"[Arms Control Today] has become indispensable! I think it is the combination of the critical period we are in and the quality of the product. I found myself reading the May issue from cover to cover."

– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
July/August 2011
Edition Date: 
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Cover Image: 

NSG Revises Rules on Sensitive Exports

An early version of this story appeared here.

Daniel Horner

Seven years after they started discussions on the issue and two and a half years after they formulated a “clean text,” the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) agreed in June on revised guidelines for exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

At issue were paragraphs 6 and 7 of the NSG guidelines. The old version of paragraph 6 said that suppliers should “exercise restraint” in exports of sensitive technology. The new paragraph 6 essentially retains that language, but specifies a list of criteria to be considered. The new paragraph 7, which deals with “[s]pecial arrangements for export of enrichment facilities, equipment and technology,” adds details on restrictions on sharing such technology.

A June 24 NSG press release issued at the end of the group’s annual plenary meeting in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, said only that the group had “agreed to strengthen its guidelines on the transfer of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies.” The NSG did not release the text of the new guidelines, but a copy was obtained by Arms Control Today.

The NSG is not a formal organization, and its guidelines are not legally binding.

The main change from the previous guidelines is the addition of the list, known as “objective criteria.” Among other requirements, potential recipients of sensitive technology must be parties to and “in full compliance” with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and they must be adhering to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards requirements.

Focus on Additional Protocol

In a separate section, the text says that suppliers should authorize enrichment and reprocessing exports only if the recipient has brought into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol or, “pending this, [the recipient] is implementing appropriate safeguards agreements in cooperation with the IAEA, including a regional accounting and control arrangement for nuclear materials, as approved by the IAEA Board of Governors.” In a June 27 interview, a U.S. official said one significant aspect of the new guidelines is the reference to an additional protocol as a condition of supply.

The language on “a regional accounting and control arrangement” is a clear reference to the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC). Argentina and Brazil have not signed an additional protocol, which would give IAEA inspectors greater latitude to carry out their inspections in those countries, including the right to inspect any undeclared facilities. The NSG language would make Argentina and Brazil eligible to receive sensitive exports without having an additional protocol in force.

Since the appearance of the November 2008 “clean” draft text, critics have said the group’s concession on this point is a major flaw in the NSG’s approach because the ABACC arrangements do not provide the level of assurance about the countries’ nuclear programs that an additional protocol would.

In a June 30 interview, a Brazilian official said the Quadripartite Agreement among Argentina, Brazil, ABACC, and the IAEA furnishes a “more than sufficient guarantee” of the peaceful nature of the two countries’ nuclear programs. It “add[s] value” to INFCIRC/153, the standard safeguards agreement that the IAEA signs with NPT non-nuclear-weapon states, in part because it provides for the application of safeguards by ABACC as well as the IAEA, he said.

Compared to comprehensive safeguards agreements, it furnishes “an amount of information and mutual confidence that is superior,” he said. Additional protocols are not a legal requirement under the NPT or the IAEA, and that point has been recognized in all relevant forums, including the NSG, he said.

Brazil’s 2008 National Defense Strategy was “very clear” that the country would not adhere to new safeguards commitments until the nuclear-weapon states made significant progress toward fulfilling their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the NPT, he said.

Asked if the “pending this” language in the new guidelines suggested that the Quadripartite Agreement eventually would be supplemented by an additional protocol, the official said, “We do not see an obligation deriving from this [language].” Citing the NPT and IAEA resolutions, he said it is the “sovereign decision of any country” to conclude an additional protocol.

The U.S. official said the language “was a way of saying that the NSG would continue to review the situation with respect to the status of adherence to the additional protocol.”

‘General’ Subjective Criteria

The proposed November 2008 version of the NSG guidelines also included so-called subjective criteria: “[w]hether the recipient has a credible and coherent rationale for pursuing enrichment and reprocessing capability in support of civil nuclear power generation programmes,” “[w]hether the transfer would have a negative impact on the stability and security of the recipient state,” and “[g]eneral conditions of stability and security.”

The new text dispenses with that list. Instead, it invokes other sections of the guidelines that give suppliers broad authority to ensure that their exports do not contribute to proliferation. It also adds language saying that suppliers should “tak[e] into account at their national discretion, any relevant factors as may be applicable.”

The U.S. official said the section retains the concept of subjective criteria, but “has been written in a much more general manner.”

The guidelines also contain new language at the beginning of paragraph 7, saying in part, “All States that meet the criteria in paragraph 6 above are eligible for transfers of enrichment facilities, equipment and technology.”

According to the U.S. official, being “eligible” to receive enrichment and reprocessing exports does not equate to a “right” to receive them. A key point of the new guidelines is that “the suppliers as a group were concerned with more than a specific list,” he said.

However, in additional new language at the beginning of paragraph 7, the guidelines say that “[s]uppliers recognize that the application of the Special Arrangements [on enrichment-related exports] below must be consistent with NPT principles, in particular Article IV. Any application by the suppliers of the following Special Arrangements may not abrogate the rights of States meeting the criteria in paragraph 6.”

