countries to “[n]ot place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons.” Because the U.S. system is tested and deployed on suborbital boosters, as is China 's ASAT system, it would be allowed under this first part of the treaty. The draft treaty then goes on to ban “the threat or use of force against outer space objects.” Because the treaty does not define either “outer space” or “object,” there is a certain amount of ambiguity about whether it allows the U.S. missile defense system. It is difficult to imagine an interpretation of these obligations that would allow the Chinese ASAT system.

Proposed Solutions

Codes of Conduct: Creating an International Taboo

Many feel that these definitional problems are impossible to overcome if international agreement is to be reached.[13] In answer to this, the Henry L. Stimson Center , in collaboration with a number of other nongovernmental organizations, has proposed a Code of Conduct for Space-Faring Nations. This code is still evolving,[14] but its key feature is a pledge to avoid creating persistent space debris by following the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).[15] Such a pledge would go a long way in protecting the world's economic interests in outer space by creating an international taboo against creating dangerous space junk. It would be an effective first step in banning the weaponization of space if it can strengthen the political commitments to the IADC's guidelines, guidelines with which the major space-faring nations' technical experts have already agreed.

Another important aspect of the proposed code is the call for nations of the world to share space surveillance data. Through a series of radars, ground-based optical telescopes, and even a camera onboard a satellite, the United States observes and tracks almost all the objects in space with diameters greater than 10 centimeters. The parameters necessary to calculate the orbits for most of these are provided on a website open to the public.[16] Other countries also maintain such observations but do not share them. It would be an important confidence-building measure for all countries to share this information. It would even improve satellite tracking because satellites are occasionally “lost” for days or months at a time because of a lack of observations at a crucial moment.[17] The situational awareness of objects in space that tracking provides is important for two reasons: in avoiding collisions between satellites, particularly for geostationary satellites and for the International Space Station, and preventing false alarms by the North American Aerospace Defense Command early-warning radars misidentifying a satellite for an incoming warhead.[18]

The Stimson Center 's code has been designed to avoid bans on activities that would simulate attacks on satellites because of the definitional problems discussed above. As a result, countries unfortunately could still test complete ASAT systems under the proposed code by using close flybys.

A Treaty Banning ASAT Testing

Other analysts have attempted to make progress with proposals banning the testing, development, and deployment of ASAT systems above some threshold altitude.[19] Such methods certainly avoid the missile defense problems that have stymied previous treaty attempts, but they also leave open the development of these weapons at lower altitudes, even if combined with a code of conduct for lower altitudes. It would, unfortunately, be a relatively minor step to move an ASAT weapon that had been developed for lower altitudes and mount it on a more powerful rocket, especially for countries such as China or India that have already orbited geostationary satellites.

A better approach might be simply to ban one spacecraft from approaching another orbiting spacecraft[20] at excessive speeds. A technical annex to the treaty, one that could be adjusted by a standing committee of experts, might define these as closing speeds greater than 100 meters per second if they are within 100 kilometers of each other. These speeds and distances are great enough not to interfere with much of the normal operating procedures in space and yet would still obstruct the development of the tracking, guidance, and control of any ASAT weapon. At the same time, they do not prevent the testing and deployment of ground-based missile defenses because the target is not in orbit.

Space is far from empty, however. For instance, within a single 100-minute orbit, an equatorial satellite “violated” the proposed treaty limits several times by passing closer than 100 kilometers (at closing speeds of more than 100 meters per second) to 18 cataloged space objects, including two functioning satellites. Of the 16 pieces of debris, six were from the satellite destroyed in China 's ASAT weapons test, which, for this orbit, increased by 50 percent the risk of collision with a large piece of debris.

To prevent such false violations, the treaty should be limited to cases where spacecraft were maneuvering within this region, which is the essence of the tracking-guidance-control system. Thus, although it would still be possible to develop individual components of an ASAT system such as the optical tracker with in-orbit tests under this proposed treaty, it would not be possible to gain enough confidence in the complete system to deploy a weapon.

Space-based satellite surveillance, which has already been implemented on a single satellite, could be used to detect spacecraft maneuvering in close proximity to other satellites by observing the exhaust plumes from the interceptor's jets.[21] The satellite tracking system at present, however, could not verify this ban because it does not have the space-based surveillance assets necessary for such continuous coverage. The United States would need to implement a complete constellation of satellites dedicated to tracking other satellites, as proposed by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000.[22]

What Is Not Covered by the Proposed Treaty

The proposed treaty discussed here is aimed at stopping the testing and deployment of some of the most dangerous ASAT systems currently on the horizon: high-speed kinetic-kill ASAT weapons. It does not stop the development of other types of ASAT weapons, such as the space mines with which the Soviets experimented in the 1980s. These weapons slowly approach their targets and then detonate. It is very difficult to ban the development of such slow-speed approaches because they have a number of legitimate peaceful uses. For instance, the International Space Station is regularly resupplied by unmanned Soyuz spacecraft.

Micro- or even smaller satellites, which would be nearly impossible to track, are also being developed to service the International Space Station.[23] These too are not covered by the proposal when used as space mines. Microsatellite know-how, however, possibly will be turned into high-speed kinetic-kill ASAT weaponry sometime in the future and would be covered by the treaty; it would just be difficult to detect. This is an example of why space-tracking technology must continue to be improved for verification purposes as well as for keeping our space situational awareness up to date.

This discussion has focused on the kinetic-kill type of ASAT weapon that China tested in January, but significant damage to low-flying satellites can be caused by blinding lasers, which China also has allegedly used.[24] This type of weapons system should also be banned, but specialized methods of verification would need to be developed.

The time is right for a treaty banning the testing of the most dangerous ASAT systems. The world has expressed grave concern at the space debris China 's last test created that put at increased risk both manned spaceflight and commercial space assets.[25] If the United States acts now while it is still technologically dominant in space, it could prevent other countries from gaining the experience and confidence needed to field such weapons. China , for its part, has shown the world that ASAT weapons are not a Western monopoly, and if it believes in its rhetoric of the past decade, it could negotiate an end to an entire class of weapons.

Geoffrey Forden is a research associate with the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served as chief of the multidisciplinary analysis section of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).


1. Michael Krepon, “Weapons in the Heavens: A Radical and Reckless Option,” Arms Control Today , November 2004, pp. 11-18.

2. The parameters determined by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracking of satellites give an uncertainty about where the satellite is at any given moment, of about 10 kilometers along the orbit and approximately 2 kilometers transverse to that.

3. This is a combination of the satellite's orbital speed of 7.4 kilometers per second and the interceptor's speed of 1.8 kilometers per second at the time of the interception.

4. For a technical analysis and explanation of how these estimates were made, see Geoffrey Forden, “An Analysis of the Chinese ASAT Test,” Jane's Online, April 2007.

5. See Michael O'Hanlon, “A Space Weapons Race Is Not the Answer for America ,” The Financial Times, January 22, 2007.

6. A medium-Earth orbit is defined as any orbit greater than 2,000 kilometers in altitude and less than geostationary Earth orbits at 35,786 kilometers in altitude.

7. The lowest point in a transfer orbit is at the original low-Earth orbit's altitude while its highest point is usually just greater than the desired end orbit.

8. The U.S. national missile defense booster and interceptor, if used as an ASAT weapon, could directly attack satellites as high as 18,000 kilometers. Although this altitude is well above 2,000 kilometers, it is lower than the altitude of NAVSTAR/GPS navigational satellites.

9. Geoffrey Forden, “Sensitivity of GPS Coverage to Loss of One or More Satellites,” Technical Appendix D, in Ensuring America's Space Security: Report of the FAS Panel on Weapons in Space (October 2004).

10. See Hui Zhang, “Action/Reaction: U.S. Weaponization and China ,” Arms Control Today , December 2005, pp. 6-11.

11. Hu Xiaodi, “Possible Elements of the Future International Legal Instrument on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space,” CD/1645, June 6, 2001.

12. Hu Xiaodi and Leonid Skotnikov, “Possible Elements for a Future International Legal Agreement on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects,” CD/1679, June 28, 2002.

13. Michael Krepon, e-mail to author, February 10, 2007.

14. Previous versions of the Stimson Center 's code also asked states to forgo “simulating an attack on a satellite.” Stimson Center , “Model Code of Conduct for the Prevention of Incidents and Dangerous Military Practices in Outer Space,” May 19, 2004.

15. The Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee is composed of representatives of national space agencies including NASA, the European Space Agency, Russia's space agency, and China's space agency.

16. Space-Track, located at http://www.space-track.org. Space-Track does not list the parameters for classified U.S. satellites. Most, if not all, of these are tracked by amateurs in the backyards using very inexpensive equipment. See Visual Satellite Observer's Home Page, located at http://www.satobs.org/satintro.html.

17. Grant H. Stokes et al., “The Space-Based Visible Program,” Lincoln Laboratory Journal, Vol. 11, No. 2 (1998), pp. 205-229.

18. A false alarm of a nuclear attack, fortunately caught before it triggered a “response,” was caused by a satellite appearing to a radar in Moorestown , New Jersey , to rise from Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis. See Scott Sagan, Limits of Safety (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 130-131.

19. For some previous proposals for high-altitude bans, see Donald Hofner and Bhupendra Jasani, “An Arms Control Proposal Limiting High-Altitude ASAT Weapons,” in Strategic Defenses and the Future of the Arms Race: A Pugwash Symposium, eds. John Holdren and Joseph Rotblat (London: MacMillian Press, 1987), pp. 226-239; Ashton B. Carter, “Satellite and Anti-Satellite: The Limits of the Possible,” International Security, Spring 1986, pp. 46-98.

20. The operative phase here is “orbiting spacecraft.” “Orbiting” would mean making more than one circuit of the Earth, and “spacecraft” is used to avoid the thousands of times per day of accidental close encounters with space debris. A standing panel of experts would have to be created to discuss such definitions in the light of experience.

21. The existing space-based tracking asset has already demonstrated a rudimentary capability to do this. See Stokes et. al., “Space-Based Visible Program,” p. 218.

22. Geoffrey Forden, “Option 3-08: Establish a Space-Based Capability to Search for and Track Adversaries' Spacecraft,” in Budget Options for National Defense ( Washington , DC : Congressional Budget Office, March 2000), pp. 37-39. The United States has undertaken the development of such a constellation in the form of the Space Based Space Surveillance Pathfinder single satellite project scheduled for launch in 2007. See Boeing Integrated Space Systems, located at http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/space/satellite/sbss.html.

