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

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
July/August 2011
Edition Date: 
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Cover Image: 

IAEA Sends Syria Nuclear Case to UN

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 9 referred Syria to the UN Security Council for violating its safeguards obligations, following a three-year investigation into that country’s alleged secret nuclear activities.

Western governments said the agency’s move was important to maintain the integrity of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, but the vote divided the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors, with several states calling into question the agency’s grounds for sending the issue to the United Nations.

The board referred Syria’s case to the UN in a 17-6 vote following a May 24 IAEA report concluding that a facility that Damascus had been constructing “was very likely a nuclear reactor.” Israel destroyed the facility, located at a site called Dair al Zour, in a September 2007 air strike. (See ACT, October 2007.)

The June 9 board resolution found Syria in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations for failing to declare the alleged reactor to the agency and for not providing the IAEA with design information for the facility prior to construction. U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA Glyn Davies said during a press briefing following the board vote that Syria’s action “represents one of the most serious safeguards violations possible.” Washington accuses Syria of building the suspected reactor to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2008.)

China and Russia voted against the resolution. Both countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council and can block any attempted council action against Syria. Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Pakistan, and Venezuela also opposed the measure.

In a statement before the vote, Russia said that although Syria might have engaged in some wrongdoing, the issue was not one that the council needed to address.

“The site at Dair al Zour no longer exists and therefore poses no threat to international peace and security,” the statement said. The resolution’s preamble says that Syria’s actions “have given rise to concerns regarding international peace and security,” language consistent with the Security Council’s responsibilities under the UN Charter.

Although the resolution received the simple majority needed to pass, 11 board members abstained, leaving the resolution with approval from roughly half of the board. One country, Mongolia, was absent for the vote.

The abstentions included three countries currently holding rotating seats on the Security Council: Brazil, India, and South Africa.

Diplomats from countries that abstained said last month that their governments did not believe that the case for referral was strong enough. They noted that the IAEA assessment concluding that the Dair al Zour facility “was very likely” a reactor was not definitive. “The legal basis was fragile,” one diplomat told Arms Control Today by e-mail June 24.

The diplomat also issued a judgment similar to Russia’s, saying that “if there ever was a threat, it was destroyed by the Israelis.”

IAEA’s ‘Best Assessment’

In his opening statement during the board’s June 6-10 meeting, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said, “[T]his is the best assessment of the agency, based on all the information in its possession.” Although diplomats from abstaining countries did not directly dispute the IAEA technical findings on the alleged Syrian reactor, they raised concerns about the agency’s reliance on intelligence information from other countries.

The United States has been a key source of information on the Dair al Zour facility. It first briefed the IAEA on the matter in April 2008, leading to the agency’s investigation.

Former U.S. and IAEA officials said that the board’s decision to act on the agency’s “best assessment” rather than definitive proof of noncompliance was new territory for the IAEA.

Mark Fitzpatrick, former deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, said in a June 24 e-mail that the IAEA’s “willingness and ability to draw reasonable conclusions in the Dair al Zour case despite Syria’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation set an important precedent.”

In a separate June 24 e-mail, former IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Bruno Pellaud said that the decision is “a new tool for the IAEA,” but cautioned that it was not as strong as a referral based on a clear noncompliance determination.

Such a precedent may have implications for the IAEA investigation into Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. The United States has asked the IAEA to make a determination regarding Iran’s suspected work related to development of a nuclear warhead even though Iran has not cooperated with the agency’s investigation into those suspicions.

“We reiterate the urgent need for the Director General to provide to the Board as soon as possible his best assessment of the information related to possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program,” Davies said in a June 9 statement to the board.

Special Inspection Unlikely

Diplomatic sources and former officials said that the IAEA board’s decision to refer Syria’s case to the UN made it unlikely the agency would call for a special inspection to require greater access to sites and information from Damascus.

IAEA safeguards agreements allow the agency to conduct a special inspection if the existing inspection mechanism “is not adequate for the agency to fulfill its responsibilities under the agreement.” Amano has consistently said in his reports to the board that Syria has not provided sufficient cooperation for the agency to carry out its work.

Amano also said in his opening statement that “it is deeply regrettable that the facility was destroyed” rather than being reported to the agency.

The United States had previously said that the IAEA needed to consider calling for a special inspection in Syria. (See ACT, October 2010.) Former IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards Olli Heinonen, who led the agency’s investigation in Syria until last August, also has argued that the agency should make use of this authority.

“It would have been a logical step,” he said in a June 27 interview, adding, “In my view, the case would have been clearer, if the [IAEA] Secretariat would have used all authorities at its disposal.”

Heinonen told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 23, “The special inspection option should still be pursued, or the UN Security Council could also choose to provide wider authorities to the IAEA.”

Pellaud said that “a refusal of a special inspection [by Syria] would have lent much more substance to the referral.”

The special inspection provision has been used only twice: in Romania in 1992 at the Romanian government’s request, and in North Korea in 1993. Pyongyang rejected the inspection, touching off an international crisis leading to a nuclear freeze agreement with the United States a year later.

In an apparent response to the IAEA’s judgment that the Dair al Zour facility was very likely a nuclear reactor, Damascus sent a letter to Amano pledging to work with the agency to resolve the issue. According to diplomats familiar with the letter, sent two days after Amano’s May 24 report, Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission said that it was “ready to fully cooperate” with the IAEA but did not offer any details of what new information or access Damascus would provide to inspectors.

A senior Western official said during a June 3 background briefing that, on the issue of Syria’s sincerity in providing such cooperation, “the proof came yesterday” during a June 2 technical briefing by the IAEA Secretariat. When the IAEA made its case for why it had concluded the Dair al Zour facility was likely a reactor, Syria simply challenged the IAEA assessment rather than offering evidence to back its own claims, the official said.

Syria Already in UN Spotlight

The board decision to refer Syria’s nuclear file to the UN came at the same time that European governments are seeking to place pressure on Damascus for its crackdown against political protests. The day before the IAEA action, France, Germany, Portugal, and the United Kingdom circulated a draft resolution with the Security Council condemning Syria for human rights abuses. Facing veto threats from China and Russia, the sponsors pulled the resolution from consideration, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé told the French National Assembly June 14.

Some IAEA board members were wary of taking action in that political context. A Russian diplomatic source called the IAEA resolution “untimely.”

The senior Western official said June 3 that other members of the board raised concerns that a referral might inflame the political situation in Syria, a prospect the official said was unlikely. “I don’t see a link directly between this [nuclear] issue” and political developments in Syria, he said, arguing that the IAEA has a responsibility to address Syria’s nuclear program irrespective of events in the country.


The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors referred Syria’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council in a divided June 9 vote. The board action came after the agency determined Syria "was very likely" building a nuclear reactor.

1991 Arms Trade Control Efforts and Their Echoes

Edward J. Laurance

Two decades ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait, using weapons provided by the major arms-supplying states. In the wake of the resulting Persian Gulf War, the international community sought to tighten controls on the conventional arms trade to prevent similar misuses of the weapons. Today, as Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi uses military equipment acquired from a host of arms-exporting states to kill thousands of Libyan citizens who were rebelling against his authoritarian and repressive rule, the 1991 efforts and their mixed results deserve renewed attention.

On August 2, 1990, a well-equipped Iraqi army invaded Kuwait and in two days declared it the 19th province of Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s forces were able to do this thanks to the arms they had imported from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, or P5—as well as Germany and other states. In both words and actions, the international community quickly realized that the arms exports had led directly to conflict. The ensuing Persian Gulf War cost more than $70 billion to wage, albeit with minimal military casualties, and resulted in a global economic upheaval costing billions more.

Postwar Measures

After the war, there was an outpouring of proposals from all quarters, and many efforts were made to control and restrain the arms trade. This article reviews four of them, with an eye to how the lessons learned may guide efforts undertaken in response to the recent developments in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The P5 Mea Culpa: Pursuing a Global Mechanism. The first concrete response came from the United States when it announced its Middle East Arms Control Initiative on May 29, 1991.[1] Declaring arms proliferation a global problem, it called on the P5 to meet at senior levels in the near future to discuss the establishment of guidelines for transfers of conventional arms. Suppliers would commit to “observe a general code of responsible arms transfers, avoid destabilizing arms transfers, and establish effective domestic export controls on the end-use of arms or other items to be transferred.”

The most revolutionary aspect of this initiative was the call for consultations among suppliers. These talks were to include notifying one another in advance of certain arms sales, meeting regularly and on an ad hoc basis if a “supplier believed guidelines were not being observed.” The mechanism also called for an annual report on transfers.

The P5 met in Paris in July and London in October 1991. In a communiqué issued after the London meeting, the states committed themselves to a set of “Guidelines for Conventional Arms Transfers” that they would “consider carefully” and a set of negative outcomes from arms transfers that they would seek to “avoid.”

These negative outcomes did not specifically include the recipient’s use of the imported arms to violate the human rights of its citizens. Also, there was no mention of a consultation process.[2] It was later revealed that there was serious disagreement in the P5 about the use of prior notification, as well as whether the guidelines would apply globally or just to the Middle East.[3] There were two additional meetings in 1992, but the issues were not resolved, and the P5 process ceased at that point.

