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April 15, 2019
June 2010
Edition Date: 
Friday, June 4, 2010
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Senate Begins Hearings on New START

Tom Z. Collina

Seeking Senate approval by year’s end, the White House transmitted the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and related documentation to the Senate May 13. On April 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began a series of hearings on the treaty with current and former administration officials, all of whom supported the pact.

In the opening round of the hearings, Democratic committee members and the ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), expressed support for the treaty, as did former officials from the Nixon, Ford, and George H.W. Bush administrations. Republican senators expressed concerns about the potential impact of New START on U.S. ballistic missile defense programs and about the adequacy of proposed investments in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, but stopped short of opposing the treaty.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at a May 18 hearing he was “confident” that the Senate could reach a bipartisan consensus on the treaty, “just as we did on START I and the Moscow Treaty.” The Senate approved START I in 1992 by a vote of 93-6 and endorsed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, in 2003, 95-0.

A congressional aide told reporters May 13 that Kerry intended to complete hearings “in time for the Senate to take up the treaty before the August recess, if it so chooses.” But the staffer said, “[W]hen it actually gets to the floor is something for the leadership on both sides of the aisle to work out.”

President Barack Obama called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev May 13 to inform him that New START was being sent to the Senate, according to a May 13 White House statement. The two leaders “stressed the importance of completing the ratification process in both countries as soon as possible,” the statement said. Medvedev sent New START to the Russian Duma May 28.

The two governments issued a separate joint statement May 13 that said New START, “in effect, marks the final end of the ‘Cold War’ period” and that they expect the new treaty to “pave the way for an increasingly productive and mutually beneficial partnership” between them.

Treaty Transmitted

The treaty package sent to the Senate included a letter of transmittal from Obama to the Senate; a letter of submittal from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Obama; the text of the treaty; the protocol and its annexes; a detailed report prepared by the Department of State analyzing each provision of the treaty known as the “article-by-article analysis;” and the unilateral statements issued by each side at the time of signature, which are not subject to advice and consent. In addition, the administration submitted a report required by section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010, which calls for a report on the plan to “enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile of the United States, modernize the nuclear weapons complex, and maintain the delivery platforms for nuclear weapons.” Although the report is classified, the White House on May 13 released an unclassified summary.

Over the next decade, the summary says, the administration plans to invest “$80 billion to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex,” in addition to “well over $100 billion in nuclear delivery systems to sustain existing capabilities and modernize some strategic systems.” According to administration budget projections, funding for the nuclear weapons stockpile and infrastructure will rise from $6.4 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $9.0 billion in 2018, if approved by Congress.

Hearings Get Underway

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee began its hearings on New START before the treaty was formally transmitted, receiving testimony April 29 from James Schlesinger, a former secretary of defense and of energy, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry.

In his opening statement, Lugar said he supported the treaty. He is the only Republican senator to have openly endorsed the treaty so far. Others appear to be withholding judgment. “We have just begun the process of evaluation,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a leading skeptic of the treaty, said in a speech on the Senate floor May 24. “I urge all of my colleagues to refrain from judgments before our process is complete,” he said.

Responding to a question about the implications for U.S. security if the Senate should reject New START, Schlesinger said there would be “a detrimental effect on our ability to influence others with regard to particularly the nonproliferation issue.” Perry was more blunt: “If we fail to ratify this treaty, the United States will have forfeited any right to provide any leadership in this field throughout the world.”

Perry and Schlesinger were chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which issued its final report last year and endorsed U.S.-Russian efforts to negotiate New START.

At the hearing, Schlesinger said, “I think that it is obligatory for the United States to ratify” New START, adding “any treaty is going to have limitations, questionable areas. There are some in this treaty. We need to watch them for the future, but that does not mean that the treaty should be rejected.”

On May 18, the committee heard testimony from top officials from the Obama administration: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Clinton, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. Gates argued in his prepared statement that the United States “is better off with this treaty than without it, and I am confident that it is the right agreement for today and for the future.”

Clinton said that “the choice before us is between this treaty and no treaty governing our nuclear security relationship with Russia.” Mullen noted that “we are in our sixth month without a treaty with Russia.”

Lugar urged the administration to accelerate work to complete the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on New START monitoring provisions, asking the witnesses to “devote personal energies to accelerating the timetable” for producing the NIE. Administration and Senate sources said that the NIE is expected by July. It is unlikely that the committee would hold a vote on New START until the NIE has been sent to the Senate.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), addressing Republican concerns about nuclear weapons modernization, said the pledged $80 billion looked like “double-counting” because “much of it is money that was already going to be spent.” He said that “real investment in modernization needs to take place.”

Gates replied, “I’ve been trying for three and a half years to get money for modernization of the nuclear infrastructure. This is the first time I think I have a chance of actually getting some. And, ironically, it’s in connection with an arms control agreement.”

In response to a question from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Gates said New START would allow 18 inspections annually; START I allowed 28, he said. However, Mullen said, the inspection frequency would actually be higher under the new regime because there are only 27 facilities to be inspected, compared with 73 under START I. That means “there are almost twice as many inspections per facility per year than under the previous treaty,” he said.

Moreover, Gates said, the number of inspections would not actually decline under New START. Ten of the 18 inspections are at sites where nuclear weapons are deployed, and in those, the United States would carry out a single inspection instead of the two separate inspections—one for data updates and one for looking at re-entry vehicles—conducted under the old treaty, he said. “So for all practical purposes, the number of inspections is about the same as it was” under START I, he said.

Differences on Missile Defense

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), referring to Republican concerns that New START limits U.S. missile defense programs, said, “I think that it’s a really, really good thing to have this treaty, but anything we do to convince the world or suggest to the world that we aren’t going to do everything we possibly can to effect a legitimate [missile] defensive position really, really troubles me.”

Gates, who said he first began working with Russia on strategic arms control 40 years ago, replied that “the Russians have hated missile defense ever since the strategic arms talks began in 1969” and that recent Russian statements are only “the latest chapter in a long line of Russian objections to our proceeding with missile defense, and frankly I think it’s because, particularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and probably equally now, it’s because we can afford it and they can’t.”

New START imposes “no limits” on U.S. country-region> missile defense plans, Gates said. He noted that previous U.S.-Russian arms agreements have included unilateral statements by each side. Because the statements are not binding, “the Russians can say what they want,” he said.

The United States and Russia made unilateral statements about the relationship between missile defense and the treaty, as they did with previous treaties. Under START I, the Soviet Union said that U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty would constitute grounds for Russian withdrawal from START I. However, when the United States did withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia did not withdraw from START I and, in fact, went on to negotiate a new bilateral treaty, SORT.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) also focused on missile defense, asking, “[I]s it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders [the Russian] threat useless?” Kerry replied, “I don’t personally think so, no,” because “they will build to the point that they feel they can overwhelm your defense.”

Gates added that “the [missile defense] systems that originated and have been funded in the Bush administration as well as in this administration are not focused on trying to render useless Russia’s nuclear capability. That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.”

DeMint asked, “So our ability to protect other countries is a pipe dream, and we don’t even intend to do that, is that true?” Gates said the United States has “missile defense capabilities going up all around the world, but not intended to eliminate the viability of the Russian nuclear capability.”

DeMint asked Clinton if she would allow senators to see the New START negotiating record. Kerry replied that senators did not have access to the negotiating record for START I. Senators did receive the record for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, he said, but subsequently the committee decided that Senate review of negotiating records was a bad idea. Kerry explained that the committee found “the overall effect of fully exposed negotiations” would be to “weaken the treaty-making process and thereby damage American diplomacy.” As a result, Kerry said, “I think that the rationale that the Senate committee came to previously is a good rationale, and I think it stands today.”

On May 19, the committee heard from former Secretary of State James Baker, who served during the George H.W. Bush administration and helped negotiate START I. Baker said New START “appears to take our country in a direction that can enhance our national security while at the same time reducing the number of nuclear warheads on the planet.” He said the treaty also could improve the U.S.-Russian relationship, which “will be vital if the two countries are to cooperate in order to stem nuclear proliferation in countries such as Iran and North Korea.”

On May 25, the committee heard from Nixon and Ford administration Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said New START “is a modest step forward, stabilizing American and Russian arsenals at a slightly reduced level.” He recommended ratification of the treaty “unless the deliberations of this committee reveal material that is not before me and that I do not anticipate…encountering.”

The committee is expected to hear testimony from New START negotiator Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, in June; the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Clinton, Gates,  Mullen and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu  June 17. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee may hold a hearing as well, congressional sources said.


Seeking Senate approval by year’s end, the White House transmitted the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and related documentation to the Senate May 13. On April 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began a series of hearings on the treaty with current and former administration officials, all of whom supported the pact.

Brazil, Turkey Broker Fuel Swap With Iran

Peter Crail

Reviving a confidence-building proposal on Iran’s nuclear program dormant since late last year, the presidents of Brazil, Iran, and Turkey agreed May 17 on a plan by which Iran would export half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to Turkey in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. The terms of the arrangement are nearly identical to a proposal on which France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the so-called Vienna Group, reached an agreement in principle with Iran last October. (See ACT, November 2009.) Tehran subsequently sought to alter the terms of that proposal, leading to its collapse. According to the May 17 plan, the Vienna Group would still need to approve the terms of any final fuel exchange.

The agreement came the day before the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) forwarded a draft sanctions resolution on Iran to the council’s 10 rotating members, which include Brazil and Turkey, putting the future of the fuel swap in question. Brasilia and Ankara have opposed additional sanctions on Iran, and Tehran has indicated that it would not agree to the exchange if placed under further sanctions.

Dropping long-held objections to exporting its LEU before receiving reactor fuel in return, Iran agreed as part of the May 17 declaration in Tehran to deposit 1,200 kilograms of LEU in Turkey as a confidence-building measure for up to a year while it awaited the fuel from abroad. Since last October, Iran had proposed at different times either that the two elements of the fuel exchange should occur simultaneously on Iranian soil or that both sides carry out the exchange in small batches.

The initial Vienna Group plan involved exporting 1,200 kilograms of Iran’s LEU to Russia in a single batch by the end of 2009 for further enrichment to 20 percent and then processing into reactor fuel in France. The U.S.-supplied Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes and is expected to run out of fuel this year, operates on fuel enriched to about 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235, the threshold for highly enriched uranium (HEU). Nuclear weapons generally require HEU enriched to far higher levels, but acquiring 2 0 percent-enriched material can speed the process to achieve weapons-grade levels.

Argentina and France are the only two countries that currently maintain the capability to produce fuel for the Tehran reactor, which has been operating on Argentinean fuel since 1993.

After Iran rejected the October arrangement, declaring that it needed “100 percent guarantees” that it would receive the reactor fuel, Mohamed ElBaradei, then the IAEA director-general, proposed stationing the LEU in Turkey in escrow. (See ACT, December 2009.) Responding to the proposal, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters last November that Ankara had “no problem” storing the LEU in his country.

In February, Iran began enriching some of its LEU to 20 percent in order to fuel the reactor, even though it does not currently have the capability to make the reactor fuel plates. (See ACT, March 2010.) The day prior to the start of this additional enrichment, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state television Feb. 9, “If [Western countries] come forward and supply the fuel, then we will stop the 20 percent enrichment.” In response to Iran’s efforts to enrich to 20 percent, the permanent representatives to the IAEA for France, Russia, and the United States delivered a letter Feb. 12 to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano describing the move as “wholly unjustified, contrary to UN Security Council resolutions [demanding that Iran suspend its enrichment activities], and…a further step toward a capability to produce highly enriched uranium.”

The envoys called the October proposal “the most effective and timely mechanism to assure the refueling” of Iran’s reactor “and to begin to establish mutual trust and confidence.”

Skeptical Responses

The United States and its allies responded coolly to the May 17 declaration, citing advances in Iran’s nuclear program since last fall and additional concerns about Iran’s nuclear program the deal does not address. Key among those concerns is Iran’s announcement that it would continue enriching to 20 percent even if the fuel swap went forward, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a May 25 press conference in Beijing.

