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

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
July/August 2007
Edition Date: 
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Cover Image: 

IAEA, Congress Tackle Nuclear Fuel Supply

Oliver Meier and Miles A. Pomper

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei June 13 presented the agency’s Board of Governors with a report outlining ways countries might work together to discourage the spread of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities. The report came as the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and increased interest in nuclear energy have prompted growing concern, including in Congress, about the spread of such facilities that could provide either fuel for power plants or fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The text of the report was not publicly released, reportedly because some board members objected to doing so. Nonetheless, knowledgeable sources said the report, written by IAEA staff, evaluates the legal, technical, financial, and institutional aspects associated with the problem, analyzing nearly a dozen proposals for multilateral cooperation put forward by IAEA member states, many at a special, two-day agency conference in September 2006. (See ACT, November 2006. ) But the sources said the report does not advocate any particular plan for moving forward and leaves the thorniest issues for the states on the IAEA board to resolve.

The proposals outlined in the report essentially fall into three camps: reliance on the international market, backup commitments by individual states, and the establishment of a last-resort facility under the auspices of the IAEA. All are intended to convince countries to rely on the international market rather than national facilities to enrich uranium or to extract plutonium for spent nuclear fuel. In his June 11 statement to the board, ElBaradei essentially argued that all of the mechanisms could complement each other, calling for “an incremental approach, with multiple assurances in place.” In doing so, he stuck to a theme that he has embraced since receiving an IAEA expert group report in February 2005, which evaluated several steps toward a multilateral solution of the problem. (See ACT, March 2005. )

According to a June 15 IAEA press release, the report argues for moving toward a multilateral framework by creating mechanisms that would “assure the supply of fuel for nuclear power plants; over time, convert enrichment and reprocessing facilities from national to multilateral operations”; and “limit future enrichment and reprocessing to multilateral operations.”

The debate on how to prevent the spread of sensitive nuclear technology by limiting the construction of national nuclear fuel-cycle capabilities in additional states has gained new urgency since President George W. Bush in February 2004 proposed to limit supply of such technologies to states that already have such capabilities. (See ACT, March 2004. ) Efforts to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to endorse such proposals permanently have languished, although the NSG has since approved annual moratoria on initiating any new agreements along these lines. Several developing countries, however, have criticized this approach as discriminatory, arguing that it institutionalizes a new cartel of technology holders. In particular, they say that it would infringe on their rights under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The agency says its proposals would not limit the right of states-parties to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and maintains that states would remain “free to choose their fuel options.” But it left important details to the IAEA board. For example, the board would still have to decide whether to limit supply assurances to countries that do not operate enrichment and reprocessing facilities or who renounce such an option. It would also have to decide whether it would require any potential recipients to have in place an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement. Such protocols provide the agency with greater authority to search for undeclared nuclear activities.

A June 8 statement from the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, provides some indications of a possible board response. The group, which includes several key IAEA board members, stated that any proposal on fuel supply assurances should provide “added value” to the nonproliferation regime. Although the G-8 supported the IAEA’s position that participation in any fuel supply mechanism should be voluntary, there are differences regarding what that would mean. The G-8 said only that a possible future mechanism “should not preclude any state from purchasing nuclear fuel cycle services on the existing market beyond the frameworks of multilateral mechanisms,” without taking a position on the right to set up new indigenous enrichment and reprocessing facilities.     

In an indication of the U.S. position, the House of Representatives on June 18 passed by voice vote the International Nuclear Fuel for Peace and Nonproliferation Act to help establish an international nuclear fuel bank. The bill was introduced by House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and provides $50 million to supplement an equivalent September 2006 pledge to the IAEA by the private Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).

Implementation of the NTI pledge and the Lantos bill, however, will depend on the pledge of an additional $50 million by a third party. The bill authorizes the contribution to establish the fuel bank on the territory of a non-nuclear-weapon state, including maintaining a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for reactor fuel to provide to eligible countries as a fallback mechanism. Only states that do not operate enrichment or reprocessing facilities “on any scale,” are in compliance with their safeguards obligations, and have an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements in force would be eligible to receive services from the fuel bank. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee June 27 endorsed somewhat similar legislation by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind). In addition, the House Appropriations Committee June 11 approved an energy and water spending bill that would provide $100 million in fiscal year 2008 for the fuel bank, if an additional $50 million were pledged by other IAEA member-states.

Unlike the Lantos legislation, the IAEA report says that a future nuclear fuel bank could be either a physical entity or a virtual one providing guarantees that appropriate fuel is forthcoming. It outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. The report also argues that supply assurances should be tailored narrowly to convince states that their nuclear fuel supply will not be cut off for purely political reasons, that is, reasons other than a failure to pay for nuclear fuel or to meet their nonproliferation commitments under their safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Such safeguards are intended to prevent the diversion of peaceful nuclear material or technology to weapons purposes.

Because the member states had not seen the more than 90-page report before it was presented to the board, initial reactions were guarded. Several developing states of the Nonaligned Movement, including Iran, apparently repeated their concerns that any multilateral mechanism must not infringe on their right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Germany, acting in its current capacity as EU president, said in a June 14 press release that the report “comes at the right time” and that the European Union is “eager to find a solution which takes sufficient account of the current proliferation concerns regarding sensitive components in the nuclear fuel cycle.”

A Department of State official said June 19 that the United States believes that the IAEA report provides the basis for moving forward with debates on the board on the issue and that Washington “looks forward to discussion of the question of establishing a fuel assurance mechanism and to early action by the board to approve an IAEA role in a mechanism.” Still, substantive discussions are not expected before the next board meeting in September. They could also be postponed until the subsequent session in November.

Anti-Nuclear Terrorism Strategies Discussed

Abby Doll

On June 11, some 38 partner states of the nearly one-year-old Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism convened for the third meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss future prospects. In a simultaneous meeting, representatives from close to 30 countries attended the initiative’s Conference on International Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida.

The anti-nuclear terrorism initiative was introduced jointly by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the summer of 2006 in an effort to combat the nuclear terrorism threat through a cooperative network of partner states. (See ACT, September 2006 .) Since then, membership has grown to more than 50 countries, and participating governments have agreed to a statement of principles and a plan of work.

The statement of principles, which was agreed on during earlier meetings in Rabat, Morocco, and Ankara, Turkey, includes a list of commitments to tackle factors that facilitate nuclear terrorism. Member states pledge to address the security of nuclear storage facilities, the illicit trafficking of sensitive radiological and nuclear material, and the development of their countries’ strategic response to nuclear or radiological terrorist attacks or threats.

In Astana, the 38 countries joined observers from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Union to discuss the initiative’s progress in furthering these principles and developing the plan of work, which includes capacity-building activities for participating states. Japan and Australia have completed the first two capacity-building activities by hosting the Seminar on Strengthening Nuclear Security in Asian Countries and the Asia-Pacific Seminar on Combating Nuclear Terrorism, respectively.

The Miami conference, hosted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), sought to add meat to the bones of the initiative’s objectives by specifically supporting the principle to enhance participants’ abilities in “response, mitigation, and investigation” of nuclear terrorism activities.

For five days, more than 400 officials from law enforcement, intelligence, border control, nuclear security, and other related professions attended presentations on topics ranging from nuclear smuggling to nuclear forensics. Notable speakers included FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Case studies, tabletop exercises, and demonstrations of technical procedure also supplemented the discussions.

On the third day, two Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams from the FBI and the Miami police staged a simulated drill at the Orange Bowl to demonstrate a response to a radiological dispersion device. Delegates from 28 countries watched the team demobilize a “terrorist cell” operating inside a fictitious warehouse and then use a specialized robot from the Miami Fire Department to destroy the mock radiological device.

Emphasizing the importance of information-sharing to achieve the principle’s goal, Mueller stressed that “no one person, no one officer, no one agency can prevent a nuclear terrorist attack on its own. There are too many unlocked doors and unknown players, too many ports and porous borders.”

It remains unclear how the initiative will coordinate with other nuclear terrorism prevention measures. These include UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism as well as U.S.-led initiatives such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation John C. Rood maintains that “there’s value in having some diversity of efforts” to address a common problem.

Pakistan recently endorsed the statement of principles, bringing the membership of the initiative to 51 states. Rood said that the meeting’s discussion generated a two-year work program of about 20 coordinated activities sponsored by participating governments. In September, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, and Romania will test the progress of the initiative’s capacity-development measures by running an exercise with a hypothetical radiological dispersion device or “dirty bomb.”


Statement of Principles by Participants in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, October 2006

• Develop, if necessary, and improve accounting, control and physical protection systems for nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Enhance security of civilian nuclear facilities;

• Improve the ability to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances in order to prevent illicit trafficking in such materials and substances, to include cooperation in the research and development of national detection capabilities that would be interoperable;

• Improve capabilities of participants to search for, confiscate, and establish safe control over unlawfully held nuclear or other radioactive materials and substances or devices using them;

• Prevent the provision of safe haven to terrorists and financial or economic resources to terrorists seeking to acquire or use nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances;

• Ensure adequate respective national legal and regulatory frameworks sufficient to provide for the implementation of appropriate criminal and, if applicable, civil liability for terrorists and those who facilitate acts of nuclear terrorism;

• Improve capabilities of participants for response, mitigation, and investigation, in cases of terrorist attacks involving the use of nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances, including the development of technical means to identify nuclear and other radioactive materials and substances that are, or may be, involved in the incident; and

• Promote information sharing pertaining to the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism and their facilitation, taking appropriate measures consistent with their national laws and international obligations to protect the confidentiality of any information which they exchange in confidence.