(Almost) Dead on Arrival: The UN Register.[4] The only truly global effort to survive was the UN Register of Conventional Arms. The idea of an arms register had been percolating in the United Nations since 1988 as well as during the P5 talks discussed above. It became the fallback position for a failed P5 effort and in fact may have contributed significantly to the failure of that initiative.

The register was designed as a cooperative security measure that would prevent “excessive and destabilizing arms buildups pos[ing] a threat to national, regional and international peace and security, particularly by aggravating tensions and conflict situations.”[5] It was to do so by having states voluntarily submit an annual report on the import and export of major conventional weapons—tanks, fighter aircraft, etc.—that had been delivered in the previous calendar year. The framers of the register were able to get agreement from states to develop a form for submitting data on exports and imports but not on military holdings and procurement through national production. For the data on holdings and domestic procurement, they settled for states submitting this information as “background information,” seen by all as a lesser requirement.

In retrospect, indications that the register would never reach its potential surfaced immediately, during the deliberations to create the forms and procedures for states to submit data. A watered-down version survived, but even by that date, a majority of the members of the UN panel of experts charged with developing the register made it clear that the register had been approved under very unusual circumstances and that if it were up for a vote in the General Assembly now (June 1992), it would not pass.[6]

Today it is clear that the register had not accomplished any of its goals. Although it has resulted in increased transparency, it has not restrained or controlled the arms trade as some of its backers once hoped. The reasons are clear and provide the main explanation for the decline in participation in the register and the failure of a global mechanism to emerge. They also serve as a guide to future efforts to prevent and control the negative consequences of arms exports.

• The original resolution establishing the register pushed to a later time all of the critical elements that would have made it a truly global instrument for restraint and control. These included adding data in the annual reports on national production and military holdings. Export and import data alone cannot provide any meaningful measure as to whether transfers result in an “excessive and destabilizing” arms buildup. None of these enhancements to the register ever occurred.[7]

• The enabling resolution assigned the difficult question of defining “excessive and destabilizing” to the Conference on Disarmament. After two years of discussion, that body could not agree on a practical definition of the concept.

• The register could not overcome the view of many states that transparency runs counter to the most effective means of defending themselves: secrecy.

• The hoped-for consultative mechanism was never seriously considered.

The establishment of the register was aided by the ending of the Cold War, as Russia almost disappeared as an arms exporter, and with it a major rationale for the conventional arms trade. However, the end of the Cold War also produced an environment that made the register increasingly irrelevant, given that most armed conflicts were intrastate and employed a different class of weapon—small arms and light weapons. This combination of factors has resulted in a gradual decline in the motivation of states to participate in and further develop the register.

NormBuilding in a Suppliers Club: The Wassenaar Arrangement. The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies was formalized in 1995. It is a suppliers club whose members agree to prevent, through their national export control policies, the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. It is not a global mechanism because it includes only exporters, not importers, of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies. Its members’ dealings are not transparent, and it relies on national arms export decisions. Yet, it does contain some of the features missing in the UN Register, such as a forum whereby states can raise questions about dangerous arms buildups and thereby prevent armed conflict.

The Wassenaar Arrangement did contribute to setting global norms. Since its inception, it has approved “Best Practice Guidelines for Exports of Small Arms and Light Weapons,” “Elements for Export Controls of Man-Portable Air Defence Systems [MANPADS],” and “Elements for Objective Analysis and Advice Concerning Potentially Destabilizing Accumulations of Conventional Weapons.”

Legally Binding Criteria: The European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. The Iraqi arms buildup leading to armed conflict also stimulated Europe to begin considering an EU approach. Eventually, the politically binding 1998 EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports became legally binding in 2008, and the European Union agreed to eight criteria:

• respect for the international commitments of member states

• respect for human rights in the country of final destination

• existence of internal tensions or armed conflicts in the country of final destination

• preservation of regional peace, security, and stability

• national security of the member states

• behavior of the buyer country with regard to its attitude toward terrorism; nature of its alliances; and its respect for international law

• risk of diversion of equipment under undesirable conditions

• compatibility of the arms exports with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country.[8]

The code also has a consultative and reporting mechanism and calls for states to report all transfers that they deny, for the purpose of discouraging other states from making the sale. All decisions are made at the national level, based on each government’s interpretation of the eight criteria.

The Way Forward in 2011

How has the experience of attempting to control the conventional arms trade since 1991 influenced the current response to yet another misuse of arms exports by an importing state? Some of the reaction looks familiar. A March headline in the Guardian blared, “EU Arms Exports to Libya: Who Armed Gaddafi?” The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Trade Project produced an article calling for a “critical evaluation of arms supply policies towards Libya” to inform the debate on arms trade controls.[9] As expected, the civil society organizations supporting the development of an arms trade treaty (ATT) responded negatively and swiftly to these events and called for a strong ATT.

Most of the criticism, however, was directed at the states that had taken advantage of the “new” Libya, which had been open for legitimate arms exports since 2003, after Gaddafi renounced weapons of mass destruction. The British press and Parliament were particularly critical of the United Kingdom’s exports to Libya. However, their proposed remedies focused on improving British arms export policy, rather than improving the EU code of conduct or creating an ATT. Clearly, the global response to the Libyan case was not the same as Iraq in 1991.

In the Iraqi case, a very structured, patron-client Cold War arms trading system had collapsed. Nothing had taken its place yet. Today, there is a global arms trade system that has evolved over the past 20 years, somewhat similar to the Cold War era in that it is based on unilateral (national) restraint and control guided by an emerging set of regional and global criteria. States seem very comfortable with this system and not in a hurry to change it.

The current context is defined by a set of criteria that an increasing number of states consider prior to exporting arms. These criteria did not exist in 1991. In the Libyan case, the result is that video clips showing the inhumane use of weapons condemn implicate not only Gaddafi and his regime but also the governments that supplied the weapons. This then led to civil society and legislatures bringing pressure on European national governments for violating the arms export norms to which they had agreed.

It also is important that the international community is in the process of negotiating a legally binding ATT. There is evidence that those states negotiating an ATT were not influenced by the events in Libya, given the work already underway to fashion an ATT that can prevent or seriously reduce exactly the type of transfer that had taken place.[10]

As mentioned above, because the international community’s primary concern is reducing and preventing the armed violence in intrastate conflicts, it pays less attention to major conventional weapons, such as tanks and aircraft, than to small arms and light weapons. Arms trade issues today are more about human security than just national security.[11] This is reflected in the case of Libya where the security of people is the prominent issue, not the security of Libya or any of its neighboring states. Global control measures have been put into place to deal with these threats to human security, including the UN Program of Action on small arms (2001), the UN Firearms Protocol (2001), the International Tracing Instrument (2005), the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development (2006), and the ongoing UN project to develop international standards to control small arms.[12]

This recap of the past 20 years suggests that certain realities should guide efforts to restrain and control arms exports.

• No consensus exists that the negative consequences stemming from the trade in major conventional weapons require regulatory action at the global level. With the possible exception of MANPADS in the hands of terrorists, no weapon in this category is considered inherently dangerous by the international community. Excessive and destabilizing buildups leading to interstate war have become rare. Legitimate self-defense (Article 51 of the UN Charter) is a powerful challenge to those who would put controls on who can transfer what to whom. There is no longer a common enemy and, for major weapons, no common moral imperative for restraint.

• Although measures restraining and controlling the full range of conventional weapons may be difficult to implement, it is still possible to construct such measures if they focus on a specific weapon. A case in point is the consensus to employ restraint when exporting MANPADS. All states could suffer from the proliferation of these weapons to terrorists groups that could use them to destroy civilian aircraft in flight.[13]

• Most states view arms exports as benign (with the main export rationales being economics and prestige) or positive in the traditional national security sense (mutual deterrence). Examples that duplicate the Iraqi buildup and invasion in 1990 are difficult to find. The empirical link between arms exports and conflict remains elusive, in contrast to the well-established link between imported arms and violations of human rights, the main reason for generating the ATT process.

• In the past 20 years, there has been a developing consensus on the criteria that should guide national arms exports. However, states still feel free to interpret these criteria using national factors such as the need to maintain relations with an importing state even if it does not meet arms export criteria. This is the key finding in the case of the United Kingdom and other states arming Libya.

• Despite an initial effort to create a multilateral mechanism based on prior approval of exports, this concept is dead. Arms export decisions remain the purview of states.

• It is very difficult to declare that a particular transfer will have negative consequences. It normally takes years for a buildup to look dangerous.

• Transparency is a nonstarter if it involves revealing secrets about critical data on national production and holdings. This will complicate efforts to demonstrate that a particular export will have negative consequences, other than that it easily can be used to violate the human rights of the importing state’s citizens.

The leaders of current and future efforts in arms trade restraint and control should keep these realities in mind. These efforts will focus on continuing the development of criteria that states agree should be utilized when exporting arms, as well as on ways in which states can prevent the diversion of arms that they control. In this regard, the creation of a legally binding ATT will mark an important step forward, as the EU code of conduct did when it became legally binding in 2008. Making a transfer that runs counter to the criteria developed in an ATT a violation of international law may not prevent every unwise transfer, but it certainly will raise the stakes and shine a brighter light on irresponsible arms export behavior.