Article IV of the NPT establishes an “inalienable right” of treaty parties to pursue peaceful nuclear programs.

The section on enrichment-related transfers requires that they be under so-called black box conditions that seek to prevent the technology from being replicated. There is a limited exception to allow cooperation on development of potential new enrichment technologies, but the restrictions would apply once the technology was commercialized.

As the U.S. official noted, black-box requirements are now a global industry standard and are being applied to two enrichment plants in the United States. He said “enshrin[ing]” industry practice in the NSG guidelines is “a very useful thing to do.”

Effect on India

In September 2008, the NSG made an exception for India from the group’s general requirement for so-called full-scope safeguards, the requirement that recipients of exports open all their nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection. In the run-up to the announcement on the revised guidelines on enrichment and reprocessing, a key question was whether India would be exempted from the new restrictions as well.

Even before the NSG or the United States announced the agreement on the new guidelines, the U.S. Department of State’s press office issued a statement saying that the Obama administration “fully supports” the “clean” NSG exception for India and “speedy implementation” of the U.S.-Indian civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which Congress approved in 2008. “Nothing about the new Enrichment and Reprocessing (ENR) transfer restrictions agreed to by NSG members should be construed as detracting from the unique impact and importance of the U.S.-India agreement or our commitment to full civil nuclear cooperation,” the statement said.

Indian officials and observers often use the term “clean waiver” to suggest that the 2008 NSG decision lifted all the restrictions that previously had been in place on nuclear exports to India. However, the June 23 State Department press release said, “Efforts in the NSG to strengthen controls on the transfers of ENR are consistent with long-standing U.S. policy that pre-dates the Civil Nuclear Agreement and have been reaffirmed on an annual basis by the [Group of Eight industrialized countries] for years.”

The U.S. official said that NSG members had begun discussing a list of criteria for enrichment- and reprocessing-related exports in 2004 and, by the end of the year, had agreed that NPT membership should be a criterion. The plans for U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation were announced in July 2005. (See ACT, September 2005.)

The official also noted that the text of the 2008 NSG decision exempts India only from the section of the NSG guidelines dealing with the requirement for full-scope safeguards and specifically says that “transfers of sensitive exports remain subject to paragraphs 6 and 7.”

In a June 30 interview, a European diplomat agreed that, under the guidelines, India could not receive enrichment and reprocessing technology. India’s Ministry of External Affairs and its embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.

Indian Membership

According to the NSG press statement, the members also “continued to consider all aspects of the implementation of the 2008 Statement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with India and discussed the NSG relationship with India.” Last November, President Barack Obama announced his support for Indian membership in the NSG and three other export control regimes. (See ACT, December 2010.)

India would be the first member of the NSG that is not a party to the NPT. A key criterion for membership in the group is that the country is a party to and complying with the NPT or a nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaty.

A confidential May 23 U.S.-drafted “Food for Thought” paper circulated to NSG members offers two options for bringing India into the group. One would be to revise the admission criteria “in a manner that would accurately describe India’s situation.” The other would be to “recognize” that the criteria, known as “Factors to Be Considered,” are not “mandatory criteria” and that a candidate for membership does not necessarily have to meet all of them.

At the Noordwijk meeting, the United States “did not ask anybody to take a decision,” the U.S. official said. There was “a good, solid discussion” with expressions of “views on both sides,” he said. According to the official, some delegates were “very concerned about the NPT issue.”

The United States invited additional comments, with a deadline of Sept. 1, he said. That would allow time to prepare for follow-up discussions on the sidelines of the IAEA general conference later that month and at the meeting of the NSG’s consultative group in October or November, he said.


Seven years after they started discussions on the issue and two and a half years after they formulated a “clean text,” the members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) last week agreed on revised guidelines for exports relating to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing.

Nigeria Clears Mined Areas

Farrah Zughni

Nigeria announced on June 20 that it had cleared all mined areas from its territory, making it the 17th country to declare itself mine free.

The announcement came at the four-day meeting of the Mine Ban Treaty standing committees in Geneva. The agreement forbids the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of victim-activated anti-personnel mines.

In a separate June 20 statement, Nigeria reported it had destroyed 820 anti-personnel mines, 325 anti-vehicle mines, and 17,516 other explosive hazards—many of which, according to the government, were deployed during its conflict with the state of Biafra during the 1960s.

Nigeria said it would submit a formal clearance declaration at the 11th meeting of states-parties to the convention, scheduled to be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.

Separately at the Geneva conference, its president, Albanian diplomat Gazmend Turdiu issued a June 17 statement saying, “The use of anti-personnel mines in Libya will have devastating effects on civilians, [will] obstruct economic development and reconstruction and will inhibit the repatriation of internally displaced persons.”

In a June 27 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Kerry Brinkert, the director of the convention’s implementation support unit, said Turdiu “was expressing deep concern about all reports of anti-personnel mine use in Libya—by government forces and others.”

