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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
November 2010
Edition Date: 
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Cover Image: 

Books of Note

Arming Without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization

Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, Brookings Institution Press, 2010, 223 pp.

This informative, concise book describes a rising India’s attempts at defense modernization. India has enjoyed rapid economic growth, but according to the authors, an unwieldy military acquisitions process and an indifferent governing class threaten to hamstring modernization efforts. The country’s armed forces have been expanding as New Delhi has assumed a more assertive role in its volatile region and international affairs generally and as it considers potential threats from its two nuclear-armed neighbors, China and Pakistan. Given this increased assertiveness and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the traditional military patron from which New Delhi received very favorable terms of trade, the country has been looking for new sources of arms. India has long preferred to develop military technologies indigenously, but has largely failed to do so, and it has been expanding defense acquisitions from countries such as Israel and the United States. Cohen and Dasgupta emphasize India’s “strategic restraint,” a long-running Indian tendency that has led the country to avoid the use of force as a policy instrument and has influenced the course of its military modernization. They also highlight India’s historical preference for ironclad civilian authority over the military, even at the cost of military preparedness. Arming Without Aiming contains brief chapters on nuclear weapons and police modernization, but focuses primarily on the army, navy, and air force. It concludes with recommendations to guide U.S. policy toward India’s military and nuclear arsenal. The book is an excellent resource for those already familiar with Indian and South Asian strategic issues. —ERIC AUNER


The Missile Defense Systems of George W. Bush: A Critical Assessment

Richard Dean Burns, Praeger, 2010, 198 pp.

Despite what the title suggests, Richard Dean Burns, emeritus professor of history at CaliforniaStateUniversity, does not limit the scope of his book to the Bush administration. He critiques the history of U.S. attempts to construct ballistic missile defense systems, tracing U.S. missile defense policy from the Eisenhower administration to the present. Burns shows how “overblown” reports, such as those from Team B in 1976 and the Rumsfeld Commission in 1998, that exaggerate the danger posed by ballistic missiles have strengthened a belief over the years that missile defense is the solution. At its core, however, Missile Defense Systems is a narrative of how “political demands for deployment” of these systems have led to the entrenchment of missile defense in U.S. strategic thinking. Burns concludes that missile defense has become embedded in the U.S. military-industrial complex for two reasons: Political considerations have become paramount when discussing missile defense policy, and Congress has not seriously reviewed the costs and capability of these systems. His book is a useful primer on the antecedents of the current debate over the value of U.S. missile defense and an excellent companion piece to Victoria Samson’s American Missile Defense. (See ACT, June 2010). Although Samson examines the technical aspects of U.S. ballistic missile defense systems, Burns focuses on the policy aspect of missile defense. —MATT SUGRUE

 

Arming Without Aiming: India’s Military Modernization

Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, Brookings Institution Press, 2010, 223 pp.

The Missile Defense Systems of George W. Bush: A Critical Assessment

Richard Dean Burns, Praeger, 2010, 198 pp.

GAO Finds Problems in Tritium Production

Daniel Horner

Technical problems have prevented the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from producing as much tritium as it planned, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last month.

Although the NNSA currently is meeting the tritium requirements for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, “its ability to do so in the future is in doubt,” said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

Tritium is a radioactive gas used to boost the explosive power of nuclear weapons. Because it decays at a rate of 5.5 percent a year, supplies of it have to be replenished periodically from either retired weapons or new production.

According to the GAO, “Although the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile is decreasing, these reductions are unlikely to result in a significant decrease of tritium requirements and will not eliminate the need for a reliable source of new tritium.”

The tritium for the U.S. arsenal is being produced by irradiating special fuel rods, known as Tritium-Producing Burnable Absorber Rods (TPBARs), in Watts Bar-1, a nuclear power reactor owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federal corporation. Tritium is then extracted from the TPBARs in a facility at the Energy Department’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

TPBARs were first irradiated at Watts Bar in 2003.

The technical problem that is the focus of the GAO report is tritium “permeation” from the TPBARs into reactor coolant water at a rate that is higher than expected. The NNSA has noted the problem in budget documents, but in an interview last year, the manager of the NNSA’s Savannah River Site office said the main issue was the potential impact on reactor operation rather than on tritium production. (See ACT, June 2009.)

Because regulations for nuclear power reactors set a ceiling on the amount of tritium that can be released into the coolant, the TVA has limited the number of TPBARs loaded into Watts Bar-1, the GAO said. As the GAO noted, the Energy Department’s agreement with the TVA allows it to use two additional TVA reactors, Sequoyah-1 and -2, for tritium production.

However, as the NNSA put it in a letter to GAO commenting on a draft of the report, “Both TVA and NNSA would experience programmatic and operational benefits from keeping tritium production in one reactor, and will be working to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, NNSA does have this backup plan that can meet mission requirements with existing technologies and assets.”

The GAO said, “While we are encouraged that NNSA and TVA are working together to increase the number of TPBARs being irradiated, continued uncertainty about NNSA’s and TVA’s ability to irradiate additional TPBARs in a single reactor while not exceeding limits on the amount of tritium released into the environment raises doubts about the program’s ability to provide a reliable supply and predictable quantities of tritium over time.”

From the beginning of the program, some tritium permeation had been expected, NNSA spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said in an Oct. 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The higher-than-expected permeation was initially observed in the summer of 2004, she said.

 

Technical problems have prevented the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from producing as much tritium as it planned, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released last month.

Although the NNSA currently is meeting the tritium requirements for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, “its ability to do so in the future is in doubt,” said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

State Dept. Restructures Arms Control Bureaus

Robert Golan-Vilella

In its third internal reshuffling in a dozen years, the Department of State has reorganized its bureaus charged with addressing threats presented by weapons of mass destruction. The revamping is an effort to clarify responsibilities and to bring arms control, verification, and compliance into a single bureau, the department said in an Oct. 1 press release.

Under the new arrangement, the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation (VCI) was renamed the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC). In addition, a number of offices in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) were moved into the AVC.

As a result of the shift, the AVC assumed principal responsibility for multilateral arms control policy, including representing the United States at the Conference on Disarmament and the UN General Assembly. The AVC also now has the lead role within the State Department on missile defense, space policy, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and efforts to conclude a fissile material cutoff treaty.

