"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
April 2010
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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Books of Note

The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

David E. Hoffman, Doubleday, 2009, 577 pp.

The Dead Hand is a stunning and authoritative account of Soviet nuclear and biological weapons programs, arms control negotiations in the Cold War’s last decade, and the urgent attempts by the United States in the succeeding years to stanch the dissemination of weapons and weapons technology as the Soviet Union disintegrated. David Hoffman, contributing editor and former Moscow bureau chief of The Washington Post, has uncovered a remarkable trove of evidence, including more than 10,000 pages of documents from Vitaly Katayev, a Soviet Communist Party Central Committee scribe for nearly 20 years. Enhanced by Hoffman’s interviews of Soviet leaders, key military officers on the General Staff, and scientists responsible for the Soviet Union’s massive clandestine program to develop and produce biological weapons and by his skillful integration of President Ronald Reagan’s diaries, the book provides a brisk and compelling narrative. —GREG THIELMANN


The International Arms Trade

Rachel Stohl and Suzette Grillot, Polity Press, 2009, 278 pp.

Authors Rachel Stohl of Chatham House and Suzette Grillot of the University of Oklahoma survey a wide array of topics related to conventional arms trade in this new work. The book starts with a historical overview that cites Thucydides but quickly advances to the opportunities to curb arms trading in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the dramatic expansion of weapons transfers since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Although Stohl and Grillot openly advocate restraint, they carefully lay out the rationale for the legal trade in arms, providing extra details on the export control systems of key states. They also tackle the illicit arms market, noting the difficulties that incomplete data create but nonetheless reaching conclusions about the impact of legal and illicit trade on national and human security. Final chapters focus on efforts and recommendations for controlling arms trade at international, regional, national, local, and nongovernmental levels. The concise text, which makes a good introduction and reference guide, is supplemented by nearly 60 pages of notes and bibliographic information for readers who would like to dig more deeply. —JEFF ABRAMSON


South Asia at a Crossroads: Conflict or Cooperation in the Age of Nuclear Weapons, Missile Defense, and a Space Race?

Subrata Ghoshroy and Götz Neuneck, eds., 2010, 330 pp.

This book, based on a 2009 conference, presents a range of viewpoints on South Asian, specifically Indian-Pakistani, security issues. Chapters are organized around major issue areas, such as the implications of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, and each contains several short pieces based on individual conference presentations. The longest and most in-depth chapter concerns missile defense, a topic that the introduction singles out as deserving of special attention. Subrata Ghoshroy lays out the history of the Indian missile defense program, saying, “Indian scientists can be justifiably proud of their accomplishments, but…an effective ABM [anti-ballistic missile] system would require a big leap from conducting a few successful tests.” Moeed Yusuf and Khalid Banuri describe the Pakistani perspective, which aims to limit the deployment of missile defenses in South Asia. —ERIC AUNER

Disclosure: Oliver Meier, international correspondent for Arms Control Today, wrote one of the book’s chapters.


The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, David E. Hoffman, Doubleday, 2009, 577 pp.

The International Arms Trade, Rachel Stohl and Suzette Grillot, Polity Press, 2009, 278 pp.

South Asia at a Crossroads: Conflict or Cooperation in the Age of Nuclear Weapons, Missile Defense, and a Space Race?, Subrata Ghoshroy and Götz Neuneck, eds., 2010, 330 pp.

The Perils of Proliferation in South Asia

Reviewed by Michael Krepon

Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict
Edited by Peter R. Lavoy
Cambridge University Press, 2009, 426 pp.

Nuclear Proliferation In South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb
Edited by Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur
Routledge, 2009, 251 pp.

Inside Nuclear South Asia
Edited by Scott D. Sagan
Stanford University Press,2009, 281 pp.

There have been four nuclear-tinged crises in South Asia since 1990, and new crises could be generated by religious extremists carrying out mass-casualty attacks. Several new books on regional stability and crisis management on the subcontinent are therefore timely and well worth reading. Of particular interest are three collections of essays edited by Peter Lavoy, Scott Sagan, and Sumit Ganguly and Paul Kapur.

One point of departure for this literature is a theorem developed in the West during the Cold War known as the stability-instability paradox. Robert Jervis defined the paradox in The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy: “to the extent that the military balance is stable at the level of all-out nuclear war, it will become less stable at lower levels of violence.”[1] This working definition assumed that stability could be achieved with large, offsetting nuclear arsenals, a goal that eluded Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons strategists who kept jockeying for advantage as well as the avoidance of disadvantage, even after acquiring society-killing stockpiles. Jervis’ larger point, however, was well taken and is quite applicable to South Asia: the advent of the bomb can be perceived as an insurance policy against the most dangerous types of escalation, thereby abetting mischief making below the nuclear threshold.

One of the many reasons to welcome Lavoy’s long-awaited edited volume Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, is Jervis’ revisiting of the stability-instability paradox through the lens of Kargil, the high-altitude, limited war between India and Pakistan that occurred at the instigation of a small group of high-level Pakistani military officers in 1999, the year after both countries carried out nuclear tests. Jervis’ new formulation is that “[s]trategic stability permits if not creates instability by making lower levels of violence relatively safe because escalation up the nuclear ladder is too dangerous.”[2]

Achieving strategic stability, however, may be even more difficult for India and Pakistan than for the Soviet Union and the United States. After experiencing harrowing crises over Berlin and Cuba, Moscow and Washington tacitly agreed not to play with fire in each other’s backyard. Their strategic competition then played out in more out-of-the-way locales, where missteps were severely punished by proxy forces. The locus of Indian and Pakistani competition, on the other hand, is the contested back yard of Kashmir, where Western deterrence theory has now been introduced to the agendas of jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad.

India’s and Pakistan’s quest for strategic stability should, in theory, be facilitated by their endorsement of “minimal” nuclear deterrence. Yet, as former Indian Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh likes to say, “minimal” is not a “fixity.” Deterrence requirements for India must be calculated with China as well as Pakistan in mind, and no two legs of this triangular stool are equal. Moreover, both the Indian and Pakistani governments have publicly embraced doctrines of massive retaliation. India has adopted a no-first-use doctrine; Pakistan has not, due to its conventional military imbalance with India, which has led Pakistan’s security apparatus to rely on unconventional means to keep New Delhi off-balance and to tie down large numbers of Indian troops in Kashmir. The Pakistani army is now carrying out a punishing and partial offensive against those who once were its allies, which is why more mass-casualty attacks in urban centers are a sure bet. The mix of massive-retaliation doctrines, religious extremism, a growing nuclear dependency by Pakistan, and a growing conventional imbalance in India’s favor does not bode well in the event that another crisis prompts military operations.

Optimists Versus Pessimists

The books reviewed here reflect a healthy but lopsided debate between deterrence optimists and proliferation pessimists. The former believe that offsetting nuclear weapons will keep the peace; the latter maintain that more nuclear weapons will result in more dangers and perhaps mushroom clouds. Kenneth Waltz and Sagan provided an essential introduction to this debate in their two editions of The Spread of Nuclear Weapons.[3] One deterrence optimist for South Asia, Devin Hagerty, concluded in The Consequences of Nuclear Proliferation: Lessons from South Asia, that “[t]here is no more ironclad law in international relations theory than this: nuclear weapon states do not fight wars with one another.”[4] Hagerty subsequently amended this conclusion to account for the Kargil war in the collection of essays edited by Ganguly and Kapur, Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb: “Nuclear weapons constituted one of many factors in Islamabad’s decision to undertake low-intensity operations in Kargil, but they were the main factor in containing the ensuing conflict within the Indian side of disputed Kashmir.”[5]

Ganguly and Hagerty are leading proponents of this camp of deterrence optimists. Their 2005 collaboration, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons, concludes that timely and forceful U.S. interventions, a sufficiently stabilizing conventional military order of battle, and, especially, a mutual fear of nuclear escalation have prevented major war and dangerous escalation on the subcontinent.[6] A more in-depth account of Indian-Pakistani crises written by P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process, arrives at far more cautionary conclusions. These authors note that “neither side in our four crises had a sure grasp of the other’s fears and hopes, and at times one or both sides miscalculated the role that outsiders might have played.”[7] Moreover,

all new nuclear states tend to explore the limits imposed by their possession of nuclear weapons. They push at the edges before backing off.… Clearly, the occurrence of four major crises within a twenty-year period indicates a fundamental structural problem. Whether one attributes this primarily to the Kashmir dispute or to other factors, such as India’s rise as a major power, South Asia has not been a stable and peaceful region, despite the common cultural and geopolitical heritage of the two states.[8]

Kapur is among the ranks of proliferation pessimists, having written at book length shredding the arguments of deterrence optimists.[9] His co-edited volume with Ganguly is built around the promising idea of pairing a deterrence optimist and a proliferation pessimist to assess each crisis dating back to the 1986-1987 Indian Brasstacks exercises, which some believe were designed by Indian army chief K. Sundarji to prompt a war with Pakistan before it could acquire nuclear weapons. This book shines when top-notch analysts are paired against each other, as is the case with Praveen Swami and Kanti Bajpai on the “Twin Peaks” crisis of 2001-2002, which was sparked by the attack on the Indian parliament building by Islamic extremists. It disappoints when the chapters are very uneven.

Neil Joeck’s essay on Kargil is essential reading. He concludes that “the availability of nuclear weapons on both sides did not prevent war but did increase the potential for a catastrophic outcome.”[10] In Joeck’s account, both India and Pakistan did what Thomas Schelling told us to expect long ago: “[T]hey competed in taking risks.… Despite Pakistan’s having proven its nuclear capability, India was prepared to move up the escalatory ladder. In view of these actions, it is difficult to conclude that in the Kargil war, escalation did not occur because the stakes were too high.”[11]

Instead, there is compelling evidence, provided in great detail in Lavoy’s book, that significant conventional escalation did not occur for three primary reasons: Indian troops began to reclaim the heights above Kargil, the Pakistani military and diplomatic position had become untenable, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to cut his country’s losses.

John H. Gill provides another cautionary note in his fine chapter on Brasstacks in the Ganguly and Kapur volume: government and institutional structures in India, as well as in Pakistan, “remain vulnerable to individualistic decision-makers and bureaucratic shortcuts.”[12] In the case of Brasstacks, India was the source of military adventurism enabled by an appalling lack of vetting and coordination; in Kargil, it was Pakistan’s turn to make the same mistakes. In both cases, the role of key individuals with outsized and risk-taking personalities was crucial.

The essays by proliferation pessimists in Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia are, on balance, stronger analytically than those of deterrence optimists, who necessarily rely on more heroic assumptions. The co-editors punt on the contrary findings of their contributors, offering a two-paragraph summary of key conclusions, one of which is that “the disagreements between the two camps may turn largely on their views as to whether dangerous crisis process or stable crisis outcome matters more.”[13]

Sagan has long dwelled on how strong personalities, domestic politics, accidents, and organizational compulsions and screwups could lead to a breakdown of deterrence. His new edited volume, Inside Nuclear South Asia, provides many cautionary notes. Sagan warns once again that the rational deterrence model presumes unitary actors, whereas India and Pakistan are anything but unitary actors. He also cautions that the role of the Pakistani military on nuclear matters is unlikely to be circumscribed by civilian oversight, insider threats will continue to work against efforts to improve nuclear security, Indian nuclear doctrine is evolving in open-ended and potentially dangerous ways, and new complications will arise if and when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returns to power in India.

Kanti Bajpai’s essay, “The BJP and the Bomb,” is particularly good. Although acknowledging that Indian security concerns played a major role leading up to the Pokhran tests, he argues that “the timing of the 1998 tests, the tipping point, is better explained by domestic political considerations.”[14] If, as Bajpai concludes, “[t]he BJP played politics with the bomb”[15] in order to extend its stay in power, and if the BJP forms a new government, more nuclear testing could be in store on the subcontinent.