23. See NASA Exploration Systems, located at http://exploration.nasa.gov/programs/station/STP-H2-MEPSI.html.

24. “Top Commander: Chinese Interference With U.S. Satellites Uncertain,” Inside Missile Defense, October 22, 2006.

25. See “European Union Expresses Concern Over Chinese ASAT Test,” Defense Daily, January 24, 2007.

China 's Jan. 11 test of a sophisticated hit-to-kill anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon should have shattered complacency about the dangers posed by these arms. Much press commentary has focused on the threat to U.S. military systems, but these are less vulnerable than is popularly perceived. The real danger lies less in the military realm than in the long-term risk to civilian communications, weather forecasting, and pure scientific research conducted by all space-faring nations. (Continue)

North Korea Talks Stalled by Banking Dispute

Paul Kerr

Hoping to advance an initial agreement to eliminate North Korea 's nuclear weapons program, participants in the six-party talks met in Beijing March 19-22. But progress on the Feb. 13 pact was stalled by an ongoing banking dispute.

Talks recessed because of delays in resolving issues concerning frozen North Korean accounts associated with the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia. According to a statement from China 's Foreign Ministry, the six parties agreed to resume the talks “at the earliest opportunity to…formulate an action plan for the next phase.” No date has yet been set, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 29.

Before the recent meeting, the six parties, which also include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, appeared to have made modest progress. The March round of talks was the sixth in a series since August 2003.

Nonetheless, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill expressed optimism about the talks' future. “I'm pretty convinced we can get back on track, and we certainly have time to complete all the…actions” specified in the February agreement, Hill told reporters in Tokyo March 23.

That agreement called on North Korea to halt the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon within 60 days in return for energy and economic assistance from the other five parties. Five working groups were tasked with formulating specific plans for implementing the rest of a September 2005 joint statement. (See ACT, March 2007.)

In that statement, North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons and “existing nuclear programs” in exchange for a series of political and economic incentives. (See ACT, October 2005.)

The parties had agreed during their February meeting to meet the next month to assess the working groups' progress and discuss “actions for the next phase.”

Bank Issue Remains Obstacle

In order to strike the earlier deal, the United States had pledged that the Banco Delta Asia dispute would be resolved within 30 days. U.S. and North Korean officials reached agreement within that time frame, but difficulties in transferring disputed funds have delayed its implementation. North Korean negotiators responded by refusing to engage in further discussions.

The bank matter has been a persistent obstacle to the six-party talks' progress since September 2005 when the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated the bank as a “money laundering concern.” Subsequently, the bank froze North Korea 's accounts, and other financial institutions curtailed their dealings with Pyongyang . The United States has asserted that the bank provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.

On March 19, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Daniel Glaser announced that the two countries had “reached an understanding” regarding the frozen funds.

The United States accepted a North Korean proposal for resolving the matter, Glaser said, adding that the funds in question will be transferred from Banco Delta Asia into an account held by North Korea 's Foreign Trade Bank at the Bank of China in Beijing . Pyongyang has agreed that the money “will be used solely for the betterment of the North Korean people, including for humanitarian and educational purposes,” he said.

Although Glaser asserted that the agreement resolves the issue, North Korea has refused to negotiate further until the funds are actually in the account. The process of transferring the funds has proven to be a “complex task,” Hill said March 23, adding that the North Koreans “have made very clear they won't talk about other things” until that task is complete. Pyongyang views resolution of the Banco Delta Asia issue as a test of Washington 's willingness to fulfill its part of the February understandings, Hill added. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters March 27 that all relevant parties “are still discussing” the matter.

North Korea appears also to have conditioned progress on disabling its nuclear facilities on resolution of the Banco Delta Asia issue. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in a March 14 interview with CNN that North Korean officials had said the government would not shut down the reactor until the bank issue was resolved. An unnamed South Korean intelligence official said the reactor is still operating, the semi-official Yonhap news agency reported March 19.

Modest Progress

In February, the six parties formed five working groups, which were to meet within 30 days to discuss the implementation of various aspects of the agreement. All have met once but appear to have made only modest progress.

No additional working group meetings have been scheduled, the State Department official said.

According to the February agreement, North Korea is to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities “for the purpose of eventual abandonment” and allow IAEA inspectors to conduct the “necessary monitoring and verifications.” Pyongyang also is to discuss “a list of all its nuclear programs” with the other parties.

For their part, the other parties are to provide emergency energy assistance to Pyongyang “equivalent to 50,000 [metric] tons of heavy fuel oil.” Hill said during the March 6 edition of The Charlie Rose Show that the initial shipment, which is to be funded by South Korea, will “probably” arrive in North Korea the same day as when Pyongyang shuts down the reactor.

The next diplomatic phase is less detailed but is to include North Korea 's provision of “a complete declaration of all nuclear programs,” as well as the “disablement of all existing [North Korean] nuclear facilities.” In return, the other parties are to provide “economic, energy, and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent” of an additional 950,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil.

The details of this assistance are to be determined by a working group charged with managing economic and energy cooperation. A South Korean diplomat told Arms Control Today March 27 that the group discussed the initial fuel deliveries, but little else. Similarly, Hill told reporters March 20 that another group tasked with managing the denuclearization issue had made less progress than he had hoped.

Still, North Korean officials did discuss implementing the nuclear shutdown during the talks with ElBaradei. The two sides “focused on initial monitoring and verification for the shut down” of Pyongyang's nuclear facilities, according to a March 15 IAEA press release. It also stated that the agency must next “reach an agreement” with North Korea on “specific technical arrangements for monitoring and verification.”

Hill said March 6 that he had discussed Pyongyang 's suspected uranium-enrichment program during a bilateral working group meeting in New York . It does not appear that the two sides made progress on the matter. The United States asserts that North Korea has acquired materials for such a program, which can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The Yongbyon nuclear facilities produce plutonium, the other fissile material used in such weapons.

The two countries also discussed the normalization of relations, including removing North Korea from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Hill added. North Korean Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan described the talks as “constructive,” the Kyodo news agency reported March 7.

A working group tasked with managing the normalization of Pyongyang 's relations with Tokyo also met. But that meeting was considerably more acrimonious than the U.S.-North Korean meeting, reportedly ending early. The two sides remain divided by Japan 's concerns about North Korea 's past abductions of Japanese citizens.

News Analysis: Doubts Rise on North Korea 's Uranium-Enrichment Program

Paul Kerr

As diplomats from six countries continue to hammer out the details of a Feb. 13 agreement to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, questions relating to Pyongyang 's suspected uranium-enrichment program will likely play a pivotal role. U.S. officials insist that North Korea come clean about the alleged program. Verifying North Korea 's declarations, however, will be a challenge: U.S. officials recently acknowledged that their confidence in intelligence judgments about Pyongyang 's uranium capabilities has declined.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill told National Public Radio March 7 that resolving questions about the program will be essential to the talks' success, explaining that “we're going to have to know precisely what they've done on this before we can give them a clean bill of health.”

U.S. concerns that North Korea has been secretly pursuing such a program have played a central role in the recent nuclear crisis. Indeed, the crisis was precipitated by a U.S. decision to confront Pyongyang about those suspicions in early October 2002.

North Korea has denied that it has such a program but has said it is willing to discuss the matter. (See ACT, March 2007.)

Pyongyang is known to have a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program, but a uranium-enrichment program could provide the country with a second path to such a weapon. Gas centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride by spinning it at very high speeds to increase the concentration of the relevant fissile isotope. Highly enriched uranium can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

According to Hill, the United States believes that “ North Korea has attempted and succeeded in buying a number of parts to put together a uranium-enrichment program.” But he added that Washington does not know how “far they got and whether they were successful in actually manufacturing highly enriched uranium.”

Similarly, a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed in early March that Washington has become less confident than it was in October 2002 that Pyongyang is continuing to pursue an enrichment program. Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, North Korea mission manager for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said in a March 4 statement that all U.S. intelligence agencies “have at least moderate confidence that North Korea 's past efforts to acquire a uranium-enrichment capability continue today.”

By contrast, the U.S. intelligence community had “high confidence” in 2002 that North Korea was attempting to acquire a uranium-enrichment capability, DeTrani said, adding that the U.S. intelligence community “continues to have high confidence” that Pyongyang has pursued such a program in the past.

State of the Program

By the time the United States confronted North Korea in 2002, it had suspected for several years that Pyongyang might be pursing an enrichment program. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation Robert Einhorn told Arms Control Today March 21 that the United States “obtained information” at the end of the 1990s that North Korea was attempting to “obtain certain pieces of equipment that could be used in an enrichment program.” He added, however, that the “information was sketchy” as to whether Pyongyang was “actively pursuing” such a program.

However, a June 2002 National Intelligence Estimate contained “a few comments about a growing belief that North Korea had engaged in at least” a research and development enrichment project, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2003. The next month, the United States obtained intelligence that North Korea had dramatically increased its acquisition of centrifuge components, he said, adding that this information resulted in a September 2002 intelligence assessment that Pyongyang had “embarked on a production [enrichment] program.”

During a September 2006 Arms Control Association event, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly described the intelligence as “conclusive” and “retroactive in nature.” He also indicated that North Korea had possessed since about 1998 “centrifuges in very substantial numbers—way over a thousand—with associated equipment that would be necessary to run a covert centrifuge facility.”

But the administration's confidence in its knowledge of the program's scale appears to have been decreasing for some time. For example, the CIA reported in November 2002 that North Korea was “constructing a centrifuge facility” capable of producing enough fissile material for “two or more nuclear weapons per year” as soon as “mid-decade.” However, subsequent agency reports to Congress covering Pyongyang 's nuclear programs have become increasingly vague. The most recent such reports have said nothing about the program.

Likewise, a South Korean diplomat told Arms Control Today March 2 that Seoul has seen “elements” of a North Korean enrichment program, such as the importation of relevant materials, but there are “many gaps” in the government's knowledge, he added.

Most observers agree that Pyongyang has imported a significant number of centrifuge components and other enrichment-related materials. But there appears to be considerable doubt as to whether the country has an operating enrichment facility.

