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"ACA's journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent."

– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
March 2008
Edition Date: 
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Cover Image: 

U.S. Joins Study of Arms Trade Treaty

Jeff Abramson

All 28 countries invited to do so, including the United States, sent representatives to a UN-sponsored experts meeting in February to explore a global arms trade treaty (ATT). The United States originally voted against starting the effort (see ACT, December 2006), prompting many to believe it would not participate in the process.

The Feb. 11-15 governmental group of experts meeting is the first of three such meetings slated to take place this year. The experts are charged with examining the “feasibility, scope and draft parameters for a comprehensive, legally binding instrument for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” The expert meetings are closed to the public and are not intended to be negotiations but rather to produce a set of recommendations that could lead to a treaty.

Many governments and civil society groups that have pushed for the UN effort believe that it could result in a treaty. In 2006, 153 countries voted to start the process. Last year, nearly 100 countries submitted their views on a possible legal instrument.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country is seen as a leader of the ATT process, said in a Jan. 21 speech in India that “[b]ecause the threat and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is now compounded by the continuing proliferation of conventional weapons, and we know that one person is killed every minute from small arms, Britain will also work internationally to achieve a global arms trade treaty.”

In 2006, the United States voted against beginning the treaty process, contending that that the effort would be time-consuming and that any eventual treaty would contain standards weaker than existing U.S. rules. Nonetheless, U.S. nongovernmental groups urged the Bush administration to participate in part because the United States is the largest arms supplier in the world. The U.S. decision to attend came at the last minute, with Ambassador Don Mahley arriving to represent the United States at the meeting on its second day.

Participants in the meeting said that a number of countries expressed skepticism about the ATT concept, including China, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. Given that whatever recommendations emerge will need to be agreed to by consensus, they speculate that a final report would likely include a list of pros and cons on the treaty concept.

The experts group is chaired by Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina. In 2006, Moritán chaired a similar experts group on the UN Register of Conventional Arms, which recommended improvements to the reporting mechanism, including a standardized form for small arms. The register provides a process through which countries voluntarily report annually on certain conventional arms exports and imports. (See ACT, September and November 2007.)

Experts representing Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated in the February meeting. They will meet again May 12-16 and July 28-Aug. 8, with recommendations expected later this year after the final meeting.

Cluster Munitions Talks Gain Steam

Miles A. Pomper

A Geneva-based multilateral forum on conventional weapons is showing some small signs of progress in restricting the use of controversial cluster munitions, as a separate international effort, spearheaded by Norway, appears to be gaining steam.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas. These grenades or bomblets, sometimes numbering as many as 600 submunitions from a single munition, can fail to detonate immediately yet maim or kill if disturbed later.

British, Russian, and U.S. officials have said that some of these weapons need to be retained because they offer a unique military tool for dealing with dispersed or moving targets. For example, they say the weapons allow one pilot to hit a column of tanks in the open, rather than requiring many planes to undergo such dangerous flights. These countries have argued that the dangers of the weapons can be reduced by not using them in civilian areas and by cleaning them up faster, leaving fewer to affect civilians in a conflict’s aftermath. U.S. officials announced in January that the Pentagon was planning to create a quick reaction force that would have as a primary responsibility handling threats to civilians from unexploded cluster bombs and other explosive remnants of war.

Opponents of these weapons, such as the Red Cross and human rights organizations, say that, in practice, even the most advanced cluster munitions fail frequently and military officials use them without sufficient discrimination. The nongovernmental Cluster Munition Coalition claims that cluster munitions caused the greatest number of civilian casualties during the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The U.S. Department of State said these groups have exaggerated the problem. In a Feb. 15 fact sheet, the department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said that, “[i]n almost every recent conflict—Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq—the initial estimates regarding the degree of impact caused by cluster munitions have been grossly off the mark.”

Nonetheless, the fact sheet did not take issue with a UN assessment that cluster munitions caused significant casualties in Lebanon during Israel’s summer 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. That assessment concluded that Israel’s use of these weapons had led by December 2007 to 19 civilian deaths and another 170 injuries. UN officials said Israel fired as many as four million submunitions into Lebanon, leaving behind as many as one million submunitions that failed to explode initially.

In an effort to restrict the weapons, the 82 supporters of the Oslo process, launched at a February 2007 meeting in Norway, have formally agreed Feb. 22 to seek to finalize a treaty at a mid-May meeting that would ban the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions that “cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

In a separate effort, 104 states-parties last November in Geneva agreed to consider efforts to augment the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to lessen the dangers posed by cluster munitions. (See ACT, December 2007. ) In January, a CCW experts group held its first discussions on what form such an adjustment could take. The most substantive outcome of the discussions was a text demarcating where different states stood in defining what constitutes cluster munitions as opposed to other weapons systems. This text will now form the basis of discussion as states seek to agree on a common definition.

A U.S. official said Feb. 12 that it was particularly noteworthy that this effort was led by Russia. Russia, along with China, had led the opposition to drafting a new legally binding protocol to the CCW on cluster munitions.

U.S. officials claim that Russia has shown a new willingness to “talk constructively.” A significant shift in the Russian position would be needed for the United States and the European Union to achieve their newly stated goal of completing a legally binding CCW protocol by November. U.S. officials hope to begin discussions on such a protocol during a one-week session in April, with a final debate taking place in July. Under the U.S. proposal, the July debate would follow the circulation of a proposed text by Ambassador Bent Wigotski of Denmark, who is chairing the cluster munitions discussions.

Getting to that goal will not be easy. China and Russia have resisted as too expensive and technologically demanding a centerpiece of the U.S. effort: trying to limit cluster munitions to those that have submunitions with a failure rate of 1 percent or less. That position has already found its way into U.S. law, as Congress in December 2007 approved a one-year prohibition on the export of cluster munitions with a failure rate of greater than 1 percent. Potential importers must also agree to use the weapons only “against clearly defined military targets” and where no civilians are present.

 China, Russia, and the United States are supporting only the CCW process. But some states, such as the United Kingdom, are also participating in the Oslo process. 

Still, how much support it might attract is unclear. Although nongovernmental organizations and some states, including Norway, championed a total ban during a Feb. 18-22 meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, other states involved in the process, particularly Australia and additional U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, favor lesser restrictions. One European diplomat in Geneva said Feb. 14 that if a total ban were to be approved, major European countries would not support it and “a lot of pressure will disappear on the CCW.”

 The diplomat said that “there is great discontent” that the concerns of these countries “have until now not been reflected in the text of the draft treaty.” In particular, some Europeans fret that “the core group within the Oslo process is continuing to strive toward a total ban, in deviation of the Oslo declaration with its position on ‘unacceptable harm.’”

