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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
July/August 2008
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
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New Presidents, New Agreements? Advancing U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Control

Alexei Arbatov and Rose Gottemoeller

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons.[1]

They also agreed to disagree on missile defenses, with Russia continuing to object to the U.S. proposal to establish defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and reiterating its own proposal regarding the Gabala and Armavir radar sites. What was absent from the statement was any indication of an intent to press forward and finish the negotiations in time for President George W. Bush to sign a new treaty before he leaves office in January 2009.

In one sense, this slow motion is worrisome because START will go out of force in December 2009, giving the new U.S. president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, only 12 short months to decide on the follow-on to START. Without START, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) signed in May 2002 will lose the verification and counting provisions that had made this short and streamlined treaty somewhat meaningful. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) expressed this concern very well in a speech in January 2008: “We must not forget that this new concept (SORT) was buttressed by…the START Treaty.… In other words, the conceptual underpinning of the Moscow Treaty depends upon something that is about to expire.”[2]

In another sense, this lack of progress at Sochi is a good outcome. The major difference between the two sides on the future of START remains the Bush administration’s insistence that verification and monitoring measures should be binding only politically; the agreement itself may be legally binding, but its accompanying monitoring regime would not be.[3] Moreover, the administration’s concept for monitoring evidently focuses on a number of transparency measures—visits to missile deployment sites, for example—without a rigorous definition of what activities would be permitted once such an on-site visit was underway. Clear definitions characterized the START verification regime, and the Russians are at ease with such an approach.

They are not at ease with a simple transparency regime. In Russian strategic culture, transparency for the sake of trust is an alien notion. The Russian interagency establishment accepted a transparency regime only once, in the Open Skies Treaty, but that step was decided mostly to supplement the verification regime for the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which did not include the territory of the continental United States, while the Open Skies transparency regime did. The secretive Soviet and now Russian system has traditionally viewed transparency as a way for the other side to acquire intelligence information not available through the usual channels.

Moreover, although Russia currently plays somewhat fast and loose with the rule of law—Medvedev calls this tendency “legal nihilism”—the Russians are sticklers for international treaty law. A legally binding international treaty generally overrides domestic Russian law and regulation, thus a treaty is necessary for successful implementation. In particular, it provides for the access of foreigners to sensitive military and nuclear sites, which would never be permitted under a simple transparency regime agreed on an informal basis.

The mood in Moscow, therefore, is one of wait and see. Russian experts both in and out of government appear to believe that this essential difference concerning legally binding verification measures will not be resolved with the Bush administration. Perhaps more importantly, Russian analysts voice a great deal of concern about the administration’s proposed missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. They are concerned about the long-term impact of unconstrained missile defenses in Europe on the Russian strategic arsenal. They do not believe that the currently proposed deployments, an X-band radar of limited range and 10 anti-missile launchers, will have such an effect, but they do worry that the long-term outlook will not be good once the United States begins such deployments. In particular, they have become neuralgic with concern that U.S. missile defenses in Europe could eventually deny a second-strike capability to the steadily weakening Russian offensive forces.[4]

Waiting for the New President

Along with the conclusion that they cannot “get to yes” with the Bush administration on these issues, the Russians have been watching with great interest relevant developments in the U.S. presidential campaigns. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was first out of the box with a clear statement of intent to pursue further deep reductions. He pledged his allegiance to the goal articulated by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn to begin decisive steps toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.[5] Obama also took steps to solidify his own agenda in this regard, authoring a piece of legislation with Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that would speed up U.S. efforts to denuclearize.[6]

What took many in Moscow by surprise was Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) evident willingness to join the denuclearization camp. In a speech at the University of Denver in May 2008, he declared his own allegiance to the goals laid out by Shultz and his colleagues, referring back to their origins with President Ronald Reagan at the Reykjavik summit in 1987.[7] The Russians were particularly surprised at the Denver speech because they were still chewing over McCain’s speech in Los Angeles six weeks earlier when he had roundly criticized Russia and pledged once again to throw the country out of the Group of Eight (G-8) highly industrialized countries.[8] To the Russians, the vigorous agenda of nuclear arms reductions that McCain proposed did not compute with his urge to throw them out of the G-8. With whom did he expect to negotiate?

Russians recall many U.S. political campaigns that have spurned Russia and then returned to achieve agreements at the negotiating table. The most well-known version of this narrative involves Reagan himself, who reached an agreement to denuclearize with President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik summit after a long journey launched when he declared the Soviet Union to be the evil empire.[9]

Some Russians seem to believe, therefore, that McCain’s anti-Russian rhetoric will be tempered should he take office, and this conviction is growing now that the Denver speech is on the table. Ironically, the talking point still exists in Moscow that Russia can make more headway with a Republican administration than a Democratic one, whose members might be overconcerned about issues such as democracy and human rights—this after eight years of a rather determined Republican campaign of democracy building.

Consensus to Move Forward, but Not on Next Steps

Although action in the negotiations is on hold for the moment, both sides seem to have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Certainly neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Each country clearly recognizes the deadline of December 2009 and seems to accept that a successful extension or replacement of START will do much to create a positive environment when the next nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference gets underway in the spring of 2010.[10]

That said, several different options are already on the table, and others continue to be developed. For example, Shultz, Perry, Kissinger, and Nunn called for a straightforward extension of key provisions of the existing START in their Wall Street Journal op-ed published in January 2008.[11] Russia and the United States, meanwhile, have agreed to the more ambitious goal of seeking a follow-on agreement to START, not merely an extension of the current agreement. Worries exist in both capitals about whether such an agreement can be negotiated, ratified by the two legislatures, and brought into force in a period of little more than a year. For that reason, some experts have called on Russia and the United States to take unilateral steps to extend the life of START and also perhaps to achieve further reductions. For those seeking to achieve a negotiated agreement, the options also range across a spectrum determined by START at one end and SORT at the other.

The pros and cons of these various approaches deserve to be widely debated. Several points may be highlighted to inform the discussion.

• A simple extension of START for the five years called for in Article XVII of the treaty would be the most straightforward approach and would create time and space to achieve a reasonable, negotiated outcome. According to the terms of START, if this step is to be taken, it will have to be decided by the end of December 2008, one year before the treaty goes out of force. Both governments, however, already have moved beyond this position. Each has its own arguments for saying that START is too cumbersome, a Cold War-era treaty that should not be extended. The Russians base their arguments mainly on the expense and complexity of the START Verification Protocol. They are fond of saying that a number of the notifications and inspections required no longer make sense and should be dropped from a future agreement for a streamlined and less expensive verification arrangement. The U.S. side makes a broader argument about the treaty being no longer relevant to the more friendly environment of the current era. Although this argument has become strained in recent years, it continues to be at the center of the Bush administration’s argument against extending START.

• Agreed steps to continue the main constraints of START, such as the limitations, counting rules, and major verification provisions, on an informal basis could be a valuable goodwill gesture should negotiations continue without success after the December 2009 deadline. In fact, they could play a significant role in ensuring confidence in the continued implementation of SORT, which has depended on START remaining in force “in accordance with its terms.”[12] In particular, such steps would ensure that further reductions in strategic forces are mutually transparent and correspond to SORT guidelines. An agreement of this kind also would address the complication that START signatories include Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, who would have to agree to a formal extension of START.

• Another proposal has emerged to base further reductions in strategic nuclear forces on parallel unilateral statements made by the two presidents either immediately before the START deadline or after the deadline has passed. For example, the U.S. president might unilaterally state his intention to reduce U.S. strategic nuclear forces to 1,000 operationally deployed warheads while declaring his intention to eliminate warheads in storage. Such a declaration might begin to assuage Russian concerns about the upload potential of U.S. nuclear systems, a point to be discussed further below. Experts from both countries, however, have raised questions about such an approach. Similar to the transparency problem, Russians tend to see unilateral measures as a trap, forcing in motion reductions or changes in their nuclear arsenal that the United States might very well escape by reversing a unilateral decision. Some U.S. experts, by contrast, argue that the United States should never give something for nothing where the Russian nuclear arsenal is concerned, and the only way to ensure that the two countries are giving and getting in equal measure is through a legally binding negotiated reduction.

• “START-Plus” is another option for which some experts have been arguing.[13] This concept may include extending START until such time as a new treaty is negotiated, building further reductions in launch vehicles and warheads into the START structure, instituting a streamlined START verification regime, and accounting for conventional ballistic missiles under existing START counting rules. At a later stage, it would involve dealing with the problem of nondeployed warheads, for example by placing further limits on the number of delivery vehicles or creating a regime to verify nondeployed warheads, an idea the United States proposed in 1997 as the underpinning for a START III. Russian experts have not been particularly enthusiastic about the START-Plus idea because as in the case of a simple START extension, it will create both military-technical and political problems for Russia. Russian experts believe that START generated some difficulties for operating their strategic nuclear forces and in the future may hamper its planned modernization, in particular the deployment of Topol-M-type ICBMs with multiple warheads, formally called multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). A reworked START, for that reason, would not be the preferred approach in Moscow.

The Idea of an Enhanced SORT

An alternative approach, which we prefer, would be to pursue an enhanced SORT. This would not be a simple extension of SORT, which is six years old and was agreed by the past administration in Moscow and soon-to-be past administration in Washington. An enhanced SORT would not return to the complexities of START, however, which, as the Bush team is fond of repeating, was negotiated during the Cold War, now long over. We must emphasize that we do not love SORT and are joined in that view by other experts in Moscow and Washington. As one senior retired Russian diplomat commented during a recent meeting at the Carnegie Moscow Center, SORT “reflects the times, even if we are unhappy with it.”

An enhanced SORT would in fact remedy SORT’s major weaknesses while addressing the main disagreements that have sprung up between the two sides over its implementation. For the Russian side, the major goal would be to maintain a semblance of parity with the United States while addressing the basic problem with SORT, the lack of acceptable counting rules and corresponding verification procedures. For the U.S. side, the major goal would be to maintain sufficient transparency with respect to Russian strategic nuclear forces while making sure that force cuts would not be too expensive for the United States and would be acceptable in force structure terms, i.e., would not require the United States to move immediately from a triad of nuclear forces to a dyad.

These goals may be achieved by structuring an enhanced SORT so that the upper limit allowed for strategic nuclear forces would be 1,700 deployed warheads, to be achieved by the end of 2012. Presently, this number is the lower end of the 1,700-2,200 reduction level called for in SORT. The main issue to be addressed within this limit would be the counting rules, in particular how to account for the possibility that conventional warheads could be placed on Trident-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) or other delivery platforms and how to understand the U.S. principle of counting only “operationally deployed” warheads.

For the conventional warheads, the United States should simply agree to count them as nuclear warheads. Otherwise, we will end up with verification measures that are much too intrusive and to which neither Russia nor the United States would agree at the current time. Such a counting rule should be acceptable because the United States only plans to deploy a few tens of such conventional missiles. Although the overall treaty limit remains at 1,700, counting them as nuclear will only slightly impact the U.S. strategic nuclear potential.

As far as counting operationally deployed warheads is concerned, Russia is not particularly worried about the United States storing warheads, as also has been the case with all past strategic arms control and reduction treaties. Russia is most concerned about the number of launchers that remain in deployment and the number of warhead re-entry vehicles (RVs) that it would be possible to load on those launchers. Russian experts call this “upload potential.”