North Korea 's centrifuges are believed to be based on a Pakistani design, another former Department of State official told Arms Control Today March 21. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf acknowledged last fall that a proliferation network run by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan had provided Pyongyang with 12 to 20 complete centrifuges, as well as centrifuge designs and components. The Khan network provided two types of centrifuges, including a more-advanced centrifuge known as a P-2. (See ACT, May 2006.)

State Department officials told Arms Control Today in the fall of 2005 that North Korea likely has enough components sufficient for a “pilot” enrichment facility. A former State Department official previously told Arms Control Today that North Korea has probably imported enough components for 3,000 to 5,000 centrifuges and may have acquired enough for 6,000 to 7,000. (See ACT, October 2005.) North Korea , however, may not possess all the necessary components for an operational facility.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today last November that North Korea 's efforts to obtain materials for the program had largely stopped but pointed out that Pyongyang may have learned to produce its own components. Acknowledging that there is a “spectrum” of possibilities regarding the current state of the program, the official explained that North Korea could have an advanced enrichment program but may have halted work on it.

Whether North Korea has a facility capable of producing uranium hexafluoride is unclear. A former State Department official told Arms Control Today last October that the U.S. intelligence community does not have “evidence” that Pyongyang has such a facility.

North Korea is known to have a production line for uranium tetrafluoride, a precursor for uranium hexafluoriude, at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. Gary Samore, who served as senior director for nonproliferation at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, acknowledged in a March 21 interview that producing uranium hexafluoriude is relatively easy if a country is capable of producing the precursor. But he cautioned that Pyongyang 's production line may no longer be operational.

U.S. officials disclosed in 2005 an intelligence assessment that North Korea supplied Libya with uranium hexafluoride via the Khan network. (See ACT, May 2005.) But U.S. and International Atomic Energy Agency sources expressed skepticism that Pyongyang supplied the material.

Policy Decisions

Even as U.S. confidence about the suspected program has decreased, policy decisions based on those judgments have continued to reverberate.

Kelly told North Korean officials during an early October 2002 meeting that the United States had evidence that the country was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework. At the time, the United States asserted that the North Korean officials admitted to having such a program. (See ACT, December 2002.)

Under the Agreed Framework, Pyongyang froze its nuclear reactor and related facilities in exchange for the delivery of 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually and the construction of two light-water-moderated nuclear reactors. An international consortium, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), was charged with implementing these components of the agreement.

Although North Korea indicated it wanted to negotiate, the United States persuaded KEDO's executive board to suspend the heavy fuel oil deliveries.

Pyongyang subsequently ejected international inspectors charged with monitoring the freeze, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel to obtain plutonium. (See ACT, November 2006.)

The belief that North Korea may have constructed an enrichment plant also apparently influenced at least some Bush administration policy decisions. A former State Department official said in a March 21 interview that some U.S. officials were “intent on making policy” based on the worst-case assumption that Pyongyang had an enrichment facility. For example, some State Department officials forcefully advocated an extremely intrusive verification scheme that would allow the United States to search for a possible North Korean enrichment facility. Several former U.S. officials have told Arms Control Today that such a plan would have been unacceptable to Pyongyang .

Former State Department Korea director David Straub, however, argued in a March 25 interview that some Bush administration officials were “intent on making policy toward North Korea based on worst-case scenarios about everything,” regardless of the enrichment issue. The entire department supported a “very intrusive inspection system, although some even more so,” he added.

A working group established by the six-party February agreement is tasked with devising a suitable scheme to verify that North Korea has complied with all of its denuclearization commitments.

Security Council Broadens Iran Sanctions

Paul Kerr

Responding to Iran 's continuing failure to comply with demands to halt key parts of its nuclear program, the UN Security Council March 24 unanimously adopted new restrictions on Tehran and expanded the scope of existing ones. The resolution also set the stage for additional sanctions if Iran continues to defy UN resolutions.

Resolution 1747 “reaffirms that Iran shall without further delay take the steps required” by a resolution that the council adopted in December, Resolution 1737. Those requirements include a demand that Iran suspend all activities related to its gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

Iran claims that it intends to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But the program has elicited concern because uranium enrichment can produce fissile material for nuclear weapons as well as fuel for nuclear energy production.

The new resolution also requests that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei submit a report within 60 days to the Security Council and to the IAEA Board of Governors regarding Iran 's compliance. A failure by Iran to comply could result in additional sanctions.

Tehran has shown no indication that it intends to suspend its enrichment program. Rather, Iran has said that it will scale back its cooperation with the IAEA.

Germany and the five permanent Security Council members— China , France , Russia , the United Kingdom , and the United States —decided in February to draft the new resolution. Their decision followed a report from ElBaradei that said Iran had not complied with Resolution 1737. (See ACT, March 2007.) That resolution imposed sanctions on Tehran , limiting its ability to obtain materials that could aid its nuclear and missile programs. It also warned that the council would adopt “further appropriate” nonmilitary measures if Iran did not comply with its demands.

Resolution 1747 is the council's third regarding Iran 's nuclear program. The first was Resolution 1696, which the council adopted in July 2006. That resolution followed a June 2006 offer of incentives from Germany and the permanent council members intended to encourage Iran to end its uranium-enrichment program. Although Tehran indicated in an August response to the proposal that it wished to negotiate a solution to resolve international concerns about the program, Iran did not agree to suspend it. (See ACT, September 2006.)

On March 8, the IAEA Board of Governors took action to follow through on steps outlined in Resolution 1737 by suspending 22 technical assistance projects with Iran . A provision in that resolution states that the agency should limit its technical cooperation with Tehran to “humanitarian purposes.” An exception is made, however, to particular projects directly related to light-water nuclear reactors. ElBaradei described the relevant projects in an early February report.

The Details

An initial draft of Resolution 1747 by France , Germany , and the United Kingdom was revised, partially to reflect the wishes of Russia and China. For example, two European diplomats told Arms Control Today March 27 that the original draft included outright bans both on the travel of relevant Iranian officials and on arms exports to Iran . The final resolution contains weaker versions of these restrictions.

Nonpermanent members of the Security Council also weighed in after the permanent members had achieved consensus. Qatar, Indonesia, and South Africa offered amendments, but only slight modifications were incorporated into the final resolution. For example, it refers to a 2006 IAEA board resolution that stated that “a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to…realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.”

The resolution reiterates Resolution 1737's provision that if Iran suspends its enrichment-related activities, the council “shall 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.”

A March 24 joint statement from Germany and the five permanent council members articulated similar conditions and voiced continued support for the June 2006 offer.

Resolution 1747 also states that the council will adopt “further appropriate” nonmilitary measures if Iran does not comply.


Resolution 1747 does not require any additional actions from Tehran . But it imposes some new restrictions and expands the scope of the sanctions described in the previous resolution. For example, the resolution newly designates 28 Iranian officials and entities as subject to travel and financial restrictions described in Resolution 1737.

Additionally, Resolution 1747 strengthens a previous provision requesting governments “to exercise vigilance regarding the entry into or transit through their territories” of certain Iranian officials. The new resolution says that governments should also exercise “restraint” in admitting such officials. A European diplomat told Arms Control Today March 27 that the idea is for governments to refuse designated officials permission to travel unless there is good reason to do otherwise.

The resolution imposes new restrictions on Tehran , particularly in the area of weapons transfers. For example, it “decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly…any arms or related materiel.” Similarly, the resolution calls on other countries to “exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale or transfer” of certain weapons to Iran .

Additionally, the resolution calls on governments and international financial institutions to refrain from “enter[ing] into new commitments for grants, financial assistance and concessional loans” to the Iranian government, “except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.” However, neither this requirement nor the provision regarding arms exports to Iran is legally binding.

All governments are to report on their implementation of the sanctions to a committee established by Resolution 1737.

Expanded Focus?

Although the previous resolution targeted Iran 's nuclear and missile programs, another European diplomat acknowledged that Resolution 1747 brings more “political” pressure on Tehran . However, the official emphasized that “all we want is for Iran to end its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”

Asked during a March 20 press briefing about the relationship between a ban on Iranian arms exports and Tehran's nuclear program, U.S. Acting Permanent Representative to the UN Alejandro Wolff said that Iran's military “derives revenues from its military exports” and implied that the military is involved in the country's nuclear programs. The first European diplomat agreed that their is “overlap” between Iran 's military and nuclear programs.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, however, indicated during a March 24 call with reporters that the arms export ban is part of a broader effort to “block and contain Iranian power [in] the Middle East,” arguing that Tehran's arms exports to groups that the United States considers to be terrorist organizations are part of a strategy to exert influence in the region.

Iran Reacts

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said after the resolution's adoption that suspension is “neither an option nor a solution” but reiterated that Iran is willing to negotiate about its nuclear program without suspending it.

Tehran announced the next day that it would cut back its cooperation with the IAEA. Government spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Elham said Iran would stop complying with certain subsidiary modifications to its IAEA safeguards agreement, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported March 26. Iran agreed to the modifications in February 2003. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Those modifications require Tehran to provide design information for new nuclear facilities as soon as it authorizes construction. Previously, Iran was required to provide design information for new facilities six months before introducing nuclear material.

Subsidiary arrangements specify in detail how the procedures contained in a country's IAEA safeguards agreement should be implemented. Such agreements, which are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), allow the agency to monitor NPT states-parties' declared civilian nuclear activities.

IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming told Arms Control Today March 28 that the agency had not yet received any official communication from Iran on the matter.

Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, continued efforts to persuade Iran to negotiate. According to Reuters, Solana spoke March 26 by phone with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran 's Supreme National Security Council and Iran 's lead nuclear negotiator. Solana's spokesperson, Cristina Gallach, said that “there was no discussion of substance” but added that the two had agreed to speak again soon.

UN Security Council Resolution 1747 on Iran

The UN Security Council March 24 unanimously adopted Resolution 1747 after Iran failed to take several steps called for in past resolutions, including suspending activities related to its uranium-enrichment program. The new resolution widens the scope of the sanctions imposed on Iran in Security Council Resolution 1737. Adopted in December 2006, that resolution freezes the assets and restricts the travel of individuals engaged in the country's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

Resolution 1747 states that “a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to global non-proliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.” The statement was the product of a compromise designed to ease the concerns of developing and Arab states.

