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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
December 2009
Edition Date: 
Friday, December 4, 2009
Cover Image: 

Key CFE Obstacles are Not “Subregional”

Wolfgang Zellner’s thoughtful article (“Can This Treaty Be Saved? Breaking the Stalemate on Conventional Forces in Europe,” September 2009) reminds us of the contribution to European security that could result from resolving the impasse over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. However, the article’s analysis of contentious issues in discussions of the treaty is mistaken in distinguishing between “Euro-strategic” issues, including NATO enlargement and its effect on the European conventional force balance, and two ostensibly “subregional” issues. The distinction has important implications for policy decisions on how to approach the impasse and craft solutions to it.

Peter Perenyi

Wolfgang Zellner’s thoughtful article (“Can This Treaty Be Saved? Breaking the Stalemate on Conventional Forces in Europe,” September 2009) reminds us of the contribution to European security that could result from resolving the impasse over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. However, the article’s analysis of contentious issues in discussions of the treaty is mistaken in distinguishing between “Euro-strategic” issues, including NATO enlargement and its effect on the European conventional force balance, and two ostensibly “subregional” issues. The distinction has important implications for policy decisions on how to approach the impasse and craft solutions to it.

One of the issues that Zellner classifies as subregional is Russia’s continued occupation of Georgia and Moldova, which contravenes Moscow’s 1999 Istanbul summit commitments. NATO countries that are parties to the CFE Treaty insist that Russia must fulfill these commitments before they ratify the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty, which updates the CFE Treaty, notably by eliminating its bloc-to-bloc structure. The second issue is the Adapted CFE Treaty’s “flank” provisions limiting ground forces equipment in Russia’s Leningrad and North Caucasus military districts, limits which Russia rejects and NATO wishes to preserve.

Zellner’s article overlooks the negotiating history and broader significance of these issues, which extend beyond the regions immediately involved to the overall strategic relationship between NATO and Russia. Perhaps the most troublesome issue in that relationship is the rules governing NATO and Russian behavior in the entire former Soviet domain, which Russia refers to as its “near abroad.” The parts of that area where current or prospective NATO forces are closest to Russia are naturally the most sensitive. These are areas involved in the flank issue and the dispute over Georgia.

Zellner would resolve the Georgia issue by somehow updating the Istanbul commitments to reflect the reality that Russian forces will not be withdrawn soon. By defining the Georgia problem as less than Euro-strategic and ignoring the real basis for linking the Istanbul commitments to the treaty regime, his article seems to imply a resolution doing little to redress the situation. Regardless of “who started it,” the result of the Georgian-Russian conflict of August 2008 has been two Russian brigades in Georgia’s breakaway regions—a substantial Russian force south of the Caucasus Mountains, readily reinforced from Russia and within easy reach of pipelines relieving Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. In this context, the lack of verifiable limits on forces in parts of Georgia amounts to a strategically significant gap in the treaty regime.

Ironically, by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent, Russia has ensured their dependence on Moscow and Russia’s hold over a former Soviet space. In the light of Vladimir Putin’s 2005 remark that “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical disaster of the century,” this consolidation of Moscow’s control, whether one motivation for Russian actions or merely a result, may serve as a precedent for Russia’s restoration of its influence by encouraging separatism on its periphery. Ukraine is vulnerable to similar tactics. Ignoring the implications of this precedent by failing to insist on militarily significant steps to begin to restore confidence would not enhance European security.

These considerations argue, at a minimum, for substantial verifiable reductions of Russian and other forces in separatist areas of Georgia. Such reductions, depending on their scope, could perhaps overcome a key barrier to Adapted CFE Treaty ratification or could constitute a significant confidence-building step that could be matched by, for example, providing some further clarification on future NATO force levels.

Complete or near-complete Russian withdrawal is unlikely if it appears that NATO would then offer Georgia a membership action plan, a step Russia’s intervention has complicated and delayed, perhaps indefinitely. NATO will not withdraw its stated commitment to Georgia’s membership, and even if it or Georgia were to do so, there is no guarantee that Russia would loosen its military grip on Georgia. Neither, unfortunately, will Moscow withdraw its recognition of the separatist governments. Russia has so far blocked a status-neutral solution to placing observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on separatist territories. But certainly, there are status-neutral ways to approach verifiable CFE Treaty reductions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If it wished to pursue them, Russia could preserve its position by claiming consent from secessionist “governments.”

Zellner says the need for Georgia’s consent to the presence of foreign forces is a “political consideration.” He never specifies how the principle of host-nation consent relates to the CFE Treaty. It is integral to both the current and Adapted CFE treaties; it is strengthened in the latter by requiring explicit host-nation notification of consent, and it is the underlying basis for linking the Istanbul commitments to ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty.

That linkage is neither artificial nor an afterthought. The Adapted CFE Treaty would never have been signed if Russia had not first signed the bilateral agreements involving withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova. NATO made a public issue of the linkage between Adapted CFE Treaty ratification and the Istanbul commitments only in 2002, three years after the signing of the treaty, because Russian foot-dragging in implementing its commitments took time to reach a crisis.

Zellner points out that the problem of Nagorno-Karabakh, a separatist area of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, has not blocked NATO states’ ratification. However, Russia’s occupation of Georgia and Moldova involves a violation by a major treaty partner and has larger implications for European security.

The problem in Moldova should be somewhat easier to resolve than the one in Georgia. The Russian force in Moldova is small, isolated by Ukraine and Moldova from Russia’s borders, and thus of less strategic concern, although equally important from a treaty perspective. Moreover, Moldova is not an active candidate for NATO membership, and Russia has not recognized the independence of Transdniestria, a secessionist region of Moldova.

The second issue that Zellner mislabels as subregional is the flank issue. The Adapted CFE Treaty’s flank provisions, by limiting reinforcements of ground forces equipment, stabilize large areas of northern and southern Europe where NATO and Russian forces are closest to each other. It would be wrong to suggest that this has no broader impact on European stability. The flank provisions cover not only the Russian Leningrad and North Caucasus military districts, but also nearby Norway and Turkey and, in the near abroad, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia. When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania accede to the Adapted CFE Treaty, Russia will doubtless insist that all three be subject to flank restrictions. Renegotiating the Adapted CFE Treaty to drop coverage of the Russian flank would mean that, within its overall limits, Russia could theoretically bring any size force into its flank areas, while nearby NATO flank states could receive only limited reinforcements.

Zellner faults what he sees as a failure to address Russia’s demand to drop the Russian flank limits. Yet, Russia has repeatedly agreed to resolutions of the flank issue only to reopen it. The limits on Russia’s flank zone were eased in the 1997 Flank Agreement and again in the Adapted CFE Treaty. Last March, NATO offered to consider adjusting the treaty’s equipment limits—which include Russian flank limits—once the Adapted CFE Treaty enters into force.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, has publicly criticized the treaty flank restrictions as imposing unacceptable movement restrictions on Russia. Interestingly, however, Russia has made politically binding commitments outside the treaty to restrictions on two parts of its territory, the Kaliningrad enclave, bordering Poland and Lithuania, and the Pskov Oblast, which borders Estonia and Latvia and was excluded from the northern part of the flank zone by the Flank Agreement. At the Istanbul summit, Russia pledged to refrain from permanent stationing of “substantial additional combat forces” in those areas. This echoed earlier NATO pledges to refrain from “new stationing,” i.e., the stationing of “substantial” combat forces on the territory of new NATO members. Russia has since demanded that NATO define what it means by “substantial” combat forces. NATO has publicly offered to do so in the context of Russian agreement to a NATO compromise proposal calling for parallel steps toward Russian fulfillment of its Istanbul commitments and NATO states’ ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty.

