I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
November 2007
Edition Date: 
Thursday, November 1, 2007
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UN Register Reveals Small Arms Trade

Jeff Abramson

The number of countries voluntarily providing data to the United Nations on their small arms and light weapons trade has jumped substantially this year, shedding new light on the pervasiveness and complexity of this often murky commerce.

As of early October, 30 states had declared their small arms and light weapons trade for 2006 to the voluntary UN Register of Conventional Arms, accounting for more than 535,000 weapons exported and 105,000 weapons imported. Some major arms-trading countries, such as Russia and the United States, have not provided information about their small arms commerce.

The UN register grew out of a 1991 agreement seeking to add transparency to the global arms trade, calling on all countries to report annually on their previous year’s exports and imports. Historically, declarations have focused on heavy equipment such as tanks, combat aircraft, warships, large-caliber artillery, and missiles and missile systems. (See ACT, September 2007.) Until this year, small arms and light weapons exports and imports, although much more numerous, were rarely included in countries’ reports. For example, only a half-dozen countries had filed declarations at this time last year.

Of the 30 detailed declarations, most come from countries that are European, Western allies, and/or from the Western Hemisphere, skewing the findings to these states and their partners.

The United Kingdom provided the longest small arms and light weapons report and ranks as by far the biggest exporter to file a declaration, with 359,444 of the 535,522 total reported weapons exported. The United Kingdom has filed small arms reports for the past four years and is a leader in the call for a global arms trade treaty.

Countries that were once part of the Warsaw Pact account for three of the next four largest declared weapons exporters. Hungary claims 52,208 weapons exported, the Czech Republic 40,082 weapons exported, and Poland 25,591 weapons exported. Germany reports 29,179 weapons exported, ranking it fourth on the list.

Eastern European states are also major small arms importers. Georgia ranks first with 21,962 of the 105,317 total reported imported weapons. The Czech Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina rank second and third with 16,514 and 14,470 weapons imported, respectively. Germany is fourth with 13,298 weapons imported. Canada is fifth with 10,877 weapons imported and Japan sixth with 6,605 weapons imported.

The data in the register also reveals trade by eastern European countries that did not themselves make small arms declarations. Austria did not include small arms in its register report, but 11 states claim to import small arms from the country. Similarly, Ukraine did not declare small arms, but Georgia reports the importation of 21,700 assault rifles from Ukraine.

To be sure, the reach of the register remains limited, and many experts recommend caution before drawing expansive conclusions. More than 70 countries have filed “nil” or not included small arms in their register declaration. There is almost no data regarding Africa. China’s and Russia’s declarations include heavier weapons but not smaller arms. Italy, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Spain rank among the top five importers or exporters of revolvers and pistols in 2006 by trade value according to the UN’s Commodity Trade Statistics Database, but do not emerge as significant in the register.

Data does show that the United States is a key player in the small arms and light weapons trade even though it has not filed a detailed declaration. Twelve countries report exporting to the United States, and 14 claim to be receiving U.S. imports. The United Kingdom claims that it exported more than 330,000 weapons to the United States, making the British-U.S. trade relationship the single largest in the register.

Still, absent a U.S. filing, small arms and light weapons numbers remain low in countries where the U.S. military is active. In the register, exports to Afghanistan come from Hungary, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom but account for less than seven percent of total weapons exported. Exports to Iraq come from Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom and account for less than one percent of total weapons exported.

A U.S. official told Arms Control Today in September that the United States does intend to file a small arms report this year. The complexity of compiling records from various sources has slowed U.S. participation in this portion of the register, the official claimed. The United States has already filed for heavier weapons.

In addition to being more numerous, the declarations this year are more detailed, perhaps due to an agreement reached last year to use a standard form comprised of six categories of small arms and seven of light weapons. The first two categories of small arms, consisting of revolvers and self-loading pistols, and rifles and carbines, account for more than 75 percent of total reported exports and imports. Additional small arms categories include assault rifles, sub- and light machine guns, and others.

Light weapons, which account for less than four percent of total claimed transfers, are defined as heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, mortars of calibers less than 75 millimeters, portable anti-tank guns, missile launchers and rocket systems, and others. The register encourages reporting of civilian and military arms transfers, but not all countries appear to use the same standards.

U.S. Again Outsells Other Arms Suppliers

Wade Boese

The United States in 2006 continued to lead the world in conventional arms sales agreements and deliveries. The latest installment of an annual report to Congress on global arms sales also found that Washington reclaimed the top spot in arms deals with developing countries. Total global arms sales, however, declined from the previous year.

Released Oct. 1, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006,” revealed that the U.S. government agreed last year to $16.9 billion in arms sales and delivered slightly more than $14 billion worth of weapons abroad. Arms deals can take years to implement, so annual agreement and delivery totals rarely match.

The U.S. 2006 tallies surpassed by a few billion dollars those compiled in 2005 and marked the largest yearly sums for the United States since 2000. That year, the United States contracted almost $21 billion in transactions and carried out almost $15.2 billion in transfers. (Past and cumulative figures are adjusted to 2006 dollars to account for inflation.)

Last year’s U.S. totals significantly exceeded the sums accumulated by other leading arms suppliers. Russia ranked second and the United Kingdom third in the two categories of global arms agreements and deliveries. Moscow posted $8.7 billion in sales and $5.8 billion in exports, while London sealed $3.1 billion in agreements and shipped $3.3 billion in weapons.

The only other country to pass the $1 billion level both in agreements and deliveries was Germany, which signed $1.9 billion worth of deals, all but $100 million of which involved submarine deals with Brazil and Israel. Berlin also transferred $1 billion in arms. As with the top three suppliers, Germany’s 2006 activities marked increases from the preceding year.

China and France, however, experienced downturns, Paris most precipitously. French arms sales dropped from $8.3 billion to $500 million, and deliveries declined from almost $2.3 billion to $400 million. Meanwhile, China, which sells less advanced and cheaper weaponry than Russia and Western countries, agreed to $800 million in sales last year in contrast to $2.6 billion in 2005. Beijing’s delivery total also shrank from $936 million to $700 million.