Meanwhile, the ISN will remain responsible for the State Department’s efforts “to ensure the security, and prevent the proliferation and acquisition, of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems; the materials, equipment, and technology needed to build them; and other destabilizing conventional military capabilities,” according to the press release. The ISN will continue to oversee the Biological Weapons Convention, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and nuclear material controls.

The existing Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the State Department’s principal link to the Department of Defense, will remain unchanged, covering subjects including defense trade, arms export controls, and conventional weapons issues such as the Mine Ban Treaty and a prospective arms trade treaty.

Explaining the rationale behind the change, a State Department spokesman told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 13 e-mail that some arms control and verification functions were moved into the VCI in 2005, including strategic arms control and European security agreements. This reorganization, he said, would “continue with the organizational unification of arms control, verification, and compliance policy in a single bureau.”

By bringing these missions together, the State Department will be able to ensure that verification and compliance regimes will be built into arms control agreements from the beginning, the press release said.

The spokesman added that fewer than 35 employees were affected by the change, out of a pre-reorganization total of approximately 225 in the ISN and 100 in the VCI.

This is the third reorganization of the United States’ arms control and nonproliferation machinery to occur since 1997-1999, when the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) was merged into the State Department during the Clinton administration. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at the time, demanded ACDA’s dissolution in exchange for allowing a Senate vote on advice and consent for the Chemical Weapons Convention. (See ACT, April 1997.)

ACDA’s merger into the State Department led to the creation of the position of undersecretary for arms control and international security in 1999. Two new bureaus, one for arms control and one for nonproliferation, were established under the undersecretary’s leadership. In addition, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs was folded into the newly created directorate. The following year, a fourth bureau, the Bureau of Verification and Compliance, was added by congressional statute, restoring a function previously performed by a separate ACDA bureau.

In 2005 the Bush administration carried out a second restructuring. The arms control and nonproliferation bureaus were merged into the current ISN bureau. In addition, the verification and compliance bureau was expanded to include implementation. (See ACT, October 2005.)

According to a State Department document explaining the Bush-era changes, the pre-2005 structure reflected “a time when our nation concentrated on negotiating strategic arms control agreements, often over the course of many years, and focused almost exclusively on the Soviet Union as the greatest threat to our security.” Instead, the State Department argued at the time, “[w]e must change the focus of our diplomacy by concentrating the efforts of the many professionals in these bureaus on preventing the spread of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and missile capabilities and on protecting against WMD threats from hostile states and terrorists.”

A report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2009 strongly criticized the Bush-era changes. According to the GAO, the State Department’s “approach to the reorganization was unsystematic,” and the department “did not clearly define the objectives and lacked metrics to assess them.” The report said the department followed few of the practices that the GAO had identified as essential for organizational transformations and mergers. Also, the State Department could not demonstrate that its actions had met its own goals, the GAO said.

This February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote an open letter to the directorate’s employees in which she announced that the department would pursue a “focused reorganization” of the VCI and the ISN. Ellen O. Tauscher, the undersecretary for arms control and international security, was charged with overseeing the transition, which culminated in October’s reorganization.

Clinton’s proposal initially drew criticism from Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee. Lugar opposed the idea of combining the arms control and verification functions within a single bureau, saying in a letter to Clinton that he would “support only those [changes] that do not continue to blur the line between officials who negotiate agreements and those who verify them.” A “wall of separation” is necessary “to insure the credibility of treaties and agreements negotiated and presented to the Senate for advice and consent,” he said.

Congress received the required notice of the reorganization plan Aug. 11, the State Department spokesman said. The 15-day congressional review period expired Aug. 26 without action from Congress, allowing the proposal to proceed, he added.

 

In its third internal reshuffling in a dozen years, the Department of State has reorganized its bureaus charged with addressing threats presented by weapons of mass destruction. The revamping is an effort to clarify responsibilities and to bring arms control, verification, and compliance into a single bureau, the department said in an Oct. 1 press release.

Under the new arrangement, the Bureau of Verification, Compliance and Implementation (VCI) was renamed the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC). In addition, a number of offices in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) were moved into the AVC.

Work at North Korea Reactor Site Unclear

Peter Crail

North Korea is engaged in new construction work near its dormant nuclear reactor, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Oct. 5, raising concerns that Pyongyang is preparing to reconstitute the plant used to produce plutonium for its nuclear weapons. Yet, experts said that the purpose of the construction work seen via satellite photos is not clear and does not appear consistent with efforts to rebuild critical reactor structures.

North Korea is restoring nuclear facilities and continuing maintenance activities at Yongbyon,” a ministry spokesman said, citing Defense Minister Kim Tae-young’s comments to parliament the day before. The Yongbyon nuclear complex houses several facilities involved in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, including a nuclear reactor to produce plutonium for weapons and a reprocessing facility to separate that plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel.

In 2007, North Korea disabled three critical nuclear facilities at the complex as part of a February 2007 six-party agreement that included China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. (See ACT, March 2007.) Pyongyang withdrew from those talks in April 2009 and subsequently reconstituted its reprocessing facility to separate an estimated bomb’s worth of additional plutonium. (See ACT, May 2009.)

Seoul’s claim appears consistent with a Sept. 30 analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which said that commercially available satellite imagery showed construction at the former site of the Yongbyon reactor’s cooling tower. The reactor’s cooling tower was destroyed in June 2008 as part of the six-party talks. It would have to be rebuilt before the reactor could operate again unless Pyongyang decided to construct an alternative cooling system or run the reactor at far lower levels.

The ISIS analysis said, however, that “there is no indication in the imagery that North Korea is rebuilding its cooling tower.” The report notes that North Korea has constructed two buildings of unknown purpose instead and identifies construction or excavation equipment visible in the satellite photos.

Former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Siegfried Hecker, who has visited the Yongbyon complex on several occasions, said in an Oct. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today that there is no need to construct buildings to replace the cooling tower. “They must be doing something else,” he said.

Before North Korea can operate its reactor once again, it also must restore its secondary cooling loop, which was severed as part of the 2007 agreement, and prepare additional reactor fuel. Hecker said that restoring the cooling loop only requires replacing or rejoining the piping system, which “could be done in days to a week.”