These countries are particularly concerned that the ability of their militaries to carry out military operations in coordination with the United States could be hampered. That worry was reiterated in a conference call that Joseph Benkert, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security affairs, held with online journalists Feb. 11. Benkert said that if Oslo went forward with a total ban, a U.S. ally that signs the Oslo treaty might be seen as violating the treaty if it participated in a joint operation with U.S. forces and the U.S. forces employed cluster munitions. Many U.S. allies raised these concerns at the Wellington conference. To address such concerns in part, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan have said they would like a transitional period before any restrictions take effect.

Russia Pushes Pacts as U.S. Kills Satellite

At the stalemated Conference on Disarmament (CD), Russia recently urged states to pursue separate pacts to outlaw all arms in space and ban certain types of missiles already forsworn by Russia and the United States. Chances for work on those two proposals or other long-standing subjects appear slim, however, as no issue commands the prerequisite consensus at the 65-member conference. The negotiating climate was further clouded in late February by the U.S. destruction of a faulty U.S. satellite. (Continue)

Wade Boese

At the stalemated Conference on Disarmament (CD), Russia recently urged states to pursue separate pacts to outlaw all arms in space and ban certain types of missiles already forsworn by Russia and the United States. Chances for work on those two proposals or other long-standing subjects appear slim, however, as no issue commands the prerequisite consensus at the 65-member conference. The negotiating climate was further clouded in late February by the U.S. destruction of a faulty U.S. satellite.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Feb. 12 submitted draft frameworks of the two agreements to the conference. The Geneva-based body convenes annually for three multiweek working periods but last negotiated a treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in 1996. Members have been arguing since that time about what they should negotiate next.

Lavrov said his country’s initiatives were not intended to further complicate the ongoing struggle to adopt a CD work agenda. Beginning last year, members have focused debate on a compromise plan to launch negotiations to halt the production of key fissile materials, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, for weapons purposes. The draft agenda also calls for establishing less formal talks on outer space, nuclear disarmament, and assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states that they will not suffer nuclear attack.

Last year, all but three countries, China, Iran, and Pakistan, were prepared to accept that agenda. The trio argued, in part, that all the issues should be treated equally rather than giving priority to a U.S.- and Western-favored fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). European diplomatic sources in Geneva say that Algeria, Egypt, India, Israel, and Sri Lanka also harbor reservations about the proposed agenda.

Lavrov indicated that Russia’s outer space proposal, co-sponsored by China, was not in opposition to the draft agenda or an attempt to change it. Instead, he described the Russian proposal as having a “research mandate.” But Lavrov added, “We hope that subsequently, when appropriate conditions are there, our work can be channeled into a negotiating format.”

Similarly, Lavrov suggested that Russia was not seeking to graft its missile proposal on to the agenda. He said Russia was circulating the concept for “study” in hope of sparking a “constructive dialogue.”

Neither Russian proposal garnered a warm U.S. reception. Washington has long maintained that the existing 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans placing unconventional weapons in orbit, is sufficient. In its 2006 space security strategy, the Bush administration stated it would “oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.” (See ACT, November 2006. )

The administration further contends that it would be difficult to ensure compliance with a space weapons ban because of the inherent ambiguity and dual-use capability of many space technologies and systems. For instance, a vessel used to conduct repairs on an orbiting satellite could alternatively damage or disable it.

In addition to proscribing the placement of any type of weapon in orbit or on celestial bodies, the draft Russian-Chinese treaty would obligate future states-parties “not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects.” But Washington argues the measure would fail to prevent the research and development of air-, sea-, and land-based anti-satellite weapons, such as the system China used last year to destroy one of its aging satellites. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Seemingly underscoring its own point, the United States Feb. 20 smashed into small pieces a defunct U.S. satellite using a modified Standard Missile-3 interceptor, which is designed to counter short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Many independent experts sharply questioned the stated U.S. justification for the action: protecting people against the slight possibility of injury or death from exposure to the satellite’s highly toxic hydrazine fuel.

Several days before the satellite intercept, Ambassador Christina Rocca, the U.S. permanent representative to the CD, said the proposed “engagement is not part of an anti-satellite development and testing program.” Moscow saw it differently. Reuters Feb. 16 quoted a Russian Defense Ministry statement accusing the United States of “going ahead for tests of an anti-satellite weapon. Such tests mean in essence the creation of a new strategic weapon.”

Two days later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao described China as “highly concerned.” After the incident, Liu asked the United States to share data on the resulting debris, which unlike that created by the Chinese satellite destruction is not expected to pose threats to other satellites or spacecraft because the U.S. strike took place at a much lower altitude, around 250 kilometers instead of approximately 850 kilometers. Consequently, the U.S.-created debris is lower than where most satellites operate and will more quickly be pulled into the Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on re-entry.

U.S. officials denied that they would alter additional anti-missile interceptors to transform them into satellite killers. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Feb. 21 that the modifications are “not something that we would be entering into the service in some standard way.”

Increased U.S. interest in developing anti-ballistic missile defenses in the late 1990s helped fuel Chinese and Russian demands for a new space agreement to limit U.S. systems. The Bush administration has subsequently sought seed money for a so-called space-based missile defense test bed, but lawmakers have consistently denied it funding, including for the current fiscal year. Still, the administration Feb. 4 resurrected the $10 million request as part of its fiscal year 2009 budget proposal (see page 30).

Like the United States, Russia expresses concern about other states’ growing missile capabilities; unlike the United States, Russia has not turned to missile defenses. One of the Kremlin’s initial reactions was to contemplate withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty so Russia could legally field missiles comparable to those being developed by other countries. The INF Treaty bars the United States and Russia from possessing ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.

Moscow’s Feb. 12 missile proposal indicates it has shelved, at least momentarily, the withdrawal option in favor of exploring extending the INF Treaty prohibitions to other countries. The Russian proposal urges other states to complete an agreement to stop flight testing and producing ground-launched missiles with INF Treaty-banned ranges and destroy their stockpiles.

A Department of State official e-mailed Arms Control Today Feb. 14 that the Russian proposal was “well-intentioned” but “not…the best way to address” the spread of missiles. The spokesperson contended a “one-size-fits-all treaty” would be impractical because of “complex regional situations,” such as those in South Asia and the Middle East.

Notwithstanding its skepticism, the United States joined with Russia last October to encourage other states to renounce INF Treaty-class missiles. The spokesperson noted that no government has responded publicly to that petition.

Meanwhile, many appeals to China, Iran, and Pakistan to support the draft CD agenda have failed. Pakistan in particular remains adamant that the plan is unacceptable.

While calling for a balanced work program, Pakistan maintains the current FMCT negotiating mandate is flawed for not specifying that a final agreement must be effectively verifiable. That goal used to be a common conference aim, but the United States declared in 2004 that such an objective was unattainable and should not be a precondition to negotiations. (See ACT, September 2004.) Although disagreeing, most countries have relented to the U.S. position on the understanding that verification measures can be broached in actual negotiations.

Islamabad further insists that FMCT negotiations not begin unless countries can raise the possibility that a potential agreement might go beyond stopping fissile material production to dealing with existing stockpiles. Pakistan is worried about freezing the status quo in which India has a lot more fissile material and weapons potential than Pakistan. Pakistani concerns have been compounded by the U.S. campaign to roll back rules limiting India’s access to foreign nuclear technologies and fuel.