All told, global arms sales agreements from 2005 to 2006 dipped $6 billion to $40.3 billion. That total, however, is slightly higher than the annual average of the eight-year period covered by the report, at $39.6 billion.

CRS analyst Richard Grimmett, who has authored the report since 1982, attributed the decrease in agreements reached last year to the fact that some key arms buyers slowed procurement in order to integrate previously bought weapons into their militaries. In addition, Grimmett claims rising oil prices have led some states to spend less on weapons, although he indicates the trend also has filled the pockets of some oil-rich arms purchasers, such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Those countries and others in the developing world, according to Grimmett, continue to be a “primary focus” of arms suppliers, accounting for $28.8 billion, or 71 percent, of all agreements last year. The report classifies developing countries as all states except Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, the United States, and European countries.

Washington and Moscow used arms transfers during the Cold War as one means to win allies in what both capitals saw as a global ideological and military struggle. Now, Grimmett contends, arms sales “may be based as much on economic considerations as those of foreign or national security policy.”

In the current era, the United States and Russia remain the dominant suppliers to developing countries, selling them $10.3 billion and $8.1 billion worth of arms in 2006, respectively. But other suppliers, such as China, Israel, and Sweden, are seeking inroads. These emerging dealers tend to offer older weapon systems, niche equipment, or small arms and light weapons rather than the big-ticket items such as combat aircraft and warships.

Still, experts say the availability of inexpensive weaponry, such as those based on the Soviet-origin AK-47 assault rifle, has contributed to countless human casualties in global conflicts. A 2006 deal by Russia to help Venezuela build a factory to produce a derivative of the AK-47, the AK-103, has raised U.S. concerns about the potential spread of these weapons. More generally, the United States has warned that recent Venezuelan arms purchases, totaling $3.1 billion in 2006, might spur arms buildups elsewhere in Latin America.

The United States regularly dismisses similar complaints lodged against its arms transactions. For example, India had protested that U.S. sales of combat aircraft to Pakistan could jeopardize Indian security, but the United States still signed a September 2006 deal to provide Pakistan up to 36 new F-16C/D fighters. (See ACT, November 2006. )

Overall, Pakistan ranked as the top developing-world arms buyer in 2006 with $5.1 billion in new deals. India, traditionally a purchaser of Russian weapons but now being heavily courted by the United States, placed a distant second with agreements valued at $3.5 billion.

Russia in recent years has sought to branch out from its two main clients, China and India, through various sales strategies, such as licensed production arrangements and debt relief. Moscow used the latter method last year with Algeria to conclude an estimated $7.5 billion arms package, which included an assortment of 64 combat aircraft. Grimmett reports that the actual revenue to be recouped by Moscow will be much less than the cost of the arms because “about $4.7 billion…is being paid through forgiveness of Algerian debt to Russia.”

Russian efforts to expand its customer base has yielded “mixed results,” according to Grimmett, who also assesses that Moscow’s lagging investment in new weapons research and development could hurt its future sales. Still, he predicts that China and India “should provide” Russia with “sustained business throughout this decade.”

Of all the major arms sellers, the United States has cultivated the largest client base and, in Grimmett’s analysis, “appears likely to hold its position as the principal supplier to key developing world nations, especially those able to afford major new weapons.” Even if those clients do not procure fresh arms, they regularly seek upgrades, replacement parts, and service support for previously acquired weapons, helping ensure steady U.S. business and preeminence in the global arms market.

Clues Emerge Surrounding Airstrike in Syria

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. (Continue)

Peter Crail

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.

After nearly a month of denials or silence regarding the Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace, officials in Syria and Israel have acknowledged that Israel struck a target in northern Syria.

Syrian officials originally denied that Israel successfully bombed any targets during the raid. (See ACT, October 2007.) On Oct. 1, however, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the BBC that Israel attacked a building “related to the military” that was still under construction. A day later, Israel provided its first official admission that an attack was conducted in Syrian territory. Israel Army Radio reported Oct. 2, “Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today.” Israel has not provided any further details regarding the target of the attack.

The New York Times reported Oct. 14 that U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts assessed that the suspected site of the attack was a nuclear reactor in the early phases of construction. Citing unnamed sources, the Times reported that the site resembles North Korea’s five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which was used to produce the plutonium for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

A subsequent assessment of commercial satellite images by the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security also suggested that the structure could house a reactor similar to the Yongbyon reactor. However, the early level of construction prevented any definitive comparisons. Satellite photography taken since the attack has shown that Syria rapidly dismantled the remains of the facility and covered its foundations. Satellite images released from Sept. 2003 also demonstrate that the structure is at least four years old.

If Syria was constructing a reactor, it would still need to develop a plutonium reprocessing capability to separate the plutonium for weapons from the reactor’s spent fuel.

Requests for Briefings to Congress

In an Oct. 20 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, criticized the Bush administration for its secrecy regarding the strike. Noting that they were among the few members of Congress that were briefed on this issue, they argued that all members of Congress should receive information on the incident.

The lawmakers discussed the airstrike and reports of suspected Syrian nuclear cooperation from North Korea, Iran, or other rogue states in the context of current efforts in the six-party talks to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see page 26). Noting that Congress will be asked to provide funds for energy assistance to North Korea as part of the agreements brokered in the six-party talks, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen assert that “until Congress is fully briefed, it would be imprudent for the administration to move forward with agreements with state proliferators.”

On Sept. 25, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the North Korean Counterterrorism and Nonproliferation Act, which would apply conditions to the provision of nonhumanitarian assistance to North Korea or to Pyongyang’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One such condition would require the president to certify that North Korea is not engaged in the proliferation of nuclear or missile technology.

The administration has maintained that concerns regarding North Korean proliferation must be addressed within the six-party talks. (See ACT, October 2007.)