In an apparent reversal from his Feb. 8-9 statement, Salehi told Reuters May 17, “There is no relation between the swap deal and our enrichment activities,” he said, adding, “We will continue our 20 percent uranium enrichment work.”

Western governments indicated that Iran’s LEU stockpile has grown since last October, and removing the 1,200 kilograms would account for a smaller percentage of Iran’s total stockpile, lessening its value as a confidence-building measure. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a May 25 press briefing that Iran’s stockpile now “must be” about 2,000 to 2,400 kilograms, up from about 1,600 kilograms in October.

“There’s a bit of a difference between the two, and that is also part of the problem,” he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed this concern in a speech to Parliament the same day. “Even if Iran were to complete the deal proposed in their recent agreement with Turkey and Brazil, it would still retain around 50 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and it is this stockpile that could be enriched to weapons-grade uranium,” he said.

If enriched to weapons-grade levels, Iran’s 1,200 kilograms of LEU would be about enough material for one nuclear weapon.

Russia offered a more positive appraisal of the declaration. Stating that Moscow welcomed the agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a May 27 press briefing, “If it is fulfilled in all its entirety, very important prerequisites will be created not only for resolving the concrete problem of fuel supplies to this reactor, but also important conditions will emerge for strengthening the atmosphere for resuming talks.”

“Very much will depend on how the Iranian side will handle its obligations,” he said, indicating that Russia would support the agreement if Iran fulfilled its commitments.

Middle-Power Mediators

The May 17 fuel exchange declaration capped a high-profile visit to Iran by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who had sought, along with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to restart negotiations with Iran on the basis of the aborted October fuel exchange arrangement.

In the days leading up to the meeting, it did not appear as though Iran was willing to adjust its position on the fuel swap. Erdogan initially abandoned his plans to join Lula in Tehran to discuss the nuclear issue, telling reporters May 14 that he would not travel to Iran because Tehran had not taken steps to conclude a successful agreement. In a last-minute change of plans May 16, Erdogan announced he would visit Tehran the following day, suggesting sufficient changes to Iran’s position.

In the days before the meeting, Lula appeared far more optimistic about the chances of an agreement. During a May 14 press briefing with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, he told reporters he believed he had a 99 percent chance of securing an agreement. Medvedev had placed the chances at 30 percent.

Despite the apparent difference in perception of Iran’s willingness to negotiate an acceptable deal, a Brazilian diplomat said May 26 that “Brazil and Turkey coordinated closely throughout the whole process.”

Responding to the chilly reception to the fuel swap arrangement by the West, Brazil and Turkey insisted that the international community seek a “negotiated solution” to the Iran nuclear impasse. In an International Herald Tribune op-ed, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu argued, “The Tehran declaration needs to be given the opportunity to work.”

“[W]e believe the declaration helps to address the entire issue by providing essential confidence-building, the key missing component thus far,” they said.

Brazil in particular has claimed that the United States supported its efforts to broker a deal conforming to the terms of the October agreement. “We were encouraged directly or indirectly...to implement the October proposal without any leeway, and that’s what we did,” Amorim told reporters May 22.

In an April 20 letter to Lula, President Barack Obama said that Iran’s agreement to export 1,200 kilograms of LEU “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile.” He cited a number of concerns regarding Tehran’s unwillingness to export its LEU beforehand, including the notion that there would be no guarantee that Iran would carry out the exchange after it was agreed.

Obama specifically endorsed the proposal for holding that material in escrow in Turkey, stating, “I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to ‘escrow’ its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.”

Although Iran ultimately agreed to those terms, its new insistence that it would continue 20 percent enrichment has raised additional hurdles. At a May 22 press briefing in Brasilia, Amorim acknowledged that Iran’s position had complicated the matters, but he said, “It wasn’t on the agenda. Nobody told us, ‘Hey if you don’t stop 20 percent enrichment, forget the deal.’”

U.S. officials disputed Amorim’s statement. In a May 28 background briefing, a senior administration official said that Washington had raised the issue of Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent in consultations with Brasilia, saying that Brazil’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, asked Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki what Tehran would do about such enrichment if a deal were agreed during a May 7 dinner Iran hosted in New York for Security Council members.

Another senior administration official stressed that Obama’s letter to Lula “was not intended to lay out a comprehensive position,” because Brazil and Turkey were not asked to negotiate on behalf of the Vienna Group.

Responding to questions about the value of the deal if it does not require Iran to stop its enrichment work, the Brazilian diplomat said that the fuel swap proposal “was never meant to solve all problems related to the Iranian nuclear program,” but rather “was conceived as a confidence-building measure to facilitate broader discussions about the issue.”

UN Sanctions Still Pushed

Far from characterizing the May 17 declaration as a confidence-building measure, the United States has charged that Iran only agreed to the plan to avoid a new round of UN sanctions.

Clinton said in her May 25 remarks that Iran agreed to the fuel swap only “because the Security Council was on the brink of publicly releasing the text of the resolution that we have been negotiating for many weeks.”

U.S. officials have said that the sanctions and the fuel swap are separate issues. “[N]one of the elements of the fuel swap deal…have anything to do with what is called for in this resolution, which is a suspension of all enrichment,” the first senior administration official at the May 28 briefing said.

The draft resolution circulated by the five major powers expands on existing international sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, its arms imports and exports, and its banking and financial sectors. Many of its enforcement provisions, however, are not mandatory.

It also seeks, for the first time, to prohibit all Iranian activities related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, including development and testing. Previous sanctions have only restricted imports and exports relevant to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

U.S. officials have argued that the sanctions can be used as a legal basis for U.S. allies, particularly the European Union, to adopt their own stringent measures against Iran.

Even prior to the May 17 fuel swap declaration, Western diplomats said that it would be difficult to move forward with sanctions while Lebanon held the May council presidency as it would complicate placing the issue on the council’s agenda. Beirut has voiced opposition to new sanctions, and Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist group with links to Iran, is a major Lebanese political party holding parliamentary seats.

Mexico holds the council presidency in June.


Reviving a confidence-building proposal on Iran’s nuclear program dormant since late last year, the presidents of Brazil, Iran, and Turkey agreed May 17 on a plan by which Iran would export half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile to Turkey in return for fuel for a medical research reactor. The terms of the arrangement are nearly identical to a proposal on which France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the so-called Vienna Group, reached an agreement in principle with Iran last October. (See ACT, November 2009.) Tehran subsequently sought to alter the terms of that proposal, leading to its collapse. According to the May 17 plan, the Vienna Group would still need to approve the terms of any final fuel exchange.

NPT Parties Agree on Middle East Meeting

Peter Crail

In a final-hour agreement concluding a month-long review of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 189 parties on May 28 endorsed a final document on ways to strengthen the treaty, including, for the first time in 15 years, steps toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. The document is centered on a series of 64 action steps aimed at strengthening the treaty’s “three pillars” of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. On the Middle East zone, the parties agreed to start a process over the next two years to determine how progress can be made on a WMD-free Middle East, in particular calling for a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012.

It was the eighth such review, which are held every five years, but only three previous sessions have adopted a final consensus document. The May conference adopted only the 64-step action plan by consensus. An article-by-article review of the treaty was adopted as the conference president’s interpretation of member-state views.

Throughout the last day, the consensus agreement hinged on whether a small group of states, in particular Egypt and the United States, could agree on language related to implementing the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East. The NPT parties adopted that resolution, aimed at establishing a WMD-free Middle East, as part of a package of decisions that led to the indefinite extension of the NPT. Diplomatic sources said during the conference that much depended on the outcome of the discussions on the Middle East, some of which occurred at the highest levels of government, outside the conference itself.

In their closing statements, many delegations credited the success of the conference to an improved atmosphere for promoting disarmament and nonproliferation, noting particularly President Barack Obama’s April 5, 2009, speech in Prague calling for steps toward a world free of nuclear weapons and the April 8 signing of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement.

Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a group of 118 developing nations and the largest bloc in the treaty, called the timing of the conference a “historical juncture,” citing “stronger political will…aimed at the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

In this regard, several delegations, including Indonesia and Japan, contrasted the renewed momentum and the success of the conference with the failure of the last review in 2005, which was fraught with serious disagreement, was not able to agree on an agenda for half of the month, and concluded without any substantive agreement. (See ACT, June 2005.)

Obama also tied the review conference outcome to the nuclear arms policies he outlined in 2009, saying in a May 28 press statement that it “reaffirms many aspects of the agenda that I laid out in Prague, and which we have pursued together with other nations over the last year, and underscores that those nations that refuse to abide by their international obligations must be held accountable.”

The adoption of the consensus document did not mean that all areas of dispute were resolved. In several cases, the final document recognized that “many” or particular groups of states held a particular position, indicating the parties could not reach consensus in these areas by the end of the conference.

Although nearly all states characterized the final document as a success, many cited areas in which it did not meet their expectations or contained elements they did not fully endorse.

The United States, which played a central role in negotiating the language on the Middle East zone, said that it “deeply regretted” the decision to name Israel in that context, citing concerns that the conference to be held in 2012 might be used to single out the U.S. ally. The United States also noted that the final document did not name Iran, which Washington and its allies have charged is in violation of the NPT and UN Security Council resolutions.

The final document “recalls the reaffirmation by the 2000 Review Conference of the importance of Israel’s accession to the Treaty and the placement of its nuclear facilities” under international inspections. Israel, along with India and Pakistan, has never signed the NPT. The document includes similar language for the two other nonsignatories.

France also stated that the conference should have gone further in criticizing countries of proliferation concern, such as Iran and North Korea, saying that “words were not enough” and that more had to be done to respond to such “proliferation crises.”

Many states, however, expressed disappointment that the document did not promote more urgent action toward nuclear disarmament by the five recognized nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.) The NAM states in particular noted that many of their proposals for an action plan toward nuclear disarmament were not adopted. Other non-nuclear-weapon states, including Mexico and Norway, joined them in stating that the document should have established nuclear disarmament timelines.

The most significant critique came from Iran, which derided the final document for drawing “a rosy picture” of recent nuclear disarmament efforts by nuclear-weapon states and for failing to condemn efforts to modernize nuclear arsenals or call for the withdrawal of nuclear arms stationed on the territories of non-nuclear-weapon states.

The United States maintains about 200 nuclear arms in Europe as part of NATO nuclear sharing arrangements.

Tehran said that it joined the consensus to “demonstrate political goodwill” and respect the views of other countries. Iran was the last country to agree to the consensus document, having delayed the final meeting for several hours as its delegation sought instructions from Tehran, diplomats said.

Steps on WMD-Free Middle East Agreed

One of the central agreements of the conference was on steps toward a WMD-free Middle East, a goal with which the international community as a whole has agreed since it was first proposed by Iran in 1974.

Arms control discussions that foresaw the eventual establishment of such a zone had been held by states in the region, including Israel, as part of the Madrid peace process during the 1990s. Those discussions did not include such key countries as Iran and Iraq, and the process eventually faltered.

In a section of the document dedicated to implementing the 1995 Middle East resolution, the conference agreed on five “practical steps” to make progress toward this goal. Key among them was the decision to convene a conference in the region in 2012 “to be attended by all states in the Middle East.” The document also calls for the UN secretary-general and the co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution (Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to appoint a “facilitator” to consult with states in the region in preparation for that conference. Both actions were largely based on Egyptian proposals prior to the conference.

The resulting language was a compromise between the Arab League, led by Egypt, which wanted the 2012 conference to negotiate a WMD-free zone, and the United Kingdom and United States, which argued that it was too early for such negotiations.

The final negotiations on the Middle East zone language, still in dispute in the last days of the conference, hinged on whether to single out Israel by name. Washington sought to avoid that, but the Arab League pressed for it.