In a rare speech by a defense minister to the CD, Des Browne of the United Kingdom Feb. 5 urged all countries to drop preconditions for negotiations on an FMCT, which he described as a “key milestone” on the road to nuclear disarmament. Despite a preliminary decision last year to extend its nuclear weapons capability at least another two decades, Browne insisted the British government supports “a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.” He said the United Kingdom would help advance that goal by hosting before 2010 a conference on verifying nuclear disarmament for personnel from British, Chinese, French, Russian, and U.S. nuclear laboratories.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also took the atypical step Jan. 23 to travel to the conference and personally admonish it. Telling the CD that its successes were “distant memories,” Ban implored members to stop holding negotiations on one subject “hostage” to work on another. He warned the conference that it risked “losing its way.”

Conference members have until March 28 to set a course before the first working period expires. The conference will then reconvene May 12 to June 27 and July 28 to September 12.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Chemical Weapons Parlay’s Outcome Uncertain

Oliver Meier

During April 7-18, representatives of 183 states-parties of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) will meet in The Hague for the second time to review the operation of the treaty and to find ways to adapt it for the future. Although there is likely to be broad agreement that the treaty has registered significant accomplishments in its first decade in operation, it is not clear if there is sufficient political will to tackle current diplomatic, technological, and economic challenges. Moreover, the meeting could be affected by tensions between developed and developing countries and between the United States and Iran that have hampered other multilateral talks.

Chemical Weapons Destruction

The biggest unfinished task for the convention’s members is to complete destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles. A November 2007 report by the Technical Secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body charged with implementing the CWC, points out that, by then, only about one-third of the 70,000 metric tons of chemical weapons stockpiles declared by Albania, India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States had been destroyed.

The convention requires possessor states to have finished destruction by 2007, but Albania is so far the only country to have eliminated its entire chemical weapons stockpile. The CWC does allow extensions for as long as five years, and all chemical weapon-possessor states have taken advantage of the option to extend their destruction deadlines. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

The two largest possessor states, Russia and the United States, have been granted the maximum extension, until April 29, 2012. It seems all but certain that they will not be able to meet that deadline. Destruction programs in each country have been affected by delays caused by a variety of political, technical, financial, and legal factors. Construction of major destruction facilities in Russia and the United States in some cases has just started or is still behind schedule.

U.S. Department of Defense officials have said that the United States will not be able to complete destruction of its stocks before 2023. In reaction, Congress in the 2008 defense appropriations bill has called on the Pentagon to speed up destruction and complete that task by Dec. 30, 2017. Achieving this goal would require increased funding for construction of the chemical agent neutralization facilities at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky.

States-parties at the review conference will have to decide how to deal with the fact that Russia and the United States are likely to be in noncompliance with their obligations to destroy existing stockpiles before the next regular review conference meets in 2013.

Ambassador Donald A. Mahley, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for threat reduction, export controls, and nego­ti­a­tions, admitted to Arms Control Today Feb. 8 that the issue of chemical weapons destruction is a potential obstacle to a successful review conference. But in an interview, Mahley argued that “it’s too early to try to do something that will formally address that issue at this review conference.”

An Iranian diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 18 that Iran would like the review conference to describe any violation of the 2012 deadline “as a clear case of serious noncompliance,” which would automatically trigger treaty procedures for dealing with noncompliance.

The CWC establishes a gradual approach to dealing with noncompliance. In the first instance, policymaking organs will try to resolve the situation together with the concerned state-party. Only if there is serious damage to the object and purpose of the treaty and the noncompliant party does not respond to proposals or deadlines can the states-parties collectively take punitive measures.

Mahley drew a contrast between a “technical violation” caused mainly by unforeseeable technical difficulties on chemical weapons destruction and an act of noncompliance with the object and purpose of the treaty. He warned of the possibility that “states that have a different agenda with the review conference” that is “more accusatory and more disruptive” might use the delays in destruction as a pretext for preventing agreement at the meeting.

Mahley proposed that the review conference “set the groundwork for a work program to be able to find constructive ways to address the 2012 question before we get to 2012” by establishing a working group. Within a two- to three-year time frame, such a group could develop options for states-parties on how to deal with a possible violation of the 2012 deadline and establish a timeline for destruction of any remaining stocks, Mahley suggested.

The idea of postponing a discussion on the 2012 destruction deadline seems to find support in other quarters also. OPCW Director-General Rogelio Pfirter, in a Feb. 14 interview with Arms Control Today, echoed Mahley’s point that the delays in chemical weapons destruction are not the result of a lack of political commitment by Russia and the United States. In the November 2007 report, Pfirter had proposed that states-parties at the review conference “consider the option of calling, at an appropriate date close to 2012,” a special meeting of all states-parties “in order to review the status of destruction and agree on whatever action they might deem necessary.” The Iranian diplomat also conceded that Iran believes “that there is still plenty of time ahead of us” and that “therefore the second review conference should call upon the possessor states, in particular the major possessors, to make all their efforts to ensure to meet the final deadlines.”

Reforming the Verification Regime

The slow pace of destruction also has hindered the OPCW’s ability to verify that states are not producing chemical weapons. Because the OPCW is spending most of its verification resources on monitoring the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles, currently only 20 percent of inspectors’ time is dedicated to industry verification, according to the November 2007 OPCW report.

The review conference likely will debate other reforms of the industry inspections regime, such as altering the balance between systematic and routine inspections of certain facilities and more random inspections of about 5,000 so-called Other Chemical Production Facilities (OCPFs). OPCW officials, some states-parties, and outside experts have expressed concern about the growing number of OCPFs, particularly because about 10-15 percent of these facilities are perceived as especially susceptible to manufacturing chemical weapons, that is, because they apply flexible production technologies that could be easily converted to the production of chemical weapon agents. (See ACT, January/February 2007 .)

Pfirter told Arms Control Today he views OCPFs as a “risk category” and said that the OPCW’s reform efforts have two goals: to increase the percentage of inspections at OCPFs and to ensure that “facilities that are most relevant to the convention” are inspected. In the November 2007 OPCW report, he urged the review conference to address the issue of OCPFs and described its resolution as “overdue.”

Until recently, the allocation of industry inspections was biased toward equal selection of states-parties rather than the potential for misuse of certain types of facilities. In order to change the verification focus to inspect more OCPFs, the OPCW at the beginning of this year began using a revised selection mechanism for industry inspections that has “resulted in a proportional increase in the number of selected plant sites with advanced engineering features and process capabilities,” according to the November 2007 OPCW report. This reformed algorithm, however, does not yet introduce any new criterion aimed at targeting those OCPFs considered most vulnerable to proliferation.