On June 11, some 38 partner states of the nearly one-year-old Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism convened for the third meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, to discuss future prospects. In a simultaneous meeting, representatives from close to 30 countries attended the initiative’s Conference on International Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement in Miami, Florida. (Continue)

Lawmakers Sideline New U.S. Nuclear Warhead

Wade Boese

Congress has yet to complete the raft of bills governing U.S. nuclear funding and policy for the next fiscal year, but the early returns are not promising for the Bush administration’s program to develop a new nuclear warhead. Lawmakers say they want long-term nuclear plans before new weapons.

Launched in 2004, the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program aims to produce warheads that will ostensibly be safer, easier to maintain, and more reliable than the estimated 10,000 warheads in the current U.S. stockpile. Existing warheads have been certified annually as safe and reliable, but RRW program advocates say the weapons might degrade over time. They contend the new weapon will be less vulnerable to these risks because of simpler design and more modern and less hazardous components.

Still, legislators this year have capped development of the RRW and cut funding. The most severe action occurred June 20 when the House in its yet-to-be-finalized energy and water appropriations bill zeroed out the nearly $89 million funding request for the initiative from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). This semi-autonomous Department of Energy entity manages the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

On the Senate side, the panel with initial responsibility for the energy and water appropriations bill June 26 trimmed $22 million from the NNSA request. If the full Senate follows suit then the two chambers will ultimately have to negotiate a final sum, which tends typically to be a compromise between the different amounts.

In addition to the NNSA request, the Bush administration also sought $30 million for the Navy to work on the RRW program. That pot of funding will be dealt with through the defense appropriations bill on which neither the House nor Senate has started work.

The two chambers have made progress on their separate versions of the defense authorization bill. Authorization measures establish legislative guidance for programs, while appropriation bills provide the money. As they currently stand, both the House and Senate authorization bills confine RRW work to design activities and block engineering work.

The first RRW design was selected in March, and program officials are currently refining the design and projecting future costs and schedule. (See ACT, April 2007. )

Lawmakers have raised questions about whether the RRW program will accomplish the administration’s proclaimed goals. One stated purpose of the program is to enable the United States to reduce its overall arsenal size. Administration officials argue that the new warheads will be easier to produce, making it unnecessary to maintain as many spares for crises or emergencies.

RRW advocates also contend the program will diminish the probability that the United States will have to return to nuclear testing, which was suspended in 1992. They say the current upkeep process gradually moves warheads away from proven designs, raising doubts about their performance and increasing pressure to test.

The minimalist RRW design will preclude such uncertainty, according to program supporters. Thomas D’Agostino, who has been nominated to head the NNSA, told a Washington audience June 15, “I wouldn’t recommend spending a dollar [on the RRW program] if I thought this couldn’t be certified without an underground nuclear test.”

But some legislators are skeptical. Speaking June 19 on the House energy and water measure, Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) said the RRW program “has merit…but all we have right now is a vague promise.” Hobson has been a vocal critic of what he sees as an outdated and oversized nuclear weapons complex.

The chair of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), shares a similar view and has other worries. He argued June 20 that pressing ahead with the program “will be misunderstood by our allies, exploited by our adversaries, [and] complicate our work to prevent the spread and the use of nuclear weapons.” Visclosky later declared, “I wish the administration…had as much aggression and commitment to downsizing the complex as they do on developing a weapon.”

Teaming with Hobson, Visclosky led the House in cutting the RRW funds. In a June 6 report, Visclosky’s panel stated, “[T]here exists no convincing rationale for maintaining the large number of existing Cold War nuclear weapons, much less producing additional warheads.” It further contended the RRW program was “premature,” absent a long-term nuclear strategy.

This sentiment appears widespread. The House defense authorization bill, passed May 17, calls for establishing a 12-member commission to conduct a strategic posture study. The Senate has yet to finalize its defense authorization bill, but an early version passed June 5 by the Armed Services Committee would require the Pentagon to undertake a nuclear posture review. Whether both studies make it into a reconciled bill remains to be seen, but many lawmakers apparently want more long-term thinking about the U.S. nuclear stockpile and its mission.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), however, asserted that the House RRW actions, in part, could send U.S. nuclear strategy in a “new, unknown direction.” Also representing New Mexico, Republican Rep. Heather Wilson charged the recent moves amounted to a “radical shift” in U.S. nuclear weapons policies and risked forcing a resumption of nuclear testing. New Mexico is home to two U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories.

Congress has yet to complete the raft of bills governing U.S. nuclear funding and policy for the next fiscal year, but the early returns are not promising for the Bush administration’s program to develop a new nuclear warhead. Lawmakers say they want long-term nuclear plans before new weapons. (Continue)

Taiwan Buys U.S. Arms; U.S. Eyes China

Wade Boese

Taiwan’s legislature recently approved buying a dozen anti-submarine planes, a modest portion of an original $18 billion U.S. arms package offered six years ago. The purchase comes amid persistent U.S. questions about China’s military modernization and a new move to prevent American technology from aiding that drive.

Soon after taking office, President George W. Bush authorized selling Taiwan an array of weapon systems, including destroyers, diesel-electric attack submarines, and aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Later, the United States added short- and medium-range anti-missile systems. Taiwan agreed to acquire four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, the final two of which were delivered last September. The rest of the package, however, became entangled in politics.

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has urged making the deals, but his Democratic Progressive Party does not control the legislature, the Legislative Yuan. Led by the Nationalist Party, the majority coalition in the Legislative Yuan has blocked funding for the weapons, arguing that they are too expensive and too provocative to China, which opposes foreign arms sales to the island. Beijing asserts Taiwan is a renegade province that should be under the mainland’s control and does not rule out using force to accomplish that objective.

On June 15, the Legislative Yuan approved buying 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and upgrades to its current anti-missile systems, the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2. The parliament declined to seek newer PAC-3 batteries. Lawmakers also endorsed further study of the submarine option.

The Legislative Yuan’s shift has been attributed to Nationalist Party maneuvering to increase the appeal of its candidate in the presidential election next March. Speculation also exists that the recent move was orchestrated to ease a separate requested purchase of 66 U.S. F-16 fighter jets. Washington has resisted moving ahead on the proposal, insisting that Taiwan first complete the 2001 offer.

U.S. officials have repeatedly rebuked Taiwan for not acting on the package. In a May 3 press conference, Stephen Young, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, noted that “Taiwan’s friends” question whether Taipei is “serious about maintaining a credible defense.” The institute serves as the de facto U.S. embassy in Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979.

Although Taiwan has essentially forgone major arms purchases the past several years, China has been working to improve its armed forces. The Pentagon noted May 25 in the latest edition of its annual report Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, the “balance of forces [is] continuing to shift in the mainland’s favor.”

The report highlights China’s 2006 receipt from Russia of the last of four Sovremenny-class destroyers and a final pair of eight Kilo-class diesel-electric attack submarines. Beijing also boosted its conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan by at least 100 to approximately 900.

On the strategic side, the Pentagon upgraded the status of China’s road-mobile, solid-fuel DF-31 missile, which has an estimated range of some 7,000 kilometers, from developmental to “initial threat availability.” A Pentagon official told reporters May 25 that the phrase meant that the missile “could be employed in actual military operations.”

A longer-range variant, the DF-31A, which could target all of the United States, was still assessed as “developmental.” The Pentagon suggested that missile might become operational as early as this year, similar to China’s new submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-2.

These newer missiles have been in development for some time. The 2002 edition of the Pentagon report estimated that they would become available around mid- to late decade. All told, China’s current force of ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States remains at approximately 20—no change since the Pentagon issued its first annual report in 2000.

Chinese leaders, according to the report, see space and counter-space capabilities as signs of prestige and power similar to nuclear weapons. China’s Jan. 11 destruction of an aging satellite in orbit (see ACT, March 2007 ) revealed only one element of what the Pentagon describes as a “multi-dimensional program” to “deny others access to outer space.”

China is funding its arms purchases, missile developments, and space capabilities with a growing military budget. In March, Beijing announced a nearly 18 percent spending increase from last year, to approximately $45 billion. The Pentagon, which in February asked Congress for $623 billion for one year, says China’s actual military budget could be as high as $125 billion.

China rails at such allegations. On May 28, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu blasted the Pentagon report as spreading the “myth of the China threat by exaggerating China’s military strength and expenses out of ulterior motives.” Qin Gang, another ministry spokesperson, defended China’s military modernization June 21 as “moderate and reasonable.”

Although the annual Pentagon report focuses on China’s capabilities, Washington says what it is really interested in and unclear about is Chinese intentions. “We wish that there were greater transparency, that [the Chinese] would talk more about what their intentions are [and] what their strategies are,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said May 24.

Possible conflicts with Taiwan are the near-term military focus of China, the report concludes. Yet, it also assesses that China is creating a base for pursuing “broader regional and global objectives.”