It seems reasonable that Russia should reciprocate such a far-reaching NATO commitment on stationing. If a definition of “substantial” were mutually agreed and a similar commitment applied reciprocally to other areas of Russia, including the Leningrad and North Caucasus military districts, this might be a useful interim confidence-building step that could spur progress. In the end, however, some legally binding and evenhanded means of stabilizing the flank regions by limiting force buildups must be found. It would be a mistake to conclude that the choice for the CFE Treaty regime is either permanent impasse or unwise concessions. A comprehensive solution will contribute to, and might require some parallel progress in, resolving larger underlying conflicts involving NATO enlargement and Russia’s desire for dominance in its near abroad. But, at a minimum, early  steps to build confidence in the CFE Treaty regime should be possible and could hasten progress.


Peter Perenyi is a senior analyst at ANSER, a not-for-profit research institute. Until July, he represented the Office of the Secretary of Defense on U.S. delegations dealing with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. The views expressed in this letter are his own and are not intended to reflect those of the U.S. government or any of its agencies.

 

U.S. to Send Senior Envoy to Pyongyang

The United States has agreed to send a senior diplomat to Pyongyang Dec. 8 for bilateral discussions with North Korea to return that country to multilateral talks on denuclearization, U.S. officials announced last month. The announcement came just before President Barack Obama made his first trip to Asia Nov. 12-19. The North Korean nuclear issue was high on the agenda in meetings with leaders in the region, U.S. officials said.

Peter Crail

The United States has agreed to send a senior diplomat to Pyongyang Dec. 8 for bilateral discussions with North Korea to return that country to multilateral talks on denuclearization, U.S. officials announced last month. The announcement came just before President Barack Obama made his first trip to Asia Nov. 12-19. The North Korean nuclear issue was high on the agenda in meetings with leaders in the region, U.S. officials said.

Department of State spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters Nov. 9 that Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth will head an interagency delegation to Pyongyang for direct talks. They would be Bosworth’s first formal discussions with North Korean officials since he was appointed to his post in February. (See ACT, March 2009.) Bosworth, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea and still serves as dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at TuftsUniversity, last traveled to Pyongyang as a private citizen to hold discussions with North Korean officials in the weeks prior to his appointment.

North Korea invited Bosworth to Pyongyang in August. Before November, U.S. officials had maintained that Washington was willing to hold such discussions only if they were held in the context of the six-party talks. Those talks were an effort begun in 2003 to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pyongyang withdrew from the talks in April in response to the UN Security Council’s condemnation of a North Korean rocket launch. (See ACT, May 2009.)

U.S. acceptance of the North Korean invitation suggests that North Korea has taken steps to meet the key stipulations Washington put forward for holding bilateral discussions, primarily related to the pledges Washington is seeking from Pyongyang. (See ACT, November 2009.) U.S. officials held informal meetings with a senior North Korean official visiting the United States in October, but Washington has not indicated what has changed in North Korea’s position to lead the United States to accept the invitation now.

Explaining what the United States was seeking from such a meeting, Crowley said one goal was to bring North Korea back into the six-party talks. A second goal is “to seek a reaffirmation of [North Korea’s] commitment under the 2005 joint statement,” he said, adding, “[W]e believe North Korea understands what the purpose of the meeting is.”

In September 2005, the six parties agreed to take reciprocal steps aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. As part of that agreement, North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, accepting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and returning to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), from which it withdrew in 2003.

As part of the reciprocal commitments, the United States affirmed that it had no intention to attack or invade North Korea, and South Korea affirmed that it would not receive or deploy nuclear weapons and that none exist on its territory.

The parties indicated that they would meet their commitments “in a phased manner” and in line with the principle of “commitment for commitment, action for action.” The parties agreed in February 2007 on phased steps toward North Korea’s denuclearization. That agreement focused on disabling three key facilities involved in producing plutonium at the Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for energy aid and political inducements. North Korea left the six-party talks after only 10 of 12 disablement steps for those facilities had been carried out. Pyongyang has since taken steps to reconstitute its reprocessing facility.

In light of such reversals, the Obama administration has maintained that it would not take a similar approach to rolling back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Jeffrey Bader, National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs, told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington Nov. 6, “We are not interested in buying Yongbyon for a third time.”

In 1994, Pyongyang and Washington concluded the Agreed Framework, an agreement that also focused on North Korea’s plutonium-related nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

Broader Commitment Sought

Instead of a gradual process, the United States and its allies have indicated that they are seeking a broader denuclearization commitment from North Korea. In a Nov. 19 joint press conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Obama said that the two leaders “are in full agreement on a common approach” to achieve a comprehensive resolution to the nuclear issue by seeking from Pyongyang “concrete and irreversible steps to fulfill its obligations and eliminate its nuclear weapons program.”

Criticizing the incremental approach under the prior agreements reached through the six-party talks, Lee proposed a “grand bargain” approach toward North Korea in September. “The world should be in pursuit of a one-shot deal, rather than taking steps in negotiations,” Lee told a Council on Foreign Relations audience in New York Sept. 22. Under this approach, Lee said, the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program should proceed from the beginning, rather than at the end of successive stages. At the same time, North Korea would receive economic assistance and security guarantees.

Pyongyang rejected Lee’s suggestion. In a Sept. 30 statement, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) called Lee’s idea “nothing more than a ridiculous proposal” and “not worthy of consideration.”

In addition to seeking North Korea’s return to the six-party talks and recommitment to prior agreements, Foreign Policy magazine reported on its Web site Nov. 2 and Arms Control Today confirmed with diplomatic sources that Washington also wanted to ensure that Bosworth would meet with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju.

Kang is believed to be more influential than North Korea’s lower-lever nuclear envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. Joel Wit, former U.S. coordinator for the Agreed Framework at the State Department, said in a Nov. 17 e-mail that Kang “played a key role in previous dealings with North Korea during the Clinton Administration,” noting that he was a key adviser to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his father and predecessor, Kim Il Sung.

Further Plutonium Extraction Claimed

Meanwhile, KCNA said Nov. 3 that North Korea had finished reprocessing its last load of 8,000 spent fuel rods from its Yongbyon reactor. Through reprocessing, plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel. “Noticeable successes have been made in turning the extracted plutonium weapon-grade for the purpose of bolstering up [North Korea’s] nuclear deterrent,” added KCNA.

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker, who has visited the Yongbyon facilities on a number of occasions in recent years, estimated in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists May 12 that the spent fuel could contain up to 12 kilograms of plutonium, enough for up to two nuclear weapons.

The spent fuel reprocessing was one of the steps that North Korea said it would take in April in response to the Security Council’s condemnation of its rocket launch earlier that month. Pyongyang also said that it would restore the facilities that had been disabled since 2007 “to their original state.” (See ACT, May 2009.)

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in response to the North Korean announcement Nov. 3 that “reprocessing plutonium is contrary to North Korea’s own commitments that it committed to in the 2005 joint statement.” Reprocessing also violates UN Security Council resolutions, Kelly added.

Thus far, however, North Korea has not indicated that it has taken any steps to bring its five-megawatt Yongbyon reactor back to operable status. Citing satellite imagery analysis, a Sept. 4 report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security concluded that “there do not appear to be any reconstruction efforts at the reactor site.” Arms Control Today confirmed with knowledgeable official sources in November that no reconstruction efforts at the reactors have been detected.

Obstacles to Reconstitution

North Korea would have to reconstitute the reactor in order to produce any additional plutonium for nuclear weapons. Hecker estimated in May that prior to the reprocessing of the 8,000 spent fuel rods this year, North Korea separated enough plutonium for “at most eight” but as few as four nuclear weapons. North Korea is believed to have used some of this material to carry out nuclear tests in 2006 and in May. (See ACT, June 2009.)

To run the reactor again, it would first need an additional load of fuel. North Korea’s fuel fabrication facility was disabled under the 2007 agreement. Many of its functions had been abandoned since the 1994 Agreed Framework, and no additional nuclear fuel has been produced since that time.

