"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
October 2010
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
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Defense Treaties, Export Reform Move Ahead

Jeff Abramson

The Senate last month provided its advice and consent to ratification of defense trade cooperation treaties with Australia and the United Kingdom, a step toward establishing license-free exports between the United States and the two countries.

The Senate’s Sept. 29 action, which was preceded by Senate and House approval of controversial legislation to implement the treaties, came a month after President Barack Obama and senior officials provided greater detail on their export control reform plans, including the results of efforts to apply their approach to an existing class of controlled items.

The treaties, signed in 2007 by the Bush administration, provide a framework for licensing exemptions for preapproved defense projects and firms. Supporters have argued that the accords will improve bilateral cooperation between allies. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed approval of the treaties, saying Sept. 30 that they would enhance “our ability to equip our armed forces with the best technology available in the most expeditious manner possible.”

For years, the treaties had stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in part due to questions members raised about congressional involvement in the treaties’ implementing arrangements, which the Bush and Obama administrations had argued were outside congressional oversight. (See ACT, January/February 2010.) On July 14, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the panel’s ranking member, introduced legislation requiring congressional approval of changes to the implementing arrangements.

In announcing the measure, Lugar noted that “efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to develop a viable approach for implementing and enforcing the treaties without new legislation have been unsuccessful to date.” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committee’s chairman, worked with Lugar to revise the legislation, which was approved by voice vote in the committee Sept. 21.

The legislation, approved in the Senate by unanimous consent Sept. 27 and in the House by voice vote Sept. 28, also establishes that violations of the treaties would be enforceable under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). Because the treaties would create exemptions from existing law, experts had raised concerns about whether the AECA and the enforcement authority that flows from it would apply to treaty infractions.

The legislation also establishes limits on the treaties. It excludes from the treaty’s coverage certain items restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime, as well as biological agents and articles and services related to the design and testing of nuclear weapons, controlled under the U.S. Munitions List (USML).

It sets out a number of reporting and notification requirements, including 15-day prior notification of certain exports to be made under the treaty. Those exports were defined in a Sept. 30 Department of State document as “proposed exports of defense articles and services that meet the dollar thresholds for notification in the Arms Export Control Act: $25 million for major defense equipment and $100 million for other defense articles and services.”

Although he supported the treaties, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) expressed apprehension about a treaty-based approach to export reform, writ large. After the Sept. 21 committee vote, he said he was “very concerned that these treaties may make it easier for arms dealers to divert weapons to illicit purposes,” in part because license exemptions may remove the evidentiary trail U.S. enforcement officials “use to detect and prosecute the diversion of weapons.” He also criticized the treaties as an attempt to limit congressional oversight by going around the House, which has no constitutional role in treaty advice and consent.

“This approach should not become the norm. I urge the administration to rely on the regular legislative process to address any future, perceived deficiencies in our arms export regime,” Feingold added.

Export Reform Plans Fleshed Out

In his comments on the defense treaties, Feingold drew attention to the Obama administration’s broader export control reform effort, additional details of which were announced at the end of August. Instead of strengthening the export control regime, Feingold argued, “the administration appears to be moving in the opposite direction with a larger effort to decontrol the export of sensitive military equipment.”

In a video statement delivered Aug. 31 to an annual Department of Commerce export control conference, Obama cast the effort differently. He praised the reforms, saying that, “by enhancing the competitiveness of our manufacturing and technology sectors, they’ll help us not just increase exports and create jobs, but strengthen our national security as well.”

The reform effort, announced last year and further elaborated in April by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, calls for a greater focus on a smaller set of items and for the consolidation of multiple agencies and export lists via four “singles”: a single control list, a single licensing agency, a single enforcement agency, and a single information technology (IT) system. (See ACT, May 2010.) In the revised system, controlled munitions and dual-use items, those with both military and commercial uses, would be assigned to one of three tiers. Tier assignment would be based in part on how widely available goods and technology are outside the United States, with different licensing policies at each tier.

Because creating a single licensing agency requires congressional action, the administration intends to apply the tier structure to the Department of State-administered USML and Commerce Department-administered Commerce Control List, with each agency retaining its licensing functions until a single agency is created. In an Aug. 30 White House press release and in speeches by senior officials at the Aug. 31 Commerce conference, the administration shared preliminary results of its efforts to apply this system to tanks and military vehicles, contained primarily in USML Category VII. Of the 12,000 items in that category licensed by the State Department last year, 42 percent would likely be moved to the Commerce list and 32 percent decontrolled altogether, according to the press release.

Of the 26 percent to remain on the USML, none would be assigned to the highest tier, which would generally require licenses and be comprised of items “that provide a critical military or intelligence advantage to the United States and are available almost exclusively to the United States” or that “are a weapon of mass destruction.” More than two-thirds of these remaining USML items—18 percent of the original total of 12,000—would fall into a revised USML second tier of items that “provide a substantial military or intelligence advantage to the United States and are available almost exclusively from our multilateral partners and Allies.” Items in this tier would be authorized for export to partners and allies using license exemptions or “general authorizations,” which do not require licenses for each export. The remaining USML items would fall into the third tier; such items “provide a significant military or intelligence advantage,” but are more widely available and would not require a license more broadly.

Positive Lists

The administration also elaborated on its intention to move toward a “positive list” approach. The press release defined a positive list as one that “describes controlled items using objective criteria (e.g., technical parameters such as horsepower or microns) rather than broad, open-ended, subjective, catch-all, or design intent-based criteria.” The positive list methodology is more characteristic of the Commerce Department’s approach than of the State Department’s, which considers whether an item is intended for military use.

The press release highlighted brake pads as an example, saying that pads for use in the M1A1 tank “are virtually identical to brake pads for fire trucks but the tank brake pads require a license to be exported to any country in the world, while the fire truck brake pads can be exported to virtually all countries without a license.”

Another emphasis of the review process has been to create “higher walls” around sensitive items and improve enforcement of U.S. controls. The White House release detailed what some of the steps in this direction might be, including additional end-use assurances and increased site visits in the United States and abroad. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Kevin Wolf indicated at the conference that new conditions may also be placed on exporters that use certain license exemptions envisioned in the system. Such conditions could include “destination control statements…reporting requirements that distinguish between end-users and distributors, and…recordkeeping requirements,” he said.

On other aspects of the “singles” approach, Obama promised to issue an executive order establishing a center that would coordinate enforcement across multiple agencies but not replace them. At the conference, Undersecretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Eric Hirschhorn indicated that IT system development is underway with the Department of Defense now operating a system that the State Department is expected to use in early 2011. “Commerce should be on board later in 2011, and other agencies to follow,” Hirschhorn said.

The administration did not detail when and which specific USML Category VII items would be tiered or decontrolled. It also has not elaborated on how other important military items that may be widely available but have exacerbated conflicts around the globe, such as shoulder-fired missiles or small arms and light weapons, might be specifically treated in this system.

There were indications, however, that the positive list approach still would contain some criteria that do not rely on the same sort of technical descriptions. Wolf said a designation of “specially designed” would be used “as a control criterion only when required by multilateral obligations or when no other reasonable option exists.” He indicated that some items could be added to the third tier by interagency consensus “for statutory, national security, foreign policy, or human rights reasons, or other multilateral obligations.”

The timetable for completing the reform effort remains unclear. Experts have said that review of other USML categories will be more difficult than the work on Category VII. Also, legislation to establish a single licensing agency has yet to be introduced.

The White House press release said the “goal is to begin issuing proposed revisions to the control lists and licensing policies later this year.”


The Senate last month provided its advice and consent to ratification of defense trade cooperation treaties with Australia and the United Kingdom, a step toward establishing license-free exports between the United States and the two countries.

The Senate’s Sept. 29 action, which was preceded by Senate and House approval of controversial legislation to implement the treaties, came a month after President Barack Obama and senior officials provided greater detail on their export control reform plans, including the results of efforts to apply their approach to an existing class of controlled items.

Senate Committee Approves New START

Tom Z. Collina

Amid a highly partisan pre-election season and new allegations about Russian treaty compliance, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16 passed a resolution of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with bipartisan support.

The 14-4 vote “sends an important signal that even in the most partisan, polarized season, ratifying this treaty is not a matter of politics, it’s a national security imperative,” committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

The committee’s action opens the way for a debate and vote by the full Senate, which must approve the resolution of advice and consent by a two-thirds majority for ratification.

The Senate is in recess this month and will not vote on New START until after the Nov. 2 elections. Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Sept. 30 they were both looking forward to a full Senate vote on New START in the postelection congressional session, slated to begin Nov. 15. Prospects for a Senate vote are uncertain but improved after Congress passed a “continuing resolution” to fund the federal government to Dec. 3 that includes a 10% increase for nuclear weapons maintenance and weapons complex modernization, which undecided senators have been demanding. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who are thought to be tilting in support of New START, told CQ Today Online News Sept. 30 that the new money will help. “It’s a good confidence-building step,” said Graham.

The White House released a statement the day of the committee vote in which President Barack Obama urged the full Senate to “move forward quickly with a vote to approve this Treaty.” Administration officials are pushing for a floor vote as soon as possible to re-establish inspections that ended when START, which was signed in 1991, expired last December. The loss of access for U.S. inspectors has been one of the administration’s major arguments for New START.

Committee member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) made a similar point in a Sept. 20 written statement. “When START I expired we lost our ability to know what is happening with Russia’s nuclear arsenal and if New START is ratified we will once again have those assurances,” he said.

Corker joined fellow committee Republicans Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.), as well as the 11 Democrats on the panel, in voting to approve the resolution. Republican Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), and James Inhofe (Okla.) voted no. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) did not vote on final passage.

Given the Democrats’ 11-8 committee advantage, it was no surprise that the treaty won majority support. However, it was not known how many Republican senators would ultimately vote to send the treaty to the Senate floor. Although Lugar, the ranking member, had endorsed the treaty early on, Corker announced his intention to vote in favor only two days before the vote; five other Republicans were officially undecided. Inhofe had previously announced his opposition.

New START, which was signed April 8 by Russia and the United States, would replace the 1991 START. New START would mandate reductions of both sides’ deployed strategic nuclear warheads by about 30 percent and associated delivery systems by about 50 percent below previous treaty limits, and it would re-establish a system of inspections and data exchanges to ensure compliance. (See ACT, May 2010.)

Risch Seeks Delay

Soon after Kerry gaveled the Sept. 16 meeting to order, Risch tried to hold up the proceedings on the basis of late-breaking intelligence information that he said should prevent the committee from voting on New START. “Yesterday the intelligence community brought to us some very serious information that directly affects what we’re doing here, not only the actual details of this but actually whether or not we should debate going forward with this,” he told the committee. Risch told The Cable after the meeting that the information was about Russian cheating on arms control agreements.

At the meeting, Kerry replied to Risch that he had held a briefing on the issue for committee members and staff the previous day and consulted Vice President Joe Biden before deciding that the ratification process should move ahead. “The conclusion of the intelligence community is that it in no way alters their judgment, already submitted to this committee, with respect to the START treaty and the impact of the START treaty,” Kerry told the committee. “It has no impact, in their judgment,” he said.

“We would not have proceeded today if this information had any effect on this vote or the substance of this treaty,” Kerry said. “Before we go to the floor, this issue will further be vetted by the intelligence community and everybody else,” he said.

In July, a National Intelligence Estimate on New START prepared by the intelligence community and a separate report on the treaty’s verifiability from the Department of State were circulated to members of the foreign relations panel and other key committees. These reports apparently did not trigger any public concerns; one Republican senator on the Foreign Relations Committee described the findings as “reassuring.” On Sept. 29, the administration sent new Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. to brief the Senate on the new intelligence. Corker told CQ Sept. 30 that Clapper did not provide additional information beyond what had already been provided. “I’d already heard everything,” he said.

Ratification resolutions generally do not modify the treaty in question, but serve to clarify administration policy on issues relating to the treaty and the Senate’s interpretation of the treaty provisions.

Lugar’s Substitute

Kerry’s staff circulated a draft resolution to committee members Sept. 3, saying they expected the draft to be amended. Lugar subsequently circulated his own version, which became the focus of behind-the-scenes negotiations with Kerry, committee Republicans, and the White House. After numerous rounds of drafting, Corker announced in a Sept. 14 written statement that he would cosponsor the Lugar resolution and, if it was not weakened by amendments, would vote for it. Lugar, introducing his resolution at the committee meeting, said it was intended to “incorporate suggestions expressed by witnesses, Members of this Committee, and other Senators, as well as to address the major substantive concerns that emerged in our deliberations.”

For instance, the Lugar resolution states that New START “does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses” other than the treaty’s ban on converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers for use by missile defense interceptors. It also clarifies that the Russian unilateral statement on missile defense, issued in conjunction with the treaty, “does not impose a legal obligation on the United States” and that any further limitations would require treaty amendment subject to the Senate’s advice and consent. The resolution reaffirms language in the 1999 Missile Defense Act that it is U.S. policy to “deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)” and states that nothing in the treaty limits future planned enhancements to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and to all phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach. (See ACT, March 2010.)

On verification, the Lugar resolution conditions ratification of New START on presidential certification, prior to the treaty’s entry into force, of the U.S. ability to monitor Russian compliance and on immediate consultations with the committee should there be a Russian breakout from the treaty.

The resolution states that nothing in New START prohibits the research, development, testing, evaluation, or deployment of Prompt Global Strike systems, in which conventional warheads could be placed on ICBMs or other strategic systems. Another understanding reaffirms administration testimony that if Russia should develop any rail-mobile ICBM system, the system would count under the provisions of New START. Some critics of New START have said that if Moscow were to build rail-mobile ICBMs, such as the now-retired Russian SS-24, those missiles might not count under treaty limits because they are not specifically mentioned in the text. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

The Lugar resolution states a commitment to “proceeding with a robust stockpile stewardship program, and to maintaining and modernizing the nuclear weapons production capabilities and capacities, that will ensure the safety, reliability, and performance of the United States nuclear arsenal.” It includes a requirement for the president to submit to Congress a plan for overcoming any future resource shortfall associated with the Obama administration’s 10-year modernization plan on the nuclear weapons stockpile. That blueprint is known as the Section 1251 plan, for the provision of the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization law that established the requirement for the report.

Lugar’s resolution urges the president to pursue an “agreement” with Russia to “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” It requires prompt presidential consultation with the committee concerning substantive activities of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) in order to ensure that substantive changes to the treaty are made only with the Senate’s advice and consent. Treaty critics have claimed that the BCC could make substantive changes to the treaty—for example, on missile defense—without Senate approval.

The resolution calls on “other nuclear weapon states to give careful and early consideration to corresponding reductions of their own nuclear arsenals.”

At the committee meeting, Kerry announced that he would support the Lugar resolution, which Corker had cosponsored; Isakson also said he would support it. After Risch failed to delay the vote, a motion to substitute the Lugar resolution for the original Kerry resolution passed by voice vote. Risch and DeMint were opposed.

The committee then considered nine amendments to the Lugar resolution. Kerry first addressed an amendment submitted by Barrasso, which was the only one that would have resulted in altering the treaty itself. Barrasso wanted to strike all language in the preamble of the treaty that related to missile defense. Kerry told the committee that preambles are not amendable because they are nonbinding and the Senate only has jurisdiction over binding treaty language. The amendment failed 13-6.