In START, this problem was addressed through a rule on downloading, according to which not more than two warhead RVs could be removed from a launcher without converting the MIRV dispensing platform, called the “bus,” to carry fewer RVs. Even then, the maximum number of warhead RVs that could be removed—and credited against START limits—was four. The number of types of missiles that could be downloaded and the overall number of downloaded warheads were limited as well.

Interestingly, at the time START was negotiated, Moscow was interested in much more liberal restrictions on downloading than Washington. Now, as has happened many times in the history of strategic arms control, the positions of the sides have reversed. Because converting MIRV platforms is an expensive and lengthy process that sometimes requires additional flight tests, this downloading rule is in fact a tangible constraint on upload potential, particularly if buses with a smaller number of warheads have not been earlier tested on a given missile type.

We are not proposing to adhere to this downloading rule but would look for a cheaper and more acceptable approach that would give the United States some flexibility and give Russia some reassurance about U.S. upload potential. For example, the two sides could agree to liberalize the START downloading rule: not more than 3-4 RVs could be removed without converting the bus and not more than 4-5 with such a conversion.

Russia could easily agree to a ceiling of 1,700 warheads because it would help to save money by not having to extend the service life of some obsolete systems. It would also allow Russia to allocate more funding to a reasonable force modernization, including early-warning and command and control systems. The Russian triad has been shrinking and, regardless of any treaty, will have no more than 1,800-2,000 warheads by 2012, of which about 70 percent will be deployed on obsolete delivery systems or launchers with an extended service life. Under an enhanced SORT, by 2012, Russia could have a more modern force with about 300 ICBMs (700 warheads), along with eight to nine submarines (600 warheads), and 50 bombers with 400 air-launched cruise missiles. As an option, Russia could make the transition to a more economically rational dyad that would include the same force structure at sea and 350 ICBMs (1,100 warheads) on land. In this case, the bombers would be removed completely from the strategic nuclear arsenal and converted for regional missions.

The United States might find it more difficult. With a limit of 1,700 warheads by 2012, its force structure might include 14 submarines with 336 Trident-2 missiles and approximately 1,000 warheads (3 per missile); 300 ICBMs of the Minuteman III type, with one warhead per missile; and about 400 cruise missile warheads on 40 bombers. (The remaining bombers would be redeployed to conventional missions.) If the United States decided to save money by making no changes in MIRV dispensing platforms, leaving 4-5 warheads on each SLBM, then it would have to reduce further the number of Minuteman III ICBMs and bombers with cruise missiles, or it would have to remove two to four submarines from the strategic nuclear forces.

Thus, the United States would find itself faced with some difficult choices. The more severe the constraints on downloading, the more money the U.S. side would have to spend on converting MIRV platforms, or the more ICBMs, submarines, and bombers it would have to retire from its strategic arsenal.

Much will depend here on the wisdom of Russian diplomacy to achieve an optimal outcome. Maybe even a large U.S. upload potential is less dangerous if it involves converting the Trident-2 MIRV bus, although Russia always finds it useful to achieve the maximum retirement of U.S. strategic weapon systems. In order to gain an outcome that would be more acceptable for Washington, it might be possible to give ground on some issues that are important for Moscow, such as the idea of a ban on deploying strategic nuclear forces outside national territory, counting real loadings (instead of an agreed average number) of weapons on bombers, or limiting missile defenses in Europe.

Still, depending on the new downloading rules, U.S. upload potential would be considerable: 1,000-2,000 warheads. In order to hedge against this potential, Russia might rely on some military-technical options in addition to an enhanced SORT. Foremost among such measures would be maintaining a strategic weapons production base in case Russia must quickly respond to a U.S. upload campaign. Russia has only one option for such a response, deployment of mobile Topol-M missiles equipped with MIRVs. Construction of new silos for fixed ICBMs, bombers, or submarines would simply be too expensive and take too long. At the moment, Russia is maintaining a policy of “balanced modernization” among the three legs of its triad; as a result, it only has enough resources to produce five to seven Topol-M ICBMs per year.

If Russia could expand that production potential to 30-40 missiles per year, along with the necessary RVs, then it would be able to add 1,000 warheads to its deployed strategic arsenal over three to four years if it had to do so in response to a U.S. buildup. Such a missile force would have high accuracy and robust command and control potential and sufficient launcher survivability. It would also have efficient countermeasures to any likely missile defense system. If Russia were able to maintain the production capability for such a force, then U.S. upload potential would not cause Moscow as much worry.

After 2012, Russia and the United States could consider deeper reductions, to a level of 1,000-1,200 deployed warheads, along with reasonable and verifiable reductions in strategic force readiness, which would have the added benefit of easing the transition in both countries from a triad to a dyad force structure. We should not fool ourselves; such measures are complicated by themselves, and they require a lot of work to resolve complex, interconnected problems, among them, what to do about missile defense systems, highly accurate long-range conventional weapons, space weapons, nonstrategic nuclear weapons (“tactical” nuclear weapons), the expansion of NATO and adaptation of the CFE Treaty, inclusion of third countries in further nuclear reductions, and strengthening of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Finally, the question of warhead elimination is crucial. Eliminating warheads will remain a largely symbolic activity and one expensive and difficult to verify if it is not taking place in the context of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT). If an FMCT is negotiated, it will be possible to pursue agreed methods to verify and dispose of nuclear warheads and material. This is a completely new and hopeful but thus far largely unexplored sphere of nuclear disarmament.

The New Offense-Defense Relationship

To address these complex problems, one must begin by exploring current U.S. and Russian views of the offense-defense relationship. Strategic stability in the final decades of the Cold War was based on a shared understanding of that relationship, which was first enshrined in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks interim agreement (SALT I), both of which were signed in 1972. With the 2002 demise of the ABM Treaty, the United States initiated new missile defense deployments in the United States and in Europe and continues to develop new missile defense technologies for deployment either at the theater or the national level. At the same time, Russia continues to maintain its single national missile defense site with nuclear armed interceptors around Moscow and has been building, deploying, and selling highly effective theater defense missile systems, for example the S-300 and S-400.

At the Sochi summit in April 2008, the two sides continued to disagree about the need to deploy missile defense components in the Czech Republic and Poland, but they agreed to continue talking about how Russian and U.S. proposals to address the issue could be reconciled. In particular, they agreed to continue fleshing out confidence-building measures that would assuage Russian concerns about the Czech and Polish sites. Because one of the proposals—having Russian military observers at the deployment sites—would require the approval of Prague and Warsaw, the confidence-building proposals involve third parties and remain far from agreement. Nevertheless, even President Vladimir Putin, who had been the staunchest critic of the U.S. missile defense proposal, offered a “certain cautious optimism” during the Sochi press conference.[14]

Thus, the relationship between missile offense and defense has entered new territory, but there have been no real opportunities for Russia and the United States together to consider the full implications. For that reason, the two countries should sit down at an early time to discuss precisely this topic. The relationship between missile offense and defense could become the first subject of a new set of consultations on strategic stability.

We are aware that there are bad precedents. Strategic offense and defense negotiations were conducted in parallel throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and whereas the offense talks led eventually to START, the defense talks were largely sterile, devoted to a long exchange of angry views with little in the way of substantive outcome. That result is undoubtedly a product of the fact that neither side wanted to place new constraints on strategic missile defenses. In fact, some in the United States were already on the road to planning the demise of the ABM Treaty.

We should do what we can to avoid this precedent because a thorough and good-faith airing of differences on the defense topic will be the key to developing the foundation for very deep reductions in offensive forces as a follow-on to a proposed enhanced SORT. Moreover, without such a good-faith exchange and eventual move toward consensus, it is difficult to see how progress can be made on the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, as called for by Shultz et al. In fact, the need to move toward agreement on missile defenses is a major point that has been reiterated by Russian experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center since these four senior statesmen published their first Wall Street Journal op-ed in January 2007.

At this time, we are not endorsing a new negotiated agreement on missile defenses, for there are too many issues to be explored before either side will be ready to make that commitment. Instead, we are proposing a serious and detailed strategic stability consultation that would first air differences, then turn to developing specific ways in which the United States and Russia might work together in the missile defense arena.

This consultation should have two parts. The first would be an assessment of ballistic missile threats to the Russian and U.S. homelands and threats to allied territories in the Asian and European theaters and a joint consideration of optimal sites and modes of ballistic missile defense deployments to counter these threats. To the extent possible, the assessment should include sensitive information provided by both sides, to back up their own analyses of the threat. This process may also include a joint examination of the missile tests of Iran and other countries of concern, capitalizing on the experience of the START negotiations. During that period, Russia and the United States dedicated special attention to determining ways to verify the range and throw weight of ballistic missiles during tests.

The second part of the consultation would involve an exploration of how to develop significant cooperation between the United States and Russia on missile defenses. This aspiration, first expressed by Reagan at the time of his 1983 “Star Wars” speech, has never come to fruition, although progress has been made in some areas. In particular, the NATO-Russia Council has served as the umbrella for a productive working group on missile defense cooperation in the European theater.[15]

This working group has developed joint definitions of terminology and procedures for interacting on missile defense training, examined how Russian and NATO technologies might be used together in a theater missile defense system, and exercised missile defenses together over the last five years. In the comments of one Russian military expert, NATO and Russia have progressed greatly toward missile defense interoperability in the European theater thanks to the activities of this working group.[16]

Unfortunately, the demonstrable successes of this group have done nothing to dampen tensions over U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland. The most successful technical discussions cannot overturn political disagreement, a reality with which the parties will have to grapple at the political level. Nonetheless, a detailed discussion of potential areas of technical cooperation, beginning with a thorough examination of the Russian Gabala and Armavir radar offers already on the table,[17] may play a useful role in addressing these tensions.

This area of consultation should also consider the legal and procedural issues that would facilitate the exchange of information and technologies that would be required to develop joint cooperation on missile defenses. Such issues have significantly complicated other areas of technical cooperation in the 15 years since the demise of the Soviet Union, such as interactions over the International Space Station. Nevertheless, the space program has resulted in successful technology cooperation between Russia and the United States, and its experiences should be mined to develop the agenda for legal consultations over missile defenses.

Although these consultations cannot by themselves clear the air of the grievances that have built up in Russia over missile defenses in Europe, they would begin to develop a new dynamic environment for considering the future of the offense-defense relationship. Because the consultations will take some time to accomplish this result, they should be backstopped from the beginning with confidence-building measures related to missile defenses. These would help early on to develop a better political environment for the discussions and highlight issues that could be fed into the agenda of the consultations. The experience of the NATO-Russia Council working group on missile defenses already provides some good examples of fruitful U.S.-Russian bilateral cooperation in command-post exercises within the context of the broader NATO community.

