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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
January/February 2012
Edition Date: 
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Cover Image: 

Modernizing the Triad on a Tight Budget

Amy F. Woolf

In November 2010, as the Senate neared the end of its debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the Obama administration submitted to Congress an update to its “1251 report,” outlining how it planned to maintain and modernize U.S. strategic nuclear forces under the treaty.[1]

The updated report focused on programs and funding during the next decade, but it confirmed that the United States would invest in facilities, warheads, and delivery systems that would support essentially the same force structure for at least the next 60 years. Although this investment strategy helped win Senate votes for New START, it also has raised questions about the U.S. need for and ability to fund these modernization programs. Deep cuts in the military budget, which the Department of Defense and Congress are considering, could make it difficult for the United States to replace these systems simultaneously. At the same time, the ongoing Pentagon study on how the United States will implement the 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report” could lead to further reductions in the size of the U.S. nuclear force, mitigating the need for simultaneous modernization programs. However, if the study suggests only modest changes in the planned modernization programs, the pressures of the current budget crisis could lead to greater reductions that might have significant consequences for U.S. nuclear strategy.

The United States deploys its strategic nuclear warheads—those systems limited by New START—on three types of delivery vehicles: long-range, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); long-range, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs); and long-range heavy bombers based in the United States. Each of the “legs” of this triad is aging, and all may reach the end of their service lives in the next 20 to 25 years.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force plan to pursue programs to modernize and replace each leg of the triad. Yet, as Major General William Chambers, the Air Force assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, has noted, funding for each of these programs will rise sharply later this decade under current plans, creating a “bow wave” of investment in strategic systems.[2] Others have raised similar concerns. In July 2011, shortly before he stepped down as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright noted that “the challenge here is that we have to recapitalize all three [triad] legs and we don’t have the money to do it.” Later that month, General Robert Kehler, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, raised a similar point when asked whether budget restrictions could affect modernization plans. He noted that “we’re not going to be able to go forward with weapon systems that cost what weapon systems cost today.”

Concerns about the high costs have led to a search for alternatives. Most of these take the form of delaying the current program or reducing the size of the planned force. For example, the Navy has reduced the number of launch tubes planned for each new ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) from 20 to 16. Others have suggested that the Navy also reduce the number of planned submarines, from 12 to 10 or eight.[3] The Air Force has indicated that although it will design the new bomber to deliver nuclear and conventional weapons, it might delay testing of the nuclear capabilities on the new bomber until existing bombers began to retire from the fleet.[4] Others have suggested that the Air Force eliminate bombers from the nuclear force completely and that it delay or even cancel the new ICBM program.

These alternatives could reduce the cost of maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, but could also change the future course of U.S. nuclear policy, forcing the United States to alter the roles and missions of its nuclear weapons.

The Current Triad

Each leg of the strategic nuclear triad brought strengths and weaknesses to the U.S. nuclear deterrent during the Cold War. Taken together, the three legs were thought to complicate Soviet attack planning and provide the United States with enough warheads that could survive a Soviet first strike to retaliate with devastating force. Although today’s threats differ from those of the Cold War, the legs of the triad still have complementary capabilities that can contribute to a stable and robust deterrent.

During the Cold War, ICBMs, although vulnerable to a Soviet first strike, had the accuracy and prompt responsiveness needed to attack hardened targets, such as Soviet command posts and nuclear forces. Today, they remain poised to launch promptly, with the accuracy needed to attack the full range of targets. SLBMs, in contrast, could have survived a Soviet first strike, but for many years lacked the accuracy needed to attack the full range of targets as well as the assured communications needed to launch within minutes of an order to do so. With improvements in their guidance and communications, SLBMs may now match ICBMs in these capabilities if they are at sea and within range of their intended targets. Each missile still carries several warheads, however, which may limit the suitability of these missiles for attacks on discrete targets. During the Cold War, heavy bombers could disperse in a crisis to signal U.S. resolve and enhance their survivability, but they would have been slow to reach their targets and were vulnerable to advanced air defenses. These characteristics remain today, but, like ICBMs, heavy bombers can provide the United States with the ability to attack single, discrete targets.

The United States continued to maintain the triad as it reduced its levels of nuclear weapons in the 1990s. The Pentagon cited the deterrent value of the synergy among the three legs, but it also emphasized that this force structure provided a hedge against unexpected problems in any single delivery system. This characteristic grew in importance as the United States reduced redundancy across the force by retiring many of the different types of warheads and missiles it had deployed over the years.

The Obama administration cited both points in support of the triad in the 2010 NPR Report, noting that SSBNs and the missiles they carry “represent the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear Triad…. Single-warhead ICBMs contribute to stability, and like SLBMs are not vulnerable to air defenses. Unlike ICBMs and SLBMs, bombers can be visibly deployed forward, as a signal in crisis to strengthen deterrence of potential adversaries and assurance of allies and partners.” The NPR Report also emphasized that the retention of “sufficient force structure in each leg” would allow the United States “the ability to hedge effectively by shifting weight from one Triad leg to another if necessary due to unexpected technological problems or operational vulnerabilities.”[5]

The Obama administration pledged to retain the triad; the limits in New START accommodate this pledge. Yet, there is little analysis to show whether the United States still will need a triad or each leg’s unique capabilities in 15 to 20 years, after New START has expired and the existing systems begin to retire, or over the next 60 years, while the new systems remain in the force.

Minuteman III ICBMs

The Air Force first deployed Minuteman III ICBMs in 1970. It initially deployed up to 550 missiles, with each carrying three warheads. According to the most recent New START data released by the Department of State, the Air Force now deploys 448 Minuteman IIIs in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, with up to 150 missiles per base.[6] It plans to retain up to 420 ICBMs under New START; each of these remaining missiles will carry a single warhead.

The Air Force has recently extended the service lives of the Minuteman IIIs, investing $7.7 billion (in 2010 dollars) between fiscal years 2001 and 2010.[7] The Air Force has poured new fuel into the first and second stages and replaced the third-stage rocket motors of all the missiles. To reduce the life-cycle costs of the ICBMs and maintain their reliability, it is rebuilding and replacing engine components that were produced in the 1970s. It has replaced aging parts in the guidance systems to improve their maintainability and reliability. The Air Force also is upgrading the targeting systems in the Minuteman launch control centers and is deploying newer warheads removed from retired Peacekeeper ICBMs on the Minuteman IIIs.

These programs were supposed to extend the life of the Minuteman IIIs through 2020. In 2006, however, the Air Force decided to continue to modernize the components of the existing missiles rather than to develop and produce new missiles to replace them. This approach could extend the service life of Minuteman IIIs through 2030. The Air Force recently has started to study its options for a missile that could be available after that time and plans to spend $26 million on this study between fiscal years 2012 and 2014. Because it has not yet selected a way forward, however, the Air Force cannot offer any estimate of the eventual cost of a new ICBM program.

If the Air Force acquires a new ICBM, procurement would likely begin in fiscal year 2025 and would overlap with the Navy’s new SSBN program and the Air Force’s new heavy bomber program. As an alternative, the Air Force could delay the acquisition of a new ICBM, while continuing to invest in programs that would sustain and maintain the existing Minuteman IIIs. This alternative could reduce procurement costs for the nuclear triad in the next 10 to 15 years. Yet, it may only delay, not reduce, the long-term cost of a new ICBM. In addition, the Air Force would still have to fund the programs designed to further lengthen the life of the Minuteman IIIs, which would reduce the savings from the delay in the new program. Moreover, even with extensive maintenance programs, the reliability of Minuteman IIIs could degrade over time, possibly forcing their retirement before the eventual acquisition of a new system.

If the Air Force wanted to ensure that it had a new missile available in the 2030 time frame, it could proceed with the program now, but procure perhaps only 200 to 300 ICBMs in the long run. Although this would not reduce the near-term design, research, and development costs, it could reduce procurement costs and the cost to operate and maintain the force over its life. The potential for savings in the cost of operations would depend on how the Air Force deployed the new missiles. If it continued to operate three ICBM bases, as it does today, operating costs would not decline in proportion to the decline in the number of missiles and warheads. If the Air Force deployed the smaller force at fewer bases, it could reduce the costs associated with base operations. With fewer bases and a smaller role for the missiles, however, the Air Force could find it difficult to recruit and retain launch crews and officers with nuclear weapons expertise. The ICBM force could become more of a “niche” capability, and, if SLBMs have the accuracy and responsiveness to take on most of the missions of the land-based leg, the costs of the ICBM force may seem high, relative to the force’s contribution to the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Either alternative could lead to the eventual elimination of the ICBM force, because the Air Force did not invest in a replacement missile or because it invested in the missile but could not convince the Defense Department or Congress to support funding for the acquisition and operations of a smaller force. Without ICBMs, the bomber leg of the triad would increase in value as the only way to attack discrete, single targets, and the SLBM leg would take over as the sole system that could provide a prompt response to threats around the world.

Ohio-Class SSBNs

The Ohio-class (Trident) SSBNs first entered the Navy’s fleet in 1981, with the last of 18 submarines beginning service in 1997. The Navy has converted four submarines to carry cruise missiles, leaving 14 equipped with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. With two in overhaul, the Navy operates a fleet of 12 submarines; seven are based in Bangor, Washington, and five in Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy initially planned to keep Trident submarines in service for 30 years, but has extended that time period to 42 years, so the submarines will begin to retire in 2027.

Each Ohio-class submarine has 24 launch tubes for Trident II (D-5) missiles. Under New START, the Navy will eliminate four launch tubes on each submarine, leaving 240 total deployed launchers across the fleet of 12 submarines. The Navy purchased 425 of the original D-5 missiles and is currently buying an additional 108 missiles through a life extension program that will allow the missiles to remain reliable throughout the life of the Trident submarines. The extra missiles, beyond the 240 needed for deployment, support the test program and operational fleet throughout the life cycle of the missiles.

The Navy is designing a new class of SSBNs that would begin to enter service by 2029, as the Ohio-class submarines begin to retire and before the number of operational submarines falls below 12. The Navy would have to begin construction of its new submarine by 2019 to meet this schedule. With an expected 40-year life span, these submarines would remain in the U.S. fleet until 2075. The Navy initially estimated that each new submarine could cost $6 billion to $7 billion in fiscal year 2010 dollars. It has redesigned the submarine to reduce the costs. While the lead ship may cost more than $11 billion, because it will include over $4.5 billion in nonrecurring design and engineering costs, the Navy now expects later ships to average around $5.6 billion per ship. It hopes to reduce that figure to around $4.9 billion per ship. The total procurement cost for the program will reflect the Navy’s success in reducing this average cost. As a result, total estimates vary, ranging from just under $50 billion to nearly $90 billion. As a part of this effort, the Navy is designing the new submarines with only 16 ballistic missile launch tubes. In addition, the Navy will use a new reactor design that will not require a refueling overhaul, allowing the reactor life to match the 40-year life of the submarine.

The Navy says it expects to request a total of $29.4 billion for the new submarine from 2011 to 2020, with $11.6 billion for research and development and $17.8 billion for design and procurement. The total life-cycle costs of the submarine, including research, development, procurement, and operations for a fleet of 12 submarines, will reach nearly $350 billion through 2075.

The Navy could reduce the near-term costs of the new SSBN program if it delayed the start of construction. Although such a delay could mean that several Ohio-class submarines would retire before new submarines entered the fleet, analysts argue that the United States could meet its deterrent requirements with fewer than the current number of 12 operational submarines. They argue that the United States could deploy existing submarines with 24 missiles instead of 20 or existing missiles with eight warheads, rather than three or four, to retain the number of warheads permitted under New START and needed to meet targeting requirements.