IAEA Inquiries Into the Nuclear Angle

The IAEA issued a press release Oct. 15 indicating that the agency did not have any information regarding an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility and that the IAEA is in contact with Syrian authorities to verify the veracity of reports regarding such a facility. The release also stated that “the IAEA Secretariat expects any country having information about nuclear-related activities in another country to provide that information to the IAEA.”

In an Oct. 22 interview with Le Monde newspaper, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the agency’s request for information states might have regarding nuclear activities in Syria. He also expressed hope that states would attempt to address any such nuclear concerns through the IAEA prior to taking military action, stating, “Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns.”

On Oct. 18, the agency also began to examine commercial satellite images of the suspected site of the Israeli airstrike. The IAEA has not yet been able to determine whether the building in question was a nuclear facility, although it is continuing this examination.

Syria has a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA and, according to a February 1992 decision of the IAEA Board of Governors, Syria is required to provide the agency with design information on any nuclear facilities “well before construction actually begins.”

Syria is prohibited from receiving nearly any nuclear technology from North Korea due to the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted Oct. 14, 2006, in response to North Korea’s nuclear test, Resolution 1718 requires that all states prevent North Korean nationals from exporting or providing technical training, advice, services, or assistance related to items on the trigger list of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG is a group of 45 states that comprise the world’s primary suppliers of nuclear technology and that are required to provide notification prior to transferring any of the items on a list of nuclear-related technologies. North Korea is also obligated not to transfer or provide any assistance regarding items on the trigger list.

Congress Takes Aim at Iran

On Sept. 25, the House of Representatives adopted a controversial bill that would expand the reach of U.S. sanctions against entities that do business in Iran. Although the bill has received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, the administration has criticized the legislation for limiting its ability to garner support from other states for multilateral sanctions against Iran. (Continue)

Peter Crail

On Sept. 25, the House of Representatives adopted a controversial bill that would expand the reach of U.S. sanctions against entities that do business in Iran. Although the bill has received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, the administration has criticized the legislation for limiting its ability to garner support from other states for multilateral sanctions against Iran.

Similar legislation was filed in the Senate by Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) as an amendment to the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill but was not voted on. The defense authorization bill, which was adopted Oct. 1 by a vote of 93-2, includes two amendments pertaining to Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities and its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

House Targets Businesses

The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), passed by a vote of 397-16. Key provisions of the bill consist of a number of additional sanctions on entities, persons, and governments dealing with Iran and amendments to the current law, which requires the president to sanction any firm investing more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector.

The bill would extend sanctions to U.S. firms whose foreign-owned subsidiaries abrogate U.S. sanctions on Iran. This measure would not apply to contracts concluded prior to May 22, 2007.

In recent years, U.S. companies have come under fire for trade and investment deals between their foreign-owned subsidiaries and Iran. On April 30, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade, and Tourism held a hearing with Halliburton Co. Vice President and Corporate Secretary Sherry Williams regarding the work conducted in Iran by a foreign-owned subsidiary of the U.S.-based energy giant. She indicated that “we believe it to be well established that owned or controlled foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies are not subject to the U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.”

The bill would also prohibit the United States from entering into a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country assisting Iran’s nuclear program or transferring conventional arms or missiles to Tehran. The prohibition would include restrictions on exporting nuclear technology and components to such countries. The sole country explicitly recognized in the bill as applicable for such restrictions is Russia. In July, President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin initialed such an agreement, but diplomats said that its progress is likely tied to Russia’s policies toward Iran. Moreover, Moscow is currently constructing Iran’s first nuclear power reactor at Bushehr and has provided Iran with conventional weapons systems, including the transfer of 29 Tor-M1 anti-aircraft systems in January.

The bill would amend current law by removing the president’s waiver authority and making the prohibition of U.S. government procurement from a sanctioned entity a mandatory sanction. Current law allows the executive branch to choose two from a menu of six possible sanctions as well as to exercise waiver authority under certain circumstances. Since a version of the law first went into effect in 1996, the United States has refrained from placing sanctions on European firms due to the European Union’s nonproliferation and counterterrorism cooperation vis-à-vis Iran.

Administration officials have criticized the Lantos bill for targeting the business interests of states on which the United States depends to place multilateral pressure on Iran. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee March 6, “If the focus of the United States’ effort is to sanction our allies and not sanction Iran, that may not be the best way to maintain this very broad international coalition that we have built up since March of 2005.” The administration did, however, promulgate sanctions Oct. 25 that rely in part on restricting third-country financing of certain Iranian entities.

Senate Chimes In

Two of the amendments adopted along with the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill are related to recommendations for U.S. policy in response to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. The first amendment, approved by a vote of 90-5 July 12, recommends that the United States develop and deploy a missile defense system to counter the threat from Iranian ballistic missiles as soon as technologically possible. The amendment urges that this action should provide protection for “the United States, its friends, and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.”

The United States is currently considering fielding a strategic missile defense system in eastern Europe, with elements of the system based in Poland and the Czech Republic. At present, Iran’s ballistic missile capability can reach portions of eastern and southeastern Europe, but it may be possible for Iran to develop a missile that can reach western Europe by the end of the decade. (See ACT, October 2007.)

By a vote of 76-22, the Senate Sept. 26 passed an amendment introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that recommends that the United States designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization. The amendment also encourages the Department of the Treasury to “act with all possible expediency” to implement sanctions against all of the entities listed under UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747.

According to the latest U.S. report to the UN committee created to oversee the implementation of the resolutions, the United States has placed restrictions on only 14 of the 50 entities listed in the resolutions. The Oct. 25 sanctions included eight additional individuals listed under the resolutions.

UN Iran Sanctions Decision Awaits

Peter Crail

On Sept. 28, the foreign ministers of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, as well as the high representative of the European Union, adopted a joint statement indicating they intended to move forward on a third UN sanctions resolution unless Iran shows progress on two tracks. Meanwhile, the United States has sought to tighten the economic pressure on Iran by reducing Iran’s access to the international financial system.