Such a change would require a political decision by states-parties. So far, there has not even been agreement among states-parties on whether declarations should be expanded to include additional information on OCPFs so that the OPCW might be better able to identify the most relevant facilities. There are also disagreements how such information might be factored into a new mechanism for allocating inspections.

Moreover, some developing countries are wary of shifting verification resources toward OCPFs. Because a significant share of chemical manufacturing is moving from traditional locations in North America, western Europe, and Japan to other regions of the world and many modern chemical production facilities are OCPFs, developing countries fear that, under such a plan, their relative share of inspections will increase. Some nonaligned countries also suspect that the discussion is less about their technical capabilities and potential for violating the CWC than it is an indication that developed countries want to paint them as less trustworthy than industrialized states. A Nov. 5, 2007, statement by Cuban Ambassador Oscar de los Reyes Ramos on behalf of Nonaligned Movement countries insisted that the OPCW’s verification regime must “correspond to the hierarchy of risks inherent to the respective category of chemicals,” implying that the current approach, which views OCPFs as less essential, does not need to be fundamentally reformed.

 Mahley indirectly confirmed suspicions that the United States sees the discussion on OCPFs as a way to redirect verification resources and attention toward countries that are perceived as problem states. “We’d also like to see if we can’t get some redirection in some of the efforts of the OPCW more into the idea of where the threat really occurs now and the unscheduled producers in some of the Third World countries,” Mahley stated. He maintained that such a change in focus would be preferable to reinspection of certain facilities in Western countries where past verification efforts have given “a very clear indication that those aren’t a potential proliferation threat for chemical weapons.”

Addressing Nonlethal Incapacitants

On the other hand, Washington would like to avoid scrutiny of its controversial interpretation of treaty exceptions permitting the use of toxic chemicals for “law enforcement, including domestic riot control purposes.”

For example, on Jan. 20, The New York Times reported that the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide in May 2005 had dropped CS (tear) gas from a helicopter in Baghdad to clear an intersection for a convoy. The Department of State has maintained that the use of the riot control agent, which also injured U.S. soldiers, did not violate the CWC because under the circumstances it is “not considered a method of warfare.”

Mahley said of the controversy, “If anything, in the review conference [there] needs to be a relatively brief discussion reminding people of what the convention itself says.”

By contrast and in an apparent attempt to encourage an open exchange on the issue of novel, allegedly “nonlethal” weapons at the review conference, the European Union agreed in June 2007 that it was an “essential issue” for the review conference to reaffirm that the convention’s prohibitions “apply to any toxic chemical,” with a few specific exceptions.

Similarly, the Iranian diplomat also described the issue of nonlethal weapons as a very important one and stated that Iran “would like the conference to pay more attention to it so that it can take clear decision that we prevent the use of such weapons as a method of warfare.”

Concern about the development of so-called chemical incapacitants and nonlethal weapons has grown after a 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis, in which the use of a chemical incapacitant by Russian forces resulted in the deaths of more than 150 hostages and kidnappers. Subsequently, several countries, including the United States, have shown interest in the military application of such incapacitants. Technological advances in biochemistry have also made the development of more capable nonlethal agents more possible (see page 20). (See ACT, September 2007. )

Pfirter told Arms Control Today that there will be a need to address the impact of new nonlethal weapons on the convention in “due course” but argued that “there is not sufficient information” for the review conference to address the issue in depth. Given the divisions among states-parties, it seems uncertain whether expert proposals to launch an independent review of the potential consequence of using chemical incapacitants will gain support at the review conference.

Preventing Chemical Weapons Terrorism

When speaking to Arms Control Today, Pfirter pointed out that “the expectations of the international community are big and the expectations of individual member states are big” that the OPCW should cooperate in anti-terrorism efforts. As a positive example, Pfirter pointed toward ongoing cooperation between the OPCW and the committee implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement domestic measures to prevent nonstate actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. (See ACT, November 2007. ) He highlighted assistance provided to smaller and developing states to translate CWC obligations into national law. These countries “are guided mainly by their concern about terrorists using chemical weapons on their territory,” Pfirter stated.

Discussions at the review conference are likely to concentrate on measures to target national implementation assistance better, rather than additional steps to strengthen the convention’s role in preventing chemical weapons terrorism. At the November 2007 conference of OPCW states-parties, U.S. Ambassador Eric M. Javits argued that states-parties should focus efforts to improve national implementation on those approximately 20 states “that lack effective implementing measures but have more activities relevant to the convention within their territories.” Mahley, in the interview with Arms Control Today, refused to cite examples of those countries but emphasized that broader national implementation rests on more and better awareness raising, outreach, assistance, and training.

Another U.S.-Iran Fight?

The review conference, likely to be chaired by Saudi Arabia, is expected to adopt a brief political declaration and a longer final document that reviews the operation of the convention in detail, similar to the products of first review conference, in 2003. Achievement of these goals will depend largely on the political climate at the conference and particularly whether there will be another confrontation between Iran and the United States of the type witnessed at many similar meetings recently.

At the first review conference, the United States had provoked angry reactions by asserting that more than a dozen countries possess or are actively pursuing chemical weapons. In 2003 the United States voiced specific concerns about the compliance of Iran and Sudan, which are members of the CWC, as well as nonmembers Libya, North Korea, and Syria. Mahley says that Washington believes that the CWC “has been working reasonably well” but also stated that the administration still upholds the conclusions of a 2005 State Department report on noncompliance, which listed compliance concerns about China, Iran, Russia, and Sudan. Mahley said that the administration is “still debating whether or not the review conference is a forum at which we wish to make [compliance] a major issue.” He cautioned that the United Stated would not ignore noncompliance concerns: “Certainly, we are going to note it.”

An Iranian proposal to set up a “Chemical Weapons Victim’s International Funding & Assistance Network” is another potential subject that could provoke controversy. (See ACT, December 2007. ) Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran during their war in the 1980s.

Mahley rejected the Iranian proposal, which was first made in 2006 and repeated at the 2007 conference of states-parties. “There are other ways to try to address the question [of providing financial assistance to chemical weapons victims] rather than trying to turn that to being a function of a nonproliferation organization,” he said. Mahley argued that humanitarian agencies might be better suited to address the issue of chemical weapons victims assistance.

The Iranian diplomat dismissed this argument and maintained that humanitarian organizations do not deal with victims of weapons of mass destruction. He said that Iran will pursue its proposal and wants to highlight that the CWC’s provisions on assistance and protection against chemical weapons are “meant not only to address immediate humanitarian consequences resulting from the use of chemical weapons but also the long-term effects.”

The scope and content of efforts to support peaceful use of chemistry is another traditional battleground between Western states and nonaligned countries. So far, however, developing countries appear not to have come up with specific demands to strengthen such cooperation, which is currently being discussed as part of a specific OPCW framework.

Technical issues, particularly those related to the operation of the OPCW, also appear to be noncontroversial. Unusual for the head of any international organization, Pfirter is happy with the states-parties continuing to maintain current funding levels. He told Arms Control Today, “I have been the first promoting a zero nominal growth in the budget because I believe that the organization has the financial resources necessary for it to address adequately program demands.”