Kapur’s chapter argues that the Cold War definition of the stability-instability paradox does not apply to South Asia because, if it did, the Pakistani military would be deterred from employing unconventional means against India’s superior conventional forces. This academic distinction appears to have been lost on Pakistan’s security apparatus. As Kapur notes, “Pakistani leaders soon came to believe that this danger of nuclear escalation, by insulating Pakistan from Indian conventional attack, would allow Pakistan not simply to ensure its own security but also to pursue a strategy of limited conflict against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir.[16] One of the many strengths of Kapur’s essay is his interviews with key Indian and Pakistani leaders.

New Insights Into Kargil

Lavoy’s edited volume, Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia, provides great insight into a war previously shrouded in secrecy and self-serving accounts. Lavoy and his team of analysts at the NavalPostgraduateSchool carried out extensive fieldwork and were granted access to key Pakistani military officers. They situate the Kargil war in the context of military jockeying along the Kashmir divide, where the capture of posts across the Line of Control (LoC) was not unusual and where Pakistan suffered the humiliating occupation of the Siachen Glacier by Indian troops in 1984. Some of the contributors, including Lavoy and Feroz Hassan Khan, downplay but do not dismiss the stability-instability paradox as a factor in Kargil. In effect, they argue that Kargil’s planners were too myopically focused on military tactics to dwell on deterrence theory: “The planners of Kargil assumed that India would not respond to what they considered to be localized military maneuvers on superior terrain with military escalation, and even if it did, Pakistani troops, together with pressure from allies, would be able to neutralize any possible Indian riposte. They were sorely mistaken.”[17]

The military planners of Kargil were few in number, inclined toward risk taking, and badly out of touch with the international ramifications of nuclear testing on the subcontinent and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s subsequent trip to Lahore to open a new, hopeful chapter in bilateral relations. Their plan was tactically brilliant and strategically unwise. They became victims of their successful plan when Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry troops advanced far beyond their assigned objectives because there was no one on the heights to stop them. Their positions became overextended and difficult to resupply, especially because Pakistan was trapped by its cover story that “freedom fighters” and not troops carried out the incursion.

In Lavoy’s view, one lesson of Kargil is that “the armed forces of nuclear powers can fight each other, but only where their vital interests are not at stake.”[18] He provides ammunition to both deterrence optimists and proliferation pessimists. On the one hand, Lavoy notes that India and Pakistan avoided key escalatory steps and concludes that “[t]he Kargil conflict did not come close to causing a nuclear war”[19] in part because, contrary to the reports of some U.S. officials at the time, “[n]either Pakistan nor India readied its nuclear arms for employment.”[20] On the other hand, he adds, “we now know that Indian troops were within days of opening another front across the LoC and possibly the international border, an act that could have triggered a large-scale conventional military engagement.”[21] His conclusions that India and Pakistan did not come close to uncontrolled escalation and yet came close to a major conventional war are not easily reconcilable.

Lavoy has assembled an all-star cast of analysts. There is not one weak chapter in the book, and those by Lavoy, Feroz Khan, Christopher Clary, Gill, Praveen Swami, Rajesh M. Basrur, Hasan-Askari Rizvi, and Jervis are particularly good. These authors draw varying lessons from Kargil. Rizvi, perhaps Pakistan’s leading commentator on civil-military relations, is not sanguine, politely suggesting that “it is unclear if Pakistan has learned the lesson of institutional decision-making.”[22] Basrur, knowing full well how resistant Indian institutions are to adaptation, offers a decidedly mixed appraisal of India’s ability to implement the lessons of Kargil. One of Lavoy’s lessons of crisis management is particularly chilling: “[E]ven some nuclear-armed countries will fight where they think they can.… However, India and Pakistan run two high risks in this strategic competition. They risk losing militarily. But they also risk winning so much that the other side is compelled to escalate the conflict.”[23]

One significant analytical problem with crisis management is that the next crisis will have new and familiar dimensions. The lessons learned and unlearned about Kargil will certainly be crucial, but the next template for crisis management for India, Pakistan, and the United States is unlikely to be Kargil. Rather, it will be the November 2008 Mumbai attacks against iconic Indian targets by Islamic extremists with links to Pakistan. If New Delhi responds by carrying out its “Cold Start” doctrine of quick air strikes along with the seizure of some Pakistani territory, the next crisis on the subcontinent could be a showstopper.

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the StimsonCenter and editor of Nuclear Risk Reduction in South Asia (2004) and Escalation Control and the Nuclear Option in South Asia (2004). His most recent book is Better Safe than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb (2009).


1. Robert Jervis, The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 31.

2. Robert Jervis, “Deterrence and International Relations Theory,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2009), p. 393.

3. Kenneth Waltz and Scott Sagan, eds., The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995); Kenneth Waltz and Scott Sagan, eds., The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).

4. Devin T. Hagerty, The Consequences of Nuclear Proliferation: Lessons from South Asia (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), p. 184.

5. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, eds., Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 101 (emphasis in original).

6. Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crises in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), p. 188.

7. P.R. Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, and Stephen P. Cohen, Four Crises and a Peace Process (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2007), p. 190.

8. Ibid., p. 196.

9. S. Paul Kapur, Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 2007). Kapur and this reviewer share the same publisher.

10. Neil Joeck, “The Kargil War and Nuclear Deterrence,” in Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb, ed. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 117.

11. Ibid., pp. 137-138.

12. John H. Gill, “Brasstacks: Prudently Pessimistic,” in Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb, ed. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 48.

13. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, “Introduction,” in Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia: Crisis Behaviour and the Bomb, ed. Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 11.

14. Kanti Bajpai, “The BJP and the Bomb,” in Inside Nuclear South Asia, ed. Scott D. Sagan (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 2009), p. 27. Sagan and this reviewer share the same publisher.

15. Ibid., p. 57.

16. S. Paul Kapur, “Revisionist Ambitions, Capabilities, and Nuclear Instability: Why Nuclear South Asia Is Not Like Cold War Europe,” in Inside Nuclear South Asia, ed. Scott D. Sagan (Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press, 2009), p. 195.

17. Peter R. Lavoy, “Introduction: the Importance of the Kargil Conflict,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2009), p. 32.

18. Ibid., p. 31.

19. Ibid., pp. 1-2.

20. Ibid., p. 11.

21. Ibid., p. 2.

22. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, “The Lessons of Kargil as Learned by Pakistan,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2009), p. 351.

23. Peter R. Lavoy, “Crisis Management Strategies,” in Asymmetric Warfare in South Asia: The Causes and Consequences of the Kargil Conflict, ed. Peter R. Lavoy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 176 (emphasis in original).


There have been four nuclear-tinged crises in South Asia since 1990, and new crises could be generated by religious extremists carrying out mass-casualty attacks. Several new books on regional stability and crisis management on the subcontinent are therefore timely and well worth reading. Of particular interest are three collections of essays edited by Peter Lavoy, Scott Sagan, and Sumit Ganguly and Paul Kapur.

Playing the Nuclear Game: Pakistan and the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty

Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar

Since May 2009, Pakistan, largely alone, has blocked the start of international talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.[1] The treaty would ban the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes; fissile materials, namely plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Pakistan has prevented these negotiations despite having accepted last year a CD program of work that included an FMCT.

Pakistan’s ambassador at the CD, Zamir Akram, has indicated that his government may not easily be moved, saying, “We are not in a position to accept the beginning of negotiations on a cut-off treaty in the foreseeable future.”[2]

At the core of the concerns held by Pakistan’s national security managers is a long-running search for strategic parity with India. The most powerful of these managers are from the army, which also runs the nuclear weapons complex. They argue that Pakistan has fallen behind India in producing fissile materials and insist that this fissile material gap be addressed as part of any talks.

Yet, a larger set of issues is at play. These include Pakistan’s concerns about the long-term consequences of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and the emerging strategic relationship between the two countries; the desire of military planners in Pakistan to move from larger, heavier nuclear weapons based on HEU to lighter, more compact plutonium-based weapons; the interest of nuclear production complex managers in Pakistan in realizing their investment over the past decade in a large expansion of fissile material production facilities and of the nuclear establishment more broadly in expanding its domestic economic and political clout; and, finally, a reluctance in Washington and other key capitals to press Pakistan on an FMCT because of the importance the United States attaches to Pakistan’s support for the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The Evolution of Pakistan’s Position

Pakistan has historically taken an ambivalent position toward a possible FMCT. It supported the December 1993 UN General Assembly resolution calling for negotiations on a “non-discriminatory multilateral and internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”[3] Having agreed to talk, Pakistan delayed the start of a negotiating process at the CD by debating the scope of the proposed treaty, insisting that the mandate for negotiating the treaty include constraints on existing stockpiles of fissile materials. The compromise agreed in the March 1995 Shannon mandate for talks at the CD on an FMCT was to finesse the issue by noting that the mandate did not preclude any state from raising the problem of existing stockpiles as part of the negotiations.

Work on an FMCT, however, did not start. In May 1995, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was extended indefinitely and without conditions, raising concerns that the nuclear-weapon states might never uphold their obligation to eliminate their nuclear weapons. The following year, the CD pushed through the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, despite objections by India, sending the treaty to the General Assembly for approval and opening it for signature. India and Pakistan refused to sign.

In May 1998, India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons. Within weeks, the UN Security Council responded to the tests by unanimously passing Resolution 1172, which called on India and Pakistan:

immediately to stop their nuclear weapon development programmes, to refrain from weaponization or from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, to confirm their policies not to export equipment, materials or technology that could contribute to weapons of mass destruction or missiles capable of delivering them and to undertake appropriate commitments in that regard.[4]

India and Pakistan ignored the resolution, but under pressure from the United States, Pakistan acquiesced to the fissile material talks.[5] Pakistan agreed to negotiate on the basis of the existing Shannon mandate, but made clear that it intended to “raise its concerns about and seek a solution to the problem of unequal stockpiles.”[6] Munir Akram, Pakistan’s CD ambassador, spelled out his country’s concerns in detail, saying, “We believe that a wide disparity in fissile material stockpiles of India and Pakistan could erode the stability of nuclear deterrence.”[7] In a later statement, he explained that Pakistan assumed “India will transform its large fissile material stocks into nuclear weapons” and thus Pakistan needed to “take into account both India’s nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles.” Pakistan “cannot therefore agree to freeze inequality,” he said.[8] To make clear its position, Pakistan’s ambassador objected even to the term FMCT, arguing that “my delegation does not agree to the Treaty being described as a Fissile Material ‘Cut-off’ Treaty, implying only a halt in future production. We cannot endorse the loose abbreviation—FMCT—in any formal description of the Treaty which is to be negotiated by the CD.”[9] He proposed instead the label “fissile material treaty,” or FMT, and a number of other countries and independent analysts adopted this usage.

A CD committee was set up to begin talks on an FMCT in late 1998, but made little progress and could not be re-established in 1999. For the following decade, the CD struggled to agree on a program of work. The United States under the Bush administration shifted priorities to its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and was ideologically opposed to multilateral arms control. At the CD, it insisted talks be confined to an FMCT, but without verification provisions, and rejected demands for discussions on other long-standing issues, such as nuclear disarmament, measures to prevent an arms race in outer space, and security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon states. Other states, unwilling to concede control of the CD agenda to the United States, tied talks on an FMCT to these other topics.