In addition to Washington’s effort to pursue sanctions on Iran, the White House has recently stepped up its rhetoric regarding the consequences of failing to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons. During an Oct. 17 press conference, President George W. Bush suggested that Iran must be prevented from acquiring the knowledge necessary for building nuclear weapons in order to avoid “World War III.” Days later, at an Oct. 21 speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Vice President Richard Cheney insisted that “[t]he Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.”

U.S. Seeking Greater Economic Pressure on Tehran

Iran has refused to comply with Security Council demands to suspend its uranium-enrichment-related and plutonium reprocessing activities. Both processes can be used for peaceful purposes or to produce material for nuclear weapons. These demands were first imposed by Security Council Resolution 1737, adopted in December 2006, and reiterated by Resolution 1747, adopted March 24. The deadline for Iran to suspend its sensitive nuclear activities under Resolution 1747 was May 24.

Since Iran failed to meet this deadline, the United States, joined by several European countries, has sought to impose an additional set of sanctions. (See ACT, June 2007.) The push for new sanctions has met strong resistance from Russia and China, which want to wait to see if progress would be made in Iran’s discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to resolve outstanding questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA and Iran agreed Aug. 21 on a timetable to answer these questions. According to the Russian News and Information Agency, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently reiterated Russia’s hesitation, stating, “Until the IAEA reports on what is going on in Iran, until we receive these answers, it would be irresponsible to make any radical movements.”

The seven countries agreed in the Sept. 28 joint statement that action on a resolution will await reports to be provided by EU High Representative Javier Solana regarding his negotiations with Iran on a package of incentives in return for Tehran’s suspension of sensitive nuclear activities and by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran’s cooperation with his agency.

In the meantime, the United States has continued to pursue punitive measures against Iran outside the Security Council. On Oct. 25, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson announced wide-ranging sanctions against 23 Iranian entities and individuals. Twenty-one entities and individuals were designated as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction under Executive Order 13382, which provides the authority to freeze the assets of designees and prohibits any transactions between them and U.S. persons. The designations included two state-owned banks, Melli and Mellat, and elements of the Iranian armed forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

The IRGC is comprised of approximately 150,000 individuals and oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as elements of its nuclear program. The IRGC also controls an array of commercial enterprises.

In addition to these proliferation-focused sanctions, two entities, Bank Saderat and the Qods Force, a subdivision of the IRGC, were sanctioned under Executive Order 13224, which authorize financial restrictions for entities and individuals designated as supporting terrorist organizations. Bank Saderat was previously cut off from the U.S. financial system in September 2006.

These new sanctions follow a year of U.S. efforts to enhance financial restrictions on Iran and Iranian entities. In an Oct. 2 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey stated that last year the Department of the Treasury “launched a world-wide effort to inform the public, government partners and private-sector leaders about the danger Iran’s financial deception poses to the international financial system.”

Part of this initiative to expand participation in financial sanctions on Iran has been conducted through the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a grouping of 34 states established in 1989 to address illicit financial activities such as money laundering and, more recently, terrorism and proliferation financing. On Oct. 12, FATF adopted guidelines for its members on implementing the financial sanctions on Iran related to Resolution 1737. These guidelines followed a statement issued Oct. 11 that advised the financial institutions of FATF members to take into account the risks related to Iran’s lack of money-laundering and terrorism-financing controls.

Following these steps by FATF, the finance ministers and central bank governors of the Group of Seven (G-7) major industrialized states issued a statement Oct. 19 that praised the intergovernmental body for taking steps against illicit financial activities by Iran. Highlighting the issue of proliferation concerns regarding Iran, the G-7 stated, “[I]n the wake of two unanimous UN Security Council Resolutions addressing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and the FATF’s actions identifying the risks of illicit finance associated with Iran, financial institutions are advised to take into account these risks.”

Over the last year, several major financial institutions have reduced or halted their investment in Iran. (See ACT, October 2007.) Speaking in regard to the foreign banks that have cut off their financial relations with Iran during a Sept. 25 press conference, Iranian Central Bank chief Tahmasb Mazaheri said, “Such a decision is unacceptable. It is a political decision and we told them that we will not forget and we will give an adequate response…when these banks want to come back to Iran.”

Due to the lack of private financing, major energy firms have curtailed or discontinued development projects. Although such actions have primarily been limited to Western energy firms, the Russian oil firm Lukoil recently canceled its development of one of Iran’s oil fields. Lukoil Vice President Leonid Fedun said Oct. 22, “We opened the largest field in Iran, but we can’t work there because the U.S. State Department has banned third countries from investing more than $20 million.” U.S. law requires the president to impose at least two out of a set of six sanctions on any firm investing more than $20 million into Iran’s energy sector, although the White House has routinely taken advantage of the statute’s waiver provision.

In response to its decreasing access to capital for developing its energy sector, Iran has sought investment from non-Western states, such as China, India, and Turkey. Chinese firms have entered into a number of oil and gas deals with Iran over the last year, and Ankara is considering self-financing a $3.5 billion Iranian gas project after failing to find foreign financing.

Putin in the Spotlight on Iran

On Oct. 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Tehran for the second Caspian Sea summit to meet with the leaders of the four other states bordering the sea—Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. It was the first time Moscow’s head of state has visited Tehran since Joseph Stalin attended the Tehran Conference in 1943.

Although the summit focused on legal and economic issues related to the Caspian Sea region, the 25-point declaration issued by the five leaders included two points largely related to concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The declaration recognized that all nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty signatories have the right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and agreed that “under no circumstances will they allow the use of their territories by other countries to launch aggression or other military action against any of the member states” of the region.

In addition to attending the summit discussions on Caspian Sea issues, Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. According to the Fars news agency, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani indicated Oct. 17 that “Putin put forward a special suggestion during his meeting with the supreme leader,” adding that part of the proposal addressed Iran’s nuclear program. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Khamenei telling Putin that “we will ponder your words and proposal.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, told the reporters Oct. 18, “There was no nuclear proposal. Rather, he had brought the message of friendship and all-out cooperation.”