North Korea still has about 2,000 fuel rods for its five-megawatt reactor left over from 1994. It also has about 12,000 bare fuel rods for a 50-megawatt reactor whose construction was halted under the Agreed Framework and that has since fallen into considerable disrepair. (See ACT, October 2007.) The five other parties to the six-party talks could not reach an agreement with North Korea on how to address the fresh fuel rods as part of the disablement actions under the February 2007 agreement. (See ACT, October 2008.)

In order to ready a full load of 8,000 fresh fuel rods for the smaller reactor, North Korea could use some of the 50-megawatt reactor fuel, with some modifications.

Hecker noted in a Nov. 17 e-mail that the bare fuel rods for the larger reactor would need to be clad in a magnesium alloy, which helps to contain the fission products produced in the reactor operations. That cladding process could take about six months, he said.

Although there does not appear to have been any detectable work on reconstituting the reactor, Hecker said it is “unlikely” that work on preparing the fuel rods for the reactor could be detected from overhead.

Beyond preparing the fresh fuel rods, North Korea would need to repair the secondary cooling loop severed as part of the disablement process and, more importantly, rebuild the cooling tower, which it demolished in June 2008. Hecker said the cooling tower could take about six months to rebuild, a time frame similar to the one that probably would be required for preparing the fresh fuel rods.

It is not clear why North Korea has not started reconstituting the reactor, Wit said. He suggested that one potential explanation is that “the North has already planned out its next cycle of nuclear force building and escalation of the threat,” but has decided that the time for those steps is not yet right, for political or technical reasons.

 

Countries Ban Investment in Cluster Munitions

Pursuing what some say is a logical step required for the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), several countries have taken action at the national level by barring investment in companies that produce cluster munitions.

Andrew Fisher

Pursuing what some say is a logical step required for the implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), several countries have taken action at the national level by barring investment in companies that produce cluster munitions.

That step is backed by the Cluster Munition Coalition, an international group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that actively supports the CCM. The group maintains that the prohibition on assistance outlined in Article 1(c) of the treaty should be broadly interpreted to include a ban on investments in companies that manufacture cluster munitions. The provision states that “each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in any activity prohibited under this convention.” Because “financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of the company and its plans,” the group argued for the investment ban in a 2007 policy paper.

Currently, Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg are the only countries that prohibit investments in cluster munitions producers. Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland are at various stages of considering parliamentary action on investments. In a June 2009 report, Human Rights Watch noted that several other states, including Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Mexico, had voiced support for a broad interpretation of the prohibition on assistance to include investment although they have not enacted laws to prohibit investment in cluster munitions production.

Such efforts by a growing number of states have been endorsed by the NGO coalition, which on Oct. 29 launched a disinvestment campaign aimed at encouraging governments to end investment in the production of cluster munitions through national legislation. The groups supported their case with a report entitled “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: A Shared Responsibility,” published by coalition members IKV PAX Christi of the Netherlands and Netwerk Vlaanderen of Belgium.

The report shows a clear trend toward action by governments and financial institutions to limit or end involvement in financing cluster munitions production since the beginning of the Oslo process. That process was led in part by Norway and named for the site of the effort’s first global conference on cluster munitions, which took place in February 2007. The process brought together NGOs, UN organizations, and interested governments in a series of major conferences to draft a ban on cluster munitions. (See ACT, December 2008.)

The report lists 136 financial institutions in 16 countries as being involved in the direct or indirect financing of cluster munitions production, with 45 of them in CCM signatory states. One-half of the institutions are in the United States, which has not signed the treaty. Together, they provided almost $5.1 billion in commercial banking services, $4.2 billion in investment banking services, and $11.8 billion in asset management services over the last two years to eight major producers of cluster munitions worldwide: Alliant Techsystems (United States), Hanwha (South Korea), L-3 Communications (United States), Lockheed Martin (United States), Poongsan (South Korea), Roketsan (Turkey), Singapore Technologies Engineering (Singapore), and Textron (United States).

The report shows that there are now 30 financial institutions, nearly all in Europe, with policies on excluding funding for investment in cluster munitions or other weapons. Of those 30, the report considers 14 of them to compose a “hall of fame” of financial institutions that have pioneered disinvestment by establishing transparent and comprehensive policies of exclusion for funding of cluster munitions. Some of the institutions on this list, including banks, government pension funds, and private financial institutions, based their policies on their country’s involvement with the CCM.

The report also listed 16 “runners-up.” Companies in that category have policies on cluster munitions in place, but the authors of the report consider those policies ineffective because of certain shortcomings or loopholes, such as allowing for indirect financing of cluster munitions production.

According to the report, Belgium was the first country to ban the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions in 2006. In 2007 its parliament unanimously expanded an existing law, which prohibits direct or indirect financing in the production of anti-personnel landmines, to ban investment in companies that produce cluster munitions. The law covers banks and funds operating in Belgium.

After the law passed, Reuters quoted the lead author, Sen. Philippe Mahoux, as saying, “The financial groups which invest in or finance cluster bomb manufacturers will be outlawed.” Yet, according to a November report to the United Nations Association of Sweden from Ethix SRI Advisors, a consulting firm, the Belgian government “has yet to publish a list of restricted entities—companies and investment institutions—as set out in the law.”

Ireland and Luxembourg banned investments in cluster munitions production through national laws designed to implement their ratification of the CCM.

The European Parliament indicated its support for banning investment in cluster munitions in October 2007 when, citing the example of the Belgian law, it passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on using, investing in, stockpiling, producing, transferring, or exporting cluster munitions. The resolution calls on EU countries to follow the lead of Belgium, Ireland, and Luxembourg in adopting national measures that fully ban the use, production, export, and stockpiling of cluster bombs.

In the United States, student groups have called on universities to exclude investments in cluster munitions production from their endowments. At the University of Vermont, the board of trustees recently approved a measure to divest from producers of cluster munitions, other weapons, and depleted uranium, according to the student newspaper, the Vermont Cynic. At ColumbiaUniversity, the Columbia Spectator reported on Nov. 17 that the university’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing heard a number of proposals from students on divestment, including one on cluster munitions. Students cited the high failure rate and impact on civilians as the reason for their proposal.

Disinvestment campaigns have been used in the past to apply pressure on countries to change their behavior or to achieve certain goals. During the 1980s, state and local governments in the United States were targeted by campaign organizers to disinvest from companies that did business with the apartheid government in South Africa. More recently, state and local governments have been encouraged to divest from companies that operate in Iran. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

Work on Cluster Munitions Extended Again

In what has now become an annual occurrence, delegates to a meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed in November to continue work on proposals specifically addressing cluster munitions after failing to reach consensus during the past year. Meanwhile, a different treaty on the weapons grew closer to the number of ratifying states needed for its entry into force, drawing into question the role of future CCW efforts on the topic.

Jeff Abramson

In what has now become an annual occurrence, delegates to a meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) agreed in November to continue work on proposals specifically addressing cluster munitions after failing to reach consensus during the past year. Meanwhile, a different treaty on the weapons grew closer to the number of ratifying states needed for its entry into force, drawing into question the role of future CCW efforts on the topic.

Cluster munitions are bombs, rockets, and artillery shells that disperse smaller submunitions over broad areas that sometimes strike civilians or fail to explode initially, later injuring or killing military forces and noncombatants. An international outcry over use of cluster munitions in southern Lebanon in 2006 and the failure of the CCW to adopt new measures related to the weapons helped lead to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which was opened for signature and ratification last year. That treaty bars the use of nearly all cluster munitions and obligates countries to destroy stockpiles, conduct clearance efforts, and take steps to help victims. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Next year’s CCW group of governmental experts meetings are scheduled to take place April 12-16 and Aug. 30- Sept. 3 “to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations,” according to the resolution authorizing the group. Those meetings will take into account a draft protocol on cluster munitions prepared by this year’s experts group chairperson, Gustavo Ainchil of Argentina, the resolution said. Ainchil fashioned the draft text after two weeks of group meetings in February and April, as well as a week of informal consultations in August. (See ACT, May 2009.)