Another precedent of confidence-building measures that has in fact never been exploited is the New York Protocols of 1997 on delineation of strategic and theater missile defense systems. Russia and the United States negotiated these technical criteria and measures to improve mutual confidence in the scope and nature of the missile defense systems then contemplated or in deployment. The measures particularly emphasized a detailed exchange of technical information about Russian and U.S. missile defense programs. It is time to re-examine these confidence-building measures to see if they could be modified to assuage contemporary concerns about missile defenses, whether in Europe or at the national level.[18]

A third idea for confidence building, which should be rather straightforward to implement, would be to proceed with long-running plans to open a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) for monitoring missile launches. The agreement regarding the JDEC was first signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Putin at their June 2000 meeting in Moscow. Over the next several years, implementation of the center fell prey to bureaucratic issues between Moscow and Washington such as the question of which side would pay for upgrading the school building that had been selected for the site. In addition, the general disinterest of the Bush administration toward negotiated agreements with Russia, especially when negotiated by earlier presidents, served to shelve the JDEC further. The agreement remains intact, however, and the center could be rapidly established as a venue for confidence building on missile defenses.

A Solution on the Czech Republic and Poland?

This serious new examination of the offense-defense relationship could be accompanied in the near term by a formal diplomatic process to resolve the existing differences over the planned U.S. missile defense deployments in the Czech Republic and Poland. If the next U.S. administration decides to proceed with this plan, the basis of a compromise is already clear: Russia would agree to the assembly of the radar and construction of anti-missile base infrastructure as long as it receives technical assurances and is able to monitor on-site that this defense is not directed at Russian deterrence assets. The United States would agree to postpone deployment of interceptors until Iran successfully tests long-range ballistic missiles. Assessment of such tests would be done jointly, on the basis of work already accomplished in the consultative process outlined above, to provide objective analyses of range and throw weight.

Although the basis of a compromise exists, the two sides currently differ on technical details and the question of how to structure an agreement; it will fall to the next administration to clear up these issues. We assume that if the Iranian missile threat is taken seriously in the United States, then it would be worthwhile to Washington to make concessions to Russia, to reassure it, and secure its cooperation, provided that Russian demands do not obstruct the very concept of defense. For example, Moscow’s claim that the Gabala and Armavir radars are an alternative to the radar and interceptor sites in central Europe is groundless and should not be accepted. On the other hand, U.S. insistence on reciprocal on-site inspections at Moscow ballistic missile defense sites is purely political and should be dropped, because this system is of no concern to the United States or NATO.

If and when Russia and the United States reach agreement on this matter, the Gabala, Armavir, and Czech radars might be linked to each other and to the proposed Moscow JDEC and current NORAD command centers and, if need be, to a proposed NATO command center in Brussels. Also, real work could start on making U.S. ground-based interceptors in Europe, sea-based Aegis systems, and other anti-missile systems interoperable with Moscow missile defense, S-300 and S-400 systems, thus laying the ground for the development of a joint or partially common ballistic missile defense. By that time, the work of the consultative groups outlined above should provide necessary and valuable input.

It may be that Russia and the United States never come to develop a new treaty on missile defenses but instead develop an array of cooperative programs that in essence succeed in managing both sides’ understanding of this complicated issue as it relates to strategic offensive forces. In that case, Russia and the United States could proceed with deep reductions in offensive forces, having confidence that the other could not derive advantage on the defense side from that process. Thus, two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia and the United States would no longer need to sustain mutual nuclear deterrence as a foundation of their strategic relationship, and they would no longer worry about the destabilizing effect of ballistic missile defenses.


Although Russia and the United States are entering a negotiating interregnum, both sides have ample will to move forward once Bush leaves office and the U.S. presidential transition is underway. Neither country is resisting the notion that a follow-on to START must be found and urgently. Furthermore, interesting proposals are already on the table as to how to replace START and cooperate on future missile defense programs. Therefore, this pause can be thought of as a rare opportunity to think carefully about how to move forward on the strategic nuclear arms agenda.

This process can also be a cooperative one. Historically, when a new leader arrives in power in Washington or Moscow, new arms control proposals would be developed unilaterally, then presented with great fanfare in a speech by the new U.S. president or Soviet general secretary. The negotiations would then begin, but only after a sometimes lengthy period of summitry and ministerial consultations.

The transition this time may be different. First, the talks between the Bush and Putin administrations have been productive, already resulting in understandings on some key issues. In particular, the two sides have agreed not simply to sustain the existing START, but to negotiate a follow-on agreement that would streamline some of START’s more complex verification measures. Furthermore, they have agreed that this follow-on must be legally binding in nature. Second, both sides recognize that there is only a short period in which to work before START expires in December 2009 and no time should be wasted in conducting the normal cycle of summitry and government consultations. Most importantly, communications between the two countries have improved markedly since the end of the Cold War. Although political tensions have sometimes been at nearly a fever pitch in the past year, close discussions have nevertheless continued and not only on a government-to-government level. Nongovernmental experts have also been able to work together more closely and productively than they could have in the past.

For these reasons, we urge that maximum cooperation between Moscow and Washington be maintained during this transition period so that talks can begin very early in the new U.S. administration on finding a follow-on to START and resolving differences over missile defenses. We propose the formula of an enhanced SORT, which we believe has the potential to satisfy current requirements for the strategic forces in each country while laying the groundwork for further and deeper cuts in the future. By building on the arms treaty signed by Bush and Putin, this approach also would incorporate results achieved by those administrations. Such a proposal, effectively an acknowledgement of the Bush-Putin contribution, could be important to gaining the broadest possible political support for the negotiations going forward.

Despite the poor political atmosphere between Russia and the United States, there are good opportunities to achieve a timely replacement to START and to begin developing new joint cooperation on national missile defenses. We have no time to lose, but we also have new potential to work together through this transition period.

Alexei Arbatov is head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Economy and International Relations and a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. He previously served as a deputy in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma. Rose Gottemoeller is director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, former deputy undersecretary of energy for defense nuclear nonproliferation in the Department of Energy, and a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.


1. For the full text of the Sochi Statement, see Office of the Press Secretary, U.S. Department of State, “U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration,” April 6, 2008.

2. See “Lugar Speech at Conference on Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction,” January 30, 2008, found at http://lugar.senate.gov.

3. Of course, the verification disagreement is not the only difference between Moscow and Washington in the negotiations. The Russians are also very concerned about the lack of counting rules for warheads and launchers if START expires and SORT is left to stand alone.

4. For more on this issue, see George Lewis and Ted Postol, “European Missile Defense: The Technological Basis of Russian Concerns,” Arms Control Today, October 2007, pp. 13-18.

5. For a summary of the steps contemplated, see George P. Shultz, Sidney D. Drell, and James E. Goodby, eds., Reykjavik Revisited: Steps Toward a World Free of Nuclear Weapons (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2008). See also George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry A. Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. Both essays can be found at www.nti.org/c_press/c3_opeds.html.

6. The full name of this legislation is the Obama-Hagel Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act (S. 1977). U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction is only one aspect of the legislation, which emphasizes securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials worldwide by 2012. It also supports a new look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, pursuing a fissile material cutoff treaty, and other major nonproliferation goals. See “Senate Passes Obama-Hagel Provision Aimed at Preventing Nuclear Terrorism,” September 18, 2007, found at http://obama.senate.gov.

7. McCain also stated his commitment to a broad agenda of arms control and nonproliferation goals, including seeking the reduction and perhaps elimination of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and reconsidering the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with allies and the U.S. Senate. See “Remarks by John McCain on Nuclear Security,” May 27, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

8. See “Remarks by John McCain to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council,” March 26, 2008, found at www.johnmccain.com.

9. An excellent new history on this topic is Melvyn P. Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).

10. For a thoughtful commentary on the failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference, see Rebecca Johnson, “Politics and Protection: Why the 2005 NPT Review Conference Failed,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 80, Autumn 2005.

11. See Schultz, Drell, and Goodby, Reykjavik Revisited, pp. 78-79.

12. Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, art. II.

13. This description of “START-Plus” is drawn from the presentation “START Anew: The Future of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” by Daryl G. Kimball made at the Carnegie Moscow Center on May 12, 2008. The comments of the Russian experts are also drawn from this seminar.

14. Wade Boese, “Bush, Putin Leave Arms Disputes Unsettled,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 27-28.

15. For more on this NATO-Russia working group, see “NATO Topics: Missile Defence,” May 16, 2008, found at o.int/issues/missile_defence/index.html.

16. Russian military expert, conversation with authors, Carnegie Moscow Center, May 2008.

17. For a review of issues surrounding the Gabala radar offer, see “Putin Offers Further Missile-Defense Ideas,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, June 8, 2007, found at www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/06/afd27c1c-8fcb-4484-a8c9-a56503c456bd.html.

18. For full texts of the protocols, which are related to national and theater missile defenses, see www.nti.org/db/nisprofs/russia/treaties/abmdescr.htm.

With the Sochi Declaration in April 2008, the poker players in Washington and Moscow effectively laid down their strategic arms control cards for the last time in the Bush and Putin administrations. They reiterated their intention to carry out further reductions in strategic offensive arms, they pledged to continue development of a legally binding post-START arrangement, and they restated their commitment to Article VI of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for eventual total elimination of nuclear weapons. (Continue)

107 Countries Approve Cluster Munitions Treaty

Jeff Abramson

On May 30 in Dublin, 107 countries agreed to the text of a new treaty that calls for the clearance and destruction of virtually all existing cluster munitions but will permit the use of more advanced cluster-like arms. However, backers of the new Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) did not include those holding the majority of the world’s cluster munition stockpiles, who are opting to instead address the humanitarian impact of the munitions within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse small submunitions over broad areas that sometimes fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing noncombatants.

Key Compromises Reached

Cluster munitions date back to at least World War II, when they were air-dropped by Soviet and German forces. Traditionally, the weapons were designed for use against mobile, diffuse targets, such as large vehicle or troop formations, although they have sometimes been used more widely. The United States, which possesses a stockpile of more than 700 million submunitions, used the weapons in the 1960s and 1970s in Southeast Asia, leaving an estimated 20 million unexploded bomblets in Laos alone at the end of the Vietnam War. Most recently, Israel fired cluster munitions into Lebanon during hostilities in the summer of 2006, with perhaps 1 million submunitions failing to explode initially. (See ACT, January/February 2008.) Hezbollah reportedly fired other cluster munitions into northern Israel that same year.

The exchange raised a humanitarian outcry, and at the end of 2006, Norway announced that it would take the lead on restricting the weapons after Russia, the United States, and some other countries party to the CCW refused to accelerate the pace of work on the weapons in that forum. The so-called Oslo process drew on a nongovernmental movement that had already coalesced around the weapons, comprised of many of the same individuals and organizations that had led the effort to create the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines. (See ACT, December 2007.) Through major conferences in Oslo (February 2007), Lima (May 2007), Vienna (December 2007), and Wellington (February 2008) and smaller, regional meetings, the Oslo process expanded to include more than 100 countries.

The text agreed to in Dublin requires the destruction of all forbidden cluster munitions within eight years and the clearance of all areas afflicted with unexploded cluster submunition remnants within 10 years. Extensions may be requested if these deadlines cannot be met. The accord also includes measures for international assistance to victims of cluster munitions. Countries will be able to sign the treaty beginning in Oslo Dec. 3, and then it will enter into force six months after 30 governments sign and ratify it.