Both pro-regime and rebel forces in Libya have been accused of deploying landmines in recent months. (See ACT, May 2011.) Libya has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty.


Nigeria announced on June 20 that it had cleared all mined areas from its territory, making it the 17th country to declare itself mine free.

Russia Endorses Plutonium Disposition Pact

Daniel Horner

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed into law three key documents on U.S.-Russian plutonium disposition, including a protocol that was one of the high-profile results of last year’s nuclear security summit in Washington.

Medvedev’s endorsement, announced June 7, followed action by the two chambers of Russia’s parliament in May, Russian media reported.

The original accord, which was signed in 2000, commits each side to the disposition of at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium taken from its defense program. The protocol allows Russia to use fast-neutron reactors for that effort. (See ACT, May 2010.) Medvedev’s June action covered those two documents and a 2006 protocol containing legal liability provisions for U.S.-Russian cooperation on the disposition program.

Since the signing of the protocol at the April 2010 summit, the two sides have been negotiating a document setting out milestones for progress in the Russian work that U.S. funds would support. (See ACT, March 2011.)

In a June 22 interview, a U.S. official said the question is how to “energize” those talks and that the formal Russian approvals might help do that.

He said there had been “good progress” on negotiating the agreement’s verification measures, which are to be carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In a letter to the agency last August, the two governments said they wanted to finish that work by the end of 2011.


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed into law three key documents on U.S.-Russian plutonium disposition, including a protocol that was one of the high-profile results of last year’s nuclear security summit in Washington.

Nuclear-Weapon States Meet in Paris

Daryl G. Kimball

Senior officials from the five original nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—reaffirmed their commitment to the 64-point action plan agreed at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and “called on all States Parties to the NPT to work together to advance its implementation,” according to a July 1 joint press statement at the end of a two-day meeting in Paris.

The meeting follows the five countries’ initial September 2009 session on confidence-building measures on disarmament.

The July 1 statement reported that they “continued their previous discussions on the issues of transparency and mutual confidence, including nuclear doctrine and capabilities, and of verification, recognizing such measures are important for establishing a firm foundation for further disarmament efforts.” They also said they would “continue working on an agreed glossary of definitions for key nuclear terms and established a dedicated working group.”

According to the statement, they “shared information on their respective bilateral and multilateral experiences in verification…[and] will continue their discussion of this issue later this year at an expert-level meeting in London.”

The joint statement calls for the “swift entry into force” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and its “universalization.” All five states have signed the treaty; the United States and China have not yet ratified it.

The countries reiterated their support for immediate commencement of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty. They pledged to “renew their efforts with other relevant partners to promote such negotiations.” Pakistan has blocked negotiations at the CD on the issue.

The statement said the group would meet for a third time in the context of the next NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in 2012.


Senior officials from the five original nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—reaffirmed their commitment to the 64-point action plan agreed at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference and “called on all States Parties to the NPT to work together to advance its implementation,” according to a July 1 joint press statement at the end of a two-day meeting in Paris.

Nuclear Policies Clash in Defense Bills

Tom Z. Collina

The Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill on June 16, setting up a tug-of-war over nuclear weapons policy with the Republican-led House of Representatives, which passed its version May 26. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ significantly on nuclear policy directives to the Obama administration, which has threatened to veto the House bill.

The White House on May 24 issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the House bill, objecting to sections that “impinge on the President’s authority to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.” In particular, the administration found that section 1055, which would limit the president’s ability to implement reductions under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, would “set onerous conditions” on the president’s ability to “retire, dismantle, or eliminate non-deployed nuclear weapons.” The conditions include the completion of new nuclear weapons production facilities, which is not expected until the mid-2020s. “The effect of this section would be to preclude dismantlement of weapons in excess of military needs,” the White House said.

The Senate committee bill would require the secretary of defense to submit reports on the “military effectiveness” of U.S. nuclear delivery systems and on the number of nuclear weapons in the “deployed and non-deployed stockpiles, including each category of non-deployed weapons.”

However, the bill would not set conditions for nuclear arsenal reductions.

No date has been set for the full Senate to vote on the bill. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has said he may offer amendments to the bill that would mirror the House language more closely. To become law, the House and Senate defense authorization bills must be reconciled, and the resulting legislation must be passed by both chambers and signed by the president.


The Democratic-led Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill on June 16, setting up a tug-of-war over nuclear weapons policy with the Republican-led House of Representatives, which passed its version May 26.

Russia Below Some New START Limits

Tom Z. Collina

Russia already has met most of its arsenal reduction obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the United States, according to data exchanged by the two countries and disclosed June 1 by the U.S. Department of State.

In the first nuclear stockpile data exchange under the accord, Moscow reported that it was below the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles and close to the 800 limit on launchers, as of the treaty’s entry into force Feb. 5.

The data exchange, which, under the terms of the treaty, had to take place within 45 days of New START’s entry into force, indicates that Russia had 1,537 deployed strategic warheads, 521 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 865 launchers. The United States had 1,800 deployed strategic warheads, 882 deployed strategic delivery vehicles, and 1,124 launchers. Both countries have seven years to meet the treaty’s targets. The data are to be updated every six months.