That draft prohibits the use of cluster munitions unless they leave behind no more than 1 percent of unexploded ordnance or possess one of a number of safeguards. It includes a provision allowing for an eight-year deferral of this prohibition, with the possibility of an additional four-year extension if requested. These provisions differ from the CCM, as do other aspects of the draft.

Twenty-four countries have ratified the CCM, and 103 have signed it. The CCM will enter into force six months after 30 states ratify it.

Many delegates from countries that have already signed the CCM argued that a CCW protocol must not weaken progress on controlling the weapons. Calling her country a “strong supporter” of the CCM, Australian Ambassador Caroline Millar said in a Nov. 12 statement to the meeting of CCW states-parties that any future protocol “must provide for a strong humanitarian outcome and progress—not hinder—the development of international humanitarian law.” She listed five elements a CCW protocol should have at a minimum, including “definitional consistency” with the CCM.

A number of the world’s major producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions, including Russia and the United States, have opted out of the CCM, insisting that the CCW is the proper place to negotiate an agreement. In a Nov. 9 statement at the CCW meeting, U.S. representative Harold Koh said, “[M]any States, including the United States, have determined that their national security interests cannot be fully ensured consistent with the terms of the CCM. A comprehensive international response to the humanitarian concerns associated with cluster munitions must include action by those States that are not in a position to become parties to the CCM, because those States produce and stockpile the vast majority of the world’s cluster munitions.”

He reiterated U.S. policy set by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2008 that, “by 2018, the U.S. armed forces will not use cluster munitions that, after arming, result in more than 1 percent of unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational conditions.” Critics of this approach have rejected failure-based criteria, pointing to data showing that failure rates in the field are often higher than in tests.

Koh also argued that the United States needs time to design and replace its existing stockpile, which contains more than 700 million submunitions. Destroying the stockpile, a step required by the CCM, would cost $2.2 billion using current U.S. demilitarization capabilities, he said.

U.S. Takes New Stance on Some Issues at UN

The Obama administration’s voting record this year at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly marked a departure from the Bush administration in several key ballots. In other votes, however, the new administration’s vote was the same as its predecessor’s.

The First Committee is responsible for drafting resolutions on arms control and international security issues.

Cole Harvey

The Obama administration’s voting record this year at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly marked a departure from the Bush administration in several key ballots. In other votes, however, the new administration’s vote was the same as its predecessor’s.

The First Committee is responsible for drafting resolutions on arms control and international security issues.

One of the shifts was on a resolution on disarmament submitted annually by Japan. The United States co-sponsored the 2009 version of the resolution. Under the Bush administration, the United States voted against the resolution every year.

Entitled “Renewed Determination Towards the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons,” the resolution endorses several prominent disarmament and nonproliferation measures, such as entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), and further nuclear arms reductions by Russia and the United States. It calls on states to consider reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and “stresses the necessity of a diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used.”

The resolution also calls for the global application of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, including the stronger verification measures established in the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, and for universal adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The resolution was approved by a vote of 161-2, with eight abstentions. The two dissenters were India, which objected to language in the resolution calling on all states to join the NPT, and North Korea. China, France, Israel, and Pakistan were among those that abstained.

In accordance with the Obama administration’s support for the CTBT, the United States co-sponsored an annual resolution endorsing the test ban. Only North Korea voted against the resolution, which was supported by 175 countries. India, Mauritius, and Syria abstained.

On two other resolutions on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues, the U.S. votes were in keeping with recent years.

The United States voted against a resolution entitled “Towards a Nuclear-Free World,” put forward by the New Agenda Coalition, comprised of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden. The U.S. delegation did not describe its reasons for voting against the resolution, saying only that, after “intense consultation” with the sponsors of the resolution, the two sides could not agree “on changes that would have made the resolution acceptable to the United States.”

Like the Japanese resolution, the New Agenda Coalition document is supportive of the CTBT, an FMCT, and U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations. The coalition language was generally stronger than Japan’s in referring to countries’ disarmament and nonproliferation commitments, in particular the commitments undertaken by the nuclear-weapon states at the 1995 and 2000 NPT review conferences. The New Agenda Coalition resolution places more emphasis on nuclear-weapon-free zones, which the Japanese resolution does not explicitly mention.

The First Committee approved the New Agenda Coalition resolution on a vote of 165-5, with four states abstaining. France, India, Israel, and North Korea joined the United States in voting against the resolution. Pakistan and the United Kingdom were among the abstainers.

A third resolution on general nuclear issues was submitted by the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a large group of developing countries. The NAM resolution addresses nuclear disarmament in the strongest terms of the three documents, while putting less emphasis on nonproliferation, and drew significantly less support from the First Committee. The draft was approved on a vote of 112-43, with 21 abstentions. The no votes came primarily from Europe; among the other opponents were Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Outer Space

The United States abstained from voting on a resolution on preventing an arms race in outer space, instead of voting against the measure as it had in recent years. The resolution “emphasizes the necessity of further measures with appropriate and effective provisions for verification to prevent an arms race” in outer space and calls on states to contribute actively to that objective.

Although the United States did not issue a direct explanation for its decision to abstain, the Obama administration is currently conducting a review of U.S. policy toward arms control in outer space. During the thematic debate on outer space issues Oct. 19, U.S. representative Garold Larson said that the space policy review began from a “blank slate,” but noted that it will “reject any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in, and acquire data from, space.” Larson said that the United States favors voluntary “transparency and confidence-building measures” with China and Russia in order to help “reduce uncertainty over intentions and decrease the risk of misinterpretation or miscalculation.”

China and Russia are the primary advocates of a treaty to prevent the replacement of weapons in outer space and have submitted a draft agreement on the subject to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. (See ACT, March 2008.)

Arms Trade

In a significant shift, the United States voted in favor of a resolution endorsing the negotiation of an international arms trade treaty, after rejecting such proposals in the past. (See ACT, November 2009.) The resolution calls for the convening of a four-week UN conference in 2012 to negotiate an agreement regulating the transfer of conventional weapons. At the insistence of the United States, the resolution states that the conference will be “undertaken…on the basis of consensus.” Consensus “is a crucial concept for the United States, to ensure the high standards necessary in an effective outcome to our future deliberations,” U.S. representative Donald Mahley said during the debate on conventional arms issues. “It is not, nor should others hope it to be, an excuse for avoiding hard choices or real, deliberative controls.” The committee passed the measure Oct. 30 on a vote of 153-1, with 19 states abstaining. Zimbabwe was the sole dissenter.

The First Committee concluded its 2009 session Nov. 2.

IAEA Disputes Syrian Uranium Claims

An analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disputed Syria’s explanation for the presence of man-made uranium particles at a reactor in Damascus, according to a Nov. 16 agency report. The results of environmental sampling carried out at the reactor in August 2008 “do not support Syria’s earlier explanation for the origin and presence of the particles,” the report said.

Peter Crail

An analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) disputed Syria’s explanation for the presence of man-made uranium particles at a reactor in Damascus, according to a Nov. 16 agency report. The results of environmental sampling carried out at the reactor in August 2008 “do not support Syria’s earlier explanation for the origin and presence of the particles,” the report said.

The uranium traces come from annual environmental samples the agency took from “hot cells,” containments that are shielded to allow safe handling of radioactive material. The hot cells are in a facility that also houses Syria’s Miniature Neutron Source Reactor, a 30-kilowatt miniature reactor Syria bought from China in 1991 for training and radioisotope production. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) The reactor is under IAEA safeguards.

The IAEA described the detected particles as being “of a type not declared at the facility.”