A major question going into the Dublin conference was whether eventual CCM states-parties would be able to cooperate militarily with the United States or other non-states-parties. The desire to maintain interoperability put U.S. allies, in particular the United Kingdom, in a “delicate” position at the Dublin conference, according to one British diplomat who spoke with Arms Control Today June 19.

To address these concerns, a compromise was reached in Dublin with the inclusion of Article 21, specifically clarifying “relations with states not party to this convention.” It permits military cooperation even when cluster munitions are used, as long as member states do not “expressly request the use of cluster munitions in cases where the choice of munitions used is within its exclusive control.” This rather broad exemption made it much easier for U.S. allies to support the convention, as the United Kingdom dramatically did May 28 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a statement that, “[i]n order to secure as strong a Convention as possible in the last hours of negotiation we have issued instructions that we should support a ban on all cluster bombs, including those currently in service” by the United Kingdom.

Although abstaining from the Oslo process, the United States did exert pressue on its participants. During a May 21 press briefing as the Dublin meeting was in its initial days, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Stephen D. Mull repeated U.S. interoperability arguments that the draft treaty could be read as calling for the criminalization of military cooperation between eventual member and nonmember states. Because U.S. ships carry cluster munitions, he further extended the argument to say that U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian assistance could be cut off, raising the stakes for the global community. Mull also said that “a much more effective way to go about this is to pursue technological fixes that will make sure that these weapons are no longer viable once the conflict is over.”

A separate concession on the definition of cluster munitions partially reflects U.S. preference for technological improvements instead of an outright ban. In Article 2, negotiators exempted munitions that “avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions” by requiring that no more than nine explosive submunitions be included in a cluster munition and that each of them meet the following characteristics: weigh more than 4 kilograms and less than 20 kilograms; be designed to detect and engage a single target; and be equipped with an electronic self-destruct mechanism and an electronic self-deactivating feature. According to most experts, current U.S. weapons do not meet these requirements, but the British diplomat indicated an expectation that Western technology will improve over time.

Treaty’s Impact to Be Determined

As the Dublin conference drew to a close, many participants expressed optimism that their efforts would lead to a global norm. Advocates called on eventual states-parties to ask their nonmember allies to remove any cluster munitions stockpiled on a member’s territory in order to further the norm against use. Nonetheless, the nonparticipation of many countries and continued claims of military utility for the weapons means that questions will remain about the impact of the convention.

In his closing statement May 30 in Dublin, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin noted that although “important states [are] not present, I am also convinced that together we will have succeeded in stigmatizing any future use of cluster munitions.” In response to questions from Arms Control Today, Dutch diplomats indicated in e-mails June 18 that they view the CCM as a new international humanitarian norm and that the Netherlands would work to convince other countries to join the treaty.

In a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a European diplomat cited the Ottawa Convention as an example that “a norm can be created even without important users and stockpilers participating.” Since the 1997 opening for signature of the Ottawa Convention, the trade and production of anti-personnel mines has essentially ceased. Even though major producers and stockpilers of anti-personnel mines have not become states-parties to the convention, most have generally stopped planting new mines. (See ACT, December 2007.) The CCM is patterned after the Ottawa Convention, in some places sharing the exact same language.

The British diplomat indicated that London is committed to maintaining interoperability and wants to be “in front of the international movement,” intending to do “more than just the letter of the treaty.” As such, it has been closely watched for its response to calls for eventual states-parties to ask allies, especially the United States, to remove cluster munitions from any bases on a CCM member’s territory.

On June 3, Foreign and Commonwealth Office deputy minister Mark Malloch-Brown indicated that, “at the end of that eight-year period [for stockpile destruction], even a country such as the [United States], were it not a signatory, would no longer be able to keep such weapons on UK territory.” Deputy defense minister Bob Ainsworth clarified on June 5 that the CCM “does not prevent the [United States] from continuing to stockpile cluster munitions on their bases within UK territory (including Diego Garcia). However, in keeping with our commitment to uphold the norms of the treaty, we will be discussing with the [United States] the longer-term status of their stockpiles on UK territory.”

Dutch diplomats indicated that their country was still studying the question of third-party stockpile removal.

Danish Ambassador Bent Wigotski, a delegate to the Dublin meeting and the CCW, indicated in a June 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that Denmark reads Article 21 as providing “no reason to support actions to remove U.S. cluster munitions from bases in countries parties to the new convention.”

He also argued that many of the major stockpilers of cluster munitions maintain the weapons for military use and therefore will not comply with the new convention. Wigotski said, “Countries possessing more than 90 percent of the world stockpiles do not take part in the Oslo process and have no intention of acceding to the convention…. [A]ny comparison with the Ottawa Convention is misleading. Cluster munitions are much more important for a number of countries, constituting a very significant part of their firepower.” Mull expressed similar sentiments, saying in the May press briefing, “We think that it is going to be impossible to ban cluster munitions, as many in the Oslo process would like to do, because these are weapons that have a certain military utility and are of use. The United States relies on them as an important part of our own defense strategy.”

Although opponents argue that today’s war-fighting is unlikely to fit the open troop formation scenarios for which cluster munitions were originally designed, the CCM attempts to offer a way through the military utility debate with the exemption for munitions that avoid indiscriminate effects. “The exclusion of these types of munitions…is one prerequisite for universalization of the convention,” the European diplomat said, adding that it will allow states-parties “to keep necessary military capabilities…while preventing the continued use of cluster munitions that…cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

One munition that meets these requirements, according to the European diplomat, is the German-produced SMArt-155, which only contains two submunitions, can target individual objects, and has self-destruct and self-deactivation capabilities. It has not been used in combat to date.

Whether additional countries will take this option and make the transition to more expensive alternate munitions or simply abandon cluster munitions remains to be seen.

Next Steps in the CCW

As the Oslo process was launched, countries participating in the CCW opted to begin negotiations on the weapons. Those discussions are conducted primarily through a government group of experts on CCW Protocol V, which entered into force Nov. 12, 2006, and covers explosive remnants of war, of which unexploded cluster munitions are a subset. Many major cluster munitions producers and stockpilers, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States, have stayed out of the Oslo process in favor of the CCW.

The successful conclusion of the CCM may put added pressure on the countries participating in the CCW to reach a new accord by a November meeting of CCW states-parties, the target date suggested by numerous diplomats. Although any agreement that comes out of the CCW is unlikely to include as sweeping a limitation on cluster munitions as the CCM, many participants hope that it would be accepted by countries that currently possess the majority of the world’s stockpiles and thereby dramatically lessen the humanitarian toll of historic and future cluster munitions use.

A Dutch official stated that “Dublin definitely adds urgency to the CCW process.” The European diplomat said that CCW participating countries that abstained from the Oslo process “now have an opportunity to show that the CCW is up to the challenge” of addressing cluster munitions and added that “out of the 105 states-parties to the CCW, 68 participated in the Dublin conference and adopted the text of the new [CCM].”

During his May press conference, Mull recognized humanitarian issues related to cluster munitions and reiterated Washington’s desire to address those concerns through the CCW process, which he described as the “place where all of the principal producers and users of these munitions vote and participate and work together.” Wigotski stressed the Danish belief “that the participation in the CCW of all the major users and producers should make it possible for the CCW to produce a legally binding protocol with an added value and impact in the real world—covering the more than 90 percent of world stockpile not affected by the Oslo process.”

The next major meeting of the pertinent CCW group of experts takes place July 7-25 in Geneva. Additional meetings are scheduled for Sept. 1-5 and early November, which would allow for preparation of a protocol to be presented at the annual meeting of states-parties set for Nov. 13-14.

Exactly what that protocol might entail is still unclear. Public statements by U.S. officials and communications to Arms Control Today by diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all express a desire to conclude a protocol that prohibits the use of cluster munitions that cause “unacceptable harm” or a similar formulation of that term. Wigotski stated, “[I]n the view of Denmark, the CCW should at least take action affecting those types of cluster munitions that have no self-destruction, self-deactivation, or self-neutralization features.” The European diplomat pointed to a May 2007 proposal that ultimately envisages a complete prohibition on cluster munitions as “a sound basis for a CCW result.” The British diplomat expressed hope of “coming out with an acceptable, sensible compromise at the end of the day.”

The advance copy of the chairperson’s draft discussion paper for a protocol on cluster muntions includes articles on clearance and destruction, victim assistance, and cooperation and assistance but leaves blank articles on general prohibitions and restrictions and storage and destruction. Rather than simply calling for a blanket restriction on cluster munitions use, the draft allows for military purposes and relies on avoiding “incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, [and] damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”

Given the possibility that countries not participating in the Oslo process may agree to a new CCW protocol, the collective result could be new international norms that dramatically lessen the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions use.

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Corrected online October 8, 2008. See explanation.

High-Level Panel Calls for Stronger IAEA

Kyle Fishman

In a May report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, a panel of prominent international leaders recommends that the agency assume additional responsibilities and perhaps double its budget by 2020 in order to ensure a substantial expansion in nuclear power while preventing nuclear weapons proliferation.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei established the commission in the fall of 2007 with the purpose of addressing future challenges to the agency. The 18-member group, composed of ministers, academics, politicians, scientists, and business leaders, was chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and included other notable figures such as former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

The enhanced role for the IAEA, the commission argues, will require concrete changes within the agency. Administrators must work to modernize infrastructure, focusing on overlooked areas and making safeguards, research and development, and other activities more efficient. The report also reveals that sweeping staffing reforms are necessary, as one-half of the agency’s top management and senior inspectors will be forced to retire within the next five years. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reached similar conclusions about IAEA inspectors in a November 2005 report. (See ACT, December 2005. )

Improving efficiency and attracting personnel are only part of what is necessary to equip the IAEA to meet existing and proposed obligations; that ultimate goal will require considerable increases in investment. The commission calls for a one-time budget increase of approximately $120 million and consistent annual increases estimated at $75 million for several years afterward to deal with the increased workload. It also advocates a more reliable system of funding than the one in place now, which is essentially voluntary.

The commission seeks to reformulate the IAEA’s mission and resources at a time when the agency is challenged by renewed global interest in nuclear energy production and growing concerns that states or nonstate actors may divert nuclear materials to nuclear weapons purposes. The report notes that the amount of nuclear material in the world is increasing at a tremendous rate, having multiplied tenfold from 1984 to 2007, implying increased commensurate safeguard responsibilities. IAEA safeguards are meant to ensure that civil nuclear fuel and facilities are not diverted to weapons purposes.

In recent years, safeguard responsibility has increased in depth as well as in breadth. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol strengthens IAEA safeguards by improving the agency’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities, allowing inspectors to visit any suspected sites within states-parties. The commission recommends that future nuclear cooperation be contingent on compliance not only with an additional protocol, but with an “Additional Protocol Plus.” Such an agreement would allow inspectors unfettered access to information, sites, and individuals related to nuclear activities, all of which might be necessary to ensure the peacefulness of states’ nuclear programs.

To date, 117 states have signed additional protocols with the IAEA. However, some key non-nuclear-weapon states, notably Brazil and Egypt, have refused to sign, arguing that they should not be asked to take on additional responsibilities while nuclear-weapon states have failed to fulfill their nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) commitment to disarmament.