Israel responded harshly to the language, announcing that it would not participate in the conference. “It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation,” said a May 28 press statement issued by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

British Ambassador for Multilateral Arms Control and Disarmament John Duncan cautioned in a May 30 post on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Web log, however, that the two-year process prior to the conference is intended to prepare a way in which all sides “will be comfortable attending.”

“It would indeed be very surprising if Israel was able to agree today to come to the proposed conference before that dialogue has taken place,” he added.

Debating the Urgency of Disarmament

Many non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members stressed the need for the conference to instill a greater sense of urgency into the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. The NAM in particular maintained that the conference should endorse negotiations on total nuclear disarmament, including by convening a conference to negotiate banning nuclear arms, and that the nuclear disarmament process should be outlined in a “time-bound framework.” Early on, NAM states called for setting a date of 2025 as the goal for completing nuclear disarmament.

With the exception of China, which endorsed holding such a conference, nuclear-weapon states argued that such a timeline was unfeasible and that nuclear disarmament was a lengthy process.

Early drafts of the disarmament language reflected calls for more definitive actions on nuclear disarmament, including deciding that the nuclear-weapon states “shall convene” consultations no later than 2011 “to accelerate progress on nuclear disarmament.” The drafts also invited the UN secretary-general to convene a conference by 2014 to consider a road map toward eliminating nuclear weapons in a specified time frame.

Due to objections from nuclear-weapon states, the final document did not include specific dates for consultations, but did retain a commitment by the nuclear powers to “accelerate progress on steps toward nuclear disarmament.” The final document also omitted any reference to a nuclear weapons conference, stating instead in the president’s summary that the final phase of nuclear disarmament “should be pursued in an agreed legal framework,” recognizing that “the majority of states believe this should include specified timelines.”

Specific actions related to nuclear disarmament stoked fierce debate, and in some cases, the final document either reflected such differences or removed references to the actions altogether. A call for nuclear-weapon states to “cease the development of new nuclear weapons and the qualitative improvement” of existing ones was removed in the final days from the list of action steps. Instead, the final document recognized “the legitimate interests of non-nuclear weapon states in constraining” such developments.

A U.S. diplomat said that Washington’s opposition to the language had no relation to improvements in military capabilities, but a concern that such restrictions would limit qualitative improvements to the safety and security of nuclear weapons.

In addition, a call to address the issue of nuclear sharing arrangements, solely practiced by the United States with five NATO allies (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey), was ultimately removed from the outcome document.

The United States, along with countries hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, opposed the draft language. NAM countries have challenged such arrangements as violations of the NPT’s Article I, which prohibits nuclear-weapon states from transferring nuclear arms. Washington argued that nuclear sharing does not fall in the purview of the NPT review process. The United States has maintained that because the weapons remain in U.S. custody, the arrangement does not violate Article I.

Instead, the issue of tactical weapons in general was addressed by calls for the nuclear-weapon states to reduce “all types” of nuclear weapons. In addition to the United States, Russia maintains a stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, estimated at 2,000. Moscow has generally resisted calls specifically aimed at reducing such weapons.

Although China supported many of the provisions sought by the NAM on nuclear disarmament, a Western diplomat said that the Chinese delegation challenged early draft language calling for a global moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. China is the only nuclear-weapon state not to have officially declared such a moratorium, although it is believed to have halted such production unofficially since the 1990s.

In their closing remarks, Australia and Japan voiced disappointment that the conference did not endorse such a moratorium.

Addressing the issue of fissile material for weapons, the conference called on the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations immediately on a treaty banning fissile material for weapons, a process that has been stalemated for well more than a decade.

The final document attaches some urgency to efforts to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) into force, calling for nuclear-weapon states to ratify the accord “with all expediency.” Initial drafts, however, called on all states to do so “without delay and without conditions.”

A call for nuclear-weapon states to “close and dismantle as soon as feasible” their nuclear test sites was ultimately removed from the final document due to opposition from some nuclear-weapon states.

France, which supported the language, is the only country to have closed its test sites. The United Kingdom does not maintain any of its own. The United States opposed the call on the grounds that it carries out operations unrelated to nuclear testing at its test sites.

A diplomatic source said that referring to closing test sites in the section on the CTBT was always problematic because it is not in the CTBT itself. The diplomat suggested instead that the language should be placed in another section of the document.

Addressing Key Proliferation Concerns

The key debates on nonproliferation centered on long-standing efforts by many countries, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to universalize the more stringent inspections under the agency’s 1997 Model Additional Protocol, and on initiatives to respond to potential withdrawals from the NPT.

With regard to the additional protocol, the conference encouraged all states that have not done so to bring such a measure into force as soon as possible and to implement such a protocol provisionally before it has been ratified.

The NAM, as well as other key developing states such as Brazil, opposed attempts by the United States and other countries to recognize the additional protocol as the new IAEA safeguards standard. Instead, the president’s summary recognized the additional protocol, along with comprehensive IAEA safeguards, “as the enhanced standard for verification of the NPT.”

For the first time in a review conference document, the NPT parties also addressed concerns over a country’s withdrawal from the treaty after being found in noncompliance with its obligations. The language, however, appeared to reflect continued divisions over the issue.

The president’s statement noted that “many states” believed that NPT parties were still responsible for violations under the treaty in the event of their withdrawal and that “numerous states” acknowledged that nuclear suppliers could write their supply contracts to include provisions requiring the return of nuclear technology following a state’s withdrawal from the NPT.

Concerns about withdrawal rose after North Korea in 2003 declared that it withdrew from the treaty, an action that treaty members have not officially recognized.

Curtailing Nuclear Deals With Non-NPT States

One controversial issue raised in the course of the conference was the conclusion of nuclear supply arrangements with non-NPT members India, Israel, and Pakistan.

Many countries maintained that nuclear cooperation should continue to be reserved for countries that have joined the NPT. Early drafts of the NPT final statement incorporated this position by reaffirming that “existing or new supply arrangements” for civil nuclear trade require the recipient state to have “full-scope” safeguards in place. According to the Western diplomatic source, France opposed this language, while the U.S. delegation insisted that the word “existing” should be deleted; otherwise, the language would have applied to nuclear cooperation with India, which the United States argued was a “unique” case.

In 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an informal collection of the world’s major nuclear supplier countries that aims to prevent proliferation, agreed on an exemption for nuclear transfers to India. The exemption, initiated by the United States as part of a policy shift announced in 2005, reversed long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with non-NPT parties.

Egypt suggested replacing “existing or new” with “any,” but this too was opposed by the United States; Mexico said the issue was important but could accept the U.S. proposal as a compromise, the Western diplomat said.

The final president’s statement reaffirmed that “new supply arrangements” for nuclear transfers should require that the recipient accept “IAEA full-scope safeguards and international legally-binding commitments not to acquire nuclear weapons.”

The issue may soon be put to a test. China, an NSG member, reportedly is planning to provide two additional light-water nuclear power reactors to Pakistan. China did not seek an NSG exemption similar to the one for India.


In a final-hour agreement concluding a month-long review of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the 189 parties on May 28 endorsed a final document on ways to strengthen the treaty, including, for the first time in 15 years, steps toward establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. The document is centered on a series of 64 action steps aimed at strengthening the treaty’s “three pillars” of nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. On the Middle East zone, the parties agreed to start a process over the next two years to determine how progress can be made on a WMD-free Middle East, in particular calling for a regional conference to discuss the issue in 2012.

Spreading the Bomb for Profit

Reviewed by Leonard Weiss

Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America’s Enemies
By David Albright
Free Press, 2010, 295 pp.

To his list of dubious achievements, Abdul Qadeer Khan can add the denuding of forests for all the books, reports, documents, and papers that have been printed about him and his activities since he began his career more than 30 years ago. There are at least seven books in English, as well as extensive investigative reporting by some of the best-known names in journalism. David Albright’s book, Peddling Peril: How the Secret Nuclear Trade Arms America’s Enemies, is the latest but probably not the last word on Khan’s history.

Albright has excellent credentials to tell the story. He and his colleagues at the small think tank he established in 1993 have been among the most assiduous observers and chroniclers of the Khan network’s activities from the time in the 1990s that the network turned from an importing operation for Pakistan’s bomb to an import-export operation for the purpose of selling nuclear weapons-related technology to others. Albright has apparently established good sources at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and among a group of U.S. individuals who have or have had access to classified or otherwise closely held information. He has occasionally made news by revealing interesting facts that these individuals would like to make public but do not want attributed to them. This public exposure regarding the activities of proliferators has been quite useful.

However, when it comes to narratives or interpretations as opposed to facts themselves, using such unidentified sources can be problematic because narratives can be the result of a desire on the part of the source or the disseminator to have the facts fit a particular point of view. Albright’s chapter on the case of Libya is an illustration of this problem, which is discussed later in this review.

Peddling Peril consists of 12 chapters laying out the activities and actors of the Khan network in providing or attempting to provide nuclear weapons-related technology to Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, among others. One chapter describes what is currently known about al Qaeda’s interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, although the chapter’s title, “Al Qaeda’s Bomb,” seriously oversells its content. Al Qaeda has no nuclear weapons. Its most likely route would be to steal one, but that would be very difficult, if possible at all. It could conceivably obtain one from a sympathetic state with nuclear capabilities, but not even Pakistan fits that bill at the moment. Yes, Osama bin Laden has expressed interest in having the bomb, but he may also have an interest in being the new caliph of a resurgent Islamic civilization. Neither is likely to happen any time soon, but the prospect warrants more attention to proliferation and physical security protections over nuclear weapons and materials.

Putting Pieces Together

Given the large amount of material on the Khan network, it is not surprising that Albright’s book covers a great deal of familiar ground. However, in some areas he does provide interesting detail not matched by other accounts. His chapter on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq contains some additional information on Khan’s offer of a nuclear weapons design to Iraq, first reported by John Barry in Newsweek.

The part of the book that shines is Albright’s detailed description of the nodes, connectors, and actors of the Khan network during its operations as an exporter of nuclear weapons-related technology from the 1990s until 2002, when its cover was blown. He chronicles the roles of unscrupulous businessmen and companies operating out of Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates in not only helping Pakistan’s own nuclear weapons program, but also helping Khan to sell the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons materials to other developing nations, including Iran and Libya.

To Albright’s evident frustration, Khan and the vast majority of his professional or business associates in Pakistan or abroad have not suffered any major penalties to date. The lone exception is Gunes Cire, who died while under police interrogation in Turkey. The only case still open is that of Friedrich, Urs, and Marco Tinner, who worked for the Swiss company Vakuum Apparat Technik. Swiss prosecutors have accused the Tinners of violating nonproliferation laws and, by virtue of becoming CIA agents, anti-espionage laws. In that role, they provided important information that helped unravel at least part of the Khan network. The U.S. government protested their possible prosecution, and the Swiss government tried but failed to prevent the assembling of evidence. At some point, a magistrate will determine whether the evidence warrants formal charges against the Tinners and a subsequent trial. Thus, the case is still ongoing, but it is the only one still open.

Significant Omissions

The thoroughness with which Albright describes the network is unfortunately not displayed in other parts of the book. The problems begin at the beginning. The introduction begins with Israel’s September 2007 raid on a not-yet-completed Syrian facility that was later identified by intelligence sources as a budding nuclear reactor based on North Korean technology. Although Syria is a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), this facility was not declared to the IAEA as a nuclear site and is under investigation by the agency. Syria has continued to deny that it was a nuclear site. However, the consensus among most observers is that the facility was indeed part of a clandestine Syrian nuclear program and that failure to report it constituted a violation by Syria of its safeguards obligations under the NPT.