These restraint and control efforts must be accompanied by a global initiative to assist states that desire to comply with these norms but lack the capacity to do so. If states do not want to comply with these norms, other states must develop the courage to “name and shame.” The immediate mea culpa by the United Kingdom in the Libyan case is an example of what one increasingly would hope to see as an evolving deterrent to such arms export behavior in the first place. The longer-term goal is to transform mea culpas into national denials of those arms exports that pose even a slight risk of enhancing armed conflict and harming human security.

Edward J. Laurance is a professor of international policy studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He was a consultant to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (1992-1994), the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms (1996-1997), and the UN Program of Action on small arms (2000-2001). He is the author of The International Arms Trade (1992).



1. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Fact Sheet: Middle East Arms Control Initiative,” May 29, 1991.

2. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “The United Nations - Guidelines for Conventional Arms Transfers 1991,” March 2004, http://archives.sipri.org/contents/expcon/unp5_london91.html (original dated October 18, 1991).

3. For an insider’s view of the P5 initiative, see James A. Lewis, “Multilateral Arms Transfer Restraint: The Limits of Cooperation,” Arms Control Today, November 2005, pp. 45-48.

4. For this assessment of the register, see Edward J. Laurance, Hendrik Wagenmakers, and Herbert Wulf, “Managing the Global Problems Created by the Conventional Arms Trade: An Assessment of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms,” Global Governance, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Spring 2005): 225-246.

5. UN General Assembly Resolution 46/36L, December 1991.

6. The author, along with Herbert Wulf, was tasked by a UN panel of experts with designing the first draft of the register in the spring of 1992.

7. In 2009, only 23 states reported background information on military holdings. Nineteen were European states, the least likely to be involved in interstate conflict with major conventional weapons.

8. The variety of terms used for recipient country reflects the actual documents establishing the code.

9. Pieter D. Wezeman, “Libya: Lessons in Controlling the Arms Trade,” SIPRI, March 11, 2011, www.sipri.org/media/newsletter/essay/march11.

10. This information was gathered in conversations with experts with direct knowledge of the ATT at UN meetings held in March 2011.

11. The distinction, according to one author, is that “[h]uman security is about the everyday security of individuals and the communities in which they live rather than the security of states and borders.” Mary Kaldor, “Human Security in Complex Operations,” PRISM 2, No. 2 (March 2011), www.ndu.edu/press/human-security-complex-operations.html.

12. CASA Project on International Small Arms Control Standards, www.un-casa-isacs.org/isacs/Welcome.html.

13. For two excellent sources on the issue of man-portable air defense systems, see Matt Schroeder, “Countering the MANPADS Threat: Strategies for Success,” Arms Control Today, September 2007, pp. 6-11; James Bevan, “Connecting Paradigms: MANPADS in the National and Human Security Debates,” UNIDIR Disarmament Forum, No. 1 (2007), pp. 43-51, www.unidir.org/pdf/articles/pdf-art2599.pdf.


In 1991, in the wake of the Persian Gulf War, the international community sought to tighten controls on the conventional arms trade. Today, as Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi uses imported military equipment against opponents of his regime, the 1991 efforts and their mixed results deserve renewed attention.


Realizing the Full Potential of the Open Skies Treaty

Sidney D. Drell and Christopher W. Stubbs

The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, provides a mechanism for enhancing arms control transparency, activity monitoring, and confidence building by allowing unrestricted, short-notice, aerial reconnaissance overflights.

This article explores the importance of realizing the full potential of the treaty to making progress in reducing the numbers and dangers of nuclear weapons, goals that have been endorsed by many world leaders. This effort will require expanding the membership of the treaty on a global scale and implementing modern technology for data collection and analysis.

When they first met on April 1, 2009, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the leaders of the two states with the largest nuclear arsenals, officially committed their countries “to achieving a nuclear-free world, while recognizing that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures and their full implementation by all concerned nations.” Toward that end, Russia and the United States resumed formal negotiations toward a step-by-step process of new and verifiable reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals, culminating a year later with the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). That treaty calls for modest reductions in deployed strategic forces and a commitment to move ahead with further and broader reductions in the two countries’ respective nuclear arsenals. In particular, New START extends and simplifies the verification protocols and cooperative measures of the original START, which had expired. The new treaty requires data exchanges and transparency measures that are more comprehensive than those of its predecessor.

The progress made in this area of verification is breathtaking when one considers the confrontational situation 30 years ago with the former Soviet Union. It augurs well for efforts to verify deep reductions in nuclear weapons and even to abolish them. To make progress toward such goals, it will be necessary to negotiate multinational agreements for significantly more transparency and cooperation for detecting covert efforts to violate treaty restrictions on weapons activities.[1]

Projecting the state of science and technology in a world with a greatly reduced number of nuclear weapons and ultimately no nuclear weapons is necessarily speculative. The discussion in this article is based on the assumption that nuclear arms control and verification technologies most likely will exhibit evolutionary rather than revolutionary progress. In this context, it is suggested that the Open Skies Treaty, upgraded as discussed below, in conjunction with other elements of the verification system, is promising for strengthening the international community’s ability to detect covert, illicit attempts to develop nuclear weapons or weapons-grade material. Yet, without a revolutionary new verification methodology, it seems unlikely to overcome the challenge of providing robust standoff detection of fissile materials encased in a deeply buried and unattended nuclear warhead. In the absence of necessary maintenance work, such systems lose military value over time. More pertinent to national security concerns will be the ability to detect potentially threatening activities involving nuclear weapons and materials, particularly as the arsenals decrease. It is the standoff detection of such activities by an expanded and upgraded treaty that is of particular interest.

Such activities would take place against a backdrop that is likely to include the following:

• Nuclear power will continue to play a role in meeting energy demands, despite the problems at Fukushima. Even with a tightly controlled and monitored nuclear fuel cycle at known sites, there is a need to develop and implement verification methods to detect a covert attempt to produce weapons-grade fissile material. At the front end of the fuel cycle, this means searching for uranium-enrichment facilities; at the back end, it means searching for spent fuel reprocessing facilities.

• The number, capabilities, and resolution of commercial and scientific remote-sensing satellites all are likely to increase, driven by the need for climate change monitoring, land and resource management and stewardship, and support of geological and atmospheric sciences. These data can help support the verification and monitoring program regimen.

Implementation of the Treaty

The Open Skies Treaty represents a remarkably successful implementation of shared technical means of verification and confidence building. The concept of Open Skies,[2] which was first proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower at the height of the Cold War in 1955, provides a mechanism for transparency and confidence building by allowing for short-notice, aerial reconnaissance overflights. The Soviet Union vehemently and immediately rejected the proposal, which was then largely ignored for more than three decades as U-2 overflights (1956-1960) and photoreconnaissance satellites (starting with Corona in 1960) proved effective in piercing the Iron Curtain. The descendants of those satellites remain an important part of the United States’ national technical means.

In 1989, near the end of the Cold War, the negotiations on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty—putting limitations on deployments of conventional forces in the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries—renewed interest in the Open Skies idea, with the motivation of using overflights to verify compliance with CFE provisions. This led to a speech by President George H.W. Bush calling for negotiation of an Open Skies treaty. His idea was quickly expanded by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to include not just the United States and the Soviet Union, but all of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

This idea caught fire. Following the conclusion of the CFE Treaty in 1990, an accord was negotiated, thereby resurrecting Eisenhower’s Open Skies idea as a formal treaty. Twenty-seven states signed the treaty in 1992, but it did not enter into force until January 2002, after Russia ratified it.

Under the treaty, each party has a quota for the number of flights it may initiate annually; that number is equal to the number it must accept over its own territory. The treaty provides for reciprocal verification overflights, on 24 hours’ notice, over any and all portions of the 34 states currently participating in the treaty. The United States and Russia (including Belarus) have the right to conduct and are committed to accept 42 annual overflights with trajectories that can extend over distances comparable to the distances between the borders of the inspected country. In particular, up to 21 overflights can be of each other, with the balance taken up by other parties to the treaty. At present, the Open Skies aircraft designated by the individual countries are equipped with film-based aerial reconnaissance cameras. Russia is in the process of outfitting new airframes with digital cameras, which is consistent with the treaty.

The treaty currently allows data to be acquired, subject to certain established resolution restrictions, with visible and infrared cameras, as well as with synthetic aperture radar (SAR, all-weather imaging radar), and the resulting data are available to all treaty participants. Between August 2002 and December 2010, 739 Open Skies flights were conducted.[3]

The second review conference for the Open Skies Treaty was held in Vienna in June 2010 to review and evaluate the treaty implementation thus far and to explore how the agreement might evolve in the future. The presentations at the review conference explored both augmentation of the sensors carried by the Open Skies-certified aircraft and the potential application of Open Skies collection capabilities to problems that are beyond the scope of the current treaty, such as natural disaster assessment and wildfire monitoring.[4]

The suite of sensors allowed under the treaty currently comprises optical and infrared cameras and SAR. The treaty currently limits the ground resolution obtained in overflights at optical, infrared, and radio wavelengths to 30, 50, and 300 centimeters, respectively.[5] Final notification of the desired flight path is provided 24 hours before takeoff. Mutual inspection of the aircraft and its sensors is permitted as a means to prevent a country from being subjected to any covertly added sensors. A country that has been notified of an upcoming flight over its territory also has the “taxi” option of using its own aircraft to carry out the data collection mission, if it so chooses. The crew aboard the flight always includes personnel from the inspecting and the inspected countries.