In addition, the panel suggests that the IAEA’s current authorities be interpreted as giving it the responsibility to inspect for indicators of nuclear weaponization activities and recommends that the agency establish a small team of specialists for that purpose. Traditionally, the agency has only sought to ensure that nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful purposes.

The report also calls for the IAEA to improve the security of nuclear materials in an effort to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. It says that ensuring the protection of nuclear materials includes fulfilling obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1540, intended to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, for which the IAEA can help establish and verify binding security standards against a minimum level of threat. More focused efforts against proliferation, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, also play a role in this process, according to the report.

Citing economic development needs and environmental concerns, the commission argues that the IAEA should continue to be active in safely and securely expanding the nonmilitary use of nuclear power. It supports the creation of a global nuclear safety network composed of states, firms, and organizations that would promote the exchange of knowledge and experience and provide training on IAEA safety standards.

The report also echoes ElBaradei’s advocacy for multilateralizing the nuclear fuel cycle, with the possibility of an IAEA fuel inventory of last resort. (See ACT, November 2003. ) The commission indicates that “such comprehensive services could be made so attractive that few states would want to follow any other approach,” easing concerns over states’ attempts to privately complete the fuel cycle, which many see as the first step in weapons development.

Finally, the report maintains that the IAEA’s independent and definitive verification of the nuclear disarmament process is vital to sustaining the nonproliferation regime, calling on states not party to the NPT to join new partnerships for disarmament. It also sees the agency working to reduce demand for nuclear weapons through their devaluation on the part of nuclear-weapon states, encouraging the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones, and more generally working to mitigate international conflict.

LOOKING BACK: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Then and Now

George Bunn and John B. Rhinelander

Less than a year after dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the United States adopted a statute prohibiting the transfer of its nuclear weapons to any other country. It was not until 23 years later, however, that countries began signing an international treaty that prohibited the transfer of nuclear weapons by a country that had them to any other country, indeed “to any recipient whatsoever.”[1] On July 1, 1968, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and many other countries signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) at ceremonies in Washington, Moscow, and London. Subsequently, nearly 190 countries have signed and ratified the treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons from the few countries that then had them to the many that did not and at reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons from the world.

The 40th anniversary of the NPT provides an opportunity to re-examine the history of the treaty’s negotiation and ask what lessons it offers for today.

The NPT’s Negotiating History

The NPT’s history really began in 1946. That year, the Department of State and some of the scientists who had made the bomb drew up the Acheson-Lilienthal Report, which, with major revisions, became a formal U.S. proposal to the United Nations known as the Baruch Plan. It proposed that the United States turn over control of all its enriched uranium, including that in any nuclear weapons it had, to a new UN body (over which the United States and the other permanent members of the Security Council would have a veto) and that all countries in the world should be prohibited from possessing their own nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union opposed this plan, and the UN committee created to consider it got nowhere.[2]

The next stab at controlling nuclear weapons proliferation came in 1953 when President Dwight Eisenhower proposed to the UN General Assembly the negotiation of a treaty that would seek to control nuclear activities around the world and prevent, if possible, the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries. This led to negotiations that finally produced a useful treaty, though one that fell short of what Eisenhower had proposed. This treaty, the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of 1956, authorized creation of the IAEA and gave it the responsibility for providing information and assistance to countries seeking to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and for performing inspections of their nuclear facilities to ensure that the operators did not divert from peaceful purposes to weapons production the uranium fuel used to run nuclear reactors and the plutonium that was produced in such reactors.[3]

The NPT negotiations themselves really got started after the unanimous approval of a 1961 UN General Assembly resolution on negotiation of a treaty that would ban countries without nuclear weapons from acquiring them and that would require the inspections that the IAEA treaty only authorized. In particular, the resolution asked the countries “possessing nuclear weapons” to “undertake to refrain from relinquishing control of nuclear weapons and from transmitting information necessary for their manufacture” to nations not possessing nuclear weapons. Second, it recommended that states not possessing nuclear weapons “undertake not to manufacture or otherwise acquire control of such weapons.” It urged nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states to “cooperate to those ends.”[4]

The same year marked another step that had an important but indirect effect on the creation of the NPT. At President John Kennedy’s request, Congress approved legislation establishing the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) to replace the State Department in the research, planning, and negotiation of arms control and disarmament treaties. Soon after the ACDA’s creation, its leaders sought authority from Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Kennedy to negotiate with the Soviets an agreement intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries. This authority was granted after negotiations within the U.S. government and with U.S. allies produced a modified draft treaty.

By forming an institution separate from the State Department that would handle negotiations regarding a treaty such as this, Kennedy also created a means to sidestep opposition in Foggy Bottom to the NPT and win support from others in the executive branch and Congress. The State Department had long supported establishment of a multilateral force (MLF) composed of ships owned by several NATO countries, including the United States, armed with U.S. nuclear weapons and manned by officers and sailors from the United States and other participating NATO countries. Some State Department officials had insisted that U.S. officers and sailors on MLF ships would retain control of the U.S. nuclear weapons. However, other State Department officials and some allies felt that the MLF effort would be endangered if a new treaty prohibited transfer of control of nuclear weapons to any other entity, such as an MLF ship with officers and sailors from countries not having nuclear weapons or that had an MLF “board of directors” that included many allies that did not have nuclear weapons.

In 1962, Rusk showed Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko a simple U.S. draft nonproliferation agreement based on the 1961 General Assembly resolution, which the Soviets had not opposed. The draft did not mention the MLF but would not have prohibited it. Gromyko rejected Rusk’s proposal without even consulting Moscow. How much this action was based on Gromyko’s knowledge that NATO members were considering the MLF proposal was not clear, but there had been many private discussions about the MLF proposal among NATO members. Leaks to representatives of non-NATO countries seemed likely.

At the Disarmament Committee that followed this Rusk-Gromyko meeting, Gromyko focused on a broad Soviet proposal for “general and complete disarmament,” including complete nuclear disarmament, not on the General Assembly nonproliferation resolution.[5] Given Gromyko’s reaction and the interest of West Germany and others in the MLF proposal, negotiations to implement the 1961 General Assembly resolution calling for an NPT stalled for several years, but so did NATO-country negotiations to create an MLF armed with nuclear weapons.

After the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, U.S.-Soviet tensions relaxed somewhat, and serious negotiations to produce a ban on nuclear weapons tests produced U.S.-Soviet agreement on the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 (limited because it did not ban nuclear weapons tests underground). Still, the possibility of a successful negotiation of an MLF agreement with U.S. allies seemed likely to make successful negotiation of an NPT with the Soviets impossible. ACDA officials were concerned that the United States would get neither an MLF nor an NPT unless some way to break this stalemate could be found.

Indeed, it took three years of failure both in the MLF negotiations and the NPT negotiations to produce a U.S. decision to give up on an MLF and pursue an NPT alone. Then, the ACDA was authorized to try to negotiate with the Soviets a draft NPT with a provision prohibiting the five nations then having nuclear weapons (China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States) from transferring control over any of their nuclear weapons to anyone. As finally negotiated, this provision also called on these five nations not to “assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear explosive weapons, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.” Moreover, the nations not having nuclear weapons that joined the treaty had to agree not to receive or manufacture or “otherwise acquire nuclear weapons…and not to seek or receive any assistance” in their manufacture.[6]

With this new U.S. formula in hand, U.S.-Soviet negotiations over a draft NPT finally began in earnest in Geneva. Later, Rusk and Gromyko met in New York to discuss further NPT negotiation possibilities, and it became clear that the Soviets were now interested in such talks. In September 1966, a U.S.-Soviet working group, which included one of the authors of this article, came up with three possible drafts of an NPT prohibition on the transfer of nuclear weapons that the Americans and the Soviets could present to their governments.

President Lyndon Johnson also authorized ACDA negotiators to present a draft no-transfer treaty provision to the West German government, probably the most important U.S. ally in Western Europe that the NPT would ban from having nuclear weapons. Johnson had good reason to be concerned about the reaction of the West Germans. They had already done considerable work related to building nuclear power reactors, and some in the West German government appeared to support research into nuclear weapons production, given that U.S. nuclear weapons were stationed with U.S. troops on West German territory. The British and the French already had nuclear weapons and would be accepted as NPT nuclear-weapon states in the U.S.-Soviet staff-proposed drafts. No other U.S. allies then seemed both seriously interested in and clearly capable of making nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, after further prolonged negotiations with the United States as well as with other NATO allies, the West Germans finally came around. They signed the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state, thus obligating themselves not to acquire nuclear weapons. Without West Germany’s NPT promise not to acquire nuclear weapons, the Soviets would not have accepted an NPT. The Soviets had already complained about U.S. nuclear weapons deployed with U.S. forces in West Germany, weapons that were guarded by U.S. troops. The Soviets were not about to agree to a treaty permitting West Germany to control any nuclear weapons.

These further negotiations with the West Germans and other U.S. allies produced a consensus on a U.S. proposal to submit to the Soviet negotiators. With changes resulting from further negotiations both with the Soviets and our interested allies, we produced a final draft of the NPT to present at the Geneva-based Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee and the UN General Assembly in 1968. This included provisions recommended by the eight nonaligned countries represented at the Geneva disarmament conference, including India, such as Article IV, which provides that the NPT “shall” not be interpreted as “affecting the inalienable right” of all NPT parties “to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

The NPT Today

The 1968 NPT permitted the five states that had tested nuclear weapons to keep these weapons for the time being but obligated them under Article VI to negotiate to reduce and ultimately eliminate them. The treaty also prohibited other states-parties from acquiring nuclear weapons.[7] Forty years after the signing of the NPT, it is a worldwide treaty joined by more than 180 countries that do not have nuclear weapons as well as the five that had tested them by 1968. Russia has taken the place of the Soviet Union as one of the five nuclear-weapon states, and the 14 other former Soviet republics that became independent have become non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT.

Today, the most important NPT provision that has not been well observed is Article VI, the obligation of the five nuclear-weapon states “to negotiate in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

In 2007, when she was the United Kingdom’s foreign minister, Margaret Beckett called for negotiators to take additional steps toward nuclear disarmament. She said, “The judgment we made 40 years ago [at the NPT’s signing] that the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons was in all our interests is just as true today as it was then. For more than 60 years, good management and good fortune have meant that nuclear arsenals have not been used, but we cannot rely just on history to repeat itself.”[8]

It is true that on occasion nuclear-weapon states have taken advantage of NPT treaty review conferences to reiterate their intention to seek nuclear reductions. Yet, no serious nuclear-weapon reductions have taken place that include all five states permitted by the NPT to possess nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has been no exception. Unlike previous administrations, the current administration has made only a small effort to negotiate nuclear weapons reductions with Russia at a time when the two countries still control more than 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world. The U.S.-Russian nuclear reduction treaty (the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty) signed by the presidents of the two countries during the Bush administration calls for the removal from active deployment of some nuclear warheads, but it does not require their elimination.

Instead of negotiating agreed nuclear weapons reductions, the Bush administration has announced a wide range of potential uses for nuclear weapons, greater than any past U.S. administration seems to have announced.[9] In addition, the administration did not accept prior commitments by earlier U.S. administrations that limit the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon countries, including commitments that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against countries that have agreed that they will not acquire nuclear weapons.[10] In brief, the Bush administration has done little to carry out the U.S. obligation to pursue “nuclear disarmament” mandated by Article VI.