Risch then offered three amendments: one expressing a U.S. commitment to “accomplishing the modernization and replacement of its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles,” which was accepted by voice vote, and two others on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons, which failed 12-7 in separate votes.

Sparring on Missile Defense

DeMint then offered the most controversial amendment to the resolution, which expressed a U.S. commitment to a layered missile defense system and said mutual assured destruction (MAD) does not serve U.S. interests. “This START agreement does not defend the people of the United States,” DeMint said. “We are agreeing, with the START treaty, to continue the policy of mutually assured destruction, which doesn’t protect the American people.” MAD is the decades-old strategic policy of depending on the threat of U.S. nuclear retaliation to deter nuclear attack by Russia or other states. Stating his preference for missile defense over MAD, DeMint said, “If we can shoot down their missiles, they won’t build nuclear weapons.”

Kerry and other committee Democrats appeared frustrated with DeMint, but reluctant to cast a vote that DeMint and others could portray as supporting MAD and opposing missile defense. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said to DeMint, “Are you suggesting that if we vote against your amendment, that we in some way are not defending this country and don’t believe that we should defend this country against our enemies? Because if that’s what you’re suggesting, Senator, then I personally resent that.”

“It’s not my intent to offend anyone,” DeMint responded, “but to try to make sure that there is an understanding that this START agreement does not defend the people of the United States.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), in the sole instance of Democratic party disunity, then surprised observers by speaking in favor of the DeMint amendment, raising the possibility that it might pass. Webb reminded the committee that he had once been a Reagan administration defense official who supported building a missile defense system. Facing uncertain prospects, Kerry took advantage of a committee break to continue the conversation behind closed doors. Kerry and DeMint reached a compromise during the break, and the committee agreed to the revised language by voice vote.

The revised DeMint language states that “the United States and the Russian Federation share a common interest in moving cooperatively as soon as possible away from a strategic relationship based on mutual assured destruction” and that “the United States is and will remain free to reduce the vulnerability to attack by constructing a layered missile defense system capable of countering missiles of all ranges.” It also says that the United States “stands ready to cooperate with the Russian Federation on strategic defensive capabilities, as long as such cooperation is aimed at fostering and in no way constrains the defensive capabilities of both sides.”

After the meeting, Kerry told reporters the revised DeMint amendment was acceptable because it had “some key language changes that we think better frames the transformation that we’re all looking for, away from mutual assured destruction, towards something that doesn’t rely on the destruction of our population to protect us,” he said. The new language “commits us to continue to develop the ability to be able to protect our people and to have a robust missile defense system,” Kerry said.

Inhofe offered three amendments: one on delivery vehicle modernization, which failed 14-5; one on missile defense, which failed 14-5; and one on re-entry vehicle covers, which was set aside.

Barrasso, whose state of Wyoming is home to F.E. Warren Air Force Base and its ICBMs, offered an amendment saying that, under New START, the United States would have to deploy 450 ICBMs, instead of the 420 planned. It failed by voice vote.

After all amendments had been offered, Kerry called a vote on final passage of the Lugar resolution, as amended. DeMint did not return to vote after the committee break, nor did he leave his proxy vote in writing, as required, with Lugar. “Anybody have any idea where Senator DeMint is?” Kerry asked before calling the roll. Committee Republicans assured Kerry that the vote could proceed without DeMint, whose office did not return phone inquiries about his absence.

Inhofe and Risch said that they would reserve the right to offer minority views to the resolution of ratification before it was sent to the full Senate. Once the floor debate begins, senators will have another chance to offer amendments to the resolution. A senator’s vote in committee does not guarantee the same vote on the floor.

Corker said in his Sept. 20 written statement that even though he had received a “preliminary written commitment from the Vice President that the Administration intends to update estimates and fully fund modernization, I will not vote for this treaty in the full Senate until I have seen the changes that the Administration intends to submit as an amendment to the modernization plan for the nuclear weapons complex.” Corker has been calling for increases to the administration’s budget for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex. Part of the modernization plan is the construction of a major new facility in Tennessee.

Floor Vote Prospects

Immediately after the committee vote, Kerry told reporters, “I personally believe we will have the votes to ratify this” on the Senate floor. Senate Democratic leaders have said that New START is one of three top priorities for votes in the postelection session. The chance for a vote may depend on Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) “because if he’s comfortable then this can pass with more than enough votes,” Lieberman told CQ Sept. 30. “If he’s not, my guess is it doesn’t come up.”


Amid a highly partisan pre-election season and new allegations about Russian treaty compliance, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16 passed a resolution of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with bipartisan support.

News Briefs

Medvedev Bans S-300 Sale to Iran

Peter Crail

Following years of mixed messages over the potential delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree prohibiting the transfer Sept. 22. The United States and Israel, arguing that the deal would further undermine regional stability, long had pressed Moscow not to follow through on a 2007 contract Russia inked with Iran to provide the system.

The version of the S-300 system believed to have been part of the contract has the capability to counter aircraft at a range of 195 kilometers and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 50 kilometers. Previous Russian air defense systems sold to Tehran are believed to guard some Iranian nuclear facilities.

For years, Russian officials avoided commenting directly on whether Moscow would transfer the system, merely citing Russian policy that it would take into account regional security before it carried out its weapons sales. Russia also said that an arms embargo imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council in June did not apply to air defense systems, but officials from Western countries said that Moscow assured them the S-300 transfer would not go through.

Responding to the Russian decree, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Sept. 23 that Medvedev “demonstrated leadership on holding Iran accountable to its international obligations from start to finish.”

Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi downplayed the decree in a state television interview Sept. 23, saying the sale was “not vital” and that Iran would build a similar system of its own.

Software Error Derails Airborne Laser Test

Robert Golan-Vilella

The experimental Airborne Laser (ABL) missile defense system failed a test last month after a software error caused the system’s high-energy laser to become misaligned, according to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The test was conducted Sept. 1 at the PointMuguNavalAirWarfareCenter off the coast of California. The ABL test bed, which is housed in a modified Boeing 747, attempted to shoot down a liquid-fueled, short-range missile in its boost phase, the first phase of flight. The ABL employs sensors and a low-energy laser beam to detect and track the incoming missile; it then uses a high-energy laser to target and damage the missile.

However, the Sept. 1 test never got beyond the first stage. According to a Sept. 10 MDA press release, the ABL successfully detected and tracked the target missile, but “corrupted beam control software steered the high energy laser slightly off center.” Sensing the misalignment, the system’s high-energy laser immediately shut down, and the test terminated early.

The MDA did not announce the results of the test until AOL News inquired about the results and broke the story Sept. 7.

The failed Sept. 1 test comes after a successful ABL test in February, in which the system’s high-energy laser destroyed a liquid-fuel missile in its boost phase. The system’s next test, which was originally scheduled for late September, is now expected to take place “at some point in October,” MDA spokeswoman Debra Christman said.

According to the Obama administration’s “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” the ABL program has “experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its inception in 1996.” In particular, plans for a second plane were canceled, and the existing aircraft has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, March 2010.) It is not clear if the recent test failure will affect current test plans.

States at Odds Over Disarmament Body

Peter Crail

UN efforts to “revitalize” the work of its negotiating forum on disarmament during a high-level meeting Sept. 24 revealed continued disagreement on how best to resolve more than a decade of deadlock. (See ACT, September 2010.) A summary of the meeting compiled by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who chaired the session, proposed to continue the discussions during the UN General Assembly’s First Committee during the fall.

A key disagreement during the meeting involved the continued utility of the procedural rules of the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), which require consensus. A number of states, including Ireland, Mexico, and Norway, suggested that the consensus rule apply only to substantive issues; they argued that some states have abused the rule by applying it to procedural decisions, such as the adoption of the body’s program of work.

Primarily because of procedural conflicts, the CD has been unable to begin substantive negotiations since 1996.

Many states opposed any changes, insisting that political disagreements, rather than rules of procedure, were behind the deadlock.

States similarly differed on whether negotiations on a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons should be handled outside the CD. Several countries suggested that if work on the treaty has not started at the CD by the end of 2011, countries need to start considering other forums.

Ban’s summary “strongly suggested” that the CD, when it meets again in January, adopt a program of work initially approved in 2009. Since then, Pakistan has blocked the start of negotiations over concerns that a fissile material cutoff treaty, at least in the form that most countries are supporting, would not affect India’s existing stocks of fissile material.

UN Chief Urges Countries to Ratify CTBT

Eric Auner

Countries that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) should aim to be “the first mover” and join the treaty without waiting for others to do so, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a group of national representatives, including 24 foreign ministers, Sept. 23.

Ban, who previously chaired the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, made the comments at a biennial meeting held at the United Nations to mark the anniversary of the date in 1996 when the treaty was opened for signature.

The foreign ministers in attendance released a joint statement reaffirming their support for CTBT ratification. As of Sept. 28, 62 countries, including the United States, had endorsed the statement. The statement will remain open for endorsement until it is submitted to the UN in late November or early December.

More than 180 countries have signed the CTBT; 153 of them have ratified it. Forty-four countries, specified in the treaty’s Annex 2, must ratify the pact before it can enter into force. Nine have not done so, including the United States.

Some governments have indicated that they will be more likely to ratify the CTBT if the United States does so.

In his opening statement at the meeting, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara specifically cited India, another Annex 2 state. The CTBT is “an important measure to guide those non-[nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] signatories, including India, into the international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime,” he said.

The meeting took place on the heels of the first annual International Day Against Nuclear Tests on Aug. 29, which was declared by a vote of the UN General Assembly.


Mutually Assured Misperception on SDI

David E. Hoffman

On January 6, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the first National Security Decision Directive for his fledgling Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), launched the previous year. This presidential directive, NSDD 119, has now been fully declassified. One part of the document, which had been redacted in versions released earlier, expressed “growing concern over a potential Soviet breakout from the [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty.”

The directive added, “Evidence of Soviet efforts to develop a ballistic missile defense capability makes it incumbent upon the U.S. to do its utmost to acquire its own strategic defense options as one possible response to a Soviet breakout. Unilateral Soviet acquisition of an effective defensive capability would confront the U.S. and its allies with the real threat of nuclear blackmail and political/military coercion.”[1]

It is now evident that this concern about Soviet breakout was exaggerated. The evidence was based in part on concerns about the purpose of the ill-fated Krasnoyarsk Radar, but the Soviets were nowhere near such a move, nor had they had all that much success in developing missile defense technology.[2]

The fear of a breakout was a classic example of Cold War mistrust, secrecy, and propaganda at work. In these years, the United States did not see clearly the troubled state of the Soviet military-industrial complex. The Soviets could not fully understand Reagan’s purpose and motivations in proposing a globe-spanning missile defense system. They suspected a hidden rationale and mission for it. As the Harvard Nuclear Study Group noted in 1983, “The United States cannot predict Soviet behavior because it has too little information on what goes on inside the Soviet Union; the Soviets cannot predict American behavior because they have too much information.”[3]

New information from archives and other sources reveals these misunderstandings more clearly and offers lessons for today. One of them is to make sure policymakers fully understand the intentions of an adversary. Do outsiders have a better understanding today of the mind-set of leaders in Iran and North Korea than was available about the Soviet leaders in the final days of the Cold War?

Looking back at the early years of the SDI and examining how the Soviet Union reacted to Reagan’s project, one can see clearly that both sides were guilty of misperceptions and error. Of particular value in understanding this are glimpses of long-secret Soviet deliberations. The documents and notes of Vitaly Katayev, a professional staff member in the Central Committee Defense Department from 1974 until the Soviet collapse in 1991 and a participant in many of the arms control discussions of the day, are especially revealing. Katayev, an aviation and rocket designer by training, kept detailed notes about Kremlin decisions and preserved sheaves of original documents, which now reside at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives at Stanford University.[4]

SDI and Pershing II Missiles

The early reaction in Moscow to Reagan’s announcement of the initial research for the SDI was to protest, but the evidence suggests the Soviet leadership was not all that focused on the SDI in 1983 and 1984, under Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. They were much more worried about the NATO deployment of the Pershing II and ground-launched cruise missiles in Western Europe, which began in November 1983, to counter the Soviet deployment of SS-20 missiles aimed at the West.

In Katayev’s archive are agendas for more than 20 meetings of the military-industrial commission in the third quarter of 1983, a period of deepening tensions between Washington and Moscow. Not one of them mentions strategic missile defense. Rather, the Soviet leaders were preoccupied with the fast-flying Pershings. The builders of the Moscow anti-ballistic missile system were urged to alter it to detect and intercept possible incoming Pershing missiles.[5]

In his second inaugural address, in January 1985, Reagan offered a high-flying description of his program, calling it a global shield to “render nuclear weapons obsolete.” This grabbed the attention of officials in Moscow.

The KGB made its highest priority gathering military intelligence, including on “American policy on the militarization of space.” That was the title of a 10-page directive issued three and a half weeks after Reagan’s inaugural speech. Agents were tasked to gather intelligence on all U.S. programs that might deploy systems in space for nuclear and conventional war. Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB double agent who had earlier warned the British of Andropov’s paranoia about nuclear war, has published the KGB’s instruction to agents. The KGB was “very anxious” to know, the instruction said, precisely what the Reagan administration’s plans were, how they were evolving, and the “targets, dates and expected financial outlay.” The KGB wanted to know what technical results were achieved in tests and whether it was possible to shoot down a missile using “kinetic weapons,” such as hitting it with another missile or solid object. Furthermore, what were Reagan’s intentions for negotiating? Was the SDI really a “large-scale disinformation operation” designed to force the Soviet negotiators into making concessions?[6]

An avalanche of intelligence reporting began to flow to Moscow, and stacks of it crossed Katayev’s desk. He observed that the spies were lazy and passive; they often simply sent along press clippings as intelligence. What the agents and Soviet military analysts feared the most, Katayev realized, was to underestimate the seriousness of the threat, so they overestimated it. No one could definitively declare that the SDI would not work, so they reported that it might. The spies flooded the system with reports of the threat; before long, the Soviet military-industrial complex geared up to counter the threat. Starting in 1985 and continuing through the decade, Katayev recalled that about 10 cables a day on political-military and technical issues came through his offices in the Central Committee. Of them, 30 to 40 percent dealt with the SDI and missile defense. Katayev wondered if the Americans were deliberately trying to choke Moscow with fear by leaking a flood of information.[7]

Weeks after Reagan’s speech, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow. Gorbachev soon faced the question of how to respond to Reagan’s project. One of his advisers was the progressive physicist Evgeny Velikhov, who told Gorbachev that he did not think the U.S. missile defense plan would work—at least not before the end of the century. Velikhov knew of prior work by Soviet experts on missile defense stretching back to the 1970s. They had often come up short, unable to master the technologies, including computing and laser optics.