A more time-consuming step is the preparation of fresh fuel for the reactor. North Korea still has about 2,000 fuel rods for the Yongbyon reactor left over from 1994, when the fuel fabrication facility last operated. It also has about 12,000 bare fuel rods for a larger reactor whose construction was halted that same year under a nuclear freeze agreement with the United States. A large portion of those fuel rods would need to be modified and clad in magnesium alloy before they can be used in the Yongbyon reactor.

“This may take up to six months,” Hecker said, “in which time [North Korea] could easily reconstruct the cooling tower.”

The Yongbyon reactor is North Korea’s sole source of plutonium for weapons, leaving its plutonium stockpile effectively capped until it is restarted. Pyongyang is believed to possess enough plutonium for four to 12 weapons.

North Korea also is believed to be pursuing a uranium-enrichment program, which can provide highly enriched uranium for weapons. After years of denial, Pyongyang first admitted to carrying out work on uranium enrichment last year. An Oct. 8 ISIS report assesses that Pyongyang has escalated this work, moving beyond “laboratory-scale work” to a possible pilot plant.

Pyongyang has recently repeated claims that it would strengthen its nuclear deterrent. Deputy Foreign Minister Pak Gil Yon told the UN General Assembly Sept. 29, “As long as U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers sail in the seas around our country, our nuclear deterrent can never be abandoned, but should be strengthened further.”

In an annual meeting of U.S. and South Korean defense ministers Oct. 8, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters that, in response to nuclear and conventional-weapons threats from North Korea, Washington is “committed to providing extended deterrence using the full range of American military might, from our nuclear umbrella to conventional strike and ballistic-missile defense.” A joint communiqué issued by the two countries the same day said that they agreed to institutionalize the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee to enhance the effectiveness of the extended deterrence relationship.

 

North Korea is engaged in new construction work near its dormant nuclear reactor, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Oct. 5, raising concerns that Pyongyang is preparing to reconstitute the plant used to produce plutonium for its nuclear weapons. Yet, experts said that the purpose of the construction work seen via satellite photos is not clear and does not appear consistent with efforts to rebuild critical reactor structures.

Iran Nuclear Efforts Face Critical Limits

Peter Crail

Iran continues to face considerable technical difficulties with key aspects of its nuclear program, the former head of safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in October.

Olli Heinonen, who was the deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA until August, said in an Oct. 22 interview with Haaretz that because of problems Iran is facing with its gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment plant, “they are losing materials…and so, with this defective equipment, they will have a hard time enriching the material to a level high enough to enable the production of nuclear weapons.”

Deficiencies in the centrifuge operations have led to substantial amounts of wasted uranium hexafluoride gas, the feedstock for enrichment. At higher enrichment levels, these deficiencies become more severe, wasting larger mounts of material.

Iran’s uranium-enrichment program lies at the center of concerns surrounding its nuclear ambitions. Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium to low concentrations of the fissile isotope uranium-235 for use in power reactors or to higher concentrations, which can be used in nuclear weapons. Tehran claims that its enrichment program is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear power reactors. Many countries, however, have charged that the real purpose is to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for weapons.

Heinonen’s assessment echoes that of U.S. administration officials who have asserted that Iran’s technical difficulties provide time to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue. Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, said during a May 11 press briefing that because of technical hurdles with Iran’s enrichment program, “the nuclear clock is not ticking as quickly as some had feared.”

These technical challenges also appear to be borne out in IAEA reports on Iran’s program. The latest such report, in September, indicates that Iran’s commercial-scale enrichment facility at Natanz currently houses about 8,800 centrifuges, but only about 3,700 are operating. (See ACT, October 2010.)

In addition to Iran’s difficulty operating the centrifuges it has built, due to a lack of critical materials such as maraging steel, it likely faces an upper limit on the number of machines it can produce.

Knowledgeable sources said in October that Iran likely only has enough materials for about 12,000 machines. The IAEA has previously estimated that Iran had enough components to manufacture about 10,000 machines. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Iranian officials have said that the Natanz plant is intended ultimately to run about 50,000 centrifuges.

The centrifuges Iran is currently operating are based on a 1970s-vintage Dutch design acquired through the nuclear smuggling network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Called the P-1, the centrifuge design is known to be problematic.

Iran has been developing more-advanced centrifuge designs based on the so-called P-2 machine, but to date has tested only small numbers of those centrifuges. Iran is also believed to be dependent on outside sources of critical materials, such as carbon fiber, for its advanced centrifuges.

International sanctions prohibit the export to Iran of materials and technology that could be used in a gas centrifuge program.

Heinonen told Haaretz that due to the technical challenges Iran is facing, it is not likely to have the capacity to produce HEU for weapons for another one to two years.

Such hurdles do not pertain only to Iran’s enrichment program. Over the past several years, Iranian officials have justified their controversial enrichment program by describing an ambitious plan to build nuclear power reactors. However, Tehran does not appear capable of fulfilling such aims, particularly under international sanctions.

In the latest iteration of Tehran’s nuclear power plans, parliamentary spokesman Kazem Jalali told reporters Oct. 13 that the Iranian parliament adopted legislation urging the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to build up to 20 additional nuclear power plants by 2030 to produce about 20,000 megawatts of power.

Those plans mirror intentions expressed by the shah of Iran during the 1970s for a plan to produce 20,000 megawatts. The plans were abandoned following Iran’s 1979 revolution. Although the United States was engaged in nuclear cooperation with Iran at that time, Washington suspected that the shah was seeking a capability that could be used for nuclear weapons and objected to Iran’s development of certain sensitive fuel-cycle technologies.

In order to fuel its ambitious nuclear power program, Iran also would need access to sufficient amounts of uranium. Iran has two uranium mines located at Saghand and Bandar Abbas, but only the latter is operating. The Saghand mine contains low-grade ore, which is less economical to mine.

In an Oct. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Mark Fitzpatrick, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, said these reserves are “barely sufficient for one reactor,” let alone the larger numbers that Iran has cited as part of its nuclear power plans.

He added that additional reserves may be found with extensive searching, “but it is highly unlikely that reserves would thus expand to anywhere near the amount required for self-sufficiency in uranium for the envisioned program.”