The same calculations would support an alternative that started the program now but reduced the number of submarines in the new fleet, with the Navy acquiring only eight or 10 instead of 12. This would not reduce the near-term costs of research and development, but it would reduce the long-term procurement costs for the submarine program and the long-term operating costs of the fleet. A fleet of 12 submarines, with 16 missiles on each submarine and four warheads on each missile, would carry 768 warheads. A smaller fleet of eight submarines could carry 768 warheads if each missile carried six warheads instead of four.

However, the total number of warheads at sea is not the sole measure of the fleet’s capabilities. The Obama administration has stated that the goal for the U.S. submarine fleet is to “maintain continuous at-sea deployments of SSBNs in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the ability to surge additional submarines in crisis.”[8] The current deployment pattern meets this requirement. With five submarines in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, the Navy can maintain two submarines on station, patrolling within range of their intended targets, in the Atlantic and three on station in the Pacific. The remainder support the at-sea deterrent, with submarines in port or in transit to their patrol areas. Some of those in transit could surge and reach patrol areas during a crisis.

With fewer submarines in the fleet, the Navy would have to reduce the number of submarines on station, reduce the size of the patrol area, or possibly reduce the fleet to only one base in the Atlantic or the Pacific. Moreover, adding warheads to each missile would reduce the range of the missiles and, when combined with the reduction in the number of submarines on station or the size of the patrol area, could reduce the Navy’s ability to reach critical targets around the world on short notice.

As a result, if the Navy reduced the size of the SSBN fleet, it might not be able to rely on submarines to respond promptly to an unanticipated crisis far from the locations of the forward-deployed forces. Instead, the Navy might have to delay its response and rely on its ability to change its patrol areas or increase its patrol rates by surging during a crisis. This could leave the ICBM force as the sole system that could provide a prompt response to threats around the world.

Heavy Bombers

The Air Force currently has 20 B-2 bombers, with 16 “combat coded” for nuclear missions, at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. The B-2 first entered service in 1997; the Air Force expects it to remain active until 2034 or later. The Air Force invested $5.1 billion in life extension programs for the B-2 fleet between fiscal years 2001 and 2010 (in fiscal year 2010 dollars) and plans to spend an additional $3.5 billion between fiscal years 2011 and 2016.

The B-2 can carry B61 and B83 nuclear bombs as well as conventional weapons and has participated in U.S. military campaigns from Bosnia to Iraq. The B61-10 bomb can penetrate some hardened targets. The B83 bomb is a high-yield weapon that is also designed to destroy hardened targets, such as ICBM silos. The B-2 also can carry the B61-Mod 7, which may be modified as a part of the planned life extension program to enhance the safety, security, and use control features on B61s.

The Air Force maintains 76 B-52H aircraft in the active inventory, although only 44 are “combat coded” for nuclear missions. These are located at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. The B-52 first entered service in 1961 and is expected to remain in the fleet through 2040. It has undergone many modernization and life extension programs over the years. The Air Force allocated $1.4 billion to these programs between fiscal years 2001 and 2010 and expects to request an additional $1.3 billion between fiscal years 2011 and 2016.

The B-52 can carry nuclear or conventional cruise missiles and several other conventional weapons. The Air Force plans to begin a life extension program for its nuclear-armed air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 and to sustain the ALCMs through 2030. The Air Force has begun a study on a new advanced long-range standoff cruise missile that will replace the ALCMs after 2030. This missile, which may eventually cost $1.3 billion, may begin initial production around 2025.

The Air Force also plans to develop a new bomber. This aircraft is needed for conventional long-range strike missions, although the plane would be able to deliver nuclear weapons. In October 2011, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz indicated that the new bomber probably would not have nuclear capabilities initially but that they would be added later as the B-2s and B-52s retired from the fleet. The Air Force plans to procure 80 to 100 new bombers, with the first expected to enter service around 2025, at an estimated procurement cost of $550 million for each bomber.

Because the B-2s and B-52s may remain in the fleet through 2040, the Air Force could delay the acquisition of a new bomber to reduce the near-term costs of this program. As with the ICBM program, a delay in the program would not necessarily reduce its long-term life-cycle costs. In addition, because the Air Force plans to acquire the bombers as part of its conventional long-range strike mission, a delay could undermine the broader program and interfere with the requirements for conventional capabilities. The Air Force could reduce the size of the program, buying fewer than the planned 80 to 100 aircraft, which would reduce the eventual procurement and operating costs for the bomber fleet but could also undermine the Air Force’s ability to meet its conventional-weapon mission requirements in future conflicts. The Air Force might also delay or restructure the life extension and replacement programs for the weapons carried on the bombers, although the bombers would not be a part of the nuclear mission if these weapons are not available.

Finally, the Air Force could, as seems likely, delay introducing the nuclear capability onto the new, long-range strike aircraft by delaying the development and testing of software and other equipment needed for the nuclear mission. This would reduce the training and operating costs for the bomber for a period of time. Yet, if budget constraints eventually limit the size of the bomber program and if the conventional mission remains paramount, it is possible that the Air Force may never introduce nuclear capabilities onto the new bomber.

As a result, efforts to reduce the cost of the bomber modernization program by delaying the bomber or the weapons could eventually result in the removal of the bombers from the nuclear mission. This would eliminate the U.S. ability to signal resolve in a conflict by dispersing nuclear-armed bombers and leave the ICBM fleet as the sole means for the United States to attack individual, discrete targets.

Consequences for the Force

If the Navy and Air Force individually decided to delay or cut back their modernization programs, the United States could end up with a strategic nuclear force deployed mostly at sea and limited to a delayed response after an attack from another country. Without nuclear weapons-capable bombers, the Air Force would lose an ability to signal intent by dispersing the aircraft in a nuclear crisis. Although a small ICBM force would allow the United States to retain its ability to launch prompt, discrete attacks against critical targets, this force could prove to be too costly, and the Air Force might give up that mission as well. With fewer submarines at sea, the Navy could not maintain the current SSBN operating patterns, leaving it more reliant on its ability to relocate its forces during a crisis.

A strategic force with fewer submarines and little or no ICBM and bomber capability could limit the United States’ ability to draw on the unique characteristics and synergy of the current nuclear triad. Many have argued, however, that the current size, shape, and operating patterns of the triad reflect Cold War requirements and an outdated role for nuclear weapons.[9] The United States could adopt a posture that is designed more for minimum deterrence than war-fighting—one that seeks to deter attack by maintaining the ability to retaliate only after a nuclear attack by an adversary.

However, the Obama administration indicated in the 2010 NPR Report that the synergy and redundancy of the three legs of the triad were still important, that the United States was not ready to move to a “sole purpose” doctrine for its nuclear weapons, and that the country still required capabilities that allowed for a nuclear response in a wider range of contingencies. The Defense Department’s ongoing NPR implementation study could alter this conclusion and determine that the U.S. deterrent would remain robust with a nuclear force that did not include as large an ICBM force, as many SSBNs on station, or any nuclear capability on bombers. On the other hand, the study could recommend modest changes in the U.S. force structure, but conclude, as did the original NPR, that the United States should retain the existing triad with essentially the same operational capabilities but possibly at somewhat reduced numbers.

Regardless of the outcome of this study, its recommendations are likely to reflect a consideration of potential threats and U.S. nuclear requirements only over the next 10 to 15 years. In contrast, the modernization programs described in this article will provide forces for the next 60 to 70 years. Although it may be too difficult for the Pentagon to assess the security environment that far into the future, it also is not possible for the Pentagon or anyone else to be sure that the United States will need a prompt retaliatory capability, with several submarines on station in two oceans and discrete attack options from land-based and air-delivered weapons, that far into the future. In the absence of such a long-term analysis, it may be prudent to plan to retain the current force structure by beginning the modernization programs now, while holding open the option of later reductions in the size of the programs and the resulting force structure. In other words, current threats and current strategy would make the current force structure appropriate, while future changes in threats and strategy may allow changes in it.

This will do little to address the current budget pressures. If the NPR implementation study does not recommend significant changes in the size and structure of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, budget cuts that delay or scale back the modernization programs could force the same result. Indeed, these budget-driven changes in nuclear strategy and operations could be more extensive than those recommended by the Pentagon study. ACT

 


Amy F. Woolf is a specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not reflect the views of the Congressional Research Service or the Library of Congress.


 

ENDNOTES

 


 

1. Congress requested the report in the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (section 1251). For the text of the November 2010 update to the May 2010 report, see www.lasg.org/CMRR/Sect1251_update_17Nov2010.pdf (hereinafter Section 1251 Report update).

2. “Chambers: ‘Bow Wave’ of Nuclear Triad Costs Coming After FY-17,” Inside the Air Force, October 28, 2011.

3. See Michael O’Hanlon, “To Save Money, Look to Nukes,” The Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2011.

4. Jen DiMascio, “Air Force Looks to Contain Bomber Costs,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 2, 2011.

5. U.S. Department of Defense, “Nuclear Posture Review Report,” April 8, 2010, pp. 21-22, www.defense.gov/npr/docs/2010%20Nuclear%20Posture%20Review%20Report.pdf.

6. Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. State Department, “New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms,” October 25, 2011, www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/176096.htm.

7. The Air Force may request an additional $2.3 billion for research, development, and procurement on Minuteman sustainment programs through fiscal year 2016.

8. See Section 1251 Report update.

9. Kingston Reif, “What the Super Committee’s Failure Means for Nuclear Weapons,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 14, 2011.

In November 2010, as the Senate neared the end of its debate on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the Obama administration submitted to Congress an update to its “1251 report,” outlining how it planned to maintain and modernize U.S. strategic nuclear forces under the treaty.1

How to Reach Consensus on an Arms Trade Treaty

Andrew Wood

Since 2006, government representatives to the United Nations have been engaged in progressively wider and deeper discussions toward the negotiation of a treaty to regulate the trade in conventional arms. In 2009 the UN General Assembly decided to convene a conference that established a timetable for crafting an arms trade treaty (ATT), which is to be “a legally binding instrument on the highest-possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.”

This decision established a series of four preparatory committee meetings, of which three have been held since 2010. Under the agreed program, there will be a short preparatory committee meeting in February, primarily on procedural issues, and the negotiations will start in July.

This might appear to be a protracted process, but by the standards of multilateral negotiations, the pace has been remarkable. Nevertheless, with only 22 days of talks left, it is time to focus on issues that will increase the prospects for success and determine what a treaty might look like. A key issue in this regard is why the defense industry should be involved in the debate, a point that this article will address in some detail.

The aim of an ATT is to regulate global trade in conventional arms more effectively, not to reduce or to limit the scope for legal trade. The envisioned treaty would represent a new kind of instrument that would not fall neatly into the category of disarmament or arms control.

There is enormous support for an ATT among UN member states.[2] For example, 151 states voted in favor of the last UN resolution on an ATT in 2009. However, the five years of talks have shown that there are probably more than 100 different views of what the treaty should look like. As always in these negotiations, the devil is in the detail. Therefore, a key question for the negotiators is whether it is possible to avoid detail in the text of the treaty.

Prospects for Success

The chair of the process, Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, has done a remarkable job in marshaling the discussions, gathering a collection of disparate views into a chairman’s draft that has been circulated to governments and observers in the preparatory committee meetings. He has said clearly and repeatedly that this is not a draft treaty text; indeed, it carries no formal status. Yet, that does not stop many people from thinking or claiming otherwise. That view needs to be dispelled. In the UN, such misconceptions often lead to considerable time being lost down rabbit holes.