Treaty implementation is overseen by the Open Skies Consultative Commission, which is composed of representatives from the member states. Periodic review conferences are held to administer the treaty and address issues that might arise.

Article IV of the treaty anticipates the possibility of an evolution of the sensor suite, stating that “[t]he introduction of additional categories and improvements to the capabilities of existing categories of sensors provided for in this Article shall be addressed by the Open Skies Consultative Commission pursuant to Article X of this Treaty.”[6]

The treaty stipulates that decisions by the commission shall be on the basis of consensus, which is defined as no party raising an objection to an impending decision.

Exploiting Opportunities

Because the Open Skies collection platforms are aircraft, they provide technical verification opportunities that simply are not possible from satellites, for example, airborne collection of trace gas and particulate samples. These data are important in searching for covert programs to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD); the fact that Open Skies allows for full, unrestricted, territorial access is an important feature. Obtaining gas and particulate samples would require adding new capabilities to the Open Skies sensor suite, but the treaty spells out a clear path for enhancing the instruments. Particulate and gas collection and analysis are mature and demonstrated technologies and would become increasingly important for remote monitoring of nuclear material production activities as nuclear arsenals shrink in the longer-term future. The parties to the treaty should consider augmenting Open Skies sensor capabilities and increasing multiagency coordination of standoff detection instrumentation research and development with Open Skies platform capabilities.

Even though infrared and SAR imaging are allowed under the current treaty, U.S. Open Skies aircraft currently do not carry infrared cameras or a radar system. U.S. Open Skies aircraft should carry the full complement of currently allowed Open Skies sensors with contemporary technology. Having the Open Skies system operating at full capacity not only enhances the U.S. capability for monitoring nuclear weapons activities under New START, but also provides added assurance to the country’s intelligence collection systems over a substantial fraction of the globe.

In particular, the United States should replace its current film-based cameras with digital imaging systems. Installation of modern digital cameras is long overdue and will facilitate full dissemination and exploitation of Open Skies images. Digital images can be more easily georegistered (aligned with map coordinates) and thereby fused with other data sources. Increased resolution, if future negotiations allow it, can be achieved by simply flying the aircraft lower and will not require new instruments and cameras. This approach is far more cost effective than achieving high-resolution imaging from orbit. It is also limited in practice by the need to avoid air traffic congestion and the desire to maintain a sufficiently broad width of the reconnaissance ground swath. (For a given camera system, there is a trade-off between resolution and field of view. Flying lower achieves higher resolution but diminishes the extent of cross-track coverage.)

As noted above, the current spatial resolution for the optical wavelength surveillance systems on Open Skies collection aircraft is essentially comparable to what can be obtained from commercial imaging satellites. It is an important foundation on which to build a system of shared technical means of the future, primarily because of the potential for continuing advances in the sensor suite.

Expanding the group of signatory nations would allow verification access to an increasing fraction of the globe. Open Skies is an unclassified system. Both its sensors and the information it produces can be shared with all participating countries. At present, there is a nearly decade-old U.S. presidential directive that prevents the Department of State from pursuing expanded Open Skies participation. The U.S. government should re-evaluate this policy; in the past, it managed to negotiate reciprocal access with precisely those countries among the Warsaw Pact that were of prime concern.

There are several distinct and substantial advantages to building enhanced verification capabilities based on the success of the Open Skies Treaty.

1) Open Skies is an existing treaty with a track record of success. It allows the international community to expand verification capabilities using an existing framework. Building on an existing international agreement is more straightforward than embarking on a new one. As noted earlier, the structure of the Open Skies Treaty is very well suited to evolving verification needs, the most important of which are the collection of atmospheric gases and particulate samples, which are not accessible from satellites.

2) The size, weight, and power constraints for advanced sensor capabilities are minimal with existing Open Skies aircraft. The Open Skies collection platform currently used by the United States, the OC-135B, is essentially a Boeing 707 airframe that can accommodate the deployment of innovative sensor technologies that might be larger and heavier than currently available technologies and require more power and bandwidth to operate. Next-generation sensors will need to abide by the treaty’s principle that all parties have the right to install commercially available sensors that can be certified for comparable performance.

3) The treaty produces unclassified data that may be shared among the parties for government use so that all states, both former nuclear-weapon states and countries that always have been non-nuclear-weapon states, can benefit in the future from the verification collections. This reduces information inequities among countries and avoids the problems associated with the sharing of classified data that are collected by states that wish to protect sensitive sources and methods. Since the treaty’s entry into force, the United States has requested copies of film from 84 missions conducted by other parties and processed 23 requests for imagery obtained during U.S. missions.

4) Although broader WMD considerations are beyond the scope of this paper, one could readily imagine augmented Open Skies sensors designed to search for evidence of biological or chemical weapons programs. In some cases, such as active laser spectroscopy, the same instruments could provide nuclear and non-nuclear WMD verification.

Specific Technical Opportunities

This section highlights the potential technical opportunities for enhancing the verification capabilities of the Open Skies sensor suite and, where appropriate, identifies the research and development needed to support these options. Because the goal of the section is to map out the technical opportunities, it presents concepts that span a range of levels of intrusiveness. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or comparative survey of all possible methods for detecting covert uranium-enrichment or plutonium-recovery efforts, but rather is meant to illustrate the potential benefits of enhancing Open Skies for future verification applications.[7]

The verification opportunities presented below eventually must be carefully assessed in terms of their technical readiness, their verification utility, and the likely political (U.S. and foreign) barriers to adoption. The Open Skies verification effort would presumably augment and complement other methods, such as on-site inspections and wide-area monitoring, methods that are employed today by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System.

One important verification application of enhanced Open Skies is the problem of covert fissile material production. For covert enrichment programs, the analysis below will concentrate on the detection of uranium and its compounds, while for plutonium, it will focus on how to exploit the krypton-85 (Kr-85) signature of reprocessing.

Atmospheric Gas Sampling. The detection of trace gases has long been considered to be a potentially useful method for detecting clandestine production of fissile materials.[8] The ability to collect and store gas samples along an aircraft’s flight path would be a powerful augmentation to the Open Skies collection suite. The aircraft’s ability to enter and exit the suspect territory rapidly allows for the gas analysis to be performed on the ground in an appropriate laboratory setting with minimal delay.

A particularly interesting verification method is to search for the unstable noble gas isotope Kr-85, which is produced in the consumption of uranium in reactors and is released when fuel rods are reprocessed for plutonium extraction. By monitoring Kr-85, researchers have claimed the ability to sense plutonium separation activity of a few hundred grams per week from a standoff distance of 39 kilometers.[9] Thus, an Open Skies flight should have the ability to map out a swath of terrain that spans tens of kilometers on either side of the flight path. This is probably not enough area coverage per flight to perform a rapid survey of an entire large country, but it should allow for samples to be collected from sites that are suspected (from image analysis or other sources) of harboring clandestine reprocessing activity.

Given the 24-hour notification time, the detailed flight plan (altitude and path) can take wind forecasts into account, and the flight can be tailored to maximize the system’s sensitivity to detect emanations from a region of particular interest. One measurement challenge for an airborne Kr-85 sampling system is the varying natural background concentration. Therefore, the task is to discriminate spatial and temporal variation in pre-existing backgrounds from the signature arising from weapons-related activities. Making a differential measurement of Kr-85 concentration along the flight path should facilitate this. A ground-based network of Kr-85 sensors is likely to be an element in a verification protocol for “nuclear zero,” and the combination of ground-based and aircraft-collected data will be more powerful than either data set in isolation.

Scientists currently do not have a detailed understanding of the propagation and diffusion of noble gases from reprocessing activity, especially if conducted underground, but deeply buried facilities will have an increased diffusion timescale compared to activities on the surface. Thus, even if reprocessing were shut off in response to an Open Skies overflight notification, one would not anticipate an instantaneous termination of detectable Kr-85.

On the U.S. side, the sister aircraft to the OC-135B Open Skies collection platform is the WC-135 Constant Phoenix, which apparently already has a gas sample capture and storage capability.[10] The implementation of an atmospheric gas sampling scheme is not technically demanding and could be undertaken in short order. The samples presumably would be subjected to laboratory analysis on the ground.

Particulate/Aerosol Sampling. The Constant Phoenix also has a particulate sampling capability. Adding this verification technique to the Open Skies aircraft is therefore presumably a fairly straightforward undertaking. An automated particulate sampler has been developed for use in verifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.[11] This is a mature technology.