Early this year, Congress passed legislation calling for the executive branch to conduct a thorough review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy by the end of the first year of the next administration. This review, Congress said, must describe the new U.S. administration’s “assessment of the role of nuclear forces in military strategy”; its “objectives…to maintain a safe, reliable and credible nuclear posture”; and its views of the “relationship among U.S. nuclear deterrence policy, targeting strategy, and arms control.” This would mark the first such re-examination since the Bush administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, which stated a new U.S. policy of relatively free use of nuclear weapons against countries that are hostile to the United States even though they do not have nuclear weapons.[11]

In addition, three important states (India, Israel, and Pakistan) refused to join the NPT in 1968 when it was opened for signature, and they eventually produced nuclear weapons. Despite its refusal to join the NPT and its acquisition of nuclear weapons, India has been rewarded by the Bush administration by a proposed U.S.-India agreement that, if implemented, would appear to violate current U.S. law and be inconsistent with agreed international guidelines.

North Korea did join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state but later withdrew and tested a nuclear weapon that appeared to be in part the product of its nuclear weapons research activities conducted while it was an NPT state-party. Several countries, most prominently South Africa, abandoned their nuclear weapons-making efforts and joined the NPT.

Negotiations to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons began in the Clinton administration and, after a long pause, were taken up again by the Bush administration. Several preliminary agreements have been signed. However, North Korea has not yet carried out its promise to eliminate its nuclear weapons. Iran, while a member of the NPT, has a uranium-enrichment program that began in secrecy 20 years ago and remains ambiguous as to its purpose: weapons, peaceful uses, or both. Negotiations with Iran remain stalemated.[12]


The nuclear nonproliferation regime is at a crossroads. If it is to be saved and reinvigorated, the next U.S. president must take the lead at the start of his administration, January 20, 2009.

First, the president should outline a plan to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime to Congress, to the U.S. public, and to foreign leaders. We hope he will include the Shultz-Perry-Kissinger-Nunn proposals in the Wall Street Journal calling for deep cuts in nuclear weapons around the world.[13] This is, of course, one vision of what serious planning and successful negotiation of a nuclear weapons reduction agreement pursuant to Article VI could produce.

Second, the next U.S. president should propose early concrete steps for U.S.-Russian cooperation and nuclear reductions The United States should propose additional reductions beyond SORT and the continuation of START verification measures. It is self-evident that positive relations between the United States and Russia will be central both to specific near-term actions and to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Third, the next U.S. president should extend these talks to include the other nuclear-weapon states. At a time that U.S.-Russian arms reduction talks have effectively stalled out, it may seem disingenuous for the two countries that control more than 95 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world to invite the “Three” (China, France, and the United Kingdom) to join their occasional nuclear weapons reduction negotiations. However, early agreements between Russia and the United States and then among the five nuclear-weapon states on steps toward nuclear disarmament are essential to satisfy the non-nuclear-weapon NPT members that these two countries are complying with their Article VI obligations. Significant compliance with this obligation is important to forestall further proliferation by non-nuclear-weapon countries and to keep some of them from withdrawing from the NPT.

Fourth, the United States should establish a serious dialogue with China on nuclear weapons issues. This is essential to steps that China and the United States, joined by others, should take in pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

Fifth, the next president should appoint a nonproliferation “czar” before inauguration day. The czar would work with the president-elect on his policy positions and be the leader of the president’s effort to enact legislation creating a new agency to focus on nonproliferation and arms reduction negotiations. In the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton administrations, the ACDA led the U.S. effort to negotiate an NPT and other important treaties to limit nuclear arms. The ACDA was separate from the State Department but under the general direction of the secretary of state (but not the rest of the State Department) as well as the president.

Unfortunately, conservatives in Congress during the last years of the Clinton administration succeeded in abolishing the ACDA and placing its employees back in the State Department. This meant that the personnel responsible for negotiations to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons were more likely to be influenced by State Department personnel responsible for specific regions of the world. State Department personnel focused on other subjects than preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and on other regions than those where that spread is a matter of particular concern. This happened in the case of the recent U.S.-Indian agreement that was to provide major nuclear assistance to India despite its pursuit of nuclear weapons, a pursuit which earlier U.S. administrations had tried hard to prevent and then slow. In negotiating the U.S.-Indian agreement, State Department officials overrode or ignored established arms control concerns in their eagerness to reach an unsound agreement.

Sixth, the 2006 U.S.-Indian nuclear agreement should be set aside. It seems to be stalled now by political opposition within India, and it will not likely come before the U.S. Congress for approval this year. If it went into force one day, it could help undermine the NPT regime. Instead, India should become a key actor in pursuit of the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, a goal that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi urged so eloquently at the UN.

In conclusion, it should not be forgotten that the NPT has been the primary rulemaker that has prevented the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. Many countries have nuclear research reactors and a sufficient industrial base to at least begin pursuing nuclear-weapon activities. Without joining the NPT, India, Israel, and Pakistan have become nations with nuclear weapons. North Korea, not well developed industrially, produced fissile material for nuclear weapons and then withdrew from the NPT. Libya, although a member of the NPT, started development of nuclear weapons but, with efforts by other countries to enforce the norm of the NPT and some financial assistance, was persuaded to stop that effort. In the Middle East, we saw Iraq pursuing nuclear weapons in the 1980s and 1990s. It took a UN-Iraq war to stop that effort. Subsequently, the existence of the NPT made it possible for the UN Security Council to demand strict disarmament requirements in a post-war cease fire. We have seen what may be nuclear weapons-making efforts in Iran and Syria. Additional NPT members in that region of the world, where non-nuclear sources of energy such as oil are readily available, have expressed interest in building nuclear power reactors. Does their nuclear interest go beyond power reactors?

What would the world look like if there were no NPT? It has provided the standard that has restrained many countries from pursuing nuclear weapons. Without it, would there be 20 or 30 countries with nuclear weapons or pursuing nuclear weapons?

Corrected online September 3, 2008. See explanation.

George Bunn, the first general counsel for the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, helped negotiate the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and later became U.S. ambassador to the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee. He is now at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. John B. Rhinelander is senior counsel at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. He served as deputy legal adviser at the Department of State and legal adviser to the ABM Treaty/SALT I delegation.


1. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (July 1, 1968), art. I (hereinafter NPT).

2. See, e.g., Lenice N. Wu, “The Baruch Plan,” in Encyclopedia of Arms Control and Disarmament, ed. Richard Dean Burns (New York: Charles  Scribner’s Sons, 1993), pp. 771, 774-783; George Bunn, Arms Control by Committee: Managing Negotiations with the Russians (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 59-61.

3. Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, pp. 85-92.

4. UN General Assembly Resolution 1665, December 4, 1961 (the “Irish Resolution”).

5. See Bunn, “The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty: History and Current Problems,” Arms Control Today, December 2003, p. 5.

6. NPT, arts. I and II.

7. Bunn, Arms Control by Committee, pp. 87-103; U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements: Texts and Histories of Negotiations (1980), pp. 82-83.

8. Margaret Beckett, Keynote address at Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference, Washington, D.C., June 25, 2007.

9. Amy F. Woolf, “Nuclear Weapons in the U.S. National Security Policy: Past, Present, and Prospects,” CRS Report for Congress, October 29, 2007, p. 10.

10. Over the years, several presidents have made commitments not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT, for example the nuclear nonuse protocol to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America of 1967, which the United States signed and ratified before the NPT. Similar treaties exist for several other regions of the world. The protocols to these treaties have been signed but not ratified by the United States. See, e.g., George Bunn, “The Legal Status of U.S. Negative Security Assurances to Non-Nuclear Weapon States,” Nonproliferation Review, Spring-Summer 1997, p. 1.

11. See David Holloway, “Deterrence, Preventive War, and Preemption,” in U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy/Confronting Today’s Threats, eds. George Bunn and Christopher Chyba (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press and CISAC, 2006), p. 34; Roger Speed and Michael May, “Assessing the U.S. Nuclear Posture,” in U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy/Confronting Today’s Threats, p. 248; George Bunn and Christopher Chyba, “U.S. Nuclear Postures for a New Era,” in U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy/Confronting Today’s Threats, p. 297.

12. See William J. Broad, “Look Who’s Tough on Iran Now,” The New York Times, News of the Week in Review, June 1, 2008, p. 1.

13. George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” The Wall Street Journal, January 4, 2007, p. A15; George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, “Toward a Nuclear-Free World,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2008, p. A13. See interview with Sam Nunn,  “World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Arms Control Today, March 2008, p. 6.

Senate Committee Completes Iraq Intel Probe

Peter Crail

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence June 5 completed its long-delayed investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. The final portions of the investigation entailed a comparison of prewar intelligence with speeches made by senior administration officials and an examination of the work carried out by two Pentagon offices, which compiled their own intelligence related to Iraq. (See ACT, March 2008. ) The committee began its examination of the prewar intelligence on Iraq in June 2003.

The report concluded that several specific administration claims related to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs were not supported by intelligence available at the time. The Bush administration had cited WMD possession as a key justification for the 2003 invasion and attributed their statements to faulty intelligence, in particular the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The committee report indicates, however, that some of the inaccuracies in the statements by the administration were not based on the judgments of the intelligence community.

This investigation differed from the first committee report issued in July 2004 as well as several previous U.S. government reports, which had focused on the inaccuracy of prewar intelligence reporting about Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. The committee’s 2004 report concluded that many of the key judgments contained in a critical October 2002 NIE on Iraq were overstated. (See ACT, September 2004. ) Likewise, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction stated in its March 2005 report that the intelligence community was “dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments” concerning Iraq’s suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. (See ACT, May 2005. )

The committee announced in February 2004 that it would conduct a second phase of investigations that would include an examination of prewar statements, not simply the accuracy of prewar intelligence information. (See ACT, March 2004. ) Democrats in particular wished to examine whether the prewar statements by the administration were supported by the intelligence community’s findings, while Republican lawmakers wished to limit focus to the quality of the intelligence itself. (See ACT, November 2003. )

Following the announcement of the phase two investigations, committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) stated during a July 9, 2004, press conference that the completion of the second phase “is one of my top priorities.” Yet, the process languished for several more years due to disagreements over the scope of the investigations and ground rules for requesting documents from the executive branch and interviewing administration officials. (See ACT, December 2005. )

In an effort on November 1, 2005, to bypass the lengthy deliberations, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) invoked a rarely used rule to halt Senate operations and bring the body into a closed session. The two parties then formed a six-member task force to develop a plan for the investigation. The committee later issued reports on segments of its phase two investigation in September 2006 and May 2007.

The June report was subject to considerable partisan disagreement, in particular regarding the consideration of prewar statements by administration officials. Although approved by a bipartisan majority of 10 to 5, some Republican committee members sharply criticized the investigation as politically motivated.

Committee Vice Chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-Mo.) and Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) issued a minority view with the report. In it, they claim that the Democratic majority refused to review statements made by the Clinton administration that were submitted by Republican members and did not allow individuals whose statements were reviewed by the committee to respond to the committee’s judgments. Their addendum includes a number of statements made by Democratic lawmakers and former Vice President Al Gore regarding Iraq’s WMD programs and ties to terrorist organizations.

Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) additional views, submitted along with the report, stated that the committee decided not to review public statements made prior to the summer of 2002 or those made by “lower level” administration officials because “there were not deemed to be as central to the lead-up to the war in Iraq.”

Prewar Statements

The report and investigation focused on five major policy speeches made by senior administration officials. The speeches included President George W. Bush’s Sept. 12, 2002, address to the UN General Assembly; his 2003 State of the Union address; his October 2002 speech in Cincinnati; an August 2002 speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention by Vice President Dick Cheney; and Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council outlining Iraq’s violations of the council’s resolutions prohibiting the maintenance of WMD capabilities. In addition to these speeches, the committee reviewed a number of statements by senior administration officials between the summer of 2002 and March 2003.

The committee compared these statements with “hundreds” of finished analytical intelligence documents produced prior to March 19, 2003. The report also describes postwar findings regarding the intelligence, which proved much of the available intelligence to be incorrect, but did not use the postwar judgments as a basis for the committee’s conclusions.

Based on these comparisons, the committee arrived at 16 conclusions related to different facets of the administration’s case against Iraq, including Baghdad’s suspected nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs; its missile programs; and its links to terrorism, in particular its association with al Qaeda.

The committee concluded that many of the administration’s general statements related to Iraq’s unconventional weapons capabilities were substantiated by the available intelligence. In some of these cases, however, such as statements regarding Iraq’s WMD production capabilities and its development of unmanned aerial vehicles, the report states that the administration characterized their assessments with a greater degree of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves did.

According to the report, the administration’s statements were not supported by the available intelligence in areas related to specific claims regarding Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs and its relationship with terrorist groups. For example, although the committee determined that statements about Iraq’s WMD possession were supported by the available intelligence, it judged that specific claims that Iraq “operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes” were unsubstantiated by the intelligence information.

Only one conclusion, related to statements suggesting that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States, was determined to have been “contradicted by available intelligence information.”

Although the bulk of the report draws conclusions from the comparison of statements by administration officials and available intelligence, it briefly raised a more endemic concern regarding the ability of the executive branch to “unilaterally declassify and divulge information” at its own convenience. The report suggests that such prerogative allows administration officials to selectively declassify and use intelligence that supports a policy position while ignoring intelligence that may undermine that position. The report does not expand on this concern.

The report did not compare administration statements on Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs against the information and assessments of the UN weapons inspectors, who conducted more than 760 inspections covering about 500 sites from November 2002 through February 2003. As early as Feb. 13, 2003, the chief UN inspector, Hans Blix, reported to the UN Security Council that there was no evidence either of active chemical or biological weapons programs or stockpiles. International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that there was no evidence of a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2003. )

According to sources familiar with the Senate Intelligence Committee report, neither the U.S. intelligence community nor the Bush administration apparently took action to reassess the October 2002 NIE findings on Iraq, which were based entirely on information gathered before the return of the UN inspectors in November 2002. (See ACT, October 2004. )

Pentagon Offices

In addition to its investigation into prewar statements on Iraq, the committee examined the intelligence activities carried out by two Department of Defense offices: the Office of Special Plans and the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Special Plans, which was tasked with examining raw intelligence related to Iraq’s WMD programs, under the control of then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. Feith also created the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group after the September 2001 attacks to examine links between terrorist organizations and host countries.

The committee’s review followed on the Defense Department’s own review of the intelligence production and dissemination of intelligence related to Iraq by Feith’s office. This report, issued in February 2007, stated that the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy produced “alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaeda relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus” of the intelligence community. The report further stated that, although these activities were not illegal or unauthorized, they were “inappropriate.”

Congressional sources told Arms Control Today Feb. 15 that Roberts used the Pentagon investigation as an excuse to delay the committee’s investigation into Feith’s offices. (See ACT, March 2008. )

The committee’s investigation focused specifically on a series of meetings between Pentagon officials and a number of Iranians that were primarily focused on potential efforts for overturning the regime in Tehran.

The report concludes that the decision by deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to withhold pertinent information from the intelligence community and the Department of State before and after the meetings was “ill-advised.” The committee also criticized the Defense Department leadership for failing to conduct an interagency counterintelligence analysis of the potential influence of the Iranian nationals on U.S. officials.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence June 5 completed its long-delayed investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country. The final portions of the investigation entailed a comparison of prewar intelligence with speeches made by senior administration officials and an examination of the work carried out by two Pentagon offices, which compiled their own intelligence related to Iraq. (See ACT, March 2008. ) The committee began its examination of the prewar intelligence on Iraq in June 2003. (Continue)

News Analysis: Missile Defense Role Questioned

Wade Boese

Is the deployed U.S. anti-missile system capable enough to have a president rely on it to protect American lives if a hostile regime threatened to use long-range ballistic missiles to attack the United States? Some current administration officials say that President George W. Bush already did so during a similar crisis with North Korea in the summer of 2006. Others say such assertions exaggerate the risks faced in that incident and are intended to add luster to the administration’s controversial missile defense system, which was originally deployed in 2004 but remains unproven in the eyes of many, including some government experts.

Revisiting the Summer of 2006

In June 2006, North Korea placed its newest ballistic missile, the Taepo Dong-2, on a launch pad. The missile, which some estimated as capable of reaching the continental United States, never had been flight-tested, and its predecessor had been launched only once in a failed August 1998 attempt to put a small satellite in orbit. (See ACT, August/September 1998 .) Despite its apparent missile launch preparations, North Korea was observing a voluntary moratorium on flight-testing longer-range ballistic missiles that it had instituted in September 1999 and then extended indefinitely in a September 2002 bilateral agreement with Japan.

But Pyongyang also was unhappy with the suspended status of talks with Washington and other capitals on implementing a September 2005 agreement, which offered the Kim Jong Il regime economic and energy assistance in exchange for eliminating its nuclear programs, including any weapons that it might have built. (See ACT, October 2005 .) Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies recently had offered Iran new incentives intended to get it to end some of its nuclear activities, leading some observers to joke that North Korea was developing “Iran envy,” according to a former U.S. government official interviewed June 19 by Arms Control Today.

After weeks of speculation about North Korea’s motivations and whether it would launch the missile, the secretive regime July 4-5 fired six shorter-range missiles and the Taepo Dong-2. All the missiles, including the Taepo Dong-2, which failed approximately 40 seconds into its inaugural flight, landed harmlessly in the Sea of Japan.

Leading up to the tests, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States urged North Korea not to break its moratorium and warned that it would face penalties for defying them. The United States also let it be known that it was activating its ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system from a testing mode to operational readiness. That move put crews at Fort Greely, Alaska, on alert to fire, if ordered, the nine long-range ballistic missile interceptors based there. The Bush administration now deploys more than two dozen total GMD interceptors in Alaska and California.

Assessing the Missile Defense Move

Some Bush administration officials contend the decision to ready the GMD system was significant in freeing the president from having to contemplate trying to destroy the Taepo Dong-2 before it could be launched and escalating the situation.

In a March 11, 2008, briefing to reporters on U.S. anti-missile system efforts, John Rood, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, revisited the June 2006 activation decision. He explained that because of the system, “we didn’t have to seriously consider options like pre-emption or overwhelming retaliation. We had a defense, and we were content to use that defense, and it was a way of not contributing to the crisis being larger.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England struck a similar chord during a March 31 speech to attendees of a Washington conference sponsored by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA). He argued that missile defenses “allow our national leadership a choice beyond offensive actions,” noting that the North Korea case “was a prime example.” He said, “[W]e had no idea when [the Taepo Dong-2] was going to be launched and where they intended to fly it. It was possible that it could have reached U.S. territory.”

A month later at an April 30 hearing of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the director of the MDA, used the same episode to describe the capability of the GMD system. He stated that the system “was good enough that when the North Koreans stacked their Taepo Dong-2 in the summer of 2006, the president was relying on [the system] as opposed to taking the advice of some…former senior officials to pre-emptively strike that site.”

The officials in question were former Secretary of Defense William Perry and Ashton Carter, former assistant secretary of defense. They had advocated in the June 22, 2006, Washington Post that the United States destroy the Taepo Dong-2 before it could be launched in order to prevent North Korean technicians from learning from the flight test and using that data to “perfect” an ICBM capability.

Unlike Perry and Carter, however, the more recent Bush administration statements obscure the broad perception at the time that North Korea, aside from seeking diplomatic leverage, might be preparing for a test, not an attack. Bush officials imply that the risk of an attack was sufficient enough that, without the GMD system, the president would have had to consider using military force to prevent the launch. The Department of State, including Rood’s office; the National Security Council; and the MDA did not respond to Arms Control Today questions seeking clarification of the recent statements.

Charles Pritchard, a former envoy to negotiations with North Korea who left the State Department in August 2003, thinks current Bush officials have been “hyping the situation greatly.” In a June 5 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he wrote there was “no credible evidence or the slightest suggestion that North Korea was about to attack” the United States.

Noting that, in the summer of 2006, North Korea had yet to demonstrate a nuclear weapons capability—something it would later do in October 2006 with a widely condemned nuclear blast—Pritchard contended that “it made no sense technically or politically for North Korea to do something that would have invited massive retaliation.” Adding that he did not recall any reports of North Korea massing its troops at that time, he asked, “What kind of country attacks a superpower with a single missile that contains no [weapons of mass destruction] and has no follow-on plan to deal with the consequences?”

Public statements by Bush administration officials at the time suggest that they too saw the North Korean activities as test preparations. For instance, Vice President Dick Cheney said in a June 22 interview with CNN that the possible launch would be “the first test of this particular [missile] type.” Although stating that the missile’s payload was uncertain, Cheney seemed to downplay the danger by observing that North Korea’s missile capabilities were “fairly rudimentary” and that past North Korean test flights “haven’t been notably successful.”

Congressional sources interviewed by Arms Control Today said they did not recall any sense that a missile attack was likely, but one noted that reading the reclusive Kim Jong Il’s intentions was problematic and might have led to some uncertainty about the situation. Nonetheless, that staffer shared the general perspective of another who June 5 said the Bush administration statements were “a lot of hooey meant to build confidence in the [GMD] interceptors.”

Is the Anti-Missile System Reliable?

Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), who chairs the subcommittee before which Obering testified on April 30, declined to comment to Arms Control Today on the nature of any information surrounding the June 2006 North Korean missile activities that “may have been the subject of classified intelligence briefings.” But in a June 11 statement, he observed that “components of the [GMD] system have yet to undergo successful realistic and operational testing such as would warrant full confidence against real-life threats should they be developed anytime soon.”

In the summer of 2006, the model of interceptors deployed in Alaska had not been successfully tested in intercept attempts, although prototypes had achieved five intercepts in eight experiments dating back to 1999. Since the summer of 2006, the interceptors have hit targets in two tests, while a third test was recently cancelled. (See ACT, June 2008 .) Still, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, reported in March that “the tests done to date have been developmental in nature, and do not provide sufficient realism for [the Pentagon’s] test and evaluation director to fully determine whether the [Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS)] is suitable and effective for battle.” The GMD system is the long-range element of the broader BMDS.