In the absence of CD negotiations, and taking advantage of the frustration among many non-nuclear-weapon states at Bush administration policies on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation and disarmament, Pakistan laid out an expansive vision for an FMCT. In 2006, Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the CD, argued that “[a] cut-off in the manufacturing of fissile material must be accompanied by a mandatory programme for the elimination of asymmetries in the possession of fissile material stockpiles by various states. Such transfer of fissile material to safeguards should be made first by states with huge stockpiles, both in the global and regional context.”[10] He explained what this meant: “A fissile material treaty must provide a schedule for a progressive transfer of existing stockpiles to civilian use and placing these stockpiles under safeguards so that the unsafeguarded stocks are equalized at the lowest level possible.”[11]

In May 2009, for the first time in 10 years, with Pakistan’s assent the CD adopted a program of work organized around four working groups, one of which was tasked with negotiating an FMCT on the basis of the Shannon mandate. The other groups were to manage discussions on nuclear disarmament, preventing an arms race in outer space, and security assurances. In addition, three special coordinators were to be appointed to elicit the views of states on other issues.

Nevertheless, agreement on a program of work was not sufficient to allow FMCT negotiations to begin. Pakistan demanded agreement on procedural issues, including that “[t]he allocation of time for the four Working Groups should be balanced so that the progress on each issue is ensured” and that “[t]he appointment of Chairs of the Working Groups should respect the principle of equal geographical representation.”[12] The ensuing dispute over how any talks would be managed, with China, Egypt, and Iran joining Pakistan in expressing concerns, prevented progress. The CD also failed to agree that the 2009 program of work would carry over into 2010.

Pakistan continued to obstruct the start of work at the CD in early 2010. In February, Zamir Akram explained that his country had agreed to the program of work in 2009 in the hope that some of Pakistan’s concerns would be addressed with the start of the Obama administration. Pakistan now believed that this would not be the case, he said.[13] Citing a January decision by Pakistan’s National Command Authority (NCA), which is responsible for its nuclear weapons, he said that Pakistan’s position at the CD on an FMCT would be based on “its national security interests and the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia.”[14]

Pakistan rejected the CD plan of work proposed in early March. A number of countries associated with the CD Group of 21, including Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and Syria, have joined Pakistan in arguing for a more “balanced” program of work, highlighting in particular the need for talks on nuclear disarmament.[15] China also did not endorse the CD plan of work. Some states may simply be remaining silent about their opposition to the treaty and taking advantage of Pakistan’s refusal to permit talks on an FMCT. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Bill Clinton in 1999, “We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves—no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide.”[16] For its part, Pakistan is playing a waiting game, arguing that the time is not yet “ripe” for an FMCT.[17]

The Fissile Material Gap

Pakistan’s position clearly is determined by concern about parity with India. On October 26, 1998, Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying, “Nuclear scientists have advised the government that there was no harm in signing the CTBT and FMCT at this stage as we had enough enriched nuclear material to maintain the power equilibrium in the region.”[18] This would seem to suggest that a decade ago policymakers in Pakistan believed that its fissile material stockpiles were sufficient to meet perceived needs. Similarly, in 2006, Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Jahangir Karamat, a former army chief, seemed to indicate that Pakistan might consider a bilateral moratorium with India, suggesting that “if bilaterally, the U.S. can facilitate a moratorium on fissile material production or on testing: we are very happy to be part of that.”[19]

It has been estimated that as of 2009, Pakistan had accumulated a stock of about two metric tons of HEU for its nuclear weapons (enough for about 80 weapons, assuming 25 kilograms per warhead).[20] Pakistan also has about 100 kilograms of weapons plutonium, enough for about 20 warheads (assuming five kilograms per warhead) from its reactor at Khushab.[21] Altogether, Pakistan may have fissile material sufficient for perhaps 100 simple weapons. Advanced weapon designs, including those that use both uranium and plutonium in composite warheads, would allow it to produce significantly more weapons from its HEU. Pakistan also has about 1.2 metric tons of reactor-grade plutonium in the spent fuel from its two nuclear power reactors, but this material is under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

Pakistan is expanding its fissile material production capacity and increasing its reliance on plutonium weapons. Two additional production reactors are under construction at Khushab.[22] Each of these new reactors could produce about 10 kilograms of plutonium a year, if they are the same size as the existing reactor at the site. Satellite imagery from late 2006 shows that Pakistan has also been working on one new reprocessing plant at its New Labs site near Islamabad and another at Chashma, presumably to reprocess the spent fuel from the new production reactors.[23] Pakistan is expanding its uranium processing operations to fuel these reactors.[24] It is estimated that, by 2020, Pakistan could have accumulated approximately 450 kilograms of plutonium from the Khushab reactors, enough for 90 weapons, and more than 2,500 kilograms of HEU, sufficient for perhaps 100 simple fission weapons.[25]

India is producing plutonium for weapons in two dedicated production reactors. It is estimated that India may have accumulated about 700 kilograms of plutonium by 2009, sufficient for about 140 weapons, and is producing more at the rate of about 30 kilograms per year.[26] India produces HEU, but this material is believed to be for its nuclear-powered submarine fleet and not for weapons. This would suggest that India and Pakistan today have roughly similar holdings of weapons material.

A large disparity in stocks of the kind emphasized by Pakistan emerges if India’s unsafeguarded power-reactor plutonium is included in the accounting. India may have separated almost seven metric tons of power-reactor plutonium by 2009.[27] Assuming that perhaps 10 kilograms of such reactor-grade plutonium may be sufficient for a weapon, this would amount to perhaps 700 weapons. There are reports that at least one Indian nuclear weapon test in 1998 used plutonium that was less than weapons grade.[28]

India claims its stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium is intended for fueling fast breeder reactors, the first of which (the 500-megawatt Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor) is expected to be completed in 2011.[29] This fast breeder reactor will consume reactor-grade plutonium as fuel, but will produce weapons-grade plutonium in the blankets that surround the reactor core. If it operates with a reasonable capacity factor, the reactor would be able to produce 90-140 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, sufficient for almost 20-30 weapons per year.[30] It is estimated that India may have 1,000-1,500 kilograms of weapons plutonium by 2020.[31] India would not be the first country to use a breeder reactor for military purposes; France used its Phénix breeder reactor to produce plutonium for weapons.[32] The experience of many other breeder reactors around the world, however, suggests that operating a breeder reactor at such efficiency may not be easy because breeder reactors have proven susceptible to frequent breakdowns and need long repair times.[33]

Pakistan has explicitly raised the issue of reactor-grade plutonium stocks, with its CD ambassador in February 2010 expressing a concern that an FMCT might not “include other bomb making materials such as reactor grade Plutonium, U233, Neptunium or Americium.”[34]

Pakistan is also concerned about the implications of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2008, it lifts 30-year-old restrictions on the sale of nuclear material, equipment, and technology to India. The United States and India convinced the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which has more than 40 members, to exempt India from similar international controls. Responding to the U.S.-Indian deal, Pakistan’s NCA declared in August 2007 that the agreement “would have implications on strategic stability as it would enable India to produce significant quantities of fissile material and nuclear weapons from un-safeguarded nuclear reactors.”[35]

As part of the deal, India is now free to import uranium for its civil program, easing constraints on uranium availability and enabling India to use more of its domestic uranium for its nuclear weapons program. It is estimated that this would enable India to produce up to 200 kilograms a year of weapons-grade plutonium in its unsafeguarded heavy-water power reactors, enough for 40 weapons per year, provided that it can overcome the associated practical problems of increased rates of spent fuel reprocessing and faster refueling.[36]

India has committed that it will declare eight of its indigenously built power reactors as civilian and open them for IAEA safeguarding by 2014 in a phased manner. It is estimated that these eight reactors could produce four metric tons of unsafeguarded plutonium by then.[37] India will keep eight power reactors outside safeguards, which together could produce about 1,250 kilograms of plutonium per year, not all of which India can currently separate.[38] All this plutonium is presumably intended for fueling breeder reactors, but could produce a large number of simple nuclear weapons. The deal allows India to continue to keep outside safeguards its stockpiles of accumulated power reactor spent fuel and separated power reactor plutonium. Furthermore, India can choose whether any future reactors it builds will be declared as military or civilian.

The Big Picture

The generals who command Pakistan’s army, dominate national security, and control nuclear policy and the nuclear weapon complex through the Strategic Plans Division, even when there is an elected civilian government, see a troubling future. Their military mind-sets, vested interests, and old habits lead them to find many reasons to continue to seek strategic parity with India and to produce more fissile material to support a larger nuclear arsenal.

One argument Pakistan has raised for building up fissile material stocks is the prospect of a large Indian arsenal. Zamir Akram claimed in February 2010 that India was aiming for an arsenal of 400 weapons. This arsenal would rely on a triad of platforms, the third leg of which is coming into view. In 2009, India launched its first nuclear-powered submarine.[39] It plans a fleet of three to five, each armed with 12 ballistic missiles.[40] There have been suggestions by former Pakistani officials that the country develop its own nuclear submarine and, in the meantime, lease a nuclear submarine from a friendly power, i.e., China; deploy nuclear-armed cruise missiles on its diesel submarines; and continue fissile material production for the “foreseeable future.”[41] Another justification being offered for a larger fissile material stockpile is India’s pursuit of ballistic missile defenses. (China has raised the same point with regard to U.S. strategic missile defenses.) In 2004 the military officer who serves as director of arms control and disarmament affairs at the Strategic Plans Division argued that India’s missile defense program is likely to “trigger an arms race” and that Pakistan could build more missiles and more warheads, requiring more fissile material; develop decoys and multiple warhead missiles; and move to an alert deployment posture.[42] In 2009, India carried out its third test of a missile interceptor.[43]

More broadly, India’s economy and military spending are now so large and growing so rapidly that Pakistan cannot expect to keep up. In January, India’s Defense Ministry announced plans to spend more than $10 billion this coming year on acquiring new weapons.[44] This was made possible by a 34 percent increase in India’s military budget for 2009-2010, to more than $35 billion; in Pakistan, it went up 15 percent, to just more than $4 billion. Pakistan has been able to buy major new weapons systems because of the large amounts of U.S. military and economic aid that have flowed since the September 11 attacks in return for Islamabad’s support for the U.S. war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, but President Barack Obama has announced that he intends to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2011. U.S. military aid to Pakistan will not continue at current levels indefinitely, and aid likely will be increasingly for civilian purposes and more carefully audited. Even if China steps up its assistance, Pakistan’s generals believe they cannot keep up with India in a conventional arms race. They may want more nuclear weapons as a counter, while insisting on conventional weapons controls as a condition for progress on an FMCT.

To compound these concerns, Pakistan’s generals see an emerging U.S.-Indian strategic relationship. The U.S.-Indian nuclear deal forms part of a broader January 2004 agreement between the United States and India on “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership,” through which the United States committed to help India with its civilian space program, high-technology trade, missile defense, and civilian nuclear activities. The Obama administration seems as committed as its predecessor to pursuing this relationship with a view to maintaining U.S. primacy and containing China.