Distilling from the draft text the elements that will constitute a strong, effective, and implementable treaty remains a significant challenge. Arguably, 70 to 80 percent of the issues are close to agreement; it is the remaining 20 to 30 percent that will lead to some late nights at the UN. Before addressing these issues, however, the delegates most likely will have to overcome some procedural obstacles.

During preparation of the 2009 resolution, a tremendous amount of heat, but little light, was generated in a debate over whether the negotiating conference should be undertaken on the basis of consensus. Following U.S. votes against ATT resolutions in 2006 and 2008, the need for consensus was a critical element in obtaining a new U.S. position of support.[3] Some long-standing advocates and observers felt this price was too high, arguing that it may give states the ability to stall negotiations and dilute the final treaty.[4] Nevertheless, having the United States, the largest exporter of conventional arms, positively engaged in the process was and remains vital to its success.

Clearly, the change of administration in the United States and the resulting desire to engage in a multilateral process alongside some of its closest allies and friends were major factors in the change of U.S. position. Yet, other factors also were important. First, a treaty in some form is likely to be concluded, if not in 2012, very soon after. Quite rightly, Washington wants to make sure the treaty does not undermine U.S. objectives: preventing arms from falling into the hands of those that would threaten its homeland, its military overseas, or its friends and allies. A weak treaty also could provide a fig leaf for governments less willing to address the need for responsible controls on arms exports, undermining years of efforts to deal with states that proliferate or divert arms.

Second, the United States needs to be at the table to protect its interests. Actively participating in the negotiation gives it the chance to promote the export control agenda that it has pursued since the early days of the Cold War, an agenda that focuses on promoting national responsibility and accountability for transfers. Moreover, once a treaty is completed, a state that is not a signatory will not have a place in meetings of states-parties that would define future implementation and adaptation of a treaty.

Other significant players such as China and Russia, which both had abstained on the 2009 resolution, now have taken a role alongside the United States, albeit from slightly different positions. Both had remained skeptical of the need for a treaty. One of the most significant breakthroughs came last July during the third preparatory committee meeting. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, known as the P5—made a joint statement[5] supporting the efforts aimed at establishing an “international instrument.” This choice of words was notable because an international instrument could be a document that is politically but not legally binding and therefore would be viewed by many as much weaker than a treaty. Perhaps this reflected remaining reservations on the part of China and Russia about the scope and purpose of any treaty as it did not entirely reflect the mainstream view in support of a comprehensive, legally binding treaty establishing the highest-possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.

A consensus rule certainly helped to bring three of the largest arms traders—China, Russia, and the United States—to the table. Crucially, however, with Washington now at the table, actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty, it was perhaps unrealistic for Beijing and Moscow to continue to abstain.

It remains unclear whether the shift by China and Russia makes consensus more likely. Achieving consensus largely depends on a text the P5 can accept, as those five states represent the preponderance of the export and import trade in conventional arms. Nevertheless, they are not the only players in a process that must be open and transparent and take full account of the views of all member states. To have a significant treaty supported by a broad range of states will require compromise from all. There remains a critical need for a dialogue among proponents, the P5, and those less convinced of the need or feasibility of a treaty.

Industry Involvement Needed

As momentum builds in the diplomatic process toward the July conference, discussion now also must focus on practical aspects of the treaty’s scope and implementation. Creating idealistic or compromise language that fails to take account of the practical aspects of implementation will critically undermine the treaty’s longer-term success. Industry has an important role to play.

Governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) sometimes do not fully understand the enormous scale and complexity of the global supply chain in defense goods and technology. From its experience in this area, the defense industry understands the dynamics and the practicalities, including the negative effects that could result from imprudent language that is impractical to implement. Along with governments, industry will be one of the major stakeholders in the treaty, the ones who will be most directly affected by its implementation.

The few industry representatives that have attended recent preparatory committee meetings have noted with some concern an absence of such expertise. The fact that the ATT process was established and subsequently developed within the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, the body that deals with disarmament and international security, has meant that an ATT is viewed through a disarmament lens and is being negotiated by disarmament diplomats. Although there was no other UN forum in which it could reasonably be discussed, the disarmament and arms control label is distinctly unhelpful.

It is both natural and essential that industry in all regions and of all views be involved. A number of the delegations and García Moritán are now calling for the close involvement of industry.

Perhaps because of a lack of clarity about the nature of an ATT, with the exception of some European companies, the larger aerospace and defense industry has been unaware of a process that could have a significant impact on its business. It also is possible that many merely thought the UN process would not progress as fast as it has. Some in the U.S. industry believed there was little chance in the early stages of the U.S. government signing a treaty, even if one emerged. British industry’s discussions with its overseas partners underscored this point, but many U.S. companies were simply unaware of an ATT as an issue.

This is not entirely industry’s own fault. Without government outreach to industry, the labyrinthine processes of the UN, involving resolutions, groups of governmental experts, open-ended working groups, and preparatory committees, is remarkably opaque to outsiders, and the potential implications often remain remote.

One exception to this lack of awareness was in the firearms industry. That sector has been sensitized to UN processes, often with a real fear that these would threaten or undermine its business. Such fears arose most notably in connection with the UN “Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects” in 2001.[6] Alongside the firearms industry stood the sports shooting community, which also perceived real threats to its interests. At the time and on that specific initiative, some of those concerns probably were reasonable.

In the context of an ATT, these concerns swept in at a very early stage. Clearly, small arms and light weapons were on the agenda as they form part of a broad menu of conventional arms that would be discussed. Many states, particularly in Africa, attach the highest importance to issues of small arms and light weapons. This is entirely understandable as they are most affected by the proliferation of such weapons. They viewed an ATT as a means to address what they saw as failures by or omissions from the UN program of action process. Issues relating to small arms and light weapons became a dominant part of the early ATT discussions. As a result, the legacy concerns of the firearms industry and sports shooting community were resurrected. Regrettably, this has been erroneously skewed toward an unhelpful exchange between proponents of an ATT—governments and NGOs—on one side and those representing the sports shooting and civilian gun ownership community on the other. Calls from some states and a majority of NGOs to have the broadest possible definition of small arms and light weapons, including civilian firearms, have merely fueled that debate. This perpetuates the erroneous perception that an ATT is focused primarily on these weapons. More narrowly but no less importantly, the sports shooting community fears that issues of transfers within national borders and private ownership will be included in an ATT’s scope. Both of these fears should have been allayed. As the report of the 2008 UN group of governmental experts on an ATT concluded,

It was also mentioned that, were an arms trade treaty to be considered feasible, it would need to reflect respect for the sovereignty of every State, without interfering in the internal affairs of States or their constitutional provisions, and respect for their territorial integrity. Exclusively internal transfers or national ownership provisions, including national constitutional protections on private ownership within that State’s territory, should not fall under an arms trade treaty.[7]

That redline remains for many states, including many proponents such as the United Kingdom, and certainly for the United States. Because decisions must be made by consensus, any perceived encroachments on constitutional rights can easily be prevented.

Furthermore, it is important to note the global object and purpose of a future ATT. Issues of civilian ownership and sports shooting, important though they are in their context, simply have no place in an ATT. It would be a shame if this debate, over an issue explicitly ruled out at the earliest stage and reaffirmed in the 2009 resolution establishing the negotiating conference,[8] were able to continue sucking oxygen from the broader debate over the trade in conventional arms. One effect of the debate over small arms and light weapons is that it prevents the voice of the larger aerospace and defense industry community from being heard.

Covered Categories

The seven major categories of conventional arms likely to be included, taken broadly from the UN Register of Conventional Arms, are tanks, military vehicles, artillery systems, military aircraft, military helicopters, naval vessels, and missiles and missile systems. In addition to these, small arms and light weapons are being pursued as an additional category—an ordering that many in the earliest days called the package of “7+1.” During the First Committee debates in October 2009, one industry group noted the discussions on scope had been turned upside down and were more about small arms and light weapons than the seven major categories of conventional weapons and thus more like “1+7.”[9]

Discussion appears to be moving toward a broad interpretation of the seven categories plus small arms and light weapons. This broad interpretation is important, as is avoiding any attempt to define any of the categories. Such efforts have proven difficult in the context of the UN Register, and there is no reason to expect them to be different in an ATT. The direction now appears to be toward allowing states to define the coverage precisely in their own national legislation. This is the right way to go, in part because it would avoid just the kind of detail that would stall negotiations.

Including ammunition is a problem and will likely remain so for many states if there were to be any suggestion of reporting on ammunition transfers. Many states consider such information to be sensitive and, for large exporters, extremely burdensome to collect.

Another contentious issue is the inclusion of many thousands of dual-use items. A number of governments have recognized the practical problems with defining and including these items, and it seems doubtful that they will be part of the eventual scope. The inclusion of transfers of technology also raises practical problems. Many states define this term quite broadly;[10] the danger is that many millions of technology transfers across the defense industry, for example relating to minor design issues or product support, could be brought within the scope of a treaty. These would be irrelevant to its purposes and would prove bureaucratically difficult to license and manage.

One can envisage including technology in the scope of licensed production arrangements, where it could be part of the transaction, combining with hardware, machine tools, and other elements to form a defined package, rather than attempting to define it generally. In this way, there would be no ability to evade treaty controls by transferring complete production arrangements, including the associated technology, to a non-ATT territory. Industry favors closing such loopholes.

Why Industry Should Care

Since 2006, British and other European industry representatives have worked increasingly closely with NGOs and governments to drive the process toward an effective and implementable treaty.

The defense industry places the highest priority on compliance with export controls wherever it operates. The majority of the industry already is heavily regulated, but that regulation is by no means universal in scope or effect. This uneven landscape provides one of the key arguments deployed in support of an ATT: the need to plug gaps. For industry, the unevenness also presents enormous challenges in achieving concurrent compliance in all the jurisdictions in which it operates. Thus, an initiative that genuinely seeks to establish a global benchmark is to be welcomed and supported.

The moral argument for an ATT, which encompasses human security and social and economic development, is overwhelming. In no way is this incompatible with good business practice. Corporate social responsibility is a fundamental part of effective business strategy. In the majority of companies, there is a strong belief that reputation matters and that conducting business in an ethical and responsible way brings competitive advantage.

The current economic climate brings new drivers and challenges that are relevant to the ATT debate. At no time in recent memory has the concept of a “level playing field” been as important as it is today. Pressure on industry and governments has grown. Driven at least in part by smaller slices of the cake being available to high-value manufacturers, this pressure presents the increased risk of suppliers in some countries entering or revisiting markets that would have been considered off-limits under other circumstances. This outcome would be highly undesirable, certainly from a security and human rights perspective.

Many governments have expressed a desire to rebalance their economies, moving toward high-value manufacturing and new wealth-creating industries. They are looking at more-active approaches to strategic industrial policy, despite pressure on public resources. Some will be looking to capture higher shares of mobile investment. At the same time, ethical and reputational factors in public and private investment are playing an increasing part in where the smart money flows.

Much of the research, technology, and skill base in high-value industries is tied to the defense industry. That industry can be a catalyst for high-value manufacturing growth in developed and developing economies.

Openness in the world trade system is essential for successful growth. Such trade must be carried out responsibly and securely. A treaty that clearly establishes the highest common standards, coupled with transparency of implementation, can go a long way toward achieving this goal.