According to an Aug. 28 IAEA report, Syria claimed that the particles “had resulted from the accumulation of sample and reference materials used in neutron activation analysis.” (See ACT, September 2009.) The IAEA told Syria in October about the analysis that disputed this claim. The agency’s recent report indicated that, during a Nov. 2 meeting with the IAEA, Damascus identified other possible sources of the particles, “including domestically produced yellowcake and small quantities of imported, but previously undeclared, commercial uranyl nitrate.”

Yellowcake is milled and chemically processed uranium powder. It is not subject to IAEA safeguards because it is a form of uranium at the very early stages of creating nuclear fuel or material for a nuclear weapon. A diplomatic source familiar with IAEA safeguards said in a Nov. 18 e-mail that “uranyl nitrate on the other hand, is a precursor chemical for further uranium processing, including possibly enrichment, so it is covered by safeguards and must be declared.” Syria provided the agency with an explanation of the presence of the uranyl nitrate at the reactor facility, but the IAEA report did not reveal that explanation.

The IAEA carried out a follow-up inspection Nov. 17 to validate a new Syrian explanation for the presence of uranium particles.

This marks the second time that Syria’s explanation of the origin of uranium contamination has been inconsistent with IAEA findings. The IAEA has been investigating allegations by the West that Syria had been engaged in a nuclear weapons program, focusing on a suspected nuclear reactor at a site called Dair al Zour. Israel destroyed that facility in 2007. (See ACT, October 2007.) The IAEA said in the recent report that Syria has not provided the information or access necessary to verify that Damascus had not engaged in undeclared nuclear activities.

The first set of uranium traces was uncovered at the Dair al Zour site by the IAEA’s initial investigations in June 2008. (See ACT, December 2008.) Syria claimed that those particles had come from the munitions Israel used to destroy the facility, a claim the agency characterized as being of “low probability.”

The agency is also continuing to investigate Syrian procurement efforts, which the IAEA says “could support the construction of a reactor.”

 

IAEA Rebukes Iran Over Secret Facility

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors last month called on Iran to stop constructing a previously secret uranium-enrichment facility revealed in September. The Nov. 27 resolution, which came during the board’s quarterly meeting in Vienna, was the governors’ first on Iran in nearly four years.

The resolution also urged Iran to confirm that it is not constructing and has not made a decision to construct any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency and to adhere to UN Security Council demands to halt all enrichment-related activities.

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors last month called on Iran to stop constructing a previously secret uranium-enrichment facility revealed in September. The Nov. 27 resolution, which came during the board’s quarterly meeting in Vienna, was the governors’ first on Iran in nearly four years.

The resolution also urged Iran to confirm that it is not constructing and has not made a decision to construct any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency and to adhere to UN Security Council demands to halt all enrichment-related activities.

Twenty-five member countries of the 35-member board voted in favor of the resolution, with only Cuba, Malaysia, and Venezuela opposing it. Six members—Afghanistan, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey—abstained, and Azerbaijan was absent. China and Russia, which have been reluctant to take additional punitive steps against Iran, voted for the censure.

A senior U.S. official told reporters Nov. 27 that the resolution “underscores the unity of purpose” among the P5+1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany. Since 2006, the six countries have sought a common approach to address Iran’s nuclear program through dialogue and UN sanctions.

The senior U.S. official said “there was an intensive American diplomatic effort” that went into the resolution, including during recent meetings between President Barack Obama and the leaders of China, India, and Russia.

In response to the resolution, Iran has threatened to lessen its cooperation with the agency, which the IAEA and national governments have criticized as insufficient. Tehran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters Nov. 27 the resolution “will disrupt the current atmosphere of cooperation and will cause Iran to discontinue its voluntary cooperation which went beyond its commitments.” Iran has curtailed its transparency in response to international censure in the past. (See ACT, May 2007.)

IAEA Report Cites Iran Safeguards Failures

The resolution followed a Nov. 16 IAEA report, which declared that Iran’s failure to notify the agency about the construction of the secret enrichment facility has undermined confidence that no other undeclared nuclear activities are taking place in the country.

The findings come after the agency’s first visit to the Fordow uranium-enrichment plant, which Iran did not disclose to the agency until Sept. 21. (See ACT, October 2009.) The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States publicly revealed the existence of the facility in a Sept. 25 press conference, stating that it was “inconsistent with a peaceful [nuclear] program.”

Uranium-enrichment facilities are generally used to enrich uranium to low levels for nuclear fuel. Uranium enriched to high levels can be used for the explosive core in nuclear weapons.

The agency’s report said that the plant was “at an advanced stage of construction” and that, although no centrifuges had been installed, piping systems and other process equipment for the centrifuges had been put in place. According to the report, Iran said in an Oct. 28 letter to the agency that the plant is scheduled to be operational in 2011. Because the facility has now been declared, it is subject to regular IAEA safeguards.

The IAEA report confirmed that the plant is intended to house about 3,000 centrifuges of the so-called IR-1 variety, which is based on a 1970s-vintage design that Iran acquired from a Pakistani nuclear smuggling network. Iran’s commercial-scale enrichment plant at Natanz is currently using the same type of centrifuges. The size of the Fordow facility is consistent with the U.S. intelligence community assessment, which U.S. officials described in September. At that time, a U.S. official said that the intelligence community also judged that the facility would be capable of producing enough material for one or two nuclear weapons each year.

Iran has left open the possibility of increasing this capacity. According to the IAEA report, Iran informed the agency that the facility could be reconfigured to house the more advanced designs that Iran has been developing, which are capable of enriching uranium faster than the IR-1. (See ACT, November 2007.) The Iranian newspaper Kayhan quoted Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Ali Akbar Salehi Oct. 6 as stating that his organization is “hopeful of being able to use our new version of the centrifuges” at the new facility.

Purpose and Construction History Unclear

The IAEA report said that although the agency’s initial visit was able to confirm that the layout of the facility matched the information provided by Iran, the IAEA needs more information to clarify the purpose of the facility and the time frame for its design and construction. The Nov. 27 resolution urged Iran to provide such clarifications.

In the Oct. 28 letter to the agency, Iran claimed that it was constructing the Fordow plant as a “contingency enrichment plant, so that enrichment activities shall not be suspended in the case of any military attack.” Tehran indicated that “contingency centers” were established in recent years because of what it saw as increasing threats of military action against Iran.

Tehran told the IAEA that the Fordow facility is intended to be a pilot enrichment plant. Iran already operates a much smaller pilot enrichment plant at Natanz. That facility was originally designed to house about 1,000 centrifuges, but currently operates and tests several hundred, including Iran’s more advanced designs. Moreover, Iran does not appear to be preparing the Fordow facility to use the smaller single- and 10-unit centrifuge cascades in use at the Natanz pilot plant.

At the same time, the Fordow plant is dramatically smaller than the commercial-scale enrichment facility at Natanz. In comparison with Fordow’s intended 3,000 centrifuges, the Natanz plant is supposed to accommodate about 50,000 machines.

A diplomatic source familiar with the IAEA investigation said Nov. 25 that the centrifuge cascades Iran intends to install at the Fordow plant will contain a larger number of machines than those installed at the commercial-scale facility at Natanz. The cascades at Natanz all contain 164 machines each. The 3,000 centrifuges at the Fordow facility are instead divided into 16 cascades, which works out to about 190 machines apiece.

According to the diplomatic source, Iranian officials, when questioned about the cascades, said that the number of centrifuges in the cascades had to be altered in order to fit the space available in the contingency center being constructed. The Iranians claimed that such an adjustment demonstrated that the facility was not originally designed as an enrichment plant, the source said.

Iran’s October letter stated that the site of the facility, an excavated mountain tunnel on a military facility near the city of Qom, was allocated to the AEOI for the enrichment plant in the second half of 2007 and that this was when construction of the enrichment plant began.

However, the IAEA has said that satellite imagery it acquired indicates that construction at the site occurred in 2002 and 2004 and has been taking place consistently since 2006. The IAEA also noted that it received information from other countries that allege that construction of the facility began in 2006.