The new data are consistent with statements that Obama administration officials made during last year’s Senate debate on the treaty. “I would point out that while [Russia’s] strategic nuclear delivery vehicles are under the current levels of the treaty, the number of warheads is actually above the levels. So they will be reducing the number of warheads,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 18, 2010, in response to a question from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Russia presumably reduced its warhead levels after Gates’ statement, although actual arsenal holdings for 2010 are classified.

According to Congressional Research Service estimates based on public information, in 2010, Russia had more than 2,700 warheads deployed on 620 delivery vehicles. About 850 of these warheads were in storage for use on 77 heavy bombers. Under New START rules, these warheads are not directly counted because they are not deployed. Instead, each bomber is counted as one warhead. Thus, these 850 warheads would now be counted as 77 warheads under New START. That helps explain how quickly Russia reduced its forces on paper, although Moscow still had to remove from deployment about 100 delivery systems and a few hundred warheads loaded on long-range missiles, such as the SS-18, each of which has 10 warheads.

The number of Russian delivery vehicles already was low, experts say, because Moscow was in the process of retiring older strategic missiles while the treaty was under negotiation. Russia is expected to build new strategic forces over the next decade. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told reporters in March that “the armed forces will receive new strategic and tactical missile systems, such as RS-24 Yars, Bulava and Iskander M.” Putin said that “starting from 2013, the production of [ballistic] missile systems must be doubled.”

Current U.S. strategic delivery systems, by comparison, will stay in service for decades and are in the process of being modernized. For example, current plans call for spending $125 billion over the next decade on new strategic submarines and maintaining the Trident D-5 submarine-launched missile, a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the current Minuteman III, new long-range nuclear-capable bombers, and a “long-range standoff” missile to replace the current air-launched cruise missile.

Critics of New START seized on the new data to reiterate one of their main arguments from the Senate debate: Although the treaty imposes the same ceilings on both sides, Russia is much less affected by them because it already was planning to reduce its arsenal. In a June 6 Senate floor speech, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who led the Republican opposition to the treaty, argued that “the New START treaty is perhaps the first bilateral treaty that resulted in U.S. unilateral reductions in nuclear forces.” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, wrote on his Web site June 17 that New START “handed the Russians deep reductions in our nuclear capabilities in return for essentially nothing.”


The first data exchange on nuclear forces under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty shows that Russia has already made most of the required arsenal reductions.

Missile Defense Cooperation Stalls

Tom Z. Collina

In what might have been the last chance to reach agreement before upcoming national elections in each country, Russia and the United States were unable to strike a deal on missile defense cooperation when their defense ministers met June 8-9 in Brussels. “I think the Russians have a long history of hostility and wariness about missile defense, and so I think we just have to keep working at it,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters at NATO headquarters June 9. The two sides are not expected to meet again on missile defense cooperation until the next NATO summit, in May 2012.

In an unsuccessful attempt to iron out their differences before the defense ministers meeting, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev met May 26 on the sidelines of the summit in Deauville, France, of the Group of Eight industrialized countries. After the meeting, Medvedev told reporters that missile defense “will be finally solved in the future, like, for example, in the year 2020, but we, at present, might lay the foundation for other politicians’ activities.”

Russian officials had been ratcheting up the pressure on missile defense in advance of the Brussels meeting. In a May 18 press conference, Medvedev said, “If missile defense systems are to be developed—which would mean the disruption of strategic parity—the treaty could be suspended or even terminated.” He was referring to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which took effect in February. “We are ready to cooperate, and at the same time, we hope that we get assurances that these capabilities are not directed at us,” he said.

At issue are U.S. plans to deploy hundreds of increasingly capable missile interceptors by 2020 at sea and on land as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which NATO agreed to last November to counter the missile threat seen to be emerging from Iran. Russia, for its part, agreed to work with NATO to seek areas of cooperation, such as sharing information on third-party missile launches and joint exercises. The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information on potential Iranian missile launches toward Europe or the United States.

Ultimately, the missile defense cooperation effort stalled, officials said, because the United States and NATO could not convince Moscow that the interceptor system would not undermine Russian security—that is, that NATO would not use the system to intercept Russian strategic nuclear forces. “I still think there are those in Russia who are skeptical of our motives,” Gates said at the Brussels press briefing. Obama’s top adviser on Russia, Michael McFaul, explained the problem by saying, “They don’t believe us.”

Russia will hold parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next March. The U.S. elections will follow in November 2012. Missile defense is a potent political issue in both countries.

Russia: Do Not Target Us

To gain assurances that the NATO system is not a threat, Russia first proposed a “joint” system in which both sides would have control over any decision to launch interceptor missiles. NATO rejected this plan months ago. “We cannot outsource our collective defense obligations to non-NATO members,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said June 15 in London at a conference on missile defense at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Moscow then shifted gears and asked for legally binding guarantees that NATO would not aim its interceptors at Russia’s strategic missiles. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told The New York Times May 22, “We do not want any missiles aimed at Russia” and repeated Moscow’s request for “some kind of written guarantees from NATO that the missiles will not threaten Russia.”