Nevertheless, in the summer of 1985, with a new boss in the Kremlin, the Soviet missile designers and outer space experts brought to Gorbachev a grandiose new plan for a Soviet SDI. According to Katayev’s notebooks and papers, there were two major umbrella programs, each of which included a sprawling array of separate projects, ranging from fundamental exploratory research to construction of equipment ready for flight tests. The estimates of the costs ran into the tens of billions of rubles, enough to keep the design bureaus working full tilt into the late 1980s. The programs had obscure code names such as Fundament-4, Integral-3, Onega E, Spiral, Saturn, Kontakt, Echelon, and Skif; the details on these programs went on for pages and pages in Katayev’s notebooks. Most of the proposals brought to the Kremlin that summer were intended to produce initial results in 1987-1988; Katayev kept track of goals and targets through 1990. For all the imposing scope and cost, the grand package concealed deep cracks in the system. Some of the programs, started years earlier, lacked purpose, did not produce results, or were starved for resources. Some of them were nearly abandoned or obsolete, hoping for a rebirth.[8]

Gorbachev’s Restraint

Gorbachev did not want to extend the arms race to space, and he did not build a Soviet SDI. Nonetheless, he needed something to respond to Reagan. Velikhov began to talk to Gorbachev about an asymmetrical response. Katayev’s papers show that one idea was simply to overwhelm Reagan’s missile defense system with an offensive one: rain more warheads on the umbrella than it could possibly deflect. One option, according to Katayev’s records, was to put 38 warheads on every SS-18 missile, which carried 10 warheads each at the time. Gorbachev did not approve this option either.

Ultimately, Gorbachev decided that his strategy would be simply to talk Reagan out of his vision. Words were Gorbachev’s stock-in-trade and his best weapon. Could he say “no” to the Reagan dream, persuade Reagan of his folly, and talk it into oblivion? Perhaps he could strike a deal to cancel a giant weapons machine that the United States did not yet possess and that the Soviet Union would have great trouble matching, exchanging it all for something they both wanted: deep reductions in existing nuclear weapons.

It is often said that the SDI bankrupted the Soviet Union. If Gorbachev had actually attempted to build his own SDI, this might have been true, but he did not build one. A leader’s courage is often defined by building something, by positive action; in this case, Gorbachev’s great contribution was in deciding not to do something. He averted another massive weapons competition. The Soviet Union imploded on its own, not because of missile defense.

Reagan eventually came around to doing business with Gorbachev, but in 1985, the United States did not clearly see the radical ambitions of the new Soviet leader. On June 27, CIA director William Casey sent Reagan a note accompanying the first full CIA assessment of Gorbachev. The note informed Reagan that Gorbachev and those around him are “not reformers and liberalizers either in Soviet domestic or foreign policy.”[9] Veteran U.S. arms negotiator Paul Nitze gave a speech June 28 on the Soviets and SDI, saying, “Clearly they see the potential applications for advanced defensive technologies; otherwise they would not be investing so much effort and so many resources in this area. It is not unreasonable to conclude that they would like to continue to be the only ones pressing forward in this field.”[10] Reagan, in an October radio address, said, “The Soviets have for a long time been doing advanced research on their version of SDI. They’re doing so well, our experts say they may be able to put an advanced system in space by the end of the century.”[11]

In fact, the Soviet Union was not ready to put a missile defense system in space. Reagan never really grasped the corrosive impact on the Soviet military of economic decay and stifling leadership. The Soviets were not going to break out; instead, they were close to breaking down. It was a tragedy that a country that had spawned some of the great minds in mathematics and physics, that had produced chess champions and launched Sputnik, was by the 1980s behind in the computer revolution, sinking in economic backwardness, and totally unprepared for the next century.

According to Katayev, Soviet officials were puzzled by one aspect of Reagan’s program. If it was not possible to create an effective missile shield with America’s best technology, as Velikhov said, then why was the United States devoting so much money to it, year after year? As Katayev recalled it, the Soviet analysts saw “a clear discrepancy between the goals and the means” of Reagan’s announced intentions. “What is it being done for?” the Soviet specialists asked themselves, according to Katayev. “In the name of what are the Americans, famous for their pragmatism, opening their wallet for the most grandiose project in the history of the United States when the technical and economic risks of a crash exceed all thinkable limits?

“Or is there still something different behind this curtain?” Katayev wrote. He recalled that Reagan’s zeal for his dream led them “from the very beginning to think about the possibility of political bluff and hoax.” They pondered whether it was a “Hollywood village of veneer and cardboard.” According to Katayev, a few Soviet experts—he does not say exactly who—held an even darker view of Reagan’s goals. They concluded that the Americans were always distinguished by their systematic approach to problems, that they “do nothing in vain.” Rather than a hoax or bluff, they concluded that the SDI was a cover story for a gigantic, hidden effort to subsidize U.S. defense contractors, save them from “bankruptcy,” and produce a fresh surge of superior military high technology. Perhaps, Katayev said, this “was the major underwater part of the SDI iceberg.”

This analysis was certainly misguided. Although Reagan did fatten the defense contractors with record military budgets in the early 1980s, defense spending was a relatively small slice of the overall U.S. economy. There was a fresh surge of high technology, but much of it was sprouting in the private sector, in the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. In addition, defense contractors simply did not play the same role in the United States as the outsized military-industrial complex in the Soviet Union. The Soviet analysts were mistakenly applying their own experience, in which the military-industrial complex was at the center of decisions, to what they could not explain in the United States. It was just one more case of misperception piled on misperception.

Among the lessons for today is the critical importance of acquiring accurate intelligence about adversaries. In 1985 the United States lacked valuable human sources inside the Kremlin who might have signaled much earlier Gorbachev’s radical new direction. Although enormous resources were devoted to monitoring Soviet strategic forces, not enough was understood about the condition of the military-industrial complex. These are intelligence issues, but ideology was also at fault, sometimes blinding policymakers to the valuable data they did possess. Iran and North Korea pose similar challenges today and cry out for the absolute best effort to grasp leadership intentions and hardware capabilities.

David E. Hoffman is a contributing editor to The Washington Post and Foreign Policy. He was Moscow bureau chief of the Post from 1995 to 2001 and is author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (2009), which was awarded the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. This article draws heavily on research conducted for that book.


1. I am indebted to Jason Saltoun-Ebin, who obtained the full text of this NSDD from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and made it available to me.

2. The radar was first detected by the United States in the early 1980s, and the Reagan administration claimed it was a violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This was true because it was not on the periphery of the country, as the treaty required. The Soviets had located the radar inland to save resources. The administration claimed the radar could be used for battle management in a missile defense system. This was not the case; it was an early-warning radar. The Soviets, who knew they had violated the treaty, claimed the radar was for civilian outer space programs, but that was not the case either.

3. Harvard Nuclear Study Group, Living with Nuclear Weapons (New York: Bantam, 1983), pp. 42-43.

4. For a fuller exploration of these documents and notes, see David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Doubleday, 2009).

5. Oleg Golubev et al., Rossiskaya Systema Protivoraketnoi Oboroniy [Russian system of anti-missile defense] (Moscow: Tekhnokonsalt, 1994), p. 67.

6. Christopher Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, Comrade Kryuchkov’s Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations, 1975–1985 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), pp. 107-115.

7. Vitaly Katayev, Kakoi byla reaktzia v SSSR na zayavlenia R. Reagana o razvertyvanii rabot v CShA po SOI, [What was the reaction of the Soviet Union to the announcement of R. Reagan on the deployment of works in the United States on the SDI], n.d., 12 pp.

8. I am indebted to Pavel Podvig for identifying and explaining this.

9. The Casey note is reported by Robert Gates in his memoir. See Robert Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), p. 332. I obtained the full text of the CIA assessment of Gorbachev under the Freedom of Information Act. See Hoffman, Dead Hand, p. 191.

10. Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Current Policy, No. 717 (July 1985) (address by Paul H. Nitze to the Chautauqua Conference on Soviet-American relations, New York, June 28, 1985).

11. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, “Radio Address to the Nation on Soviet Strategic Defense Programs,” The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, October 12, 1985, www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1985/101285a.htm.


Israel and Multilateral Nuclear Approaches in the Middle East

Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd

As most states in the Middle East have expressed an interest in or are already developing nuclear power, regional cooperation can be an important tool to build nuclear confidence and allay proliferation concerns. This article will investigate how Israel could fit into a nuclear energy development paradigm consisting of regional approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle.

In addition, it will argue that early progress in collaborative efforts can help to create momentum for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.

Countries in the Middle East have cited a range of reasons for their resurgent or new interest in developing nuclear power, including the need to diversify energy sources and to meet increasing electricity demands. There are concerns that the interest is driven at least partly by Iran’s nuclear advances and suspicions that it may have a military dimension. Although nuclear power advancement in the Middle East can be viewed a priori with concern from a proliferation perspective, it could offer an opportunity for a net nonproliferation gain if technological development progresses down the right path of transparency and collaboration. The equation is straightforward. If these budding programs in the Middle East develop as completely separate national programs, mistrust is bound to increase. If they develop more in parallel with each other—with collaboration on such elements as information exchanges, transparency of plans, safety and security issues, and, potentially, fuel cycle activities—there is a real chance that nuclear development can serve instead as a tool to increase trust and confidence, feeding into a wider security-building agenda in the region.

Although nuclear cooperation has been a sensitive topic throughout the atomic era, it is particularly difficult to envision such ventures in the Middle East, with its chronically unstable political-security situation. Recent evidence suggests, however, that crossing the traditional Arab-Israeli divide is possible even in the nuclear area.

Access to Nuclear Technology

Israel is among the countries in the region that have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear energy. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau used the opportunity of a civilian nuclear power conference in Paris in March to reiterate the country’s interest in developing nuclear power.[1] For the past 40 years, Israel has seen nuclear energy as an integral goal in its energy planning, but it has not yet introduced nuclear power into its energy mix. The Web site of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) says that Israel decided in the 1970s that “an option to produce electricity using nuclear reactors should be prepared and maintained.”[2] The Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) concluded in the 1980s that a site in the northern Negev desert near the town of Shivta would be suitable for a nuclear power plant. In his Paris speech, Landau confirmed that the Shivta site is still being maintained from a scientific and technical infrastructure point of view. The current plan is to have a two-unit nuclear power plant with a generation capacity of 1,200-1,500 megawatts operational by 2020.[3]

Israel considers itself an “energy island” because it is not connected to the grids of any of its neighbors and must import all its energy sources. From these imported sources, Israel produces around 13,000 megawatts of electricity, a figure that is expected to double by 2020. Without an indigenous nuclear power program, Israel will need either to continue relying on energy imports or seek alternative routes to nuclear power, such as regional collaboration. Israel’s energy situation provides an incentive for the country to seek a long-term regional nuclear deal in which it progressively increases the transparency of its nuclear activities in return for integration with neighbors on energy projects, a win-win situation for all countries in the region. Although Israel would not be interested in becoming dependent on any one source of energy imports, it is open to buying electricity generated from, for example, a Jordanian nuclear power plant.[4] Creating grid connections between Israel and neighboring Arab states would be a good peace project and open the door for further technological collaboration in the energy area. The initiation of talks on such grid connections could be plausible in the next couple of years and be a suitable precursor to other energy-related cooperative efforts.

The main constraint on Israel’s nuclear power development has been its exclusion from foreign assistance because it is not a signatory of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Because the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 granted India an exemption from the requirement of full-scope safeguards—meaning that all the country’s nuclear facilities would be open to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors—as a condition for trade, Israel has been lobbying for the group to draw up a list of objective trade criteria for non-NPT states. The NSG has been engaging Israel for the past few years, but the group has received Israeli proposals with lukewarm interest. In May 2009, NSG Chairman Viktor Elbling led a delegation to Israel to discuss export controls and Israel’s relationship with the NSG.

Some, including former IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, have argued that India’s NSG exception amounts to a nonproliferation gain because it draws the country into the regime. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine that further erosion of nuclear export controls, by granting Israel similar rights, will benefit nonproliferation. In fact, as the world sees a rising interest in nuclear power, the NSG should play an increasingly important role in anticipation of expanded nuclear trade. Unfortunately, the group has not been able to agree on strengthened guidelines on transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. To regain credibility lost with the India exemption, the NSG must agree on tighter rules related to these technologies and refrain from further exemptions.

Where does this leave Israel as far as partaking in a regional arrangement when it does not have access to nuclear technology? Israel developed its nuclear infrastructure with foreign assistance but prior to the establishment of the NPT and the NSG. It is maintaining its current nuclear activities with limited access to the international nuclear market as controlled by the NSG. An ardent nonproliferation argument would hold that Israel should not even reap the benefit of nuclear energy indirectly, such as by buying nuclear-generated electricity from neighboring states, because of its status as an NPT holdout. Fred McGoldrick, a former U.S. Department of State official, said in March that although an arrangement under which a Jordanian reactor was supplying electricity to Israel “technically” would “probably not violate the NSG guidelines…it would not be faithful to their intent.”[5]

Israel has not breached any nonproliferation commitments because it has not signed the NPT. Most of its nuclear research and development occurred before 1968, when the treaty was opened for signature. Because of its relationship to and dependence on the United States, it could not be transparent about its nuclear activities and thus not be one of the open and accepted nuclear powers of the 1960s. Israel had promised the United States not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East and did not want to defy its protector. The result was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between the two allies that kept Israel’s program secret.[6] The question is whether it is a net nonproliferation gain to keep Israel outside cooperative activities or whether encouraging and including Israel in potential regional efforts would be better in order to increase trust and confidence that nuclear activities have a peaceful intent. Israel must be integrated into the nonproliferation regime, and one approach could be the establishment of cooperative nuclear activities in the region. Although some supplier states may be opposed on political grounds to seeing Israel benefit indirectly from nuclear energy, for example in the case of the Jordanian nuclear power plant, it is unlikely that this will prevent nuclear trade and the construction of nuclear plants in states neighboring Israel.

Multilateral Nuclear Approaches[7]

Compared to many other countries in the Middle East, Israel has a clear position on multilateral nuclear approaches. According to one Israeli government source, the country has developed a set of prerequisites that it thinks should govern regional nuclear development.[8]

• States must forgo sensitive fuel-cycle facilities, such as uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing plants. Israel categorizes fuel fabrication plants as sensitive as well.[9] Although limiting enrichment and reprocessing technologies is a powerful nonproliferation measure, it goes to the heart of the problem of nuclear haves versus have-nots and infringement of NPT rights.[10] A more pragmatic approach would be to establish multilaterally owned and operated plants in the region.

• States must have an additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements in place. This presents several problems because Israel itself currently would not live up to this criterion. Another stumbling block regarding additional protocols is that Egypt has said it will not sign one unless Israel joins the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state.[11]

• Nuclear fuel supply to the region should be based on lifetime contracts and follow so-called leasing and take-back arrangements. A just-in-time refueling regime can be a powerful confidence-building measure because it aims to deliver fresh fuel right before a reactor needs refueling and return spent fuel to the supplier country as soon as possible, preferably within a year after the spent fuel has been taken out of the reactor.

• A stable regulatory system is needed in each state embarking on a nuclear program. The United Arab Emirates and possibly Jordan are seen in Israel as being on the right track in this respect.