The collected particulates can be analyzed for any hint of weapons-grade fissile materials. In particular, the radionuclides that adhere to particulates and aerosols can be analyzed to determine the ratios of the isotopes of elements of interest, which is extremely valuable information for plutonium and uranium. The results from studies focusing on the releases from covert fuel-cycle facilities imply that a monthly Open Skies aerosol collection flight over a region the size of the Middle East, in conjunction with high-sensitivity laboratory analysis techniques, should provide good monitoring of clandestine fissile material production activity over such a region.[12] The studies consider only fixed ground stations, but an Open Skies flight can collect aerosols along the entire flight path and from an optimized altitude.

Higher-Resolution Optical and Infrared Imaging. The ability to increase imaging resolution would be significant from a verification standpoint.[13] Attaining better resolution from orbit requires larger-diameter mirrors. The satellite cost scales faster than the square of the mirror diameter,[14] while the resolution increases only linearly with diameter. High-acuity imaging from space therefore is very expensive. From airborne platforms, one can just fly lower to obtain sharper images; the ground resolution distance is simply proportional to the aircraft’s height above the ground. This makes the acquisition of high-resolution images from aircraft much more affordable than from space. The highest resolution images of urban areas in Google Earth are from aerial photography, not from commercial satellite images.[15]

The high-resolution camera system currently used on the U.S. Open Skies collection platform, the KA-91C camera, is operated from an altitude of 35,000 feet in order to abide by the treaty’s stipulations on ground resolution.[16] The potential for higher-resolution imaging already exists and will continue to exist if and when the Open Skies participants change from film to digital imaging systems. Maximum allowable ground resolution and minimum allowable flight altitude were topics of considerable discussion.[17] Although the political challenges of obtaining higher resolution images from Open Skies platforms should not be underestimated, the technical aspects of this upgrade are fairly straightforward: the parties simply need to agree to take aerial photography from lower flight altitudes.

Laser-Illuminated Time-Resolved Imaging Spectroscopy. Various techniques are under development for the optical standoff detection of uranium and its compounds. A full exploration of the dual challenges of signal-to-noise ratio (sensitivity) and discrimination (rejection of natural backgrounds and clutter) is beyond the scope of this article.

Activity Monitoring With SAR. An advantage of radar imaging with SAR is its unique all-weather, day and night access to targets of interest. This could play a valuable role in monitoring activity and detecting changes at suspect sites, such as possible weapons caches. Further work should be pursued on this potential.


Implemented in the waning days of the Cold War era, the Open Skies Treaty is a laudable example of transparency and confidence building and can provide an important framework for implementing broader verification methods in a nuclear-zero era.

Toward achieving that goal, the United States should initiate diplomatic and technical steps to implement a modern upgraded suite of all three currently allowed Open Skies Treaty sensors (optical, infrared, and SAR), work to enhance the scope of collections undertaken from treaty platforms, and expand international participation in the treaty.

Sidney D. Drell is a theoretical physicist and arms control expert. He is a professor emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at StanfordUniversity. Christopher W. Stubbs is a professor of physics and of astronomy at HarvardUniversity. Both authors are active as scientific advisers to the U.S. government. They have benefited from conversations with George Shultz, Rose Gottemoeller, and Raymond Jeanloz. Stubbs wishes to thank the Hoover Institution for the Visiting Annenberg Fellow appointment under which this work was carried out.


1. The scope of this paper specifically excludes technical issues that are unique to countering nuclear terrorism. Preventing a nuclear version of the September 11 attacks is a top priority but a different technical problem from the elimination of existing national nuclear weapons arsenals. Continuing reductions in the number of nuclear devices that must be safeguarded and steady progress in limiting access to fissile materials will help to suppress the likelihood of a nuclear terrorist event. However, the classical concept of strategic deterrence is likely of little use in countering an attack by suicidal nonstate actors using weapons of mass destruction. In the nuclear terrorism context, a nuclear arsenal (and the radioactive materials within it) is arguably more of a liability than an asset.

2. Not to be confused with Open Skies agreements that pertain to civil aviation and landing rights.

3. For a listing of Open Skies flights through June 4, 2010, see www.osce.org/secretariat/68315.

4. See, for example Mike Betts and Don Spence, “Potential Non-Treaty Applications for Open Skies Assets” (presentation, 2nd Open Skies Review Conference, OSCC.RC/11/10, June 2, 2010).

5. The ground resolution obtained by Open Skies images is stipulated in the treaty. At visible wavelengths, it is roughly comparable to that obtained by commercial satellites and presumably inferior to that of U.S. national technical means (NTM). This may be one reason that U.S. engagement and investment in Open Skies is currently rather precarious, because it adds little to current NTM satellite capabilities.

6. Article X of the Open Skies Treaty defines the structure, responsibilities, and function of the Open Skies Consultative Commission. The prospect of an enhanced sensor suite is explicitly cited in this section of the treaty as well. Changes and additions to the sensor systems require only commission approval and do not require an amendment to the treaty.

7. An interesting opportunity that this article does not explore is the possibility for “bi-static” techniques, with two Open Skies aircraft operating in tandem. One aircraft could contain an optimized light source, and the other a detector system. The atmosphere between the aircraft could then be sampled in transmission, at high spectral resolution and high signal-to-noise ratio.

8. See Paul R.J. Saey, “Ultra-Low-Level Measurements of Argon, Krypton and Radioxenon for Treaty Verification Purposes,” ESARDA Bulletin, No. 36 (2007).

9. Martin B. Kalinowski et al., “Conclusions on Plutonium Separation From Atmospheric Krypton-85 Measured at Various Distances From the Karlsruhe Reprocessing Plant,” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Vol. 73, No. 2 (2004): 203. See also Martin B. Kalinowski, Heiner Daerr, and Markus Kohler, “Measurements of Krypton-85 to Detect Clandestine Plutonium Production,” INESAP Bulletin, No. 27 (December 2006).

10. U.S. Air Force, “WC-135 Constant Phoenix,” February 11, 2009, www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=192.

11. See S.M. Bowyer et al., “Automated Particulate Sampler for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Verification (The DOE Radionuclide Aerosol Sampler/Analyzer),” IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, Vol. 44, No. 3 (June 1997): 551.

12. On uranium-conversion facilities, see R. Scott Kemp, “Initial Analysis of the Detectability of UO2F2 Aerosols Produced by UF6 Released From Uranium Conversion Plants,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 16, No. 3 (2008): 115-125. On uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities, see P.W. Krey and K.W. Nicholson, “Atmospheric Sampling and Analysis for the Detection of Nuclear Proliferation,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, Vol. 248, No.3 (2001): 605-610.

13. See Sidney D. Drell and Raymond Jeanloz, “Nuclear Deterrence in a World Without Nuclear Weapons,” in Deterrence: Its Past and Future, eds. George Shultz, Sidney Drell, and James Goodby (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2011), pp. 21-29.

14. This is because of the added weight and volume needed to accommodate a larger primary mirror. The typical cost scaling assumption is D2.5, where D is the mirror diameter.

15. Google, “Imagery Partner Program,” 2011, http://maps.google.com/help/maps/imagery/.

16. U.S. Air Force, “OC-135B Open Skies,” September 28, 2007, www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=120.

17. See Mark David Gabriele, “The Treaty on Open Skies and Its Practical Applications and Implications for the United States” (Ph.D dissertation, RAND Graduate School, 1997).


The Open Skies Treaty is a good example of transparency and confidence building. If the parties agree to update the treaty by expanding its membership and using modern technology for data collection and analysis, it can provide an important framework for implementing broader verification methods in a nuclear-zero era.


Securing WMD Expertise: Lessons Learned From Iraq

Peter D. Smallwood and William T. Liimatainen

December 26, 2011, marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was cause for celebrations in the West, but also for grave concern because it unleashed enormous security challenges. Vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the materials to make them suddenly were at risk, potentially available for theft or sale to the highest bidder.

The United States responded quickly by enacting legislation sponsored by Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that laid the foundation for the country’s cooperative threat reduction (CTR) programs.[1] These programs quickly grew into a multiagency effort involving the departments of Defense, Energy, State, and others, now spending about $1.7 billion annually.[2] CTR programs have achieved an impressive record of WMD materials secured or destroyed.[3]

The world has changed greatly during these past two decades, complicating efforts to secure remaining Cold War WMD materials and posing new threats in new places. Calls by scholars and policymakers to revise CTR programs have been growing in recent years.[4] The National Academy of Sciences recently completed an extensive study, recommending a major reorganization of the programs, which the academy dubbed CTR 2.0.[5] CTR programs have been adapting, but much more needs to be done to fulfill President Barack Obama’s 2009 commitment to secure all nuclear materials in four years, let alone protect against the full range of WMD threats.[6]

The production of weapons of mass destruction requires expertise as well as materials; efforts to prevent the proliferation of WMD expertise often are characterized as scientist redirection because they redirect the scientists’ skills and expertise to productive civilian applications. Redirection and other engagement programs have been a component of CTR programs since its beginning, albeit with the smallest share of CTR funding and personnel.[7] These programs have difficulty securing adequate political support, in part because the work does not yield the immediate, tangible “scorecard” accomplishments that come from securing WMD materials.