When the existence of the facility was revealed in September, Iranian officials claimed that their country had not been required yet to inform the IAEA about the construction because it is currently implementing an older version of a safeguards subsidiary arrangement called Code 3.1. Subsidiary arrangements detail specifically how a country’s safeguards agreement is to be applied. Iran agreed in 2003 to adopt the newer, more stringent version of the code.

The older version of the provision requires only that a country inform the IAEA about the construction of a new nuclear facility six months prior to the start of its operation. Iran reverted to the older version of Code 3.1 in March 2007 in response to a second set of sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council. Since that time, the IAEA and the council have called on Iran to implement the revised version of the code, which requires that countries inform the agency of any new nuclear facilities as soon as the countries decide to construct them.

In its latest report, the IAEA went further than in its previous calls for Iran to implement the revised code. The agency stated that Iran remains bound by that version, and therefore, even if Iran began to construct the facility after it declared that it reverted to the older version of the code in 2007, its failure to declare the plant until September 2009 “was inconsistent with its obligations under the Subsidiary Arrangements to its Safeguards Agreement.”

The language is identical to that used by a March 2009 statement by the IAEA legal adviser, which assessed the legality of Iran’s claims regarding Code 3.1. According to that statement, subsidiary arrangements “cannot be amended or suspended unilaterally by the state” after a country and the IAEA have agreed to the arrangements.

That determination has relevance to another facility Iran is currently constructing and one it intends to build. For nearly a year, Iran, citing its reinterpretation of its safeguards obligations, had denied the IAEA access to the heavy-water research reactor it is building at Arak. (See ACT, September 2009.) The West has expressed concern that the reactor, slated to begin operations in 2013, could produce as much as two bombs’ worth of plutonium in its spent fuel each year. The IAEA and the Security Council have called on Iran to halt the reactor’s construction.

The agency has previously expressed concern that the lack of access to the facility would not allow it time to plan sufficient monitoring for the reactor, leaving the possibility that it would not be able to detect a diversion of material for military uses.

Iran began providing the agency with additional access to the facility in August.

The other facility is a nuclear power reactor Iran plans to construct at a site called Darkhovin. The IAEA requested preliminary design information for that facility in December 2007, following Iran’s initial announcement of plans to build such a plant. Iran did not provide that information until September. The agency claimed that Iran’s failure to provide it with the designs when the decision for construction was made was “inconsistent with its obligations.”

The IAEA report said that according to a Sept. 22 letter Iran provided the agency, construction on the Darkhovin reactor is scheduled to start in 2011 and be completed in 2015. It is unclear who will construct the reactor.

Iran’s first nuclear power reactor, a Russian-built plant located at Bushehr, is scheduled to begin operation next year.

Operations at Natanz Continue

Contrary to UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment, Iran continues to enrich uranium to low levels at its commercial-scale enrichment plant at Natanz and has been installing additional centrifuges.

Since the last IAEA inspection in August, Iran has installed about 400 centrifuges, for a total of about 8,700 machines. The number of centrifuges currently enriching uranium, however, has continued to decline in recent months. In May, Iran was producing low-enriched uranium (LEU) with about 5,000 centrifuges. The latest IAEA report indicates it is now doing so with about 4,000. The reason for the decline is unclear.

In spite of the decrease in the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, however, Iran’s rate of LEU production has remained at about 85 kilograms per month, suggesting a slight increase in efficiency. Iran has accumulated a stockpile of about 1,760 kilograms of LEU since enrichment operations began in 2006, according to IAEA estimates.

Fuel Deal Doubtful

As the IAEA continues its investigations into newly revealed Iranian nuclear activities, it is awaiting a response from Iran regarding a proposed confidence-building measure by which the majority of Iran’s LEU would be sent abroad in return for fuel for Iran’s Tehran Research Reactor. (See ACT, November 2009.) The IAEA issued the proposal as a compromise during negotiations involving France, Iran, Russia, and the United States. The other three countries accepted the deal in October.

Although Iran has yet to deliver a formal response to the proposed arrangement to the other parties, the Iranian Students News Agency quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki Nov. 19 as stating that Tehran would not ship its LEU out of the country. The arrangement requires that Iran ship about 1,200 kilograms of its LEU out of the country by the end of the year.

Outgoing IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said that a deal might still be possible by the end of the year. “I do not consider that I have received a final answer,” he told reporters at a Nov. 20 press conference in Berlin, urging Iran not to miss the opportunity for diplomatic engagement with the West. ElBaradei added that he was told that Tehran wants to keep the LEU in Iran until it receives the fuel for the reactor, characterizing such a proposal as “an extreme case of distrust.” ElBaradei stepped down Nov. 30 after three terms as head of the IAEA.

Days after Mottaki’s statement about not exporting the LEU, Tehran appeared to back away from it. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters Nov. 24, “Nobody in Iran ever said we are against sending 3.5 enriched uranium abroad,” referring to the percentage enrichment level of the LEU Iran has produced. He proposed a simultaneous exchange of fuel as a possible alternative, stating Iran needed “100 percent guarantees” it would receive the research reactor fuel in return.

ElBaradei rebuffed the suggestion the following day, stating during a Nov. 25 press briefing that there were “a number of built-in guarantees in the agreement.”

ElBaradei has proposed an alternative arrangement to address Iran’s claim that it cannot trust the other countries involved in the talks to provide the fuel once the LEU is exported. Rather than shipping the fuel to Russia, Iran could ship its LEU to Turkey to hold until Iran receives the reactor fuel, ElBaradei said. “Iran has a lot of trust in Turkey,” he told Charlie Rose during a Nov. 6 PBS interview.

The P5+1 issued a joint statement Nov. 20 calling on Iran to accept the fuel exchange proposed by the IAEA. “We urge Iran to reconsider the opportunity offered by this agreement to meet the humanitarian needs of its people and to engage seriously with us in dialogue and negotiations,” the countries said. Iran agreed “in principle” to the arrangement with the six powers Oct. 1. Iran says it needs a new supply of fuel for the research reactor to produce medical isotopes.

The United States has said that the time for Iran to provide a formal answer is limited. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Nov. 17, “We always hesitate to give a formal deadline, but I would just say that time is very short.”

Scientists See Stockpile Lasting for Decades

Weighing in on a long-simmering debate within the U.S. government, an influential panel of scientists has found “no evidence” that extending the lives of existing U.S. nuclear weapons leads to reduced confidence that the weapons will work. The panel, known as JASON, found that the “[l]ifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence,” according to an unclassified summary of the report.

The study could affect the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is expected to address whether the United States can maintain its existing warhead designs or might need new ones. By reaffirming that the arsenal can be sustained without nuclear tests, the report could also bolster efforts by the Obama administration to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Tom Z. Collina

Weighing in on a long-simmering debate within the U.S. government, an influential panel of scientists has found “no evidence” that extending the lives of existing U.S. nuclear weapons leads to reduced confidence that the weapons will work. The panel, known as JASON, found that the “[l]ifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence,” according to an unclassified summary of the report.

The study could affect the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which is expected to address whether the United States can maintain its existing warhead designs or might need new ones. By reaffirming that the arsenal can be sustained without nuclear tests, the report could also bolster efforts by the Obama administration to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

“The JASON study offers yet more evidence that the United States can maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal without resorting to nuclear tests,” an Obama administration official said in a Nov. 20 interview. “The burden of proof is now on CTBT skeptics to lay out why the United States must continue to plan for future testing when we have not tested for almost two decades and our weapons experts enjoy a greater understanding of how our nuclear weapons work than at any previous time, thanks to the demonstrable successes of our Stockpile Stewardship Program,” the official said.

However, in a statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said, “Setting aside the political pros and cons of CTBT ratification, on [a] technical basis alone the JASON report does not instill confidence that the nuclear security enterprise is in a position to provide long-term sustainment of our nuclear stockpile in a CTBT regime.”