According to the Israeli source, Israel regards multilateral nuclear approaches as having merit, especially in light of its position that no country in the region should have a closed national nuclear fuel cycle. For Israel, the key questions to address are host-country selection and eligibility criteria for such an arrangement, the source said. Pointing to experiences in Iran and North Korea, where years of sanctions have not resolved proliferation concerns after detection of clandestine facilities, he said Israel is skeptical of the effectiveness of IAEA safeguards enforcement.[12]

Regarding current efforts to create a system of assured nuclear fuel supply, for example through supplier state-sponsored guarantees, and the establishment of international fuel banks to provide low-enriched uranium if supply were disrupted for political reasons, Israeli officials fall in line with the majority viewpoint that these types of assurances, if not part of a comprehensive effort to internationalize the nuclear fuel cycle, amount to creating a solution for a problem that does not exist. In other words, current supply mechanisms based on market forces work and do not need fixing.[13]

According to Israeli officials, current nuclear energy planning includes looking into how the national program could feed into efforts to internationalize the fuel cycle. The IEC and IAEC signed an agreement in March 2010 calling for a survey of long-term nuclear energy strategy, including international aspects, to be conducted by a joint task force consisting of all relevant government offices. Although the focus of international cooperation would be on states with developed fuel cycles, such as some EU countries, Japan, and the United States, one government official said the survey would presumably address potential regional approaches as well.[14]

Signs of Cooperation

In general, Israeli officials say their country is open to regional cooperation, especially with neighbors Egypt and Jordan, with which it has peace agreements. Due to the current regional political situation, however, cooperation among these three countries would be very difficult, even if there were a desire for it. A case in point is the Israeli-Jordanian relationship, which unofficially is quite good, despite a more critical tone publicly.[15] In the nuclear area, cooperation is taking place, but it is low key. Officials from the two countries are mainly discussing Jordan’s planned reactor at Aqaba on the Red Sea near the Israeli-Jordanian border. Although the full extent of the talks is unknown, Israel is providing assistance in terms of site selection, nuclear safety and security issues, and seismic data from its Geophysical Institute.[16]

Israeli news media reported in March on talks between Landau and Jean-Louis Borloo, France’s minister of environment and energy, on joint nuclear projects involving France, Israel, and Jordan.[17] Jordan, however, distanced itself from this public discussion, with Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan stating that it is “too early to speak of regional cooperation with Israel before resolving the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”[18] The episode nonetheless can be seen as representing a trial balloon and an indication from Israel’s side that it is open to regional nuclear cooperation.

Further evidence of the regional willingness to cooperate in the nuclear field is the Jordan-based SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) project. SESAME is the region’s first major scientific research center and aims to be “an international scientific and technological centre of excellence open to all qualified scientists from the Middle East and elsewhere.”[19] The project centers around a synchrotron radiation source, a gift from Germany. Activities are planned in fields such as molecular environmental science, micro-electromechanical devices, x-ray imaging, materials characterization, and clinical medical applications. Current SESAME members are Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, and the Palestinian Authority.

When considering regional nuclear cooperation in the Middle East, Israel could offer expertise in a number of areas with its long-standing experience in the field. Indeed, it is already assisting Jordan with siting-related issues at Aqaba, as discussed above. Such assistance can be expanded to other countries, such as Egypt. Information exchanges in areas such as nuclear safety and security would be another good starting point for nuclear confidence building. Israel could offer a great deal in the area of education, in particular because it is currently setting up new nuclear engineering and physics courses to maintain its nuclear knowledge base. The SoreqNuclearResearchCenter has acquired a new particle accelerator to replace its 50-year-old research reactor. The accelerator is a joint project with the Weizmann Institute, the Israel Academy of Science, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Language does not necessarily pose a problem. For example, the Weizmann Institute offers all relevant graduate courses in English with open attendance.

Looking to the Future

What would a multilateral approach to the nuclear fuel cycle in the Middle East look like? Setting aside political constraints for a moment, one could imagine a network of regional nuclear facilities servicing the region with nuclear energy. In a best-case scenario, for a regional approach to the fuel cycle in the Middle East to be credible and acceptable, there should be no enrichment and reprocessing facilities. The first hurdle with this scenario is Iran’s expanding enrichment program, which Tehran is not likely simply to dismantle in the foreseeable future. One solution would be to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facilities, as has been proposed in principle by Iran. In a letter to the UN Security Council in June 2008, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, proposed, as part of a package for constructive negotiations over the nuclear impasse, consideration of “establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world—including Iran.”[20] Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson of MIT have proposed a detailed and compelling plan for how to internationalize Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz.[21] According to Forden and Thomson, the enrichment technology should be “black-boxed,” which would impede access to sensitive know-how. It also should be multilaterally owned and controlled and placed under stringent safeguards, they said.

Another problem with “outlawing” enrichment technologies in the Middle East or any region is the strong objection from developing countries that see this as another infringement of their NPT rights to nuclear technology. A fairer approach would be to establish a global network of multilaterally owned and operated plants. This was envisioned in a 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches, which said that, first, nationally owned plants should preferably be internationalized, followed by the establishment of “in particular regional” multilateral nuclear approaches for new fuel-cycle facilities, including enrichment plants.[22]

Jordan and Turkey are good candidates to host front-end fuel-cycle facilities, such as those for conversion and fuel fabrication, to form a regional fuel-production arrangement. Jordan, with its newfound uranium reserves, could be a main contributor of uranium, and Turkey has expressed interest in the past in hosting a regional fuel production center.[23] In general, nuclear power plants may be more troublesome from administrative, political, and technical points of view. Power plants are large, expensive and politically sensitive projects often subject to substantial delays and cost overruns, which could be difficult to manage between several states. Also, the host of the plant would have the technical advantage of being able to cut electricity supply to its co-owners when it wants to. Nuclear plants are preferably national ventures with assistance from, or even run by, established international vendor consortiums.

For the back end of the fuel cycle, a blanket nonreprocessing rule is preferable. The proliferation concerns associated with spent fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction far outweigh the potential benefits from a so-called closed fuel-cycle arrangement. Although uranium enrichment (the other proliferation-sensitive process) is needed for fueling most reactors in the world, reprocessing is not necessary for electricity generation. Effective and transparent spent fuel disposition approaches should be established whereby the nuclear material is, for example, vitrified and stored in regional or international nuclear waste stations under multilateral control and monitoring.

The main nonproliferation benefit of the regional approach described above is that multilateral control, ownership, and operation will instill trust that the facilities are not used for nonpeaceful purposes. A breakout scenario in which the host country diverts uranium for a weapons program is much less likely if the facility is managed and staffed by people from several countries. It could also be argued that a multilateral approach means that a region needs fewer facilities than if each country develops the necessary production centers. This is attractive from a safeguards perspective because fewer sites would require IAEA monitoring. In addition, multinational ventures make economic sense due to economies of scale. It would be much less costly for a state to join a regional center than embark on developing a national facility.

On the negative side, as the 2005 IAEA Expert Group report on multilateral nuclear approaches pointed out, an internationally staffed enrichment facility could mean broader access to know-how and thus represent a proliferation risk.[24] However, if the facility is black-boxed, the spread of sensitive information would be restricted to a minimum.

Spillover Effect

If regional cooperative efforts in nuclear energy start to take off within the next few years, they could possibly open the door for more constructive discussions on other security-related issues. One opportunity to test this hypothesis will be the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference calls for all states in the Middle East to participate in a conference in 2012 on a regional WMD-free zone. For the first time, the action formally sets the stage for moving ahead concretely to implement the 1995 NPT Review Conference Resolution on the Middle East. But the road ahead before a conference in 2012 can be realized will be long and bumpy, with the main task being to persuade Israel actually to participate. One significant task will be to navigate through the diplomatic minefield of international proliferation forums, trying to avoid singling Israel out. Another challenge will be carrying out the regional confidence building that is needed for earnest negotiations on a WMD-free zone to take place. The changing nuclear landscape in the Middle East offers an opportunity to do that.

Volumes have been written on the preconditions for the creation of a Middle East WMD-free zone, and the Arab-Israeli conflict clearly lies at the heart of the difficulties in moving forward. Countless attempts have been made to kick-start negotiations on a WMD-free zone, but as a comprehensive UN study concluded in 2004, “The Middle East seems no closer to realizing the aims of a [WMD-free zone] than it was thirty years ago nor is the region any safer.”[25]

The United States will play a key role not only in persuading Israel to participate in talks about a Middle East WMD-free zone, but also in providing a security environment necessary for Israel to consider signing such a treaty. In recent months, media reports citing unnamed Israeli officials have suggested that the United States has provided “unequivocal guarantees…for the State of Israel’s preservation of strategic and deterring abilities,” as one of them put it.[26] Although public statements have not gone that far, at a July 6 joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama, referring to discussions at the NPT review conference, said that “the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.” This statement signals U.S. willingness to work with Israel to meet its security needs in a way that allows it to participate in earnest discussions on a Middle East WMD-free zone. Another area in which the United States, as well as France, can be constructive is encouraging nuclear trade with Israel conditioned on Israel’s signature on and adherence to a treaty establishing a verifiable WMD-free zone in the Middle East and signature on an NPT-like agreement. There is little prospect of Israel signing the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state in the foreseeable future, but Israel could consider signing a separate document as proposed by nonproliferation experts Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr. Cohen and Graham proposed in 2004 that India, Israel, and Pakistan—the three countries that have never signed the NPT—could sign a free-standing protocol allowing them to keep their current programs but inhibiting further development. The agreement would call for cooperation with export controls, ban nuclear testing, and set a timeline phasing out fissile material production.[27]

It seems clear that if collaborative regional efforts in nuclear energy gain momentum within the next few years, a positive climate surrounding nuclear security issues in general will start to emerge. This would not only benefit the general peace process in the region, but also help to create the right setting for the envisioned 2012 conference on developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.


As more and more states in the Middle East are jumping on the nuclear renaissance bandwagon, there is an urgent need to build nuclear confidence in the region. Instead of each state having a go-it-alone policy developing its own nuclear fuel cycle, which is likely to increase mistrust and the risk of proliferation, nuclear transparency and collaboration should be the norm. If the intentions behind these new programs are open and clear from the start, the countries involved are more likely to avoid misperceptions. Furthermore, by collaborating more closely on nuclear energy issues, the states stand to gain in economic and technical terms. With increased nuclear confidence through transparency measures and collaborative projects, the region also can reap many benefits regarding security building. There are signs that nuclear cooperation is possible. Regional projects such as SESAME and Israel’s assistance with nuclear power-plant siting in Jordan are evidence. Education is one area in which Israel could contribute to regional nuclear development; safety and security culture is another.

The next step is to promote collaborative efforts on nuclear energy, through joint training programs, exchanges of information and experience, and even talks on joint fuel-cycle facilities. Nuclear confidence building is integrally linked to the wider security agenda in the Middle East, including the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

Thomas Lorenz is a senior research fellow at the International Centre for Security Analysis (ICSA) at the Department of War Studies, King’s College in London. Previously, he was a safeguards information analyst with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Joanna Kidd is director of the ICSA. Prior to joining King’s College in 2003, she worked as a defense analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. This article is based on field research conducted by the authors for a project on multilateral nuclear approaches in the Middle East commissioned to the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


1. Uzi Landau, Statement to the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy, Paris, March 8-9, 2010, p. 70, www.conferenceparis-nucleairecivil.org/uploads/contents/86928/File/36255//transcriptionsconferenceen.pdf (summarized transcription).

2. Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), “Research and Publications by IAEC Personnel,” www.iaec.gov.il/pages_e/card_report_e.asp.

3. World Nuclear Association, “Emerging Nuclear Energy Countries,” May 25, 2010, www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf102.html.

4. Israeli officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

5. Daniel Horner, “Israel States Strong Interest in Nuclear Energy,” Arms Control Today, April 2010.

6. Avner Cohen and Thomas Graham Jr., “An NPT for Non-members,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2004, pp. 40-44.

7. This section relies heavily on interviews conducted by the authors in Israel in March with representatives of the IAEC, Ministry of National Infrastructure, Weizmann Institute, Institute for National Security Studies, and NGO Monitor.

8. Israeli energy official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010 (hereinafter Israeli energy official interview).

9. Israeli official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

10. Article IV of the NPT asserts “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

11. Although this linkage is not an official policy, Egyptian officials in public statements regarding an additional protocol typically make the link in no uncertain terms. See, for example, http://mfoa.africanews.com/site/list_message/9319.

12. Israeli energy official interview.

13. For a discussion on fuel assurances, how developing countries view them, and the past year’s negotiations at the IAEA Board of Governors on creating an international fuel bank, see Thomas Lorenz and Joanna Kidd, “An Uncertain Future for International Fuel Banks,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2010, pp. 44-49.

14. Israeli government official, interview with authors, Israel, March 2010.

15. Israeli academics, interviews with authors, Tel Aviv and Istanbul, March 2010.

16. Israeli government officials, interviews with authors, Israel, March 2010.

17. Ehud Zion Waldoks, “Landau to Announce Plans for First Israeli Nuke Power Plant,” Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2010, www.jpost.com/HealthAndSci-Tech/ScienceAndEnvironment/Article.aspx?id=170440.

18. “No Nuclear Cooperation With Israel Before End of Conflict – Officials,” The Jordan Times, March 10, 2010, http://cjpp5.over-blog.com/article-the-jordan-times-com-jordanie-no-nuclear-cooperation-with-israel-before-end-of-conflict---officials-46433756.html.

19. SESAME, “SESAME: Brief Description and Status Report,” www.sesame.org.jo/About/Description.aspx.

20. UN Security Council, “Letter Dated 17 June 2008 From the Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” S/2008/397, June 17, 2008, www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Iran%20S2008397.pdf.

21. Geoffrey Forden and John Thomson, “Iran as a Pioneer Case for Multilateral Nuclear Arrangements,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 2009, http://mit.edu/stgs/pdfs/IPCPublicationMay2009.pdf.

22. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Expert Group Report to the Director General of the IAEA,” INFCIRC/640, February 22, 2005, p. 15, www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/mna-2005_web.pdf.

23. Mark Hibbs, “Turkey Will Press for Fuel Technology Transfer,” NuclearFuel, February 11, 2008.

24. IAEA, “Multilateral Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” p. 75.

25. UN Institute for Disarmament Research, “Building a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East,” 2004, www.unidir.org/pdf/ouvrages/pdf-1-92-9045-168-8-en.pdf.

26. Attila Somfalvi, “State Official: Obama Provided Israel With Historic Guarantees,” YnetNews, May 30, 2010, www. ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3896361,00.html.

27. Cohen and Graham, “An NPT for Non-members.”


Beyond Missile Defense: Alternative Means to Address Iran’s Ballistic Missile Threat

Miles A. Pomper and Cole J. Harvey

Since the 1980s, Iran has been actively developing a ballistic missile capability, beginning with imports of Scud missiles and leading up to its current development of the solid-fueled Sajjil-2. The Sajjil-2, which was first flight-tested in 2008, is expected to have a range of approximately 2,200 kilometers, putting targets in southeastern Europe, in Russia, and across the Arabian Peninsula within reach of Iranian missiles. An earlier liquid-fueled missile, the Ghadr-1, can reach Turkey, Israel, and southern Russia with its 1,600-kilometer range.[1]

The increasing sophistication and range of Iranian ballistic missiles have caused alarm in Washington, which has developed elaborate missile defense plans to counter the threat. Yet, the technical feasibility of ballistic missile defense is debatable, and its contribution to missile nonproliferation is questionable. Fortunately, it is not the only tool available to states concerned about Iran’s missile program.