China’s growing capabilities has caught the attention of some U.S. lawmakers. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, warned at a June 13 panel hearing that China has “stepped into the superpower shoes that had been vacated by the Soviet Union with respect to military power.” But Undersecretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Richard Lawless told the panel that Beijing “is not necessarily interested in the ability to stand toe-to-toe and go into a major conflict with the United States.”

Greater openness on China’s part could diminish the possibility of future conflict, U.S. officials say. Lawless noted that, without Chinese transparency, the United States is “put in the position of having to assume the most dangerous intent a capability offers.”

U.S. officials contend China is opening up slightly but not enough, particularly in the nuclear realm. Beijing has begged off recent U.S. invitations to engage in a nuclear policy dialogue, but Gates and other U.S. officials are strongly promoting the offer. “That kind of dialogue, whether or not it involves specific proposals for arms control or anything else, I think, is immensely valuable,” Gates said June 2.

The two governments are expected to begin exploring establishment of a military hotline this September. Still, Lawless cautioned that “there’s a lot left to finalize.”

Although seeking to improve relations with China, the United States is wary of China’s military rise. In its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon observed that China “has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages.”

Aiming to prevent U.S. companies from abetting such developments, the Department of Commerce June 15 announced new rules on exporting dual-use goods to China. Dual-use items have civilian and military applications.

The recent measures expand the list of items that require U.S. companies to obtain a license when shipping to known military end uses in China. These 20 product categories include some high-performance computers, lasers, aircraft, aero-gas turbine engines, and machine tools.

At the same time, the Commerce Department is seeking to reward Chinese entities with records of not re-exporting or diverting imports to unauthorized purposes. Such importers will be eligible to become “validated end users” that will be exempted from getting licenses for some dual-use goods. In addition, the threshold for obtaining licenses for some dual-use items that are not destined for military uses will be increased from $5,000 to $50,000.

In a June 15 press statement, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez described the new rules as a “common-sense approach” that will facilitate U.S. exports to “pre-screened civilian customers” while denying goods that “would contribute to China’s military.”


Taiwan’s legislature recently approved buying a dozen anti-submarine planes, a modest portion of an original $18 billion U.S. arms package offered six years ago. The purchase comes amid persistent U.S. questions about China’s military modernization and a new move to prevent American technology from aiding that drive.

Soon after taking office, President George W. Bush authorized selling Taiwan an array of weapon systems, including destroyers, diesel-electric attack submarines, and aircraft. (See ACT, May 2001.) Later, the United States added short- and medium-range anti-missile systems. Taiwan agreed to acquire four Kidd-class guided-missile destroyers, the final two of which were delivered last September. The rest of the package, however, became entangled in politics. (Continue)

U.S. Reaffirms Europe Anti-Missile Plan

Wade Boese

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June 7 proposal to share radar data on missiles with the United States might be an earnest offer, a cynical ploy to undercut U.S. plans to base anti-missile systems in Europe, or both. Regardless, U.S. leaders say they will continue their current missile defense approach despite strong Russian opposition.

Meeting with President George W. Bush in Heiligendamm, Germany, Putin volunteered the “joint use” of the Russian-leased Gabala radar in Azerbaijan. Putin implied the radar could be used to peer south into Iran, which the United States estimates could develop long-range missiles to strike all of Europe or the United States before 2015. Washington claims its plan to station 10 strategic ground-based midcourse interceptors in Poland and an X-band radar in the Czech Republic is to protect against a growing Iranian threat and poses no danger to Russia.

Putin further suggested that if an actual threat materialized, interceptors could be deployed in southern Europe, Iraq, or on naval ships instead of in Poland, where Moscow contends interceptors could reach into Russia. The interceptors endorsed by Putin would be technically different than those planned for Poland. Instead of aiming to collide with warheads in space, the alternative interceptors would be designed to destroy missiles in their boost phase, when a missile’s rocket engines are still burning shortly after launch.

Although U.S. officials expressed surprise at Putin’s proposal, this is not the first time he has made it. Putin floated essentially the same concept in June 2000 when President Bill Clinton was weighing deployment of a nationwide U.S. defense. (See ACT, July/August 2000. )

Washington rejected the proposal then, in part, on the basis that the technology was not available. The United States currently has programs that might produce ship- and land-based interceptors for boost-phase testing around 2014. (See ACT, June 2007. )

Bush welcomed Putin’s ideas as “interesting.” The two leaders agreed experts from both sides will explore the Russian proposal.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials maintain they will not pause their current effort. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal June 8 that “we’re going to continue to work this with Poland and the Czech Republic.” Engaging with Russia, she added, “doesn’t mean that you are going to get off course on what you’re trying to do.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates informed reporters June 14 that the United States saw Putin’s proposal on the Gabala radar as “an additional capability” and not a substitute for the proposed Czech-based radar. The Gabala radar is a Soviet-era early-warning radar designed to spot and track missiles shortly after launch, while X-band radars are supposed to provide more precise flight-tracking data and pick a warhead out of a target cluster flying through space.

The U.S. reaction was not what the Kremlin wanted. Talking to reporters June 8, Putin stated, “[W]e hope that no unilateral action will be taken until these consultations and talks have concluded.” Similarly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a Moscow press briefing the next day declared, “[I]t is necessary as a minimum to freeze all the actions in deploying missile defense elements in Europe for a period of at least the study of our proposals.”

Russian officials assert there is no urgency to field anti-missile systems in Europe. They project a long-range Iranian missile threat as at least 15 to 20 years away. Even if Tehran moved more rapidly, Putin claimed June 7 that a three- to five-year lag would occur between the initial test and deployment of long-range missiles, permitting time for defenses to be erected.

Indeed, Putin’s Gabala radar proposal is about sharing data with the United States in order to form a common or joint assessment of Iran’s capabilities. Before initiating any possible defense schemes, such as Putin’s boost-phase concept, there should be mutual agreement about the threat, a Russian government official told Arms Control Today June 14.

Putin suggested as much June 8. “We propose carrying out a real assessment of the missile threats for the period through to 2020 and agreeing on what joint steps we can take to counter these threats,” the president explained to reporters.

The same day, Anatoly Antonov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Security and Disarmament, stated, “Only after concrete answers are obtained to questions about the nature and trends of missile proliferation should it be decided whether and what military-technical means are needed to repulse this threat.” He later noted that missile defenses should be “the last resort…when all the alternative measures have been exhausted.”

Moscow’s apparent assumption is that data from the Gabala radar will support their position that Iran poses no near-term threat, obviating U.S. plans. “Joint use of the information which this radar station obtains makes it possible…to give up the plans of deploying missile defense elements in Europe,” Lavrov said.

If the United States does not abandon or alter its current missile defense plans for Europe, Russian officials say there will be consequences. On June 8, Putin reiterated warnings that Russia would “target” the Polish and Czech anti-missile sites if they are built.

Putin’s comments followed a May 29 flight test of what Russian officials claimed was a new multiple-warhead ICBM capable of penetrating defenses. Referred to as an RS-24 by Russian officials, the missile is apparently a modified version of Russia’s most modern missile, the single-warhead Topol-M.

In a Jan. 1 data exchange, Russia claimed a total force of 530 ICBMs, of which 44 are silo-based Topol-Ms and three are mobile Topol-Ms. The United States currently deploys 500 silo-based ICBMs but plans to cut 50 of these missiles. (See ACT, May 2007.)

Washington has sought to soften Moscow’s hostility by publicly expressing interest in missile defense cooperation with Russia. But Putin June 4 derided U.S. offers as empty, saying they entail Russia providing missiles “as targets [that the United States] can use in training.”

Putin asserted that day that if Washington did not change course, Moscow would be bound to respond and could not be held responsible for the result. “We will absolve ourselves from the responsibility of our retaliatory steps because we are not initiating what is certainly growing into a new arms race in Europe,” Putin said.


Nuclear Talks Waiting on the United States

U.S. and Russian negotiators have put on hold talks on measures to succeed a landmark nuclear weapons reduction treaty while the Bush administration figures out its positions. But U.S. lawmakers are already starting to volunteer their advice.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is scheduled to expire Dec. 5, 2009. It slashed deployed U.S. and Russian strategic forces from more than 10,000 warheads apiece to 6,000 each and established an extensive verification regime. U.S. and Russian experts met for the first time in March to share ideas on what to do after START’s expiration. (See ACT, May 2007. )

Neither side is advocating exercising START’s five-year extension option. However, Moscow desires a new agreement capping both nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, while Washington opposes such a formal approach, preferring a loose collection of confidence-building measures.

Arms Control Today has learned, however, that the two governments have agreed to prepare positions for future discussion on at least four issues: information exchanges, facility visits, missile launch notices, and noninterference with national technical means such as satellites. A second U.S. and Russian experts meeting reportedly is waiting on the Bush administration to complete this process and put together a proposal.

A June 18 McClatchy Newspapers report attributed the delay to Washington infighting. The U.S. intelligence community is keen on preserving intrusive mechanisms to keep tabs on Russia’s nuclear arsenal. But this position conflicts with that held by administration officials who say such measures are burdensome and unnecessary because Russia is no longer an enemy.

In a June 21 statement, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, sided with the intelligence community. Recommending that START verification and transparency measures be extended, Lugar noted that “the predictability and confidence provided by treaty verification reduces the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation, and error.”