A High Price

Former senior officials in Pakistan have argued that, in exchange for talks on an FMCT, Pakistan should receive a nuclear deal like the one given to India, with a lifting of international restrictions by the NSG.[45] Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani claimed in February that “[t]alks between Pakistan and the US for cooperation on atomic programmes are under way and we want the US to have an agreement with us like the one it had with India on civil nuclear technology.”[46] After the U.S.-Indian deal was announced in 2005, U.S. officials repeatedly said the Indian situation was unique and the United States would not extend the same terms to Israel or Pakistan, the other NPT holdouts.[47] However, some U.S. analysts have been urging such a nuclear deal as a way to buy greater cooperation from Pakistan in the war against the Taliban and as a way to assure Pakistan of an enduring U.S. commitment.[48] For their part, U.S. Department of State officials have been cautious in answering questions about the possibility of a nuclear deal with Pakistan. Asked directly in February 2010 if the Obama administration was considering a nuclear deal with Pakistan, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley replied “I’m – I don’t know.”[49] At a March 24 press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi after what was dubbed a U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked if the United States would discuss a nuclear deal with Pakistan. She indicated that the U.S. might consider it eventually, arguing “We have a broad agenda with many complicated issues like the one you referred to… this dialogue that we’re engaged in is helping us build the kind of partnership that can make progress over time on the most complicated of issues.”[50]

A lifting of the current international restrictions on the sale of nuclear reactors and fuel to Pakistan would further strain the nonproliferation regime, already seriously weakened by the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. With Israel having sought a lifting of NSG restrictions to allow it to import nuclear reactors and fuel, there is a serious danger that the NPT will be rendered largely pointless. Pardoning all three states that chose to remain outside the NPT and develop nuclear weapons would make a mockery of the idea that the treaty offers a platform for moving to nuclear disarmament. Furthermore, by ending the distinction between NPT parties and nonparties with regard to their access to international nuclear trade and technology assistance, it could make countries question the value of being a party to the treaty.

A nuclear deal for Pakistan would carry other costs. It would allow the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to become a much more powerful economic, political, and technological force in Pakistan. PAEC today is responsible for everything from uranium mining to building and operating plutonium-production reactors and reprocessing plants for the nuclear weapons program. It also operates two small power reactors: a 125-megawatt plant bought from Canada in the 1960s and a 300-megawatt plant purchased from China in the 1990s. A second 300-megawatt Chinese reactor is under construction. Pakistan’s plans call for a very large increase in nuclear power capacity, to 2,800 megawatts, by 2020, reaching 8,800 megawatts by 2030.[51] PAEC would become a key gatekeeper for managing the import and operation of the many large and very costly power reactors required to meet these energy targets. A large nuclear energy sector would offer Pakistan a means to mobilize and direct additional financial resources, technologies, material, and manpower to the weapons program. Moreover, Pakistan’s current electricity shortage could be addressed much more quickly and more economically by adding natural gas-fueled power plants, which take much less time to construct and require much less capital than comparable nuclear power plants.

The managers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons production complex, the military’s Strategic Plans Division, have little incentive to begin talks on an FMCT and even less interest in reaching early agreement or acceding to an eventual treaty. As noted earlier, the complex is in the midst of a very large expansion. In May 2009, The Washington Post reported that the first of the two new production reactors under construction at Khushab may be ready to come online in 2010.[52] An official visit to the Khushab site by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and senior military and nuclear weapons officials in late February may have marked the completion of work on the reactor.[53] The prime minister congratulated Khushab engineers for completing important projects and announced one month’s bonus pay. Work on the third Khushab reactor seems to have started in 2005-2006 and may be completed in a few years. If FMCT talks begin and seem to go well, there may be international pressure for a production moratorium, which would involve suspending production at existing sites and halting work on new facilities. The large investment made in the new reactors and reprocessing plants would be seen to have been wasted. The Khushab reactors, which do not produce electricity, and the associated reprocessing plants would have little if any value for Pakistan’s civilian nuclear energy program.

Finally, Pakistan sees itself able to block progress on an FMCT at the CD because it has seen little sign that the United States or other states care about an FMCT or even about nuclear weapons in South Asia beyond wanting to be reassured about the security of Pakistan’s weapons. Ambassadors at the CD urge Pakistan to allow talks to start, and foreign ministries may send démarches to Islamabad, but Pakistan sees this as diplomacy as usual and not indicative of an international priority requiring Pakistan to undertake a serious policy review or adjust its position.

The view from Islamabad is that the stream of high-level officials arriving there comes to talk about the Taliban and al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. The key U.S. interlocutors have been Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has made 14 visits to Pakistan; Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command; and Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is notable that even during Clinton’s recent visit to Pakistan, nuclear weapons issues did not feature on the public agenda except for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials. Even Abdul Qadeer Khan seems to have been forgotten. For now, the United States sees the war against the Taliban as more important than the nuclear arms race in South Asia, just as the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan was more important in the 1980s than stopping Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.


When it comes to an FMCT, Pakistan’s security managers, predominantly the army, have been pursuing business as usual, which for the past five decades has meant trying to maintain strategic parity with India. Blocking talks on an FMCT enables them to continue to build up their fissile material stockpile and to highlight to the international community their concerns about a fissile material gap with India and the consequences of India’s current military buildup, especially India’s search for missile defenses, and the consequences of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal. Holding up an FMCT also allows Pakistan’s nuclear establishment to keep open the prospect of a nuclear deal of its own, which, if granted, would give it dramatically greater power and influence in the energy sector and civilian economy and the means to channel additional resources to the weapons program.

At the CD, Zamir Akram has claimed Pakistan has adopted a principled position on an FMCT based on vital national interests and declared that “we are ready to stand in splendid isolation if we have to.”[54] So far, this has been possible because it has carried little consequence. The international community, led by the United States, has chosen to focus its relationship with Pakistan on fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda. To get started on an FMCT, the United States and other major states, including non-nuclear-weapon states, will need to put it much higher on the agenda. A useful first step might be for Obama and leaders from other countries that want to see an FMCT to put in a call to Islamabad.

Although Pakistan is the most insistent in wanting stocks to be addressed in an FMCT, it is not alone. Along with the Group of 21, countries such as Brazil, Japan, and New Zealand have raised this issue so that an FMCT can serve both nonproliferation and disarmament. These states and others wishing to begin work on an FMCT should assure Pakistan that they will work together with Islamabad in insisting that the treaty cover fissile material stockpiles in an effective way. This assurance could be strengthened at the forthcoming 2010 NPT Review Conference by states deciding to reaffirm the commitment made at the 2000 NPT Review Conference to the need for “[a]rrangements by all nuclear-weapon States to place, as soon as practicable, fissile material designated by each of them as no longer required for military purposes under IAEA or other relevant international verification and arrangements for the disposition of such material for peaceful purposes, to ensure that such material remains permanently outside of military programmes.”[55] One possible way for dealing with such stocks is offered by the draft FMCT developed by the International Panel on Fissile Materials.[56]

It is important for talks on an FMCT to start soon and not be dragged out indefinitely. Among the states still producing fissile material for weapons, Pakistan in particular may seek to delay agreement as a way to add to its fissile material stockpiles. States interested in achieving an FMCT should commit at the CD and as part of the 2010 NPT Review Conference to implement the 2000 review conference decision to begin talks on an FMCT and complete them within five years. To create and sustain real momentum for such negotiations and reach quickly a treaty that Pakistan and other potential holdout states will join, however, the nuclear-weapon states will need to put nuclear disarmament on the agenda. The NPT review conference offers an opportunity to do this.

Zia Mian directs the Project on Peace and Security in South Asia at PrincetonUniversity’s Program on Science and Global Security (PSGS). He is a member of the core staff of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM). A.H. Nayyar is a visiting researcher with PSGS and a member of the IPFM from Pakistan.


This article is based on a chapter on Pakistan in Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, published in October 2008 and available at www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08cv.pdf.

1. Jonathan Lynn, “Pakistan Blocks Agenda at U.N. Disarmament Conference,” Reuters, January 19, 2010, www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60I26U20100119.

2. Stephanie Nebehay, “Pakistan Rules Out Fissile Talks for Now–Diplomats,” Reuters, January 22, 2010, www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE60K2D9.htm.

3. UN General Assembly, Resolution 48/75L, December 16, 1993, www.un.org/documents/resga.htm.

4. UN Security Council, Resolution 1172, June 6, 1998, www.un.org/Docs/sc/unsc_resolutions.html.

5. “Ambassador Munir Akram’s Statement in the Conference on Disarmament on CTBT, FMCT Issues,” July 30, 1998, www.fas.org/nuke/control/fmct/docs/980730-cd-pak.htm.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. “‘Fissile Material Treaty,’ Statement From Munir Akram, Ambassador of Pakistan,” August 11, 1998, www.acronym.org.uk/fissban/pak.htm.

9. Ibid.

10. Pakistan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Ambassador Masood Khan, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative at the Conference on Disarmament: General Debate: ‘Fissile Material Treaty,’” Geneva, May 16, 2006, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches06/statements%2016%20may/16MayPakistan.pdf.

11. Ibid.

12. “Statement by Ambassador Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN: Adoption of CD’s Programme of Work,” May 29, 2009, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches09/2session/29may_pakistan.html.

13. Pakistan Permanent Mission to the United Nations, “Statement by Ambassador Zamir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament (CD),” Geneva, February 18, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/statements/part1/18Feb_Pakistan.pdf (hereinafter Akram February 2010 statement).

14. Ibid.

15. Beatrice Fihn and Ray Acheson, “The CD Debates the Draft Programme of Work,” March 22, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/reports.html. The Group of 21 at the CD includes Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

16. Avner Cohen and Marvin Miller, “Israel,” in Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons: Country Perspectives on the Challenges to a Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty, International Panel on Fissile Materials, September 2008, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr08cv.pdf.

17. Reaching Critical Will, “Conference on Disarmament: Unofficial Transcript,” Geneva, March 11, 2010, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/2010/statements/part1/11March_Pakistan.html (statement by Zamir Akram to the Conference on Disarmament).

18. “Pakistan Moves Closer to Sign Nuclear Treaty,” The Nation, October 26, 1998.

19. “Pakistan Totally Committed to Non-proliferation, Restraint Regime,” Associated Press of Pakistan, April 9, 2006.

20. International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), “Global Fissile Material Report 2009: A Path to Nuclear Disarmament,” October 2009, p.21, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/gfmr09.pdf.

21. IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2009,”p. 16.

22. Joby Warrick, “Pakistan Expanding Nuclear Program,” The Washington Post, July 24, 2006; “U.S. Disputes Report on New Pakistan Reactor,” The New York Times, August 3, 2006. Pictures of the third reactor were released in June 2007. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Pakistan Appears to be Building a Third Plutonium Production Reactor at Khushab Nuclear Site,” Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), June 21, 2007.

23. David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Chashma Nuclear Site in Pakistan With Possible Reprocessing Plant,” ISIS, January 18, 2007; David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Pakistan Expanding Plutonium Separation Facility Near Rawalpindi,” ISIS, May 19, 2009.

24. David Albright, Paul Brannan, and Robert Kelley, “Pakistan Expanding Dera Ghazi Khan Nuclear Site: Time for U.S. to Call for Limits,” ISIS, May 19, 2009.

25. Pakistan could potentially accumulate 2,500-6,000 kilograms of HEU by 2020. This range reflects the considerable uncertainty about the evolution of the number and separative work capacity of Pakistan’s centrifuges, as well as the limits on Pakistan’s supply of domestic uranium to feed its enrichment plants and reactors. See Zia Mian, A.H. Nayyar, and R. Rajaraman, “Exploring Uranium Resource Constraints on Fissile Material Production in Pakistan,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 17, No. 2 (2009), pp. 77-108.

26. IPFM, “Global Fissile Material Report 2009,” p. 16.

27. This assumes the power reactor spent fuel has had time to cool for three years and that India’s reprocessing plants operate with a capacity factor of 50 percent.

28. George Perkovich claims “knowledgeable Indian sources confirmed” use of non-weapons-grade plutonium in one of the 1998 nuclear tests. George Perkovich, India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 428-430. Similarly, Raj Chengappa claims “one of the devices...used reactor grade or dirty plutonium.” Raj Chengappa, Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India’s Quest to Be a Nuclear Power (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2000), pp. 414-418.