Supplements or alternatives to missile defense include layered mechanisms designed to hamper the supply of missile-related components. National export control laws are the first line of defense, which can be augmented and coordinated through multilateral export forums such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). UN Security Council sanctions can expand the reach of export controls by banning the supply of certain components under international law and lending international legitimacy to the effort. When sanctions and export controls fail, legal interdictions can be used to curtail illicit shipments of contraband materials to Iran and other states of concern.

Limiting the supply of crucial missile components is an important aspect of constraining the Iranian missile program, but it is not the sole aspect. Regional defense agreements and security guarantees can mitigate the threat perceived by neighboring states and deter the use of Iran’s existing missiles. Ultimately, a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East could facilitate removal of the missiles themselves from the region. The 2002 Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, by providing for limited confidence-building and transparency measures, can be a useful first step in limiting ballistic missile proliferation in the Middle East. In the long term, with sufficient confidence building and verification, states could agree to eliminate medium-range ballistic missiles as the United States and Soviet Union agreed to do with intermediate-range ballistic missiles in 1987.

Curtailing Supply

Despite Iran’s growing manufacturing and technical competence, its missile program still relies on imports of essential components. Because Tehran cannot manufacture its missiles entirely indigenously, international export controls, sanctions, and interdictions can slow the development and production of Iranian missiles and limit their range and effectiveness.

Iran does not have the technical capacity to build up its ballistic missile forces based solely on domestic production. As the 2009 report to Congress by the director of national intelligence (DNI) stated, “Iran still remains dependent on foreign suppliers for some key missile components.”[2]

For example, there is no evidence that Iran possesses the technology necessary to manufacture the large-diameter, flow-formed pressure tanks and large, composite pressure vessels necessary to construct larger, long-range missiles.[3] It also appears that Iran continues to import whole engines, or at least critical engine components, for its liquid-fueled missiles.[4] Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that Iran has the capability to develop or produce the individual components of ballistic missile guidance systems.[5]

In order to expand the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal and the range and accuracy of the missiles themselves, Iran will need to import components. These gaps in Iran’s missile-related industry provide leverage points for the international community in seeking to slow or stop the export of these goods to Iran.

Missile Technology Control Regime. Formed in 1987, the MTCR is an informal, voluntary association of states that seek to coordinate their export control efforts in order to prevent the proliferation of missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. MTCR participant countries rely on a set of guidelines to inform decisions on the export of various components and technologies described in a common list of controlled items. As a voluntary regime, however, MTCR states retain the right to export items at their own discretion.

The MTCR technical annex divides the list of controlled items into two categories. Category I items are the most sensitive and include “complete delivery systems” that can carry a payload of more than 500 kilograms a distance of 300 kilometers or more, as well as rocket engines, engine components, fuel and fuel components, and navigation and guidance systems.[6] The guidelines state that there should be “a strong presumption to deny” export licenses for Category I items.[7] Furthermore, states should consider “the capabilities and objectives of the missile and space programs of the recipient state” and “the significance of the transfer in terms of the potential development of delivery systems…for weapons of mass destruction.”[8] MTCR states have agreed that exporters should require an end-user statement specifying the use and ultimate destination of the proposed transfer and an assurance that the transfer will not be used in a delivery vehicle for weapons of mass destruction. Lastly, MTCR states have agreed that exporters should obtain an agreement that the transferred items will not be retransferred to a third country without the consent of the original supplier.

Thirty-four countries are participants in the MTCR, which holds an annual plenary meeting as well as ad hoc meetings of experts to exchange information. Most western and eastern European states are participants in the MTCR, along with Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, and the United States. Notably absent from the rolls of the group are China, India, and Pakistan, as well as well-known missile proliferator and frequent Iranian missile supplier North Korea. Iran is also not a participant in the regime.

Since the late 1980s, China has been a major contributor to Iran’s ballistic missile program, even after making a political commitment in 2000 to abide by the original 1987 MTCR regime guidelines, although not to any subsequent revisions. In 1989, China supplied Iran with 150 to 200 short-range ballistic missiles, as well as technology to assist in the production of the indigenous Iran-130 missile, also known as the Mushak-120.[9] According to a classified CIA report detailed by The Washington Times, China and Iran reached a deal in 1996 for the sale of Chinese missile guidance technology, gyroscopes, and production equipment.[10] In the late 1990s, China was alleged to have continued to transfer missile-related equipment and assistance to Iran, including telemetry equipment, specialty steel, and training on inertial guidance.[11]

In a November 2000 commitment to the United States, China pledged that it would not assist, “in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons (i.e., missiles capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a distance of at least 300 km).”[12] Following a series of reforms in 2002, China’s export control laws generally conform to the MTCR.[13] Nonetheless, the U.S. Department of State assesses that Chinese companies have continued to assist Iran’s ballistic missile program, in several cases earning U.S. sanctions. In 2009 the U.S. director of national intelligence reported to Congress that “Chinese entities continue to supply a variety of missile-related items to multiple customers, including recent exports to Iran and Pakistan.”[14]

China’s mixed performance has been one of the reasons it has not been invited to join the MTCR. One could argue that granting China membership would increase the possibility that Beijing would comply with MTCR rules, especially if the MTCR states were to state explicitly that they were accepting China’s application to join the organization in exchange for better implementation of existing export controls. After all, the main difficulty in preventing Chinese missile technology from reaching Iran is a lack of political will in Beijing and a failure to enforce existing law. Consistent diplomatic pressure from the United States and other concerned governments, along with the possibility of targeted sanctions, should be used to encourage China to live up to its international and domestic commitments. Such pressure is likely to be more successful the deeper and more multilateral such commitments are. This approach seems to have yielded some benefits in restricting Russian missile cooperation with Iran. Russian entities provided significant assistance to the Iranian ballistic missile program in the 1990s, despite Moscow’s decision to join the MTCR in 1995. According to a 2003 Congressional Research Service report, Russian individuals or organizations provided Iran with “training, testing equipment, and components including specialty steels and alloys, tungsten coated graphite, gyroscopes and other guidance technology, rocket engines and fuel technology, laser equipment, machine tools, and maintenance manuals.”[15] During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the United States applied sanctions and offered incentives to Russia to encourage tighter export control regulations and better implementation.[16] The 2009 DNI report to Congress described Russian entities’ support for Iran’s missile program “at least in the past”;[17] it did not state whether any such assistance continues.

One key country is not restricted by the MTCR in any way: North Korea. Pyongyang does not belong to the MTCR and has been a principal supplier of missiles and technology to Iran. In the mid-1990s, Iran received 1,500-kilometer-range No Dong missile engines from North Korea, in addition to numerous shorter-range missiles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[18] The No Dong formed the basis for Iran’s Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1 missiles. Throughout the 1990s and recently, the United States continued to determine that North Korea was providing missile-related assistance to Iran.[19]

The North Korean and Chinese examples indicate the main flaws in the MTCR arrangement: the regime is not universal and relies heavily on political will to implement its provisions in the partner countries. Nevertheless, the MTCR is important as a guide for national export control laws and decisions, as a prod to encourage states to live up to their political obligations, and as an information-sharing venue. Moreover, it is only the first barrier against the supply of components and technologies to Iran’s missile program. International and unilateral sanctions that impose financial costs on states or organizations that contribute to Iran’s missile program form a second layer.

UN Security Council sanctions. Penalties imposed by the UN Security Council can lend the force of international law, such as it is, to efforts to constrain a state’s import or export of sensitive technologies. They also can add international legitimacy to such efforts. Enforcement of the resolutions, however, is up to national governments. Two Security Council resolutions in particular deal with Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The first UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its ambiguous nuclear program, Resolution 1737, “decide[d]” that all states must prevent the transfer to Iran of complete ballistic missile systems with a range of 300 kilometers or more and a payload of 500 kilograms or more. This decision, taken under Article VII of the UN Charter, effectively extended the guidelines by making the ban on missile sales to Iran a legal obligation for all UN members instead of a voluntary effort by a subset of that group. The resolution also applied to many subsystems and components of ballistic missiles and penalized three organizations and five individuals associated with Iran’s missile program.[20]

On June 9, the Security Council approved Resolution 1929, the fourth sanctions resolution targeting Iran. While expanding the list of firms and individuals subject to sanctions, the resolution for the first time prohibited Iran from conducting activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. This prohibition applies to missile tests, which are essential to the development of the program. Iran has already conducted at least one ballistic missile test since the resolution was passed, according to Iranian news outlets.[21] This may lead the Security Council or concerned states to impose further economic penalties beyond those already adopted because of Iran’s defiance of UN resolutions requiring Tehran to suspend its uranium-enrichment work.

Under Resolution 1929, states “shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to [ballistic missile] activities.”[22] The resolution was approved by a vote of 12-2-1, with Brazil and Turkey voting nay. The support for the resolution by China and Russia, two states with a history of supplying Iran with missile technology and components, is particularly significant. The Security Council, where these countries hold considerably greater sway, seems to be a more amenable forum than the MTCR for gaining Moscow’s and Beijing’s cooperation. In attempting to slow Iran’s missile program, however, the United States and its allies have gone well beyond the UN sanctions.

U.S. sanctions. The United States has imposed a stiff sanctions regime on Iran and on third-party entities that do business with Iran’s petroleum sector. Several laws and executive orders also have been used to target entities that have aided Iranian WMD and missile programs.

The Iran-Iraq Arms Nonproliferation Act of 1992, the Iran-North Korea-Syria Nonproliferation Act of 2000, and Executive Order 13382 allow the U.S. government to impose various penalties on foreign entities that have contributed to Iranian nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs or its ballistic missile program. Also, the president may impose sanctions on foreign entities for missile-related transfers under the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 and by the presidential invocation of emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. Along with Iranian organizations, dozens of foreign organizations have been penalized under these laws, including those from China, Malaysia, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, and South Korea.[23] In addition, the United States has imposed economic sanctions on Iran in an attempt to penalize its nuclear and missile activities. The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 targets foreign persons (individuals or organizations) that invest $20 million or more in Iran’s oil and gas sector or export $1 million or more of refined petroleum products to Iran. Similarly, the legislation requires that the president sanction any person that provides Iran with “goods, services, technology, or information” with a fair market value of $1 million or more for the maintenance or expansion of Iranian production of refined petroleum products.[24] The president can choose from a menu of penalties under the law, including a prohibition on any transactions in foreign exchange under the jurisdiction of the United States, a ban on any financial transfers under the jurisdiction of the United States, and a ban on any U.S. property transactions.[25] The legislation expires once the president certifies to Congress that Iran is no longer engaged in “the pursuit, acquisition, and development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and ballistic missile launch technology.”[26]

Unilateral sanctions can be effective in preventing foreign companies from providing missile and other technology to Iran. The U.S. Department of the Treasury lifted sanctions on China’s Great Wall Industry Corporation, for example, after that company implemented a “rigorous and thorough compliance program to prevent future dealings with Iran.”[27] The department had applied the sanctions in 2006, after finding that the company had supplied Iran with missile-related and dual-use components.[28]

The Proliferation Security Initiative. When export controls and sanctions fail, either as a result of unscrupulous companies or a state such as North Korea willfully flouting international rules, interdictions are the last means of preventing controlled items from reaching their destination. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an informal, multilateral association of states originally proposed by the United States in 2003, seeks to coordinate the intelligence and interdiction activities of its participants. The PSI had 97 participant countries as of June 2010. Many European, Middle Eastern, and Asian states are participants in the PSI, although China and many South American countries are not. South Korea subscribed to the PSI in 2009, which should enhance the initiative’s effectiveness with regard to North Korea.

Although states enjoy full sovereignty to conduct interdictions on their territory and in their airspace, international laws and customs establish varying rights for ships at sea depending on their location and cargo. In general, the farther a ship is from a state’s territory, the less authority a state has to detain or divert the vessel. The state whose flag the ship flies, however, has full jurisdiction over the vessel in international waters.

Within a state’s internal waters, such as in ports and bays, a state exercises full authority over foreign-flagged vessels and so can conduct an interdiction and inspection under its own national laws. A state’s territorial waters extend from its coastline to a distance of 12 nautical miles; within these waters, foreign vessels enjoy a right of innocent passage. If the ship is carrying items related to weapons of mass destruction or missiles, the right of innocent passage might not apply, and the ship could be subject to the coastal state’s jurisdiction. The same principle applies to states that border straits used for international navigation, such as Singapore.[29] The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea considers passage as innocent so long as it is “not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State.”

Beyond this 12-mile limit, seas and oceans are considered international waters for the purposes of navigation. In general, ships cannot legally be detained or diverted under national customs laws in international waters and are only subject to the jurisdiction of the state whose flag the ship flies. There are two possible exceptions to this. First, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has entered into force without the United States’ participation, establishes that “the high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes” and that, “[i]n exercising their rights…States Parties shall refrain from any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1540, approved in 2004, affirms that “the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as their means of delivery, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” The resolution calls on all states, “consistent with international law, to take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking” in weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery. As a result, a state could plausibly claim that a vessel covertly carrying missiles or missile-related items in contravention of UN sanctions posed a threat to international security and thus could be stopped or diverted without violating international law. If the vessel was smuggling weapons or weapons components, it is likely that the success of the interdiction would outweigh its uncertain legality. In the case of Iran, the Security Council decided in Resolution 1929 that “[s]tates shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran” related to ballistic missiles, a formulation that could conceivably include interdictions on the high seas, although the United States or other countries would be unlikely to risk such an interpretation without nearly perfect intelligence—a highly unlikely occurrence.[30]

A less politically risky and clearly legal means of stopping, diverting, or boarding a vessel on the high seas is to gain the permission of the state with jurisdiction over the ship. That government can order the vessel to return to port or to cooperate with the investigating nation. Success using this method depends on the state in question. In 2003, U.S. and British authorities had reason to suspect that the German-flagged BBC China was bound for Libya with a cargo of uranium-enrichment centrifuge components. They notified the German government, which in turn contacted the owner of the vessel, which ordered the ship to dock at a port in Italy where it was investigated by Italian authorities. The investigation found the suspected centrifuge components, which were confiscated.[31] If the BBC China had been flying a North Korean flag, it is exceedingly unlikely that Pyongyang would have granted a request on the high seas for its ship to divert to port, although a ship flying a North Korean flag could still be searched in port by a cooperating state.

To facilitate this method of interdiction, the UnitedState has concluded ship-boarding agreements with nine states.[32] Under these agreements, the United States can request its partner to confirm the nationality of a ship in question and to authorize the boarding, search, and possible detention of the vessel. The agreements also establish procedures and points of contacts to facilitate these requests. These nine states are major “flag states”; in fact, two of them, Panama and Liberia, are believed to have the highest volume of global flag-of-convenience shipping.[33] In principle, this gives the United States the authority to inspect a substantial portion of ships at sea.