Industry would welcome the opportunity to conclude supply contracts with many countries that have relatively low costs and a skilled workforce. At the moment, industry’s ability to do that is limited by licensing restrictions, sometimes involving a number of governments. Industry would welcome an ATT that overcame this problem.

Possible Approaches

Although not new, two approaches have gained increasing currency. Both are welcome.

The first is an ATT “lite” that is relatively comprehensive and specific on the “what” but short on the “how.” This means that the object and purpose of the treaty must be clear for any state that signs and ratifies it but that the treaty must allow states to make national decisions on issues such as how to establish their export control systems and licensing policies. It also suggests that definitions of terms such as “brokering,” “transit,” “transshipment,” “retransfer,” “loans,” “gifts,” and “donations” need not be provided in the treaty text. Each state would be expected to implement the treaty in good faith through appropriate legislation.

Second, there are increasing calls for a treaty to be short, simple, and easy to implement, an approach reflected in the P5 statement but also increasingly echoed by others in the preparatory committee meetings. This suggests that many of the “wish list” items, particularly extensive documentation and record keeping at every stage of a transaction, will be ruled out, as they should be, as overly burdensome and difficult to implement.

Both approaches recognize some practical constraints: the limited time available to negotiate a text, the differing national mechanisms for implementing export controls, the differing security interests of states, and the differing capacities for implementation. No single issue will be the determining factor, but in combination, they represent powerful drivers toward a short but effective treaty text.

Five goals and objectives in the current draft text, listed below, appear to have broad support and should rightly provide the compass for negotiations and the creation of a core treaty text.

Promote the goals and objectives of the UN Charter. The 2008 group of governmental experts, which worked by consensus, said that the principles of the UN Charter should be “at the centre” of efforts to address the international arms trade.[11] Therefore, in practice, a treaty will have to respect the sovereignty of every member state. This points to national decision-making and precludes a supranational body that would be able to question the national decisions of states regarding their arms transfers.

Establish the highest-possible common international standards for the import, export, and transfer of conventional arms. The highest-possible common standards should be exactly that—not the lowest common denominator. Furthermore, they should be a floor, not a ceiling. It is fundamentally important that any treaty not be seen as weakening existing controls. It should raise the bar for some, and states should be free to go beyond if they deem necessary.

Prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit transfer, production, and brokering of conventional arms and their diversion into the illicit market, including for use in transnational organized crime and terrorism. This issue has caused some polarization of views between states. Some states want to limit the scope of a treaty to illicit trade. This misses one essential point held as important by many other states: raising the bar on national export controls makes it more difficult for the illicit trade to operate, particularly if one of the criteria is risk of diversion. Part of the deal that must surely emerge is a recognition that strong and effective controls on all transfers are the only way to prevent, combat, and eradicate illicit trade.

Contribute to international and regional peace, security, and stability by preventing international transfers of conventional arms that contribute to or facilitate human suffering or violations of international law and obligations.

Member states have questioned whether the criteria for this goal[12] are objective. Where a UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter is relevant, by banning arms transfers, there clearly is no question regarding the legal obligation of states to comply. Such resolutions under Chapter VII refer to threats to international peace and security and are legally binding on all states. Any criteria referring to such a resolution would clearly be objective and should say that states “shall” not authorize a transfer of arms in situations that meet one or more of the criteria. Similarly compelling language should also apply to other international, regional, subregional, and national measures under which a state is bound or has chosen to be bound, where these relate to sanctions or embargoes on arms transfers. Whether the treaty will make any reference to regional embargoes is doubtful. Such language would certainly make holding together P5 support very difficult.

The objectiveness of other criteria will cause significant debate, especially where judgments over human rights law or international humanitarian law are required. Leaving aside the many debates over the applicability and interpretation of these important bodies of law, significant states will believe that these judgments will be inherently subjective and will therefore insist on the phrase “should not” or “take into account,” rather than the more restrictive “shall not” when referring to the decision to transfer arms.

Promote transparency and accountability in the import, export, and transfers of conventional arms. There is a laudable and principled call for maximum transparency to support a treaty, but this issue needs to be sliced a number of ways. Transparency of implementation has two parts. National reporting on the implementing arrangements will naturally require a comprehensive, one-time report to the UN on the legislative or administrative measures taken to ratify and implement the treaty in good faith. Subsequent reporting would merely provide updates materially affecting implementation. Through this kind of reporting, in combination with annual meetings of states-parties and regular review conferences, differences in national implementation can be discussed and improvements made. This will create a norm in the area of conventional arms transfers that has never existed, which is a prize worth pursuing in the longer term and not one that can be secured immediately.

Reporting on transfers will require more comprehensive annual reporting and would reflect the ultimate scope of the treaty. In order to avoid “reporting fatigue” and to recognize capacity problems in some states, the UN Register would be the logical vehicle because many states already report to it. If the scope of the treaty goes beyond the current seven categories, as it should, then treaty signatories would simply report to the register through an expanded reporting format. This is surprisingly simple to do in practice. The register could continue as a voluntary transparency and confidence-building instrument for any UN member states that are not parties to the treaty.

Cooperation and assistance will be an important element in the body of the treaty and will most likely generate a reporting requirement. States lacking a national export control system may need assistance in creating one to meet treaty requirements. States willing and able to provide assistance, for example on the establishment of export control licensing and enforcement arrangements, would be able to report this. Reporting would possibly identify both offers of assistance and those requiring it.

Perhaps in recognition of the drive toward a lite treaty, there is little appetite for any large secretariat to be established. A much smaller implementation support unit, like the one for the Biological Weapons Convention, acting as a repository and collating the information for the parties, would be sufficient to handle the reports. One possible additional role for the unit would be to act as a clearinghouse for cooperation and assistance, matching needs and resources.

Conclusion

An ATT would require states to consider their existing obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, but many states appear to have differing views on how those obligations should be interpreted and brought to bear on arms export decisions. The drafting and implementation of such parameters must account for this. Simplicity is the best solution.

There is a balance to be struck between loading the treaty with complex text in an attempt to address every angle and keeping it simple for states to implement in good faith through their national implementing legislation. It should be possible to identify a simple menu of proven options for scope and implementation. Bringing these elements together into a coherent package, in a community of vastly different interests, will be the significant challenge over the remaining 22 days of discussion.

The challenges mentioned above certainly are not a reason to oppose an ATT. They acknowledge some practical and political problems that have defied attempts at consensus since the League of Nations. Now, in a world increasingly interdependent on economic and security issues, these global problems demand global solutions.

 


Andrew Wood is director of strategic export control for Rolls-Royce plc. He is responsible for the company’s global compliance program and is the British industry representative on the United Kingdom’s arms trade treaty negotiating team. Before joining Rolls-Royce in 2009, he served for 10 years in the Ministry of Defence, where he worked on arms control, nonproliferation, and export control policy. This article reflects a range of perspectives from British industry rather than a single corporate view.

 


 

ENDNOTES

 

 


 

1.UN General Assembly Resolution 64/48, A/RES/64/48, January 12, 2010.

2. It must be emphasized that UN member states, not the UN, have taken this work forward. Indeed, the UN as an institution could never make such a move.

3. See Hillary Rodham Clinton, “U.S. Support for the Arms Trade Treaty,” PRN 2009/1022, October 14, 2009 www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/130573.htm (press statement).

4. Jeff Abramson, “U.S. Supports Arms Trade Treaty Process,” Arms Control Today, November 2009.

5. “P5 Statement at the 3rd Preparatory Committee on an Arms Trade Treaty,” www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/ATTPrepCom/Documents/Statements-MS/PrepCom3/2011-July-12/2011-July-12-Joint-P5-E.pdf.

6. United Nations, “Report of the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects,” A/CONF.192/15, 2001.

7. UN General Assembly, “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty: Establishing Common International Standards for the Import, Export and Transfer of Conventional Arms,” A/63/334, August 26, 2008.

8. The June 2009 resolution “[a]cknowledg[es] also the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory.”

9. UN General Assembly, “Verbatim Records of the Proceedings of the Committee’s Meetings,” A/C.1/64/PV.9-18, November 13, 2009. See Elli Kytömäki, “Promoting Discussion on an Arms Trade Treaty,” 2010, p. 81, http://unidir.org/pdf/activities/pdf18-act431.pdf.

10. “Best Practices for Implementing Intangible Transfer of Technology Controls,” 2006, www.wassenaar.org/publicdocuments/2006/docs/ITT_Best_Practices_for_public_statement_2006.pdf. The Wassenaar Arrangement defines “Technology” as “[s]pecific information necessary for the ‘development,’ ‘production,’ or ‘use’ of a product. The information takes the form of technical data or technical assistance.”

11. UN General Assemby, “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty,” p. 16, para. 27.

12. The full text of this goal reads as follows:

Contribute to international and regional peace, security and stability by preventing international transfers of conventional arms that contribute to or facilitate: human suffering, serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, violations of United Nations Security Council sanctions and arms embargoes and other international obligations, armed conflict, the displacement of people, transnational organized crime, terrorist acts and thereby undermining peace, reconciliation, safety, security, stability and sustainable social and economic development.

For the full text of the paper, see “Chairman’s Draft Paper,” July 14, 2011, http://controlarms.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ChairPaper-14July2011.doc.

Since 2006, government representatives to the United Nations have been engaged in progressively wider and deeper discussions toward the negotiation of a treaty to regulate the trade in conventional arms. In 2009 the UN General Assembly decided to convene a conference that established a timetable for crafting an arms trade treaty (ATT), which is to be “a legally binding instrument on the highest-possible common international standards for the transfer of conventional arms.”

Showcase of Missile Proliferation: Iran’s Missile and Space Program

Uzi Rubin

A comprehensive review of missile proliferation published in 1988 listed 20 nonindustrialized nations that were deploying various types of ballistic missiles at the time. Tucked toward the bottom of that list was one Middle Eastern country with just three types of missiles, two of which were actually simple, unguided rockets. That country was Iran.[1]

Today, the United States regards Iran as “the country with the largest and most active missile program in the Middle East.”[2] Tehran now fields an arsenal of hundreds of locally made ballistic missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometers.[3] It has successfully tested a 21-ton, two-stage, solid-propellant missile with a range of 2,200 kilometers[4] and twice has orbited its own satellites by an indigenous space launcher from its national spaceport. Further, it has converted unguided rockets into reasonably accurate guided missiles and then into anti-ship ballistic missiles.[5]

In retrospect, Iran managed to transform itself from a nonplayer to a significant missile power in less than one generation. For a country that never has had a world-class aerospace industry, this is quite remarkable. Even more remarkably, this was achieved in the face of continuous international and U.S. efforts to block Iran’s missile programs through legal, diplomatic, and financial measures. The ever-growing numbers of Iranian ballistic missiles rolling in Tehran’s main thoroughfare during the twice-yearly military parades testify to the apparent failure of these measures to stop or even stall Iran’s advances in rocket science.

As demonstrated by their latest tests, Iran’s deployed missiles might have the range to hit NATO member countries in eastern Europe. The capability to build even longer-range missiles was recently announced by a top Iranian general.[6] Whether Iran actually will build nuclear weapons remains controversial, but there is no doubt that once it decided to do so, the appropriate delivery systems would be mature, ready, and survivable against pre-emption and first strikes.