UN sanctions adopted in June prohibit Iran from acquiring stakes in uranium mines abroad. Prior sanctions resolutions prohibit Iran from importing uranium.

In October, Iranian officials announced that the country would intensify its search for uranium reserves and indicated that the government had allocated funds to begin uranium ore extraction at the Saghand mine.

The Tehran Times quoted AEOI Director Ali Akbar Salehi Oct. 21 as stating, “We have expanded our exploration activities…and have focused on places where there are hopes of greater uranium reserves” in order to become self-sufficient to fuel Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Russia, however, has agreed to provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor, which it constructed, for at least the next 10 years. According to Russian diplomats, Moscow’s state-run nuclear conglomerate Rosatom has not provided Iran with the proprietary information needed to manufacture the reactor fuel.

Iran has recently proposed a joint venture with Russia for nuclear fuel production, an arrangement that might provide it with some proprietary rights or information needed to build the specialized fuel assemblies.

Following years of delays, Iran’s Bushehr plant was completed last year, and the lengthy process of loading fuel for the reactor began in August. (See ACT, September 2010.) However, due to technical problems, the fuel loading has been delayed.

AEOI Deputy Director Mohammad Ahmadian told the Islamic Republic News Agency Oct. 16 that “there are some minor problems including a small leak in a pool in the middle of the reactor which was fixed.” He added that correcting the problem will take about one month.

Talks Proposed for Mid-November

Meanwhile, senior Iranian officials appeared to respond favorably last month to a proposal by six world powers to hold negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in mid-November, potentially paving the way for the first such talks in more than a year. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany have been involved in diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program since 2006.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said during an Oct. 15 press conference in Brussels that he welcomed upcoming talks with the group, known as the P5+1.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has already proposed late October or early November as appropriate time for negotiations,” he said.

On behalf of the P5+1, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton Oct. 14 proposed holding negotiations with Iran Nov. 15-17.

The six countries are waiting for a formal response from Iran.

Iranian officials have said that Tehran still needs more details on the nature of the talks before formally responding.

Iran’s state-run Press TV Oct. 20 quoted Tehran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Abolfazl Zohrehvand, as saying that Iran received a letter from Ashton but that it “only addresses issues such as where, when and how long the talks should be and does not deal with more important issues, such as the framework, aim and direction of the talks.”

Reuters reported Oct. 22, and diplomatic sources confirmed, that a letter Ashton sent to Iran’s EU ambassador that same day re-invited Iran for talks and stated that “the main focus of the meeting would be on the question of the Iranian nuclear program, not excluding any other items pertinent to the discussion.”

 

Iran continues to face considerable technical difficulties with key aspects of its nuclear program, the former head of safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in October.

Olli Heinonen, who was the deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA until August, said in an Oct. 22 interview with Haaretz that because of problems Iran is facing with its gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment plant, “they are losing materials…and so, with this defective equipment, they will have a hard time enriching the material to a level high enough to enable the production of nuclear weapons.”

U.S. Official Mulls Ending NSG Rule Revamp

Daniel Horner

If the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) does not agree soon on new guidelines for selling sensitive nuclear technology, there would be a good argument for dropping the effort, a senior Obama administration official said Oct. 18.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, said, “I think that if we are not able to reach agreement, my guess is that we should probably decide that this is an effort that was just not going to be successful.”

The NSG’s Consultative Group is scheduled to meet Nov. 10-11 in Vienna. The NSG has been working since 2004 to revise its guidelines on exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. According to the public statement issued at the end of its plenary meeting this June in Christchurch, New Zealand, the group “agreed to continue considering ways to further strengthen guidelines dealing with the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies.”

The current guidelines say that suppliers should “exercise restraint” in making such transfers. As Samore described it, that criterion “was interpreted by everybody as ‘don’t sell it.’” In a February 2004 speech, President George W. Bush said the NSG “should refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.”

Other NSG members, led by France, favored an approach based on adopting a list of specific criteria that countries would have to meet to be eligible for such exports. The NSG, which currently has 46 members, has not been able to agree on the criteria although the differences are now “down to a couple of words here and phrases there,” Samore said.

Asked about the time frame for making decision to break off the talks, he said, “If we make progress in this next meeting, then we might want to stay at it a little bit longer.” But if the discussion “really looks like it’s stalemated,” he said, “I’m a big believer in not wasting effort on things that are not going to be successful.” If the countries cannot reach agreement on a new set of detailed criteria, “then I frankly think we should just set the effort aside,” he said.

In late 2008, the NSG produced a “clean text” and appeared to be close to reaching agreement. (See ACT, December 2008.) When it failed to do so, the members of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries agreed at their 2009 summit meeting to adopt the 2008 NSG text as a national policy for a year. The G-8 extended that policy for another year at its meeting this June. All the members of the G-8—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—also belong to the NSG.

In an October 27 interview, a European diplomat said G-8 adoption of the new guidelines “could be a temporary alternative” to the NSG but not a “100 percent alternative” because the G-8’s membership is so much smaller.

China-Pakistan Deal

Another issue that NSG members are likely to discuss at the Vienna meeting, sources said, is the proposed sale of two Chinese reactors to Pakistan for its Chashma site. China provided little information on that issue at the Christchurch meeting. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

Since that meeting, China has officially confirmed its plan to sell the reactors. At her Sept. 21 press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “The Chashma Project III & IV mentioned in recent media reports are carried out according to the cooperative agreement in nuclear power signed by China and Pakistan in 2003,” according to a transcript posted on the ministry’s English-language Web site.

She added, “China has already notified the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] of relevant information and asked for its safeguard and supervision.”

NSG guidelines, which are nonbinding, do not allow the export of nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel to countries that do not accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not have these so-called full-scope safeguards.

When China joined the NSG in 2004, it had already built a power reactor at the Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under NSG “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second one, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. (The first reactor is operating; the second is in the final stages of construction.)

According to several accounts, the NSG agreed in 2004 that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.

In the weeks before the Christchurch meeting, the U.S. government said the sale of reactors beyond Chashma-1 and -2 would be “inconsistent with NSG guidelines and China’s commitments to the NSG.” (See ACT, June 2010.)