Resolution 1747 was adopted under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which pertains to nonmilitary sanctions. Under this article, the Security Council “may decide what measures not invoking the use of armed force” are needed “to maintain or restore international peace and security.” In particular, the resolution:

• Reaffirms that Iran must suspend all of its activities related to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, including construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water. The suspension of all of these activities must be verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

• Reaffirms that Iran shall provide such access and cooperation as the IAEA requests to be able to verify the suspension and to resolve all outstanding issues, as identified in past IAEA reports. It also calls on Iran to ratify promptly its version of the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, which substantially expands the agency's ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities or activities.

• Calls on all states also to exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals who are engaged in, directly associated with, or providing support for Iran 's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear-weapon delivery systems. The resolution decides that all states shall notify a Security Council committee established by Resolution 1696 of the movement of additional Iranian officials designated in an annex to the new resolution.

• Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell, or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related material and that all states shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.

• Calls on all states to exercise vigilance and restraint in supplying Iran with battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles, or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the UN Register on Conventional Arms. It urges similar restraint in providing Iran with any related technical or financial assistance.

• Calls on all states and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans to Iran , except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.

• Calls on all states to report to the enforcement committee within 60 days on steps they have taken to implement the sanctions.

• Stresses that diplomatic engagement by Iran will be to its benefit. It reminds Iran that a June offer of incentives from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany to Tehran remains on the table.

• Requests within 60 days a report from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on whether Iran has complied with the resolution.

• Affirms that the council will suspend the implementation of sanctions if the IAEA has verified that Iran has suspended the relevant nuclear activities.

• Affirms that the council will lift sanctions if Iran complies with previous Security Council resolutions and meets the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors.

• Affirms that if Iran does not comply with the resolution, the council will adopt further nonmilitary sanctions.

Avoiding a Space Arms Race

By Daryl G. Kimball

Forty years ago this month, the Senate approved the Outer Space Treaty, which bars signatory states from placing into orbit any objects carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Although it has helped protect space for peaceful uses by all countries, the treaty has not closed off all threats to the safety of military and civilian space assets and the pursuit of other types of space-based weapons.

For instance, some countries have developed offensive weapons capabilities that can shoot down satellites in orbit using ground-based ballistic missiles. The United States is now contemplating “defensive,” space-based, kinetic-energy missile interceptors. The time has come once again for states to engage in dialogue on space security and avert a new and dangerous arms competition in the heavens.

As if to highlight the problem, China recently used a projectile carried into space by a ballistic missile to shatter one of its weather satellites orbiting about 850 kilometers above the Earth into thousands of fragments. The highly irresponsible experiment—the first of its kind since U.S. and Soviet anti-satellite testing in the 1980s—reaffirms the vulnerability of surveillance and communications satellites to attack.

At the same time, the Bush administration's fiscal year 2008 budget request includes $10 million for initial work toward a space-based missile interceptor test bed. According to the Pentagon budget documents, testing of a handful of kinetic missile interceptors might begin by 2012. Once proven, the United States could significantly expand the number of orbiting interceptors providing a thin, “multi-shot” defense against intercontinental missiles.

Russia and China worry that U.S. ground-based missile defenses, combined with possible space-based weapons systems, could threaten their offensive nuclear deterrent forces and early-warning satellites. Today, Russia has an arsenal of approximately 800 long-range, nuclear-armed missiles, which will likely shrink significantly in coming years. China deploys approximately two dozen such weapons.

For some defense planners, the Chinese satellite shoot-down underscores the need, as stated in the official 2006 U.S. space policy, “to promote and protect U.S. security and space assets.” As Air Force Maj. Gen. William Shelton said recently to Inside the Pentagon, “As the capability evolves on the part of the people [who] would want to do us harm in space, you've got to stay ahead of them.” But because the United States may not be able to stay ahead technologically and cannot always protect its satellites, it would benefit from agreements that limit the military space capabilities of all countries.

Unfortunately, international discussions that might produce new understandings on maintaining the peaceful use of space have been stymied until, perhaps, now. For years, China and Russia have called for talks at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) on “prevention of an arms race in outer space.” Until very recently, the Bush administration had been opposed to even discussions on space weapons, favoring negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), which would halt production of nuclear material for bombs.

But on March 23, the president of the CD presented states with a package that would allow for nonbinding discussions on space weapons issues, as well as long-overdue negotiations on an FMCT. The proposal has the support of a wide majority of countries, including the United States .

Leaders in Washington , Beijing , Moscow , and elsewhere should seize the opportunity for cooperative solutions. First, member states at the CD should explore options for limiting the testing or use of ground-, sea-, air-, or space-based weapons, including lasers and projectiles, against satellites or other space-based objects, as well as for legally binding standards for the mitigation of space debris.

A formal agreement through the CD, which works by consensus, would be difficult to achieve. Congress could help improve prospects by denying proposed funding for space-based missile interceptors. These are not critical to U.S. missile defense needs and could prompt Russia and China to accelerate work on less-costly countermeasures and retain more of their offensive nuclear-armed missiles.

If talks at the CD do not begin or become deadlocked, the nearly 100 signatory states of the Outer Space Treaty could seek to formally clarify that the treaty was also meant to ban non-nuclear Earth-orbiting weapons designed to strike satellites or missiles—weapons that would undermine space security for all. The treaty clearly allows states-parties to establish interpretations of the original treaty to take into account developments not anticipated in 1967.

As an interim step, like-minded states might also establish a less formal “code of conduct” for space security, whether or not all governments choose to participate. The goal would be to establish stronger norms against dangerous activities in space, including flight tests that simulate hostile attacks against satellites and the deployment of anti-satellite and space weapons.

It is foolhardy to deny that an offensive-defensive space arms competition is in the offing and could have unwanted consequences. The international community stands at a critical space-security crossroads that requires responsible and visionary global leadership.

Forty years ago this month, the Senate approved the Outer Space Treaty, which bars signatory states from placing into orbit any objects carrying nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Although it has helped protect space for peaceful uses by all countries, the treaty has not closed off all threats to the safety of military and civilian space assets and the pursuit of other types of space-based weapons.

For instance, some countries have developed offensive weapons capabilities that can shoot down satellites in orbit using ground-based ballistic missiles. The United States is now contemplating “defensive,” space-based, kinetic-energy missile interceptors. The time has come once again for states to engage in dialogue on space security and avert a new and dangerous arms competition in the heavens. (Continue)

Troubled Disposition: Next Steps in Dealing With Excess Plutonium

Matthew Bunn

What should the United States and Russia do with the tons of plutonium they no longer need for nuclear weapons? The two countries have been struggling to answer this question since the end of the Cold War. Unfortunately, however, despite the signature in 2000 of the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), projected schedules for getting rid of these dangerous stockpiles have slipped by more than seven years, and the estimated costs of the effort have increased dramatically. A pitched battle over the future of plutonium disposition is now being waged in Congress.

Disposition of excess plutonium can still offer security benefits worth its mounting costs, but only if disposition is ultimately applied to far larger stocks of plutonium than committed so far, as part of a broader pursuit of deep and irreversible nuclear arms reductions, and if stringent standards of security are maintained throughout. Whether it will make more sense to use the bulk of the excess plutonium as reactor fuel or immobilize it for disposal with high-level wastes depends in part on the answers to questions of cost, practicality, and Russian attitudes that should be answered as quickly as possible.

Massive Stockpiles

The United States and Russia still possess massive stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) built up over decades of Cold War arms racing. Today, the United States has a stockpile of about 92 metric tons of plutonium separated from spent fuel. The United States has declared that 45 tons of that material is excess to its military needs, leaving 47 tons in reserve, enough to support a stockpile of some 10,000 warheads.

Russia is thought to have a stockpile of some 145 tons of separated weapons-grade plutonium, although the uncertainty in that estimate is about 25 tons, along with some 40 tons of civilian separated plutonium, which also is weapons usable. Russia has declared that “up to” 50 tons of its weapons-grade plutonium is excess to its military needs, but the only plutonium it has definitely committed to get rid of is the 34 tons covered by the PMDA. This represents one-quarter of Russia 's estimated stock of weapons-grade plutonium and one-fifth of its total stock of separated plutonium, leaving enough remaining for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russian stockpiles of HEU are even larger.[1]

Why Disposition?

Because these huge stockpiles could readily be turned back into nuclear weapons, eliminating them would mark a key step toward deeper and less-reversible nuclear arms reductions. Such reductions, in turn, could strengthen international political support for measures to repair the global nonproliferation regime.

But plutonium disposition will not achieve this security objective unless the United States and Russia are pursuing deeper and irreversible arms reductions. Disposition must also be applied to most of the total stockpiles on each side so that the remainder is only enough to support low, agree-on numbers of nuclear weapons. If Russia and the United States agreed to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles to 1,000 total warheads, for example, they would only require four to five tons each of military plutonium. That would almost triple the amount of weapons-grade plutonium viewed as excess in Russia and nearly double the amount of excess material in the United States .

In principle, disposition of these large stocks—physically transforming them into forms that would be difficult and costly to recover for use in nuclear weapons—could also decrease the risk that some portion of them could be stolen and fall into the hands of terrorists or proliferating states. The British Royal Society warned in 1998 that even in an advanced industrial state such as the United Kingdom , the possibility that plutonium stocks might be “accessed for illicit weapons production is of extreme concern.”[2] This risk, however, is not closely related to the total size of the nuclear material stockpiles, as a building containing one ton of weapons-usable nuclear material poses effectively the same theft risk as a building containing ten tons of such material. If the goal is to reduce the risk of nuclear theft, the first priority should be to remove the nuclear material entirely from as many small, vulnerable facilities as possible and then to beef up security at the remainder.

A disposition program that removed the material from a substantial number of potentially vulnerable buildings could reduce the risk of nuclear theft, but a program that only removed one-quarter of Russia 's excess plutonium stock and only removed some of the plutonium at each location would do little to reduce the risk of nuclear theft and terrorism.

Indeed, unless very high standards of security and accounting are maintained throughout the disposition process, removing this material from secure stores, processing it, and transporting it from place to place could increase rather than decrease theft risks. For this reason, and because getting plutonium or HEU is the most difficult part of making a nuclear bomb, a 1994 study from a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended that, to the extent practicable, HEU and separated plutonium should be as well secured and accounted for as nuclear weapons themselves, the so-called “stored weapons standard.”[3]

Fissile material disposition may also serve a “good housekeeping” purpose, avoiding the costs and hazards of storing this material indefinitely. If that is the principal purpose, however, it is important to focus the effort on those stocks that are in fact expensive and dangerous to store. Ironically, these tend to be the heavily contaminated stockpiles that are less likely to be used for nuclear weapons.