Despite its size, the PSI has limits. Several key countries, including China, are absent from its rolls. It relies on intelligence gathering, an imprecise endeavor, to locate and track vessels suspected of carrying WMD- or missile-related cargo. It lacks a secretariat or coordinating body, such that participating states must rely on bilateral points of contact. Lastly, it requires political will to intercept vessels flying the flag of a known proliferator on the high seas, and the legality of such a move is questionable. If North Korea attempted to sell missile components to Iran in violation of Resolution 1929, would PSI states be willing to stop the ship on the high seas, possibly precipitating a larger crisis?

Reducing Demand

Export controls, sanctions, and interdiction address the supply side of missile proliferation by preventing crucial technologies and components from reaching missile developers. Regional diplomatic efforts to increase transparency, build confidence, and eventually develop verifiable arms control agreements can address the demand side of the issue by reducing the demand for missiles.

Regional approaches. As part of the 1995 agreement that indefinitely extended the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the states-parties to the treaty agreed to a resolution that “[c]alls upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps…[toward] the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.”[34]

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the states-parties reaffirmed the importance of the 1995 resolution and noted that little progress had been made toward its implementation. As a result, the parties agreed that Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (the depositaries of the NPT), along with the UN secretary-general, will convene a conference of Middle Eastern states in 2012 on the establishment of a WMD-free zone. In addition, the conveners are to appoint a facilitator with a mandate to prepare for the conference and consult with the relevant states.

A zone free of weapons of mass destruction and the means for their delivery in the Middle East would likely require states to agree not to acquire ballistic missiles with capabilities that exceeded MTCR guidelines—a range of 300 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms. Iran is not the only country in the region with missiles that exceed these specifications. Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syria each have missiles that go beyond MTCR guidelines.[35] Because these states have differing levels of technical development and complex security dynamics, each considering more than one of the others a potential threat, the negotiation of an agreement that limited ballistic missiles in the region would pose a serious diplomatic challenge.

As a preliminary step, states in the region could agree to confidence-building measures that increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscommunication with regard to missile programs and intentions. Some of these steps are already listed in the Hague Code of Conduct, such as prenotifications of test launches and annual declarations of ballistic missile policies. Others were discussed under the arms control and regional security process that grew out of the 1991 Middle East Madrid conference, such as limitations on missile ranges, the capping of missile stocks, and additional transparency measures.[36] As a further step, states in the region could make annual declarations of their missile holdings, exports, and imports. States are already requested to make such declarations as part of the UN Register of Conventional Arms, but participation by Middle Eastern states in this voluntary effort is very limited.

Lastly, the utility of Iranian ballistic missiles can be diminished through regional security arrangements that rely on an outside power to guarantee the security of neighboring states. Most of the southeastern European states that Iran could threaten are already members of NATO, and their security is guaranteed by the members of the alliance. The United States, perhaps in conjunction with partners such as France and the United Kingdom, could further extend security guarantees to other Middle Eastern states, imposing a deterrence calculation on Iran. The United States would not necessarily need to refer to its nuclear capability to back up such guarantees, given its substantial advantages in the conventional military sphere.[37]

The United States already appears to be moving in this direction. Speaking at a July 2009 town hall meeting in Bangkok, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “We want Iran to calculate…that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer [even if it should develop a nuclear weapon].”[38]

Clinton was referring specifically to Iran’s nuclear capability, but the same rationale applies to ballistic missiles capable of carrying not only nuclear weapons, but also other weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the 2010 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review stated, “Enduring U.S. security cooperation with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf States continues to strengthen partner capabilities to counter extremism and other regional threats, including the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”[39]

These security assurances can range from private agreements between national leaders to public political guarantees to formal alliances.

Global norms. In the long run, a global convention or, at least, a global norm prohibiting the development and production of intermediate-range ballistic missiles would be a valuable tool for controlling the ballistic missile arsenals of Iran and other states that may follow in Iran’s footsteps. A global ban or norm would delegitimize the weapons, as well as remove some of the justification for procuring them.

Such an agreement is not infeasible. In 1987 the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, requiring the elimination of ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers within three years. The treaty also laid out extensive dismantlement and verification protocols.

The European Union has endorsed a French proposal calling for “the start of consultations on a treaty banning short- and intermediate-range ground-to-ground missiles.”[40] A serious diplomatic effort to universalize the INF Treaty could put pressure on Iran from middle powers. Russia has proposed this step, and the United States several years ago endorsed this effort.

Such a treaty is likely to face many obstacles from states, such as India and Pakistan, that rely on missiles within the INF threshold, but regional limitations on testing or operations of missiles could be explored at the 2012 conference on the Middle East. States could consider limiting the range of ballistic missiles to less than 1,000 kilometers, the distance between the Iranian border and Tel Aviv, or the somewhat longer distance between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Ground-to-ground missiles, which can be destabilizing in a crisis, should be the focus of this limitation. Such missiles, when not protected by hardened silos, are vulnerable to an enemy’s first strike. This puts pressure on national commanders to use the missiles quickly rather than risk losing them in a first strike.

The Hague Code of Conduct contributes to a global norm against the spread of ballistic missiles, although in a very limited way. The code, signed in November 2002, is a political agreement incorporating “general principles, modest commitments, and limited confidence-building measures.” This lukewarm but accurate description comes from a Web site of the Austrian government, which agreed to serve as the “central contact,” or secretariat, of the framework.[41] Participants in the code, which is not legally binding, pledge to adhere to various principles recognizing the importance of curbing the spread of ballistic missiles. States pledge to “exercise maximum possible restraint” in the development and production of such missiles and to prevent their proliferation through multilateral, bilateral, and national means. In addition, they resolve to put into practice a few transparency measures, such as annual accounting of ballistic missile policies and prelaunch notifications of test flights and space launches. Lastly, the participating states hold regular meetings to exchange information and review the implementation of the code. One hundred and thirty states subscribe to the code, but in the Middle East, only Jordan and Turkey are represented.


The supplements or alternatives to missile defense described here can be implemented sequentially or in tandem. Some are necessarily short-term approaches to the problem of missile proliferation, while others will take serious, long-term diplomatic effort to achieve. In the short term, a combination of export controls, international sanctions, and legal interdictions offers the best prospect of limiting Iranian development and production of new missiles, owing to Tehran’s continuing dependence on imports. The threat of Iran’s existing missiles can be countered through security arrangements with nearby states.

To reduce the demand for these weapons, states could voluntarily renounce medium- and longer-range missiles through the implementation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, an expansion of the INF Treaty, or the creation of a similar agreement for the Middle East. The Hague Code of Conduct offers confidence-building and transparency measures that could be the first step in this long-term effort.

Missile defense should not be seen as the only or even the most important means to contain and minimize Iran’s missile program. Economic penalties, forward-thinking diplomacy, and cooperative international efforts to prevent the export of missile components are crucial elements of that effort.

Miles A. Pomper is a senior research associate at the JamesMartinCenter for Nonproliferation Studies. Cole J. Harvey is a research associate at the center.


1. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment,” 2010, p. 118.

2. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions,” 2009, p. 4, www.dni.gov/reports/2009_721_Report.pdf (hereinafter DNI WMD report).

3. IISS, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities,” p. 93.

4. Ibid., p. 95.

5. Ibid., p. 98.

6. Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), “Missile Technology Control Regime (M.T.C.R.) Equipment, Software, and Technology Annex,” November 10, 2009, www.mtcr.info/english/MTCR-TEM-2009-Annex-002.pdf.

7. Richard Speier, “Missile Nonproliferation and Missile Defense: Fitting Them Together,” Arms Control Today, November 2007.

8. MTCR, “Guidelines for Sensitive Missile-Relevant Transfers,” n.d., www.mtcr.info/english/guidetext.htm.

9. Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), “China’s Missile Exports and Assistance to Iran,” September 25, 2003, www.nti.org/db/china/miranpos.htm.

10. Bill Gertz, “China Sold Iran Missile Technology,” The Washington Times, November 21, 1996.

11. Shirley A. Kan, “China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues,” CRS Report for Congress, RL31555, December 23, 2009, pp. 17-18, http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL31555_20091223.pdf.

12. U.S. Department of State, “Adherence to, and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” July 2010, p. 89, www.state.gov/documents/organization/145181.pdf.

13. NTI, “China’s Export Controls,” n.d., www.nti.org/db/china/excon.htm.

14. DNI WMD report, pp. 8, 90.

15. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran: Arms and Weapons of Mass Destruction Suppliers,” CRS Report for Congress, RL30551, January 3, 2003, p. 9.

16. Ibid., pp. 9-11.

17. DNI WMD report, p. 4.

18. IISS, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities,” pp. 14-21.

19. Katzman, “Iran,” p. 21.

20. UN Security Council, Resolution 1737, S/RES/1737, December 23, 2006.

21. “Iran Test-Fires New Surface-to-Surface Missile,” Fars News Agency, August 20, 2010, http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8905290734.

22. UN Security Council, Resolution 1929, S/RES/1929, June 9, 2010.

23. U.S. Department of State, “Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000,” February 7, 2008, www.state.gov/t/isn/c15234.htm; Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State, “Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act,” February 13, 2009, www.state.gov/t/isn/c20760.htm; U.S. Department of State, “Missile Sanctions Laws,” December 4, 2009, www.state.gov/t/isn/c15232.htm.

24. Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, HR 2194, 111 Cong., 2d sess., pp. 18-19, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:h2194enr.txt.pdf.

25. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

26. Ibid., p. 39.

27. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Lifts Sanctions on Chinese Firm,” HP-1042, June 19, 2008, www.treasury.gov/press/releases/hp1042.htm.

28. U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates U.S. and Chinese Companies Supporting Iranian Missile Proliferation,” JS-4317, June 13, 2006, www.treas.gov/press/releases/js4317.htm.

29. Yann-Huei Song, “The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative and UNCLOS: Legality, Implementation, and an Assessment,” Ocean Development and International Law, Vol. 38 (2007), p. 116.

30. UN Security Council, Resolution 1929.

31. Song, “U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative and UNCLOS,” p. 121.

32. U.S. Department of State, “Ship Boarding Agreements,” n.d., www.state.gov/t/isn/c27733.htm.

33. Mary Beth Nikitin, “Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI),” Congressional Research Service, January 16, 2008, p. 5.

34. Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Resolution on the Middle East,” NPT/CONF.1995/32 (Part I), Annex, May 12, 1995.

35. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “World Missile Chart,” n.d., www.carnegieendowment.org/npp/resources/ballisticmissilechart.htm; NTI, “Country Profiles,” n.d., www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/index.html.

36. Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, “Lessons From Regional Approaches to Managing Missiles,” Disarmament Forum, No. 1 (2007), p. 25, www.unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art2597.pdf.

37. U.S. nuclear weapons would still be part of the calculation. The report on the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review permits the use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-armed states, as well as states that are “not in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. viii, www.defense.gov/npr/docs/20nuclear%20posture%20review%20report.pdf.

38. Mark Landler and David E. Sanger, “Clinton Speaks of Shielding Mideast From Iran,” The New York Times, July 22, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/world/asia/23diplo.html.

39. U.S. Department of Defense, “Quadrennial Defense Review Report,” February 2010, p. 60, www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf.

40. Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, “Working Paper on Forward-looking Proposals of the European Union on All Three Pillars of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to Be Part of an Action Plan Adopted by the 2010 Review Conference,” NPT/CONF.2010/PC.III/WP.26, May 6, 2009, p. 2, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/prepcom09/papers/WP26.pdf.

41. Austrian Foreign Ministry, “Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC),” n.d., www.bmeia.gv.at/index.php?id=64664&L=1.


Since the 1980s, Iran has been actively developing a ballistic missile capability, beginning with imports of Scud missiles and leading up to its current development of the solid-fueled Sajjil-2. The Sajjil-2, which was first flight-tested in 2008, is expected to have a range of approximately 2,200 kilometers, putting targets in southeastern Europe, in Russia, and across the Arabian Peninsula within reach of Iranian missiles. An earlier liquid-fueled missile, the Ghadr-1, can reach Turkey, Israel, and southern Russia with its 1,600-kilometer range.

A Nuclear Posture Review for NATO

Oliver Meier and Paul Ingram

NATO leaders seem ready to adopt a new Strategic Concept defining the alliance’s core mission for the next decade when they meet at the Lisbon summit November 19-20. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen submitted his draft to member states on September 28; a more extensive conversation will take place in the NATO Council among foreign and defense ministers on October 14.[1]

This schedule does not give the 28 member states much time to reach compromise, a point worth emphasizing in light of the serious remaining divisions on a number of key problems. Not least among them is the future role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s defense posture, which Rasmussen, at a September 7 press briefing in Washington, called a “very central question.”[2]

Rasmussen admitted “that there are different positions when it comes to our nuclear posture.” In fact, the divisions among the allies are so serious that NATO defense ministers decided at their June 2010 meeting in Brussels to delete all references to NATO’s nuclear policies from the final communiqué as there was no agreement on the wording.[3] Rasmussen said that his “task will be to find the right balance and platform on which we can trace consensus,” but it is highly unlikely that he will come up with a formula that will satisfy the divergent views on all the political and strategic elements of NATO’s nuclear policy needed to develop military guidance. Thus, allies will probably merely agree to a lowest common denominator around the fundamentals of alliance nuclear policy within the new Strategic Concept, confirming a continued if reduced reliance on nuclear deterrence within a broader suite of capabilities for the immediate future but leaving many key issues ambiguous or open.[4] “We will adopt a new strategic concept which, in broad terms, will give direction,” Rasmussen said at the September 7 briefing. “And then, of course, it is for follow-up negotiations to produce more concrete facts and figures.”

This phased approach presents an opportunity for NATO to commit itself in principle within the Strategic Concept to reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in its deterrence posture. Practical details of that policy, including the future of nuclear sharing arrangements and NATO’s future declaratory policy, should be discussed among all allies in the context of a full review of NATO’s nuclear posture.[5] The alliance could launch that review at the Lisbon summit and conclude it within the following 12 months. Such an initiative would follow a similar effort recently completed by the United States and result in public policy guidelines determining the parameters of NATO’s nuclear policy. In order to bring NATO’s nuclear posture in line with requirements of the 21st century, such a review should:

• reduce NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons, open the way for transparency and reductions of U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear bombs, and endorse the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, in line with the policy of its member states to encourage moves toward global nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation;

• comprehensively address all political and military aspects of NATO’s nuclear policy, including declaratory policy, and thus reduce the commitment to ambiguity about the conditions under which the alliance might use nuclear weapons; and

• be conducted in an open and consultative manner by a group of member states’ political representatives separate from the Nuclear Planning Group, which has had rather limited and more technical ambitions, but with military advice and within a clearly defined time frame.

Without such a thorough, public review, the Strategic Concept itself will likely establish only general principles and be too nebulous to shape operational doctrine. That would leave the real operational decisions to be made behind closed doors in a “business as usual” mode by the nuclear hawks among the military establishment at NATO headquarters and within national military establishments, which have an interest in maintaining the status quo.