However, the materials for many chemical and biological weapons are so prevalent that controlling WMD expertise is the best hope for nonproliferation. Malevolent state or nonstate actors can re-create WMD materials if they have the appropriate expertise. Even for nuclear weapons, countries that pursue uranium bombs from domestic sources may be limited by the expertise required for enrichment. Thus, securing WMD materials is a tactical response. Securing WMD expertise is more of a strategic activity because it deals with the ability to make WMD materials. Therefore, CTR 2.0 should include a greater emphasis on redirection.

The vast majority of redirection funding has been spent on the scientists and engineers of the former Soviet Union, but there are significant, ongoing efforts to redirect former WMD scientists and engineers in Iraq. (The lack of WMD stockpiles in Iraq should not distract observers from the fact that Saddam Hussein had an elaborate program to retain WMD experts, as discussed below.) Efforts to redirect Iraqi scientists began in 2003 under extraordinary circumstances that were very different from those in the former Soviet states.

Important lessons can be learned from the redirection program in Iraq, and those lessons are made clearer by contrasting the Iraqi program with the ones in the former Soviet states, which have been analyzed more extensively. The extreme differences in security and political conditions provide useful, widely separated points on the spectrum of possible conditions confronting future redirection programs. As explained below, conditions in the former Soviet states were relatively safe, and physical and bureaucratic infrastructures of those states were relatively intact. The opposite was true in Iraq. This article focuses on the start-up of the Iraqi program—the most difficult stage, where delays compound the risk of proliferation.

Future redirection programs are likely to fall somewhere between these two examples on the spectrum of possible political and security challenges. It is impossible to predict when or where the next opportunities for redirection will arise, but possibilities for redirection in Iran and North Korea have been discussed actively since at least 2004.[8] Opportunities could arise in Cuba, Myanmar (Burma), Syria, or Venezuela or in unanticipated places, such as Libya in 2003. The speed with which the Arab Spring has spread throughout the Middle East underlines the need to be prepared to act. Programs need to be flexible, agile, and ready to execute on short notice. To help prepare for these possibilities, lessons learned from the redirection effort in Iraq should be built into plans for CTR 2.0.

Iraq’s Orphaned WMD Experts

Prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq invested heavily in developing the full spectrum of weapons of mass destruction, producing and using chemical weapons and conducting research for biological and nuclear weapons. After that war, Iraq was subjected to sanctions and UN-led inspections. Under great international pressure, Hussein’s regime apparently ceased WMD production and disposed of its stockpiles some years before the 2003 invasion, with the notable exception of its missile program. However, Iraq retained its cadre of WMD scientists and engineers, primarily in the Military Industrialization Commission (MIC) and the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). Although the IAEC’s connection to weapons of mass destruction is obvious, the MIC’s role requires explanation.[9]

The MIC was a consortium of dozens of state-owned companies with both military and civilian functions. For example, the Tariq chemical company purported to produce pesticides for local and regional markets. There is little evidence that it produced chemical weapons in the years immediately prior to the 2003 invasion, but the company played a key role in Iraq’s chemical weapons program in the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of Iraq’s known chemical weapons experts were still employed there in 2003. This provided a mechanism for giving the experts prestigious rank and salary in the Iraqi civil service and kept them under government control. The experts would be needed to restart chemical weapons programs, which was their plan once international sanctions were relaxed. By 2003 most Iraqi WMD experts were discreetly employed in companies of the MIC, with others housed in the IAEC, ministries, and universities.

After the invasion, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) issued Orders 2 and 75, disbanding the IAEC and “realigning” the companies of the MIC. Although most IAEC employees and some MIC employees were absorbed later by the newly created Ministry of Science and Technology, roughly 50,000 MIC employees were transferred to the Ministry of Finance, where they received little compensation and essentially were idled. They lost their rank, status, income, and direction; they were stranded. The vast majority of the 50,000 had been involved in nonmilitary or conventional weapons manufacturing with no WMD backgrounds, yet most Iraqi WMD experts were among them. Moreover, under CPA Order 1, many IAEC and MIC senior employees, including senior WMD experts, had been banned from any government employment for being high-ranking members of the Ba’ath Party.[10]

Postinvasion investigations revealed that much of Iraq’s WMD expertise was dated and probably of little value to developed countries with active WMD programs. However, the expertise was certainly of value to countries aspiring to develop WMD capabilities and especially to nonstate actors. Insurgents in Iraq were actively looking for Iraq’s WMD experts almost from the beginning of the insurgency and continued that effort for years.[11] In 2006 the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq called on Iraqi WMD experts to join the fight by developing and testing biological weapons: “We are in dire need of you. The field of Jihad can satisfy your scientific ambitions and the large American bases are good places to test your unconventional weapons.”[12] It would have been a great risk to leave WMD experts without direction or financial support in that environment.

Different Environment in Iraq

The goals for redirection in the former Soviet Union and Iraq were the same: to prevent the proliferation of WMD expertise from stranded WMD scientists and engineers and to shift them to civilian work. The environment, however, was completely different. In the former Soviet states, the physical infrastructure for WMD research, development, and production remained intact, providing experts with places to work if the facilities and personnel could be transitioned to peaceful research activities. In Iraq, the chaotic looting of 2003 destroyed the physical infrastructure of most of the MIC, along with much of the rest of the country’s economic infrastructure. The thoroughness of the destruction was astonishing. Equipment was stolen or vandalized beyond repair; furniture was stolen; light fixtures, doors, windows, and even electrical wiring were ripped from the walls. Government research facilities, MIC factories, and even university laboratories all met similar fates. If Iraqi WMD experts were to be employed in civilian work, their places of work would have to be rebuilt, almost from scratch.

The same story can be told for bureaucratic infrastructure. The central government of the Soviet Union fell, but the rest of the command structure remained in place. Most of the hierarchy of technicians and assistants, senior scientists, project managers, and executive directors of the WMD facilities remained on duty, awaiting direction (and pay). Those in leadership positions had little to fear and much to gain from cooperation with the Americans. In contrast, the entire bureaucratic hierarchy in Iraq was shattered; initially, no one was in charge. Many Iraqi WMD experts were unemployed, financially insecure, and frightened. Many wondered if U.S. redirection officials were there to help them or imprison them. Working with the Americans only raised their profile with the insurgents, and indeed, some were threatened and even killed.[13]

Finally, simply identifying WMD experts was far more difficult in Iraq. The Iraqi government had engaged in a shell game with its WMD experts for years prior to the invasion. To comply with UN mandates, the government established the National Monitoring Directorate, which created a list of approximately 500 WMD experts and provided it to UN inspectors. This list was both incomplete and padded with non-WMD personnel.[14] Even Iraqi officials probably did not have a complete list of names, let alone contact information.

Starting the Program in Iraq

Planning for redirection in Iraq began in earnest in 2003, led by the deputy director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Proliferation Threat Reduction (now called the Office of Cooperative Threat Reduction). After intense interagency discussions, it was agreed that the effort to find new employment for Iraqi scientists and engineers would focus less on scientific research and more on jobs that contributed to rebuilding Iraq. By December 2003, the State Department had approval for its plans, $2 million in immediate funding, and indications that another $20 million in follow-up funding was likely.[15] In January 2004, the deputy director and two U.S. scientists traveled to Baghdad to set up the IraqiInternationalCenter for Science and Industry. Loosely modeled on the International Science and TechnologyCenters in Russia and Ukraine, the science center was to be the vehicle for engaging Iraqi scientists with previous ties to WMD programs and redirecting their expertise to peaceful work. Given the poor state of Iraqi infrastructure, it was hoped that Iraqis participating in the redirection program would support reconstruction goals. Reducing the potential for proliferation by getting some of Iraq’s best minds involved in rebuilding their country seemed to be a win for all participating parties.

U.S. redirection officials operating in Baghdad faced many challenges. They arrived in Baghdad without a field office, and they knew little about Iraq’s scientific community and the identities of those who had previously worked in WMD programs. Neither the U.S. Department of Defense nor the CPA (which functioned as a division of that department) had much enthusiasm for the State Department’s redirection program. Their cooperation with the redirection officials was limited, with the exception of extraordinary support from a few individuals. Infrastructure associated with Iraq’s banking sector was essentially nonexistent; simply moving funds into the country was a difficult, time-consuming task.

Despite these challenges, by the time the CPA transferred authority to the Iraqi Transitional Government in June 2004, redirection officials had established the science center office outside the heavily guarded Green Zone and hired an Iraqi staff, including a senior MIC administrator. About a dozen of Iraq’s most senior scientists, most with WMD connections, formed an advisory committee to recruit and vet new members for the center and review their proposals. The former head of the monitoring directorate, who had extensive knowledge of Iraq’s WMD personnel, was recruited to join the center. An additional 40 WMD experts were recruited, vetted, and accepted as members.

Members of the center received a stipend and were encouraged to develop proposals using their technical expertise for civilian development. Early expectations were that $37.5 million from the Development Fund for Iraq (formerly the Oil for Food program) would be made available to fund the best proposals, serving as Iraq’s contribution to redirection. It was hoped that these scientists would be able to establish businesses and hire additional personnel with previous ties to WMD programs. Some proposals were very large, such as restarting pesticide factories or establishing water treatment plants. Others were relatively small, such as rehabilitating a materials research laboratory at an Iraqi university.