29. “Main Vessel of PFBR Installed, Reactor to Go Live in Sept 2011,” Times of India, December 7, 2009.

30. Alexander Glaser and M.V. Ramana, “Weapon-Grade Plutonium Production Potential in the Indian Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor,” Science & Global Security, Vol. 15, No.2, (2007), pp. 85-106. The amount of plutonium produced will depend on whether both the radial and axial blanket of the reactor, which contain weapon plutonium, will be reprocessed separately from the spent fuel in the reactor core.

31. R. Rajaraman, “Estimates of India’s Fissile Material Stocks,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2008), pp. 74-87.

32. Mycle Schneider, “Fast Breeder Reactors in France,” in Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, February 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/rr08.pdf.

33. Thomas B. Cochran et al., Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, February 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/rr08.pdf.

34. Akram February 2010 statement.

35. “Press Release by Inter-Services Public Relations, No. 318/2007,” August 1, 2007.

36. Zia Mian et al., “Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications of the US-India Nuclear Deal,” September 2006, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/rr01.pdf.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. “India Launches Nuclear Submarine,” BBC, July 26, 2009.

40. Sandeep Unnithan, “The Secret Undersea Weapon,” India Today, January 28, 2008.

41. Tariq Osman Hyder, “Strategic Stability in South Asia,” The News, August 1, 2009.

42. Khalid Banuri, “Missile Defences in South Asia: The Next Challenge,” South Asian Survey, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2004), pp. 193-203.

43. “India Tests Interceptor Missile,” Agence France-Presse, March 6, 2009.

44. “Armed Forces Modernization on Track: Defense Ministry,” The Hindu, January 1, 2010. www.hindu.com/2010/01/01/stories/2010010153331800.htm.

45. Asif Ezdi, “US Nuclear Duplicity,” The News, January 25, 2010, http://thenews.jang.com.pk/print1.asp?id=220571.

46. Zulqernain Tahir, “Talks Under Way for N-deal With US: Haqqani,” Dawn, February 15, 2010, www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/national/12-talks-under-way-for-ndeal-with-us-haqqani-520--bi-01.

47. See, for example, R. Nicholas Burns and Robert G. Joseph, “The U.S. and India: An Emerging Entente,” Remarks as Prepared for the House International Relations Committee, September 8, 2005, www.nti.org/e_research/official_docs/dos/dos090805.pdf.

48. Stephen P. Cohen, “Addressing the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Relationship,” June 12, 2008 (testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs federal financial management subcommittee); C. Christine Fair, “Pakistan Needs Its Own Nuclear Deal,” Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2010.

49. Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “Daily Press Briefing,” Washington, D.C., February 18, 2010, www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2010/02/136915.htm.

50. Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks With Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi After Their Meeting,” Washington, March 24, 2010, www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/03/138996.htm.

51. Zia Mian and A.H. Nayyar, “Pakistan and the Energy Challenge,” in International Perspectives on Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power, ed. Lutz Mez, Mycle Schneider, and Steve Thomas (Brentwood, UK: Multi-Science Publishing, 2009), pp. 515-531.

52. R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, “Nuclear Aims by Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern,” The Washington Post, May 28, 2009.

53. Zia Mian, “Pakistan May Have Completed New Plutonium Production Reactor, Khushab-II,” IPFM Web log, February 28, 2010, www.fissilematerials.org/blog/2010/02/pakistan_may_have_complet.html. Satellite imagery from December 2009 has shown steam from the cooling towers at Khushab-2. Paul Brannan, “Steam Emitted From Second Khushab Reactor Cooling Towers; Pakistan May Be Operating Second Reactor,” ISIS, March 24, 2010.

54. Akram February 2010 statement.

55. “2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document,” www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_06/docjun.asp.

56. IPFM, “A Fissile Material (Cut-Off) Treaty: A Treaty Banning the Production of Fissile Materials for Nuclear Weapons or Other Nuclear Explosive Devices,” September 2, 2009, www.fissilematerials.org/ipfm/site_down/fmct-ipfm-sep2009.pdf.



Since May 2009, Pakistan, largely alone, has blocked the start of international talks on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) at the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva.[1] The treaty would ban the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes; fissile materials, namely plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), are the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Pakistan has prevented these negotiations despite having accepted last year a CD program of work that included an FMCT.

Principles and Process

Henrik Salander

For anyone who attended the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, where the parties failed to agree on anything at all, the recent debacle at the Copenhagen climate change conference seemed very familiar. In both cases, nation-based egocentrism made it impossible even to try to solve problems that are truly and fundamentally global, such as the health of the biosphere and weapons threatening to destroy the planet.

It is often said that another NPT review failure this year will signify the beginning of the end of the treaty. Such prophecies are risky, but also trivial. It has been clear for years that the NPT is under stress, so alarmism is unnecessary. States-parties are disappointed with the treaty for diverging reasons. What is needed for the review conference in May is pragmatic expectations and constructive multilateralism. The cynical negotiating tactics by a few states-parties in 2005 must not be repeated.

The success of the review conference will depend not only on the substance of the agreements reached there, but also on the way in which those agreements are reached.

The Importance of the Process

Despite all the talk of the NPT being in a crisis, there are no criteria to measure the success or failure of the review conferences. It is difficult to tell what will constitute a bare minimum of an outcome at the 2010 review conference—the point before which one or more governments will rather not agree on anything. The value of a consensus agreement is difficult to measure, as has been shown by the broken promises after 1995 and 2000. It is difficult to judge whether it is good to have a consensus outcome that governments can just barely accept. Are principled substantive positions better in the long run, even with failed conferences and no agreements, than pragmatic and practical compromises? Nobody can know, because it is impossible to predict whether parties will adhere to the commitments they make at the conference.

NPT parties must try to reach an agreement that is perceived as largely representative and, above all, is not promptly ignored or reinterpreted, as after the 2000 review conference. They must set up a negotiating structure that is representative for states-parties but still manageable and able to produce a clear record against which progress can be measured. This requires time: texts presented, repeated sessions for refinement, and high-level compromises. The 1995 conference structure was messy but produced a degree of success thanks to creative management by its president, Jayantha Dhanapala, and a few delegations. The 2000 review got a productive (but not representative) structure only in its last week, when the five nuclear-weapon states and the seven New Agenda Coalition members—Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden—fought it out over what in the end became the “13 steps.”

That format will not be repeated this year, mostly because non-nuclear-weapon states outside the New Agenda Coalition will not allow themselves to be left outside closed doors, waiting for an outcome they cannot influence. It is also unlikely that the coalition will be sufficiently tight and coherent to have the same strong influence as in 2000.

For the five nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—it may be tempting to sit opposite an uncoordinated bunch of non-nuclear delegations, but that would be shortsighted. The five need a representative and fairly large group as their counterpart, in order to get agreements to which both sides will adhere. Once such an agreement is reached, there must be no retreat, as there was after 2000, especially by the United States and France.

Changing Expectations

A year ago, after President Barack Obama’s Prague speech, hopes for the 2010 review conference were high. Scenarios were discussed under which the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the START follow-on treaty were expected to have passed the U.S. Senate and laid the groundwork for a “successful” NPT conference. Now is the time to turn the tide and to fulfill the NPT, it was said.

Today, pessimism is back. The five NPT nuclear-weapon states have not used the year since the Prague speech to send clear signals about a decreasing role for nuclear weapons, and the cases of Iran and North Korea are poisoning the preconference atmosphere. Necessary U.S. leadership in strengthening the treaty is weakened. U.S. ratifications of the CTBT and START follow-on will not be in place. The Nuclear Posture Review, due just after the time of this writing, cannot be expected to improve the chances of “success” significantly in May.

Expectations are a key part of the run-up to review conferences. In 2000, most were pleasantly surprised by the review outcome; in 2005, the opposite happened. Every review conference since 1995 has triggered a combination of hope and fear, later followed by disappointment.

For the review conferences, as for many other political events, success is partly a question of properly managing expectations. For that reason, low expectations may be a good starting point for the 2010 conference.

The goals and promises that secured the indefinite extension of the treaty in 1995 have been broken, delayed, or unfulfilled: a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), the CTBT, the disarmament objectives, and the Middle East agreement.[1] Similarly, after 2000 all these and many additional agreements were left hanging: the diminishing role of nuclear weapons, their operational status, tactical nuclear weapons, the Conference on Disarmament (CD) process. This has bred frustration among non-nuclear-weapon states that the reductions in numbers cannot silence. For nonpossessors, it does not make a significant qualitative difference if present nuclear-weapon possessors have 20,000 instead of 50,000 weapons among them, as long as the role of those weapons in security policies and doctrines remains essentially the same.

The NPT parties must change direction at the 2010 review conference. The outcome must demonstrate that parties are willing to assume their full responsibility to uphold the treaty for the benefit of all.

Basic Requirements

One very helpful step at the review conference would be to include in the final document a favorable reference to the concept of a convention outlawing nuclear weapons. Everybody knows that a convention is many years away, but it is a logical step to start working on it now while discussing how an interlocking set of instruments may be equally effective and perhaps more practical.

Some minimum outcomes are definitely required. The five nuclear-weapon states must make efforts to clarify what kind or kinds of multilateral negotiation processes they are willing to undertake. Some movement on the CTBT and an FMCT is needed. (Work on an FMCT at the CD has been stalled, largely because of blocking actions by Pakistan. Because Pakistan is not a party to the NPT, it will not be able to play the same role at the review conference.) The nuclear-weapon states must clearly articulate an intention to downgrade their reliance on nuclear weapons (the “diminishing role”). Other steps among the 13 agreed in 2000 need to be updated and more clearly formulated, such as transparency, irreversibility, tactical weapons, and others.

Definitely within the minimum requirements is an honest treatment of the Middle East issue. Whether one or more of the ideas from the third Preparatory Committee meeting (to appoint a special NPT coordinator for the Middle East resolution, or a special body or conference) will be sufficient is difficult to say. It is perfectly clear, however, that there will be no successful outcome without specific language on the Middle East. It is equally clear that NPT review conferences will not be the place where solutions to the region’s problems will be found.

Some more fully developed descriptions of what potential elements of a “successful” outcome could look like have been given by the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, headed by Gareth Evans and Yoriko Kawaguchi.[2] It is probably too much to hope that most of these sketches will be adopted and negotiated successfully in May, but the substance is there, ready to be grasped and used.

There also are important areas in which some states-parties will try hard to shape agreement but that will probably not decide the overall outcome. Examples are the interpretation and application of Article X on withdrawal from the treaty and improved institutional memory and governance of the treaty itself.


Going into this year’s review conference, states-parties must be prepared to address the fact that the NPT is threatened from two angles. Roughly speaking, one is symbolized by Iran’s unwillingness to clarify its intentions in a fully transparent way, while the other is the nuclear-weapon states’ apparent view that retaining and modernizing their arsenals is compatible with the treaty. Both are dangerous threats to the norms; the first may seem more immediate, while the world has lived with the second for a longer period. Both must be solved. The first will not and cannot be solved at the review conference. The conference participants, in a best-case scenario, may take some steps toward addressing the second.

A failure at the review conference probably would not be a disaster in the short term, but it very well could be in the longer term. At the very least, an NPT review crash would make all multilateral approaches to the nuclear regime so much more difficult to manage, not only disarmament, but also the most pressing nonproliferation problems, such as Iran and North Korea. Continued inertia can no longer be an option. Plodding sideways and backwards for 15 more years will slowly kill the NPT.

In Copenhagen, bleary-eyed world leaders sat exchanging blows until five o’clock several mornings in a row. We will not see that in New York in May; the threat from nuclear weapons is not yet deemed to be as dangerous as the one from climate change. But the outcome may be equally important, or even more so.