Plans, Delays, Costs, and Obstacles

When the PMDA was drafted, both sides laid out tentative plans for their disposition efforts. Russia planned to use all of the 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium covered by the agreement as uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in operating nuclear reactors—a few tons in the BN-600 fast-neutron reactor at Beloyarsk and the rest in Russia's VVER-1000 light-water reactors (LWRs).[4]

The United States planned to use 25.6 tons of uncontaminated plutonium as MOX fuel in LWRs and immobilize the other 8.4 tons covered by the agreement, along with nearly eight tons of other material not covered by the agreement. The immobilization approach on which the Department of Energy has focused, known as “can-in-canister,” involves making small cans of either glass or ceramic mixed with plutonium. These cans are then arranged inside huge metal canisters. Molten glass containing intensely radioactive high-level waste from ongoing waste disposal programs would then be poured into these canisters. (The process of mixing plutonium or high-level waste with glass is known as “vitrification.”) Hence, as with plutonium in spent fuel (the result of the MOX approach), the plutonium ends up as a small percentage of the total weight of a large, intensely radioactive object slated for storage and eventual disposal in a geologic repository.

Both sides projected that they would have full-scale MOX plants operational in 2007; the U.S. immobilization plant was to be built and operating a year later. Cost estimates around the time of the agreement suggested that disposition of the Russian material covered by the agreement would cost $1.8 billion ($2.1 billion in 2007 dollars), after subtracting $350 million for the expected value of the fuel produced.[5] The U.S. disposition program, which covered more material than just the 34 tons covered by the agreement, was expected to cost $4.1 billion ($4.8 billion in 2007 dollars), after similarly subtracting $565 million for the expected value of the MOX fuel to be produced.[6]

Today, the projected costs of these efforts are far higher and the expected schedules are much slower. The latest estimates suggest that a full-scale MOX plant will not start operations in Russia until 2018 and that the Russian program will have a total cost of $4.1 billion, from which the value of the MOX fuel produced might subtract $500 million or so, although this was not estimated in the most recent study.[7]

Although the original agreement called for each side to start off at a rate of two tons of plutonium a year and seek to move to four tons a year, the four-ton objective appears to have been largely abandoned, and the planned Russian program now stretches to 2040. Similarly, the Energy Department does not expect its MOX plant to open until 2016, although it hopes that an immobilization plant might open as soon as 2012. The capital and operating costs for disposition of U.S. excess plutonium using these facilities are now estimated at more than $10 billion in 2006 dollars, more than twice the earlier estimate.[8]

The Energy Department argues that the earlier cost estimates were unrealistic and did not adequately include contingencies to hedge against cost overruns; payment for the costs of providing site services such as water, electricity, and fire protection; and the like. Nevertheless, the capital and operating costs projected for both the U.S. and Russian MOX plants are far higher than the costs for comparable European plants that have already been built and operated, and the reasons for that difference have not been publicly explained. One part of the answer is that the Office of Management and Budget has constrained the effort to flat annual funding, stretching out construction and driving up costs.

A wide range of other obstacles have contributed to these slowing schedules and escalating costs. After delays resulting from a year-long Bush administration policy review, the Bush team delayed matters further by demanding that Russia accept liability provisions that would make Russia liable even for damage caused by intentional sabotage by U.S. personnel, a provision Russian negotiators predictably rejected. Because construction of the U.S. and Russian MOX plants had been linked, this dispute resulted in years of delay in both countries. A liability protocol for plutonium disposition, in which the Bush administration effectively abandoned its earlier demands, was finally signed in September 2006, ironically not long after the linkage between U.S. and Russian construction was dropped.

Most U.S. officials believe that the U.S. excess plutonium stockpile poses few security issues and see getting rid of Russia 's excess plutonium stockpile as the main reason to bother with getting rid of the U.S. excess stockpile. The other major driver for the U.S. disposition effort is South Carolina , which would only allow the Energy Department to consolidate many of its plutonium stockpiles at Savannah River if there was a clear plan to do something with these stocks that would provide jobs and ultimately take them back out of the state. Congress has passed legislation that requires the Energy Department to pay substantial fines to the state if it does not meet plutonium disposition deadlines.

Disposition of Russia 's excess plutonium has been problematic, as the Russian government does not see excess plutonium stockpiles as a major security problem. Russia 's view has long been that its plutonium stockpiles should be used to produce energy as part of its long-term plan for a closed nuclear fuel cycle, and if the international community wants Russia to begin using this plutonium as fuel sooner than would otherwise be economic, the international community should pay the costs of doing so. In response, rather than agreeing to pay the full cost of Russian plutonium disposition itself, the United States has sought to put together a multilateral financing plan. So far, the total pledges only come to about $850 million, including $400 million from the United States , far less than needed to finance Russia 's plutonium disposition.

Some U.S. officials hope that, with earlier disputes resolved, further pledges will be forthcoming and that Russia may ultimately agree to pay to run the disposition facilities if the international community pays to build them, cutting the needed pledges roughly in half. Indeed, U.S. negotiators report that Russian negotiators in recent months have begun to acknowledge that Russia might pay a significant part of the costs of options that support Russia 's plans for nuclear energy growth. Nevertheless, for now, it appears more likely than not that Russian plutonium disposition will only move forward if the United States is prepared to make major additional investments in the effort. With Russia 's newfound oil wealth and huge planned expenditures on new reactor construction, it may be difficult to convince Congress to put in more U.S. funds.

In addition to the financing problem, the low priority Russia assigns to this problem has meant that each bureaucratic issue has taken longer to resolve. Moreover, different factions in the Russian and U.S. nuclear establishments have had very different ideas about what technical options for plutonium disposition should be pursued, leading to prolonged uncertainties over which projects would finally move forward.

Congress, observing these delays and mounting costs, has become increasingly skeptical, and congressional constraints have themselves added to delays. During 2006, these concerns came to a head when House appropriators, led by Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), then chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, attempted to terminate funding for the U.S. MOX plant, shifting the United States toward an all-immobilization strategy. Earlier this year, Hobson and other MOX opponents sought to get the MOX plant zeroed out in the continuing resolution that is funding most U.S. government operations for the remainder of fiscal year 2007, which ends September 30. Senate appropriators, by contrast, sought to keep the U.S. MOX plant going. The final resolution provided a substantial budget for the MOX effort but prohibited the secretary of energy from beginning construction until August 1. That gives opponents an opportunity to try again to kill the funding before construction begins. Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), the new chairman of the subcommittee, joined with Hobson in a February 2007 letter to the Energy Department questioning the MOX plant and demanding a wide range of data about MOX and possible alternatives, clearly signaling a bipartisan challenge to the Energy Department's current plans.


All of this raises the question of what the best disposition options would be. The NAS study recommended options that would convert the excess weapons plutonium into forms “roughly as inaccessible for weapons use as the much larger and growing quantity of plutonium in spent fuel from commercial nuclear-power reactors,” known as the “spent fuel standard.” After examining approaches ranging from shooting the plutonium into space to dissolving it in the oceans, the committee concluded that the two least problematic options were the use of plutonium as fuel in existing reactors and immobilization of the plutonium with high-level wastes. Later Energy Department studies reached the same conclusions, and I believe they remain valid today.

U.S. Plutonium Disposition

In the United States , the biggest immediate fight is between advocates of an all-immobilization approach and the Energy Department's mixed MOX-plus-immobilization plan in which 34 tons of the excess are currently slated for MOX and the rest, which is too contaminated to use as MOX, for immobilization.

Advocates of the Energy Department's MOX-focused approach make several points:

• An all-immobilization approach in the United States might lead to no disposition in Russia . Russian negotiators have long argued that immobilization is just another form of storage because the plutonium could in principle be recovered in weapons-grade form, albeit at great cost, and have objected to the idea of the United States immobilizing its plutonium while Russia uses its plutonium in reactor fuel, transforming it to reactor-grade material.

• Immobilization is not as technically mature. A variety of reactors in Europe have been using MOX fuel commercially for years, but immobilization of plutonium has never been accomplished on a large scale.

• There may not be enough high-level wastes at Savannah River with which to immobilize the plutonium. Energy Department officials have argued that the Savannah River plant could finish the high-level waste vitrification process before immobilization of all the excess plutonium could be completed. That could potentially leave the plutonium cans with no high-level waste canisters to be put into and therefore no radiation barrier to increase the difficulty of using the plutonium in weapons.

• Immobilization may not save much if the costs of disposition and of storage until disposition could be completed are taken into account. An Energy Department study prepared last year concluded that its preferred mixture of MOX and immobilization would cost $15 billion and an all-immobilization approach would cost only slightly less.[9]

• MOX fuel poses few additional security risks. The risks from transporting MOX fuel to reactors and storing it at reactors can be reduced to a low level by sufficient investment in security for this material.

Immobilization advocates, by contrast, argue that the MOX option raises serious risks that plutonium in MOX form might be stolen, because it is more difficult to protect MOX fuel in transit or in storage at civilian reactors than plutonium secured in vaults or immobilized at a major nuclear weapons complex site. They also warn that MOX fuel carries additional safety risks; since the core of a plutonium-fueled reactor contains more long-lived actinides, there might be more deaths in the event of a catastrophic radiation release. They also argue that immobilization would be cheaper and faster than MOX fuel.[10]

Although the Energy Department considered an all-immobilization option based on building a new greenfield facility, which would be expensive and time-consuming, it does not appear to have given detailed consideration to the idea of making the immobilization plant it plans to build in existing facilities at Savannah River slightly bigger and running it longer in order to handle all of the excess plutonium and not just the contaminated material. The Energy Department projects that this facility could be operational in 2012, well before the planned MOX plant, and would process roughly two tons of plutonium a year. If it could be expanded to three tons per year, which is not certain given the space constraints in the facility where it is to be built, the 45 tons of separated plutonium currently considered excess could be processed by 2027, a year before the high-level waste vitrification plant is now scheduled to shut down.[11] The cost of operating this plant for a longer period and making it slightly larger would likely be substantially less than the costs of building and operating the MOX plant, currently estimated at more than $6 billion.