The raid was eerily reminiscent of Israel’s 1981 raid on the Osirak reactor in Iraq, which was also bombed prior to the insertion of any nuclear fuel, thereby preventing the widespread dispersal of radioactive material. Its inclusion in the book presumably establishes the dangers of illicit nuclear trade, in this case, from North Korea. To underscore that point, Albright calls Syria’s search for nuclear weapons a “threat.” In conjunction with the book’s subtitle, the implication is that the threat is to the United States and that Syria is therefore an enemy of the United States. That is certainly the opinion of some neoconservatives, but many other observers have a more nuanced view of Syria that recognizes its support for groups the United States considers terrorist but takes into account other factors: Syria’s demonstrated willingness to engage with its adversaries, including Israel; its support for the first war against Hussein’s Iraq; and its secular character. Indeed, Pakistan has done much more than Syria in the realm of illicit nuclear trade while supporting terrorists and building nuclear weapons. Yet, despite considerable evidence that the Khan network was not a rogue operation but was approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government and despite questions about the security of its nuclear weapons, Albright does not call Pakistan a threat, nor does he appear to consider Pakistan an enemy of the United States.

Additionally, Albright admits, almost as an aside, that Israel “formerly rivaled Pakistan in the extent of its nuclear smuggling” and that such smuggling continued for decades beyond the original delivery of nuclear weapons-related technology to Israel by France in the 1960s. Israel used U.S. and South African companies, among others, just like the Khan network, but Albright says Israel has stopped its smuggling (no reference given). Except for its air attacks on Iraq and Syria, Israel does not appear in this book about illicit nuclear trading except as the provider of intelligence about other proliferators. Thus, although Albright covers the Khan network’s South African connection, which was important to India, Libya, Pakistan, and possibly Iran and North Korea, he does not mention the apartheid regime’s previous and equally important nuclear-related exports to Israel that aided Israel’s weapons program. Many in the intelligence community believe that the military collaboration of the two countries included an Israeli nuclear test in the Indian Ocean on September 22, 1979, which the U.S. government has tried to deny ever since.

Perhaps this omission from Peddling Peril is also motivated by the fact that South Africa was providing nuclear assistance to a U.S. friend rather than an “enemy.” Albright, an ardent nonproliferator, is not alone in avoiding or soft-pedaling substantive discussion of Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal when Middle East proliferation issues are discussed. That gap is characteristic of the field, which produces reams of material speculating on the weapons activities of other countries in the region.

Similarly, Albright scatters information about India’s illicit nuclear trade within the book. Such trade has brought India centrifuge technology for making highly enriched uranium for submarine reactors and thermonuclear weapons, but the details here are relatively sparse.[1] The relatively cursory treatment of India underscores the point that this book is not really about illicit nuclear trade generally; its main focus is the illicit nuclear trade that was helpful to specific countries with which the United States has had serious problems, particularly Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. To be sure, Albright tries to distill generic lessons from these examples that could be helpful in reducing illicit nuclear trade with friendly countries as well, and he does write that the United States must press friends and foes alike to clamp down on smuggling, but the history of U.S. responses to such illicit trade by countries considered to be friends does not provide confidence that an evenhanded approach to the issue is likely to be implemented. Foreign policy, as many Department of State representatives repeatedly point out, is more than nonproliferation policy. Therefore, the United States may continue to carry out a discriminatory nuclear nonproliferation policy as “friends” whose nuclear programs are not autarkic keep their arsenals in working order through smuggling.

Whose Source Do You Believe?

Albright’s inadequate discussion of illicit nuclear trade by U.S. friends is not the only case of incompleteness in this book. Another concerns the treatment of the Libyan case in the chapter entitled “Busting the Khan Network,” whose title is another example of hype. Albright’s narrative of this case basically accepts former CIA director George Tenet’s characterization of the Libyan case as a U.S. intelligence coup.[2] However, an alternative narrative exists. Seymour Hersh, in a March 8, 2004, article in The New Yorker, presents a different perspective based on his own interviews with former CIA officials and two men “who worked closely with Libyan intelligence.” In Hersh’s account, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi had been seeking reconciliation with the West for years and was urged by the head of Libyan intelligence to use the coming war with Iraq as an opportunity to show his good faith by opening up his weapons operation to international inspection. Gaddafi then approved offering details to U.S. and British intelligence about a centrifuge deal with Khan that was underway. The parts were due to be shipped aboard a German freighter, the BBC China. In October 2002, the freighter was seized, and the incident was claimed to be an intelligence success. Yet, Hersh quotes an Arab intelligence operative as saying it had become a staged sting operation in which the Libyans “blew up the Pakistanis.” In this version, Gaddafi knew the Bush administration wanted a success story, so he provided one in order to save his skin and change U.S. attitudes toward Libya. He was successful on both counts.

An informed judgment on which narrative on the Libya case is more accurate may have to await further clarification from the Libyans. The two versions agree that the result was the exposure of the Khan network, which was followed by the shutdown of certain elements of it. However, one should note, as Albright does, that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons production complex is still operating and still shopping for components. Intelligence agencies in the European Union warned companies in 2005 of a huge shopping spree in Europe by agents working for Pakistan, suggesting that new nodes and connectors are being sought and perhaps found to replace those lost after the Libya affair became public and arrests were made. Thus, the Khan network has perhaps not been busted, but more likely transformed.

Whether or not the network was “rolled up” in 2003, could it have been disrupted earlier, before all those transfers to other countries occurred? Although he does not explicitly say, Albright appears to accept the notion that the Khan network could not have been broken up until 2003, when President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a meeting planning the Iraq war, decided that Khan had to be stopped. The CIA had, in fact, infiltrated Khan’s network and collected a great deal of information about elements of it during Pakistan’s drive in the 1970s and 1980s to build its bomb. The U.S. National Security Agency was intercepting communications between elements of the network, and the CIA began to collect even more when it realized that Khan had become an exporter as well as an importer of weapons-related technology. For various reasons, no actions such as arrests were taken. One factor might have been the desire to protect U.S. intelligence agents inside the network from exposure, which is what happened later in the case of Friedrich Tinner. So the question is, did the United States choose not to break up the Khan network at an earlier time even though it had the ability to do so? Hersh’s 2004 New Yorker article quotes a Bush administration intelligence officer as saying that “we had every opportunity to put a stop to the Khan network 15 years ago. Some of those involved today are the children of those we knew about in the 80s.” (He may have been referring to the sons of Friedrich Tinner and Cire, who play a significant role in Albright’s narrative.)

It may be legitimate to complain that Hersh used an unidentified source for that assertion, but Albright cannot be one of the complainers. This reviewer counted 95 references to unidentified sources for the material in his book, and they tend to put themselves and their agencies in a favorable light on the Khan affair. The difference between Albright’s and Hersh’s accounts in this case is important. It could have meant the difference between having and not having advanced centrifuge technology in the hands of countries the United States does not trust. In a similar vein, Peddling Peril contrasts with another recent book, The Nuclear Jihadist,[3] as to whether the CIA advised the BVD, the Dutch intelligence agency, not to arrest Khan for espionage in 1975 in order to provide more time to track his contacts and activities. It is another case of “Whose source do you believe?”

Pakistan’s Program

Albright recognizes that the story of the Khan network’s aid to other proliferators is inseparable from the story of the Pakistani bomb, and he devotes a chapter to that story. However, despite the many details he includes about how Khan stole centrifuge blueprints in the 1970s and set up his network to provide materials and equipment to Pakistan for building centrifuges and the bomb, his treatment of that story ignores a shameful part of U.S. Cold War history. Albright takes great pains to show how the Khan network was infiltrated by Western spies, including those of the United Kingdom and the United States, but readers will look in vain for any reference to the radical shift of U.S. nonproliferation policy toward Pakistan, engineered by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, that took place in 1979 after the mujahideen revolt against the Communist regime in Afghanistan began.

The United States had embarked on a mission that required an impossible balance. On the one hand, the U.S. government was attempting to convince the Pakistanis that it was serious about stopping their nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, the United States, determined to show the importance it attached to assisting the anti-Soviet mujahideen, changed its nonproliferation laws to allow aid to continue flowing to Pakistan in spite of weapons activities that otherwise would have triggered a cutoff. The Glenn-Symington amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act were altered to allow time-limited military aid to Pakistan.[4] Subsequent extensions of the time limit on military aid, plus failure to adhere to the Pressler and Solarz amendments, which created new redlines for Pakistan’s nuclear progress, sent the message to Pakistan that the creation of the Khan network was not an impediment to U.S.-Pakistani relations, at least as long as the Soviets were in Afghanistan.[5] By the time the Soviets left in 1989, after which Pakistan was cut off from U.S. assistance, Pakistan had built its first nuclear weapons, including some based on a design provided by China in 1983. It had also put into place the trading network that, with a few additional nodes and connectors, provided Khan and Pakistan with the ability to send nuclear weapons technology to other countries.

People inside and outside the U.S. government were trying to change the disastrous path taken by its nonproliferation policy in the 1980s. Some leaked detailed information to the press, and there was much activity behind the scenes to intercept or otherwise block nuclear-related shipments to Pakistan. The basic U.S. policy, however, ensured that such activity would fail to stop Pakistan’s drive for the bomb. Moreover, the highly classified nature of U.S. information in this area meant that hardly anyone inside government was speaking out publicly about this shameful state of affairs. The loudest voices were in Congress, which is invisible in Albright’s book. Perhaps the most sustained voice of protest was that of Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), in speeches on the Senate floor and his investigatory hearings.[6]

The Turkish Connection

An exception to the virtual silence in Albright’s book on the U.S. decision to take no action against Pakistan or its bomb enablers is contained in his rather sparse discussion of the role of Turkey in the Khan network. The story is as follows: Two Turkish contractors, Selim Alguadis and Cire, had for years been helping Khan obtain component parts such as frequency inverters and ring magnets for powering and controlling centrifuges. The British and U.S. governments were aware of this early on. A secret State Department cable, not mentioned by Albright, to the U.S. embassy in Ankara, which was leaked in 1981, stated, “We have strong reason to believe that Pakistan is seeking to develop a nuclear explosives capability” and that “a covert purchasing organization” of Turkish companies known to the Pakistani, Turkish, and U.S. governments was purchasing U.S.-made electrical equipment and diverting it to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The cable also said that “Pakistan is conducting a program for the design and development of a triggering package for nuclear explosive devices.”[7] Over a decade, the U.S. government sent more than 100 démarches to Turkey on this matter. No action resulted, although President Ronald Reagan raised the issue in a 1988 meeting with Turkish President Kenan Evren. Albright writes that the lack of action was because “Turkey was a crucial ally in the fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, and many did not want to threaten that cooperation by pressuring the Turkish government to stop sales to Khan.” He does not say whether he believes that was an acceptable trade-off, nor does he say that those sales made Turkey a violator of the Glenn-Symington amendments and therefore subject to a cutoff of military and economic assistance unless the sales were stopped or the president issued a waiver. This was a prime and early example of U.S. enabling of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development, but Albright does not characterize it that way. He simply writes of “a huge internal debate” within the State Department and the belief of “many U.S. officials” that Turkey had stopped the sales. He also makes no reference to what some have characterized as outright lies told to Congress in hearings about Pakistan’s nuclear activities. Richard Barlow exposed these transgressions when he worked for the CIA and suffered mightily as a result. Albright thanks him in the Acknowledgments section of the book, but one must consult other books, such as The Nuclear Jihadist and Deception, for Barlow’s story and how Congress was purposefully misled.[8]

The last chapter of Peddling Peril is devoted to policy prescriptions. Given the book’s focus on trade, it is not surprising that the prescriptions, although unexceptionable, are relatively narrow and do not address nonproliferation in a wider context. They consist of making international trade more transparent, ramping up intelligence collection, broadening export controls and law enforcement, and getting more countries to adopt an additional protocol to their safeguards agreements, giving the IAEA increased inspection powers in those countries. These tools do provide a net for catching illicit trade, but the net still has large holes in it, allowing proliferators and their enablers to continue potentially deadly programs and activities. Albright’s main recommendation for tightening the net is to facilitate better cooperation between government and industry in sharing information that could identify illicit procurement attempts. He holds up the Leybold Corporation, a former major contributor to the Khan network, as a model of how helpful a newly responsible business attitude toward nonproliferation could be, via close cooperation with government in tracking questionable purchase requests.