NATO formally rejected Russia’s proposal. In June 15 remarks at the RUSI conference, Rasmussen said, “Russia says it wants guarantees. We can give these by agreeing that our systems will not undermine the strategic balance, that they will strengthen each other’s security and not weaken it. But I remain convinced that the best guarantee for Russia is to be part of the process.”

What Russia Wants

The Kremlin appears deeply concerned about the European missile interceptor plan, which envisages more than 500 missile interceptors based on more than 40 ships and two European land bases, in Poland and Romania, and a radar based in southeastern Europe, by the end of this decade.

Russian demands, at first vague, have become more specific over time. In addition to legal guarantees, Moscow’s NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, wrote in The New York Times June 7 that Moscow wants “a common perimeter of missile defense with all ballistic-missile defense capabilities pointed outside the Euro-Atlantic region. It should be geared primarily for areas that could pose threats, and these in reality can only emanate from the south.” In other words, in Russia’s view, there is no justification for interceptors pointed east at Russian territory and, in particular, no need for an interceptor site in Poland, which NATO plans to deploy in 2018.

Russia also reportedly wants an agreement on the total number of missile interceptors that NATO would deploy, as well as on their speed and their deployment locations. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said NATO missile interceptors should have a speed limit that would not allow them to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the Kommersant newspaper reported June 6. “That is why the speed of interceptor missiles should be limited, say to 3.5 kilometers per second,” he said. Additionally, there should be a cap on the quantity of missile interceptors deployed, he told Ekho Moskvy radio. “There should be not 1,000, but 100, 200, or 300 of them, so that they cannot intercept all ICBMs.”

The currently deployed Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA interceptors have a maximum speed of about 3 kilometers per second. The next generations, the SM-3 IIA and IIB, are expected to have maximum speeds of 4.5 kilometers per second or faster. Russia is worried that if the SM-3 IIB is fast enough, it could intercept Russian ICBMs.

“The Russian bear sits in its lair, and the NATO huntsman comes over to his house and asks him to come hunt the rabbit…. Why do your rifles have the caliber to hunt the bear, not the rabbit?” Rogozin said June 15 at the RUSI conference, according to Reuters.

U.S. officials say Moscow has nothing to fear because the NATO system could not handle Russia’s fast and vast arsenal. “If we tried to go in that direction it would not work, it would bankrupt us,” James Miller, U.S. principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told a RUSI panel June 15, Reuters reported.

Moscow also is concerned about where the interceptors are deployed. Russia on June 12 objected to the USS Monterey’s presence in the Black Sea. The Monterey, armed with SM-3 IA missiles, is the first component to be fielded of the Obama administration’s phased approach to European missile defense. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against “the appearance of elements of U.S. strategic infrastructure in the immediate proximity to our borders.”

Meanwhile, Russia has obtained China’s support to condemn NATO’s missile defense plan, Reuters reported June 15. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which encompasses China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, issued a statement that “the unilateral and unlimited growth of missile defense systems by any state or a group of states can cause damage to strategic stability and international security.”

Questions About Prospects

Russian officials are most concerned about the SM-3 IIB, which, U.S. officials point out, does not yet exist and would not be deployed until 2020, four years after Obama leaves office, assuming he serves two terms. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has issued contracts to three companies—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon—to explore concepts for this missile. Because the system is in the early phases of its development, the schedule could slip, or the program could be scrapped by the next administration.

A Defense Science Board task force is reviewing the mission of the SM-3 IIB. The interceptor is supposed to have what U.S. officials refer to as a “limited” capability against ICBMs, which means that it is effective against long-range missiles only in their ascent phase, known as early intercept, before the warhead separates from the missile. After that, the SM-3 IIB might not be fast enough to “catch” the warhead and might not be able to distinguish a real warhead from decoys. Critics say one of the SM-3’s greatest weaknesses is its inability to distinguish real warheads from decoys after their separation from the missile.

A version of the report has already surfaced on Capitol Hill, and its “unclassified conclusion is that MDA’s plans to achieve an early-intercept capability as part of the Phased Adaptive Approach [are] simply not credible,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said during a June 15 hearing of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. In response, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen said he had “confidence that we can continue to pursue that path” of the SM-3 IIB, even though “the missile you’re talking about I know doesn’t exist yet.”

In April, a group of 39 Republican senators wrote to Obama asking for his written assurance that he would not provide any “early warning, detection, [or] tracking” information to Russia. That is the type of information Obama had been proposing to exchange. The senators wrote that “any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies…would constitute a failure of leadership.” The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 would prohibit the transfer of such missile defense data to Russia. The Senate version of the bill would allow it.


Russia and the United States were unable to strike a deal on missile defense cooperation during a June 8-9 meeting in Brussels. The effort stalled, officials said, because Russia remains wary that the European interceptor system will undermine its security.