Similarly, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, stated at a June 11 Arms Control Association event that “the intelligence community has expressed concern with losing the verification component provided by START.” Tauscher recommended that U.S. and Russian leaders approve a “bridge agreement that will extend START” until a new agreement can be negotiated.


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June 7 proposal to share radar data on missiles with the United States might be an earnest offer, a cynical ploy to undercut U.S. plans to base anti-missile systems in Europe, or both. Regardless, U.S. leaders say they will continue their current missile defense approach despite strong Russian opposition. (Continue)

North Korea Reactor Shutdown Looms

Paul Kerr

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials visited North Korea in late June, almost two weeks after Pyongyang agreed to finish implementing a February pledge to halt its nuclear reactor. Another meeting of six-party talks designed to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis may take place in July, but no firm date has been set.

An IAEA team led by Olli Heinonen, deputy director-general for safeguards, was scheduled to arrive June 26 in Pyongyang. North Korea invited the agency in a June 16 letter after a North Korean banking dispute moved toward resolution.

Heinonen told reporters June 23 that “[t]he purpose of the trip is…to negotiate details” about verifying and monitoring the shutdown of North Korea’s nuclear facilities located at Yongbyon, according to Reuters. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei held initial discussions with North Korea about the issue in March. (See ACT, April 2007.)

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill told reporters in Tokyo June 23 that North Korean officials indicated during a bilateral meeting in Pyongyang that the country would shut down its operating, graphite-moderated nuclear reactor within approximately three weeks.

Hill met with North Korean Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun during a June 21-22 visit to Pyongyang. The visit was the first by a U.S. official in Hill’s position since his predecessor, James Kelly, went to Pyongyang in October 2002. National Security Council official Victor Cha visited North Korea this past April.

A June 16 report from the state-run Korean Central News Agency said that Pyongyang invited the agency because “the process” of resolving the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia dispute had reached the “final phase.”

North Korea agreed in February to halt within 60 days the operation of the Yongbyon reactor and associated reprocessing facility, which is used to separate plutonium from spent reactor fuel, as well as “invite back IAEA personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications.” But Pyongyang refused to shut down the facilities because it contended the bank issue had not been resolved.     

The Department of State argued in April that the matter had been resolved as the bank had “un-blocked” the relevant North Korean accounts earlier that month. But North Korea said a resolution requires that the funds first be transferred.

Subsequent difficulty in conducting that transaction delayed resolution of the issue. After several false starts, the funds were ultimately transferred to a Russian bank in which North Korea reportedly holds an account. The funds were transferred via the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of Russia. A June 25 North Korean Foreign Ministry statement acknowledged that the funds had been transferred, “thus settling the controversial issue.”

Since September 2005, the bank matter had been a persistent obstacle to progress in the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, and South Korea. That month, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Banco Delta Asia as a “money laundering concern.” The bank subsequently 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.

Next Steps

IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming told Arms Control Today June 25 that the agency expects its team “to come back with agreed modalities” for verifying the shutdown. The IAEA Board of Governors must approve these plans “because this is a special verification mission,” she said. Fleming also confirmed a June 23 Los Angeles Times report that another team of inspectors is likely to go to North Korea in about two weeks.

U.S. officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of resuming work on the remaining portions of the February agreement. State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters June 22 that “we need to really get to the point where the rubber meets the road.”

For its part, North Korea says that it is now willing to implement the second phase of the February agreement, according to the June 25 Foreign Ministry statement.

North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities as part of the first phase of a two-step agreement that contains initial steps for implementing a September 2005 joint statement. Pyongyang pledged in the 2005 statement to abandon its nuclear weapons and “existing nuclear programs” in exchange for a series of political and economic incentives. (See ACT, October 2005.)

North Korea’s fulfillment of its shutdown pledge would allow the other parties to implement the remaining elements of the first phase of the February agreement.

For example, South Korea is to provide 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to the country in exchange for the shutdown. South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters June 20 that “preparations are underway” to provide the fuel “similarly in time with” North Korea’s shutdown of its nuclear facilities and the return of IAEA inspectors, according to Agence France-Presse.

Hill told reporters June 25 that the United States hopes “to have a six-party meeting of some kind…probably in the second week of July.” He said that meeting would likely happen after the shutdown begins but did not say whether the meeting would happen before the shutdown is complete.

According to Hill, the meeting should focus on implementing the February agreement’s second phase, which 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.

Hill told reporters June 18 that the United States envisions the second phase taking place “in the latter part of this calendar year.” Regarding the disablement of the reactor, Hill asserted that the task could be completed within “several days, a couple of weeks at the most.” But he acknowledged a week later that the parties have not yet determined precisely how the reactor is to be disabled.

The February agreement also calls for a meeting of the six parties’ foreign ministers once the first phase is implemented. Such a meeting would likely take place in late July or early August, Hill said.

Hill argued during a June 19 press briefing that five working groups tasked with formulating specific plans for implementing the remaining portions of the September 2005 statement should resume their work. But a State Department official told Arms Control Today June 25 that the timing of those meetings had not yet been decided.

Libya Backs Out of CW Destruction Agreement

Alex Bollfrass

Vowing to take sole responsibility for destroying its chemical weapons, Libya has annulled its contract with the United States. The Libyan government cancelled the agreement, effective June 14, because of dissatisfaction with its provisions on liability, financing, and facility ownership.

Department of State spokesperson Nancy Beck told Arms Control Today June 18 that Libya had given notice in May that “it was exercising its option to withdraw from the government-to-government contract, citing concerns about indemnification, cost-sharing, and the disposition of the equipment used to destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.”

Despite the contract’s abrogation, the State Department described Libya’s actions as “a model of nonproliferation.”

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Libya acceded in May 2004, Libya is obligated to destroy its stockpile by the end of 2010. The U.S.-Libyan agreement was signed in December 2006.

The bilateral agreement arranged for major U.S. assistance to the technically challenging and costly effort of eliminating chemical weaponry in the Libyan desert. In addition to destroying 23.6 metric tons of mustard gas, Libya must abolish around 1,300 metric tons of precursor chemicals to comply with the convention.

Beck also said that the United States had “demonstrated flexibility on indemnification and equipment disposition.” In particular, the equipment-disposition discussions focused on whether the U.S.-built destruction facility would be given or sold to Libya, and if it would be removed after completion. The indemnification deliberations centered on who would be liable for potential damages.

The State Department’s description leaves unclear whether Libya did not consider the United States flexible enough on these two matters or if the parties could not agree on financing, the third grievance cited by Libya. Under the contract’s terms, the United States would have contributed $45 million and Libya around $15 million.

Another U.S. official familiar with the issue told Arms Control Today on June 18 that money did not seem to be the pivotal issue and that Libya simply decided that it was too cumbersome to have the U.S. government involved. The official also expressed confidence that Libya is dedicated to destroying its stockpile.

Libyan representatives in the United States said they were not involved in the decision and declined to speculate on their government’s reasons. The Libyan ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali, said he was generally not occupied with such “technical matters.”

The United States also is assisting chemical weapons destruction in Albania and Russia, where it has encountered similar challenges. Albania on April 29 became the first state to miss its destruction deadline under the CWC, officially blaming the delay on local weather conditions.

Russian officials have voiced complaints nearly identical to Libya’s over U.S. aid to its stockpile destruction efforts. Construction of the Shchuch’ye facility in particular has been held up by squabbles between the governments. (See ACT, May 2007 .)

Vowing to take sole responsibility for destroying its chemical weapons, Libya has annulled its contract with the United States. The Libyan government cancelled the agreement, effective June 14, because of dissatisfaction with its provisions on liability, financing, and facility ownership. (Continue)

Following the Clues: The Role of Forensics in Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

Sidney Niemeyer and David K. Smith

Although the more than 50 incidents of trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials each year are worrisome, these cases also provide valuable insight to the movement of these materials worldwide. Conducting thorough investigations that utilize nuclear forensics techniques to determine the source of interdicted nuclear materials can help prevent additional trafficking and ultimately terrorist use of nuclear weapons.

After all, the most likely early warning of an adversary’s planned nuclear attack will be previous involvement in illicit transfer of nuclear materials. Until now, however, local authorities have viewed such incidents as narrow violations of domestic laws rather than as threats to national and international security.

If nuclear forensic investigations become the norm for interdicted nuclear materials, investigators could analyze nuclear materials, devices or associated material to identify the source and the route of transit and ultimately help to identify the traffickers.[1] In particular, a nuclear forensics investigation might help answer such questions as: Is there a leak in one of the known holdings of nuclear material? Where was legitimate control lost? How did the material come to be where we found it? Can we link this material to the perpetrators? Is this case connected to previous cases?

A case becomes more significant if it can be linked to other instances demonstrating a sustained effort to sell or obtain nuclear material. Even some incidents that appear to constitute a relatively low threat, for example, trafficking in low-enriched uranium, ought to be investigated because such commerce may portend more serious threats. For example, an adversary may be attempting “trial runs” to test the ability to transport nuclear material without detection. Experience from law enforcement indicates that the combined evidence from two related cases enhances the probability of solving them both.