Despite the caveats and reservations of the GAO and the Pentagon’s own independent testing evaluator, Obering maintains confidence that the GMD system would protect against a long-range missile fired by Iran or North Korea if they were to acquire such a weapon. That optimism has spread to others. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at an April 1 hearing of the strategic forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee that missile defense had evolved “through some highly challenging technological problems to a day when the North Koreans rattle their missiles, we feel confident we can knock it down.”

In an interview aired April 25, 2007, with the ABC News Nightline program, Colonel Ted Hildreth, the commander of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion operating the interceptors in Alaska, said, “I’d bet my family’s life” on the system’s capability to knock out a missile. It is unclear whether the Bush administration was entrusting many families’ lives to the system two years ago or just making a bet that it figured would not be called.

Is the deployed U.S. anti-missile system capable enough to have a president rely on it to protect American lives if a hostile regime threatened to use long-range ballistic missiles to attack the United States? Some current administration officials say that President George W. Bush already did so during a similar crisis with North Korea in the summer of 2006. Others say such assertions exaggerate the risks faced in that incident and are intended to add luster to the administration’s controversial missile defense system, which was originally deployed in 2004 but remains unproven in the eyes of many, including some government experts. (Continue)

U.S. Presses Poland on Anti-Missile Site

Wade Boese

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative.

U.S. government spokespersons June 17 denied that the United States had initiated any formal talks with states other than Poland to see if they would host the interceptors, which are supposedly to defend against Iran’s possible acquisition of intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles. But the spokespersons acknowledged that the United States had identified substitute basing locations to Poland and that there had been general conversations with Lithuania about U.S. missile defense efforts. Lithuanian officials have been quoted denying that there are any negotiations, while saying they would hear the United States out if it came to Lithuania with a specific request.

Tom Casey, a Department of State spokesperson, said that Lithuania had been a recent stop for Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood, a top advocate of the proposed U.S. plan. He also is a key interlocutor trying to blunt Russia’s hostility to the system, which the Kremlin sees as a threat to its nuclear missiles and security.

Casey said Rood’s visit to Lithuania was not to establish a separate “negotiating track,” asserting that the United States thinks it is “very close to an agreement” with Poland. Many analysts see the recently leaked news about Lithuania as a U.S. gambit to gain greater leverage in the negotiations with Poland. A Polish diplomatic source June 19 declined to comment to Arms Control Today, claiming that the Polish-U.S. negotiations were at a crucial stage.

The U.S. negotiations with Poland started in early 2007 at approximately the same time the United States initiated talks with the Czech Republic on hosting a U.S. missile-tracking radar. The U.S. and Czech governments April 3 announced the conclusion of negotiations but have yet to sign an agreement despite reports that the step would occur in May and then June. It is now suggested that a signing ceremony might happen in July, after which the agreement would need to be approved by the Czech parliament to take effect.

Despite the recent delays in the U.S.-Czech process, it has been smoother than the U.S.-Polish talks, which were interrupted by the election of a new Polish government last October. Led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, that government has indicated it is predisposed to hosting the interceptors to bolster relations with the United States. On the other hand, the Tusk government also has demanded that the United States help improve Polish air defense capabilities to offset what it projects will be a greater threat from an angry Russia. Some Polish analysts note that the more bellicose Russian threats grow, the more likely Russia is to drive Poland into an agreement with the United States.

So far, however, the United States has found the Polish price too high, reportedly amounting to billions in military assistance and weaponry, including shorter-range missile defense systems. Polish officials also reportedly are seeking some say in the system’s operation, such as when it will be fired.

Although stating that the United States was not setting a deadline for a deal with Poland, Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesperson, warned that “time is of the essence.” He attributed the rush to growing Iranian missile capabilities, but most observers see the impetus as the Bush administration’s desire to get an agreement in place before it exits office.

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has indicated that the earliest construction could start would be next year. Actual work would depend on final agreements with the host countries, parliamentary approval of those agreements, and U.S. congressional funding.

Lawmakers in the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United States have expressed various reservations with the proposed plan. Czech and Polish legislators’ concerns reflect generally negative public opinion about the U.S.-proposed project, which has sparked some hunger strikes in the Czech Republic. U.S. lawmakers have cited concerns about whether the proposed ground-based interceptors are technically the best choice, whether the system can actually work, and its projected costs, which are estimated at approximately $3.5 billion.

Neither presumptive presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), has said he would, if elected, discontinue the proposed European deployment. Indeed, McCain has fully endorsed it, and his campaign has more generally stated that he sees “effective missile defenses” as critical not only to deal with states such as Iran but also to “hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China.”

Frustrated by Polish negotiating demands on a plan to install U.S. anti-missile interceptors in Poland, the United States recently said it had other basing options. Despite vigorous Russian opposition to the potential interceptor deployment in a former Soviet ally, the Bush administration is considering a former Soviet republic, Lithuania, as an alternative. (Continue)

Air Force Leaders Fired Over Nuke Handling

Stephen Bunnell

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne on June 5 after a report by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald highlighted significant oversights in the Air Force’s nuclear security practices.

The ousting of Moseley and Wynne followed several incidents in the past year that have heightened concerns over the Air Force’s ability to properly maintain and secure its arsenal of land-based ICBMs and nuclear-armed bombers.

Last August, a B-52 bomber flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barskdale Air Force Base in Louisiana wrongly and unknowingly armed with nuclear cruise missiles. (See ACT, October 2007.) In March of this year, it was reported that the Air Force had accidentally shipped four nosecone fuses for nuclear missiles to Taiwan in 2006, drawing complaints from China. (See ACT, May 2008.)

Gates’ action came after another such incident in late May when the 5th Bomb Wing, which is stationed at Minot, received a grade of “unsatisfactory” in nuclear security during a weeklong, highly anticipated inspection by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

According to Air Force Times, the DTRA report, which is not publicly available, catalogs a number of startling failures in the security process. In one case, an airman was caught on tape playing video games on a cell phone. In another incident, inspectors managed to “kill” three security forces members who had failed to clear a building upon entering it. “Security forces’ level of knowledge, understanding of assigned duties, and response to unusual situations reflected a lack of adequate supervision,” said the DTRA team chief.

Gates acknowledged that this chain of events may represent a deeper problem within the Air Force in general and the nuclear forces for which it is responsible in particular. In a June 5 press conference, he characterized the Minot cruise missile incident and the Taiwan nosecone fuses incident as sharing a “common origin” and said both are symptomatic of “a degradation of the authority, standards of excellence, and technical competence within the nation’s ICBM force.” Citing a “lack of a critical self-assessment culture in the Air Force nuclear program,” Gates appointed a task force headed by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to review nuclear security and stewardship. The task force will offer two rounds of recommendations, one in 60 days, the other in 90 days.

Similarly, a February 2008 Defense Science Board task force reported a widespread perception throughout the Air Force that “the nuclear forces and the nuclear deterrent mission are increasingly devalued.” The task force report catalogs a noticeable decline in attention paid to the nuclear mission by senior-level commanders by citing older Department of Defense reports. For example, a Joint Advisory Committee report from 1995 warns, “There is reason for concern about the long-term quality and quantity of nuclear weapons expertise within the [Defense Department] as the size of the [Defense Department] nuclear community shrinks and the interest level declines.”

Despite Gates’ actions, other reports pointed to ongoing problems. On June 19, a partially declassified internal “blue ribbon” investigation, triggered by the earlier Minot incident, revealed that “most sites” for the deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe have failed to meet U.S. security requirements.

In addition to the erroneous shipment of fuses to Taiwan, a June 19 article in the Financial Times reports that hundreds of missile components have apparently gone missing from U.S. stockpiles. According to the article, anonymous government officials have claimed that the number of components unaccounted for is “more than 1,000.”

This has prompted renewed criticism of the Bush administration from lawmakers who had supported Gates’ firings of Moseley and Wynne. In a June 20 letter to Gates, Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded an explanation for how 1,000 sensitive nuclear missile components could have simply vanished from U.S. stockpiles. “While George Bush and John McCain were preoccupied with the misguided war in Iraq, they lost sight of the real danger—terrorists getting their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons,” said Kerry in a press release.


Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne on June 5 after a report by Navy Adm. Kirkland Donald highlighted significant oversights in the Air Force’s nuclear security practices. (Continue)

Russian Plutonium-Producing Reactors Closed

Stephen Bunnell

On June 5, Rosatom closed the sole remaining reactor at the Siberian Chemical Combine, located in Seversk, ending the city’s 43 years of weapons-grade plutonium production and bringing Russia one step closer to ending production of weapons-grade plutonium.

Production at the reactor, known as ADE-5, was terminated under a joint program between the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear agency. The program was initiated to shutter the three remaining Russian plutonium-producing reactors and replace them with non-nuclear fuel sources. The first of these reactors, ADE-4, also located in Seversk, was closed under the same program in April. (See ACT, May 2008.)

The joint program that facilitated these closures, known as Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production (EWGPP), aims to halt Russian production of plutonium, which can be used to construct a nuclear weapon, in order to prevent it from being stolen and sold on the black market. In a press release, William Tobey, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, hailed the closure of ADE-5 as “another step closer to eliminating the production of nuclear weapons-grade plutonium in Russia.” Together, the three reactors were able to produce more than one metric ton of plutonium annually, enough to make 250 nuclear weapons, according to Department of Energy estimates.

Besides proliferation concerns, the reactors also caused worries about safety. All three of them are of the RBMK type, a light-water-cooled, graphite-moderated model that gained infamy through the Chernobyl accident in 1986. These concerns were briefly realized in Seversk in 1993, when a tank containing an industrial solution used to decontaminate decommissioned nuclear reactors exploded, contaminating the surrounding countryside.

The only plutonium-producing reactor that now remains, located near the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk, is slated to be shut down by 2010. Both Seversk and Zheleznogorsk are former “closed cities,” once-secret settlements that produced plutonium for the Soviet nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.

The United States has been calling for the closure of these plants since the early 1990s. The 1994 “Agreement Concerning the Shutdown of Plutonium Production Reactors and the Cessation of Use of Newly Produced Plutonium for Nuclear Weapons” originally called for ADE-4 and ADE-5 to be shut down in 2000. However, because they provided electricity and heat to Seversk and the nearby city of Tomsk, the deadline was moved back to the end of 2008. ADE-4 and ADE-5 closed eight and seven months ahead of schedule, respectively.

In the meantime, the United States has donated $926 million in order to help refurbish nearby fossil fuel and wind plants to compensate for the loss of energy. According to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which oversees threat reduction projects in the former Soviet Union, these repairs are nearing completion.


  • On page 34 of Arms Control Today’s June 2008 issue, the news article “Bush Sends Russia Nuclear Energy Pact to Hill” identified the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee as Rep. Harold Berman, it should read “Rep. Howard Berman.”

  • On page 32 of Arms Control Today’s March 2006 issue, the news article “Questions Surround Iran’s Nuclear Program” includes a line reading “The former State Department official said that a re-entry vehicle built according to the design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too small to hold a nuclear weapon.” That line should read “The former State Department official said that a nuclear warhead built according to a design that Libya obtained from the Khan network would be too large to fit in the re-entry vehicle that Iran may have designed.”


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