The European diplomat said her government “tend[s] to think in a similar direction” but wanted to get more information on the “ins and outs of the deal,” including the Chinese explanation.

Media reports last month quoted Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying the United States had asked Pakistan for more information on the deal.

 

If the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) does not agree soon on new guidelines for selling sensitive nuclear technology, there would be a good argument for dropping the effort, a senior Obama administration official said Oct. 18.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gary Samore, the White House arms control coordinator, said, “I think that if we are not able to reach agreement, my guess is that we should probably decide that this is an effort that was just not going to be successful.”

 

UN Arms Data Mixed As Participation Falls

Jeff Abramson

The number of countries submitting reports to the UN conventional arms registry declined for the third year in a row, according to data based on reports received by late September on transfers made in 2009.

In part because of that trend, it is difficult to determine whether trade in conventional weapons also declined in 2009. After increasing to record levels in 2007 and dropping precipitously in 2008, the number of exports reported in one category, small arms and light weapons, fell modestly in 2009. Major weapons exports rose as a total number, but the figures are complicated by a large transfer of missiles designated for destruction. If those missiles are removed from the total, data compiled from the register would show a net decline for the year.

A modest 2009 decline aligns with findings reported by other sources. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service said the conventional arms market shrank in 2009, and the 2010 yearbook produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found the market to be relatively flat last year. (See ACT, October 2009.)

Based on a 1991 agreement, the UN Register of Conventional Arms collects voluntary information on imports, exports, domestic production, and holdings of seven categories of major weapons systems. In 2003, countries agreed to request data on small arms and light weapons, but did not create an official category for the weapons. (See ACT, September 2009.)

At least 100 countries submitted records for arms transfers each year from 1999 to 2006, but that number fell to 91 for 2007 and 80 in 2008. By Sept. 30 of this year, only 65 countries had reported calendar year 2009 transfers. States are invited to report to the register by May 31. Some reports come in after that, but most are in by the end of September.

Some of the decrease over the past three years can be attributed to a reduction in the number of countries filing “nil” reports. For 2006, more than 60 countries filed such reports, which claim no transfers in any of the seven categories of major weapons. Nearly 40 did so for 2007 and 32 for 2008. Such reports, which affirmatively state that there were no transfers, are seen as statements of support for the register.

Some experts predicted that the 2009 failure of a group of governmental experts to recommend adding small arms and light weapons as an official eighth category would further erode participation in the register, especially among states that typically filed nil reports. Thus far, however, 30 states have filed such reports, only a small decrease compared to 2008. A larger decrease occurred in the number of states filing reports on imports of major weapons systems, from more than 40 in 2008 to 29 through September for 2009.

Participation declined in all regions, including in the United Nations’ “Western European and Other” and “Eastern European” regional groups. The members of those groups are typically reliable participants in the register and are some of the world’s leading exporting states. Reduced participation by these countries may be particularly important because their reports often offer insight into trade with countries that do not report to the register.

Canada, Cyprus, France, and Turkey, which have been regular participants in past years, have not submitted information to the register this year. Among eastern European states, which at times trade in large volumes of Soviet-era or Soviet-design weapons, Croatia  and the Czech Republic were absent after having filed reports in 2009. The Philippines, which ranked second last year for total claimed small arms and light weapons exports, also did not submit a report.

The register’s data do not provide a complete picture of global arms trade. Some countries do not submit reports; different countries have different criteria for reporting transfers; and there is no verification provision. Nonetheless, the register is the primary international mechanism for states to detail their arms trade and is frequently discussed as a starting point for the scope of an international arms trade treaty (ATT) that may be negotiated as early as 2012. (See ACT, September 2010.)

Whether to account for small arms and light weapons is also a key topic in the ATT debate and one with which register participants have grappled for years. Following a call made last year for views on whether the absence of small arms and light weapons as a main category of the register affects participation in and the relevance of the register, six states have submitted opinions thus far. Colombia, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, and Switzerland supported inclusion of the weapons as a main category or said its absence as a main category hurts the register. Singapore did not favor any changes to the status of the weapons. The topic is expected to be taken up again at the next meeting on the register by a group of governmental experts, tentatively scheduled for 2012.

Trends Mixed for Major Weapons

A comparison of reports submitted to the UN by late September for each reporting year indicates that exports of major weapons systems dropped from 28,577 in 2007 to 7,913 in 2008. In 2009, exports of these weapons rose to 12,351, but 5,357 of that total were missiles the United Kingdom reported as transferred to Sweden for destruction. Removing those weapons from the total would show a net decline in 2009 for major weapons systems exports (see table 1).

Most of the register’s seven major weapons categories saw a drop. Because a missile and a warship are each counted as one unit in the register despite the difference in size and capability, comparing overall numbers can be misleading. The seven major weapons categories in the register are tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

Because missile and missile launcher exports are most numerous, fluctuations in that category drive changes in the overall total of major weapons numbers. For example, Slovakia reported the export of 17,740 missiles in 2007, but said it had no missile exports in 2008 or 2009, accounting for the biggest single difference in the three-year period.

Turkey, which did not file a report for 2009, had claimed the delivery of at least 1,000 missiles per year to the United Arab Emirates in the four previous years.

Of those countries claiming missile exports, the United Kingdom’s transfer to Sweden for destruction accounted for more than half of the category’s total.

Russia, which led the missile category in 2008 but fell to second behind the United Kingdom last year, claimed the export of 2,510 missiles. Most of those were man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), 1,800 of which Russia exported to Venezuela, with an additional 98 to Egypt. The United States has led an effort to control and recover MANPADS because of the acute threat they pose to civilian and military aircraft.

Matt Schroeder, an arms and MANPADS expert at the Federation of American Scientists, highlighted the Russia-to-Venezuela export as significant because of the size and proliferation potential of the transfer. But he also praised Russia for taking its reporting obligations seriously.

In recent years, the United States has expressed concern about Russian military ties with Venezuela. In 2009, Moscow claimed the transfer of 18 attack helicopters to Caracas, and Beijing reported sending six combat aircraft. Venezuela last filed a report for transfers in 2002, claiming nil.

In 2009, Russia continued its ongoing relationship with India, claiming the export of 80 tanks, 14 large-caliber artillery systems, six combat aircraft, and 282 missiles to New Delhi. The United States is seeking defense trade with India as well, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit this month.