Albright ends his book with a plea for “a shift in the way we think about nuclear proliferation,” but it can be argued that his approach in this book is merely an application of more of the same. The proliferation problem is not just a problem of illicit trade. It is, at its core, a problem of national and, increasingly perhaps, subnational motivation for nuclear weapons. One cannot, for example, divorce the policies of the most powerful nations, especially the United States, from the desire for nuclear weapons in some parts of the world. Threatening the security of other nations with whom one is not at war, especially when the threat has a nuclear tinge, may concentrate the mind of an adversary to behave better in the short term, but it is a powerful motivator to counter such threats in the longer term by obtaining the ultimate deterrent.

In fairness to Albright, addressing motivation can be difficult, especially if historic grievances or ideology are involved. If motivation cannot be addressed adequately or practically, then stopping illicit trade and imposing sanctions may be what remains. At least two things are clear. As long as nuclear weapons are seen as an appropriate way for a country to protect its interests, there will be countries that will seek them or, if they have them already, keep them. Also, as long as such weapons exist, some subnational groups with core grievances that are being ignored or with a desire for wealth and power will try to obtain them. It is unclear if the problem of proliferation has a solution in a world where nuclear weapons exist and legitimate demands for fairness and equity by the many are so frequently frustrated by the wealth and military power of the few. In such a world, changing one’s mode of thinking to avoid nuclear catastrophe, as Albert Einstein implied was necessary, means focusing attention on a lot more than illicit nuclear trade.

Leonard Weiss, a former professor of applied mathematics and engineering, is an affiliated scholar at StanfordUniversity’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and a member of the national advisory board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington. He worked for more than two decades as a senior aide to Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) on nonproliferation issues and was the chief architect of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978.


1. Albright does not mention the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement, which will allow India to ramp up weapons production by reserving indigenous uranium for that purpose. This is an example where licit trade can be just as helpful to a proliferator as illicit trade.

2. See George J. Tenet, Speech at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, February 5, 2004.

3. Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, The Nuclear Jihadist: The True Story of the Man Who Sold the World’s Most Dangerous Secrets...And How We Could Have Stopped Him (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007).

4. The Glenn-Symington amendments provided for cutoffs of economic and military assistance to countries that import or export spent fuel reprocessing technology or unsafeguarded uranium-enrichment technology.

5. See Leonard Weiss, “Turning a Blind Eye Again? The Khan Network’s History and Lessons for U.S. Policy,” Arms Control Today, March 2005, pp. 12-18.

6. Glenn made speeches on July 9, 1981; July 13, 1981; July 17, 1981; July 24, 1981; October 21, 1981; October 10, 1986; March 27, 1987; July 14, 1987; and July 31, 1987.

7. Quoted by Senator John Glenn, Congressional Record, October 20, 1981, pp. 24505-24506.

8. Frantz and Collins, The Nuclear Jihadist; Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons (New York: Walker and Co., 2007).



Leonard Weiss finds David Albright’s Peddling Peril illuminating in the way it describes the various parts of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s illicit nuclear trade network but less successful in other respects.

Multilateral Agreements to Constrain Cyberconflict

James A. Lewis

Cyberspace, the globally connected collection of networked computers and devices, is a new arena for conflict. Largely because of weak governance and technological shortcomings, cyberspace provides an ideal platform for malicious activity. The emergence of this new arena for conflict raises an important question: What kind of agreement could reduce the risk of conflict or, if conflict occurs, limit the scope of damage?

All advanced militaries have cyberattack capabilities, and many others are developing them. Cyberattack capabilities are not that different from other military technologies. Like aircraft or missiles, cyberattacks are rapid, cross borders easily, and can serve both tactical and strategic purposes. Cyberattacks are cheap and can strike an opponent’s homeland from a distance. Cyberwarfare will involve the disruption of opponent network services and data, to increase uncertainty among opposing commanders;[1] it could also involve strikes intended to damage critical infrastructure, assets that are essential for economic and military functions, such as electrical power or telecommunications. Nevertheless, cyberattack will not be decisive. Cyberattack by itself will not win a conflict, particularly against a large and powerful opponent, but it will provide military advantage and will be part of future military conflict.

Cyberwar, however, is only one element of cyberconflict and not the most important. Cyberconflict today almost exclusively involves espionage and crime. Conflict in cyberspace is best seen as a continuum of belligerent activity, ranging from exploits undertaken for criminal purposes or espionage to military action aimed at producing disruption or destruction. Improving security in cyberspace requires disaggregating the various risks and challenges.

An overarching cybersecurity agreement or treaty that attempted to address the full range of conflict, including crime, trade issues (such as intellectual property protection), espionage, and military action, would be impractical. These issues are better handled separately and in separate venues. Focused agreements on specific issues are more achievable. For international security, an agreement that reduced the possibility of misinterpretation, escalation, or unintended consequences in cyberconflict is a legitimate subject for negotiation and could improve international security.

Yet, it is not clear what the best approach to multilateral agreement for cyberconflict would be. There are three major difficulties. First, the importance of information superiority in warfare and the ability to gain real military advantage from the use of informational assets makes digital infrastructures too valuable a target to be declared off-limits or for cyberattacks to be relinquished. In addition, because the techniques of attack and espionage are similar, asking for a commitment not to develop or use cybertools for penetration of opponent networks is really asking for a commitment not to spy. A “no-first-use” commitment might require countries also to renounce cyberespionage—something they are unlikely to do—and could even be destabilizing if a victim were to misinterpret a cyberespionage exploit as a “first-use” attack.

Second, verification will be extremely difficult. The close linkage to espionage makes countries reluctant to discuss or even admit they possess cyberattack capabilities. The necessary technologies are either commercial or easily derived from widely available commercial products—a laptop computer, an Internet connection, and a few computer programs. It is impossible to control the “precursors” for assembling “weapons.” These precursors are cheap, small, portable, easy to conceal, and, for sophisticated programmers in or out of government, easy to construct. Special-purpose tools for exploitation and cyberattack are widely available on thriving cybercrime black markets.

Finally, attribution—tracing an attack to its source—can be difficult. This difficulty is often overstated, as it is possible in many cyberincidents to use forensic techniques or active intelligence measures to determine who is responsible. Nevertheless, the attribution problem increases the temptation to use covert attack techniques based on widely available technologies. A successfully covert attack will have much less political risk. In addition, mercenaries, usually cybercriminals recruited by a state, can launch sophisticated attacks, providing an additional degree of deniability.[2] It is easy to overstate the difficulties created by weak attribution, but they do limit the scope of possible agreement.

These problems mean that approaches that seek to limit cyberattack through multilateral agreement on technological constraints face intrinsic and insurmountable difficulties. Cyberattack is a behavior rather than a technology. Cyberconflict is shaped by covertness, ease of acquisition, and uncertainty. Any cyberwarfare agreement that drew heavily on precedents derived from strategic arms agreements, which were often based on precise technological definitions and limits on development, production, or stockpiling, such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, will be impracticable. A legally binding convention that depends on renouncing first use, that attempts to restrict technology, or that requires verification of compliance is an unworkable approach for reducing risk to international security from cyberattack.

This does not mean that there can be no international agreement to constrain cyberwarfare. Although the United States remains cautious, there are indications that it and other nations are now willing to consider multilateral approaches to limiting cyberconflict. Multilateral agreements could increase stability and reduce the risks of miscalculation or escalation by focusing on several specific areas: confidence-building and transparency measures, such as increased transparency in doctrine; creation of norms for responsible state behavior in cyberspace; and expansion of common understandings on the application of international law to cyberconflict, or development of assurances on the use of cyberattacks.


Building confidence through greater transparency in doctrine, in bilateral or multilateral exchanges, could reduce the chance of miscalculation or inadvertent escalation. The lack of transparency is politically damaging and could make it more difficult to win agreement on limiting cyberconflict. A recent global survey found that the United States was the most feared potential attacker in cyberspace; China was second.[3]

A few nations have produced public documents describing aspects of their cybersecurity strategy,[4] but their military doctrine on how they will use cybertechniques for offensive purposes remains hidden. Given the classified nature of military planning and the close ties to intelligence activities, complete disclosure in very unlikely, but this does not make it impossible to exchange views or discuss cyberwarfare. Although nations are unlikely to discuss specific techniques or technologies, an initial and general discussion of decision-making and authorization processes and principles for use could increase stability.

Greater insight into how combatants will decide when and how to use cyberattack would be stabilizing. In the Cold War, after years of discussion, the United States and the Soviet Union understood that nuclear weapons would be used only in extremis. Doctrinal debates and, ultimately, military and political exchanges on use allowed each side to better assess intentions and risk. Understandings among potential opponents on escalation of cyberconflict could allow for signaling, provide some measure of deterrence, and constrain actual conflict.

Most doctrine for the use of cyberattack remains secret, but some elements that have emerged into public view suggest that cyberattacks form an important part of planning for military conflict among leading countries.[5] There is anecdotal reporting that major powers have carried out network reconnaissance of potential critical infrastructure targets in preparation for possible attacks.[6] These activities increase the risk of misinterpretation and unintended consequences, including the escalation and widening of conflict.

Miscalculation or misinterpretation could easily arise because the initial steps of cyberattack and espionage are identical. In both cases, the attacker conducts reconnaissance of the target network, gains access, and implants malicious software to take control. For espionage, the intent of the malicious action is to exfiltrate information. For an attack, the action would instead entail disruption or destruction instead of exfiltration. Better mutual understandings on doctrines and thresholds might reduce the chance of misinterpreting an intelligence exploit as an imminent attack.


The development of mutual understandings among nations on thresholds for conflict, including what actions can be considered a violation of sovereignty, on what constitutes an act of war, and what actions are seen as escalatory, could reduce the potential for cyberwar. Discussion by the international community of thresholds and how to define acceptable wartime conduct would help reduce ambiguities and possible misinterpretations.

The starting point for discussion lies with the law of war. There are two related bodies of law: jus ad bellum, which provides the framework for deciding whether a cyberexploit triggers a nation’s right to self-defense, and jus in bello, laws that provide the framework for the use of cyberattack during an armed conflict. If cyberwarfare is approached as the use of a new technology to gain military advantage, the current body of international law can be applied to cyberconflict, but some issues may need expanded or new definitions or rules.

Agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace would be helpful. This could be defined as any action that produced an effect equivalent to an armed attack using kinetic weapons. One fundamental question is whether a cyberexploit must produce physical damage and casualties to be regarded as the use of force or whether intangible damage can be considered a use of force and an act of war.

Explicit agreements or understandings on what is a legitimate target in cyberspace could be stabilizing before and during conflict. Military infrastructures are clearly a legitimate target. Attacks against critical infrastructure—the electrical grid, government centers, oil and gas pipelines—are also legitimate targets even though they could cause significant harm to a civilian population. In this regard, cyberattacks resemble the use of airpower and “strategic” bombing, in that an attacker can use them to damage an opponent’s will and capacity to continue to fight. Multilateral agreements for cyberattack would need to recognize that if it is legitimate to attack a target physically, it is also legitimate to attack it using cybertechniques.

Any agreement will need to distinguish between actions taken on one’s own network, in territory under one’s own jurisdiction, to defend against attack and actions taken against the attacker’s network in the national territory of the opponent. Defensive actions taken within one’s own territory pose a much lower risk of misinterpretation, retaliation, or escalation of conflict.

Actions over third-party networks pose a more difficult problem, what can be termed the “overflight” issue. Almost all cyberexploits require traversing third-country networks to reach the target. They are disguised as legitimate commercial traffic that is permitted to cross frontiers under existing commercial law and “interconnect” agreements among Tier 1 service providers—the large, interconnected, high-capacity networks that connect countries and continents.