JASON, which had access to classified nuclear weapons design information, reviewed the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Life Extension Program (LEP) at the request of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which released the summary Nov. 19. JASON conducted a similar review of the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program in 2007.

The goal of the LEP is to extend the service lives of existing, well-tested nuclear warhead designs, a process known as refurbishment, without nuclear testing. Congress asked JASON to compare the LEP approach to the RRW program, which calls for “replacing” existing warhead designs with new, untested ones to address concerns that the reliability of today’s warheads could decline as they age. (See ACT, November 2009.)

The U.S. government is extending the life of its existing arsenal because no new warhead types have been introduced since the United States conducted its last nuclear test in 1992. As a result, existing designs are being kept longer than originally planned. Through the LEP, the NNSA has refurbished the W87 Minutemen and W80 cruise missile warheads and the B61-7/11 strategic gravity bomb, is refurbishing all W76 Trident D-5 missile warheads, is planning to refurbish the B61 tactical bomb, and is evaluating what approach to take for the W78 Minutemen and W88 Trident D-5 missile warheads. LEP refurbishment involves swapping older warhead parts with new ones of nearly identical design or that have the same “form, fit, and function,” according to the NNSA. LEPs generally involve the non-nuclear parts of warheads and, in cases such as the B61-7/11 bomb, have included the lithium-deuteride secondary components, also known as “canned subassemblies.”

So far, the LEP has not changed nuclear primaries, which contain plutonium cores, or “pits.” JASON, the NNSA, and Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, in independent reviews of data gathered by the laboratories, have concluded pits can last 85-100 years or more.

The most prominent advocate of “replacement” warheads has been Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who in September told the Air Force Association that, “in one or two cases,” the United States would “probably” need “new [warhead] designs that will be safer and more reliable.”

The JASON study, however, found no basis for concerns that warhead aging and efforts to address it reduce reliability. The panel found “no evidence that accumulation of changes incurred from aging and LEPs have increased risk to certification of today’s deployed nuclear warheads” and that current U.S. warheads could last “for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date.”

“We welcome the release of the JASON scientific advisory panel’s review of warhead Life Extension Programs,” Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman James R. Langevin (D-R.I.) and Turner, the panel’s ranking member, said in a joint statement. “We believe their recommendations provide a sound technical basis to inform subsequent U.S. nuclear weapons policy and program decisions,” they said.

While minimizing concerns about the reliability of life-extended warheads, the JASON report highlights surety as another potential rationale for replacing existing warheads. Gates and others point out that current warheads do not have the latest surety systems, a term that encompasses safety, security, and “use control,” which refers to technologies to prevent the use of lost or stolen weapons. That discussion goes back to 1992, when President George H.W. Bush signed into law a congressionally mandated moratorium on nuclear tests and, at the same time, authorized additional tests for safety and security purposes. Those tests were never conducted because the Air Force and Navy determined that the marginal improvements were not worth the budgetary cost of deploying the new systems.

Events since then may have changed some attitudes. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Aug. 30, 2007, incident in which the Air Force lost track of six nuclear cruise missiles have focused attention on the vulnerability of nuclear weapons to theft and on improved security and use control. According to congressional staffers, the U.S. military may now be more willing to make expensive operational changes to prevent terrorist acquisition and use, and the NPR is expected to place a high priority on improving the surety of nuclear forces.

JASON did not take a stand on the need for surety improvements. Instead it found that “[f]urther scientific research and engineering development is required,” the summary said. The panel noted that implementation of “intrinsic” surety features, i.e., those inside the nuclear explosive package, would require “reuse or replacement” options. In other words, such changes could not be made through typical refurbishment of existing designs but would have to “reuse” surplus nuclear parts or designs that have already been tested with modern surety features (as the W87 warhead’s design has). Information about security or use control features that would require new “replacement” designs is highly classified.

The panel found that the surety of nuclear weapons carried by strategic bombers could be upgraded using reuse options. That may be a reference to a safety feature known as fire-resistant pits, which are intended to prevent the dispersal of plutonium during an aircraft fire. That feature is used in the most recently developed weapons, including the W87 warhead and the B83 strategic bomb. The panel also noted that upgrading intrinsic surety features in the entire stockpile would “require more than a decade to complete,” which was described as an understatement by one source familiar with the study. As a result, the panel recommended that the potential benefits of surety technologies be assessed “in the context of the nuclear weapons enterprise as a system, including technologies that can be employed in the near term.”

Because changes to warheads utilizing reuse or replacement options may take the weapons beyond previous test experience, “[c]ertification of certain reuse or replacement options would require improved understanding of boost,” the panel said. Boosting, the practice of increasing the yield of a warhead’s primary stage with tritium gas, is one of the most challenging aspects of nuclear weapons physics to simulate in the laboratory.

According to the summary, the report also concluded that the NNSA surveillance program, which is responsible for finding age-related problems with the stockpile and therefore essential to stockpile stewardship, is “becoming inadequate” and that nuclear weapons expertise is “threatened by lack of program stability, perceived lack of mission importance, and degradation of the work environment.” In response, administration officials say that the fiscal year 2011 proposed budget, to be submitted to Congress in February, will include increased spending on NNSA stockpile maintenance activities.

In his e-mail, Turner said the JASON report “raises serious concerns” about the adequacy of the surveillance program and “maintenance of critical expertise and capabilities.”

NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said in a Nov. 19 written statement that “[t]he JASON’s review confirms the challenges associated with adding performance margin and incorporating modern safety and security features into aging weapons systems, acknowledges the need to preserve our workforce, and reaffirms our long held belief that the strength of the science, technology and engineering at the laboratories and plants is the key to our success.”

LaVera added that “certain findings in the unclassified Executive Summary convey a different perspective on key findings when viewed without the context of the full classified report.” According to congressional staff, the NNSA was referring to possible problems with the stockpile that may be discovered once the surveillance program is improved, otherwise known as “unknown unknowns.”

 

Russia Plans Changes to Military Doctrine

Russia is planning to revise its military doctrine, last updated in 2000, according to a series of statements from Russia’s National Security Council. The draft, titled “The New Face of the Russian Armed Forces Until 2030,” is expected to be presented to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for approval by the end of the year.

Luke Champlin and Volha Charnysh

Russia is planning to revise its military doctrine, last updated in 2000, according to a series of statements from Russia’s National Security Council. The draft, titled “The New Face of the Russian Armed Forces Until 2030,” is expected to be presented to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for approval by the end of the year.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, commented on the pending changes in an Oct. 14 interview with the Russian newspaper Izvestia. The 2000 doctrine needs to be adapted to the new security environment, which is likely to feature “local wars” and armed conflicts, he said. The current version allows the use of nuclear weapons “in response to large-scale aggression with conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation and its allies.” It also provides for the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in the event of an invasion or any other attack on Russia, its territory, armed forces, or allies. The new military doctrine would distinguish among large-scale, regional, and local wars as well as other armed conflicts and allow the use of nuclear weapons in regional and local wars, Patrushev said. It provides the “flexibility to use nuclear weapons depending on the situation and the enemy’s intentions” and does not exclude pre-emptive nuclear strikes in situations critical to Russia’s national security, Patrushev said.

Patrushev said the changes were intended to preserve Russia’s status as a nuclear-weapon state capable of deterring potential enemies from attacking the country and its allies. He said the changes envisioned in the new doctrine are similar to many aspects of U.S. nuclear doctrine. He appeared to be referring to the U.S. policy of calculated ambiguity, which implies that the United States reserves the right to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively against non-nuclear targets. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, indicated in a Moscow Times op-ed that risk of a U.S. first strike has been cited in drafts of the new military doctrine as the most serious external threat to Russia.