As with Russia, missiles led all categories for the United States, comprising 823 of 1,080 total major weapons exported. Washington noted the transfer of 214 missiles to Pakistan, an ally in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and a traditional rival of India. Additional U.S. missiles and launchers were sent to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Poland, Singapore, and Turkey.

The United States was second in overall exports of large-caliber artillery systems, a category of weapons trending upward over the past three years. In addition to exporting 115 such systems to Pakistan, Washington transferred 25 to Israel and 41 to Lebanon in 2009.

Serbia led all countries with claimed exports of large-caliber artillery systems, sending 758 to Iraq last year. The only other country claiming exports to Iraq was Ukraine, delivering 26 armored combat vehicles. No countries claimed major weapons exports to Afghanistan. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq, both countries with major ongoing conflicts, participates in the register.

China, a traditional supplier of less-sophisticated arms, especially to Africa, claimed more transfers for 2009 than it did for 2008. Beijing reported the export of 140 major weapons, comprised of 48 armored combat vehicles to Ghana, 21 to Namibia, and nine to the Republic of Congo; 15 combat aircraft to Nigeria, 11 to Pakistan, six to Venezuela, and two to Tanzania; and 16 missiles to Malaysia and 12 to Thailand. For 2008, China claimed the export of 20 armored combat vehicles to Rwanda and six fighter aircraft to Pakistan, numbers lower than its reports of 120 exported weapons in 2007 and 387 in 2006.

Overall, 27 countries have filed non-nil export reports for major weapons thus far in 2009, providing data on more than 70 recipient states. Those numbers are very similar to the ones at the same time last year for transfers made in 2008.

U.S. Still Top Small-Arms Buyer

Although again not filing a report on its small arms and light weapons transfers, the United States retained its position as the top recipient of exports of the weapons in a somewhat smaller global market in 2009. Overall, exports of small arms and light weapons declined, falling from 2,089,986 in 2007 to 1,480,790 in 2008 and 1,242,411 in 2009, according to the data in the reports. (See ACT, November 2007; October 2008.)

Fifteen of 19 countries reporting nonzero and nonclassified exports of small arms and light weapons for 2009 indicated the United States as a recipient. Together, these states transferred 616,994 of the weapons, approximately 50 percent of the annual global total. In 2008 the United States received 63 percent of approximately 1.5 million small arms and light weapons exported and approximately 75 percent of 2.1 million in 2007.

Italy, the largest exporter of such weapons for the second year in a row, reported transferring 473,518 small arms. Of that total, 310,618 went to the United States, and the remainder went to more than 75 other countries. Russia, the next highest Italian recipient by volume, received 19,078 small arms. Chile, Libya, Mexico, Thailand, and Venezuela each imported more than 10,000 weapons from Italy, according to Rome’s report.

All of Italy’s exports of such weapons came from the first two of six categories of small arms, consisting of revolvers and self-loading pistols, and rifles and carbines. Italy led all countries in exports of these two categories of small arms.

The four additional small arms categories are assault rifles, submachine guns, light machine guns, and others. Light weapons, which accounted for slightly more than 3 percent of total exports claimed in 2009 by all countries, are defined in seven categories as heavy machine guns, handheld underbarrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable anti-tank missile launchers and rocket systems, mortars of calibers less than 75 millimeters, and others.

Eastern European countries ranked second through fourth in total claimed exports of small arms and light weapons in 2009. Serbia, ranked second, reported a total of 270,052 weapons transferred to more than 35 different countries. Serbia dominated exports in the light machine gun and heavy machine gun categories, with 146,730 of 158,328 and 18,504 of 20,555 total exports within each respective category. Belgrade reported transferring 92,263 weapons to Algeria and 35,000 light machine guns to Libya.

Ukraine claimed the export of 175,718 small arms and light weapons. Romania, fourth with 119,753 total exports, was the leader in assault weapons transfers, accounting for 31,009 of 94,130 weapons in the category.

The United Kingdom, which had been third the previous two years with 250,000 or more weapons exported, claimed only 60,703 small arms and light weapons exports in 2009, the fifth-highest total. Washington remained London’s primary recipient, accounting for 36,636 of the weapons.

As in past years, submissions to the register did capture some small arms and light weapons transfers to Afghanistan and Iraq. Six countries together claimed the export of 31,687 such weapons to Afghanistan, with some designated for NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. That total is nearly twice the number reported in 2008 and comparable to the 2007 totals. Four countries claimed the transfer of 7,149 weapons to Iraq, a steep decline from nearly 19,000 in 2008 and 100,000 in 2007, possibly reflecting the general international drawdown of forces in the country.

Croatia, the top exporter of small arms and light weapons in 2007 with more than 650,000 exported weapons claimed, did not file for 2009. The Philippines, ranked second in 2008 with nearly 300,000 small arms transferred, also did not report for 2009. Their absence may have contributed to the decline in 2009 totals.

Although ammunition is not included in the register’s scope, Albania reported the export of 60 million rounds in 2009 under the small arms “other” category. Whether to account for ammunition in a future ATT remains an area of disagreement. Because of their scale and the lack of information on such exports in the submittals from other countries, Albania’s ammunition exports are not included in the data analyzed here.

Overall, exporting states claimed to transfer weapons to more than 140 countries in 2009, a slight increase over 2008.

Table 1: International Arms Exports Reported to the UN Register of Conventional Arms 2007-2009

Major Weapons Systems 2007 2008 2009
Warships 16 14 4
Attack Helicopters 81 70 64
Combat Aircraft 219 222 223
Large-Caliber Artillery Systems 630 874 1,282
Battle Tanks 954 510 462
Armored Combat Vehicles 2,254 1,385 768
Missiles and Missile Launchers 24,423 4,838 9,548
TOTAL 28,577 7,913 12,351
Small Arms and Light Weapons 2,089,986 1,480,790 1,242,411
Source: Data derived from claimed exports in voluntary submissions to the UN Register of Conventional Arms by late September of each reporting year.

 

 

The number of countries submitting reports to the UN conventional arms registry declined for the third year in a row, according to data based on reports received by late September on transfers made in 2009.