How did Iran manage to do it? Publicly available evidence indicates that this feat was accomplished partly through the usual route of technology transfer from established missile powers and partly by hiring non-Iranian specialists. It seems, however, that two other factors played a role: the extraordinary Iranian ingenuity in developing covert acquisition channels from outside suppliers, even in Western countries, and a deliberate and well-focused effort by Tehran to develop a cadre of Iranian scientists and engineers that eventually would replace the foreign specialists. The leap in global oil prices during the last few years helped to fund extensive infrastructure projects for building, testing, and deploying ballistic missiles and large space launchers.

The question of Iran’s proficiency is now threatening to unhinge President Barack Obama’s policy of “reset,” or rapprochement, with Russia.[7] The perceived long-range offensive capabilities of Iran are a source of concern to Washington and the entire Western alliance and have prompted NATO to adapt Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach as a cornerstone of a European missile shield. Russia strongly resents the European missile defense system and argues that Iran’s missile industry is not competent to threaten the West with missiles in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the issue of Iran’s technological competence is at the heart of a major controversy between the United States and Russia. This question and a related one, namely whether Iran’s missile programs are stoppable or at least postponable by blocking off outside support, have global implications.

This article examines the issue from several perspectives. The capability of any country to build and deploy long-range ballistic missiles and space launchers competently depends on several restrictive factors. Some, such as level of education or financial strength, can be influenced by government policies; others, such as geographical limitations, cannot. None of these restrictive factors can now stop Iran from developing missiles that could threaten the West, should the Iranians choose to do so.

Iran’s Ballistic Missile Proficiency

The U.S.-Russian controversy over missile defense in Europe generated numerous studies and papers on whether Iranian missiles are a threat that warrants the deployment of a European missile defense system. Perhaps the most influential study was published by the EastWest Institute in May 2009 and concluded that Iran is decades away from deploying any survivable missile that could threaten Europe because Iran’s indigenous proficiency is rudimentary, limited to 1950s-vintage SCUD-level technology.[8] According to this study, “Iran does not have the infrastructure of research institutes, industrial plants, or the scientists and engineers that are needed to make substantial improvements in the basic rocket components it has used from the start.”[9] This implies that Iran’s threat to Europe is insubstantial and does not warrant the political damage to U.S.-Russian relations that would be caused by deploying U.S. missile defenses there. Furthermore, the report concludes that more-stringent export controls could prevent Iran from obtaining more-advanced missile capabilities.

WikiLeaks cables reveal that Russian government officials hold a very similar view. For example, in an October 2007 meeting between U.S. and Russian teams on a so-called joint regional missile defense architecture, Vladimir Venevtsev of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, stated, “Iran did not enjoy technical mastery of the design process…. [I]ts engineers were insufficient in number and not highly skilled…. Iran lacked solid fuel-propelled mid-range ballistic missiles and did not possess the necessary industrial chemicals to develop them.”[10] More than two years later, in a session of the U.S.-Russian Joint Threat Assessment talks on February 24, 2010, Vladimir Yermakov of the Russian delegation said, “Iran does not have the military-industrial capability to develop” a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 kilometers and the capability to carry a one-ton warhead. “If Iran could gain access to foreign technology, it might develop such a program but this is unlikely due to export controls,” he said.[11]

The EastWest Institute report overlooked Iran’s solid-propellant capabilities. To correct this lacuna, one of its authors issued a technical addendum analyzing the recently unveiled Iranian Sajjil two-stage ballistic missile. His conclusions were that Iran’s solid-propellant capability was too rudimentary to produce a survivable long-range ballistic missile that could reach western Europe in the near future. The addendum was not endorsed by the other members of the original team of researchers.[12]

A group of technical experts from the United States and Israel rebutted the report and its addendum. The group, which includes the author of this article, criticized the assumption and methodology of the report and voiced its opinion that, “with the technology currently available to it, Iran could build solid-propellant [intermediate-range ballistic missiles] that would not be…cumbersome.” The authors said they were not very “sanguine” that diplomatic measures could prevent Iran from acquiring intermediate-range ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs): “It may be too late. Nor is it clear that Iran is critically dependent on foreign sources for advancing its ballistic missile program.”[13]

The main conclusions of the next important study on Iran’s missile capabilities, published in May 2010 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, were that Iran “has developed a robust and capable solid-propellant production industry, complete with facilities, equipment and most importantly indigenous technical know-how” and that “[n]o longer will the Islamic Republic be held hostage to foreign suppliers for its strategic delivery capabilities, except for the need to import navigation and guidance units for its missiles.”[14] The study forecasts that a three-stage version of the solid-propellant Sajjil missile capable of delivering a one-ton warhead a distance of 3,700 kilometers is “at least four or five years away from possible deployment”[15] and could therefore be expected as soon as 2015. The implications are that the prospects of a near-term Iranian missile threat to Europe cannot be dismissed and that tightening export controls may not be effective in diminishing those prospects.

This rather somber view was recently endorsed by Yuri Solomonov, Russia’s foremost missile expert and a former director of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (Russia’s top ballistic missile producer). In a recent interview, Solomonov said that “both Iran and North Korea have the technology to produce a functioning ICBM.” Although such missiles could not match the quality of their U.S. and Russian counterparts, they will be adequate to reach the continental United States with nuclear warheads, Solomonov said.[16] He did not predict when such missiles might be ready. In his view, the important thing is that the Iranians are not facing any technological barriers if and when they decide to embark on such a program.

Thus, it seems that opinion on the future missile threat from Iran is sharply divided between groups that, for purposes of this article, can be called optimists and pessimists. The former holds that Iran’s missile capability is still rudimentary and that more-stringent export controls can choke it off. The latter maintains that Iran already is self-sufficient in most if not all technologies required to make adequate long-range ballistic missiles and that, consequently, it is less sensitive to export controls. This divergence of opinion between experts warrants a closer look at the building blocks of Iran’s missile capabilities.

The capability to build, maintain, and field a strategic missile force depends on at least four factors: the availability of the appropriate human resources, the existence of the appropriate industrial infrastructure, the availability of appropriate test ranges, and the ability to base the missile force in a survivable manner. A fifth factor and, in most cases, the most crucial one is the availability of financial resources. In the case of oil-rich Iran, however, this factor should be taken for granted. The other four factors will be examined in terms of their applicability to the Iranian case.

Industrial Infrastructure

Although Iran tends to be surprisingly transparent about its missile programs, it is much less so with regard to its industrial infrastructure. Yet, the very existence and the frequently televised testing of two families of large ballistic missiles—one of SCUD-era technology but the other of a considerably more modern, composite solid-propellant technology—are incontestable evidence of the existence of an extensive industrial infrastructure, without which no more than static mockups, as opposed to live flight tests, could be displayed. Indeed, two of those flights successfully put Iranian-made satellites into earth orbit, indicating that some if not all of those flights were successful.

In the rare instances when the Iranians unveil some missile-related industrial infrastructure, they label it as space oriented. Thus, the few video clips released with footage of the missile industry in action are supposed to show the manufacturing of their Safir liquid-propellant space launcher. The more modern and much more significant production facilities for solid-propellant rockets, where the real growth potential lies, remain hidden. Yet to make a large solid-propellant rocket motor such as the Sajjil’s first stage, an array of specialized production facilities is mandatory, including blenders, propellant mixers, and powerful x-ray machines.[17] Although the production complex remains covert, each televised flight test of the Sajjil testifies to its existence. To a large extent, solid-propellant rocket motors can be scaled up much more easily than liquid-propellant ones. In all likelihood, the already existing machinery could be used to double the size of the Sajjil first-stage rocket motor, which is a fairly straightforward venture. Such a double-size rocket motor, if used with the existing second stage of the original Sajjil, would make a missile that could hit targets all the way to the English Channel. Needless to say, the export of this machinery is prohibited by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and in a more perfect world never should have reached Iran.

Although most of the sinews of Iran’s rocket industry remain hidden from view, the regime recently has allowed some selective peeks. On January 30, 2011, Iran inaugurated a “space test laboratory,” an ultramodern structural and environmental test lab for complete rocket systems, whether ballistic or space launchers.[18] This new facility is filled with huge testing rigs for rocket sections, a thermal test rig for heat shields, and fixtures for aeroelasticity testing of complete multistage rockets—all MTCR-controlled items. It even features hard-to-get shaking tables for testing the ability of components to withstand vibrations. Significantly, 12 such units were illegally sold to Iran by a German company in the early 2000s.[19] An even more alarming peek was offered by Iran on August 27, 2011, when a new production facility for making carbon fibers was unveiled. Carbon fiber is a strategic material for building uranium-enrichment centrifuges as well as for producing lightweight casings of large solid-propellant rocket motors.[20] Such a production facility is a banned item under the MTCR, and its recent surfacing in Iran is an outstanding indication of Iran’s continuing access to the market of rocket production facilities.

Whether implied or explicitly displayed, Iran’s industrial infrastructure seems to be adequate not only for its present generation of missiles, but also for bigger and more threatening weapons. It tests rockets that it should not have been able to manufacture and unveils new facilities for strategic materials that by rights should not be available to it. Iran not only possesses the necessary industrial facilities for its current generation of missiles, but also seems to continue to enjoy access to more-modern missile-related machinery. It can be reasonably assumed that the industrial infrastructure factor is not an impediment to the further growth of Iran’s missile capabilities.

Testing and Test Ranges

Because the wear and tear during the re-entry phase of ballistic missiles grows exponentially with range, it is necessary to flight-test them to full or near-full range. This requires not only a fully instrumented test range, but also the geographical space for safely shooting missiles at distant impact points hundreds or thousands of kilometers away from the launch point.

There is sufficient evidence to indicate that Iran is not firing its missiles “blind” and that its test missiles are fully instrumented to collect and transmit flight-test data to telemetry ground stations. On February 7, 2011, an exhibit in Tehran displayed some of Iran’s test-range instrumentation under the guise of “space launch capability.” Some crucial test-range instruments can be seen clearly on YouTube: cinetheodolites, track mounts, large telemetry-receiving antennae, and what looks like a homemade phased-array tracking radar.[21] Most of the equipment is modern and obviously foreign made. Because such equipment is controlled under the MTCR and banned for sale if used to develop large ballistic missiles and space launchers,[22] its presence is a testimony to Iran’s possession of modern test equipment as well as to its continuing access to the missile technology market.

In geographical terms, Iran is a medium-sized country, and its dimensions are too small for testing ICBMs or the longer-range types of intermediate-range ballistic missiles within its borders. Its main ballistic missile test range (and spaceport) in Semnan, east of Tehran, is just 1,400 kilometers away from the country’s furthest point on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Thus, if Iran would have been restricted to this testing limitation, it would not be able to develop missiles with much longer ranges. On July 9, 2011, however, Iran announced that in February it had flight-tested two types of long-range ballistic missiles into the Indian Ocean and that the ranges of those missiles were 1,900 kilometers.[23] Testing ballistic missiles into the sea is quite routine elsewhere: France, a country one-third the size of Iran, has successfully developed global-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) by testing them from its territory to the South Atlantic. Even the United States, with its large land area, is testing its ICBMs and SLBMs into distant oceans.

Unlike ground-to-ground testing, however, where the impact point can be precisely measured at leisure to check the accuracy of the missile, testing into the sea requires real-time location of the impact point because all traces of a sea impact vanish after few seconds. Also, some instrumentation, mainly telemetry reception, is essential near the impact point to obtain data on the behavior of the missile toward the end of its flight. It is thus mandatory for sea testing for the deployment of instrumented ships or aircraft near the impact point for precise location and telemetry reception. It is reasonable to assume that Iran did not fire blindly into the sea and that it did deploy such instrumented aircraft or ships near the impact points of the February 2011 tests. Once available, such instrumented platforms could be positioned further downrange for testing longer-range missiles. In fact, they could be deployed deeper and deeper into the Indian Ocean, all the way to the equator and beyond. Practically speaking the February 2011 tests imply that Iran has now achieved the capability to test ballistic missiles to any range that it wants.