U.S. Navy Turns Back North Korean Ship

Peter Crail

A North Korean cargo ship suspected of violating UN sanctions turned back to North Korea after a U.S. naval vessel confronted it in late May, U.S. officials said in June.

The New York Times reported June 12 that the United States suspected the ship was carrying short-range missiles to Myanmar (Burma), adding to long-standing concerns about military cooperation between the two Asian countries that may include North Korean aid to a possible illicit Myanmar nuclear program. (See ACT, July/August 2010.)

Two sets of UN sanctions prohibit North Korea from exporting any nuclear- or missile-related goods or technology. Pyongyang has a long history of selling ballistic missiles and ballistic missile technology to earn hard currency, which the isolated Communist regime finds difficult to obtain.

U.S. officials said that they sought cooperation from countries in the region to prevent the cargo ship M/V Light from reaching its destination and that a U.S. warship intercepted it in late May in the South China Sea to request an inspection. After repeatedly refusing requests to board, the Light turned back toward North Korea just prior to entering the Strait of Malacca, a 500 mile-wide waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia that serves as one of the world’s major sea lanes.

“Since we had alerted the Singaporean and Malaysian authorities, there might have been concern [in Pyongyang] whether it could pass through the straits without action by either of those countries,” White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore told The Wall Street Journal June 14. Samore said North Korea claimed the shipment contained industrial chemicals bound for Bangladesh.

The United States was granted authorization to inspect the Light by Belize, where the ship is registered.

Belize allows its flag to be used as a “flag of convenience,” which means that a ship with a non-Belizean owner is registered in Belize and flies its flag. Such flags of convenience are often abused by smugglers seeking to obscure the ownership of a vessel, but the flag state maintains jurisdiction over the ship and can authorize boarding by a third party.

Belize signed a ship-boarding agreement with the United States under the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative in 2005. That agreement establishes a procedure for boarding ships suspected of trafficking in nonconventional weapons and related materials, including on the high seas.

UN Security Council Resolution 1874, adopted by the council in June 2009 in response to a second North Korean nuclear test, also calls on states to inspect vessels suspected of violating sanctions against North Korea on the high seas, with the consent of the flag state. After that resolution was adopted, diplomats told Arms Control Today that, in spite of the resolution’s language allowing high-seas interdiction, Washington was likely to rely primarily on cooperation from states in the region to carry out inspections rather than engage in forcible boarding. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

Choosing to board the Light may have carried some risks, given the uncertainty regarding the vessel’s actual cargo. U.S. officials said that although they did not know for certain the contents aboard the ship, the behavior of its crew substantiated U.S. suspicions about its intentions.

Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters June 13 that “the ship’s master refusing us permission to board it, as well as the fact that it turned and headed back to North Korea,” validated concerns that the ship was involved in illegal activity.

In several ways, the incident echoes a June 2009 interception of a North Korean vessel by a U.S. warship. Washington suspected that the cargo vessel Kang Nam was carrying conventional armaments bound for Myanmar in contravention of UN sanctions. At that time, the destroyer USS John McCain shadowed the North Korean-flagged ship, which eventually turned back to North Korea.

According to a recent unreleased report, obtained by Arms Control Today, by a UN panel overseeing sanctions against North Korea, Pyongyang rarely uses ships such as the Light and Kang Nam as part of its illicit trafficking operations.

In the report, the UN panel said that North Korea “relies only to a very limited extent on its own vessels to deliver illicit shipments to a recipient country,” generally doing so only when the route is short enough to avoid port calls where the shipment risks inspection and seizure.

The report also said that only a fraction of North Korean cargo vessels sailed under a foreign flag, which suggests that Pyongyang views the use of its own flag as “the best available protection against boarding on the high seas.” North Korea has relied instead on foreign-owned ships, as well as air transport, to smuggle goods, employing a range of masking techniques to circumvent UN sanctions, the report said.

Myanmar has pledged to honor its obligations under the UN sanctions against North Korea. Myanmar Vice President Thiha Thura U Tin Aung Myint Oo also told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) during the senator’s June 1-3 visit to the country that Myanmar “does not have the economic strength” to pursue nuclear weapons, the country’s state-run media reported June 3.

The vessel that trailed the Kang Nam was named after McCain’s father and grandfather.


A North Korean ship suspected of carrying missile technology to Myanmar turned back to North Korea after being confronted by a U.S. naval vessel, part of a U.S. effort that involved coordination with countries in the region.

Iran Launches Second Satellite

Peter Crail

Iran successfully placed a satellite in orbit June 15, demonstrating increasing proficiency with rocket technology that could also be used in its ballistic missile programs. The move, which marks Tehran’s second successful satellite launch, appears to violate UN sanctions prohibiting Iran from taking any actions related to ballistic missiles.