Few states now know what passes over their networks en route to somewhere else or what the intent of that traffic may be, due to the covert or clandestine nature of these exploits. Over time, this knowledge will increase. Countries are enhancing their capability to monitor what crosses their networks in order to intercept malicious traffic aimed at themselves or to block content they deem inappropriate. One example is a technology known as “deep packet inspection,” a relatively new technology that allows traffic to be screened for malicious content. These technologies are extending national sovereignty into cyberspace. Should they become widespread, understandings on passage rights or restrictions on military traffic may become essential.

The potential for collateral damage complicates the planning of cyberattacks. Neutral third-party networks may connect to or depend on the target network in ways that are not immediately apparent or easily discovered. These third-party networks could be found on the opponent’s territory or in other states, even in allied countries. The grid of networks that comprise cyberspace does not follow the logic of national boundaries but of commercial and technical efficiency. The interconnections among different countries are extensive, evolve rapidly, and in many cases are not known to attackers or even to the parties that rely on them. A cyberattack aimed at North Korea, for example, might inadvertently damage China or Japan, harming an ally or threatening to widen any conflict.

In itself, the difficulty of assessing the scope of collateral damage imposes a constraint on cyberconflict, by increasing the political risk of cyberattack intended to produce disruption or destruction. Because an attacker cannot predict with confidence that a large-scale attack will damage only the intended target or even only the intended target country, military commanders and political leaders are likely to be cautious in the use of cyberattack. The same constraint, however, does not apply to nonstate actors.[7]

Attacks on an opponent’s military networks and information or the networks that support critical infrastructure can be defended as legitimate military objectives, but decisions to move from exploitation to disruption and damage create a real risk of escalation of conflict beyond cyberattack. A decision to broaden the scope of an attack from an opponent’s network or computers to other networks not directly involved, or to move from purely military targets to civilian targets, such as critical infrastructure, brings significant risk of escalation. It would be useful to have agreement among states on the implications of moving from military targets to broader critical infrastructure or other civilian targets and whether this is an expansion in the intensity or scope of cyberattack.

NATO and Soviet doctrine each ultimately reserved the use of nuclear weapons for extreme situations. In contrast, because no advanced military is likely to renounce exploitation of an opponent’s networks, cyberattacks (at least against military networks) will be routine in future conflict. Such circumstances raise the risk of misinterpretation or unintended consequences; it therefore would be useful to identify the types of thresholds described above.

Even in a conflict, a decision to strike civilian targets in an opponent’s homeland using cyberattack is a major step that brings with it the risk of serious escalation. A decision to undertake this kind of attack, or to move from military targets to civilian targets, such as critical infrastructure, could be interpreted as a major escalation. Countries may reserve these serious cyberattacks against targets in the opponent’s homeland for either retaliation for attacks against their own homeland or extreme situations, but this implicit or presumed constraint on use could be strengthened by greater transparency and discussion.

Inadvertent damage to third-party networks, including those in neutral countries and allies, also carries significant political risk and the potential for expanding any conflict.

In considering what would be legitimate targets for cyberattack, some observers have proposed the idea of designating certain networks, such as those of hospitals, as sanctuaries. It would be possible to reach agreement not to deliberately target such networks—not to scramble or erase patient data in hospitals, for example—but there can be no assurance that the disruption or damage caused by a serious cyberattack will be confined to the intended target. A decision to disrupt power supplies will affect military targets and hospitals. An attack on critical infrastructure, with its unavoidable spillover to civilian targets, does not allow for the possibility of sanctuary. To the extent belligerents have already agreed to the legal principle of “distinction,” which requires that attacks be limited to legitimate military objectives and that civilian objects not be the object of attack unless “demanded by the necessities of war,” additional agreements specifically for cyberconflict may be redundant.[8]


Norms shape behavior and can limit the scope of conflict. Nonproliferation provides many examples of nonbinding norms that exercise a powerful influence on state behavior, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime’s (MTCR) understandings on missile transfers. A country’s calculus of the benefits of a cyberattack can be affected, to varying degrees, by the concern over the reaction of the international community. The goal in developing international norms for cyberconflict would be to stigmatize certain actions in cyberspace and to reduce uncertainty by creating a normative framework for cyberconflict. There are already implicit norms for conflict in cyberspace; international security would be improved if these were expanded and made explicit.

Norms could be based on implicit understandings on what constitutes an act of war and on a distinction between defensive actions taken on one’s own networks and defensive actions that involve interfering with the alleged attacker’s networks. Making these understandings explicit would help to constrain cyberconflict.

Other norms could provide multilateral understandings on acceptable behavior in cyberspace—explicit norms or obligations that established state responsibility for the private actions of its citizens. Such an obligation, for example, would remove Russia’s ability to plausibly deny its involvement in attacks on Estonia on the grounds that it was “patriotic hackers” rather than the government that carried out these exploits.[9] Just as nations feel a degree of constraint from norms and agreements on nonproliferation, establishing explicit international norms for behavior in cyberspace would affect political decisions on the potential risk and cost of cyberattack. A related line of inquiry would be to establish what actions the international community should take when a sovereign state fails to exercise responsibility for actions taken on its territory.

Another norm might be agreement on preserving the stability and continued operation of the global Internet. Although the Internet itself is very robust and resilient, and administrative bodies such as ICANN work to increase this,[10] there are likely vulnerabilities that a nation could exploit in conflict. An extreme action would target the global Internet itself, perhaps by corrupting the protocols that guide its operation. Incidents in 2002 involving fairly primitive attacks showed that the Internet itself can be targeted.[11] Agreement not to interfere with the stability and continued operation of the global system would be useful in limiting damage from cyberconflict.

Obstacles to Agreement

China and Russia talk about information security, not cybersecurity, and see access to certain kinds of information over the Internet as destabilizing and hostile, another form of attack.[12] In contrast, the United States and other Western countries do not see free access to information as a hostile act but rather as something intrinsically valuable.[13] Disagreement over this issue could be the first hurdle any cyberconflict agreement would face. China and Russia see access to information as posing as much risk as attacks on critical infrastructure; they will be unwilling to accept an agreement that address Western concerns but not their own.

Some countries use cybercriminals as proxies or irregular forces for cyberconflict. Better cooperation in reducing cybercrime would constrain the use of proxy forces. The dilemma is that it can be difficult to determine if the attacker is a state or a private party. The international community could reduce this dilemma through greater multilateral cooperation in fighting cybercrime. This would reduce the risk of interpreting a criminal act as an attack and, with it, the scope for misinterpretation or deception.

There is considerable dispute over how best to achieve this cooperation. The United States and its partners prefer the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime.[14] China and Russia have refused to sign and instead offer the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a vehicle for cooperation on cybercrime.[15] Brazil, India, and South Africa say the Council of Europe convention is too cumbersome and that they did not participate in its development. The absence of an agreed vehicle for multilateral cooperation against cybercrime is a serious impediment to better cybersecurity. Establishing a norm making a state responsible for cyberactions taken from its territory, combined with increased cooperation against cybercrime, would make these irregular forces less attractive and more difficult to sustain.

The Way Ahead

For years, the United States resisted the idea of any international agreement to constrain cyberwarfare. In the case of a binding cybersecurity treaty originally proposed by Russia in 1998 in the United Nations to ban information weapons, the United States questioned its efficacy and the intentions of its sponsors.[16] The refusal also reflects the larger rejection by the Bush administration of the UN, arms control, and international engagement. This blanket rejection of international engagement did not serve U.S. interests in cyberspace. Although the United States has very advanced offensive capabilities in cyberspace, it is also the country most dependent on networks for military and economic activities. The United States would benefit more than other countries from norms and constraints. The failure to engage allows countries with different values and interests to set the agenda for cybersecurity.

Perhaps more importantly, this blanket rejection only reinforced foreign concern over U.S. intentions and capabilities in cyberspace. Other countries were alarmed by announcements from the United States on the creation of an Air Force Cyber Command and the call for “cyberwarriors.” They saw this, along with the refusal to engage in negotiations, as part of a larger U.S. strategy to dominate cyberspace (similar to the 2005 National Space Strategy, which called for control and dominance in space).[17] This apparent plan for dominance redounded against the United States in many ways, not the least of which was a determined effort by other nations (still ongoing) to wrest “control” of the Internet from the United States.

It is in the U.S. national interest to negotiate and enter into agreements to constrain other nations’ abilities to attack in cyberspace. This will require the United States to develop a serious negotiating strategy that identifies the strategic trade-offs and linkages—the limits the United States would seek and the capabilities it might be willing to give up to achieve them. Despite a 2003 national strategy and a 2009 60-day review for cybersecurity, the United States has not made this strategic calculation. Thinking about cyberconflict is at an early stage, similar to the state of U.S. thinking on nuclear weapons in the 1950s.

Venue and format will be important elements in the development of any agreement on norms, transparency, and common understandings. The options include working with a group of like-minded nations, working with a broader group of key actors in fora such as the Group of 20 (G-20), or a global effort through the UN or one of its agencies. All three approaches have merit. Like-minded nations are more likely to reach agreement on norms; the experience of the MTCR shows that starting with a limited group avoids the possibilities of opponents acting as “spoilers” and can lay the groundwork for broader cooperation in the future. A G-20 approach has the benefit of involving influential nations, such as Brazil, China, India, and Russia, beyond NATO and other U.S. allies. Although this increases the chances of initial discord, the ultimate acceptance of norms and understandings by these nations is essential for success.

Similarly, discussion in the UN involves a broader audience of nations not directly involved in cyberconflict and whose views and actions may be shaped by some larger political agenda. Nevertheless, the UN has a useful body of precedent in counterterrorism and arms control. Given the global nature of cyberspace, some global understanding of norms for behavior will ultimately be required.

In the end, engagement at all three levels—like-minded countries, key actors, global community—may be necessary. Some lessons from nonproliferation can be instructive. Internationally, the United States strengthened existing multilateral organizations against weapons of mass destruction or created new ones, such as the MTCR, to develop cooperative approaches to security. Working with like-minded partners, the United States was able to make nonproliferation a norm for international behavior and, over time, see other nations adopt this norm. Although the precedent is not perfect, and the risks and requirements are different for cyberwarfare, nonproliferation offers a useful framework for developing the elements of a cooperative approach to cyberwarfare.

James A. Lewis is a senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was project director for the center’s report, “Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency.”



1. This is more than traditional disinformation as it could include scrambling of data and interference with sensors.

2. Covert operations are “planned and executed [so] as to conceal the identity of or permit plausible denial” by the attacking state. U.S. Department of Defense, Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Joint Publication JP1-02).

3. John Sexton, “U.S. Most Likely Suspect in Cyber Wars: IT Survey,” China.org.cn, January 30, 2010.

4. UNIDIR, “Existing and Potential Threats in the Sphere of Information Security,” November 2009.

5. See, for example, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare (Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, 1999).

6. A recent example is GreyLogic, “Project Grey Goose Report on Critical Infrastructure: Attacks, Actors, and Emerging Threats,” January 21, 2010.

7. Shane Harris, “Why the U.S. Won’t Pull a Brazil Yet,” The Atlantic, November 19, 2009.

8. Article 23 of the Hague Convention, for example, forbids belligerents “to destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.”

9. Roland Oliphant, “Patriotic Hackers,” The Moscow News, August 2009.

10. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for managing the Internet’s addressing system. See ICANN, “Plan for Enhancing Internet Security, and Resiliency,” June 2009.

11. Edward Hurley, “Attack on DNS Servers Marks Trend of More Internet Threats,” SearchSecurity.com, October 24, 2002.

12. See, for example, Andrey Krutskikh, “On Legal and Political Foundations of Global Information Security,” International Trends, Vol. 5, No. 1 (January-April 2007); World Federation of Scientists Permanent Monitoring Panel on Information Security, “Toward a Universal Order of Cyberspace: Managing Threats From Cybercrime to Cyberwar,” WSIS-03/GENEVA/CONTR/6-E, August 2003.

13. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Remarks on Internet freedom, Washington, DC, January 21, 2010.

14. The cybercrime convention is a legally binding treaty that defines criminal acts in cyberspace. Fifteen states have ratified it; another 30 have signed, but not ratified the convention.

15. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a multinational arrangement for security cooperation that was created by China, Russia, and four other nations in 2001.

16. John Markoff and Andrew E. Kramer, “U.S., Russia Disagree on Need for Cyber Treaty,” The New York Times, June 28, 2009.

17. Ambassadors to the UN, interviews with author, February 2009.


Reassessing the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey

Mustafa Kibaroglu

NATO is revising its Strategic Concept; the alliance is due to complete work on the document in November. A key issue in the revision is the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe as part of the alliance’s policy of extended nuclear deterrence. Although Turkey has long been in agreement with its allies on the value of these forward deployments, it may soon find itself in a delicate position on the question of how to continue the policy effectively.

With other NATO countries such as Luxembourg and Norway supporting them, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands have indicated a desire to reassess the case for continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on their territories. Should these countries advocate withdrawal of U.S. weapons from Europe, Turkish decision-makers might conclude that two fundamental principles of the alliance, namely solidarity and burden sharing, have been seriously weakened. Those principles have been the basis for Turkey’s agreement, since the early 1960s, to the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil.

The issue is contentious within NATO, which makes its decisions by consensus—an approach that was reaffirmed by the alliance’s foreign ministers at an April meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, and by an Experts Group report released in May.

Although final decisions on the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons probably are not imminent, the debate has already been joined, and Turkey should be an active participant. If Turkey continues to sit on the sidelines of that debate, as it has done until now, it could find itself in an uncomfortable spot: A decision to remove the U.S. weapons from Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands would likely leave Turkey and Italy as the only NATO members with foreign nuclear weapons on their soil.[1] Such a situation would put pressure on Turkey to reverse its long-standing policy of hosting U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory—even more so if the U.S. nuclear weapons are removed from Italy as well. Turkey’s calculus must include an additional element because it has Middle Eastern neighbors that are a source of concern to some allies but with whom Turkey is developing increasingly close diplomatic ties after a long period of animosity that extended beyond the end of Cold War rivalry.

The most sensible course for Turkey is to support the efforts of other host nations to create a consensus within the alliance that would lead to a withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe. That step would help Ankara to continue cultivating relationships with its non-European neighbors and could be achieved without undermining extended nuclear deterrence.

NATO’s New Strategic Concept

Since 1999, when NATO last revised its Strategic Concept, the world has undergone dramatic changes and witnessed tragic events, such as the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, followed by others in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid, London, and Amman. Since the September 11 attacks, NATO, while maintaining its identity as a collective security organization, has accelerated the pace at which it is transforming itself from one focused on defending a particular geographical area against a well-known enemy to one that would be capable of dealing with emerging threats such as international terrorism, which may manifest itself in different forms and almost anywhere in the world.

This process of transformation within NATO has called into question the relevance of the 1999 Strategic Concept to the challenges and threats that the allied countries are facing now and are likely to confront in the future.

The Strategic Concept has therefore been under revision since the alliance summit convened in Strasbourg/Kehl, on April 3-4, 2009. At the summit meeting, NATO heads of state and government tasked the secretary-general with assembling and leading a broad-based group of qualified experts who would lay the groundwork for the new Strategic Concept with the active involvement of NATO’s highest decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council.[2] The report, “NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement,” was released May 17.

The details of the new Strategic Concept are not yet final, but the Experts Group report and media accounts of the ongoing deliberations give an idea of the general principles that are likely to govern the new document. For instance, during their April 22-23 meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, NATO foreign ministers discussed ways to modernize the organization and held talks on the new Strategic Concept. In those discussions, they shared the view that “the new concept must reaffirm NATO’s essential and enduring foundations: the political bond between Europe and North America, and the commitment to defend each other against attack,” according to a NATO press release.[3]

More specifically, concerning the nuclear strategy of the alliance, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that, “in a world where nuclear weapons exist, NATO needs a credible, effective and safely managed deterrent.”[4]

That statement suggests that nuclear weapons are likely to retain their central role in NATO’s forthcoming Strategic Concept. That would satisfy Turkey’s expectations; Ankara is looking f or the continuation of extended deterrence, which has traditionally relied on U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

Nevertheless, the positions of the European allies are not fully compatible with that of Turkey. Some western European allies have expressed strong reservations about the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons on their territories, while some central and eastern European allies still support the deployment of these weapons in Europe as a visible sign of U.S. security guarantees for Europe.

The foreign ministers of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway stated in a February 26 letter to Rasmussen that they “welcome the initiative taken by President Obama to strive toward substantial reductions in strategic armaments, and to move towards reducing the role of nuclear weapons and seek peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons.”[5] The letter emphasized that there should be discussions in NATO as to what the allies “can do to move closer to this overall political objective.”[6]

Some central and eastern European allies of NATO attach great importance to the continuation of the extended nuclear deterrence strategy of the alliance and the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons, which they consider to provide credible assurances against the potential threat that they perceive from Russia.[7] There is unanimous support for including tactical nuclear weapons in the next round of nuclear arms control, and there are also views suggesting concomitant withdrawal of all Russian and U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.[8]

However, even the central and eastern European countries that favor the continuation of nuclear sharing do not want to commit themselves to any obligation to host U.S. nuclear weapons on their territories.[9] This was, in fact, an agreed-on principle within the alliance at the time of their admission so as not to provoke Russia, which was adamantly opposing the eastward expansion of the alliance throughout the 1990s and beyond.

According to the terms of agreement of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, which was negotiated prior to the admittance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to NATO, the alliance declared it had “no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy.”[10] Hence, it would be fair to assume that if nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, there are no new candidates to take them.

Should this be the case, Turkey might have to revise its stance vis-à-vis the U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil.[11]

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey

Turkey has hosted U.S. nuclear weapons since intermediate-range Jupiter missiles were deployed there in 1961 as a result of decisions made at the alliance’s 1957 Paris summit. Those missiles were withdrawn in 1963 in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. Since then, no nuclear missiles have been stationed in Turkey. The only nuclear weapons that have been deployed are the bombs that would be delivered by U.S. F-16s or Turkish F-100, F-104, and F-4 “Phantom” aircraft at air bases in Eskisehir, Malatya (Erhac), Ankara (Akinci/Murted), and Balikesir.[12] All such weapons, whether on U.S. or Turkish aircraft, have been under the custody of the U.S. Air Force.

Turkey still hosts these U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, albeit in much smaller numbers.[13] They are limited to one location, the Incirlik base near Adana on the eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey.[14] All other nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from the bases mentioned above.[15] Moreover, the Turkish air force no longer has any operational link with the remaining tactical nuclear weapons deployed at Incirlik.[16] F-104s have not been in service since 1994. F-4s are still in service after modernization of some 54 of them by Israeli Aerospace Industries in 1997. Yet, only the F-16 “Fighting Falcons” of the Turkish air force participate in NATO`s nuclear strike exercises known as “Steadfast Noon,” during which crews are trained in loading, unloading, and employing B61 tactical nuclear weapons.[17] The Turkish aircraft in these exercises serve as a non-nuclear air defense escort rather than a nuclear strike force.[18]

There were two main reasons for Turkey to host U.S. nuclear weapons. First and foremost has been the deterrent value of these weapons against the threat posed by the nuclear and conventional weapons capabilities of its enormous neighbor, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. Similarly, after the Cold War, these weapons were believed by Turkish military commanders to constitute a credible deterrent against rival neighbors in the Middle East, such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria, which used to have unconventional weapons capabilities as well as delivery vehicles such as ballistic missiles.[19]

A second reason for Turkey to host U.S. nuclear weapons has been the burden-sharing principle within the alliance. Turkey has strongly subscribed to this principle since it joined NATO in 1952. In fact, Turkey had already displayed unequivocally its willingness to share the burden of defending the interests of the Western alliance by committing a significant number of troops to the Korean War in 1950, even before NATO membership was in sight.

Yet, if Turkey is likely to be left as the only country, or one of only two countries, where U.S. nuclear weapons will still be deployed after a possible withdrawal of these weapons from other allies and no other NATO country will be willing to assume the burden of hosting nuclear weapons, Turkey may very well insist that the weapons be sent back to the United States. From Turkey’s current standpoint, this would not be the desired outcome of the current deliberations within the alliance.

According to a Turkish official, the principle of burden sharing should not be diluted. To live up to their commitment to solidarity, which was reaffirmed in Tallinn, the five countries that currently host these weapons should continue to do so for the foreseeable future, the official said.[20]

Deterrence Against Whom?

Because of the view that NATO’s deterrent will be more credible with the presence of forward-deployed U.S. nuclear weapons in the allied territories in Europe, Turkish diplomats believe that the burden of hosting these weapons should continue to be shared collectively among five allies, as has been the case over the last several decades.

Even if all of Turkey’s allies accept this proposal and act accordingly, Turkey will still face a dilemma in its foreign and security policies if it sees the hosting of U.S. nuclear weapons as the only way for it to fulfill its burden-sharing obligations.

Ankara’s continuing support for the presence of the U.S. weapons on Turkish territory could be justified only if there were a threat from the military capabilities of Turkey’s neighbors, the two most significant of which would be Iran and Syria, and if the Western allies shared that threat assessment. There can be no other meaningful scenario that would justify Turkey’s policy of retaining U.S. nuclear weapons on its territory as well as leaving the door open for the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Turkey in the future. Recent trends, however, appear to be moving from such a threat assessment by Turkey. Over the last few years, Turkey has experienced an unprecedented rapprochement with its Middle Eastern neighbors.

Last year, Turkey held joint ministerial cabinet meetings with Iraq in October and Syria in December. Until recently, Turkey had treated both countries as foes rather than friends. These meetings have produced a significant number of protocols, memoranda of understanding, and other documents on a wide array of issue areas including the thorniest subjects, such as ways and means of dealing with terrorism effectively and using the region’s scarce water resources more equitably.

Moreover, these high-level meetings resulted in the lifting of the visa requirement for Turkish citizens traveling to Syria and vice versa. That action has paved the way to an opening of the borders between the two countries; the borders had stayed closed for decades due to the presence of large numbers of heavy land mines on both sides. The mines will soon be cleaned up with a view to opening huge land areas to agriculture.

In addition to improvements in bilateral relations with its immediate neighbors, Turkey has become more involved in wider Middle Eastern political affairs than it ever has been since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. A key part of this regional involvement is mediation efforts between Israel and Syria. Another element is a willingness to take on a similar role in Iran’s dispute with the international community over the nature and scope of Tehran’s nuclear program, which is generally considered by Turkey’s NATO allies to have the potential for weaponization and thus further proliferation in the region. Top Turkish political and military officials have suggested on various occasions that the most promising way out of the conflict in the longer term would be the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Against that background, the continued insistence of the Turkish security elite on hosting U.S. nuclear weapons has drawn criticism from Turkey’s Middle Eastern neighbors.[21]

Some of these neighbors, such as Iran and Syria, criticize Turkey’s policy of retaining nuclear weapons because they see the weapons as being directed against them.[22] Others in the Arab world, such as Egypt, portray these weapons as a symbol of Western imperialism.

Turkey therefore will have to seriously reconsider its policy on U.S. nuclear weapons. For this to happen, a debate should take place in the country in various platforms, in closed as well as open forums, with the participation of experts, scholars, officials, and other concerned citizens.