Congress should direct the Energy Department to provide an immediate assessment of the feasibility, costs, and safety and security risks of this all-immobilization option compared to the MOX-plus-immobilization option and should require an independent review of this assessment, perhaps by the NAS. The administration and Congress should also explore an all-immobilization option with Russia . Given the Russian focus on its own plutonium as an energy asset rather than a security issue, I believe there is at least a reasonable chance that a high-level U.S. approach to the Russian government combining a willingness to cooperate in developing nuclear energy (already being pursued) with a desire for Russia to accept an all-immobilization U.S. approach could be successful. It is in any case worth trying. On the other hand, Russia may be more reluctant to accept an all-immobilization U.S. approach if the two sides really were going to apply disposition to all but a small remaining stockpile of plutonium.

Disposition of Russian Excess Weapons Plutonium

In Russia , the entire nuclear establishment rejects the immobilization idea, so the main argument over technical options is over which reactors would use excess weapons plutonium as their fuel. This argument has seesawed back and forth between two camps. One group argues for using the plutonium in fast-neutron breeder reactors that create more plutonium than they consume, which can then be recycled as additional fuel—Russia's long-term nuclear-energy vision. The other group contends that fast-neutron reactors will not be commercialized for some time and it would make sense to use MOX fuel in the near term in LWRs, as has been done in Europe . The early 2006 announcement of the U.S. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, with its focus on fast-neutron reactors, which is designed to consume plutonium and other actinides rather than breeding more, briefly brought the fast-neutron advocates in Russia to the fore again. Russia has restarted major construction on the BN-800 fast-neutron reactor, using its own funds.

By December 2006, however, when the two sides completed a joint schedule and cost estimate for a Russian-proposed “base case” scenario, this Russian plan was back to the same one described in the PMDA, using a small amount of plutonium in the BN-600 and the bulk of it in the VVER-1000 LWRs. But the joint report explicitly held open the possibility that Russia might later switch to fast-neutron reactors or that the gas-turbine modular helium reactor (GT-MHR), being developed with funding from both sides might provide a supplement to other disposition approaches in the later phases of the project.[12]

Several key issues would have to be resolved before the United States gives its financial support to Russian fast-neutron reactors. First, as originally designed, the BN-800 is a plutonium breeder reactor, producing more weapon-grade plutonium than it consumes. Russian officials have expressed some willingness to remove some of the uranium “blankets” where the new plutonium production takes place, converting the reactor into a net plutonium burner. Moreover, under the PMDA, Russia is obligated not to reprocess irradiated fuel from plutonium disposition reactors until after disposition of the plutonium covered by the agreement is complete. What happens after the disposition program? Should the possibility that Russia might add breeder blankets preclude U.S. financing for construction of such reactors? Would Russia be willing to commit not to put on such blankets and not to process the fuel from this reactor in a way that would separate weapons-usable plutonium? In addition, the spent fuel from such a reactor would be in smaller fuel assemblies with lower radiation fields, higher plutonium concentrations, and better isotopics than if it had been used as MOX fuel in an LWR, making it potentially easier to recover for use in nuclear weapons.

By contrast, high-temperature gas reactors such as the GT-MHR, with their high-burn-up, difficult-to-reprocess fuel, do not pose similar policy issues. For them, the main issues are the cost of building such reactors and the time needed to do so. If Russia built such reactors for their nuclear energy value and they became available while there was still excess plutonium to burn, their use for that purpose should certainly be considered.

Reactors outside of Russia provide another option. Europe 's reactors licensed to burn plutonium fuel already have more civilian plutonium than they can handle. Nonetheless, there are at least a few possibilities that deserve exploration. Some German utilities, for example, might be willing to invest substantial sums in Russian plutonium disposition if, by contributing to disarmament, they could get a reprieve from government orders to shut their reactors down within a few years. In any international option, extremely stringent standards of security would have to be maintained during transportation, the point in nuclear material's life cycle when it is most vulnerable to forcible theft.

The only way Russia 's plutonium might be immobilized is if the United States (or some other donor) actually bought Russia 's plutonium and then paid for it to be immobilized. Although many Russian officials have rejected such ideas in the past, purchasing Russia's plutonium would allow Russia to realize the commercial value it sees in this plutonium immediately, and although this option would amount to paying for it twice, it might turn out to be cheaper than the surging costs of the MOX approach.[13] In any case, the United States should restart a joint plutonium-immobilization research and development program with Russia.

Plutonium Swaps

As a backup and complement to other approaches, the United States should also consider the possibility of swapping some portion of U.S. or Russian plutonium for European plutonium. Today, some 10 tons of reactor-grade civilian plutonium is already being burned as fuel for European power reactors each year. By far the fastest and cheapest approach to reducing stockpiles of excess weapons plutonium, if agreement could be reached on it, would be to substitute excess weapons plutonium for this civilian plutonium, thereby burning some 10 tons a year of excess weapons plutonium while using existing fuel fabrication facilities and contract arrangements.[14] Ten tons a year of civilian plutonium would be displaced and would build up in storage, effectively transforming a problem of excess weapon-grade plutonium in Russia and the United States under no international safeguards to a growth in the existing problem of excess reactor-grade plutonium stored in secure facilities in Europe under international safeguards.

The Way Forward

An immense amount of work and some major policy changes will be needed if this sad saga is to have a happy ending.

First, the United States and Russia should do everything in their power to ensure that all their stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials and all other such stockpiles worldwide are secure and accounted for, to standards sufficient to defeat the threats that terrorists and thieves have shown they can pose. The Energy Department should move aggressively to consolidate its plutonium and HEU in a smaller number of highly secure locations, achieving higher security at lower cost, and should work with Russia to do the same.

Next, because all plutonium disposition options will take from years to decades to implement, the United States and Russia should move rapidly to commit their excess material never to be used in weapons and open this material to international monitoring. Years ago, both countries were pursuing such an approach in a trilateral initiative with the International Atomic Energy Agency, under which they were also developing special procedures for monitoring classified material without revealing sensitive information. Neither government was enthusiastic, however, and the initiative has effectively been abandoned. Rapid U.S. and Russian action to put all of their excess plutonium and HEU under international monitoring would be a substantial step toward convincing the international community that the two countries were serious about fulfilling their arms reduction obligations, which would strengthen international support for the measures that are now needed to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

The United States should adopt a policy of seeking deep, transparent, and irreversible nuclear arms reductions. Among other things, this should include reducing stockpiles of separated plutonium and HEU to the minimum required to support whatever reduced warhead stockpiles are agreed on.

In that context, the United States should maintain both a domestic plutonium-disposition program and a program to support disposition of Russian excess plutonium and should seek to begin disposition under the PMDA. Once talks on deep nuclear arms reductions are underway, the United States should begin discussions with Russia about disposition of material far in excess of the 34 tons on each side covered in the PMDA and designed to make those reductions more difficult to reverse. Facilities and programs for disposition should be designed to be expandable to handle much more material when more is declared excess. The goal should not be getting rid of only one-quarter of Russia 's weapons-grade plutonium by 33 years from now.

There need not be an ironclad commitment to go beyond 34 tons to justify moving forward with construction of disposition facilities, but there should at least be a policy that clearly identifies going well beyond 34 tons as a goal, and discussions of going further should not be left for the indefinite future. Otherwise, there is too great a risk that political leaders in the United States , Russia , and elsewhere will put in place measures to address the 34 tons covered in the PMDA and then walk away, wrongly thinking that they have solved the plutonium problem.

The Energy Department should quickly provide Congress with an in-depth assessment of the relative merits of all-immobilization and MOX-plus-immobilization options, which should be subject to independent review. The U.S. government should then pick an option and stick with it. Whether Russia implements the same option is not important, but it is important that Russia also pick an option and move forward to implement it.

In short, the United States should adopt policies that will make it possible for plutonium disposition to make a substantial contribution to U.S. national security and then move forward with disposition of a substantial fraction of the U.S. and Russian plutonium stockpiles.

Matthew Bunn is a senior research associate in the Managing the Atom project at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Previously, he served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where, among other responsibilities, he staffed the interagency working group on plutonium disposition. He was the study director for the two-volume National Academy of Sciences study Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, published in 1994 and 1995.


1. For updated estimates of the total stockpiles and the amounts declared excess, see David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, eds., Global Fissile Material Inventories (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Science and International Security, 2004); and International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Global Fissile Material 2006: Report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials,” Program on Science and Global Security, 2006. The total U.S. declared stockpile is 99.5 tons, and the amount declared excess is 52.5 tons, but 7.5 tons of this amount is plutonium in spent fuel slated for disposal. Unclassified estimates suggest that modern nuclear weapons might contain an average of roughly four kilograms of plutonium. See David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William B. Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium, 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Solna, Sweden, Oxford, and New York: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 34, 49; and IPFM, “Global Fissile Material 2006,” p. 16. Supporting a stockpile would require some additional material that was in various stages of the warhead and material life-cycle outside of operational warheads.

2. Royal Society, Management of Separated Plutonium (London: Royal Society, 1998).

3. Committee on International Security and Arms Control , U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1994).

4. “Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Management and Disposition of Plutonium Designated as No Longer Required for Defense Purposes and Related Cooperation,” 2000. Actually, on the Russian side, the agreement will likely end up covering some 38 tons of total plutonium because it permits Russia to blend the 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium with up to four tons of reactor-grade material, in order to keep the isotopics of its weapons-grade stockpiles secret.

5. Joint U.S.-Russian Working Group on Cost Analysis and Economics in Plutonium Disposition, “Cost Estimates for the Disposition of Weapon-Grade Plutonium Withdrawn from Russia's Nuclear Military Programs,” 2001.

6. Office of Fissile Materials Disposition, U.S. Department of Energy, “Plutonium Disposition Life Cycle Costs and Cost-Related Comment Resolution Document,” DOE/MD-0013, 1999. This was already a dramatic increase from the $2.2 billion estimate (in 1996 dollars) that formed part of the basis for the Energy Department's Record of Decision on plutonium disposition in 1997.

7. Joint U.S.-Russian Working Group on Cost Analysis and Economics in Plutonium Disposition, “Analysis of Russian-Proposed Unified Scenario for Disposition of 34 Metric Tons of Weapon-Grade Plutonium,” 2006 (hereinafter “Analysis of Russian-Proposed Unified Scenario.”)