One of the key bilateral issues between Moscow and Tehran has been the construction of Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr. As recently as last year, completion of the reactor was scheduled for this fall, but construction has been consistently delayed. Russian subcontractors recently indicated that completion is not likely before the fall of 2008. (See ACT, September 2007.)

In an interview with IRNA, Putin indicated that the contractual arrangements between the state-owned Russian construction firm and Iran must be amended due to the failure of partners in other states, including South Korea, to deliver equipment in line with their contractual obligations. In order to speed up the work, he explained, “we need to understand clearly what to do about the fact that we have old equipment alongside the new technology that the Russian subcontractors are using today.”

Putin also assured Iran that Russia intended to fulfill its commitments to construct and deliver fuel for the reactor.

Iran, IAEA Discuss Iran’s Centrifuge Program

The IAEA held two rounds of talks in Tehran, on Oct. 9-11 and beginning Oct. 20, with Iranian nuclear officials as part of the Aug. 21 action plan for resolving verification questions. These talks were aimed at clarifying Iran’s efforts to acquire and the scope of its work with P-1 and P-2 centrifuges. IRNA reported Oct. 11 Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaeedi, as stating, “In these long talks, the Iranian side presented an additional explanation about its P-1 and P-2 centrifuges to remove remaining ambiguities and questions.”

According to the work plan, the target date for resolving the questions related to Iran’s P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programs is November 2007.

The centrifuges that Iran has installed at its uranium-enrichment plant are based on the P-1 design, which Iran acquired through the Abdul Qadeer Khan network. Iran also acquired the more-advanced P-2 centrifuge design from the Khan network, which can enrich uranium about twice as fast as the P-1.

Since the IAEA began its investigation into Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, Iran has provided some accounting of its acquisition of P-1 centrifuge technology through documentation and access to individuals involved in discussions with the Khan network. (See ACT, December 2005.) However, according to reports by the IAEA director-general, Iran has not provided an explanation of discrepancies between its assertion that no contacts were made with the network between 1987 and mid-1993 and the contrary statements made by “key members of the network.” The IAEA has also sought clarification regarding Iran’s acquisition of 500 sets of P-1 centrifuge components in the mid-1990s. Iran previously indicated that it was unable to provide information or documentation about its acquisition efforts for these components.

In regard to P-2 centrifuge technology, Tehran originally explained that its intermediaries had only supplied drawings of P-2 centrifuge components and that it had not conducted work on the more-advanced centrifuges between 1995 and 2002. As in the case of its P-1 centrifuge acquisition efforts, the agency received conflicting information from a source within the Khan network who suggested that Iran received P-2 centrifuges components during this time frame. The IAEA has also sought clarification regarding work Iran conducted with P-2 centrifuges after 2002, as well as additional information on its efforts to procure magnets for its P-2 centrifuge program between 2002 and 2003.

Iranian Head Nuclear Negotiator Resigns

Iran’s government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham announced Oct. 20 that Larijani had resigned his position as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Larijani was replaced by Saeed Jalili, the deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. Elham asserted that, in spite of Larijani’s resignation, “Iran’s nuclear policies are stabilized and unchangeable. Managerial change won’t bring any changes in [those] policies.” The spokesman also indicated that previous resignation attempts by Larijani were not accepted by Ahmadinejad.

In reference to disagreements between Larijani and Ahmadinejad, former vice president and vocal critic of the current president Mohammed Hashemi stated Oct. 23, “It is very disappointing that the government does not tolerate even views of a person like Mr. Larijani and eliminates him in such a manner.” Iran’s Jaam-e Jam newspaper reported Oct. 23 that, in response to Larijani’s resignation, 183 members of the Iranian parliament signed a letter praising his efforts as lead nuclear negotiator.

Despite Larijani’s resignation, he accompanied Jalili to a pre-scheduled meeting with Javier Solana in Rome Oct. 23. Larijani remains a member of the Supreme National Security Council as a representative of Khamenei.

Nuke Overflight Probes Continue

Zachary Hosford

The first of several investigations into the unauthorized transportation of six U.S. nuclear-armed missiles in late August has identified several breaches of Air Force procedure regarding the handling of strategic weapons.

At an Oct. 19 press briefing, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne made a “one-time exception” to established Department of Defense policy by confirming that a bomber flight from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana did in fact involve nuclear weapons. Initially, the Pentagon refused to confirm this information and adhered to standard policy by simply referring to the event as a “munitions transfer incident.”

The inquiry, led by Major General Douglas Raaberg, director of air and space operations at Air Combat Command (ACC), was launched shortly after the stealth cruise missiles onboard were discovered to still be containing their nuclear warheads. The ACC is in charge of all bombers and fighters in the Air Force.

Wynne was joined at the Pentagon presentation by Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Richard Newton, who identified five individual mistakes beginning with the failure of Minot airmen to properly examine the missiles at the weapons storage area and culminating with the failure of the Barksdale-based flight crew to thoroughly inspect the aircraft’s armaments load before takeoff.

According to Newton, a “series of procedural breakdowns and human errors” caused the airmen at Minot to load the nuclear-armed missiles, which are in the process of being retired, onto the B-52 Stratofortress. He declined to explain why they did not follow the established procedures. This type of event involving nuclear weapons is commonly referred to as a “Bent Spear” incident.

Although the Pentagon would not release the exact number of personnel punished, reports indicated that the Air Force reprimanded nearly 70 officers for their roles in the incident. Four colonels were relieved of their command, including Colonel Bruce Emig, the commander of the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base.

As part of the missile retirement process, the bombers are loaded with AGM-129A cruise missiles whose nuclear warheads have been replaced with dummy versions, in a routine transfer procedure known as a “tactical ferry mission.” On the outside of the missile, there is a small window through which an airman can differentiate a dummy warhead from a nuclear one.