Russia Halts Missile Launch Notices

Russia recently stopped providing advance notice of its ballistic missile launches to fellow members of a voluntary missile transparency and restraint regime. Other participants, including the United States, also are not fully implementing their commitments. (Continue)

Wade Boese

Russia recently stopped providing advance notice of its ballistic missile launches to fellow members of a voluntary missile transparency and restraint regime. Other participants, including the United States, also are not fully implementing their commitments.

Established in November 2002, the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC) calls on its 128 participating states to “exercise maximum possible restraint” with respect to missiles capable of delivering biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. In addition to cutting their missile forces if possible, participants are supposed to provide annual reports on their missile inventories and activities and give advance notice of ballistic missile and space-launch vehicle firings. Ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles are technically very similar.

Russia’s suspension took effect Jan. 1 and reportedly will last at least one year. HCOC activities are supposed to be confidential, and Russia did not publicly declare the halt, but several foreign government officials confirmed Russia’s action to Arms Control Today.

The suspension only applies to pre-launch notices, which the Kremlin began providing in 2004. Russia is expected to continue submitting an annual report, which many HCOC members fail to do. Most of those members, however, do not possess ballistic missiles or space-launch vehicles.

The foreign sources said Russia identified two main reasons for the suspension. One was the refusal of other HCOC members to adopt a Russian proposal to make the annual reports and pre-launch notification requirements more optional rather than politically binding. Moscow contends that such a move might make code membership more attractive to nonmembers, which include growing missile and space technology powers Brazil, China, India, Iran, and Pakistan. North Korea, a leading missile proliferator, also is not a participant.

Russia’s other rationale for its suspension was that some current members have not been issuing pre-launch notifications. Presumably, the key culprit in Russia’s eyes is the United States, which has never supplied pre-launch notifications through the code. The United States has regularly provided HCOC annual reports.

Washington and Moscow also bilaterally exchange advance notice on their ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile flights as required by a 1988 missile launch notification agreement and the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty limiting their strategic forces. Those notices are conducted through the two countries’ Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers.

When it signed the code in 2002, the United States said it would start providing advance notice under the HCOC when a U.S.-Russian Pre- and Post-Launch Notification System became operational as part of the planned Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC). The intended purpose of that center is to enable the United States and Russia to share in real time their early-warning data on ballistic missile launches worldwide.

The JDEC, however, has yet to begin operation. The Russian government recently released the property on which the center was to be built for another purpose. Moscow has identified two alternative sites for the center, according to a U.S. government official, who in a Jan. 15 interview with Arms Control Today declined to confirm or comment on Russia’s HCOC suspension.

Progress on the JDEC, initially agreed to in 1998, has been delayed for several years due to various disputes on tax and liability issues. The United States and Russia reached an agreement in 2005 that U.S. officials saw as a basis for resolving the JDEC holdup, but the two governments are still working out legal details. (See ACT, June 2006. )

Moreover, Russian officials told Arms Control Today last April that their country would not move ahead on the JDEC while the United States continues efforts to base strategic anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. U.S. government officials say that Russia has not informed them of that linkage.

Two foreign officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the HCOC confidentiality rule, speculated that other code members providing advance launch notices would continue to do so despite the Russian suspension. They named France, Japan, Norway, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom as some states that have made notifications. But the officials worried that U.S. and Russian nonparticipation would make it less likely that nonmembers might join.

Meanwhile, Russia Feb. 12 proposed the negotiation of a treaty proscribing weapons in space and a universal pact proscribing ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (see page 50 ). Washington and Moscow renounced and eliminated that category of missiles in the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Marius Grinius, Canadian ambassador and permanent representative to the 65-member Conference on Disarmament, questioned Moscow’s proposals in light of the current HCOC status. “It may well be unrealistic to call for new [transparency and confidence-building measures] when existing ones that we have worked so hard to create, like the HCOC, are regrettably falling into disuse, whatever the rationalization may be,” he said.

The Austrian government, which serves as the HCOC’s voluntary executive secretariat, notes on its foreign ministry website that members at their annual meeting last year discussed “strengthening” the code’s various confidence-building measures, including pre-launch notifications. Members are scheduled to gather this year May 29-30 in Vienna.

The HCOC is the second agreement in as many months that Moscow has suspended. Last December, Russia indefinitely halted its participation in inspections, data exchanges, and notifications mandated by the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. (See ACT, January/February 2008 .) Russia accused the United States and its Western allies of ignoring Russian concerns and not abiding by the treaty, which limits the deployment of tanks and other heavy weaponry in Europe.

Pakistan Defends Nuke Security Amid Instability

In recent months, Pakistani officials have sought to allay concerns that the deteriorating security situation in their country would allow extremist elements to acquire nuclear weapons or materials. Political instability in Pakistan has persisted over the past year, raising questions about Islamabad’s ability to protect its nuclear assets. (Continue)

Peter Crail

In recent months, Pakistani officials have sought to allay concerns that the deteriorating security situation in their country would allow extremist elements to acquire nuclear weapons or materials. Political instability in Pakistan has persisted over the past year, raising questions about Islamabad’s ability to protect its nuclear assets.

In early January 2008, Islamabad criticized Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for comments made in a Jan. 8 interview with the pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper in which he expressed concern that “nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of an extremist group in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq characterized such comments Jan. 9 as “unwarranted and irresponsible,” stressing that Pakistan’s weapons are as secure as those in any other nuclear-weapon state.

Responding to Pakistan’s criticism, the agency issued a statement clarifying that ElBaradei was attempting to “call attention to the need to bolster nuclear safety and security measures” worldwide, not just in Pakistan. Although Islamabad has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it is a member of the IAEA and has placed a number of civilian nuclear facilities under the agency’s safeguards.

During a Jan. 27 briefing, retired Lt. General Khalid Kidwai, director-general of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, which oversees the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal, sought to reassure foreign journalists. He argued that scenarios involving the theft or takeover of Pakistani nuclear assets were unrealistic. In addition to describing steps that Islamabad has taken to enhance its nuclear security, Kidwai asserted that “[t]here’s no conceivable scenario, political or violent, in which Pakistan will fall to extremists of the al Qaeda or Taliban type.” He also noted that “the state of alertness has gone up” in recent months since domestic tensions within Pakistan have increased.

Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division serves as the secretariat of the National Command Authority, which is headed by the president and is responsible for command and control over Pakistan’s strategic weapons and infrastructure. (See ACT, December 2007. ) Both organizations were created in 1999, a year after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is believed to have produced enough nuclear material for about 60 weapons. As a security precaution, these weapons are stored unassembled, with the fissile material core kept separately from the explosive triggers.

Following Kidwai’s briefing, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf also sought to underscore the apparent confidence that the U.S. intelligence community places in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. In a Feb. 14 lecture at a Paris think tank, Musharraf argued that “[i]f you ask the head of [the] CIA or top officials of Western intelligence agencies, they will talk contrary to the point of view being projected by the Western media against Pakistan and its leadership.”