In part because of that trend, it is difficult to determine whether trade in conventional weapons also declined in 2009. After increasing to record levels in 2007 and dropping precipitously in 2008, the number of exports reported in one category, small arms and light weapons, fell modestly in 2009. Major weapons exports rose as a total number, but the figures are complicated by a large transfer of missiles designated for destruction. If those missiles are removed from the total, data compiled from the register would show a net decline for the year.

 

Countries Aim for Fuel Bank Endorsement

Daniel Horner

A group of countries led by the United States is working to secure support for a proposed nuclear fuel bank, with the goal of having the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopt a resolution endorsing the plan at its next meeting, according to statements from governments and other organizations involved in the process.

In interviews in recent weeks, diplomats and others who are following the situation said supporters of the plan are moving now because they believe that additional time will not help their cause.

Addressing the IAEA General Conference in Vienna Sept. 20, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the United States planned “a common approach” so that the board could approve the plan at its Dec. 2-3 meeting.

The aim of the fuel bank proposal is to dissuade countries from pursuing their own uranium-enrichment programs by providing them with an assured supply of fuel at market prices. The bank, which the IAEA would administer, would serve as a backup to existing commercial mechanisms for countries with good nonproliferation credentials. President Barack Obama has strongly supported the plan, as did President George W. Bush and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei when they were in office.

Under the plan, the IAEA would own enough low-enriched uranium (LEU) for a full core of a typical power reactor, once the LEU was fabricated into reactor fuel.

In 2006 the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a private U.S. organization, pledged $50 million for such a reserve on the condition that IAEA member states donate another $100 million and that the board approve the plan. The NTI originally said the plan had to be in place within two years, but since then has agreed to three one-year extensions.

Pledges of $50 million from the United States, up to 25 million euros from the European Union, $10 million apiece from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and $5 million from Norway have combined to meet the financial goal, but the board has not endorsed the plan.

In his speech in Vienna, Chu said of the $150 million, “[T]hese resources will be at risk if we do not reach a decision soon.” Several of the sources interviewed cited similar concerns that the governmental pledges, as well as the one from the NTI, might not remain available indefinitely.

In an Oct. 7 interview, Corey Hinderstein, the NTI’s vice president for international programs, declined to say whether the most recent one-year deadline extension would be the last. However, when the NTI receives an extension request from the IAEA, it has to assess the prospects for the fuel bank proposal, she said. If the prospects are seen as unlikely to improve, “then we have to say, ‘What are we waiting for?’” she said.

Improved Chances

A year ago, the IAEA board endorsed a plan for Russia to establish an LEU reserve at the Angarsk site in Siberia. (See ACT, January/February 2010.) The plan garnered support from a sizable majority of the 35-member board, but eight countries (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and Venezuela) voted against the plan and three (India, Kenya, and Turkey) abstained. Analysts noted that the dissenters included some of the developing world’s most influential countries.

For most of its history, the IAEA board has made decisions by consensus, although it has varied from that pattern somewhat in recent years.

Since the fuel bank proposal was first raised, members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) and other developing countries have expressed concerns that participation in the fuel bank arrangement would impede their rights under Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which gives parties the right to “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and says parties have an “inalienable right” to pursue nuclear energy programs as long as the programs are “in conformity with” the treaty’s nonproliferation restrictions.

Supporters of the fuel bank have repeatedly said the proposal would not infringe on those rights; the board’s Angarsk resolution included language to that effect.

However, Hinderstein said, “some of the no votes on Angarsk were not about the resolution, but about the process.” There was a perception among some of the opponents that the issue was “just put on the table” and that states were told just to say yes or no, she said.

Russia had pressed for a vote, with the support of the United States, sources said.

Countries supporting the resolution are using the time before the December meeting to engage in “real consultations,” Hinderstein said. The supporters have to answer “reasonable questions,” but are not going to be able sway opponents who have deep-seated objections to the basic concept of the fuel bank, she said.

In an Oct. 27 interview, a U.S. official said supporters of the fuel bank will “listen to criticism” and “try to come up with a resolution that will demonstrate we have listened.”

A European diplomat said on Oct. 25 he was not sure the more extensive consultations would really change any countries’ positions but that it was a “fair point” to ask for more time than was available on the Angarsk vote.

Changed Composition

Since the Angarsk vote, the composition of the board has changed, and Hinderstein and others suggested that the new makeup might be more amenable to the fuel bank. The European diplomat said the board transition has resulted in some “more friendly NAM” representation. As an example, he noted the departure of Egypt, which cast one of the eight dissenting votes, and the accession of Jordan.

Another new member of the board is the UAE, which pledged money for the fuel bank.

However, the European diplomat said he did not see the board realignment as a “major driving factor” in the decision to go ahead now. The U.S. official agreed, saying, “The impossibility of consensus is what really drove this.”

The European diplomat also said the notion of consensus is “not completely realistic.” However, he said he expected to see a “large majority” of the board co-sponsor or otherwise support the resolution.

The diplomat and the U.S. official said the resolution was likely to make full-scope safeguards a requirement for recipients of fuel from the bank. Countries that accept full-scope safeguards allow IAEA inspections of all their nuclear facilities.

Amano’s Role

In his brief reference to the fuel bank effort during his Sept. 20 remarks to the General Conference, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said that although there were differences among member states, “there is a convergence of views that the issue needs to be discussed further.” He “encourage[d]” the states “to find suitable ways of dealing with this issue” and said the IAEA Secretariat “stands ready to provide any assistance required.”

In the interviews, the officials and others said the statement reflected the contrast between Amano’s attitude toward the fuel bank and ElBaradei’s. ElBaradei actively supported the plan, but Amano has a more hands-off approach, the sources said.

Amano “does not believe the time is ripe for such an idea” and “seems to be more interested in questions that have to do with the back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, one source said. According to another source, the secretariat thinks the fuel bank would be a good idea and is willing to provide the necessary technical and legal assistance, but “the member states have to pick up the baton and run with it.”

A third source chose a different metaphor, saying of Amano, “He’s on board, but he’s not driving the train.”

 

A group of countries led by the United States is working to secure support for a proposed nuclear fuel bank, with the goal of having the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopt a resolution endorsing the plan at its next meeting, according to statements from governments and other organizations involved in the process.