Henrik Salander is chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative, which is working for the worldwide reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. He previously served as secretary-general of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, headed by Hans Blix, and as deputy director-general of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. As disarmament ambassador for Sweden from 1999 to 2003, he chaired the 2002 Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.


1. The Resolution on the Middle East “[c]alls upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective” and “[c]alls upon all States party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and in particular the nuclear-weapon States, to extend their cooperation and to exert their utmost efforts with a view to ensuring the early establishment by regional parties of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.” For the full text, see “Resolution on the Middle East,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), Annex, 1995, www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/1995-NPT/pdf/Resolution_MiddleEast.pdf.

2. International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, “Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers,” December 15, 2009, www.icnnd.org/reference/reports/ent/index.html.


For anyone who attended the 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, where the parties failed to agree on anything at all, the recent debacle at the Copenhagen climate change conference seemed very familiar. In both cases, nation-based egocentrism made it impossible even to try to solve problems that are truly and fundamentally global, such as the health of the biosphere and weapons threatening to destroy the planet.

Seizing the Momentum

Li Hong

As initiatives for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation have been emerging in rapid succession, the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is approaching. The review conference is a unique forum for evaluating the operations of the NPT “with a view to assuring that the purposes of the Preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realized,” as the treaty puts it.

The new momentum on nuclear disarmament brings a distinct opportunity for the review process. The UN Security Council summit last September on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation laid a very strong foundation for the review. It is in the world’s security interests to seize this valuable opportunity and make good use of the common understanding to promote the objectives and spirit of the NPT. The NPT parties must work together in goodwill and a spirit of compromise to reach concrete steps for strengthening the treaty regime.

Envisioning a Successful Conference

The NPT regime is multifaceted. Nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear technology are its three pillars, with each one linked to the others. Over the past 40 years, the NPT has been an important barrier against nuclear weapons proliferation and has played an important role in stabilizing international relations. Recognition of the NPT’s indispensable role in international peace and stability and reaffirmation of the unequivocal commitment of member states to the treaty would be a basic success for the review conference. In addition, it should be possible to reinforce the conviction of all member states on the need to bring current efforts to their ultimate objective by eliminating all nuclear weapons.

Strengthening the enforcement mechanism of the NPT, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards system, would always be an important task for a review conference. Achieving universality for the full-scope safeguards system is an undertaking that is still far from completion. Building some common ground on the significance and added value of the Model Additional Protocol could be accepted as encouraging progress if consensus could not be reached on setting it as the new verification standard. In addition, any progress on the following long-discussed issues would make the conference more productive.

FMCT and CTBT. Steps or new commitments for the commencement of negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are likely to be central to any agreement at the review conference. The two issues remain the focus of attention of the international community and constitute critical substantive measures to push nuclear disarmament forward. Either setting a time frame or getting new commitments from the key countries would be accepted as substantive progress and would bring credit to the conference.

Multilateral nuclear fuel supply mechanism. Uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing have been considered a key proliferation concern. It is not necessary and not economically feasible for all countries that plan to have nuclear power to develop their own independent enrichment or reprocessing capability. Substantive discussion on this topic is under way, and different proposals are already on the table. Because the new norms in this regard would involve rights for the peaceful use of nuclear technology, it would be appropriate for the review conference to develop a common understanding of the interpretation of the treaty provisions in this regard and pave the way for any new arrangement. It should be possible for the NPT parties to agree on recognizing the legitimate right of member states to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, emphasizing the common understanding on the proliferation risk of enrichment and reprocessing, and further exploring possible paths for collective fuel supply mechanisms or international joint efforts for the development of proliferation-resistant reactors, or something of that nature.

Treaty withdrawal. Article X of the NPT clearly recognizes the basic right of a sovereign state to join or withdraw from an international treaty. However, the NPT itself did not provide any measures for handling noncompliance. It should be a logical step that a state found to be cheating on its treaty obligation should pay a price. Any party found to be in noncompliance should not be exempted from international indictment by announcing its withdrawal from the treaty. This is important to maintain the credibility of the collective security regime. But any punishment should not undermine the basic rights of a sovereign state. Overemphasizing the punishment for treaty withdrawal would make states more hesitant about joining the treaty, and this could have a profound influence on the negotiation and entry into force of new arms control treaties. A balanced solution taking both of the above aspects into consideration is expected from the review conference.

Realistic Expectations

Although, as noted above, optimism about progress in some areas might be justified, the discouraging aspects should never be underestimated. Such aspects include the still-large number of nuclear weapons; the military doctrine of pre-emptive strike, including the use of nuclear weapons; the development and deployment of missile defense systems globally; the trend toward weaponization of outer space; and regional nuclear proliferation issues. These issues are linked to the nuclear posture of the world. They might create a sense of insecurity in some countries and give rise to regional instability or even cause an international-security chain reaction. These issues are major obstacles to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

In light of the above, the international community should not be too ambitious and should not burden the conference with too many expectations.

Certain hot-button issues, such as Iran and North Korea, have figured prominently in past review conferences. The way the parties handle these issues will bear heavily on the outcome of the conference. NPT member states must realize that they should take into consideration the big picture and address the root causes, as well as problems and difficulties on the surface.

The UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues. Therefore, it will be difficult for the review conference to formulate new measures to be taken. The best way to handle these issues is by providing political support to the Security Council resolutions and expressing the determination of member states to continue to enforce them. It is also necessary and appropriate for the review conference to encourage relevant existing mechanisms, such as the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and the “P5+1” talks on Iran’s program,[1] to continue their efforts for a peaceful solution through dialogue and cooperation. Such an approach might avoid political disputes on those issues and leave enough space for further measures.

With regard to other regional nuclear issues such as the Middle East and South Asia, the situation remains as it was, if not more complicated. Both these issues are closely related to the regional strategic balance and broad peace processes. It is risky to overemphasize one aspect while neglecting the other. Double standards should be avoided. For the sake of safeguarding the authority and the credibility of the international nonproliferation regime, those countries possessing de facto nuclear weapons should not be granted legal status in any form for their nuclear weapons.

The Need for a Balanced Approach

With close observation, the essence of the NPT can be easily found. Nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the three equal pillars, are mutually complementary and inseparable from one another. This unique structure well explains how the treaty has withstood the test of time and become the global treaty with the widest participation. The three pillars not only summarize the goals of the treaty, but also constitute concerns of all member states. History repeatedly has showed that neglect of any of those three pillars undermines the others. The 2005 NPT Review Conference was an example. Its failure largely lay in lacking a balanced approach in advancing the conference’s work. The member states should draw lessons from the past and avoid repeating the mistake.

For quite a long period in international arms control, much emphasis had been placed on nonproliferation; the other two pillars were neglected to some extent. Perhaps the situation has improved for nuclear disarmament, as last year witnessed the commencement of the U.S.-Russian negotiation on a new nuclear arms control accord and an upgraded effort by the international community toward a nuclear-weapon-free world.

However, much work remains to be done with regard to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Recent years have witnessed the renaissance of nuclear energy around the world, highlighting the need to strike a sophisticated balance between nonproliferation and peaceful use. On the one hand, nonproliferation efforts should not undermine the legitimate rights of countries; on the other hand, diversion of peaceful-use technology and material to nonpeaceful purposes should be prevented.

A balanced approach in advancing the work on the three goals of the NPT will win wide support from non-nuclear-weapon states and will facilitate a successful review conference.

In addition, nuclear security is not a new topic in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Because terrorism continues to be rampant, efforts against nuclear terrorism have a particular importance. Some initiatives in this regard have emerged. The review conference will provide an appropriate venue at the right time for all member states to consider seriously how they can effectively tighten the security of nuclear material and reduce the risk of terrorism or unauthorized access. In addition to reaffirming the existing international legal instruments on nuclear security, the parties could develop some new, tangible measures to ensure nuclear materials and nuclear facilities are being effectively protected. These measures could include concrete action plans to strengthen cooperation on fighting nuclear terrorism.

P-5 Leadership

In the cause of pursuing the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, the five nuclear-weapon states recognized by the NPT—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—bear unique responsibility. The solidarity, coordination, and leadership of these five, which are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, are of great importance to guaranteeing a successful review. Taking the lead by meeting their disarmament commitments would greatly help to address proliferation and create a good atmosphere for the review process. Encouragingly, the P-5 issued a joint press release at the Third Preparatory Committee meeting for the review conference. Consultations among them have been going on since then. It is by all means a good sign, showing their willingness to work together to seek success at the review conference. Furthermore, in a best-case scenario, a substantive joint declaration by the P-5 at the review conference would undoubtedly be seen as an important component of the outcome. Key elements that such a declaration could cover are a pledge not to seek permanent possession of nuclear weapons, a willingness to redefine the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrine, a willingness to provide negative security guarantees, a commitment to bring the CTBT into force at an early date, and commitments by Russia and the United States to continue to make deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals.


The countdown to the review conference has begun. Political will has been emerging. The situation, however, is complicated. At this crossroads, NPT member states must realize their historic mission and opportunity. It is in the interests of all countries to take decisive actions to convert political will into practical steps so as to stabilize the NPT regime and to restore the parties’ faith in the value of the treaty.


Li Hong is secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, a nongovernmental organization. From 2001 to 2009, he worked on arms control and disarmament issues for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2002 to 2006, he served in the Permanent Mission of China for International Organizations in Vienna and then was China’s deputy representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.


1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.


As initiatives for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation have been emerging in rapid succession, the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is approaching. The review conference is a unique forum for evaluating the operations of the NPT “with a view to assuring that the purposes of the Preamble and the provisions of the Treaty are being realized,” as the treaty puts it.

Renewing the Bargain

Rüdiger Lüdeking

The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime is in a state of crisis. That at least has been a leitmotif of discussions among experts during the past decade. The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference to arrive at an agreed result clearly seemed to support this notion.

Indeed, the NPT regime has been facing a risk of erosion, which is essentially twofold. On the one hand, the last decade has witnessed serious nonproliferation challenges. To this day, Iran and North Korea have not been complying with their legally binding commitments. Syria also refuses to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in solving open questions regarding its nuclear program. At the same time, there has been a perception that the fundamental disarmament obligation contained in Article VI of the NPT is not being honored. There has even been a sense of a “renaissance” of nuclear weapons and an impression that the nuclear-weapon states intend to cling indefinitely to their nuclear weapons. Finally, the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement has given rise to the concern that strategic and economic interests might take precedence over nonproliferation interests.

This state of affairs should prompt all NPT states-parties to join forces to avert an erosion of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and to maintain and strengthen the integrity and authority of the NPT. Indeed, today there are signs of a new momentum toward that end. President Barack Obama has given nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation top priority and, in his Prague speech on April 5, 2009, set out his vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world. The position adopted by the Obama administration can fundamentally change the prospects for the forthcoming NPT review conference. However, looking at some of the debates in fora such as the Conference on Disarmament and the IAEA, the overall mind-set on the part of many of the key players in the NPT context does not seem to have changed. Many discussions and arguments follow familiar and well-entrenched ideological lines. Consequently, there does not seem to be much confidence that the forthcoming review conference will achieve a successful outcome.

What will it take to achieve a successful NPT review conference?