The first executive director of the center (one of the authors of this paper) arrived in August 2004. He and his staff began a series of workshops to help members update their basic skills (for example, most of them were unfamiliar with the Internet, and very few had experience in writing proposals) and expand their networks to search for employment opportunities. Over the next year, membership grew beyond 120. With assistance from the director, two dozen members were hired by Iraqi ministries for their technical skills, and a few were hired by Iraqi universities.

The majority of the members, however, remained unemployed. The $37.5 million from the development fund never materialized, nor did the $20 million in follow-on funding from the U.S. government. Therefore, none of the large-scale proposals could be funded, which strained the members’ trust in the program. The insurgency grew rapidly during that year, increasing the sense of danger felt by members and limiting the U.S. staff’s mobility. Many members were too frightened to pursue government or private work, preferring to remain as inconspicuous as possible, supported by their stipend from the center. The redirection program held on as well as it could over the next few years as security deteriorated.

More recently, the Iraqi redirection program has evolved and greatly improved. The science center has been phased out, along with the stipends. The Iraqi Scientist Engagement Program has taken its place. In 2009 it began expanding to include many more scientists and engineers, with more opportunities for research grants and fellowships, but five years is a very long time for WMD experts to wait for a program to assist them. Delays in securing WMD expertise can be more dangerous than comparable delays in securing WMD materials. Materials do not get impatient or disillusioned, nor do they worry about providing for their families.

Lessons Learned

The experience in Iraq demonstrates that in setting up future redirection programs, the overriding concerns should be to make them more agile, flexible, and easy to establish on short notice and to do so as inexpensively as possible. Despite White House plans to request more CTR funding, recent budget battles make it clear that all discretionary programs will have to be very lean.

Specific lessons to address these concerns emerge from the Iraqi experience:

Establish a Reserve Team. For most of the first year of operations, the redirection program in Iraq was run by only one staff member, located at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad with supervisory and support staff in Washington. In addition to his responsibilities with the redirection program, this person also carried out other duties for the U.S. mission in Iraq. As the critical objective at that time was to establish good relations with the WMD experts and relevant Iraqi government officials, the lack of staff hampered the program at its outset. It takes time to make these connections, especially in cultures where trust is established only through personal contact. Unfortunately, the tasks of getting the WMD experts paid when the banking system was not yet functional, securing the science center, and maintaining basic logistical support were at least a full-time job.

In the first six months of the program, there was an unplanned staffing gap of two months, where initial staff had departed and the new executive director had yet to arrive. During the gap, relationships cooled, program information and materials were lost, and the confidence of the Iraqi WMD experts waned. The gap occurred because CTR officials simply did not have the staff necessary to run the program; staff and financial resources then were stretched further by the unexpected, urgent start-up of a similar redirection program in Libya. Key staff members had to be recruited. Recruitment, vetting, and security clearances take time, extending the time WMD experts are left stranded and exposed. Future redirection programs are likely to face similar delays and hindrances unless the responsible offices have more staff to deploy.

Admittedly, maintaining additional staff with appropriate scientific backgrounds for potential future needs can be expensive. There are ways to minimize the costs, notably by recruiting and maintaining a core cadre of reserve staff for redirection. The cadre should be composed of respected scientists who are fully employed elsewhere (academia, the private sector, or the Energy Department and other U.S. government agencies), but are ready to take temporary leave when called up. CTR personnel should meet quarterly with the reserve staff to guide their study of current and potential redirection missions and familiarize them with the necessary bureaucratic and administrative procedures. Because the goal is to prepare a reserve staff for unplanned contingencies, such efforts should commence immediately. People from unexpected occupations are willing to take on such duties if they are made aware of the need.[16]

Establish a Reserve Budget. Discretionary money spent by the U.S. government usually is restricted to specific fiscal years. Under the best scenarios, it takes at least 18 to 24 months from the time an agency submits a formal request for additional funds to the time it can begin spending those funds. This was true even for requests for additional funding for development and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.[17]

Recognizing that two years is too long to wait to deal with orphaned WMD materials, the U.S. Congress created the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF). This fund’s mandate is to spend money on unanticipated, urgent nonproliferation and disarmament needs. It therefore has “no-year” money (meaning that the money can be held in reserve and does not have to be spent in a given fiscal year) and broad “notwithstanding” authority to spend money in places where U.S. law otherwise bans U.S. assistance. (It can be applied notwithstanding these other restrictions. For example, money could be spent from the NDF to assist a country in destroying missiles, even if that country does not meet U.S. human rights requirements for financial aid.) The initial funding for the Iraq redirection effort came from the NDF, based on the urgent, unanticipated nature of the project.

Nevertheless, redirection is a poor fit for the NDF, which is designed to deal with short-term projects that produce immediate, tangible results. The archetypal NDF project is the discovery of nuclear materials in an abandoned military warehouse in a poor country, with the country agreeing to have the U.S. remove the materials.[18] The NDF is designed to provide the funds to hire teams with appropriate training and logistical support to remove those materials as rapidly as possible. Redirection efforts are necessarily long term and fundamentally less tangible.

Nevertheless, redirection efforts may be needed on similarly short notice. If a central government falls, the WMD experts lose their supervision and support immediately. Efforts to safeguard dangerous WMD expertise should not be delayed for the months or years normally required to secure funding.

Therefore, redirection should have a separate budget with no-year money and notwithstanding authority. It would differ from the NDF in providing initial funding for long-term projects. Projects funded from this redirection budget then should transition within three years to the normal congressional budget process and scrutiny.

Designate a Leader for Redirection Programs. Historically, redirection was led by the State Department, although other departments have had redirection programs. In Iraq, by the end of 2003, several redirection programs were proposed, discussed, and in various stages of implementation. These programs were not well coordinated with one another. In addition to the State Department’s program (started with $2 million in emergency funding from the NDF), the Energy Department initiated a program to engage Iraqi scientists, and the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State had another program. The Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), a U.S.-based nonprofit, reportedly was starting another program out of its own internal funds. As noted above, the CPA had budgeted $37.5 million; that money was for the incoming Iraqi government to spend on retention and redirection of the WMD scientists through the creation of the Iraqi Nonproliferation Programs Foundation (INPF). The CPA budget for Iraq listed additional funds for other programs to retain and redirect Iraqi WMD experts and indicated follow-on funding of $20 million per year for 2005 and 2006.[19] It was reported in the media at the time that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had asked or would be asking for $20 million to continue funding the redirection program.[20] The general perception at the time was that the U.S. redirection effort was well funded.

The reality was very different. The effort to allocate the $37.5 million to the INPF or any other redirection program failed. The Energy Department did implement its program eventually, but it took years to start and was criticized by some for spending too much of its money in the United States instead of on Iraqi experts in Iraq.[21] The CRDF began to play its vital role in redirecting Iraqi experts in 2004, but the money for the group’s activities came from the State Department’s initial $2 million emergency fund. There was no new funding for the Iraq redirection program in the White House budget requests to Congress for the first few years, in part because of the mistaken impression that the program was well funded from the above-named sources. The number of different programs with overlapping goals contributed to the confusion.

Therefore, one office should be clearly designated as the leader for all U.S. WMD redirection activities, with sufficient authority to coordinate programs across departments. If there had been one lead office that spoke for redirection in Iraq (including budget requests), confusion could have been minimized. Similar problems have been reported for the entire CTR program, and plans for CTR 2.0 call for consolidating leadership of the U.S. CTR effort under one senior official with an office in the White House or a seat on the National Security Council or both.[22] The leader for redirection should report to the overall leader of CTR programs.

Looking Forward

Some may argue that the lessons from redirection in Iraq are not applicable to future CTR programs because the situation was unique. Only a few months ago, most analysts would have said that the United States and its allies are unlikely to use military force to bring about regime change in the foreseeable future. Yet, at this writing, NATO is bombing government assets in the capital of Libya. Governments in Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, and Syria face great internal challenges; clearly, fundamental change can unfold quickly and unpredictably. Any of these countries could see the rise of a new government that is open to redirection even while armed opposition to the new government continues.

One can argue that redirection should not be attempted in places where active insurgencies or other instabilities place personnel at risk and hamper operations. Yet, the very circumstances that create risks for redirection staff also increase the risks of native WMD experts being threatened or co-opted by bad actors. Unfortunately, many of the likely scenarios in which redirection will be most needed are the very ones in which it will be most difficult.

The changes recommended in this article also can be used to address the long-term challenges that come with redirection programs. It may take years to train WMD experts in new skills, and they possibly could be co-opted or coerced into returning to their previous weapons work, even years later. Therefore, in most cases these programs will need to be sustained for many years. The redirection programs in the former Soviet Union and Iraq have been criticized for failing to have clear exit plans or for assuming full government funding in perpetuity.

One of the functions of the reserve team should be to develop strategies for long-term sustainability or exit plans. The hope in Iraq and Soviet redirection has been that the experts find employment in the private sector, contributing to the reconstruction and development of their countries. The reserve team should recruit successful members of the private sector from the United States and, if possible, current and expatriate citizens of the target countries. The team should be charged with developing recommendations for the long-term sustainability of redirection plans, such as tax incentives for private sector investment businesses that make use of former WMD experts.