There is a common belief in Turkey that the U.S. weapons constitute a credible deterrent against threats such as Iran’s nuclear program and the possible further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region in response to Tehran’s program. Others contend that if Turkey sends the weapons back to the United States and Iran subsequently develops nuclear weapons, Turkey will have to develop its own such weapons. These observers argue that even though they are against the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on Turkish soil in principle, the weapons’ presence in the country will keep Turkey away from such adventurous policies.[23] Similar views have also been expressed by foreign experts and analysts who are concerned about Turkey’s possible reactions to the developments in Iran’s nuclear capabilities in case U.S. nuclear weapons are withdrawn from Turkish territory.[24]

The negative effects of the weapons deployments on Turkish-Iranian relations need to be assessed as well. Some Iranian security analysts even argue that the deployment of the weapons on Turkish territory makes Turkey a “nuclear-weapon state.”[25] There is, therefore, the possibility that the presence of the weapons could actually spur Iranian nuclear weapons efforts. This issue may well be exploited by the Iranian leadership to justify the country’s continuing investments in more ambitious nuclear capabilities.


A key question for NATO’s new Strategic Concept is whether burden sharing will continue to be construed as it has had for many decades, as suggested by Turkey, or whether it will be altered in response to the combined negative stance of some western European allies regarding the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons.

This situation could lead to a divisive and unnecessary controversy between Turkey and its long-standing allies in the West. By insisting that the weapons remain on European territory, Turkey would not only alienate some of its Western allies that truly want to move the weapons out of their territories, but also create tension in its relations with its neighbors and newly emerging partners in the Middle East.

On May 17, Turkey signed a joint declaration with Brazil and Iran, providing for the safe storage of Iran’s 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium fuel in Turkey in return for the delivery by France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency of 120 kilograms of fuel needed for the Tehran Research Reactor.[26] This “nuclear fuel swap” is potentially a breakthrough in the long-standing deadlock in Iran’s relations with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. There is no question that the degree of trust that Turkey has built with Iran, especially over the last several years with the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, had a significant impact on getting this result.

Iran has so far adamantly refused all other offers. Hence, the Iranian political and security elites who have been closely interacting with their Turkish counterparts at every level over the past several months and years prior to the fuel swap announcement may raise their expectations in turn. They may press for withdrawal from Turkey of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, which they fear may be used against them, as a way for Turkey to prove its sincerity regarding its stance toward Iran and, more broadly, its commitment to creating a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East.

Turkey clearly has to tread carefully, but the risks should not be overstated.

One concern might be the contingencies in which the security situation in Turkey’s neighborhood deteriorates, thereby necessitating the active presence of an effective deterrent against the aggressor(s). Yet, given the elaborate capabilities that exist within the alliance and the solidarity principle so far effectively upheld by the allies, extending deterrence against Turkey’s rivals should not be a problem. Turkey would continue to be protected against potential aggressors by the nuclear guarantees of its allies France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the three NATO nuclear-weapon states. Turkey’s reliance on such a “credible” deterrent, which will not be permanently stationed on Turkish territory, is less likely to be criticized by its Middle Eastern neighbors[27] and should not engender a burden-sharing controversy with its European allies.

One cannot argue that once U.S. nuclear weapons that are stationed in Turkish territory are sent back, the nuclear deterrent of the alliance extended to Turkey will be lost forever.

Currently, three NATO members are nuclear-weapon states. Of the NATO non-nuclear-weapon states, only five, as mentioned above, are known to host U.S. nuclear weapons. The remaining 20 members have no nuclear weapons on their territories. Yet, these members enjoy the credible nuclear deterrent of NATO, which remains the most powerful military organization in the world. Hence, the simple outcome of this analysis is that, for NATO members to feel confident against the threats posed to their national security, they do not have to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on their territory.[28] Turkey need not be an exception to this rule.

Mustafa Kibaroglu teaches courses on arms control and disarmament in the Department of International Relations at BilkentUniversity in Ankara, Turkey. He has held fellowships at HarvardUniversity’s BelferCenter for Science and International Affairs, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.



1. Italy is believed to host U.S. nuclear weapons, but it is not clear whether it wants to get rid of them. For an account of U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Italy, see Hans M. Kristensen, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Planning,” Natural Resources Defense Council, 2005, p. 9.

2. NATO, “NATO’s New Strategic Concept – Why? How?,” May 2010, www.nato.int/strategic-concept.

3. NATO, “NATO Foreign Ministers Hold Talks on New Strategic Concept,” April 22, 2010.

4. Ibid.

5. Jean Asselborn et al. to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, February 26, 2010. For the full text of the letter, see www.armscontrol.org/system/files/Letter%20to%20Secretary%20General%20NATO.pdf.

6. Ibid.

7. Latvian ambassador, personal communication with author, Ankara, March 31, 2010. For a similar approach from the region, see Lukasz Kulesa, “Extended Deterrence and Assurance in Central Europe,” in Perspectives on Extended Deterrence, No.3/2010 (Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, Paris, 2010).

8. Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski, “Next, the Tactical Nukes,” The New York Times, February 1, 2010.

9. Latvian ambassador, personal communication with author, Ankara, March 31, 2010.

10. Kulesa, “Extended Deterrence and Assurance in Central Europe.”

11. Retired Turkish ambassador, personal communication with author, Ankara, March 31, 2010.

12. See Mustafa Kibaroglu, “Turkey and Shared Responsibilities,” in “Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate,” Occasional Paper, AmericanAcademy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010, pp. 24-27.

13. Retired Turkish air force commander, personal communication with author, Ankara, February 15, 2010.

14. Hans M. Kristensen, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe: A Review of Post-Cold War Policy, Force Levels, and War Planning,” p.9.

15. Mustafa Kibaroglu, “Isn’t It Time to Say Farewell to US Nukes in Turkey?” European Security, Vol. 14, No. 4 (December 2005), pp. 443-457.

16. Retired Turkish air force commander, personal communication with author, Ankara, February 15, 2010.

17. Hans M. Kristensen, e-mail communication with author, April 22, 2010

18. Retired Turkish air force commander, e-mail communication with author, April 23, 2010.

19. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability was destroyed following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Iran and Syria still have such weapons in their military arsenals. Hence, the Turkish security elite still consider extended nuclear deterrence to be significant for Turkey’s security.

20. Turkish diplomat, personal communication with author, Ankara, January 29, 2010.

21. Amr Mousa, personal communications with author, Paris, February 1-4, 2010.

22 Mohmood Vaezi and Saghefi Ameri, personal communications with author, Tehran, December 2004.

23. These comments were made by Turkish security experts and analysts in response to a presentation by Mustafa Kibaroglu entitled “US Nuclear Weapons in Turkey and the Evolution of NATO’s New Strategic Concept” at the Strategy Group Meeting of the Turkish Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara on March 31, 2010.

24. Various arms control experts, personal communications with author, Washington, April 12-13, 2010.

25. Mohmood Vaezi and Saghefi Ameri, personal communications with author, Tehran, December 2004.

26. Joint Declaration of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Iran and Brazil, May 17, 2010.

27. The credibility of NATO’s deterrent has been questioned by security analysts both inside and outside of Turkey in various discussion platforms, and some have expressed their concerns about whether NATO countries would really use nuclear weapons against Iran to defend Turkey. There can be no clear answer for such a question, which relates to a dilemma that is inherent in the concept of deterrence.

28. Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen also suggested there are other means for maintaining alliance cohesion: “A more modest option would be for NATO to retain a nuclear task without U.S. nuclear weapons being stationed in Europe.” Daryl G. Kimball and Greg Thielmann, “Obama’s NPR: Transitional, Not Transformational,” Arms Control Today, May 2010.


NATO is revising its Strategic Concept; the alliance is due to complete work on the document in November. A key issue in the revision is the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe as part of the alliance’s policy of extended nuclear deterrence. Although Turkey has long been in agreement with its allies on the value of these forward deployments, it may soon find itself in a delicate position on the question of how to continue the policy effectively.

With other NATO countries such as Luxembourg and Norway supporting them, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands have indicated a desire to reassess the case for continued deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on their territories. Should these countries advocate withdrawal of U.S. weapons from Europe, Turkish decision-makers might conclude that two fundamental principles of the alliance, namely solidarity and burden sharing, have been seriously weakened. Those principles have been the basis for Turkey’s agreement, since the early 1960s, to the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons on its soil.

Dealing With Iran’s Uranium

Daryl G. Kimball

Iran's renewed interest in an arrangement that would move 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel exchange brokered by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey has been dubbed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a “transparent ploy” designed to head off a new round of UN Security Council sanctions. That may be true, but the United States should still seriously pursue the deal as a means to help resolve the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program.

If accompanied by a halt to the further enrichment of uranium to 20 percent by Iran, the arrangement could seriously slow Iran’s ability to produce material that could be used to make a bomb. Also, it could build the confidence needed to open a broader dialogue that induces Iran to stop moving in the direction of nuclear weapons. If Iran fails to follow through on the deal or continues to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the Security Council can and should move forward with further sanctions in order to help change Iran’s strategic calculus.

A similar arrangement offered in October with the backing of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have moved 1,200 kilograms of LEU out of Iran for further enrichment in Russia and fabrication by France into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor for medical isotope production. That proposal was intended to build trust between the P5+1—the Security Council’s five permanent members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany—and open the way to broader negotiations to resolve concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Iran initially agreed, but backed out and declared it would use some of its LEU to produce uranium at a higher enrichment level—20 percent uranium-235—to fuel its research reactor.

A quantity of 1,200 kilograms of LEU is enough for one bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium (HEU) if that material were further processed. Iran now has an estimated 2,427 kilograms of LEU total and can produce about that much in a year. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan deserve credit for convincing Iran to agree to ship half of its LEU stock to Turkey while France fabricates fuel for the research reactor. Removing roughly half of Iran’s LEU from its territory would delay the time at which Iran would have a viable strategic reserve of material that could be used for nuclear weapons.

At the same time, it is critical that Iran agrees to suspend enrichment to higher levels to reduce suspicions about its nuclear intentions. Given that Iran is being offered the fuel it needs for the  research reactor, there is no plausible reason for Iran to enrich uranium to a 20 percent enrichment level other than to establish a latent capability to build nuclear weapons.

Even if the P5+1 accepts the proposed fuel swap and Iran halts enrichment to higher levels, it is essential that Iran takes further steps to build confidence that its program is not for weapons purposes. The ultimate goal is to bring Iran into compliance with its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations, as well as Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran suspend uranium-enrichment and fully cooperate with the IAEA.

A top, near-term priority should be more extensive IAEA access to declared and undeclared Iranian nuclear and military sites. Although Iran’s existing stocks of LEU and its main enrichment facility at Natanz and another recently discovered facility at Qom are under IAEA scrutiny, there is a risk that Iran may seek to enrich uranium at other, secret sites. Iran has already declared that it is building additional enrichment facilities. To guard against that possibility, the IAEA needs more extensive access through an additional protocol to verify Iran’s compliance with its nonproliferation obligations.

For his part, President Barack Obama needs to reiterate that he continues to seek a comprehensive and unconditional dialogue with Iran and underscore that preventive military action by Israel is not an option that the United States supports. Iran’s nuclear program and actions are clearly troubling, but it remains years away from having a sufficient quantity of HEU for a viable nuclear arsenal. A military strike would lead to a wider war, push Iran to openly pursue nuclear weapons, and only set back Iran’s capability to produce the material for a bomb by a few years at most.

Congress should give the Obama administration as much leeway as it can to pursue a diplomatic solution and, if necessary, further multilateral sanctions. Legislation mandating unilateral sanctions on Iran’s gasoline sector would upset the delicate P5 consensus on further Security Council sanctions and do little to alter Iran’s current course.

The Obama administration’s strategy of pressure and engagement has prompted Iran to agree to the nuclear fuel swap with Brazil and Turkey, but the United States must now actively work with its allies and partners to transform this fleeting opportunity into a longer-lasting breakthrough.

Iran's renewed interest in an arrangement that would move 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey as part of a nuclear fuel exchange brokered by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey has been dubbed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a “transparent ploy” designed to head off a new round of UN Security Council sanctions. That may be true, but the United States should still seriously pursue the deal as a means to help resolve the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program. (Continue)


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