Once the difficult task of detection and interdiction has been accomplished, nuclear forensics should be used to understand the history of the interdicted material. If the source of the leak can be identified, steps can be taken to close that leak. A scenario that calls for a particularly rapid nuclear forensics investigation is one in which the perpetrators are close to assembling and detonating more than one nuclear bomb. The attacks of September 11, 2001, taught us that if a group of terrorists possess sufficient material, they might well attack multiple targets. Nuclear forensics, applied in time, can be the key to thwarting such a coordinated, multipronged attack.

Indeed, the use of nuclear forensics in a pre-detonation scenario may prove more effective as a preventative measure and deterrent than the more acknowledged scenario of using such techniques in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.[2] Deterrence works only when an adversary perceives that the consequences of its actions will be met by a credible and exacting response. In the case of a nuclear detonation, the typical stated (or implied) response is commensurately severe. Yet, some have questioned the government’s willingness to launch a devastating counterattack against those perceived to be responsible, especially when the evidence against the adversary might be less than unequivocal. By contrast, when the episode involves intercepting nuclear materials at an earlier stage, the response against a supplier could be less draconian and thereby viewed as more credible. Earlier intervention allows decision-makers more time to craft a broader and more measured response.

The time is right to promote the deterrent function of nuclear forensics. Several international instruments are now in place to advance forensic capabilities internationally. UN Security Council Resolution 1540 obligates states to take steps to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and supporting technologies. The United States and Russia have recently spearheaded the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which provides for cooperation between law enforcement agencies to address the problem of the spread of radiological materials. Several U.S.-led efforts, including the Nuclear Trafficking Response Group and the Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative, identify nuclear forensics as an important vehicle to ensure the responsible international stewardship of nuclear materials.

Using these arrangements, several specific steps need to be taken to enhance the usefulness of nuclear forensics in preventing nuclear terrorism. First, the United States and other states that have declared countering nuclear terrorism as a priority should seek to establish a new international norm that places far greater importance on conducting nuclear forensic investigations for interdictions of illicit nuclear materials. In a majority of past incidents, the investigation was conducted in the context of local government laws, often from the customs perspective that places a premium on the monetary value of the interdicted material, i.e., if you cannot sell it for much, we do not care much. New policies are necessary that emphasize threats to international and national security. All governments must be committed to pursuing these illegal acts to the fullest extent possible. Doing so would surely greatly enhance the global ability to detect the early warning signs of nuclear terrorist activity.

Second, greatly expand international cooperation in both developing nuclear forensics as a newly emerging discipline and pursuing nuclear forensic investigations. Nuclear smuggling is an international problem; identified smuggling routes do not neatly coincide with state borders. An informal and unaffiliated group that assembles the world’s leading experts in nuclear forensics, the Nuclear Smuggling International Technical Working Group (ITWG), has been working toward just that end since 1995.[3] The ITWG continues to make progress, but it would benefit greatly from new policies that support a greater level of cooperation. These would include much more vigorously developing bilateral R&D projects in nuclear forensics data collection and interpretation; establishing relationships for working cases collaboratively; advancing best practices in pursuing nuclear forensics investigations to establish a global “knowledge base” system that would draw upon subject matter experts and associated information in a way that also protects national interests; and increasing the scope of participation in the ITWG by new member states and organizations affected by nuclear trafficking.

Third, governments should make greater investments in improving their nuclear forensics capability. The magnitude of the investment depends on the extent to which policymakers agree on the relative importance of nuclear forensics in a national strategy for counterterrorism and nonproliferation. We suggest that the current level of investment will only slowly mature U.S. capabilities in nuclear forensics. If we are to embrace an international objective of true nuclear accountability, the appropriate technologies must enable the United States and its partner governments to trace illicit nuclear materials back to their points of origin and unauthorized diversion as well as help identify those responsible for these acts.


Sidney Niemeyer is a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and currently serves as a scientific adviser to the newly formed National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center in the Department of Homeland Security. David K. Smith is a geochemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and also serves as a scientific advisor on international nuclear forensics to the U.S. Department of State and the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center.


1. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Nuclear Forensics Support,” Nuclear Security Series, No. 2 (2006), p. 67.

2. See Graham Allison, “Deterring Kim Jong Il,” The Washington Post, October 27, 2006; Michael May et al., “Preparing for the Worst,” Nature, October 2006, pp. 907-908; William Dunlop and Harold Smith, “Who Did It? Using International Nuclear Forensics to Detect and Deter Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today, October 2006, pp. 6-10.

3. L. Koch et al., “Proceedings: European Safeguards Research and Development Association,” 1999, pp. 805-810.

An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-related Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime in the Former Soviet Union

Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, powerfully advanced the notion that terrorist groups might acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or, more plausibly, radiological dispersal devices (RDD). Terrorist interest in weapons of mass destruction is ample. Al Qaeda has been on record as determined to acquire and use these weapons.

In 1995, several years prior to the September 11 attacks, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo sought to gain nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and it successfully used sarin gas. That same year, Chechen rebels planted but did not explode an RDD made of cesium-137 and dynamite in Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park.

In 2004 the uncovering of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network fueled new concerns that trafficking in WMD material could give rise to a parallel black market of nuclear material linked to organized crime. Pointing out that terrorist organizations and organized crime had already cooperated in the drug trafficking business, a number of analysts warned that organized crime might decide to channel WMD material to terrorists.

Much of the concern about a possible nexus between WMD trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism focused on the former Soviet Union, particularly Central Asia and the Caucasus. There, a large number of insufficiently secured nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities are located in close proximity to trafficking routes for drugs and small arms. Powerful radiation sources also are plentiful and inadequately protected. Furthermore, several terrorist groups in the region have become increasingly radicalized since the September 11 attacks.

Even though these developments suggested that a perfect storm was brewing, more than five years later there is no compelling evidence of a solid nexus among WMD-related trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime in the former Soviet Union. To be sure, a cautionary note is in order. Serious data collection problems in the region make understanding trafficking patterns an inherently limited proposition at best. They also make it essential to improve the quality and quantity of data collection and sharing by local and regional authorities.

Nonetheless, all available evidence indicates that the character of WMD trafficking in the post-2001 period has remained essentially the same as in the pre-2001 period, displaying amateurish features and dominated by the supply side. Trafficking cases involving weapons-grade nuclear material have entailed minuscule quantities, and their number has substantially decreased compared to the pre-2001 period, when most of the proliferation-significant events involving kilogram-level quantities of material were reported. That said, the post-2001 evidence of trafficking in WMD-related material does show new and potentially worrisome characteristics that bear close scrutiny.

The Data Set

This article is based on an analysis of 183 trafficking incidents that occurred in the former Soviet Union between January 2001 and December 2006. The incidents were reported in the Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ (CNS) NIS Export Control Observer,[1] the International Export Control Observer,[2] and the CNS Newly Independent States Nuclear Trafficking Abstracts Database,[3] which gather information from a variety of regional, national and international sources, including gray literature such as conference reports and interviews.[4] The data set includes incidents that constitute illegal activities, with or without criminal intent; orphan material; and cases where the arrest of the perpetrators or seizure of the material occurred outside the former Soviet Union but concerned material or individuals originating or suspected of originating from the former Soviet Union. Hoaxes and events that were first reported as illicit trafficking cases but later revealed to be legal shipments or that had no WMD connection were discarded. Yet, because of the incompleteness of information available in open and gray sources and inconsistencies in press reporting, the data set may include occasional mistakes.

WMD-Trafficking Incidents Prior to 2001

Prior to 2001, aside from a few proliferation-significant incidents[5] in the early 1990s,[6] WMD-related trafficking in the region displayed amateurish features. Although known trafficking involved primarily nuclear and radioactive material—low-enriched uranium (LEU),[7] radioactive isotopes, and contaminated scrap metal—the material was most often stolen for the value of the metal casing and not for the radioactive or nuclear material it contained.

Perpetrators were primarily opportunists motivated by financial gains. They generally were uninformed about the value of the material, which they typically overestimated, or unaware of the possibility of detection or of the associated health hazards. Trafficking was conducted in contraband style, with material hidden in a bag, car, or bus and transported along a southern route, crossing Central Asia and the Caucasus, and proceeding west toward Europe through Turkey. In the late 1990s, the more commonly used westbound route from Russia to Europe was replaced by the southern route. Trafficking appeared dominated by the supply side, with no evidence of an actual demand or connection with organized crime or terrorist groups.

General Trends of Post-2001 WMD Trafficking

Since 2001, the features of WMD-related trafficking appear not to have changed substantially. Most known trafficking incidents involve radioactive orphan sources, contaminated scrap metal, radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137, and low-grade nuclear material, primarily LEU. The first three items account for about 50 percent of the trafficking transactions. In many ways, this is not surprising. Powerful radiation sources disposed of improperly by medical and industrial facilities or abandoned by the Soviet army are abundant throughout the former Soviet Union. Other potent sources contained in radioisotope thermoelectric generators—devices built to provide electricity in lighthouses, radio beacons, and meteorological stations—are inadequately protected.