The Need for a New Nuclear Posture

The alliance can no longer avoid a fundamental reform of its nuclear weapons policy. First, the policy is outdated. Despite a drastic reduction in the number of nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, NATO’s core nuclear policy remains largely unchanged since the 1991 Strategic Concept was adopted soon after the end of the East-West confrontation. Although this policy was responsive to the dramatic transformation taking place at that moment, NATO policy since then appears stuck in a time warp. Despite its overwhelming conventional superiority over any potential foe, NATO remains attached to a position of strategic ambiguity, maintaining the option to use nuclear weapons in response to any kind of attack, be it nuclear or conventional. The alliance confirmed this policy in its current Strategic Concept, adopted in 1999, long after Russia had become a partner, after very little discussion of nuclear policy within the review process. This has weakened the credibility of NATO members’ efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Given NATO’s strategic position, there would be no significant sacrifice and a great deal to gain diplomatically and politically if the alliance were prepared to limit its options, much as the U.S. government itself has done in its latest Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).

The alliance retains around 200 free-fall U.S. nuclear bombs, deployed on aging aircraft in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, whose pilots could be expected to deliver these weapons in times of war. In the eyes of many, these nuclear sharing arrangements, invented under conditions of the global nuclear standoff to ensure a tight coupling between Western European and U.S. security, look anachronistic in today’s world. These arrangements have been criticized repeatedly by the majority of member states of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as being at odds with treaty obligations.[6]

Second, NATO needs to respond to the new nuclear arms control agenda as outlined by U.S. President Barack Obama. NATO has so far been unable collectively to endorse the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, which the United States and most allies now are pursuing. A number of member states want NATO to play a stronger role in arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. From this perspective, the world’s most powerful alliance needs to be seen to engage in efforts to prevent further arms races, specifically nuclear arms races. Otherwise, it might be perceived as an organization pursuing military hegemony.

Third, NATO has to bring its policy in line with the one enunciated in the U.S. NPR Report, which has updated U.S. nuclear weapons policy by reducing Washington’s reliance on nuclear deterrence. For example, the United States has now declared that it will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations and also declared that it is the goal of the United States eventually to limit the role of nuclear weapons solely to deterring nuclear weapons use.[7] For NATO to have a less restrictive policy than the principal state deploying nuclear weapons on its behalf is, for all practical purposes, strategically meaningless. Maintaining a “first-use” policy also would give the impression of obstinate resistance to the disarmament agenda for no good cause.

There may be several reasons for NATO to consider its own leadership contribution to Obama’s agenda. Such leadership would likely be greatly appreciated by many within the Obama administration at this moment, as they themselves are more directly constrained by hostility within Congress and the need to display a commitment to strong defense. Furthermore, NATO is responding only to the strategic situation in Europe, arguably a great deal more secure than that in many other regions and independent of strategic relationships for which the United States needs to account when considering its global posture.

Fourth, the nuclear status quo in the alliance is politically untenable because the dual-capable aircraft designated to deliver U.S. bombs in Europe are aging, and current host states will likely not have the political and financial capital to drive through investment decisions within the next decade on their replacement.[8] Germany has already indicated that it does not intend to replace these aircraft, although there are proposals to extend the life of the current systems; other host countries will face difficult domestic challenges if they choose to procure new aircraft. A refusal by some NATO member states to accommodate host-nation concerns by blocking alliance-wide change and effectively pressuring them to procure nuclear-capable delivery systems against the expressed will of their parliaments and publics could severely harm alliance cohesion.

Several key western European allies, including three of the five nuclear host nations, have been champions of change. The German government has been most vocal and, with the support of all its significant political parties, has adopted a formal policy that advocates withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Germany and Europe. Others, most notably host nations Belgium and the Netherlands, but also Norway and Luxembourg, support the German push for a thorough review of NATO’s nuclear posture.[9] Although host countries are obviously motivated in part by the coming issue of investment in dual-capable aircraft, western European countries generally are keen for Europe to play its role in supporting Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Resistance to Change

NATO allies generally recognize that this time “a status quo oriented ‘don’t rock the boat’ approach might not work, as a number of political and military developments require an open discussion.”[10] Yet, there are differences as to how far-reaching the reforms should be. In many people’s minds, certain factors counterbalance the need for a radical reduction of NATO’s reliance on nuclear deterrence and, in particular, a change in nuclear sharing practices.

Some in central and eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic states, fear that changes in NATO policy and doctrine could signal a weakening of collective defense commitments and a further U.S. decoupling from Europe, a process they perceive started as attention moved away from Europe around a decade ago.[11] Although rarely willing to declare this directly in public, they worry about emboldening a resurgent Russia within their region. Opposition to change comes not so much from an attachment to particular deployments or from specific worries about balancing nuclear forces, but rather from concerns about signaling, local strategic balances, and the long-term credibility of alliance cohesion.[12] Nevertheless, central European caution with regard to changing NATO’s nuclear posture does not mean that these countries oppose a review of nuclear policy. Thus, in a September 9 telephone interview, a source close to the Polish government said, “Poland is ready to work within the framework of follow-on discussions after the Lisbon summit, without precluding any outcome of such discussions.”

Some in Turkey are said to be worried about a possible weakening of U.S. defense commitments and the potential threat from a nuclear-armed Iran. Officially, however, Turkey emphasizes the need for nuclear weapons reductions; one indication of Ankara’s nuanced position is that the Turkish air force has not been providing dual-capable aircraft to participate in nuclear sharing for some time.[13]

Before they agree to a reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s posture, these countries are looking to the alliance to put in place stronger non-nuclear instruments of reassurance to fill a “commitment gap” they fear could result from a withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe.[14]

French objections are another hurdle. Even though France does not directly participate in NATO nuclear policy, “Paris sees little need to review NATO’s current nuclear posture,” a French diplomat said in a telephone interview September 7. Others close to French policymaking have privately expressed the view that France is not overly concerned about political pressure being exerted on it to make deeper cuts, but it is concerned that its European allies could move away from supporting the policy of nuclear deterrence, with implications for alliance cohesion.

The other European nuclear power, the United Kingdom, has an ambiguous position with regard to NATO nuclear policy. The new coalition government has been keen to show continuity in the disarmament diplomacy pursued by its predecessor but is strongly attached to nuclear deterrence. Officials have privately expressed concerns that the desire for progress on disarmament in Europe may lead to hasty decisions.[15] The new government appears to have a greater desire to coordinate with the French on these and related matters.

Those that believed that Washington’s leadership was essential to changes in NATO’s nuclear posture were disappointed by the results of the U.S. NPR. The Obama administration appears to be agnostic with regard to the future deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe or has been unwilling, at least up to now, to express a view publicly. The NPR Report states simply that “[a]ny changes in NATO’s nuclear posture should only be taken after a thorough review within—and decision by—the Alliance.”[16] Although Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued at the informal April meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn, Estonia, that NATO should remain “a nuclear alliance,” she did not take an explicit position on the nature of any continued deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, rather focusing on the importance of maintaining the principle of burden and responsibility sharing.[17]

Ahead of the Tallinn meeting, Rasmussen stated his personal preference for maintaining the current nuclear sharing arrangements and indicated that they might even be useful in deterring unconventional threats, a position that apparently also reflects the opinion of some senior members of the international staff at NATO headquarters. A number of NATO member states, however, have directly criticized Rasmussen for this approach.[18] During his September visit to Washington, Rasmussen predicted that NATO “will not give up nuclear capabilities as an essential part of our deterrence policies.”[19] Yet, many member states are unhappy with the way Rasmussen is handling the Strategic Concept review, saying that he does not consult adequately with capitals and tends to inject his personal opinions into the debate. Thus, Rasmussen has been described as acting more as a general than a secretary and has been ridiculed as “the 29th member state.” During the first 12 months of deliberations on the new Strategic Concept, which was launched at the April 2009 summit in Germany and France, expectations had been raised that this process was to be the most open and participative of any NATO has conducted. Yet now, during the final stages of deliberations, the doors in Brussels have been slammed shut again, as officials responsible for finding support among key member states seek consensus.

A Minimalist Strategic Concept

NATO member states are currently discussing which aspects of NATO’s future nuclear posture need to be determined by the new Strategic Concept and which ones can be left to the follow-on process after the Lisbon summit. NATO would be well advised to take a “minimalist approach,” as one diplomat described it, to the nuclear language in the new Strategic Concept, on the basis of a “first, do no harm” principle, focusing on those aspects of NATO’s nuclear posture that are not under dispute. To a certain extent, this is inevitable because the new Strategic Concept will be much shorter than the 1999 version. Several diplomats predicted that the new concept might contain only two to three paragraphs on NATO’s new nuclear doctrine. One section would outline the alliance’s approach to nuclear deterrence, and another section would “balance” these statements by outlining NATO’s role in disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation. Thus, in a September 6 speech to Germany’s ambassadors, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle argued that the joint letter by him and his counterparts from Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Norway ahead of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn had the purpose of ensuring “that disarmament and arms control will remain a key issue, also within NATO’s new Strategic Concept that is to be adopted at the Lisbon Summit in November.”[20]

There is no debate as to whether NATO should remain a nuclear alliance, if only because the three nuclear-weapon states—France, the United Kingdom and the United States—have pledged to use their nuclear assets for the protection of NATO allies. Rasmussen said he expects NATO allies to state that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the alliance will remain a nuclear alliance, while gradually reducing the role and number of nuclear weapons.”[21] Beyond this, a few other principles should guide deliberations on what the Strategic Concept should say on nuclear policy.

First, a new concept should not preclude changes in NATO’s nuclear posture, which would come as the result of a formal review with adequate time for consideration. Any attempt to close down debates could damage the longer-term support for NATO’s nuclear posture and for the alliance more generally.

Second, the new concept needs to reflect the widespread support within NATO for the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, the dominant paradigm on nuclear issues ever since Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, states-parties endorsed this goal. All NATO members are also NPT parties. During his September 7 briefing, Rasmussen said he expects the Strategic Concept to “endorse the grand vision of a world without nuclear weapons.” The French diplomat, however, cautioned that if nuclear weapons are discussed in NATO, the discussion must take place against the background of the current and future strategic situation. “We do not want ideological debates about Global Zero,” he said, referring to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. “This also applies to substrategic weapons. If the Strategic Concept addresses this question, it would also have to speak about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons as well. These are currently not addressed at all.”

To be sure, a failure by NATO’s new Strategic Concept to endorse Obama’s goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and to explicitly reduce the salience of nuclear weapons would cast serious doubt on the credibility of its members and on the ability of the alliance to act cohesively on all matters surrounding nuclear weapons.

Third, the new Strategic Concept should move beyond the current unequivocal commitment to ongoing deployment of U.S. nuclear forces in Europe, stated in Article 63 of the 1999 concept as follows: “Nuclear forces based in Europe and committed to NATO provide an essential political and military link between the European and the North American members of the Alliance. The Alliance will therefore maintain adequate nuclear forces in Europe.” Retention of such a formula would go against the stated preferences of a number of member states and thus weaken alliance cohesion. The only appropriate approach at this stage would be to leave such a question to a review of nuclear posture in 2011, along with a necessary debate over declaratory policy.

What the Review Should Do

A minimalist Strategic Concept would provide “a framework that is both durable and flexible.”[22] By committing the alliance to reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons and initiating a process to implement such a policy, it would reflect the most important political changes that have taken place since 1999. Such a process, a “NATO NPR,” should not be seen as “reopening” the Strategic Concept. On the contrary, a NATO NPR would consider the posture of the alliance in the light of the general principles contained within the Strategic Concept; it would not revise them. It is therefore not too early to consider what ought to be covered by a NATO NPR and what its principles might be as its framework within the Strategic Concept is hammered out over the next month or so. Previous Strategic Concepts have been implemented through military guidance, an opaque process free from any significant accountability and often ignoring the political implications of NATO’s military posture. The fact that the current MC 400, which translates the political principles in NATO’s Strategic Concept into guidance for military commanders, is almost 20 years old and has been revised only twice underlines the urgency of a thorough review. A true NATO NPR by contrast would be more open-ended, focusing on political and military aspects. Five principles should guide a NATO NPR.

First, a NATO NPR should be comprehensive and address operational and political aspects of NATO’s nuclear sharing policies. All options, including a continuation of current practices, their reform, and their demise should be on the table.[23]

Second, the strategic issues facing NATO are clearly linked to other unresolved issues, such as support for strategic missile defense and the broader alliance relationship with Russia. For example, the Polish source pointed out that, “from a Polish perspective, the question of the commitment of the alliance to the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe cannot be seen in isolation. Any change in the nuclear posture would have an impact on other aspects of the Strategic Concept.”

Although a NATO NPR undoubtedly will sit within broader discussions, it would be a mistake to allow the review to be held hostage to unneeded linkages. According to several sources, France has already conditioned its consent to a NATO endorsement of strategic missile defense (another topic that is up for decision at the Lisbon summit) on a U.S. commitment not to change NATO’s nuclear posture drastically. The French diplomat stated that Paris has no fundamental problems with the alliance endorsing strategic missile defense at the Lisbon summit, but warned that “such a system has to be effective and affordable.” He argued that “missile defense is a complement to NATO’s nuclear deterrent, but cannot be a substitute for it. Thus, we think that a possible endorsement by NATO of such a missile defense system should not have any impact on NATO’s nuclear posture.” This stands in contrast to the U.S. desire, as outlined in the NPR Report, “to increase reliance on non-nuclear means,” including missile defenses, to deter regional threats of aggression.[24]

If there was a decision to subsume the NPR into a broader strategic review to address strategic conventional capabilities and missile defense alongside nuclear posture—an option that, according to diplomatic sources, is being considered—there would be a serious risk that agreement would be impossible. The Strategic Concept will recognize the strategic links; it might be advisable to establish parallel tracks on other specific issues, such as NATO’s role in arms control.[25] Such an approach would ensure that NATO nuclear policy is not perceived as the only “unfinished business” by the time alliance heads of state and government meet in Lisbon.

Third, in line with the new Strategic Concept, a NATO NPR would have to outline in greater detail the implications of a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. There is broad agreement that tactical nuclear weapons no longer serve any conceivable military purpose. The United States in particular would prefer to gradually replace the residual political functions of forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons with other, non-nuclear means of assurance. This has implications too for NATO’s declaratory policy. NATO still practices a policy of “studied ambiguity,” which resists clarifying the circumstances under which the alliance might use nuclear weapons. It aims to maximize the utility of nuclear deterrence by accentuating uncertainty in the minds of any adversary and complicating his calculations of when the alliance might use nuclear weapons. In particular, NATO implicitly retains the option of using its nuclear forces to respond to a non-nuclear attack. But this policy is now directly at odds with the revised negative security assurances contained in the U.S. NPR Report, which are discussed above. The United Kingdom’s review of its nuclear declaratory policy, likely to conclude in October, is expected to follow a similar formula.

Given that NATO nuclear assets are tightly controlled by the U.S. president and the British prime minister, it would be logical for NATO to have at least as tight a declaratory policy. The Polish source said that “it is an open question whether NATO will take on board the extended negative security assurances the United States has adopted in the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. It is also not clear whether this issue will be dealt with in the Strategic Concept or in the context of discussions after the summit.”