Seize the Moment

Although this is a difficult time to ask for more resources for any government program, the timing may be favorable for U.S. redirection programs. While he was a senator, Obama became well versed in the dangers of WMD proliferation, working closely with Lugar to master the issues. His plan to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years demonstrates his commitment to fighting WMD proliferation. In this same time frame, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for more funding and more staff for the State Department, even while warning his staff that the Defense Department cannot continue on its recent trajectory of growth. This level of interdepartmental support is extraordinary. Coupled with Obama’s commitment to nonproliferation goals and the calls for updating nonproliferation programs into CTR 2.0, this interdepartmental cooperation opens a unique opportunity to garner the modest increases in support necessary for the United States to expand its redirection and scientist engagement programs. If one accepts the premise that human expertise in WMD science and technology is as dangerous in the long run as WMD materials, then the U.S. government needs to improve its capacity for securing WMD expertise. As the United States updates and expands its nonproliferation programs into CTR 2.0, it should consider these recommendations to allow for rapid establishment of effective redirection programs anywhere the needs and opportunities arise.


Peter D. Smallwood is an associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond. From 2004 to 2005, he served as executive director of the redirection program for Iraqi scientists and engineers who had been working in programs to produce weapons of mass destruction. William T. Liimatainen was a 2009 Department of Defense research fellow who studied post-2003 events in Iraq as they related to the country’s Military Industrialization Commission. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the U.S. government or any of its agencies.


1. Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, Public Law 228, 102nd Cong., 1st sess. (November 27, 1991).

2. Bonnie Jenkins, “Cooperative Threat Reduction: A Historical Perspective,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2011.

3. Nunn-Lugar Scorecard: http://lugar.senate.gov/nunnlugar/scorecard.html.

4. James E. Goodby et al., “Cooperative Threat Reduction for a New Era,” Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University, September 2004; Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Nonproliferation Programs Need Better Integration,” GAO-05-157, January 2005; Robert A. Robinson, “DOE Needs to Reassess Its Program to Assist in Russia and Other Countries,” Testimony before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, January 2008.

5. NationalAcademy of Sciences (NAS), “Global Security Engagement: A New Model for Cooperative Threat Reduction,” 2009.

6. Kenneth N. Luongo, “Loose Nukes in New Neighborhoods: The Next Generation of Proliferation Prevention,” Arms Control Today, May 2009; Bonnie Jenkins, “Adapting to the Times: The Evolution of U.S. Threat Reduction Programs,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2011.

7. Brian D. Finlay, Elizabeth Turpen, and Frederick Kellert, “Manufacturing Possibility: Expanding Resources to Meet Global Challenges, Promote Economic Development, Support Innovation, and Prevent Proliferation,” StimsonCenter, April 2008.

8. Goodby et al., “Cooperative Threat Reduction for a New Era.”

9. For information on Iraq’s WMD program, the role of the MIC, and the value of Iraqi WMD experts, see “The Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” September 30, 2004. The report is often known as the Duelfer report, and the group that prepared it is known as the Iraq Survey Group.

10. Texts of the Orders of the Coalition Provisional Authority, www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/.

11. David E. Mosher and John V. Parachini, “Rereading the Duelfer Report,” International Herald Tribune, November 15, 2004, www.rand.org/commentary/2004/11/15/IHT.html.

12. John Gibson, “Al Qaeda Leader Calls for Scientists,” Fox News, September 28, 2006.

13. David Kay, “Statement on the Interim Progress Report of the Activities of the Iraq Survey Group Before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Defense, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” October 2, 2003; Sammy Salama and Cameron Hunter, “Iraq’s WMD Scientists in the Crossfire,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, May 2006.

14. UN News Center, “Iraq Gives UN List of Scientists Involved in Producing Weapons of Mass Destruction,” December 28, 2002.

15. Richard Boucher, “Redirection of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Experts,” December 18, 2003, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iraq/dos121803.html (U.S. Department of State press statement); Richard Stone, “Nonproliferation: New Initiatives Reach Out to Iraq’s Scientific Elite,” Science, March 12, 2004, p. 1594.

16. Edward W. Lempinen, ed., “AAAS S&T Policy Fellows Risk Their Lives to Rebuild Iraq,” Science, August 26, 2005, p. 1336.

17. Ronald E. Neumann, The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2009).

18. Philipp C. Bleek, “Project Vinca: Lessons for Securing Civil Nuclear Material Stockpiles,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall/Winter 2003, pp. 1-23.

19. Michael Roston, “Redirection of WMD Scientists in Iraq and Libya: A Status Report,” RANSAC Policy Update, April 2004.

20. Christina Asquith, “A $20 Million Carrot to Keep WMD Scientists in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2003.

21. Robinson, “DOE Needs to Reassess Its Program to Assist in Russia and Other Countries.”

22. GAO, “Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE’s Program to Assist Scientists in Russia and Other Countries Needs to Be Reassessed,” GAO-08-189, December 2007; NAS, “Global Security Engagement.”


"Redirecting" scientists who worked in programs to produce weapons of mass destruction is a key part of U.S. nonproliferation efforts. In spite of current budget constraints, the United States needs to improve its capacity in that area. The difficulties that such programs faced in Iraq provide valuable lessons for future work.


New Nuclear Suppliers Rules a Net Plus

Daryl G. Kimball

After years of discussion, the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has agreed on a clearer, tougher set of guidelines designed to prevent the spread of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing equipment and technology. The action should help guard against the further proliferation of sensitive equipment and technology that can be used to make fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Although country neutral, the new NSG rules fix one of the holes created by the NSG’s ill-conceived 2008 decision to exempt India from most NSG trading restrictions and should ensure that sensitive enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies will not be transferred to India and used in its unsafeguarded military nuclear program.

The new guidelines, which were approved at the NSG's June 23-24 meeting in the Netherlands, bar enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology exports to states that have not signed or are not in compliance with the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), do not allow comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and do not allow more extensive monitoring under the terms of an additional protocol, among other criteria.

Only three states have not signed the NPT: India, Israel, and Pakistan. Iran, North Korea, and Syria are currently in noncompliance with their IAEA safeguards obligations. Dozens of states have not yet approved an additional protocol, including Algeria, Egypt, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Washington recently threatened that his country would build nuclear weapons if Iran does.

The NSG was formed in 1975 in response to India’s misuse of civilian nuclear assistance for its nuclear weapons program. Its guidelines are voluntary and designed to reinforce legal prohibitions in the NPT and elsewhere on the use of peaceful nuclear technology for military purposes.

The NSG’s policy is a commonsense precaution: Enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology cannot be safeguarded against misuse for military purposes, and all NSG states are under a legal obligation not to assist other countries, directly or indirectly, in the production of nuclear weapons. Unlike the five original nuclear-armed states, India continues to produce nuclear bomb material and refuses to transform its nuclear test moratorium into a legally binding pledge by signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Not surprisingly, Indian politicians are complaining that the NSG’s latest decision detracts from the so-called clean waiver from NSG rules that the Bush administration rammed through the group in 2008.

U.S. officials have responded like candidates eager not to offend campaign contributors. U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer insisted June 30 that “the White House and the Obama administration strongly and vehemently support the clean waiver for India.”

In reality, the 2008 exemption for India was not clean and unconditional. The United States and other nuclear suppliers did not then and do not now intend to provide India with enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, but rather electricity production reactors and fuel. India remains in a special category, outside the nonproliferation mainstream.

The 2008 NSG decision specifically did not apply to enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology transfers. The decision also notes that the exemption will be reconsidered and probably revoked if India conducts another nuclear explosive test or if it breaks any of its other nonproliferation pledges. In addition, the 2008 U.S. legislation that allows reactor and fuel sales to India includes a similar condition, which was strongly supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), that makes it clear that the United States has the right to terminate all nuclear trade with India if New Delhi’s leaders resume nuclear explosive testing.

If the NSG allows India to become a member, as the Obama administration is now proposing, the group’s ability to hold India accountable would be severely undermined, compounding the damage created by the India-specific exemption. Furthermore, given that India already has made a commitment to meet NSG export guidelines, it is not clear whether or how Indian membership would strengthen the NSG.

The Indian nuclear deal has prompted Israel and Pakistan to lobby for similar exemptions, so far unsuccessfully. Pakistan has accelerated its efforts to increase its capacity to produce plutonium for weapons and has blocked negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. China has announced it will sell Pakistan two additional nuclear power plants in violation of NSG rules.

Before considering membership options for India, NSG members should actively encourage India to curtail the production of fissile material, sign the CTBT, and freeze further development of long-range ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons.

The 2008 India exemption was a strategic blunder that has complicated relations with India and damaged the nonproliferation effort. The NSG’s new policy on sensitive enrichment and reprocessing items is an important adjustment, but the effort to curtail proliferation and slow down nuclear weapons competition in Asia requires more principled and effective leadership from Washington, New Delhi, and other capitals.

After years of discussion, the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has agreed on a clearer, tougher set of guidelines designed to prevent the spread of uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing equipment and technology. The action should help guard against the further proliferation of sensitive equipment and technology that can be used to make fissile material for nuclear weapons.


Subscribe to RSS - July/August 2011