During the briefing, Newton would neither confirm nor deny that nuclear and dummy warheads were housed in the same location, only stating that they were stored within guidelines laid down by the Defense Department and the Air Force.

Examinations of the matter will not end with this investigation. About three weeks after the initiation of the original probe, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch to perform an “independent, outside assessment” of the incident. Gates has pledged to reduce the likelihood of a future incident to the “lowest level humanly possible,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell.

Gates, without expressing dissatisfaction with General Raaberg’s investigation, apparently called for the additional study to identify the potential presence of any larger structural problems with the Air Force’s nuclear custody procedures.

Welch’s investigation is being performed through the Defense Science Board, a committee comprised of retired military officers and former government officials that advises the Defense Department on a variety of national security issues.

To examine U.S. nuclear weapons policy further, an Air Force “blue ribbon review” also has been established, and Congress has requested a comprehensive assessment of Defense Department and Department of Energy nuclear handling procedures.

Although safeguards incorporated into this particular warhead are designed to avert a nuclear explosion in the event of an accident, concerns were raised regarding the possible release of radioactive material had the aircraft crashed, as well as the military’s ability to reliably account for its strategic weapons.

Senate Endorses Threat Reduction Action Plan

Daniel Arnaudo

The Senate recently approved legislation calling on the president to submit to Congress a comprehensive plan that would secure nuclear weapons-usable material at vulnerable sites worldwide by 2012.

The measure, sponsored by Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), passed by unanimous consent Sept. 6 as an amendment to the fiscal year 2008 foreign operations appropriations bill. The House version of the bill did not include the measure, and therefore it must be endorsed in a House-Senate conference committee prior to becoming law. Moreover, the overall bill faces a veto threat from President George W. Bush because of what he terms excessive spending in other areas.

The approved provision calls on the president to submit a “comprehensive nuclear threat reduction and security plan” to Congress in classified and unclassified forms within 180 days. The report would include information regarding agency and departmental responsibility and accountability, specify program goals, estimate annual program budget and resource requirements, and provide a diplomatic strategy for achieving program goals. It also calls for a strategy to increase contributions from other countries, particularly China, members of the European Union, Japan, and Russia, for global efforts to secure nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials. Finally, it would outline any progress made by countries with nuclear weapons-usable material in agreeing to a set of standards and best practices for nuclear security consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

The bill’s sponsors put significant emphasis on efforts to limit the availability of highly enriched uranium (HEU), one of two materials typically used to construct nuclear weapons.

When introducing the original stand-alone legislation from which the appropriations amendment was drawn, Obama pointed out that “there are still significant quantities of weapons-usable nuclear material that remain vulnerable to theft. In the civilian sector alone, there are an estimated 60 tons of highly enriched uranium, enough to make over 1,000 nuclear bombs, spread out at facilities in over 40 countries around the world.”

The amendment also includes a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” declaration seeking to encourage Russia to continue down-blending some of its weapons-grade uranium into low-enriched uranium (LEU). Under a bilateral agreement scheduled to run until 2012, such down-blending has been providing nearly half the fuel used for U.S. nuclear reactors. Russia would like to renegotiate the contract to profit from soaring prices for enriched uranium and to use natural uranium as the raw material. Moscow also would like to preserve its access to the U.S. market after 2012. (See ACT, November 2006.) The Senate-passed provision urges the administration not to sign a new agreement with Russia unless some of the imports of LEU are derived from HEU.

Left out of the amendment but in Obama’s original bill are provisions for greater funding for efforts to convert civilian reactors from HEU use to LEU use, for research into the means of tracking nuclear materials, and for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Department of Safeguards to conduct inspections.

GAO Issues Warning on Biodefense Research

Alex Bollfrass

Congressional researchers have issued a warning that the increase in the number of laboratories handling dangerous pathogens for anti-terrorism and defense purposes may be causing more harm than good because of a lack of oversight.

Following the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, Congress allocated funds to increase biodefense research. (See ACT, September 2003. ) A preliminary report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released at an Oct. 4 hearing warns that the unintended consequence of this reaction to the threat of bioterrorism is that “these labs can be used by terrorists or people with malicious intent to acquire or develop harmful biological agents, posing a severe national security and public health threat.” The report notes that the intelligence community is particularly concerned.

Pathogens are categorized into four biosafety-level (BSL) classifications based on their lethality and contagiousness, as well as the availability of treatments or vaccines. Most pathogens that are considered bioterrorism threats are ranked BSL-3 or BSL-4 organisms, meaning they can only be worked on safely in a high-containment laboratory with at least the same BSL rating.

The GAO report warns that the U.S. government is unable to keep count of BSL-3 laboratories, making oversight impossible. These laboratories are equipped to handle contagious agents that can be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infections. Even federally funded laboratories are difficult to track. The chief author of the report, Keith Rhodes, estimated before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that “the number is surely in the thousands.”

At present, there are 15 BSL-4 laboratories in the United States; most are run by federal agencies. Before the 2001 anthrax attacks, there were five. These labs deal with high-risk, life-threatening diseases for which no vaccine or cure is available. The GAO expressed alarm about this rapid expansion because new and inexperienced labs pose a greater risk.

At the hearing, Democrats, such as Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) suggested endowing a “single agency with authority over regulation of all these labs.” By contrast, Republican Michael Burgess (Tex.) registered his opposition to “bringing down the regulatory hammer.”

The subcommittee also plans to hold a hearing on the spread of these labs outside of the United States. Public information indicates that 23 BSL-4 labs exist abroad.

Recent violations and accidents at high-containment labs provided the impetus for the GAO report, which is expected to be released in final form in February 2008. Among these were the exposure of a worker to a pathogen at Texas A&M University that went unreported and a power outage at a new BSL-4 lab in Atlanta, as well as the release of the foot-and-mouth disease virus from a laboratory in the United Kingdom.

One day after the hearing, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that the University of California, which manages the lab’s facilities, had been fined $450,000 for two consecutive errors in shipping anthrax vials. These errors occurred in 2005, and one case involved the release of bacteria from the vials.