Patrushev said the section on the use of Russian military forces would be amended to allow the use of force to “protect the interests of its citizens abroad, if their lives are in danger.” The new doctrine would also allow Russia to engage in armed conflicts on its borders in the event of “aggression against its citizens,” he said.

The draft would not alter the list of threats identified in the current military doctrine. These threats include the United States, the continued expansion of NATO, and international terrorism. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the proposed changes in a statement to RIA Novosti Oct. 23, saying, “There are no innovations here that would create new threats to anyone, except for those who foster insane plans of attacking the Russian Federation.” Lavrov insisted that the doctrine was defensive and that the drafting process for the document was “transparent.”

Despite the proposed changes, Russia is “categorically opposed” to the use of nuclear weapons, Patrushev said in an interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta Nov. 20. Russia is ready to move further with arms cuts, “striving for the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he said. However, he said the effort could not be limited to just Russia and the United States.

Retired Lt. Gen. Gennady Evstafiev, senior vice president of the RussianCenter for Policy Studies in Moscow, said in a Nov. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today that Russia’s nuclear capacity, “though dwindling,” allows Russia “for the foreseeable future to rely on it as a major military and foreign policy instrument.” He added that in his view, the role of the “nuclear factor in Russian political thinking will be temporarily strengthened.”

U.S. analysts expressed concern about the impact of the proposed changes. The emerging Russian nuclear doctrine is “contrary to President [Barack] Obama’s well-received intention to devalue the role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century,” Andrew Pierre, a former senior associate at GeorgetownUniversity’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, said in a Nov. 17 interview. James Goodby, a research fellow at StanfordUniversity’s Hoover Institution and a former U.S. arms control negotiator, said in a Nov. 13 interview that the changes “would make it difficult for Obama and Medvedev to carry out the arms reductions they plan to implement.” According to Goodby, the changes outlined by Patrushev are directed at the 19th and 20th century threats and fail to address the 21st century threat of nuclear terrorism.

A number of press sources have indicated that the proposed doctrinal changes have reinforced the concerns of several former Soviet states, who consider the doctrine aggressive. These states cite recent Russian-Belarusian military exercises as proof of Russia’s desire to use its nuclear forces to intimidate its neighbors.

The exercises, which took place in September, were conducted in western Russia and Belarus. The exercises simulated a separatist conflict with ethnic Poles in western Belarus and a conventional conflict between a NATO-like force and a force composed of Russian and Belarusian troops. The exercise featured the simulated use of tactical nuclear weapons.

 

U.S., Russia Poised for Arsenal Cuts

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Nov. 15 they expect to sign a new arms control treaty to replace START by the end of December.

The arsenal limits under discussion would lead to substantial reductions in Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces. The two sides had not reached final agreement as of press time.

Tom Z. Collina

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Nov. 15 they expect to sign a new arms control treaty to replace START by the end of December.

The arsenal limits under discussion would lead to substantial reductions in Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces. The two sides had not reached final agreement as of press time.

After meeting with Medvedev at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore, Obama said, “Our goal continues to be to complete the negotiations and to be able to sign a deal before the end of the year. And I’m confident that if we work hard and with a sense of urgency about it that we should be able to get that done,” according to a White House transcript.

Speaking after Obama, Medvedev said, “I hope that, as was agreed initially during our first meeting in London, [and] was reaffirmed during later meetings, we will be able to finalize the text of the document by December.” He added, “[T]he world is watching.”

The current START expires Dec. 5.

The latest and possibly final round of Russian-U.S. talks began in Geneva Nov. 9. Obama will travel to Oslo to receive his Nobel Peace Prize Dec. 10, and the White House would like to have a new treaty ready for signature by that time, according to administration officials.

If agreement is reached, the new treaty would significantly tighten bilateral limits on the number of strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles each side can deploy. Under START and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), Russia and the United States are limited to deploying 2,200 strategic warheads (by 2012) on 1,600 long-range land-based missiles, sea-based missiles, and bombers. The new treaty would reduce the warhead limit from 2,200 to possibly 1,600, a cut of 600 (27 percent). The launcher limit would drop from 1,600 to possibly 800, a cut of 800 (50 percent).

The launcher reduction is larger in part because the previous limit (1,600) has not been revised since 1991, when START was signed. The previous warhead limit (2,200), by contrast, was agreed to a decade later in SORT, which was signed in 2002, and is thus a more accurate reflection of current deployments. (For comparison, START limits both sides to 6,000 “accountable” warheads, i.e., warheads that are associated with delivery systems but not directly counted.)

With regard to deployed strategic warheads, the Department of State reported in July 2009 that the United States had met its SORT limit of 2,200 three years early. Russia is believed to have about 2,800 warheads, according to independent estimates. Thus, comparing current warhead stocks to the likely new treaty limit (1,600), the United States would have to reduce by 27 percent and Russia by 42 percent.

The likely new limit of 800 strategic delivery vehicles (long-range missiles and bombers) will not directly affect current forces because Russia and the United States are at or below these limits already. The United States is believed to deploy about 800 (the same number allowed under the new treaty) while Russia deploys about 620, according to independent estimates. The difference is due in part to the U.S. preference to keep more missiles with fewer warheads loaded on each one. Russia, due primarily to budget constraints, chooses to deploy fewer missiles with more warheads on each. Reflecting these preferences, Russia originally proposed that the two sides agree to keep only 500 launchers apiece, while the United States first proposed 1,100.

In 1991, before START was signed, Russia and the United States each had roughly 10,000 deployed strategic warheads. If the START follow-on is completed, the bilateral arms control process will have reduced Russian and U.S. deployed strategic warheads by more than 80 percent over the last two decades. If the START successor is not implemented, both sides would be free to increase their nuclear forces after START expires this month and SORT expires Dec. 31, 2012 (see graph).

Even if the text of the START follow-on is finalized by Dec. 5, the new treaty cannot enter into force until ratified by the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma. To cover this interval, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who supports a new treaty and is concerned that inspectors from each side will lose their access to the other’s facilities when START expires, has introduced legislation that would give Obama authority to allow Russian inspectors to continue to monitor U.S. facilities. Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council, told reporters at a Nov. 15 White House press briefing that negotiators are working on a “bridging agreement” to extend elements of the current START until the new treaty has been signed and ratified. “We do need a bridging agreement no matter what,” McFaul said. “The key thing there is verification. We just want to preserve the verification.”

Indicating that the negotiations may continue until Dec. 31, McFaul said, “But we’re not at the endgame yet, we’re not at the end of the year.” McFaul added, “We still have some fairly major things to finish.”

Origins of New START

Signed in 1991 and brought into force in 1994, START still provides far-reaching inspections and data exchanges on which both sides depend to determine the size and location of the other’s nuclear forces. The United States has conducted more than 600 inspections in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine while Russia has conducted more than 400 inspections in the United States, according to the State Department. START was signed by the Soviet Union and includes all the former Soviet republics that hosted nuclear weapons at that time. All former Soviet nuclear forces are now controlled by Russia.

SORT, which entered into force in 2003, calls for both sides to retain no more than 2,200 “operationally deployed” strategic warheads, expires the same day the treaty limit takes effect, and provides no additional verification provisions.

Motivated by START’s pending expiration, U.S. and Russian officials agreed in March to negotiate a new treaty to establish lower, verifiable limits on strategic nuclear arsenals by year’s end. Talks on a new START began in April.

Obama and Medvedev agreed July 6 that the new treaty would limit each side’s deployed strategic warheads to a number between 1,500 and 1,675 and strategic delivery vehicles to a number between 500 and 1,100. They also agreed that the new treaty would include verification, monitoring, and information exchange provisions based on principles and practices established by START.

None of these treaties is designed to limit either strategic warheads taken out of service or tactical nuclear weapons. Those issues are expected to be addressed in talks on the next START, which may begin next year. Both sides are believed to have thousands of warheads in reserve (active and inactive) and awaiting dismantlement.

 

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