No proliferation-significant cases have been reported in the 2001-2006 period. Known trafficking incidents with plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) involve minuscule quantities of material that would not pose a proliferation threat. In addition, a very small portion of these incidents involves weapons-grade material. For instance, 7 percent of the trafficking transactions (14 cases) involve plutonium (Pu-238 and Pu-239),[8] but they consist of minuscule amounts contained in industrial instruments or smoke detectors, which would not pose a proliferation threat.[9]

Only 5 percent, or 10 cases of the known trafficking incidents during the 2001-2006 period, involve HEU. Three of these cases concern HEU with an enrichment level of at least 80 percent, but they also involve only small quantities of material. One had five grams of HEU enriched to about 80 percent. The material, suspected of originating in an unidentified former Soviet Union country, was seized in France in 2001.[10] Another incident involves 170 grams of HEU seized in Georgia at the border with Armenia. Although media reports issued after the material was seized in 2003 did not specify the material’s enrichment level, later reports indicated that the HEU was enriched to almost 90 percent. The third case, which occurred in early 2006, involved 100 grams of HEU enriched to 89.4 percent.[11] This material was also seized in Georgia at the border with Armenia. The enrichment level of the remaining seven HEU cases was not specified, but four of these incidents were reported in 2005 by Georgian authorities, who indicated that the material had been seized during the previous two to three years and was not weapons-grade HEU.[12]

The profile of the perpetrators and their trafficking methods also remains constant. Perpetrators usually are opportunists (39 percent), either facility insiders or native residents of the city or country of material acquisition. Seven percent of the trafficking cases over the 2001-2006 period involved crime groups (12 cases), which include established organized crime groups (seven cases), such as the Balashikha group in Moscow, and groups of individuals suspected of belonging to a regional or international smuggling rings (five cases). Trafficking perpetrated by crime groups hardly differs from the other incidents. They do entail potent radioactive sources that could be used in RDDs, such as cesium-137, or nuclear material such as HEU (two cases) and LEU (two cases). They also involve material with no nuclear application, such as osmium-187 (four cases), or with low radioactivity levels, such as depleted uranium.[13] This may indicate that these groups have a limited understanding of the material’s value. In addition, these incidents generally involve small quantities of material.

Only three cases are loosely connected to a terrorist organization. The first case is based on a 2002 report published in The Guardian, indicating that, according to an unidentified U.S. official, Chechen rebels stole radioactive sources and nuclear material from the Volgodonsk nuclear power plant located in Rostov Oblast, Russia. These allegations were not corroborated by other sources and even denied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, and Volgodonsk officials.[14] The second case involved two individuals from the Caucasus who attempted to acquire 15 kilograms of uranium with an unspecified enrichment level from a Russian nuclear combine in 2003.[15] The Russian press speculated that the material was to be used for a dirty bomb to be exploded in St. Petersburg during the city’s tercentennial celebrations. These allegations could not be corroborated as the buyer escaped the police. In addition, given the low radioactivity level of uranium, it would not have made a particularly powerful RDD. The third case, which took place in 2005, involved a Sunday Times reporter posing as an intermediary for Algerian terrorists. He approached an arms dealer in the secessionist region of Transdniestria, Moldova, who was willing to sell Alazan rockets with warheads purportedly containing the radioactive material strontium and cesium. Yet, the possibility that these conventional rockets had been modified to carry radioactive warheads has been subject of much debate and no firm conclusion. Moreover, the reporter’s allegation could not be corroborated as he broke off the deal before paying a substantial amount of money to the arms dealer.[16]

As far as the structure of the market is concerned, it remains decidedly supply side. There are no established connections between suppliers and possible brokers or clients, who most often are nonexistent. Suppliers still overestimate the value of the material and do not seem to have a clear idea of what material has value for nuclear weapons or RDD development. Indeed, many of the transactions entail materials that have no nuclear weapons or RDD application or hardly any radioactivity (e.g., osmium-187, cesium-133, [red] mercury, or depleted uranium).[17] In addition, trafficking transactions are often held in public spaces, such as train stations, with few precautions taken to hide these activities. Twenty-two percent of the trafficking cases identified during the 2001-2006 period were discovered during the sale of the material, 10 percent of which were the result of sting operations. Another 22 percent were discovered during the transportation of the material, most often while crossing a border or as a by-product of roadside police checks.

Novel Characteristics

Even though post-2001 trafficking data does not support the feared nexus among terrorism, organized crime and WMD-related trafficking, new trafficking characteristics have emerged that bear close monitoring.

One of these new features is the appearance of trafficking in chemical and biological material. Only two incidents have been reported for the 2001-2006 period. One involved a nonpathogenic strain of the Ebola virus in Ukraine in 2002.[18] The other concerned mustard gas in Georgia in 2003.[19] In both cases, a dearth of information was provided on the material and, in the case of the Ebola strain, no details about the origin, destination, and perpetrators were revealed, making it difficult to ascertain if this was indeed a trafficking case. Nevertheless, the two cases share something in common: the material was discovered by chance, during an unrelated roadside check (Georgia) and during a customs shipment inspection (Ukraine). Because of the absence of appropriate material detection equipment deployed in the former Soviet Union, this fact alone underscores the difficulty of detecting biological and chemical material. Therefore, the small number of reported incidents may not be representative of actual trafficking in these materials.

Notably, trafficking routes appear to have become more varied during the post-2001 period. Seizure and arrest patterns show that previously the main route went south through Central Asia and the Caucasus and then west to Europe. Today, traffickers are likely using three main corridors. First, the east-west route, going directly from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to Europe, which was more widely used in the early 1990s, has been reactivated. Second, a new south-east route crossing Central Asia into neighboring Asian countries seems to have emerged. Finally, the late 1990s south-west route has been maintained, with a good portion of the traffic merging in the Caucasus, probably because, from there, the goods can either go west through Turkey or east into Asia and the Middle East. Although today most materials are seized before they reach their declared destination, the use of multiple routes is worrisome because it may indicate that traffickers have detected a possible new demand in these regions. Multiple routes may also deplete the few resources available to the region’s enforcement communities, thus making it more difficult to monitor and control trafficking.

Another troubling feature is that a few cases involved nuclear or radioactive material in combination with small arms (four cases) and narcotics (two cases), which may indicate a convergence between arms or drugs and WMD-related material. In some of these cases, the nuclear or radioactive material was discovered by chance during an unrelated drug or financial investigation.[20] This may indicate that the drug control and financial fraud enforcement agencies can also be useful instruments of proliferation prevention.

The data set also includes a small number of cases involving opportunists that show a higher degree of organization. Several incidents involve groups of individuals who do not belong to an established organized crime group but collaborate for a specific operation, sometimes with the active participation of former law enforcement representatives.[21] Some opportunist cases also involve weapons and explosives, which may be indicative of a link with organized crime.[22]

In addition, one out of four cases involves potent radioactive sources, particularly cesium-137 (37 cases) and stronsium-90 (six cases), which could be used for RDDs. This characteristic is not completely new; trafficking with these sources was common before 2001 because they can be found in many orphaned industrial instruments. Prior to 2001, however, monitoring focused on state capabilities, and because these materials cannot be used for nuclear weapons, this type of trafficking was not considered a high proliferation risk. Given current concern over terrorist use of RDDs, trafficking with these potent radioactive sources has become more preoccupying. Yet, in light of the meager information in media reports about either the quantity or quality of the material, it is difficult to ascertain whether these events are of proliferation significance.

Absence of Proliferation-Significant Cases

The most striking change in the post-2001 period is the absence of reported proliferation-significant cases (kilogram-level quantities of weapons-grade material). Whereas during the early 1990s, when several cases involving kilogram-level quantities of weapons-grade material were recorded, data for the post-2001 period show only three incidents with gram-level quantities of HEU enriched to 80 percent or more. An analysis of these three cases indicates a connection with organized crime for only one of them and no apparent connection with terrorism.

The two Georgian cases have several common characteristics. They both involve opportunists, who were arrested in Georgia while coming from Russia. In both cases, the enrichment level of the material was almost 90 percent, which might indicate that they came from the same source. The French case, on the other hand, involved a criminal group. Although the investigation and the trial that followed the seizure and arrest of the perpetrators did not establish the origin of the material, plane tickets and documents written in the Cyrillic alphabet found in the apartment of one of the perpetrators point to an Eastern origin. The French perpetrators also kept the material in a glass ampoule contained in a lead cylinder.[23] This is in sharp contrast with the transportation means used by the perpetrator in the 2006 Georgian case, which consisted in a plastic bag tucked in his pocket.[24] As HEU is not highly radioactive, this did not represent a health hazard for the perpetrator as long as the HEU was not ingested.[25] Whether the perpetrator was simply blissfully ignorant or was advised by a knowledgeable co-conspirator not to fret about the matter is unknown. In any event, aside from the fact that the three cases involve gram-level quantities of material that could have constituted a sample of a larger quantity of material, the three cases do not seem to constitute a consistent trafficking pattern.

The absence of proliferation-significant cases may be an indicator that international efforts to improve security at nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union are bearing fruit. If so, the occasional incidents involving small quantities of weapons-grade material may be instances of material stolen in the early 1990s, when security measures were not in place. Conversely, the absence of incidents with significant amounts of weapons-grade material also may be a sign that local authorities are unable to identify such cases or that perpetrators have become more sophisticated in their transactions. Because of the dearth of information, we can only speculate.