Another concern regarding the ballooning U.S. biodefense program has been that even though the Biological Weapons Convention permits defensive research, it is difficult for outsiders to judge whether a country is in fact adhering to the convention’s restrictions outlawing offensive weapons. Some worry that the United States risks undermining its attempts to limit other countries’ research with materials that could be useful for biological weapons development by coming close to this line.

Pentagon Repeats Missile Defense Test Success

Wade Boese

Repeating essentially the same scenario as a successful test last year, the Pentagon Sept. 28 conducted a strategic anti-ballistic missile test that destroyed a target high above the Pacific Ocean. Pentagon officials say they will raise the degree of difficulty for the missile defense system’s next trial early next year.

The recent test result raises the record of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) to seven hits in a dozen intercept attempts dating back to October 1999. But the success also marks just the second intercept by the system since President George W. Bush ordered its deployment in December 2002. There are now 21 total GMD missile interceptors fielded in Alaska and California. Current plans call for more than doubling this amount up to 44 interceptors by 2011.

The Bush administration also is striving to place an additional 10 modified missile interceptors in Poland. Russia has strongly denounced this deployment as a potential threat to its security. Talks between Washington and Moscow have made little headway in mollifying Russian concerns (see page 31 ), but two Russian government officials joined Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), to watch the latest test of the U.S.-based system.

In the experiment, the MDA fired a target missile south from Kodiak, Alaska, over the Pacific Ocean. Guided by a California-based, upgraded early-warning radar, an interceptor was then launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. After the boosters of the interceptor burned out, it released a roughly 60-kilogram exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that used a radar update and its own onboard infrared sensors to hone in on and collide with the target missile’s mock warhead, destroying it through the sheer force of impact.

The target missile flew the same trajectory as the one launched in the system’s previous test Sept. 1, 2006. (See ACT, October 2006. ) MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner explained in an Oct. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today that safety and Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit the paths test missiles and interceptors may travel.

The target missile’s flight was intended to emulate a trajectory similar to a hypothetical North Korean ballistic missile attack against the United States. North Korea has not succeeded in flight-testing a missile capable of striking the continental United States, but in July 2006, it test-fired several ballistic missiles, including the Taepo Dong-2. Estimated to be Pyongyang’s longest-range missile, the Taepo Dong-2 failed 40 seconds into its inaugural and, so far, only flight test.

Bush administration officials maintain that North Korea presents the most immediate long-range missile threat to the United States. Obering told reporters Oct. 2 that the latest experiment “builds more and more confidence” that the system can provide protection.

The recent test varied little from the experiment last year. Lehner identified two differences to Arms Control Today. He pointed out that a ship-based Aegis radar tracked the target and that the interceptor had spent much more time than normal in the launch silo before being fired.

The Aegis radar operated in a so-called shadow mode, however, meaning the data it gathered was not used to help guide the interceptor. Aegis radars have operated in such a mode in previous GMD testing, but Lehner noted this was the first time one had participated since the MDA started launching target missiles from Kodiak. Prior to 2004, the Pentagon launched its targets from California toward the Marshall Islands, where the test interceptors had been based.

Test interceptors are typically installed in their underground launch silos roughly a month before use. But the September test interceptor had been in place since its intended use in a May 25 test that was aborted when the target missile veered off course. Lehner stated Oct. 15 that this longer wait displayed “operational realism” by demonstrating that an interceptor “can sit sealed up in the silo for months and then launch when needed.”

Some GMD critics, including Philip Coyle, a former director of the Pentagon’s weapons testing office, contend the MDA’s recent tests lack realism because they do not include countermeasures, such as decoys. Countermeasures are devices or techniques that a foe could employ to try and penetrate a missile defense.

Obering announced Oct. 2 that the agency would add some type of countermeasures to the GMD system’s next interceptor test, which might occur as soon as February. He refused to specify the countermeasures but noted they will be “similar” to ones previously used.

In tests conducted between October 1999 and December 2002, one to three balloon decoys were included as part of the target cluster with the mock warhead. At that time, some missile defense skeptics charged the decoys did not closely resemble the mock warhead, which made it easy to distinguish between them. Moreover, a decoy in one test apparently helped the EKV find its target. The EKV did not initially see the mock warhead, so it took aim at the decoy, which then happened to put the true target into the EKV’s line of sight. (See ACT, January/February 2000. )

The MDA suspended use of decoys when it switched flight testing to the Alaska-California corridor. Lehner Oct. 11 explained that one reason for excluding decoys was that an X-band radar located in the Marshall Islands was positioned to help discriminate various objects in the target cluster during the earlier tests but not the latter experiments.

Lehner stated, however, that the next test would involve the reintroduction of an X-band discrimination capability, specifically the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) Radar, which is an X-band radar mounted on a mobile, ocean-going oil rig platform. Like the Aegis radar, the SBX participated in a shadow mode in the last test.

Panel Questions Warhead Concept Plausibility

The jury is still out on whether the United States can develop a new nuclear warhead without using a test explosion to verify its performance, a leading scientific panel has concluded, urging further study. Meanwhile, two key congressional protagonists in the debate surrounding the controversial initiative announced they will not seek re-election next year. (Continue)

Wade Boese

The jury is still out on whether the United States can develop a new nuclear warhead without using a test explosion to verify its performance, a leading scientific panel has concluded, urging further study. Meanwhile, two key congressional protagonists in the debate surrounding the controversial initiative announced they will not seek re-election next year.

Lawmakers last year requested a review of the feasibility of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program by JASON, an advisory group of scientists that the U.S. government often commissions to conduct studies. Launched in 2004, the program aims to develop a warhead that is supposed to be less susceptible to accidents or misuse and easier and safer to build and maintain than existing warheads. The design is supposed to be validated without nuclear testing, which the United States ceased in 1992.