With the availability of up-to-date flight-test instrumentation and the capability to test to any range, it can be reasonably concluded that flight testing will not put any restriction on the further growth of Iran’s missile capability.

Survivable Basing

Missiles deployed in the open are vulnerable to preventive strikes, so a viable strategic missile force must be made immune to preemption. In the case of ground-launched missiles, two strategies of survivability are feasible: mobility and hardening. Basing missiles on launchers that can be readily moved around makes pre-emption quite impracticable unless real-time information on the whereabouts of each launcher is obtained—a formidable task in general but even more so in the case of a country such as Iran, which has a larger land area than France and Germany combined. Alternatively, the missiles can be based in protected shelters, preferably in underground “silos.”

Since the early days of Iran’s missile programs, all the longer-range missiles that were Shahab-3 variants and, later, the two-stage, solid-propellant Sajjil have been displayed on mobile transporter erector launchers (TELs) built from heavy-duty semitrailers pulled by Mercedes tow trucks. The message was clear: Iran’s missile force is fully mobile, hence not pre-emptable. Ballistic missiles fueled by nonstorable liquid propellant have a window of vulnerability when fueled shortly before firing, a relatively lengthy process that must take place in the open. Solid-propellant missiles such as the Sajjil have no such weakness and can be fired within seconds of reaching their presurveyed launch points. The current type of Iran’s mobile solid-propellant missile, the 22-ton Sajjil, can reach no further than eastern Europe. Could a bigger and heavier Iranian solid-propellant missile that could reach western Europe be mobile?

In all likelihood, the answer is affirmative. As noted above, doubling the weight of the Sajjil’s first stage will give it a range of 3,700 kilometers. Such a “Super Sajjil” will weigh about 34 to 35 tons[24] and will not be significantly longer than the current version. The same heavy-duty semitrailers that are used by Iran as mobile launchers for the Sajjil are modified from tank transporters, implying that they are built for carrying loads of more than 50 tons. Hence, there is no reason why a putative Super Sajjil could not be transported on and launched from a similar, somewhat beefed-up mobile TEL.

Iran’s construction of hardened silos for its missiles was first revealed in 2008 when Google Earth images of a missile silo farm near Tabriz were published in the media.[25] Three years later, Iran opened this site or a similar one to the world’s view and televised a video clip showing its insides, including a Shahab-3 missile ready to launch.[26] The missile looks a bit undersized for that silo. From this missile’s well-known dimensions, the diameter of the silo can be estimated, and the silos seem to be sufficiently large to shelter bigger missiles, including the Super Sajjil mentioned above. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Iranians sized their silo with growth potential in mind.

Thus, Iran is covering all bases in pursuit of the survivability of its missile force. Both its mobile TELs and its static hardened silos offer growth potential for larger and longer-range missiles. The optimists forecast that any Iranian missile that could threaten Europe and the United States will be so large and cumbersome that it could be launched only from static, above-ground, and easily pre-emptible launching towers. This is not necessarily realistic. With their already proven mastery of solid-propellant technology, Iran’s putative intermediate-range ballistic missiles and ICBMs could be compact enough for ground mobility. In any case, Iranian civil engineers already have demonstrated the capacity to design and construct huge, heavily reinforced, underground complexes in Natanz and Qom for their uranium-enrichment program. There is no reason to believe that they would be unable to build larger, hardened, underground silos for any size of missile, if so required. In conclusion, it can be reasonably assumed that survivability will not put any restriction on the further growth of Iran’s missile capability.

Human Resources

The question as to whether Iran has human capital with the technological savvy for designing, testing, and building longer-range missiles is perhaps the most crucial one. As noted above, the EastWest Institute report states that “Iran does not have the infrastructure of research institutes, industrial plants, or the scientists and engineers that are needed to make substantial improvements in the basic rocket components it has used from the start.” The evidence, however, is not supportive of this optimism. Rather, it seems that Iran has already made considerable strides toward assembling a competent workforce of scientists, engineers, and managers to embark on indigenous designs of its own.

Technology transfer is almost invariably linked to expert assistance from providers to recipients, and Iran’s case is not much different from that of the United States, the Soviet Union, India, or Pakistan. In nearly all previous cases, acquiring indigenous missile proficiency initially relied on foreign expertise. (In the case of the United States and the Soviet Union, it came from teams of German scientists and engineers.) The foreign support from China, North Korea, and Russia that started Iran’s missile industry is well documented; the question is whether the Iranians now can pick up from that point and continue on their own. This depends on the quality and extent of higher technological education in Iran.

According to an unpublished report from 2005 by the United Nations, “Iran is today a middle-income developing country, with a significant industrial base, a relatively well-developed science and technology infrastructure and good human development.”[27] Iran boasts 10 academic institutes that offer technical education, with a body of more than 250,000 students in technology and science programs.[28] The Iranian authorities allow Iranian youth to receive technological and scientific education abroad, including in the United States and Canada.[29] Over the decades that have passed since Iran embarked on its missile programs, this should have provided it with a cadre of proficient scientists, engineers, and technicians to break free from reliance on foreign expertise.

There is significant indirect evidence that Iran now possesses a body of experienced technical cadres that can take over from foreigners, if it has not done so already. All types of ballistic missiles and space launchers unveiled by Iran since 2007 are unique designs, seen nowhere else. Some of those new designs, such as the two-stage space launcher Safir, are quite ingenious. Of course, they could have been designed to order by foreign teams from, say, North Korea. Yet, the fact the North Korea itself does not deploy a desirable solid-propellant intermediate-range ballistic missile like the Iranian Sajjil may indicate that it is a proprietary Iranian design.

Iran’s first space launch in August 2008 was a failure. Recovery from missile and space launcher failures invariably taxes the capability and proficiency of the development teams. In most cases, there are no physical remains to examine, and only recordings of telemetered data can be used for fault analysis. To give one example, the failure report of the U.S. ground-based interceptor test in December 2010 was released only in October 2011, a full 10 months after the event. Yet less than six months after its first botched flight, the Safir space launch vehicle performed faultlessly and put Iran’s first satellite into earth orbit. This impressive feat could not be achieved without teams of competent experts deciphering reams of telemetered data, capable designers pinpointing and fixing the flaws, and an effective management team coordinating the entire process. Such an effort is too vast to rely entirely on outside talent. It stands to reason that it was the Iranian cadres themselves that bore the brunt of it.

From the available evidence, it seems that Iran is on the threshold of moving from reliance on foreign expertise to self-sufficiency in missile and space engineering, if it has not done so already. It can be reasonably assumed that Iran’s human resources will be adequate to expedite the further growth of its missile capability with diminishing reliance on foreign support.

Conclusions

Iran is a veritable showcase of missile proliferation. From a starting point of no missile capability whatsoever, it has ratcheted itself up to become a regional missile powerhouse within one generation. It did so without any pre-existing industrial base and in the face of international restrictions that included general export control measures and specific sanctions. Yet, today it faces no major impediment to expanding its regional missile clout to a global level. Iran does not threaten central and western Europe yet, although the recent occupation of the British embassy in Tehran might be a harbinger of the future. If and when Iran decides to do so, it will have no major difficulty in producing and deploying longer-range missiles in short order. The view that Iran’s proficiency is not up to the job hinges on measuring proficiency by industrialized world standards, but this is the wrong yardstick. For power projection on a global scale, Iran’s missiles need not be more advanced than the early generations of Soviet and U.S. missiles. As Solomonov said, Iran faces no technological hurdle to making adequate ICBMs.

From this perspective, nonproliferation seems to have exhausted itself as far as Iran’s missile capabilities are concerned. Denial by the existing nonproliferation tools, such as the MTCR, may have slowed Iran’s programs, but evidently did not stop them; neither did the more specific sanctions mandated by UN decisions. Whatever Iranian vulnerability to export controls remains, in the field of special materials and components, might well be overcome by the combination of greedy sellers, Iran’s boundless oil money, and the country’s experienced covert acquisition network. This is not to say the nonproliferation measures against Iran should be relaxed—on the contrary, they should be tightened even further—but it does means that Western alliance policies should be based on soberly realistic premises.

 


Uzi Rubin is president of Rubincon Defense Technology Consultancy. He was the first director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, serving in that position from 1991 to 1999.

 


 

ENDNOTES

 

 


 

 

1. Aaron Karp, “The Frantic Third World Quest for Ballistic Missiles,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1988, pp. 14-20.

2. “Missile Technology Control Regime: Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” September 23, 2009, 09STATE98727, www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/09/09STATE98727.html (cable obtained by WikiLeaks).

3. In a 2009 closed meeting, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi disclosed that Iran has had already fielded 300 Shahab-3 missiles. See “WikiLeaks: Iran Can Attack Israel Within Less Than 12 Minutes,” Voice Of America, January 3, 2011. Iran officially claims a range of 2,000 kilometers for its Shahab-3 variants.

4. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment,” 2010. The figure is considered by this author to be a low estimate. Other authorities suspect that the potential range of this missile could be as much as 2,500 kilometers.

5. This new capability has been widely reported in Iranian and the international media. See “‘Persian Gulf’ Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile,” Uskowi on Iran, February 7, 2011, www.uskowioniran.com/2011/02/persian-gulf-asbm.html.

6. See “Iran ‘Will Not Make Longer-Range Missiles as Israel Is Already Within Reach,’” The Guardian, June 28, 2011.

7. Alexei Fenenko, “It Is Dangerous for Russia and the USA to Ignore the Looming Conflicts,” Valdai International Discussion Club, November 21, 2011, http://valdaiclub.com/usa/35080.html. There are numerous similar warnings from Russian officials and analysts.

8. EastWest Institute, “Iran’s Nuclear and Missile Potential,” May 2009, para. 3.15.

9. Ibid.

10. “Russia-U.S. Missile Defense Negotiations,” MOSCOW 005057, October 10, 2007, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/iran-wikileaks/8301419/RUSSIA-U.S.-MISSILE-DEFENSE-NEGOTIATIONS-OCTOBER-10-2007.html (cable obtained by WikiLeaks).

11. “U.S.–Russia Joint Threat Assessment Talks,” 10STATE17263, February 24, 2010,  http://statelogs.owni.fr/index.php/memo/2010/11/29/u-s-russia-joint-threat-assessment-talks (cable obtained by WikiLeaks).

12. Theodore Postol, “A Technical Assessment of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,”  May 6, 2009, http://docs.ewi.info/JTA_TA_Program.pdf.

13. David Montague, Uzi Rubin, and Dean Wilkening, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Potential,” n.d., http://www.ewi.info/system/files/IransBallisticMissilePotential.pdf.

14. IISS, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities,” p. 63.

15. Ibid., p. 143.

16. “North Korea Can Make ICBMs: Russian Expert,” The Korea Times, July 7, 2011 (translation from Kommersant interview in Russian).

17. For a comprehensive description of the industrial infrastructure for solid-propellant rocket motors, see Federation of American Scientists (FAS), “Missile Technology Control Regime Annex Handbook,” ch. 5, www.fas.org/nuke/control/mtcr/text/mtcr_handbook.pdf.

18. “Photos: Iran Inaugurates Largest Space Test Laboratory Center,” Payvand Iran News Agency, January 30, 2011.