First, the parties must have a joint vision. In his Prague speech, Obama underlined the U.S. commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons. That should be the guiding vision for the conference. Restating this ultimate goal of the NPT in a clear and unambiguous way should help to rekindle a sense of common purpose. As George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn so pointedly wrote in their

2007 Wall Street
Journal op-ed, “Without the bold vision the actions will not be perceived as fair and urgent. Without the actions the vision will not be perceived as realistic or possible.”[1]

Second, there is a need for leadership. The United States is ready and willing to provide leadership. However, it is important that all five nuclear-weapon states join in this leadership role. To do so, they should embrace without qualification the vision of a world without nuclear weapons and demonstrate their commitment to fulfilling their obligations pursuant to Article VI of the NPT. This commitment could, for example, be expressed in a joint declaration submitted by the nuclear-weapon states to the review conference. Such a statement could include the following elements:

• an unambiguous commitment not to produce fissile material for weapons purposes and a commitment to enter into negotiations on a nondiscriminatory, effectively verifiable, and legally binding fissile material cutoff treaty;[2]

• a commitment jointly to pursue nuclear disarmament by way of an incremental process leading to “global zero”;[3]

• a commitment to existing security assurances and a readiness to explore ways of formalizing them;

• a commitment to pursue determined efforts to bringing all existing nuclear-weapon-free zones into force;

• possibly additional commitments creating confidence and implementing the “cessation of the nuclear arms race” obligation contained in Article VI of the NPT (e.g., diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in nuclear doctrines, establishing obligations for accountability and reporting, “capping” of nuclear arsenals); and

• reiteration of the commitment to an early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Multiple Leaders Needed

Although the leadership of the nuclear-weapon states is very important, it must be matched by leadership on the part of influential member states of the Nonaligned Movement. That leadership should focus in particular on the nonproliferation aspects. This kind of leadership, however, seems as yet to be lacking. The position of many nonaligned countries still seems to be primarily characterized by an emphasis on the maintenance of their rights, particularly the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and by demands for rapid progress on nuclear disarmament.

A third requirement for a successful NPT review conference is a sense of common purpose and responsibility. The obvious lack of it is possibly the most serious problem for the forthcoming conference.

What is necessary to re-establish a sense of common purpose and a sense of responsibility for the whole treaty regime? For a start, every effort must be undertaken to reinforce the credibility of the NPT by reaffirming and strengthening the fundamental bargain underlining the treaty: the firm relationship that the treaty establishes between nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Indeed, there is a clear interdependence between nonproliferation and disarmament. Proliferation threats reduce the prospect of progress on disarmament because nuclear-weapon states would be reluctant to get rid of nuclear arms as other states are seemingly poised to acquire them. At the same time, a lack of disarmament momentum is liable to boost proliferation risks because the continuing retention of nuclear weapons would be a seen as an affirmation of their value. This should prompt countries to reconsider some of their long-held positions on key aspects of the treaty. Thus, the issue of compliance with nonproliferation commitments under the NPT should also get the necessary attention.

In this context, NPT parties should unambiguously commit to strengthen the IAEA safeguards regime by making the Model Additional Protocol, together with a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, the verification standard under Article III of the NPT. They also should consider, in light of the Iran experience, further enhancing IAEA verification rights to go beyond the terms of a state’s additional protocol if necessary. The strengthening of the safeguards regime is a necessary step toward the attainment of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

The strengthening of compliance also requires a strengthening of the role of the UN Security Council as the final arbiter of the consequences of noncompliance. No state in breach of its nonproliferation obligations and unwilling to rectify the situation should get away with such behavior. This should apply to Iran, which has consistently defied its international legally binding obligations and has not yet been ready to take up offers to arrive at a negotiated solution that would re-establish confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.

Cooperation on Hard Issues

The joint responsibility for the NPT regime should prompt cooperation and joint efforts to manage the issues that have the potential to jeopardize the successful outcome of the review conference. In this regard, two specific issues seem to stand out.

Nuclear fuel assurances/multilateralization of the nuclear fuel cycle. Reconciling the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes with the need to prevent the use of nuclear knowledge and hardware for the development of a nuclear weapons program is a particularly daunting challenge. It is not a new issue. Since the 1946 Baruch Plan, several efforts have been undertaken to come to terms with it. The subject has again come to the fore in the face of concerns about the development of an enrichment capacity that Iran has clandestinely pursued over a period of nearly 20 years. The proposals for fuel assurances and the establishment of fuel banks and of an enrichment facility under multilateral control have met with considerable opposition. At the heart of the controversy is the issue of the consistency of such arrangements with the “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear energy as enshrined in Article IV of the NPT. Although the concerns expressed by important nonaligned countries have to be addressed, all the proposals on the table provide for voluntary options and do not impose restrictions on activities that countries want to pursue. The proposals all explicitly recognize the right under Article IV. In the final analysis, the effective prevention of any misuse of civilian nuclear programs for military ends should be in the interest not only of some but of all NPT parties.

The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. There is understandably a great deal of frustration at the lack of progress in the implementation of the 1995 resolution on the establishment of a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone. Indeed, there is a need for a fresh start, but this presupposes a readiness on the part of both sides in the Middle East to seriously re-engage in dialogue. In doing so, some basic facts must be recognized.

A nuclear-weapon-free zone cannot be imposed but must be the result of negotiations among the parties concerned. Progress toward a peace settlement will have a positive impact on efforts toward the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Likewise, confidence building in the military field and steps toward the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone can significantly contribute to boosting the peace efforts. These seem to be commonsense observations, but the question of whether a peace settlement or a nuclear-weapon-free zone comes first has been one of the key stumbling blocks preventing progress. Further stalling on the issue will only exacerbate the proliferation risks in the region; already a solution regarding the Iranian nuclear program has become of key importance for making progress. All parties, despite their impatience, should accept that quick solutions are not achievable and that an incremental approach instead seems to offer the only way forward.

No NPT party should let the two questions above develop into showstoppers. No single state should be allowed to exploit the above or other issues to detract from its own failures to live up to its NPT obligations or to block a successful outcome of the conference.

Ambition and Realism

A fourth requirement for achieving a successful outcome of the conference is the need for an ambitious and forward-looking but realistic approach. Such an approach should include confirmation of the commitments undertaken at the 1995 and 2000 review conferences. These commitments must continue to be considered as relevant and binding because failure to do so would call into question the very purpose of review conferences and undermine confidence in the good faith of states-parties and in the viability and dependability of multilateral agreements. At the same time, however, it would be naïve and unrealistic to ignore developments since 2000. Therefore, merely dwelling on past disappointments and deploring shortcomings in the implementation of past agreements does not provide a recipe for progress.

Apart from reaffirming the guiding principles and basic commitments, the approach to be adopted should define clear tasks and objectives on the nonproliferation track and the nuclear disarmament track. Germany, in a working paper for the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, has suggested basic elements for such an approach and has called for the establishment of a “New NPT Implementation Baseline.”[4]

The result to be achieved must pass a rigorous reality check as well. Obama has been criticized by some for declaring in Prague that a world without nuclear weapons will not be reached quickly and perhaps not during his lifetime. Indeed, a careful examination of the prerequisites for a nuclear-weapon-free world clearly militates against sweeping demands and possibly a fixed timetable for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In a working paper submitted during the previous NPT review cycle, Germany set out the key prerequisites for a nuclear-weapon-free world.[5] Of particular significance in this regard is the need to prevent a breakout from a universal prohibition of nuclear weapons by, inter alia, ensuring the nonavailability of weapons-grade fissile material and for effective and rigorous verification based on reliable and disaggregated data encompassing all potentially relevant facilities and activities. The need for the latter is partly illustrated by the fact that the technologies and necessary know-how for the production of nuclear weapons will continue to exist even after a nuclear-weapon-free world has been established. Finally, nuclear disarmament cannot be divorced from overall security. Nuclear disarmament is not an end in itself but a means to enhance overall security and stability. It must not increase the risk of large-scale conventional wars or lead to the revaluation of other weapons of mass destruction.

It must be the joint ambition of states-parties to achieve what is doable at this juncture and set the course for realizing the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world through an incremental process. Those bent on trying to foil a successful outcome should not be allowed to prevail. Responsible behavior and a genuine endeavor to achieve a positive result must be expected from all parties, be they nuclear-weapon or non-nuclear-weapon states.

Rüdiger Lüdeking is Germany’s permanent representative to the Office of the United Nations and to other international organizations in Vienna. Before being named to that position in 2008, he served in the German Federal Foreign Office as deputy commissioner of the federal government for arms control and disarmament. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the German government.


1. 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.

2. In the face of the current deadlock in the Conference on Disarmament, a new approach to achieving progress on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) needs to be considered. For the incremental approach proposed by Germany in a working paper, see Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Creating a New Momentum for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT),” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.21, April 30, 2008.

3. Following a successful conclusion of a START follow-on treaty, the statement might also refer to the commencement of a process on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the category not yet covered by formal arms control agreements. For a proposal for an incremental arms control approach, see Rüdiger Lüdeking, “Safeguarding the Future of the NPT,” in NATO and the Future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ed. Joseph F. Pilat and David S. Yost (Rome: NATODefenseCollege, 2007), pp. 54-62, www.ituassu.com.br/op_21_FULL.pdf. In addition, it is of particular importance that China, France, and the United Kingdom underline their obligation to participate in the disarmament process.

4. Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Working Towards a Successful 2010 NPT Review Conference,” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/WP.22, April 30, 2008.

5. Preparatory Committee for the 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Attaining a Nuclear Weapon Free World,” NPT/CONF.2005/PC.I/WP.4, April 11, 2002.


The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime is in a state of crisis. That at least has been a leitmotif of discussions among experts during the past decade. The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference to arrive at an agreed result clearly seemed to support this notion.


• Because of an editing error, the March 2010 article “Russian Nuclear Threshold Not Lowered” misstated the previous employment of Nikolai Sokov of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Sokov served in the foreign ministries of the Soviet Union and Russia but not as foreign minister.

Letter to the Editor: The Coming Glut of Japanese Spent Fuel

Leonard Spector

Frank von Hippel’s article (“South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime,” January/February 2010) on the proliferation risks of South Korea’s plans for reprocessing spent fuel from its nuclear power program elegantly frames what is likely to become a major controversy as South Korea’s agreement for nuclear cooperation with the United States comes up for renewal in 2014.

Von Hippel argues that the South Korean approach, based on an unproven technology known as “pyroprocessing” and yet-to-be-designed fast reactors, is unlikely to succeed on a scale sufficient to alleviate South Korea’s spent fuel management problem. Moreover, he stresses, it could introduce new proliferation risks by creating stocks of material from which plutonium could be more easily extracted than from spent fuel.

To underscore his point, von Hippel highlights the great difficulties Japan has encountered in its own spent fuel reprocessing program, based on classic reprocessing technology that is well understood, and conventional reactors. The situation in Japan, however, is considerably worse than von Hippel describes, making his core point all the more powerful.

According to recent information, Japan plans to reprocess 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel (17,000 now in storage and 15,000 to be discharged in the future) over the next 40 years. But its reactors will discharge a total of 45,000 metric tons of spent fuel during this time, leaving it with 30,000 metric tons to be held at an interim storage facility to be built not far from the Rokkasho site.

At that point 40 years hence, with its current reprocessing plant at the end of its useful life, Japan would need to build another reprocessing plant to start working down this excess spent fuel; but during the operation of that plant, still more spent fuel will be discharged, probably at a greater rate than in the current 40-year period, as Japan’s nuclear sector grows. This implies that as far into the future as one can reasonably see, Japan will be storing tens of thousands of metric tons of spent fuel on an “interim” basis that in practical terms is likely to be perpetual because the Japanese reprocessing program never catches up with discharges.

Thus, although the Japanese spent fuel reprocessing program is presented as a solution to the country’s spent fuel management problem, it is only a partial solution at best. It is also an extremely costly one. Von Hippel notes that the Japanese have stated that the construction, operation, and decommissioning of the Rokkasho facility will amount to $100 billion. Assuming that the plant processes a total of 32,000 metric tons of spent fuel, the cost of the Japanese approach would be a hefty $3,125 per kilogram of heavy metal processed.