In interviews in recent weeks, diplomats and others who are following the situation said supporters of the plan are moving now because they believe that additional time will not help their cause.

 

Revised Space Code Advances

Jeff Abramson

The European Union in late September adopted a revised draft code of conduct for outer space activities after receiving feedback on text circulated in December 2008. (See ACT, January/February 2009.) Endorsed by the EU as a basis for consultation with additional countries, the voluntary code may be opened for signature as early as next year.

The revised code retains many of the features of the earlier draft, including a voluntary commitment to refrain from intentionally harming space objects, measures to control and mitigate space debris, and mechanisms for cooperation and consultation. The section on space operations commits states to avoid damaging or destroying space objects unless such action is “conducted to reduce the creation of outer space debris and/or is justified by the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence in accordance with the United Nations Charter or imperative safety considerations.” That wording is essentially unchanged from the original text aside from the reference to self-defense and the UN Charter. The new wording may make it easier for states that wish to retain flexibility in times of conflict to sign on to the code.

At an Oct. 14 event on space transparency and confidence-building measures where the code was introduced, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, said Washington hopes “to make a decision as to whether the United States can sign on to the code in the coming months, pending a determination of its implications for our national security and foreign policy interests.” In June the Obama administration unveiled a new space policy supportive of transparency and confidence-building measures. It also promised to consider legally binding measures provided that they do not limit U.S. access to or use of space. (See ACT, September 2010.)

Pedro Serrano, the EU’s UN ambassador, said at the event that the EU is “considering the possibility of opening the code for signature at an ad hoc diplomatic conference, to take place in 2011.” He also indicated that formal negotiations on the code would not take place at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), UN First Committee, or forums dealing with civilian outer space activities such as the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space or UN Fourth Committee.

In recent years, transparency and confidence-building measures such as the code have received greater attention, especially as progress on treaty-based approaches has generally stalled. The CD has been unable to move forward on an agenda to prevent an arms race in outer space or on the 2008 introduced treaty by China and Russia on prevention of weapons in space. At the First Committee in October, China and Russia joined with more than 40 other countries in sponsoring a resolution that would establish a group of governmental experts to begin work in 2012 studying transparency and confidence-building measures. The resolution passed on Oct. 29 by a vote of 167-0 with one abstention, by the United States.

 

The European Union in late September adopted a revised draft code of conduct for outer space activities after receiving feedback on text circulated in December 2008. (See ACT, January/February 2009.) Endorsed by the EU as a basis for consultation with additional countries, the voluntary code may be opened for signature as early as next year.

UK Postpones Trident Replacement Amid Cuts

Robert Golan-Vilella

The United Kingdom will postpone the final decision on whether to replace its Trident nuclear submarines until 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons last month.

Cameron’s Oct. 19 address marked the conclusion of a broad reassessment of British strategic and defense policy. The National Security Strategy, published Oct. 18, assessed threats and set strategic priorities; the Strategic Defense and Security Review, released the following day, detailed the steps that the government will take in accordance with those priorities.

Cameron said the British government will extend the life of its Vanguard-class nuclear submarines “so that the first replacement submarine is not required until 2028.” As a result, he said, the final decision “to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until around 2016.” That date is after the next British general elections, which will take place no later than May 2015.

For the Trident replacement to go forward, it must pass through two approval points: the “initial gate” decision allowing preparatory work to proceed and the “main gate” decision to begin building the new submarines. The initial step “will be approved, and the next phase of the project commenced, by the end of this year,” the defense review said.

The United Kingdom currently deploys its entire nuclear arsenal aboard four Vanguard-class submarines, each of which is armed with Trident ballistic missiles.

In addition, the United Kingdom will cut the size of its nuclear arsenal, the review said. The government will reduce its stockpile of operational nuclear warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, and the maximum number of warheads on each submarine will decrease from 48 to 40. Likewise, the overall size of the nuclear stockpile, including nondeployed weapons, will drop from “not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid 2020s,” the review said.

British officials cautioned against interpreting the changes as a weakened commitment to their country’s nuclear deterrent. Speaking in Washington Oct. 28, Minister of State for Security and Counter-terrorism Pauline Neville-Jones said, “We do not believe that it makes a great deal of sense, given that we have a nuclear deterrent, to decide that we’re going to dispense with it…. We will remain in the nuclear club.”

On the subject of nuclear declaratory policy, the review strengthened London’s negative security assurances to non-nuclear-weapon states. The report said, “We are now able to give an assurance that the UK will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states parties” to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It noted that this assurance “would not apply to any state in material breach of those non-proliferation obligations” and reserved the right to review its assurance if future advances in chemical or biological weapons made it necessary. The new British posture is similar to the one expressed in the United States’ most recent Nuclear Posture Review, completed this April. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The strategic and defense reviews took place in an atmosphere of severe financial pressures. Since taking office in May, Cameron has vowed to reduce the size of government significantly in an attempt to address budget deficits. On Oct. 20, the government released its Comprehensive Spending Review, in which it declared that the budgets of all government departments other than health and overseas aid would be cut by an average of 19 percent over the next four years.

The Ministry of Defense avoided the deepest cuts. However, the defense budget will still decrease by 8 percent in real terms over four years, Cameron said. According to the defense review, this will include reductions of 17,000 service personnel and 25,000 Ministry of Defense civil servants by 2015.

In the week prior to the review’s release, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed concern about the impending defense cuts in the United Kingdom and other NATO countries. When asked if that prospect worried the Obama administration, she said, “It does, and the reason it does is because I think we do have to have an alliance where there’s a commitment to the common defense.”

After the review’s publication, Clinton issued a statement in which she said the United States was “reassured that the UK conducted its review in a thoughtful and clear-eyed manner.” She expressed her appreciation for the British “commitment to retain the full spectrum of military capabilities that enable our forces to partner together so effectively in so many areas of the world.”

 

The United Kingdom will postpone the final decision on whether to replace its Trident nuclear submarines until 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons last month.

Cameron’s Oct. 19 address marked the conclusion of a broad reassessment of British strategic and defense policy. The National Security Strategy, published Oct. 18, assessed threats and set strategic priorities; the Strategic Defense and Security Review, released the following day, detailed the steps that the government will take in accordance with those priorities.

 

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