In an unclassified executive summary of its report dated Aug. 29, JASON concluded that it remains unknown if such a warhead can be produced and guaranteed to work. The scientists stated, “[C]ertification is not yet assured.” They added, “[T]he certification plan presented needs further development.”

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the RRW program and the full nuclear weapons complex, portrayed the study as affirming the agency’s approach. In a Sept. 28 press release, Thomas D’Agostino, the NNSA director, said he was “pleased” the group “feels that we are on the right track.”

Others interpreted the study differently. Representatives Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) issued a Sept. 27 statement declaring, “Once again, independent sources have raised serious questions that must be addressed before proceeding with the RRW [program].” The two legislators are the top members of the House appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, which earlier this year zeroed out the NNSA’s nearly $89 million fiscal year 2008 budget request for the RRW program. The full Congress has yet to agree on a final funding level.

The JASON report summary specified elements of the NNSA process requiring improvement and areas where uncertainties cast doubt on the program’s future.

In general, JASON urged the NNSA to grant peer review a “larger role” than the agency had planned. The scientists said a concerted effort should be made to “assure the nation that all expertise available has been applied to a rigorous evaluation of the new design.”

One aspect of the new design meriting greater scrutiny, according to JASON, is the effort to make the warhead more impervious to unintended or unauthorized detonation. “Substantial work remains on the physical understanding of the surety mechanisms,” the report noted.

JASON also suggested the NNSA delve more into pinpointing potential “failure modes” of the new design, which is based in part on previously tested systems. The scientists called for the NNSA to supplement its current certification plan with “additional experiments and analyses” to assess what might cause the design to fail. In particular, the study said the agency should investigate how proposed new manufacturing processes for an RRW device might affect performance.

Since enacting its nuclear test moratorium, the U.S. government has maintained confidence in the capability of its nuclear weapons through extensive surveillance, life extension, and computer simulation and modeling activities under the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The simulation and modeling work is based partially on data gleaned from previous nuclear tests of the nine basic warhead types currently making up the roughly 10,000 warhead stockpile, which is slated to be cut almost in half by 2012 under an initiative announced in June 2004 by the Bush administration. (See ACT, July/August 2004. )

RRW advocates contend that the new warhead design under development will be simpler than existing warheads and should be certifiable, given growing simulation and modeling capabilities. The JASON report, however, cautioned that “it is not yet possible to quantify how well excursions from a tested design can be modeled and predicted.”

A rationale advanced by the administration for embarking on the RRW initiative is that the small changes made to existing warheads through current life-extension activities will gradually move the warheads away from their original composition, raising questions about the possible performance of the warheads. Still, current warheads have been judged annually by the stewardship program as safe and reliable. JASON noted that it was not tasked with comparing “the merits of the RRW program relative to other options, such as life-extension programs.”

Using the stewardship program, the NNSA for the first time recently completed certification of a rebuilt warhead pit, which is the core component of a warhead that triggers the start of the nuclear explosion. The effort to rebuild and validate the W88 warhead pit took more than a decade. In a Sept. 27 press release, the NNSA declared that “certification was possible because of NNSA’s powerful experimental tools, supercomputers, and improved computer models.”

Whether the stewardship program is sufficient for maintaining the stockpile or the RRW program is needed has been sharply debated in Congress. To date, skeptics of the RRW effort have prevailed in trimming funding and capping research on the project, and they are poised to do so again this year in the current crop of congressional bills. (See ACT, July/August 2007. ) The Pentagon, however, sent an Oct. 10 letter to key members of Congress appealing proposed RRW funding cuts in the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill.

One lawmaker the Pentagon and the nuclear complex have generally relied on to strongly promote their causes will be departing Congress at the end of next year. Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who has served 35 years, announced Oct. 4 that he will not seek re-election because of health reasons. New Mexico is home to two national nuclear laboratories, and Domenici has pressed hard for the RRW program, calling for it to be expanded beyond the initial version to a second design as well.

One of Domenici’s foremost opponents on nuclear weapons funding the past several years has been Hobson, who announced Oct. 14 that he also will not run again. Hobson, who is serving his ninth term in the House, has railed against what he sees as an obsolete, excessive, and wasteful nuclear complex and contends that the United States needs to rethink its nuclear policies before developing new nuclear warheads, such as the RRW.

One congressional staffer noted to Arms Control Today Oct. 16 that the two lawmakers occupy opposite ends of the spectrum but that the differences dividing them are not going to disappear with their departures. Those issues, the staffer said, will persist in “serious and profound ways.”

U.S. Nuke Dismantlement Tops Goal for Year

Wade Boese

The agency in charge of the U.S. nuclear complex declared Oct. 1 that over the past year it had nearly tripled its projected pace for dismantling retired nuclear warheads.

The Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced it had achieved a 146 percent increase in dismantled warheads from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30. In June, the agency had declared it was operating at a 50 percent higher rate. (See ACT, October 2007. )

An NNSA spokesperson told Arms Control Today Oct. 18 that the faster pace reflected greater windfalls than expected from investments over the past few years to “hire additional technicians, purchase more equipment and tools, and develop better safety and security procedures.” He added, “[Y]ou can always find new efficiencies once a process is started.”

Actual figures of dismantled warheads are secret. The United States used to release such information but stopped after 1999, contending the data might benefit U.S. foes.

Nonetheless, U.S. warhead dismantlement apparently has proceeded more slowly during the past several years than in the previous decade. Except for 1997 and 1999, the United States annually took apart more than 1,000 warheads. The Washington Post, citing anonymous congressional and administration sources, reported last year that the yearly dismantled sum had dropped below 100 warheads in recent years.

The current NNSA plan is to complete all scheduled dismantlements by 2023. This includes warheads slated for retirement under the Bush administration’s June 2004 initiative to cut the approximately 10,000-warhead stockpile almost in half by 2012.

The NNSA spokesperson said the accelerated dismantlement pace “has the potential to allow NNSA to complete scheduled dismantlements ahead of schedule.” Congressional and former government officials familiar with the process say timelines can change because some warheads are simply more difficult than others to take apart.


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