The group of experts headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recommended that NATO bring its negative assurances into line with the U.S. policy.[26] Such a course of action, however, would bring its own problems because NATO could be split over assessments of whether a target state is in noncompliance with nonproliferation obligations, how serious a particular breach of international obligations might be, and which institution has the authority to make such judgments. Such debates would remind many of the deep rifts in the alliance before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.[27]

This possibility would seem risky enough that NATO members would be well advised to instead adopt a clear-cut “sole purpose” policy and declare that nuclear weapons would be used only in response to an attack by a nuclear-armed state. It would be reasonable for NATO to have a more restrictive declaratory policy than any of its nuclear members because the NATO policy would apply only to the subset of nuclear assets that are currently assigned to the alliance and applicable to the European theater.[28]

Guidance for Nuclear Sharing

Fourth, a NATO NPR will have to give guidance on future operational aspects of nuclear sharing arrangements, including the future deployment of nuclear weapons on member states’ territory. This issue is perhaps the most contentious and has been uppermost in the minds of those discussing the nuclear aspect of alliance policy for the last year or so. It would seem appropriate to consider the option of a time frame for withdrawing remaining U.S. nuclear weapons, long enough to have a thorough debate about alternative ways to provide assurance and to reinforce Article 5 collective defense commitments but short enough to consider the option of avoiding the replacement of the dual-capable aircraft and thus avoiding a divisive debate. A joint declaration by NATO member states at the next NPT review conference, in 2015, that the alliance will no longer practice nuclear sharing and that nuclear weapons will no longer be deployed on the territory of non-nuclear-weapon states would be an excellent NATO contribution to the global nonproliferation efforts of its member states.

Fifth, a NATO NPR should be conducted in an inclusive, open, and timely fashion, taking full account of the politics of the situation. In the past, NATO nuclear policies have been determined in private by the U.S. Department of Defense and within NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group and High-Level Group of defense ministry representatives. Military considerations have trumped political arguments within NATO’s nuclear discourse, creating a credibility gap between the diplomatic positions of its members and actual alliance policies and deployments. This undermines policy and leads to a skeptical attitude toward alliance members within the wider international community. Thus, South Africa at the NPT review conference pointed out that “[w]hile some argue that steps have been taken since the end of the Cold War to reduce their reliance on nuclear weapons, the continued reliance on such weapons in strategic doctrines, regrettably, would seem to indicate the opposite.”[29] The Polish source argued that “given the fact that foreign ministers were already addressing the alliance nuclear posture in Tallinn, it will be difficult to avoid a political process after the [Lisbon] summit.” The North Atlantic Council would be the natural choice within the alliance to be the principal political facilitator for decisions over a NATO NPR.

This also would ensure that France, which has recently returned to NATO’s integrated military structure but is still not a member of the Nuclear Planning Group, was no longer excluded from formal discussions over nuclear posture, ensuring greater chance of French buy-in and, ultimately, long-term cohesion of the alliance more generally. The Polish source echoed the sentiment of several diplomats and officials interviewed when he said that a NATO NPR “should be inclusive, involving all alliance members.” The French diplomat, however, pointed out that there is currently a debate in Paris about whether France would support a NATO NPR, to be launched at the Lisbon summit. “The French government has not made up its mind whether it wants to be part of such a process, should it be agreed at Lisbon,” he said. “Allies have to be aware that such a process could lead to difficult and long discussions among them,” he cautioned.

The deferral of difficult conversations from the Strategic Concept to a NATO NPR should not be an excuse for an open-ended process that unduly delays or avoids decisions. Thus, the Polish source pointed out that Warsaw preferred “to have a time frame for such discussions, defining milestones, yet avoiding deadlines.” Twelve months should provide a sufficient opportunity to arrive at a new consensus on future NATO nuclear policies. Thus, a NATO NPR could be adopted at NATO’s fall 2011 meetings.

It would be important for the process to be transparent and involve relevant stakeholders. The “public diplomacy” phase of the group of experts process could serve as a model. Thus, NATO could set up a NATO NPR Web site and stimulate debate within the media to enhance the legitimacy of the outcome.[30] Given the acute interest that many parliamentarians have shown in the issue, NATO should be particularly interested in involving national parliaments, their committees, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the process.

A 21st-Century Force Posture

NATO policy up to now has shown all the hallmarks of being dominated by military considerations and far-fetched worst-case scenario planning, with the consequence that its nuclear posture, particularly in recent years, has been a handicap to crucial diplomatic agendas aimed at promoting global security through managed nuclear disarmament and strengthened nonproliferation efforts. A review of NATO’s nuclear posture would be an opportunity to overcome this dynamic and establish NATO as an institution that bolsters the international nonproliferation regime. In addition, although there are clearly elements of fundamental consensus around the need for some form of nuclear deterrence in the near future, there is little or no chance of reaching sufficient agreement on the operational aspects prior to the Lisbon summit. That meeting has other major considerations to debate, not least the issues of Afghanistan and the broader nature of the alliance itself.

The starting point for such a nuclear review must be an awareness that NATO members “cannot and should not avoid a re-examination” of NATO’s current nuclear doctrine and “what it means in practice,” as the statement of more than 30 senior European political, military, and diplomatic figures that are members of the European Leadership Network on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation recently put it.[31] Most European allies support Obama’s vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. NATO will have to reflect these changes, by reducing reliance on nuclear weapons and more actively supporting global disarmament and nonproliferation efforts, if it is to remain relevant in the 21st century. Nuclear weapons were a central component of NATO capabilities in the past, but clinging to them now because of nostalgia or an inability to evolve could represent a major stumbling block for successful transformation.

Decisions will be made by consensus, but this should not be seen as an opportunity to block evolution. To do so would greatly damage alliance cohesion because in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, there now exists broad parliamentary and popular support for a withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from their territories. The most politically viable course of action may turn out to be a decision to phase out nuclear sharing in the medium term and to develop more credible non-nuclear instruments that would provide assurance and spur a constructive dialogue with Russia over European security. A NATO NPR could be just the right vehicle to build consensus behind such an approach.

Oliver Meier is a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg and an international correspondent and representative of the Arms Control Association. Paul Ingram is executive director of the British American Security Information Council. The authors would like to thank the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for its support, which made research for this article possible.


1. See Oliver Meier, “NATO Struggles to Define New Nuclear Doctrine,” Arms Control Today, September 2010.

2. Elaine Grossman, “NATO Chief Anticipates Diminished Reliance on Nuclear Arsenal,” NTI: Global Security Newswire, Sept. 8, 2010, http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20100908_9517.php.

3. Karl-Heinz Kamp, “NATO’s Nuclear Weapons in Europe: Beyond ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’” NATO Research Paper, No. 61 (September 2010), p. 2 n.4, www.ndc.nato.int/download/downloads.php?icode=208.

4. Many of the assessments are based on interviews with diplomats and officials in Brussels and NATO capitals, many of whom did not want to be cited because of the sensitivity of discussions.

5. For the most extensive discussion, see Simon Lunn, “Reducing the Role of NATO’s Nuclear Weapons: Where Do We Stand after Tallinn?” RUSI Briefing Note, June 2010, www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Reducing_the_Role_of_NATOs_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.

6. See Peter Crail, “NPT Parties Agree on Middle East Meeting,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

7. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 2010, p. 15, www.defense.gov/npr/docs/%20nuclear%20posture%20review%20report.pdf (hereinafter NPR Report).

8. See Malcolm Chalmers and Simon Lunn, “NATO’s Tactical Nuclear Dilemma,” RUSI Occasional Paper, March 2010, pp. 21-26, www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/NATOs_Nuclear_Dilemma.pdf.

9. Foreign ministers of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, February 26, 2010, www.minbuza.nl/dsresource?objectid=buzabeheer:200281&type=org.

10. Kamp, “NATO’s Nuclear Weapons in Europe,” p. 2.

11. Central and eastern European politicians and scholars complained to Obama in a July 2009 open letter “that central and eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy.” David Hayes, “East-central Europe to Barack Obama: An Open Letter,” July 22, 2009, www.opendemocracy.net/article/east-central-europe-to-barack-obama-an-open-letter.

12. See Lukasz Kulesa, “Reduce U.S. Nukes in Europe to Zero, and Keep NATO Strong (and Nuclear): A View from Poland,” Polish Institute of International Affairs, March 2009, www.pism.pl/zalaczniki/Strategic_File_7.pdf.

13. See Mustafa Kibaroglu, “Reassessing the Role of U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

14. For a list of measures to “compensate” for such a withdrawal, see Ian Anthony and Johnny Janssen, “The Future of Nuclear Weapons in NATO,” Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung International Policy Analysis, April 2010, pp. 29-32, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/ipa/07151.pdf.

15. At the time of this writing, the government is undergoing a Strategic Defence and Security Review that will have important implications for the United Kingdom’s contribution to NATO. The strongest public indications of the new government’s position on nuclear diplomacy are from Foreign Secretary William Hague’s speeches, notably his speech of May 26. In that speech, which came during the final week of the NPT review conference, he announced a ceiling on the United Kingdom’s nuclear warheads and committed to a review in declaratory policy. See Hansard, May 26, 2010, cols. 180-181.

16. NPR Report, p. 32.

17. See Lunn, “Reducing the Role of NATO’s Nuclear Weapons,” p. 6.

18. Oliver Meier, “NATO Chief’s Remark Highlights Policy Rift,” Arms Control Today, May 2010.

19. Grossman, “NATO Chief Anticipates Diminished Reliance on Nuclear Arsenal.”

20. “Speech by Guido Westerwelle, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Opening of the Ambassadors Conference at the Federal Foreign Office,” September 6, 2010, www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Infoservice/Presse/Reden/2010/100906-BM-BokoEroeffnung.html.

21. Grossman, “NATO Chief Anticipates Diminished Reliance on Nuclear Arsenal.”

22. See Steven Andreasen, Malcolm Chalmers, and Isabelle Williams, “NATO and Nuclear Weapons: Is a New Consensus Possible?” RUSI Occasional Paper, August 2010, p. 1, www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/NATO_and_Nuclear_Weapons.pdf.

23. Lunn, “Reducing the Role of NATO’s Nuclear Weapons,” pp. 8-9.

24. NPR Report, p. 28.

25. The NATO group of experts tasked with developing elements of a new Strategic Concept has recently recommended that NATO should revive the Special Consultative Group on Arms Control. See NATO Group of Experts, “NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement,” May 17, 2010, pp. 43-44, www.nato.int/strategic-concept/expertsreport.pdf.

26. NATO Group of Experts, “NATO 2020,” pp. 43-44.

27. The authors thank Otfried Nassauer for this point.

28. These assets are the 200 or so U.S. free-fall bombs deployed in Europe and an unknown number of sea-launched ballistic missiles deployed on U.S. and British submarines.

29. “Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, South African Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, in Main Committee I of the 2010 Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” New York, May 7, 2010.

30. The NATO group of experts made its final report and some supporting materials available electronically. See www.nato.int/strategic-concept/.

31. European Group Statement on NATO Nuclear Weapons, Sept. 29, 2010, www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org.


NATO leaders seem ready to adopt a new Strategic Concept defining the alliance’s core mission for the next decade when they meet at the Lisbon summit November 19-20. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen submitted his draft to member states on September 28; a more extensive conversation will take place in the NATO Council among foreign and defense ministers on October 14.

Time for Leadership on the Fissile Cutoff

Daryl G. Kimball

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU)—for nuclear weapons is a long-sought and still vital nonproliferation objective. Last year, President Barack Obama pledged to “lead a global effort” to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), but talks at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remain blocked, as they have been for nearly a dozen years.

The impasse led the UN secretary-general to convene a high-level meeting September 24. Many of the 70-plus states represented, including the United States, singled out Pakistan for abusing the consensus decision-making rule in order to prevent the CD from implementing its work plan.

Calling out Pakistan is an overdue but insufficient step. Stronger, more creative leadership from Washington and other capitals is needed to achieve progress. Indeed, many delegations at the high-level meeting warned that if negotiations on an FMCT do not begin next year, “other options” should be considered. Given Pakistan’s hard-line position on an FMCT and the ability of any one state to block consensus, there is no reason to wait that long.

Although India and Pakistan have more than enough nuclear firepower to deter a nuclear attack, Pakistani leaders consider the proposed FMCT a “clear and present” danger because it would prevent Pakistan from matching India’s fissile stockpile and production potential. Pakistan insists that other nations agree to discuss limits on existing fissile material stocks before talks can begin.

The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France have all declared a halt to fissile material production for weapons, in part because each possesses sizable reserves of fissile material. China, which is estimated to have 20 metric tons of HEU and 4 metric tons of separated plutonium, is believed to have halted production for weapons purposes. Israel retains a fissile production capability outside of safeguards, but is not believed to be producing more material. North Korea has a small plutonium-production capacity, which it is legally obligated to put under safeguards and shut down.

Rivals India and Pakistan, however, remain in a fissile production “race.” India produces plutonium for weapons at two dedicated reactors and is estimated to have about 700 kilograms of separated plutonium, which is enough for about 140 bombs. It produces new plutonium at a rate of about 30 kilograms per year.

Pakistan has about 2 metric tons of HEU for its nuclear weapons and about 100 kilograms of weapons plutonium, which is enough for about 100 bombs. Pakistan has one plutonium-production reactor, is building two additional military production reactors, and is increasing its reliance on plutonium weapons. Each reactor can produce about 10 kilograms of plutonium per year.

India and Pakistan have roughly equal quantities of separated fissile material, but Pakistan worries that India may extract plutonium from spent fuel generated by its unsafeguarded power reactors, which could provide enough material for several hundred more bombs. Civil nuclear cooperation deals between India and nuclear supplier states also may free up its domestic uranium supplies for additional plutonium production.

Pakistan’s concerns about an FMCT likely will not be alleviated as long as India’s production potential remains greater. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States should use what leverage they have to encourage India to exercise greater global nonproliferation leadership and restraint. When he visits India in November, Obama should invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare that India will not increase its rate of fissile production and will put additional nonmilitary reactors under safeguards. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could help monitor whether India sticks to such a pledge.

If the CD cannot begin work by the end of its first session next year, the United States should pursue parallel, open-ended talks involving the eight states with fissile production facilities that are not legally required to be under IAEA safeguards, as well as representatives from other key states. The initial focus should be to increase transparency and confidence regarding fissile production and fissile stocks and begin technical work on a targeted system for verifying a production halt.

Even if talks on a verifiable, global FMCT begin in Geneva, they may last many years. To hasten progress, the five original nuclear-weapon states should seek an agreement by all states with facilities not subject to safeguards to voluntarily suspend fissile production and place stocks in excess of military requirements under IAEA inspection.

Such a step would maintain pressure on Pakistan and is consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 1172, which calls upon India and Pakistan to “stop their nuclear weapons development programmes [and] cease any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.” For Israel, which does not need more fissile material and has an aging reactor at Dimona, the moratorium would make a virtue out of necessity.

None of these options is easy or simple, but too much time has already been wasted at the CD. States that are truly serious about reducing the nuclear threat now must provide the leadership needed to build an effective fissile material control regime.

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU)—for nuclear weapons is a long-sought and still vital nonproliferation objective. Last year, President Barack Obama pledged to “lead a global effort” to negotiate a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), but talks at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament (CD) remain blocked, as they have been for nearly a dozen years.


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