2003 Spike in Activity

The number of reported trafficking cases in most categories of material, except HEU and LEU, suddenly increases in 2003 and steadily decreases the following years. The number of cases involving opportunists shows a similar evolution. The surge in plutonium cases (small quantities contained in industrial instruments or smoke detectors) is slightly delayed, with an increase occurring in 2004 and a steady decrease starting in 2005. This parallel movement may indicate an improvement in detection capabilities that may have produced a deterrent effect, which is difficult to prove because media sources do not always indicate the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the material. Nevertheless, the possibility underscores the importance of U.S. and IAEA programs, initiated or accelerated after the September 11 attacks, to detect radioactive sources at border points.

The number of cases involving HEU, LEU, and other unspecified enriched uranium, on the other hand, decreases in 2002 and then flattens to a low level in subsequent years.[26] This may be indicative of the fact that there are not many such cases because of the improvement of physical security measures at facilities storing such material. On the other hand, it may also indicate that due to their weak radioactivity, HEU and LEU cannot be detected by existing radiation-detection equipment. Consequently, more trafficking cases possibly have occurred. The small number of cases involving organized crime and terrorist groups can be interpreted the same way. This may indicate the absence of involvement of such groups in trafficking in the former Soviet Union, or it may show that existing border-control equipment and methods are not efficient against more sophisticated groups.

Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence

Except for the cases having a loose terrorist connection, the data does not show much of a convergence between WMD-related material trafficking and terrorism. Yet, caution regarding this conclusion is warranted for several reasons. First, investigations of trafficking incidents in the former Soviet Union are usually incomplete, especially so in Central Asia and the Caucasus, because the enforcement communities in these countries do not have sufficient funding or appropriate training to conduct systematic investigations. As a result, investigations are often limited to the arrest of the seller, with little or no information on the identity of other members of a network, if any, or any determination of the origin of the material. The few cases where several members of a trafficking chain—seller, buyer, and intermediaries—were identified and arrested typically involve nationals of the former Soviet Union all meeting in the same place for the transaction.[27] Seldom can the police or security services identify sellers or buyers if they are located in a foreign country. They are also often unable to discover the final destination of the material or even the origin of the material if it did not come from a local facility.

A second problem relates to the lack of information sharing among enforcement organizations in the region, which may spring from the absence of technical means, the lack of political will, and territorial or political disputes. The problematic cooperation between Russia and Georgia regarding the identification of the HEU seized by Georgian authorities in 2006 illustrates the fact that political disputes constitute a powerful obstacle to cooperation in preventing proliferation and identifying trafficking patterns.

Another major obstacle to understanding trafficking patterns is the infancy of export control in the region. For instance, Turkmenistan has no export control law and no export control list for strategic goods.[28] Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have export control laws, but implementing legislation and an export control list for each country are still under development. Uzbekistan’s export control law was adopted only in 2004, and the country’s export control list also is under development.

Except for Russia and Kazakhstan, most countries of the former Soviet Union have a weak legal basis for regulating exports with contradictory and/or incomplete legislation, an underdeveloped licensing system, and understaffed export control organizations with underpaid and untrained personnel. Customs border posts are still ill-equipped to deal with trafficking of WMD-related material, although several U.S. and international programs are underway to provide proliferation-prevention equipment and training in several countries of the region. Some border sections also remain unprotected because of access constraints, such as mountain passes, or territorial disputes. For instance, because of disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Azeri government does not control 132 kilometers of the border between Azerbaijan and Iran. Mountain passes in Tajikistan, especially at the border with Afghanistan, which stretches over 1,200 kilometers, are the most difficult to protect. Visibility in these areas is limited to 10 meters or less.

Finally, insufficient reporting is another cause for concern. Because of their lack of training, customs officials, border guards, and security services sometimes do not recognize the importance of events. During an IAEA workshop in 2001, a Russian customs officer indicated that he was aware of more than 200 cases of illicit trafficking that had not been reported because field custom agents considered them insignificant. Nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities also may not report incidents occurring within their walls either because they poorly appreciate the importance of the event or they fear being involved in a police investigation.

Training programs on export control of strategic material have been launched in various countries in the former Soviet Union since the mid-1990s and are aimed to inform industry and the enforcement community. These programs, however, are primarily directed toward aiding the development of national export control systems or providing training on border control methods and the use of border control equipment. Very little is done in the field of increasing nonproliferation awareness among customs, border guards, and industry. The Export Control and Related Border Security (EXBS) program managed by the Department of State is probably one of the few programs that sponsors such training. The program is very limited, with a total budget of $42 million in 2006 to cover 40 countries, of which former Soviet Union countries constitute only a small portion.[29]


Because our capacity to understand future trends in WMD-trafficking hinges on appropriate reporting from the field, it will become increasingly important to improve the quality and quantity of information gathering by training local and regional officials in recognizing significant incidents. The proliferation consequences of such an imperfect system ought to galvanize the international community to lend appropriate assistance.

The data collected over the 2001-2006 period shows that programs aiming to provide radiation-detection equipment have had some success and should be continued and reinforced, especially in countries located on the southern borders of the former Soviet Union. Although existing technology does not detect HEU, it does detect other material with nuclear-weapon or RDD applications (plutonium and radioactive sources). Until recently, the bulk of such U.S. assistance went to Russia and Kazakhstan because they possessed the largest quantities of WMD material. Only after 2001 did other countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus begin to receive more attention, due to their location on trafficking routes, their position as transit countries, and their proximity to troubled areas such as Afghanistan and Iran.

Nevertheless, border-control assistance programs in countries such as Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are still wanting. These two countries are located on the trafficking routes for drugs coming from Afghanistan, they have porous borders, and Tajikistan is a theater of terrorist activity. In addition, their customs and border guards are ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with trafficking in WMD-related material. These also are the two countries in the former Soviet Union with the worst record in terms of export-control system development. It is important to direct more funding to install radiation detection equipment at their borders—some of which is already being done under the EXBS program—encourage the development of their national export-control systems, and train their border control personnel.

Considering that several countries of the region, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, have mountainous areas difficult to protect, the provision of other technical means would greatly improve border control. Tools such as night-vision equipment, all-terrain vehicles, communication equipment, and helicopters would sharply improve the efficiency of these organizations. It also is important to provide the means to support and operate such equipment. Some of these measures are already being implemented under U.S.-funded programs. Many customs and border guard posts remain unequipped, however, according to local customs and border guard representatives. Another important measure consists of raising the morale and motivation of customs and border guards to perform their tasks efficiently. Increasing or complementing their salaries can help here.

New methods are needed to improve data collection related to trafficking in the region. This could be achieved by establishing a regional information-sharing mechanism that would allow national export-control and intelligence communities to share information. Some countries in the region exchange information on licensing on a bilateral basis (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan) while others do not (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine).[30] Regional organizations such as the Eurasian Economic Community[31] have been established to harmonize export control procedures and improve information sharing. The organization has a limited membership, however, and so far has achieved little tangible progress. No regional information-sharing mechanisms exist. Previous attempts to create such a system—the Regional Transit Agreement—were supported by the State Department for several years but failed in part because of conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The initiative should be reactivated, and conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be avoided by establishing Georgia as the intermediary between the two countries.

Considering that 20 percent of known trafficking cases have been discovered as a result of an investigation, improving police investigative capabilities and training police forces in the region—drug control and financial brigades—in identifying WMD-related material could also greatly benefit data collection and improve our understanding of the possible connections among crime, terrorism, and trafficking.

Programs in the field of chemical and biological nonproliferation are still wanting. Existing training programs and equipment provision are geared toward nuclear material and technology. Considering the dearth of biological and chemical detection equipment, it is important to help customs and border guards identify these materials with other means. These could include such tools as product identification workshops or the design of manuals describing goods related to biological and chemical weapons that could be used by border control personnel. The creation of expert centers on which border control personnel could call for assistance in identifying such material would also be helpful. So far, such centers only exist in Russia. Yet, many other former Soviet states have facilities that at one time produced biological and chemical weapons and that could serve as an expert adjunct to law enforcement agencies.

Finally, for any new system or mechanism to be successful in the region, another major challenge will have to be overcome: the absence of a nonproliferation culture. Government and customs officials, border guards, and exporters alike have little understanding of the concept of export control as a means to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Improvements in this area have occurred in Russia and Kazakhstan, but in most other countries of the former Soviet Union, export control is usually understood as “customs control,” that is, the act of checking the validity of documents and collecting duties. It is important to educate local authorities and industry representatives about basic nonproliferation concepts while providing them with updated information on WMD-related material and trafficking techniques and patterns. Several training workshops have been organized under the auspices of the Departments of State, Energy, and Commerce as well as the IAEA. These workshops, however, are often organized with long intervals between them and for a limited number of actors. There is a need for continuous and wider training. Only such a system would truly generate a change in mentality and behaviors. This could be achieved by setting up a nonproliferation curriculum within customs, border guards, and police academies and supporting the creation of such academies where they do not already exist.


Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley is a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Marina Matevski and Karl Scheuerman provided assistance in collecting and organizing the data that form the basis for this article.


1. See Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), NIS Export Control Observer, available at http://www.cns.miis.edu/pubs/nisexcon/index.htm.