Musharraf’s reference to such an assessment by Western intelligence agencies followed the Feb. 5 testimony of top U.S. intelligence officials to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although admitting to “vulnerabilities” in the Pakistani military’s control over its weapons complex, John Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, told the committee that “the ongoing political uncertainty in Pakistan has not seriously threatened the military’s control of the nuclear arsenal.”

Officials from neighboring nuclear rival India, however, continue to cite the risk to Pakistan’s nuclear arms. During a Feb. 18 lecture in New Delhi, Indian Special Envoy Shyam Saran cited the possibility that, “[in] a situation of chaos, Pakistan’s nuclear assets may fall into the hands of jihadi elements.”

North Korea Slows Nuclear Disablement

Peter Crail

Two months after a Dec. 31, 2007, deadline to disable its nuclear reactor complex and provide a declaration of all nuclear activities, North Korea has slowed disablement work and has yet to offer a complete declaration. Pyongyang says that faster progress on its obligations is contingent on first receiving concessions from the United States and other parties participating in the six-party talks, which also include China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. Meanwhile, South Korea’s new and more conservative administration has similarly declared that economic assistance it provides to North Korea must be linked to progress on denuclearization, representing a shift in the reconciliation-oriented policy of Seoul’s two previous administrations.

Disablement Slows

North Korea was supposed to complete disablement of the three primary facilities involved in its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program by Dec. 31, but work is currently poised to continue for several months. The deadline was established as part of an Oct. 3, 2007, joint statement in which North Korea pledged to disable its facilities and provide a declaration of all of its nuclear activities in exchange for additional energy assistance and the rescinding of certain U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang. (See ACT, November 2007. ) The delay in meeting the initial deadline was due originally to technical and safety considerations, but political motives have now slowed progress even further. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

In Feb. 6 testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, indicated that North Korea was slowing down the disablement process by reducing the number of work shifts from three per day to one. Siegfried Hecker, former head of Los Alamos National Laboratory, provided further details following his mid-February visit to Pyongyang and Yongbyon. He explained during a Feb. 16 press briefing that the fuel rods from the reactor were being unloaded at a rate of about 30 each day. More than 6,000 fuel rods remain in the reactor.

North Korea has declared that it would slow down disablement work due to delays in receiving concessions from the other parties engaged in the talks. The North Korean state-run media quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry official Jan. 4 as stating, “Now that other participating nations delay the fulfillment of their commitments, the DPRK is compelled to adjust the tempo of the disablement of some nuclear facilities.”

Hill admitted Feb. 6 that the pace of providing the energy assistance pledged to North Korea has not matched the pace of disablement. He explained that, while eight of the 11 disablement steps have been completed at Yongbyon, North Korea has only received 20 percent of the 1 million tons of heavy-fuel oil other parties agreed to deliver in return for the disablement of its Yongbyon facilities and its declaration. However, a deadline was not expressly established for the provision of energy assistance in the October 2007 agreement, unlike the deadlines set for disablement and the declaration.

China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States have each delivered a shipment of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea.

NK Seeks Concessions First on Declaration

In addition to using the heavy-fuel oil delays as an excuse to slow the disablement work, Pyongyang has made receiving this fuel a condition for providing a declaration on its nuclear programs. Hecker said Feb. 16 that North Korean officials told him that until they receive the energy aid and are removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, “they will not be able to produce what Ambassador Hill calls a ‘complete and correct’ declaration.”

The notion that North Korea is now withholding a complete and correct declaration appears to step back from Pyongyang’s claim in January that it had already “notified the U.S. side” of the contents of its declaration. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

Regarding two of the most contentious issues related to the declaration, Pyongyang’s suspected uranium-enrichment program and its nuclear cooperation with other states, North Korea has attempted to provide some assurances it is not currently engaged in these activities. Yet, it has not offered such assurances about similar past activities.

On the uranium-enrichment issue, Hill described Feb. 6 North Korea’s explanations regarding thousands of aluminum tubes it imported several years ago that raised suspicions of a North Korean uranium-enrichment program. (See ACT, December 2007. ) North Korea showed U.S. officials two conventional weapons systems that utilized these tubes, one of which was incompatible with this material. Hill told the committee that “it is our judgment that the tubes were not brought into [North Korea] for the weapon system that did not work” and that the tubes were then transferred to another weapons system that did work.

Although it appears that North Korea is currently using these materials for a conventional weapons system, the original intention behind the acquisition of the tubes is unclear. U.S. technicians discovered traces of enriched uranium on the tubes provided by North Korea for examination, further calling into question the original purpose of the material.

Two Asian diplomats told Arms Control Today that the process of uncovering information about a North Korean uranium-enrichment program might move faster if Washington would share its evidence regarding such a program with North Korea and its allies in the region. Hill admitted Feb. 6 that there are different assessments among the other parties engaged in the talks about the existence and nature of a North Korean uranium-enrichment program.

The matter of North Korea’s nuclear cooperation with other states largely hinges on Pyongyang’s possible nuclear assistance to Syria. On Sept. 6, 2007, Israel carried out an airstrike against a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, which may have been constructed with North Korean assistance. (See ACT, November 2007. ) Hill told reporters Feb. 19 that he has continued to discuss “the Syria matter” with North Korea. According to Hill, Pyongyang has stated that it is not currently engaged in nuclear cooperation with other countries and says that it will not do so in the future. North Korea also maintains that it did not carry out any such cooperation with Syria.

Shift Expected in Seoul

The Feb. 25 inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak brought the first conservative government into power in Seoul in a decade. Lee’s Grand National Party (GNP) has traditionally opposed the “Sunshine Policy” of short-term reconciliation with North Korea adopted by his two predecessors, instead favoring the application of greater pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. Although Lee has not suggested an end to Seoul’s engagement with Pyongyang, he has indicated that his country’s assistance to North Korea will be linked closely to progress on the nuclear issue.

The shift in Seoul’s North Korea policy appears to be part of a broader expected realignment in South Korea’s foreign policy focus, with greater attention to be given to the country’s relations with Washington. Moreover, the new president has asserted that such a shift may benefit inter-Korean relations. The International Herald Tribune quoted Lee Jan. 14 as stating, “[I]f South Korean-U.S. relations get stronger, it will actually help improve inter-Korean relations. And it can actually help improve North Korean-U.S. relations.”