Iran launched the satellite aboard a two-stage rocket called the Safir-1B, a variant of the Safir-2 system Iran used in February 2009 for its first successful launch. Tehran failed in its first launch attempt, in August 2008. Before that, Iran relied on Russia to place its satellites in orbit. Moscow announced last July that it would no longer launch Iranian satellites.

Iran’s official Press TV announced June 16 that the Safir had placed in orbit an imaging satellite named Rasad (“Observation” in Farsi), which is intended to circle the earth 15 times a day for two months. The Rasad will be used for topography missions and high-resolution mapping, Iran’s official Tehran Times newspaper said June 18.

Technical experts said that although Iran did not demonstrate any significant advances in its rocket capabilities with the second successful launch of the Safir, the reuse of the system shows that Iran pursues its rocket and missile development in a methodical and sophisticated way. “I am impressed that they have launched a second satellite with the same vehicle,” former UN weapons inspector Geoffrey Forden said in a June 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today. “This is what a systematic missile development program would do,” he added.

Uzi Rubin, former head of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, also noted in a June 21 e-mail that the 29-month span between Iran’s first and second successful launches “is relatively brief, indicating that the Iranians are pouring money into the program.” Iran has announced that it intends to carry out additional satellite launches over the next year and is planning its first manned space flight in 2019.

Iran’s ambitious space program does appear to have met with delays. In March 2010, Iranian officials said the Rasad would be launched in August 2010, later moving the launch to Feb. 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, before finally carrying it out last month.

The Safir launch appears to be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted in June 2010, which bars Iran from carrying out “any activity” related to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, “including launches using ballistic missile technology.” Many of the technologies used in space launch vehicles are also important for ballistic missiles. A 2009 U.S. Air Force intelligence assessment of ballistic and cruise missile threats said that the Safir could be used as a test bed for ballistic missile technologies.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today June 24 that the United States intends to bring the violation to the attention of the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee.

Still, the technical experts noted that the Safir is designed as a space launch vehicle rather than a military system, with a lightweight frame and a slow rate of acceleration, and would need to undergo extensive modifications to be used as a missile.

The Safir also is designed to carry only a small payload. The Rasad weighed just slightly more than 15 kilograms, while Iran’s first satellite weighed about twice as much. Nuclear-capable missiles are generally assumed to be able to carry a payload of at least 500 kilograms.

Michael Elleman, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain and a former UN weapons inspector, said in a June 19 interview that if the Safir were modified to be used as a ballistic missile, it could potentially carry a 700- to 800-kilogram warhead between 2,000 and 2,400 kilometers. Although such a system would be able to reach possible targets in the region, including Israel, Iran has already successfully tested more capable ballistic missiles that can achieve such ranges.

The 2009 Air Force intelligence assessment said that the Safir could potentially be converted to a missile with a range of more than 3,000 kilometers, but it is unclear what the payload of such a system might be.

Last February, Iran unveiled a larger and more capable space launch vehicle named the Simorgh (“Phoenix” in Farsi), which Iranian officials said was designed to launch heavier satellites and would see its first flight in February 2011.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Armed Services Committee March 10 that the Simorgh design “could be used for an ICBM-class vehicle,” referring to intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The technical experts pointed out that Iran unveiled only a mock-up of the system, which may not be ready to launch for some time. “It was very obvious to me at the time that its first flight was still years away,” Rubin said.

Elleman said a number of additional factors could have contributed to delays in the scheduled launch of the Simorgh, including preparations for satellites the Simorgh is designed to carry and the construction of a launch facility appropriate for the system. “It would be quite difficult to launch the Simorgh from existing pads,” he said.

The Simorgh is similar in design to a North Korean rocket launched in May 2009, called the Unha-2, and both systems use a cluster of four North Korean Nodong missiles in their first-stage boosters. (See ACT, June 2009.)

In addition to its satellite launch, Iran appears to be continuing to test its ballistic missiles, although in a far less public manner than it has previously. According to a UN report assessing sanctions against Iran, Tehran carried out two unannounced tests of one of its most advanced missiles, the two-stage, solid-fuel Sajjil-2, in October 2010 and last January. (See ACT, June 2011.) The report, which has yet to be released and was written by a panel of experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the panel was informed by another country of the unannounced Sajjil-2 tests.

Iran’s silence regarding the tests contrasts with its previous practice, when it actively publicized its missile tests, often including video footage and press briefings by senior officials.

The experts said the reasons behind such a shift were unclear. Rubin suggested that the UN prohibitions imposed last June were not likely a key consideration behind the change in behavior. “It would be more characteristic of them to flaunt the tests in the face of the [resolution] than hiding them,” he said.

He noted that one factor may be current disagreements between the United States and Russia regarding the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, aimed primarily at defending against Iranian missiles. Moscow has argued that the missile defense plans are unnecessary and that Iranian missiles do not pose a threat to Europe. Because the Sajjil-2 places parts of Europe within range, testing such systems “would throw a monkey wrench into the Russians’ logic and make them look a bit ridiculous,” he said.