8. For the MOX schedule, see U.S. Department of Energy, “FY 2008 Congressional Budget Request: National Nuclear Security Administration,” 2007, p. 501. For the immobilization schedule, see U.S. Department of Energy, “FY 2008 Congressional Budget Request: Environmental Management,” 2007, p. 333. Officially, the start of operations is not yet determined, but all construction costs are projected as being completed in 2011. The planned 2012 start date is also confirmed in internal Energy Department documents. For the total cost estimate, see U.S. Department of Energy, “Disposition of Surplus U.S. Fissile Materials: Comparative Analysis of Alternative Approaches,” November 2006. This study estimates the costs, including storage pending disposition, for an alternative including both MOX and immobilization as $15 billion (in constant 2006 dollars) through 2050. Without storage, the costs for MOX and immobilization were just under $10 billion. These are going-forward costs, however, neglecting the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent. The total costs for these efforts, including funds already spent, would be well more than $10 billion.

9. U.S. Department of Energy, “Disposition of Surplus U.S. Fissile Materials.” An earlier version of this study indicated that the all-immobilization option would be more expensive than the MOX option. Why this changed has not been publicly explained.

10. These arguments are summed up, with a large number of references, at the Nuclear Control Institute's “Plutonium Disposal” page, available at http://www.nci.org/nci-wpu.htm. See also Edwin S. Lyman, “The Future of Immobilization Under the U.S.-Russian Plutonium Disposition Agreement,” in Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management (Indian Wells, California, July 15-19, 2001); and Allison Macfarlane and Adam Bernstein, “Canning Plutonium: Cheaper and Faster,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 1999, pp. 66-69.

11. The several-year delay in vitrifying high-level waste at Savannah River , now not scheduled to be completed until 2028, leaves more time and more waste canisters available for immobilizing plutonium once an immobilization facility comes on-line. Moreover, the canisters produced so far at Savannah River contain only a small fraction of the radioactivity per canister that would be necessary to vitrify all the waste in the Savannah River tanks in the planned number of canisters, suggesting that more canisters will have to be made over a longer time, again offering more opportunities for plutonium immobilization. If the U.S. government declared more plutonium excess in the future, as it should, it is at least possible that canisters containing immobilized plutonium but without high-level waste could be shipped from Savannah River to Hanford , where vitrification of the high-level waste has not yet begun and will last longer. Whether sufficient waste canisters would likely be available for this option is one key factor that Congress should ask the Energy Department to address in detail and which should be reviewed independently.

12. “Analysis of Russian-Proposed Unified Scenario.”

13. In the ongoing HEU Purchase agreement, for example, in which Russia is taking HEU from dismantled nuclear warheads and blending it to low-enriched uranium, which the United States purchases for use in commercial reactors, the total price the United States would pay was originally set at about $12 billion for 500 tons of HEU. If the United States or another purchaser offered the same price per ton for excess weapons plutonium, which would be exceedingly generous because plutonium is so expensive to make into fuel that it actually is a net liability at present, 50 tons of excess plutonium would cost $1.2 billion.

14. For an outline of this approach, see Thomas L. Neff, “Perspectives on Actions Necessary to Move the Plutonium Disposition Program Forward,” paper presented at “International Policy Forum: Management and Disposition of Nuclear Weapons Materials,” Bethesda, Maryland, March 23-26, 1998. If appropriately presented and packaged with reasonable incentives for all concerned, this approach could be designed so that it would not interfere with European fuel-cycle choices, but indeed would effectively lock in use of plutonium fuel for a decade or more as part of a nuclear arms reduction initiative.

GAO Calls for Security Prioritization Changes

Scarlet Kim

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO, which conducts studies for Congress, reviewed the Energy Department's International Radiological Threat Reduction Program at the request of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). Established in 2002 following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the program aims to implement security upgrades at foreign sites with radioactive materials and recover lost or abandoned high-risk radioactive sources.

Radioactive sources are devices that use radioactive materials for myriad purposes, including medical and industrial applications. Terrorists potentially could acquire these materials, such as cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90, to produce a radiological dispersion device, or a “dirty bomb,” which uses conventional explosives to spread radiation. Dirty bombs are not as lethal or destructive as nuclear weapons, but they are commonly referred to as weapons of mass disruption because their detonation could cause mass fear and panic.

The March 15 GAO report recommended that the Energy Department prioritize sites by concentrating efforts on those with the greatest amount of radioactive materials. Despite the Energy Department's success at improving the security of hundreds of sites in more than 40 countries, the report found that “many of the most dangerous sources remain unsecured, particularly in Russia .” Of particular concern are more than 700 Russian operational or abandoned radioisotope generators, which are electrical generators powered by radioactive decay, and 16 out of 20 waste storage sites in Russia and Ukraine.

The GAO asserts the program has focused a disproportionate amount of attention on securing material at medical facilities, which contain much smaller quantities of radioactive sources. One explanation is that upgrading the security at medical facility, compared with securing radioisotope generators, entails less scope and cost. As of September 2006, almost 70 percent of all sites secured were hospitals or oncology clinics.

In visits to Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Georgia, the GAO also discovered that some sites were not properly maintaining earlier security enhancements. The report noted the absence of a plan to sustain such security upgrades.

As of January 2007, the Energy Department has spent $120 million on the program, but future funding is uncertain. According to a department official interviewed by the GAO, since 2003 the agency has steadily decreased funding on program implementation. It intends to redirect future funds to projects such as securing plutonium and highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The Department of Energy should better prioritize which foreign sites with radioactive materials should be protected against terrorist theft, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). (Continue)

New U.S. Warhead Design Selected

Wade Boese

After months of delay, U.S. officials announced recently that a team led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory won the first design competition in roughly two decades for a new nuclear warhead. The news received a tepid greeting from U.S. lawmakers, who will need to fund the design if it is ever to be built.

The competition's origins date back to 2004 when Congress allocated $9 million to explore making existing nuclear warheads last longer without diminishing their explosive power. This Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program soon morphed into a more ambitious effort to produce new warheads that ostensibly would be safer, more reliable, and easier to maintain than the nine types populating the current stockpile of approximately 10,000 nuclear warheads. In early 2006, Livermore in California and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico submitted competing designs for the inaugural RRW warhead.

The Department of Energy's semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which runs the nuclear weapons complex, recently reported to Congress that existing warheads are safe and reliable. The agency, however, also says that small maintenance changes made to the explosive devices might someday corrupt them. Almost all the warheads are more than 20 years old, but recent studies found that the plutonium core of the warheads will last at least 85 years without degrading performance. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

Thomas D'Agostino, the acting administrator of the NNSA, hailed the rival RRW designs March 2 as “brilliant.” But D'Agostino said agency experts and Pentagon officials had greater confidence that the Livermore design could be assessed to work without resorting to underground nuclear testing, which the United States suspended in 1992.

Washington subsequently signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, outlawing nuclear testing, in 1996, although the Senate three years later rejected the accord's ratification. Still, Congress has stipulated that the RRW program should avoid a return to nuclear testing.

Officials described the Livermore design as more conservative and closely linked to concepts validated by past testing than the more novel Los Alamos alternative. Teams from the Sandia National Laboratories contributed to both designs.

A winning design had been expected to be unveiled last November, but the decision slipped as officials debated the proposals. Earlier this year, media reports said that a hybrid design had emerged as the front-runner.

Although the NNSA ultimately selected the Livermore design, the agency described the Los Alamos warhead as “highly innovative.” This description reportedly pertained to mechanisms to render a warhead useless if it fell into the wrong hands. The NNSA said the Los Alamos features would be developed in parallel with and possibly incorporated into the Livermore project.

Working with the other laboratories and the U.S. Navy, Livermore will now seek to perfect its design as a future replacement for the W76 warhead that arms the Navy's 14-boat ballistic missile submarine fleet. If all proceeds accordingly, the NNSA hopes to field the first replacement warhead by 2012.

Longer-term plans call for possibly swapping all current warhead types for RRW models, a process that could take 30 years or more. The Livermore design currently is slated to replace W76 warheads only, and the NNSA stated in its budget documents earlier this year that it wanted to study “additional RRW options.”

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), whose state is home to Los Alamos , would like that process started sooner than later. “One system is not equivalent to a transformation and we need to move on a second [RRW] design competition,” Domenici said in a March 2 press statement.

Other lawmakers appear less eager to plunge ahead. Indeed, some are questioning the entire RRW approach.

Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), who chairs the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which takes the lead on funding for the NNSA, blasted the RRW announcement. Panning the program as having a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along character,” Visclosky said there appeared to be “little thought” on why new nuclear warheads are needed and asserted that the agency should be “reconfiguring the old Cold War complex and dismantling obsolete warheads.”

NNSA officials contend that the RRW program is essential to both of Visclosky's priorities. The agency envisions that the RRW effort will make warhead production, maintenance, and storage easier, enabling the agency by 2030 to significantly streamline the entire cradle-to-grave process as well as the infrastructure that supports it. With shorter bomb-production timelines, the United States , according to the NNSA, would be able to safely scrap thousands of stored warheads knowing that more could be produced quickly on an as-needed basis.

But the whole notion strikes Visclosky and Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), the subcommittee's ranking member and former chair, as dubious. Speaking at a March 6 hearing, Hobson said that the agency was “focusing too much on [the RRW program] and not paying enough attention to dismantlement and consolidation of the weapons complex.”

Visclosky warned in his March 2 statement that RRW funding could be eliminated. In its latest annual budget request to Congress submitted Feb. 5, the Bush administration requested nearly $119 million for the program. (See ACT, March 2007.)

In a joint statement March 2, Reps. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) and Terry Everett (R-Ala.) also indicated the RRW program faces scrutiny. “Today's announcement is only an early step in what will be a long evaluation process,” they stated.

Tauscher, chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, noted at a March 8 hearing that Congress had yet to authorize actual engineering work on the RRW design. She further implied that phase would not be reached if the design were to have capabilities different from existing warheads, declaring “the last time” the administration proposed a new nuclear weapon, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, “I helped kill it.” (See ACT, December 2005. )

Although the RRW program is only supposed to replicate existing warhead capabilities, the NNSA also maintains that the related overhaul of the weapons complex has as one objective the ability to produce weapons with new military capabilities. In an October 2006 report, the agency stated that a revamped complex would “improve the capability to design, develop, certify, and complete production of new or adapted warheads in the event of new military requirements.”