A diplomatic source close to the six-party talks told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that, unlike previous South Korean administrations, the Lee government is not seeking any major accomplishments in regard to North Korea. Moreover, the new administration will review the pledges made by former president Roh Moo-hyun in October 2007 to provide North Korea with a range of economic development assistance and carry them out only if they are supported by a “national consensus.” (See ACT, November 2007. )

Bush Administration Seeks Congressional Authorization

In his Feb. 6 testimony, Hill indicated that the administration requires a congressional waiver of U.S. legislation in order to carry out additional work in North Korea beyond the current disablement process. Due to North Korea’s October 2006 detonation of a nuclear device, U.S. law currently prohibits nearly all agencies from using funds for nonhumanitarian assistance in North Korea. (See ACT, January/February 2008. )

Hill stated that the current funding is enough to cover disablement “but not much more” and that “more substantial” funding would be required with respect to additional activities, which include verification, facility dismantlement, and the removal of spent fuel and other materials. According to Hill, the administration is seeking language in the fiscal year 2008 supplemental appropriations bill funding U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan “or any other appropriate legislative vehicle” that would remove restrictions on the use of funds to carry out further denuclearization work in North Korea.

In his opening statement during the hearing, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the committee chairman, stated that he and the ranking member, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), “have drafted legislation that would provide the Department of Energy and the Department of State with the necessary authority to implement a robust denuclearization plan.” Congressional sources told Arms Control Today that, at the end of last year, the administration attempted to seek this authorization as part of the fiscal year 2008 omnibus appropriations bill but did not do so in time to incorporate the appropriate language.

U.S.-Indian Deal in Limbo as Clock Ticks

Wade Boese

Bush administration officials and some U.S. lawmakers are prodding India to accelerate its efforts to advance a civil nuclear trade initiative or risk losing it. At the same time, domestic political opponents in India are pressing the Indian government not to move ahead on the initiative or chance losing power.

President George W. Bush agreed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nearly three years ago to disassemble the legal and regulatory barriers to India’s participation in the civilian nuclear trade market. (See ACT, September 2005. ) The United States had taken the lead in erecting those barriers following India’s 1974 explosion of a nuclear device derived in part from U.S. and Canadian nuclear supplies designated for peaceful purposes.

Congress gave its preliminary and conditional approval to the initiative in December 2006 through legislation known as the Hyde Act after Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), who at that time chaired the House International Relations Committee. (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) Before Congress can take a final vote on an agreement granting India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and technologies, the voluntary 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) must first exempt India from a restriction against nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states, like India, that do not subject their entire nuclear complex to international oversight. Although India possesses nuclear arms, it is classified as a non-nuclear-weapon state by the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India has never signed.

NSG members, which seek to coordinate their export controls, are waiting on India to complete a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before considering exempting India from the group’s trade rule. Safeguards are mechanisms, such as inspections and remote monitoring, placed on a country’s civilian nuclear facilities and materials to verify that they are not being used for nuclear weapons purposes. In addition to six thermal nuclear reactors already under IAEA safeguards, Singh in March 2006 committed to place an additional eight of 16 such reactors under safeguards. (See ACT, April 2006. )

Confidential talks on a new, India-specific safeguards arrangement for those eight reactors began last November between India and the agency, but no final agreement has emerged. General speculation is that the delay stems from India linking its willingness to abide by safeguards, which are supposed to be in perpetuity, to guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies. In a Feb. 18 speech to the India International Centre in New Delhi, Shyam Saran, special envoy on the nuclear initiative for Singh, stated, “Our position right from the outset had been that we have no problem with permanent safeguards provided there are permanent supplies of fuel.”

Whatever the reason for the prolonged negotiations, U.S. supporters of the initiative are anxious. They had hoped that the safeguards agreement would be completed in time for the IAEA Board of Governors to take the necessary step of approving it at the board’s March 3-7 meeting. The next regular board meeting is not scheduled until June 2-6, which is after the planned May plenary of the NSG and presents a sequencing problem for the initiative. Both the IAEA Board of Governors and the NSG can convene extraordinary meetings to take decisions.

Some U.S. lawmakers say that the IAEA and NSG steps must be done before June in order for Congress to take up the initiative for a final vote because of the abbreviated congressional calendar caused by the upcoming November presidential and congressional elections. Visiting New Delhi Feb. 20 with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters, “It is important for India to move the agreement as rapidly as possible, preferably within weeks.”

Similarly, Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said Feb. 11, “[W]e don’t have all the time in the world.” David Mulford, U.S. ambassador to India, delivered the same message in a Feb. 10 interview with India’s CNN-IBN, and he added, “My opinion is that if this is not processed in the present Congress, it is unlikely this deal will be offered again to India.” The trio of senators similarly said that if the deal did not go through this year, it would likely be renegotiated by a future administration.

But Singh’s government is receiving pressure from the opposite direction from its domestic critics who assert the initiative will make India subservient to the United States or impinge on India’s nuclear weapons program. Leftist parties that align themselves with Singh’s governing coalition have threatened to withdraw their support from the government if they are unsatisfied with the final IAEA safeguards agreement. Such a move could trigger new elections that could oust Singh’s government.

The main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also has stepped up its attacks on the initiative after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Feb. 13 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the United States will seek an exemption for India at the NSG “consistent” with the Hyde Act. Indian politicians of all stripes dislike the Hyde Act because it conditions future trade on India’s behavior, including continuation of a nuclear test moratorium. The act also effectively bars, except in special circumstances, transfers to India of uranium-enrichment, plutonium reprocessing, and heavy-water production technologies, which can be used to produce essential nuclear bomb materials.

India prefers what it calls a “clean” NSG exception. As Saran explained in his Feb. 18 speech, “It is our expectation that there would be a fairly simple and clean exemption from these guidelines without any conditionalities or even expectations regarding India’s conduct in [the] future.”

The BJP responded to Rice’s statement by demanding that Singh’s government apologize for misleading and betraying India. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar asserted Feb. 15, “[T]he primary objective of the Hyde Act is to cap, then roll back, and ultimately eliminate India’s nuclear weapons capability.”

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who took over as acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) passed away Feb. 11, signaled that he would prefer an NSG exemption that reflected the Hyde Act and not a clean one. He told Rice that if the United States pursued a clean exemption for India, “we would essentially be creating two standards for nuclear trade for India, one for the United States and one for the rest of the world.”

Air Force Issues New Nuclear Weapons Procedures

Jessica Lasky-Fink

The U.S. Air Force has issued new procedures and requirements for the handling of nuclear weapons in the wake of an incident last August in which six nuclear warheads were unknowingly transferred across the country. The Air Force decision was announced Jan. 17 and was scheduled to be implemented within 45 days of that date.

The new procedures stem from an incident in which a B-52 bomber flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with six nuclear air-launched cruise missiles onboard. (See ACT, October 2007. )

The requirements stipulate that nuclear and non-nuclear munitions and missiles must be stored in separate storage structures and that they all must “be identified using stanchions/cones, ropes, and placards to ensure there is a clear distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear munitions/missiles.” The mix-up of nuclear and non-nuclear warheads is one of the many breakdowns in nuclear-handling procedure that preceded the B-52 flight on Aug. 30.

Over a period of four months, Air Force generals have conducted three investigations into the breach of nuclear procedures. Major General Douglas Raaberg, the director of plans and operations at Air Combat Command, conducted the initial Air Force investigation that found that the incident reflects “a breakdown in training, discipline, supervision and leadership.”