Iran’s ambassador to Romania, Aminian Jazi, recently denied that his country’s missiles were a threat to Europe, claiming that they were purely defensive in nature. Agence France-Presse reported June 20 that Jazi told a Romanian news Web site, “We believe the anti-missile shield is not aimed at us” but rather at Russia.

A June 20 Romanian Foreign Ministry press release said that Jazi had been summoned to explain his remarks, which Bucharest said “are not constructive.”


Iran carried out its second successful satellite launch, demonstrating greater experience with rocket technologies that also could benefit its missile programs.

Iran to Boost 20%-Enriched Uranium Output

Peter Crail

Iran will triple its production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a senior Iranian official announced June 8, a move Western countries called a provocation.

Tehran also said that it would move the production from an above-ground pilot plant at its Natanz complex to an underground facility that was first publicly disclosed by Western leaders in 2009. (See ACT, October 2009.)

Announcing the enrichment plans during a press briefing in Tehran, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) head Fereydoun Abbasi, said “This year, we will transfer 20 percent enrichment from Natanz to the Fordow plant under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and will triple its (production) capacity,” Iran’s official Fars news agency reported the following day. The leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States publicly revealed the existence of the Fordow plant in September 2009, accusing Iran of keeping it hidden from the IAEA.

The United States and other Western countries questioned the motivations behind Iran’s recent announcement. “Apart from what appears now to be a clear intent to produce more 20 percent-enriched uranium than Iran needs to make fuel for its one and only research reactor, it also represents another chapter in the changing Iranian narrative regarding why this underground facility [Fordow] was built,” U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies told the agency’s governing board June 9.

Uranium can be enriched to low levels of the isotope uranium-235 as fuel for nuclear reactors or to weapons-grade levels, generally 90 percent and higher, for nuclear weapons. Although 20 percent-enriched uranium is not weapons grade, such material can be further enriched to weapons-grade levels relatively quickly.

Former IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee June 23 that 20 percent enrichment places Iran closer to producing material for weapons “in terms of the necessary technology mastered as well as the time needed to convert the [uranium] to bomb-grade material.”

Iranian officials said the planned threefold increase in production will be accomplished by using a new generation of gas centrifuges that it has been developing for several years. Abbasi said that the new centrifuges, which enrich uranium about three times faster than the machines Iran currently uses, will be installed at the Fordow plant “soon.”

Iran has yet to begin testing its “second generation” centrifuges in full-scale cascades, linking 164 machines together to enrich uranium. Iran initially informed the IAEA in January that it intended to begin such testing, and a diplomatic source said that, according to a June 2 IAEA technical briefing, Iran had begun installing the advanced centrifuges for testing at Natanz.

Mark Fitzpatrick, former deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, said in a June 24 e-mail that because Iran has been testing smaller batches of advanced centrifuges, “it would not be surprising” if Iran installed full cascades for enrichment to 20 percent. “But Iran probably still lacks a self-sufficiency in all the parts that would enable it to install advanced centrifuges in large numbers,” he said.

Iran began producing 20 percent-enriched uranium at the Natanz pilot plant in February 2010, saying that it needed to do so to make fuel for a research reactor in Tehran that runs on uranium enriched to that level. (See ACT, March 2010.) The move followed a breakdown in talks among Iran, France, Russia, the United States, and the IAEA on a tentative agreement to ship out the majority of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) in return for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. That reactor, supplied by the United States in the 1950s, produces medical isotopes for hospitals.

A commercial-scale plant at Natanz produces LEU enriched to about 4 percent, the level generally used in nuclear power reactors.

The May IAEA report said that, as of that month, Iran produced a total of about 57 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Iran says it wants to produce 120 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium for the Tehran reactor, which is believed to have almost exhausted its supply of fuel.

Iranian Permanent Representative to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh told China’s official Xinhua news agency June 13 that “we have to speed up” the production of 20 percent-enriched uranium “because [the] Tehran research reactor is in desperate need [of] fuel.”

The rate at which Iran produces 20 percent-enriched uranium, however, does not appear to be the main time constraint for refueling the reactor. Iran is not believed to be able to manufacture fuel plates for the reactor safely. Heinonen said last November that it would likely take Iran one to two years to do so. (See ACT, March 2011.)

Abbasi said in April, however, that Iran would build an additional four or five research reactors similar to the one in Tehran to increase its production of medical isotopes, requiring more 20 percent-enriched uranium than the 120 kilograms intended for the existing reactor. Iran has so far rebuffed IAEA requests for additional information on such plans, telling the agency in a May 3 letter that it would do so “in due time,” the May IAEA report said.

In his e-mail, Fitzpatrick dismissed Iran’s rationale for increasing its producing of 20 percent material. “The flimsy excuse that more 20 percent enriched uranium is needed for additional research reactors, to be built some time in the future, does not pass the laugh test,” he said. Instead, he suggested, Iran’s goal is to get closer to a capability to make material for weapons.


Iran announced that it would triple its production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, increasing concerns that it is trying to get closer to producing material that can be used for nuclear weapons.


Subscribe to RSS - July/August 2011