Europeans Split Over U.S. Missile Defense Plans

Oliver Meier

European countries are divided over a recent U.S. offer to begin negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic on basing components of a U.S. anti-missile system on their territories. Washington has proposed building a radar for the system in the Brdy district in the Czech Republic and a site for 10 missile interceptors near Koszalin , Poland , to counter a potential threat from longer-range Iranian missiles aimed at the U.S. East Coast and parts of Europe . The proposal has stirred strong opposition from Russia . (See ACT, March 2007. )

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek stated during a visit to Poland that “both countries will probably answer in the affirmative,” the British newspaper The Independent reported Feb. 20. Subsequently, Prague officially announced that it would begin talks. Some European governments and domestic critics, however, have attacked Warsaw and Prague for this initial positive reaction. NATO appears likely to discuss the issue at upcoming ministerial meetings.

Different Zones of Security

Some European leaders are concerned that the U.S. system would not be able to protect some EU and NATO members against such a threat because they are too close to Iran . According to a March 11 Financial Times report, a recent NATO study found that some southeastern European states would not be covered by the system, which attempts to intercept missiles as they travel through space. Stefan Fuele, Czech ambassador to NATO, told Agence France -Press March 14 that Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey could not be protected because of the short distance between Southeast Europe and Iran. Lt. General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, during a March 15 briefing in Berlin confirmed that midcourse interceptors based in Poland would not be able to destroy missiles launched from Iran and aimed at parts of Southeast Europe . Obering stated that this region would have to be protected by separate systems that destroy incoming warheads in the terminal phases of their flight.

Many European governments are not willing to accept such different zones of security. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a March 12 monthly video briefing, published on NATO's website, stated that although NATO will not “interfere” in bilateral discussions between the United States and the Czech Republic and Poland, he had the intention “to ensure that there are no ‘A-grade' and ‘B-grade' allies when it comes to security.”

The Role of NATO and the EU

Some European leaders also are concerned about NATO and the European Union being sidelined. Germany is the most forceful advocate for making the U.S. proposal a topic within NATO. Chancellor Angela Merkel in a March 13 interview with German TV station ZDF said that “ Germany prefers a solution within NATO and an open dialogue with Russia ” about U.S. missile defense plans. Alluding to a mandate given at the 2002 Prague NATO summit to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to alliance territory “consistent with the indivisibility of allied security,” Merkel argued that NATO missile defense should be “seen as a task for the alliance collectively.”

Currently, NATO is coordinating national efforts related only to tactical ballistic missile defense programs. In September 2006, NATO launched the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Program to protect troops in the field against short- and medium-range missiles. The program aims to create the infrastructure and command and control capabilities to permit various U.S. and European systems to work together. It is scheduled to have an initial operational capability by 2010 and to be fully operational by 2016. (See ACT , June 2005. )

A secret, 10,000-page feasibility study prepared for NATO's November 2006 summit in Riga, Latvia outlined options intended to protect NATO member states' territory and population centers against longer-range strategic missile threats. But the alliance's 26 member states could not agree to implement any of the options contained in the study. Instead, they mandated a follow-on study to assess the political and military implications of missile defense for the alliance.

One crucial question is whether the U.S. anti-ballistic missile defenses could be integrated into NATO, as German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung suggested March 2. Ted Whiteside, head of NATO's Weapons of Mass Destruction Center, told ISN Security Watch March 21 that such integration of command and control structures is conceivable and that NATO is already using an integrated command system for theater missile defense (TMD), applying predefined rules of engagement. “TMD should be the model for NATO's acquisition of a missile defense capability over the next few years,” Whiteside argued.

Washington is willing to brief allies and Russia on its plans but refuses to give NATO a say on its intentions for expanding ballistic missile defense to Europe . The United States sees its ballistic missile defense as a national program and wants to establish bases in Poland and the Czech Republic on the basis of bilateral agreements. Obering, in the March 15 briefing, argued that the European components of the missile defense system could complement current NATO anti-missile efforts. He said that U.S. missile defense components could become a national contribution toward an alliance-wide defense system against long-range missile threats if and when NATO decides to establish such a system. Obering was skeptical whether NATO members would be willing to pay the costs for such a system. Costs for the construction of the two bases, which would be assumed by Washington , are estimated to be at least at $3.5 billion. The NATO study is said to have estimated costs for a NATO-wide defense system, depending on coverage and technology, at $10 billion to $20 billion.

Nevertheless, it seems almost certain that NATO cannot avoid the issue. De Hoop Scheffer in his video message promised that U.S. missile defense plans would be discussed at NATO ministerial meetings later in the year, as well as at the April 26-27 informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo . Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen told the newspaper Aftenposten on Feb. 22 that Norway 's basic position in the upcoming consultations would be “to oppose the type of missile defense the United States is planning.” Norway is “very skeptical,” Erichsen said, because it fears new arms races.

Some, like Luxembourg 's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, would prefer to see the issue discussed within the EU, with the goal of developing a unified European position. “We must not again be caught between America and Russia ,” Asselborn warned March 12 in the German magazine Der Spiegel .

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a March 18 commentary to the German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung (FASZ) stated that “neither NATO nor the EU must be divided over a necessary open debate.” Steinmeier alluded to European divisions over the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and argued, “There is no ‘old' and ‘new' Europe , and no one should try to sow such seeds of discord for short-term gains.”

So far, there appears to be little willingness in Brussels to engage in discussions on a missile defense shield. “We are not as Europeans concerned to establish a mechanism of that type,” Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, told the Associated Press March 2. Even though the EU in December 2003 adopted a joint strategy that aimed for greater coherence among member states on security issues, Solana said that it “is for every country to decide” whether to cooperate with the United States on missile defense.

Fears of a New Arms Race

Behind the debate lie differences in how to react to Russia 's statement that the U.S. missile defense plans could lead Moscow to target Poland and the Czech Republic and prompt Russia 's withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Russia 's strong statements appear to have backfired and strengthened the resolve of central European leaders who favor deployment of the U.S. system. Some in western Europe, however, fear a new arms race between the United States and Russia . French President Jacques Chirac warned during a March 9 press conference that “we must be very careful, as regards this project, not to encourage the creation of new dividing lines in Europe or the return to an obsolete order. To my mind, this project raises many questions to which thought will have to be given before responding.”

A French diplomat told Arms Control Today March 15, however, that not everyone in the French government was prepared to follow Chirac's line. The diplomat said that although some in Paris believe that the U.S. plans could divide Europe, others took a more fatalistic view, arguing that the United States would go ahead with the program anyway and that U.S. interceptors might protect France against ballistic missile threats.

The German government has taken a different tack. Steinmeier, in the FASZ op-ed, warned that “we cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.”


The United States was hoping to conclude bilateral agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic this year in order to begin construction in 2008 and to have operational bases as early as 2011.

A Polish diplomat told Arms Control Today March 16 that he is still optimistic that the United States would be able to convince European allies of the need for a missile defense system. The diplomat argued that, had Europeans not ignored U.S. plans for developing a missile shield for such a long time, it might have been possible to find a solution to protect all of Europe. “Now, this is an American project, and one cannot expect it to cover all of Europe,” he stated.

The Polish government, however, is not unified in its support for missile defense. In the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung Feb. 17, Vice Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper of the populist party Samoobrona, voiced sympathy for Russia 's concern and called for a referendum on the government's plans. The Polish diplomat confirmed to Arms Control Today that such a referendum was a possibility and stated that in any case the Polish parliament would have to vote on the plan. Fifty-five percent of Poles oppose the plan, according to a survey for the Warsaw-based Centre for Public Research.

The Polish government may already be trying to take the heat out of the debate. Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti Feb. 26 that “the negotiating process could last several years because of various technical, legislative, and other issues.” Fotyga remained opposed, however, to making the missile defense plans a European issue. “All I can say with certainty is that, during the discussions, we will prioritize Poland 's security and then the security of Europe and the world,” she said.

Czech Vice Prime Minister and Europe Minister Alexandr Vondra in a March 3 interview with the German paper Die Tageszeitung said that his government was open to a limited debate in NATO on missile defense plans but cautioned that Prague “will not ask Russia for permission” to build the radar site.

Ondrej Liska, chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the Czech parliament, told Arms Control Today March 21 that his Green Party would make its “support for the construction of a radar site on Czech territory conditional on consensus in the EU Council and the NATO Council on U.S. missile defense plans.” The Green Party is the junior partner in Prague 's current coalition government, which also includes Conservatives and Christian Democrats.

Liska, deputy head of the Green Party, said that NATO and the EU first have to agree on how real the threat is from ballistic missiles, whether defenses are capable of defending against such a possible threat, whether such a system could fuel new arms races, and whether missile defenses could have a negative impact on other, cooperative instruments to tackle proliferation. Opposition Social Democrats also said they would condition their support on an agreement within NATO on the missile defense plans.

According to recent polls, a majority of Czech citizens is opposed to building a U.S. missile radar in the country. Of the 72 citizens of the village of Trokavec , where the X-band radar facility is supposed to be built, 71 voted against the government's plan.

Should Poland or the Czech Republic decide to drop out of the project, the United States could consolidate both sites in one of the two countries. Bases could also be built in other countries. Ukraine , for example, has recently indicated some interest in participating in such a system. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy reported March 19 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was considering whether it should “join the countries that had missile defense plans.” The broadcast, which was translated by the BBC, also quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as saying that Kyiv was ready for talks and could bring space monitoring capabilities, shared jointly with Russia , into such a system. There has also been talk of basing radars for the missile defense system in the Caucasus, a suggestion that has triggered strong reactions from Moscow .

On Feb. 23, a spokesperson for the British government confirmed reports that London was involved in talks with Washington about the potential deployment of interceptors in the United Kingdom and that the government welcomes “plans to place further missile defense assets in Europe .” Obering confirmed that missile defense bases on British territory would improve the U.S. ability to intercept Russian ICBMs.

“If [the Russians] are concerned about us targeting their intercontinental ballistic missiles, I think that would be problematic from the [perspective of the United Kingdom] because I believe we probably could catch them from a UK launch site,” he told the Financial Times March 7. The United Kingdom already hosts a radar at Fylingdales, which feeds information to the U.S. missile defense system.


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