19. “Supplier: Volker Stumpf,” Iran Watch, October 18, 2007, www.iranwatch.org/suppliers/records/volker.html.

20. “Inauguration of Carbon Fiber Plant,” Persia Digest, September 2, 2011, www.persiadigest.com/journal/tpl/set_thejournal/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&NrIssue=16&NrSection=4&NrArticle=523.

21. “Inauguration Ceremony of Iran’s Aerospace Capabilities,” YouTube, February 7, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEM8d3twF8w.

22. For a comprehensive description of MTCR-controlled test equipment, see FAS,
“Missile Technology Control Regime Annex Handbook,” ch. 12.

23. Robin Pomeroy, “Iran Says It Fires Missiles Into the Indian Ocean for the First Time,” Reuters, July 9, 2011.

24. See Montague, Rubin, and Wilkening, “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Potential.”

25. See “Iran’s Military and Strategic Discussion Forum,” IranDefense.net, February 26, 2008, www.irandefence.net/showthread.php?t=29952.

26. For the Iranian-released video clip with an English translation in subtitles, see “Iranian TV Report on Underground Missile Silos,” YouTube, July 30, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=96b02CW-nZE.

27. UN Conference on Trade and Development, “Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Review: The Islamic Republic of Iran,” UNCTAD/ITE/IPC/2005/7, February 2005, www.unctad.org/en/docs/iteipc20057_en.pdf.

28. Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran-Copenhagen, “Education in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” n.d., www.iran-embassy.dk/fa/culteral/education%20en.pdf.

29. Mohammad Hafezi, “Fact Sheet on the Iranian Students in the U.S. and Canada,” July 2006, http://isgmit.org/research/?id=340&cat=iran&stat=full#ISG report.

A comprehensive review of missile proliferation published in 1988 listed 20 nonindustrialized nations that were deploying various types of ballistic missiles at the time. Tucked toward the bottom of that list was one Middle Eastern country with just three types of missiles, two of which were actually simple, unguided rockets. That country was Iran.

Australia Allows Uranium Sales to India

Daniel Horner

The Australian Labor Party on Dec. 4 endorsed a proposal by its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to end a ban on uranium sales to India. The 206-185 vote to lift the long-standing ban came at a party conference in Sydney.

For decades, India could not purchase uranium or most other nuclear goods from members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) because New Delhi is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not accept full-scope safeguards, which means that it does not open all its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, in 2008 the NSG, which includes Australia, voted to make an exception from its general rule and allow exports to India. (See ACT, October 2008.)

At a Nov. 15 press conference previewing the Labor meeting, Gillard said that, in light of the NSG decision, “for us to refuse to budge is all pain with no gain.” Australia is a leading exporter of uranium.

Critics of the Labor decision argue that selling uranium would violate Australia’s obligations under the Treaty of Rarotonga, which establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific. Article 4 of the treaty says that nuclear exports by treaty parties must be “subject to the safeguards required by Article III.1 of the NPT.”

The NPT article does not use the term “full-scope safeguards,” but in 1996, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, a member of the Liberal Party, told Parliament that the article requires such safeguards. He was responding to questions about potential Australian uranium sales to Taiwan.

In the wake of the Labor vote, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, also a Liberal, said Gillard was “dead wrong” to lift the ban, in part because of the Rarotonga treaty language. Writing in the Dec. 12 Sydney Morning Herald, he said that “selling uranium to India would breach our international obligations.”

In a Dec. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a spokeswoman for Gillard said, “Any agreement to transfer uranium to India would comply with our international legal obligations.”

Gillard, in a Nov. 15 piece in the Herald, said, “We must, of course, expect of India the same standards we do of all countries for uranium export—strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral undertakings and transparency measures that will provide assurances our uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes.”

The Australian Labor Party on Dec. 4 endorsed a proposal by its leader, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to end a ban on uranium sales to India. The 206-185 vote to lift the long-standing ban came at a party conference in Sydney.

British Nuclear Investment Sparks Debate

Kelsey Davenport

The announcement by the British Ministry of Defence that it plans to spend 2 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) on new facilities at the Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex has prompted a strong reaction from members of Parliament who argue that the funding pre-empts the legislature’s October 2010 decision to postpone authorizing development of a new warhead until after the 2015 elections. (See ACT, November 2010.)

In comments published Nov. 27 in The Guardian newspaper, Caroline Lucas, a Green Party member of Parliament, said the ministry’s plan made a “complete mockery of the democratic process” because the ministry had “signed off” on the spending before Parliament decided on whether a new warhead was necessary. A ministry spokeswoman told The Guardian that the decision to invest in new weapons facilities maintains “essential facilities and skills” and “the capability to design a replacement warhead” if it is required.

However, obtaining that capability is not the primary purpose of the investment, said Peter Luff, a Conservative Party member of Parliament and the minister for defense equipment, support, and technology, during a Dec. 7 debate in the House of Commons. Citing the timetable in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, he said the decision on designing a new warhead would be made “at the right time.” Luff also said that he made “no apology whatsoever” for taking seriously the responsibility for funding measures that the government deemed necessary to maintain and secure nuclear systems. The costs for the new facilities are being “closely scrutinized,” he said.

Under the plan, the government would spend 231 million pounds ($350 million) from 2011 to 2015 on a high-explosives fabrication facility. The 2016-2020 time frame includes funding for a 734 million pound ($1.1 billion) warhead assembly and disassembly facility and 634 million pounds ($980 million) for a plant where uranium components are manufactured and produced.

The British government is conducting a study on alternatives for the United Kingdom’s Trident submarine replacement program, but has said it will not publish the completed study. During the Dec. 7 parliamentary debate, Luff said that releasing the results would be “irresponsible and put national security at risk.”

The announcement by the British Ministry of Defence that it plans to spend 2 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) on new facilities at the Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex has prompted a strong reaction...

Swiss Indict Family for Nuclear Smuggling

Peter Crail

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Friedrich Tinner and his sons Urs and Marco have been accused of providing gas centrifuge components for the nuclear trafficking network led by former Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network was initially used to provide Pakistan with nuclear weapons, but later was aimed at assisting the nuclear weapons programs of several other countries, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

Gas centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, a process that can produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.

The Tinner case has suffered from major political complications stemming from the family’s suspected assistance to the CIA in shutting down the Khan network in 2003. Although Swiss law prohibits such cooperation with a foreign intelligence agency, in 2007 the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s highest executive body, canceled an investigation into the Tinners’ work with the CIA. Also in 2007, the council destroyed key evidence related to the Tinners’ participation in the Khan network, ostensibly to prevent the further spread of sensitive nuclear weapons-related information. (See ACT, July/August 2008.) In 2009 the Swiss parliament published a report describing U.S. pressure on the Swiss government to destroy the documentation, which included nuclear warhead designs.

According to prosecutors, the Tinners have agreed to plead guilty to the smuggling charges as part of an expedited legal procedure that would avoid publicly airing sensitive evidence, the Associated Press reported Dec. 13. The procedure, however, cannot result in a prison term of more than five years. The Tinners all have served several years in prison awaiting trial.

Swiss federal prosecutors indicted three members of the Tinner family Dec. 13 for violating that country’s export control laws and aiding Libya’s nuclear weapons program as part of a major nuclear smuggling ring, following a prolonged investigation that has severely divided the Swiss government.

Congress Wants Options on Nuclear Subs

Tom Z. Collina and Kelsey Davenport

In the latest sign of political problems for the planned replacement of the United States’ nuclear-armed submarines, Congress has required the Navy and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to prepare a report on options for replacing the fleet.

The directive was included in the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 31. It comes at a time of increasing pressure to reduce defense spending in general and questions about the submarine replacement in particular.

The Navy currently deploys 12 Ohio-class strategic submarines, which will start to reach the end of their operational lives in 2027. The Navy wants to have a replacement submarine ready by 2029. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected in June 2011 that the new submarine will cost $6 billion to $7 billion per boat. The Department of Defense has said that it will cost nearly $350 billion to develop, build, and operate a fleet of 12 new submarines through 2075, making it the most expensive part of the Pentagon’s plan to rebuild the triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems, which also includes a new long-range bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile.

In July, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) proposed to reduce nuclear weapons spending by $79 billion over 10 years, in part by curtailing and delaying the new submarine program. In October, 65 Democratic House members called for major reductions to nuclear weapons programs, including the new submarine. They suggested the program be delayed and scaled back from 12 to eight submarines, saying this would save $27 billion over the next 10 years. (See ACT, November 2011.)

STRATCOM Commander Gen. Robert Kehler testified at a Nov. 2 House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing that although the country needs to replace the current Ohio-class submarine, “affordability has to be an issue here” and that Congress did not have to make a decision now on “what the ultimate number of submarines is that we might have to deploy.” The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has recommended that the number of new submarines be reduced to 10, although the Navy reportedly is objecting that 10 submarines are not enough to support five submarines “on station” at all times. (See ACT, December 2011.)

According to congressional staffers, the defense authorization law’s reporting requirement on the new submarine is intended to provide an in-depth review of the various options that have been suggested. It calls for an assessment of procurement and life-cycle costs associated with five options: a fleet of 12 submarines with 16 missile tubes each, as proposed by the Navy; 10 submarines with 20 missile tubes each, as proposed by OMB; 10 submarines with 16 missile tubes each; eight submarines with 20 missile tubes each, which is similar to the House Democratic proposal; and any “other options the [Navy] secretary and the [STRATCOM] commander consider appropriate.”

The report, due by the end of June, must include an assessment of each option’s ability to meet the current “at-sea requirements” and any expected changes in such requirements. This refers to the Pentagon’s policy that five strategic submarines must be at sea and deployed near potential targets at all times to allow for prompt launch of their nuclear-armed missiles. According to the Navy, supporting five forward-deployed submarines requires a total fleet of 12 operational boats, given the current rotation schedule. However, the Obama administration is now reviewing such policies as part of its Nuclear Posture Review implementation study that is expected to provide new guidance to Pentagon war planners.

The report also must assess each option’s ability to meet “the nuclear employment and planning guidance” currently in place and any expected changes in the guidance. This refers to the requirement that a certain number of nuclear warheads be deployed at sea (there are currently about 1,000) and that they be located close enough to potential targets to launch within hours. Changing these requirements would affect the number of submarines at sea and the number of missiles and warheads they need to carry.

Under the act, the Pentagon’s research and development work on the new submarine program would receive $1.1 billion, the amount the Obama administration requested.

In general, authorization bills for defense and other discretionary spending are supposed to provide guidance for appropriations bills, which set the actual spending levels.

Strategic Weapons Appropriations

On other strategic weapons, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012, which Obama signed on Dec. 23, funded research and development for the Air Force’s new nuclear-capable bomber, called the Next Generation Bomber, at $297 million, $100 million more than the administration’s request. The act fully funded the $9.9 million request for developing a new air-launched cruise missile.

Missile defense programs generally received full funding. For example, the appropriations act included the $565 million the administration had requested for procurement of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. However, several programs were funded at levels below the administration’s request.

The law approved $390 million for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), $17 million below the requested amount. Earlier in the year, the program seemed to be headed for deeper cuts after the Army had announced plans to kill it. In the House version of the bill to fund the Defense Department, MEADS received $257 million; in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s version, the program was fully funded.

The system, jointly funded by the United States, Germany, and Italy to replace the Patriot interceptor, has faced years of delays and cost overruns. Congress reportedly funded MEADS primarily to avoid contract penalties of $800 million.