2. See CNS, International Export Control Observer, available at http://www.cns.miis.edu/pubs/observer/index.htm.

3. See CNS, NIS Nuclear Trafficking Database, available at http://www.nti.org/db/nistraff/index.html.

4. The incident involving weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) that was reported in January 2007 in The New York Times was included in the data set, as the material was seized in Georgia in January 2006. See Lawrence Scott Sheets and William Broad, “Georgia Says It Blocked Smuggling of Arms-Grade Uranium,” The New York Times, January 25, 2007, p. A1.

5. Proliferation-significant cases are defined as involving kilogram-level quantities of plutonium-239 or HEU with an enrichment level of 80 percent or more. At least 3 kilograms of plutonium-239 or 25 kilograms of HEU enriched to 80 percent or more would be required to build a nuclear bomb. In principle, a nuclear bomb could also be built with uranium enriched to less than 80 percent. The lower the enrichment level, however, the greater the quantity of uranium required. For instance, at 20 percent enrichment, about 200 kilograms of uranium or more would be needed to build a bomb. A bomb maker would also need to understand very advanced techniques in order to be able to use uranium enriched to about 20 percent. Charles Ferguson and William Potter, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (New York: Routledge, 2005).

6. For a description of these cases, see William C. Potter and Elena Sokova “Illicit Nuclear Trafficking in the NIS: What’s New? What’s True?” The Nonproliferation Review, Summer 2002, pp. 112-120.

7. Uranium containing less than 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235.

8. An additional plutonium event was reported in the press in 2003. Because the material was stolen in 1993 and the perpetrator attempted to sell it the same year, this case was not included in the data set.

9. Traditionally, plutonium-238 is used for civilian purposes, while plutonium-239 is used in weapons production. Other types of smoke detectors use americium-241, a radioactive isotope slightly heavier than plutonium. A terrorist would need millions of detectors in order to extract enough americium or plutonium to make a powerful RDD. Steve Coll, “The Unthinkable,” The New Yorker, March 12, 2007, pp. 48-57.

10. “French Court Sentences Uranium Smugglers to Jail” NIS Export Control Observer, August 2003, p. 17.

11. Sheets and Broad, “Georgia Says It Blocked Smuggling of Arms-Grade Uranium.”

12. “Georgia Reports Four New Cases of HEU Seizure,” NIS Export Control Observer, July 2005.

13. See “Cesium Sellers Caught Red-handed,” Security Service of Ukraine, May 6, 2004; “1.8kg Uranium Seized in Batumi, Georgia,” Interfax News Agency, July 24, 2001; “Balashikha Organized Crime Group Members Arrested for Attempted Sale of Uranium-235,” Gazeta.ru, December 4, 2001; “Omsk Oblast: Counterintelligence Agents Catch Pensioners Selling Radioactive Osmium and Counterfeit Iraqi Currency,” VolgaInform, March 2, 2003.

14. “Russian Nuclear Theft Alarms U.S.,” The Guardian, July 19, 2002.

15. “A Charmed Pilgrim,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, July 19, 2004.

16. “Dirty Bomb Rockets Again Reported for Sale in Transnistria” NIS Export Control Observer, June 2005.

17. See “National Security Service Detains Three Residents of Tokmok Attempting to Sell Strategic Material for Over One Million Soms,” Kyrgyzinfo News Agency, February 11, 2005; “Incidents of Illicit trafficking in the NIS-Russia,” NIS Export Control Observer, April 2005.

18. “Two Incidents of Pathogen Smuggling Reported,” NIS Export Control Observer, July 2003.

19. “Two Radioactive Smuggling Cases Occur in Georgia Within Weeks,” NIS Export Control Observer, July 2003.

20. See “Kazakhstani Officials Confiscate 1.5kg Uranium Oxide, Heroin,” Interfax News Agency, March 11, 2002; “Tajik Authorities Foil Attempt by Uzbekistani Citizen to Sell Plutonium,” ITAR-TASS, March 15, 2004; “Dirty Bomb in a Nuclear Suitcase,” Izvestia.ru, October 3, 2003; “Des trafiquants d’uranium arrêtés par hazard,” Liberation, July 24, 2001 (in French).

21. “1.8kg Uranium Seized in Batumi, Georgia”; “Balashikha Organized Crime Group Members Arrested for Attempted Sale of Uranium-235.”

22. “Polish Police Arrest Gang Selling Explosives, Radioactive Material,” Gazeta Wyborcza, in FBIS document EUP20030903000339, September 3, 2003; “Dirty Bomb in a Nuclear Suitcase.”

23. “Des trafiquants d’uranium arrêtés par hazard.”

24. No information on the transportation means was given for the 2003 HEU case.

25. As a heavy metal, uranium can pose a toxic risk, especially to the kidneys, if taken into the body.

26. An artificial surge in HEU cases was created by the announcement made in 2005 by Georgian authorities that they thwarted four attempts of trafficking with HEU in the previous two to three years. As the dates of these incidents were not given, they were all recorded in 2005.

27. See “Radioactive Components Stolen From Scientific Research Institute’s Storage Facility Pass Through Ukraine and Seized by Special Services on Western Border,” Fakty i kommentarii (Kiev), May 23, 2002; “Smuggling of Rare-Earth Metals Into Russia Stopped,” Interfax News Agency, December 28, 2001.

28. Turkmenistan’s existing export control list includes only categories of material, such as nuclear material and military technology, but does not provide a detailed list of controlled items.

29. The Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance (EXBS) program.

30. Eighth Central Asia and the Caucasus Regional Forum on Export Control, Tbilisi, Georgia, May 16-18, 2006.

31. The Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC) was created in May 2001, when the five member states—Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan—ratified the corresponding treaty. Uzbekistan has joined the organization recently. EURASEC replaced the customs union of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

U.S.-Indian Talks Fail to Move Nuclear Deal

Wade Boese

Top U.S. and Indian officials failed recently to jump-start their stalled negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement that both governments hail as a centerpiece of their new relationship.

The two sides sought to favorably portray the latest talks that took place May 31 to June 2 in New Delhi. The U.S. embassy there issued a statement describing the discussions as “useful,” while Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon deemed them as “constructive and productive.”

But the lead U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, left town without addressing reporters. His quiet exit spoke volumes about the lack of results, particularly since the Department of State had announced May 1 that the goal of Burns’ visit was to “reach a final agreement.”

The agreement being pursued is known as a 123 agreement, after the relevant section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. It would set the terms of future U.S.-Indian civil nuclear commerce. The United States previously cut off most nuclear trade with India following India’s 1974 explosion of a nuclear device derived in part from Canadian- and U.S.-origin material and technologies imported ostensibly for peaceful purposes.

Menon said June 2 that he was not setting dates or deadlines for completion of the agreement “because I do not think that is the right way to negotiate something that is so complicated.” Still, he noted that the two sides would like to finish negotiations “very quickly.”

President George W. Bush reportedly has invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to an August stay at his home in Texas. They would probably like nothing more than to cap their visit with a finished agreement.

The two leaders put the entire effort in motion two years ago. (See ACT, September 2005. ) Bush pledged to change U.S. law and international rules restricting nuclear trade with India in exchange for a Singh commitment to open up a greater portion of India’s nuclear complex to outside oversight, specifically safeguards administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Safeguards are measures intended to prevent nuclear technologies and materials in civil programs from flowing to nuclear weapons.

Congress gave its blessing to reviving nuclear trade with India in legislation passed last December. In that legislation, lawmakers established conditions under which future trade could be carried out. (See ACT, January/February 2007 .)

After the congressional action, Bush administration officials predicted a speedy conclusion of the 123 agreement. But the process has slowed to a standstill over the past several months because of differences over the details of the agreement.

India is opposed to clauses that would terminate cooperation and mandate the return of imports if New Delhi conducts another nuclear explosion. India also wants license to deal with U.S.-origin nuclear fuel however it sees fit, as well as the opportunity to purchase reprocessing and enrichment technologies. Those technologies can be used to make nuclear fuel or nuclear bombs. In addition, India is seeking assurances that it will not be deprived of foreign nuclear fuel supplies in the event the United States ceases cooperation.

Neither side has been in a compromising mood. Existing U.S. law and policy limits U.S. flexibility, while the Indian nuclear establishment and opposition lawmakers are pressuring the Singh government not to budge.

Burns acknowledges the difficulties but proclaims confidence they will be overcome. “I believe we will reach the mountaintop,” he said in a May 23 speech.

Conclusion of a 123 agreement would not mark the fulfillment of the Bush-Singh plan. Before U.S.-Indian nuclear trade could actually commence, there would also need to be congressional approval of the 123 agreement, completion of an IAEA-Indian safeguards agreement, and a nuclear trade exemption for India from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which operates by consensus.

A 1992 NSG rule restricts nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not subject all of their nuclear enterprise to IAEA safeguards. New Delhi does not do this, nor under the Bush-Singh plan does it plan to start. Because India is classified as a non-nuclear-weapon state under the terms of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which New Delhi has not signed, it must get relief from the NSG rule to take greater advantage of international nuclear trade.

Despite some preliminary contacts, the IAEA and India have yet to launch negotiations on India’s request for unique safeguards. Meanwhile, some NSG members, such as France, Russia, and the United Kingdom, favor granting India a trade exemption, but other members must still be convinced. The group does not plan to take up the matter until a 123 agreement and IAEA safeguards agreement are negotiated.


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