Thereafter, Lieutenant General Polly Peyer led an investigation to see if the August incident was part of broader, systemic problems in the Air Force. That review concluded that the problems in the Air Force begin with a lack of commitment to the nuclear mission in senior leadership positions and extend to shortcomings in training, inspections, and funding.

Finally, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked retired General Larry Welch to chair a Defense Science Board Permanent Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Surety charged with reviewing the entire Department of Defense nuclear enterprise. The task force’s “Report on the Unauthorized Movement of Nuclear Weapons,” released in February, found a “declining focus and an eroding nuclear enterprise environment” not only in the Air Force, but in the department as a whole.

These three generals, as well as Lieutenant General Daniel Darnell, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 12.

In a joint statement to the committee, Generals Darnell, Peyer, and Raaberg outlined the accountability measures that have been taken as a result of the unauthorized weapons transfer. At the same time, they insisted that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile is secure, despite findings that point to a waning emphasis by the U.S. military on ensuring proper nuclear weapons procedures.

In all, the generals’ investigations resulted in more than 120 recommendations to strengthen nuclear weapons surety. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, noted with concern that most of the recommendations have not yet been implemented and called the B-52 event “a wake-up call,” asserting that “as long as the United States has nuclear weapons, they must be handled with the utmost security and attention.”

A congressional aide told Arms Control Today that sentiment on Capitol Hill is that these recommendations are fairly comprehensive. The aide indicated that the new Air Force requirements are a good start for addressing the procedural causes of August’s unauthorized nuclear transfer, but the systemic and organizational issues underlying the incident will be more difficult and will take longer to resolve.

Notably, neither the new Air Force procedural document nor any of the three investigative reports satisfy the requirement for a classified report on nuclear surety, as called for in the fiscal 2008 defense appropriations bill, which was signed into law Nov. 13. The bill directs the secretaries of defense and energy to jointly submit a classified report “on the policies and procedures governing the storage and logistic movement of U.S. nuclear weapons and nuclear components” within 90 days. As of Feb. 15, the report had not been submitted.

 

Weapons Labs Biological Research Raises Concerns

Jeremy Patterson

Two U.S. nuclear weapons labs are opening biological research labs capable of studying more dangerous pathogens, raising concerns about the U.S. ability to meet demands for transparency in line with the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

On Jan. 25, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory began operating a new Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) research lab. In addition, Los Alamos National Laboratory is scheduled to complete a federally mandated environmental study on a similar lab in August 2008, enabling the lab to begin operations soon thereafter, if the study findings are favorable.

Biosafety level classifications are established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to denote the level of danger associated with handling particular biological pathogens and proper procedures for working with them. The most dangerous agents, such as Ebola, are classified as BSL-4 in part because there is no known cure. A rating of BSL-3 indicates that the lab is equipped to handle infectious agents that may cause serious or fatal illness if inhaled. Agents rated at BSL-2 are not transmissible via inhalation and are often less hazardous in terms of the infections they may cause. For example, anthrax is normally a BSL-2 pathogen but necessitates a BSL-3 environment if it is in pure cultures or is aerosolized because it is then an inhalation threat.

Each national laboratory currently operates BSL-2 labs, and the new facilities mark the first time either laboratory has conducted or will conduct BSL-3 studies on-site.

These labs also will study select agents, which are pathogens that pose a serious threat to public health and safety and may be biological terrorism or biological weapons threats, including anthrax, botulism, brucellosis, plague, Rickettsia, tularemia, and valley fever. Due to the potential national security ramifications, labs conducting research on select agents are required by the CDC to implement physical and personnel security measures in addition to the normal BSL safeguards.

The labs are permitted to do some research on these agents under the BWC. The convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, or acquisition of biological agents; but it does allow researchers to work with limited quantities of certain types of dangerous agents solely for “prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes.” For example, scientists might use an agent in creating vaccines or defenses against potential biological weapons.

It is difficult for outsiders to determine if a country is engaging in offensive or defensive biological weapons research, putting a premium on transparency and confidence-building measures to reassure the international community that a state is complying with its BWC obligations. Outside groups have raised concerns that locating the new BSL-3 labs in weapons facilities will make it difficult to convince other countries of the peaceful intent of U.S. research. They also worry that constructing these labs in such facilities may be undermining U.S. efforts to limit other countries’ research into biological agents that could potentially be used as biological weapons.

Lynda Seaver, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Livermore lab, sought to assuage such concerns, telling Arms Control Today Feb. 12 that the United States is “a signatory to the Biowarfare Convention and does not conduct bioweapons research.” She also said that “the bulk of the work done at the BSL-3 [lab] will be unclassified.”

However, a spokesperson for the CDC told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that there are security-related restrictions on sharing select agents research. Considerable physical security measures in place at Lawrence Livermore could further bar transparency.

According to documents filed by the Department of Energy Jan. 25, the BSL-3 lab at Lawrence Livermore is capable of holding rodents and conducting “aerosol challenges” of them using infectious agents or biologically derived toxins. The lab is also equipped to produce small amounts of biological material such as DNA using infectious agents and genetically modified agents.

The labs are part of a major increase in governmental biological defense research since the anthrax attacks of 2001. In the past five years, the National Institutes of Health have spent more than $1 billion constructing new BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs. The Department of Homeland Security is scheduled later this year to complete construction on the $141 million National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) in Frederick, Md., and is planning an additional $500 million animal research facility. Both will have BSL-3 and BSL-4 capabilities.

According to Seaver, the Lawrence Livermore lab will be mainly conducting research under a “work for others” arrangement for the Homeland Security Department as part of the department’s national mission for bioterrorism defense, although Lawrence Livermore is in discussions to conduct research for other agencies in public health areas.

The Homeland Security Department’s NBACC will conduct threat assessment research, a controversial type of biological research in which new types of biological weapons are produced by researchers in order to determine their potential viability and how one might defend against them. Some outside experts say that such research is of tenuous legal standing from the perspective of the BWC.

In 2002, when construction began, each national laboratory argued that the new BSL-3 labs were needed because outside labs are often committed to other projects or are not well equipped for the desired work. The situation has greatly changed since then. A 2007 Government Accountability Office report noted that, since 2001, the number of BSL-4 labs in the United States has increased from five to 15. (See ACT, November 2007. ) The number of BSL-3 labs has undergone a similar expansion; more than 1,350 are registered with the Select Agents Program, and many more are known to exist outside the program.

Research at the labs will be conducted under the oversight of the respective Institutional Biosafety Committees of each national laboratory, which must include at least two members of the public. The labs will be subject to periodic inspections by the CDC to verify compliance with the Select Agents rules. However, the labs will not be under the jurisdiction of any oversight mechanisms designed to ensure or publicize compliance with the BWC or U.S. laws governing its implementation other than internal Homeland Security Department review boards.

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