As von Hippel stresses, all of these challenges will confront the South Korean pyroprocessing endeavor, but will almost certainly be more severe, given the novelty of the technologies involved. As a result, almost certainly, the approach, like Japan’s, will be at most only a partial solution to Korea’s pending spent fuel glut.

Finally, we need to take von Hippel’s commentary one step further and articulate a strategy that works: strong international validation of 100- to 200-year interim storage of spent fuel as an appropriate spent fuel management option. Japan has tacitly accepted this option for half of its spent fuel. With the termination of the YuccaMountain underground repository project, it appears that the United States also is going to be forced to do so for its entire spent fuel output, the largest in the world.

This is, in truth, the de facto international standard. But it needs to be formally recognized. The environmental community, in particular, needs to express confidence that this option is safe and can adequately protect the public from harm for generations to come.


Leonard Spector is deputy director of the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies and heads the center’s Washington office.


Nuclear Summit Set to Host World Leaders

Daniel Horner

Almost immediately after signing a strategic arms treaty this month, President Barack Obama will have to focus his attention on another part of his nuclear policy agenda: securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.

Obama is preparing to host the leaders of about 40 countries in Washington April 12-13. The signing of New START is set for April 8 in Prague, where Obama delivered a wide-ranging speech on nuclear policy last April.

In that speech, Obama announced an “international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years” and “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.” (See ACT, May 2009.)

The countries on the invitation list for the security summit include Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam, a U.S. official said March 29.

The list of 45 countries apparently includes some relatively recent additions; earlier reports, confirmed by the administration, had put the number at 43. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

The U.S. official declined to say whether specific countries would be attending. The United States is “waiting for definitive replies” from some invitees, he said. Because the invitation came from Obama, there is an expectation that countries will send their top officials, he added.

The United States also has invited three international organizations—the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations—he said.

The summit participants are expected to issue a communiqué pledging to bolster efforts to make nuclear materials secure. In a March 22 interview, Roger Howsley, executive director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) in Vienna, said it would be very useful if the communiqué contained language endorsing the sharing of best practices by the nuclear industry and others.

WINS, which was launched in September 2008, aims to help secure nuclear and radioactive materials to make them inaccessible to terrorists. The members range from nuclear industry giants such as the French company Areva to members of guard forces and police that guard nuclear facilities, Howsley said.

In the nuclear industry, cooperation on safety is generally much better than on security, which is seen as being “a good deal more sensitive,” Howsley said. Attitudes toward security have to shift somewhat from “need to know” to “need to share,” he said. He emphasized that he was not referring to specific details on obtaining access to particular facilities, but rather to organizational approaches to issues such as management oversight and corporate governance.

After the nuclear summit, on April 14, there is scheduled to be a session on the nuclear industry’s role in nuclear materials security. The session is being organized by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington-based industry association for the nuclear industry.

Questions of Funding

The Obama administration is pursuing the goal of securing nuclear materials in a number of ways. A major element is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy. Under the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, funding for the GTRI would rise to $559 million; Congress appropriated $334 million for fiscal year 2010. (See ACT, March 2010.)

Some nongovernmental experts have said funding at the level the administration requested for fiscal year 2011 and the following years would not allow the programs to move at a fast enough pace to meet Obama’s four-year goal. However, congressional appropriators have expressed a different concern, wondering if the Energy Department would be able to manage such large funding increases.

At a March 4 hearing of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), who chaired the hearing, said that “[s]ignificant portions” of the funding for the NNSA nonproliferation programs “depend on finalizing agreements with other nations, something that is notoriously difficult to firmly nail down in time.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the panel’s ranking member, also questioned the increase.

In a hearing at the Senate’s counterpart subcommittee six days later, Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the ranking member, raised similar issues, with Bennett citing “a history of large unobligated balances,” that is, funds that Congress appropriated but the department did not spend in a given fiscal year.

At the March 10 hearing, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said that, over the last two years, his agency had “successfully executed large funding increases in several nonproliferation programs” while reducing the percentage of unspent funds.

In the past year, the NNSA has significantly reduced the staff vacancy rate, he said. He also cited the use of contract mechanisms that he said were well suited to GTRI work. “We are looking to commit all of the money for the [fiscal year 2011] work that we’ve requested in the budget, and we believe we can do it,” he said.

In addition to the proposed increase in existing programs, such as the GTRI, the administration’s budget request includes at least one new element for securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. In the section of the request dealing with international programs administered by the Department of State, the administration asks for $3 million to support implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires countries to establish effective national controls to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.


Almost immediately after signing a strategic arms treaty this month, President Barack Obama will have to focus his attention on another part of his nuclear policy agenda: securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.

Obama is preparing to host the leaders of about 40 countries in Washington April 12-13. The signing of New START is set for April 8 in Prague, where Obama delivered a wide-ranging speech on nuclear policy last April.

U.S. Incendiary-Weapons Policy Rebuffed

Jeff Abramson

In a rare step, 17 European countries objected in February to conditions the United States put on its decision to be bound by an international arms control protocol.

At the broadest level, the controversy revolves around Washington’s stance that incendiary weapons can be used when they would cause less harm than other weapons. So far the disagreement has drawn little attention, but some hope the objections will prevent what they see as efforts to weaken the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

On Jan. 21, 2009, the United States deposited its consent to be bound by the third protocol to the CCW, which bans the use of incendiary weapons against civilian targets (see sidebar). By protocol definition, incendiary weapons, such as flamethrowers, are “primarily designed to set fire to objects or cause burn injury to persons…by a chemical reaction of a substance delivered on the target.”

In its depositary notification, the United States made a reservation that allowed for “the right to use incendiary weapons against military objectives located in concentrations of civilians where it is judged that such use would cause fewer casualties and/or less collateral damage than alternative weapons.” In a clarification to the reservation, Washington stated that those responsible for the use of incendiary weapons could be judged only on the basis of information they had at the time, not on information acquired afterward (see sidebar).

The notification sent to the United Nations in 2009 did not contain additional arguments that incendiary weapons were needed to destroy certain targets, such as biological weapons facilities, although that has long been a U.S. position. In prepared remarks at an April 15, 2008, Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that discussed the protocol, Charles Allen, deputy general counsel for international affairs at the Department of Defense, reiterated that “incendiary weapons are the only weapons that can effectively destroy certain counterproliferation targets such as biological weapons facilities, which require high heat to eliminate biotoxins.” (See ACT, October 2008.) Although not included in the final reservation language, those arguments are repeated as part of the understanding for the reservation in the committee’s report on the protocol.

Between Feb. 1 and Feb. 5, 17 countries expressed objections to the U.S. reservation. According to a European diplomat, the EU body charged with overseeing issues related to the treaty raised concerns about the reservation only in December, resulting in a “whirlwind of correspondence between EU countries whilst they tried to figure out how to respond.”

Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, countries are considered to have accepted a reservation if they have not objected within 12 months. The UN-issued depositary notification for the U.S. reservation is dated Feb. 5, 2009.

Varied Reasons

The 17 objecting countries gave a variety of reasons for their actions. Many simply stated that they found the U.S. reservation to be against the object and purpose of the treaty. The French objection noted that, “despite the assurances given by the United States of America, it cannot guarantee the protection of civilians, which is the raison d’être of the Protocol.” The German objection argued that the U.S. position was unacceptable because it “would leave the decision of whether or not the respective norms of the Protocol should be applied to the discretion of a military commander.”

Only a few of the objections specifically mentioned the possibility of justifying weapons use in the narrow circumstances of targeting biological weapons facilities or other counterproliferation targets. Denmark acknowledged U.S. intentions to “provide greater protection for the civilian population” and expressed “its willingness to engage in any further dialogue, which may serve to settle differences in interpretation.” The British objection offered to consider the U.S. position as not counter to the object and purpose of the treaty if it could be interpreted narrowly enough.

All the objections, with the exception of Denmark’s, include a statement that allows the protocol to enter into force between their country and the United States. Marie-Louise Overvad, Denmark’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said in a March 23 e-mail to Arms Control Today that her country “has not expressed any intention precluding the entry into force of Protocol III.”

Diplomats contacted by Arms Control Today expressed different views on the legal meaning of those statements. One interpretation is, as the Swedish objection put it, that the United States is bound by the protocol without “benefiting from its reservation,” meaning that the reservation does not apply but the protocol does. The United States does not agree with that view, insisting that it is bound only to the extent that it has expressed its consent.

One European diplomat downplayed the impact of the objections, saying that they were raised “purely on legal grounds.” Another European diplomat indicated that the U.S. reservation “means that use of incendiary weapons in civilian areas is not completely forbidden anymore.” The second diplomat said, “Therefore we fear that such a reservation could weaken the CCW and its Protocol III.”

In a Feb. 16 e-mail, Stephen Goose, director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, expressed hope that the objections to the reservations will have “a big impact on how the United States may use incendiaries in the future, and also have an impact on those who may want to make weakening reservations to any CCW protocol in the future.”

In 2004 and 2005, the United States faced accusations of improper use of white phosphorus in civilian areas in Iraq, as has Israel for operations in Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008-2009, respectively. (See ACT, May 2008.) A material that is often used for illumination, white phosphorus burns readily against the skin and can cause severe burns and death if used as an incendiary weapon. In his 2008 prepared Senate statement, Allen reiterated U.S. claims that white phosphorus “does not fit the definition of incendiary weapon in the protocol…. White phosphorous [sic] is a lawful weapon used for target marking and limited antipersonnel purposes against military objectives and enemy combatants.”

Possible Steps

Thus far, the United States has not responded to the recent objections. One possible next step will be for Washington to correspond with the secretary-general of the UN, which is the depositary of the treaty, with reaction and clarifications. States-parties may raise the issue at the regular annual meeting for the CCW in Geneva November 25-26. However, the issue may wait to be resolved until 2011, when the CCW holds a more thorough five-year review conference, likely in November of that year.

Objecting states, the ones most likely to raise the issue at the meetings, include Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

On Jan. 21, 2009, the first full day of Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States deposited its consent to be bound not only to the protocol on incendiary weapons, but also two other protocols and an amendment to the 1980 CCW. The CCW has five separate protocols that, in order, encompass weapons with fragments undetectable by x-rays; landmines and booby traps; incendiary weapons; blinding lasers; and explosive remnants of war. A 2001 amendment expands the treaty to cover conflicts within states. The unamended treaty only applies to conflicts between states. Prior to the 2009 deposits, the United States had accepted the treaty and the first two protocols. (See ACT, October 2008.)

Excerpt From CCW Protocol III

Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons

Article 2

2. It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.

3. It is further prohibited to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by means of incendiary weapons other than air-delivered incendiary weapons, except when such military objective is clearly separated from the concentration of civilians and all feasible precautions are taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.


U.S. Consent to be Bound

January 21, 2009


The United States of America, with reference to Article 2, paragraphs 2 and 3, reserves the right to use incendiary weapons against military objectives located in concentrations of civilians where it is judged that such use would cause fewer casualties and/or less collateral damage than alternative weapons, but in so doing will take all feasible precautions with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.


It is the understanding of the United States of America that any decision by any military commander, military personnel, or any other person responsible for planning, authorizing or executing military action shall only be judged on the basis of that person’s assessment of the information reasonably available to the person at the time the person planned, authorized, or executed the action under review, and shall not be judged on the basis of information that comes to light after the action under review was taken.



In a rare step, 17 European countries objected in February to conditions the United States put on its decision to be bound by an international arms control protocol.


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