The appropriations act also provides $80 million, half of the administration request, for research and development funding for the Precision Tracking Space System, a new satellite system for tracking ballistic missiles in flight. The CBO has found that this program may not be cost effective because of the other missile-tracking capabilities the United States already has. The House’s version of the defense appropriations act provided no funding for this program while the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended full funding.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system received $709 million of the $833 million request.

NNSA Funding

The appropriations act provided $7.2 billion for “weapons activities” in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). That figure is $355 million below the administration’s budget request, but represents a 4.9 percent increase over the fiscal year 2011 appropriation.

Within the “weapons activities” category, the spending legislation fully funded the $224 million request for the B61 bomb’s life extension program (LEP). However, in the report accompanying the bill, Congress expressed concern over the NNSA’s “ability to execute its planned scope for the B61” under an “affordable” LEP and stipulated that only $89 million could be used until the NNSA submits to Congress the results of the so-called Phase 6.2/2A study. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended funding the B61 LEP request at $180 million in its consideration of the fiscal year 2012 Energy Department appropriation. The report stated that enhanced security measures for the warhead should “not come at the expense of long-term weapon reliability.”

As with the defense appropriations bill, the full Senate never voted on the energy and water appropriations bill.

The legislation also provided less funding than requested for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The CMRR Project is designed to assist in manufacturing plutonium warhead cores, or “pits.” Congress provided $200 million, $100 million less than the administration request, and said that no “construction activities” for the CMRR Project would be funded for fiscal year 2012. The $160 million request for the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee was fully funded.

As part of its negotiations with the Senate over ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the administration committed itself to specific funding levels for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex, including construction of the CMRR Project and UPF.

In the latest sign of political problems for the planned replacement of the United States’ nuclear-armed submarines, Congress has required the Navy and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to prepare a report on options for replacing the fleet.

U.S.-Russia Missile Defense Talks Deadlock

Tom Z. Collina

A year-long U.S.-Russian effort to find ways to cooperate on European missile defense ground to a halt in November and December, just months before the NATO summit in Chicago this May and in the midst of presidential election seasons in both countries.

Moscow is now threatening to boycott the summit and take other retaliatory measures, such as deploying short-range missiles in Kaliningrad to destroy NATO interceptors and withdrawing from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

In reply, U.S. and NATO officials said that their plans to deploy a missile interceptor system in Europe under the Phased Adaptive Approach will proceed regardless of Moscow’s concerns, raising the prospect of rough sailing for U.S.-Russian relations in the months ahead.

At NATO’s 2010 summit in Lisbon, Russia and NATO agreed in principle to cooperate on a European missile interceptor system. At that time, there were expectations that the two sides would agree on the details of the joint efforts by the Chicago summit.

Russia’s hardened position became clear when President Dmitry Medvedev gave a Nov. 23 national address in which he said that the United States and NATO “have not showed enough willingness” to address Moscow’s concerns. Russia has repeatedly asked for legally binding assurances that NATO missile interceptors would not be used against Moscow’s strategic missiles. “We will not agree to take part in a program that, in a short while, in some six to eight years’ time, could weaken our nuclear deterrent capability,” he said.

The European missile interceptor program is being deployed in phases. The first phase, with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors on Aegis ships and a tracking radar in Turkey, is expected to be declared operational at the Chicago summit. Subsequent phases include the stationing of land-based SM-3s of increasing capability and number in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018) and the 2020 deployment of the SM-3 IIB, which is advertised to have some capability against long-range ballistic missiles. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

“We find ourselves facing a fait accompli,” Medvedev said in the speech.

Medvedev said he was still open to discussions but, given the circumstances, had been “forced” to take proactive steps, such as putting an early-warning radar in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave just north of Poland, on “combat alert” and equipping new strategic missiles with “advanced missile defense penetration systems and new highly effective warheads.”

In addition, Medvedev said that if these measures “prove insufficient,” Russia would deploy “modern offensive weapon systems in the west and south of the country, ensuring our ability to take out any part of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe.” He said one step in this process would be to deploy Iskander missiles, which are nuclear capable, in Kaliningrad. In 2007, Russia warned that if the Bush administration carried out its plans to deploy long-range missile interceptors in Poland, then Iskanders might be deployed in Kaliningrad. These plans were suspended after the Obama administration announced in late 2009 its policy to deploy the shorter-range SM-3 instead.

Medvedev said Russians “reserve the right” to “discontinue further disarmament and arms control measures” and that “conditions for our withdrawal from the New START treaty could also arise.”

To make his point, Medvedev traveled to Kaliningrad on Nov. 29 and activated the new radar, known as the Voronezh-DM station, according to press reports. “If this signal is not heard, we will deploy other methods of protection, including the taking of tough countermeasures and the deployment of strike forces,” he said.

Sergey Karakaev, the commander of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces, announced Dec. 19 that Moscow had decided to build a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile with “increased possibilities in overcoming the prospective missile defense system of the United States,” according to Pravda, and the Russian Defense Ministry announced Dec. 20 it had carried out a test of a short-range interceptor missile and posted a video of the event on its Web site.

In response to Medvedev’s speech, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told reporters Dec. 2 that “[w]e’re deploying all four phases [of the European interceptor system]…whether Russia likes it or not.”

At a Dec. 8 NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said NATO would not “give any other country outside the alliance a veto” over whether to build a missile interceptor system. The system is “not directed at Russia, it’s not about Russia, it’s frankly about Iran,” she said, adding that it was “certainly not a cause for military countermeasures” by Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote Dec. 6 in The New York Times that NATO has tried to allay Russian concerns by offering transparency on missile defense programs through exchanges at the NATO-Russia Council and “a standing invitation to Russian experts to observe and analyze missile defense tests.” Rasmussen wrote that NATO also proposed holding joint NATO-Russia theater missile defense exercises next year and suggested establishing two joint missile defense centers, one for sharing data and the other for supporting planning. Russia rejected these proposals as insufficient.

Medvedev’s more aggressive stance did not go unnoticed in the U.S. Senate. After being assured that New START would contribute to better U.S.-Russian relations, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in December, “[W]e are now in a situation where the president of Russia is threatening to deploy ballistic missiles to destroy U.S. missile defense systems in Europe.”

There has been speculation that Medvedev’s speech was made primarily for domestic political reasons, coming just before December parliamentary elections in which Medvedev’s United Russia party suffered significant losses. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will face a presidential election in March and is not expected to make major policy announcements before then that could be perceived as concessions to the West. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters Dec. 12 that the Chicago summit “would be easier to stage” if NATO and Russia had “agreed on missile defense by that point.” A decision on whether to attend the summit will be made after the presidential election, he said.

According to a diplomatic source close to NATO, Medvedev’s speech is being taken seriously given the specificity of his declarations and the fact that he serves as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces.

In the United States, congressional Republicans have strongly opposed any limitations on U.S. missile interceptor deployment plans. That issue figured prominently in the debate over ratification of New START. (See ACT, January/February 2011.)

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington also sparred over the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. At a Nov. 22 press briefing, U.S. Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington no longer would “accept Russian inspections of our bases under the CFE [Treaty], and we will also not provide Russia with the annual notifications and military data called for in the treaty.” (See ACT, December 2011.)

Ryabkov told reporters Dec. 16 in Washington that the U.S. decision “has absolutely no meaning for us.” He spoke after a session of the bilateral working group he co-chairs with U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher.

“We receive the necessary data to analyze the military-political situation through other channels, including global exchange of military information and in the framework of the Vienna document on enhanced measures of trust,” he said, referring to the Vienna Document on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which requires participating states to share information on their military forces and equipment. “It is the sovereign decision of NATO members [to stop implementing the CFE Treaty,] and we accept it as it is,” he said. Russia will continue to observe its 2007 suspension of the treaty, Ryabkov said.

A year-long U.S.-Russian effort to find ways to cooperate on European missile defense ground to a halt in November and December, just months before the NATO summit in Chicago this May and in the midst of presidential election seasons in both countries.

Lawmakers Raise North Korea ICBM Fears

Peter Crail

Five Republican members of Congress raised concerns in November that North Korea is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a capability that might allow it to protect its long-range missiles from being destroyed before they are used. However, some nongovernmental experts said such a system was very likely beyond North Korea’s current technical reach.

In a Nov. 17 letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the lawmakers expressed “concern about new intelligence concerning foreign developments in long-range ballistic missile development, specifically ballistic missiles capable of attacking the United States.” Rep. Michael Turner (Ohio), who chairs the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and four other members of the panel—Reps. Trent Franks (Ariz.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Mike Rogers (Ala.), and Mac Thornberry (Texas)—wrote the letter after their subcommittee received an intelligence briefing that week.

The legislators argued that the United States must increase missile defense spending against threats to the homeland, rather than focusing on regional missile threats.

The letter includes a June 4 quote from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who told an audience in Singapore that, “with the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile [ICBM]…North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.” Gates later said even more definitively in a Newsweek interview published June 21 that Pyongyang was developing such a capability, commenting, “I never would have dreamed [North Korea] would go road-mobile before testing a static ICBM.”

ICBMs have a range of more than 5,500 kilometers. Only two countries, China and Russia, currently field road-mobile ICBMs. Three others—France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have an ICBM capability, but do not use road-mobile systems. North Korea has unsuccessfully tested ICBMs twice, launching them from large, static platforms.

Previously, publicly available U.S. intelligence assessments have noted North Korea’s ICBM development, but have not referenced a road-mobile ICBM. An annual CIA report to Congress last February on the proliferation of unconventional weapons said that North Korea was continuing to develop a mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile. The omission of any assessment of road-mobile ICBM development suggests that any related intelligence would be more recent.

Some experts on missile technology are skeptical of the potential for North Korea to develop a road-mobile ICBM with its current state of technology. Theodore Postol, former scientific adviser to the U.S. chief of naval operations, said in a Dec. 8 e-mail that “the possibility that the North Koreans could deploy a ‘realistically’ mobile ICBM is extremely remote.”

Postol said his assessment was based on two key technology limitations seen in North Korean missiles. The first is North Korea’s reliance on clustering its medium-range Nodong ballistic missile rocket motors, which “are unable to efficiently lift heavy payloads to high speed,” he said. The other factor he cited was the heaviness of the airframes that North Korea manufactures, which makes it more difficult to carry heavy payloads, such as nuclear weapons, long distances.

Most of North Korea’s missile program is based on decades-old Soviet SCUD missile technology, which has proven difficult for countries to scale up to longer-range systems. In 2009, however, North Korea unsuccessfully tested a three-stage rocket called the Taepo Dong-2, whose second stage is believed to be based on the Soviet SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The SS-N-6 is far more sophisticated than the SCUD-based design North Korea used for the rocket’s first stage.

Postol said that based on the technology North Korea is known to possess, the only way it could reduce the size and weight of an ICBM to fit on a road-mobile platform would be to cluster four SS-N-6 rocket motors for the missile’s first stage. “This task would be absolutely gigantic relative to anything else that we have observed being done by either Iran or North Korea,” taking several years and using up potentially limited SS-N-6 rocket motors during the development process, he said.

According to a December 2009 Department of State cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by The Guardian newspaper, the United States concluded that North Korea could pursue three paths to an ICBM capability: using the Taepo Dong-2, developing a missile larger than the Taepo Dong-2 using a new launch facility North Korea has been building, or further developing its intermediate-range ballistic missile. That missile, which the United States calls the Musudan, is believed to be based on the SS-N-6.

Missiles understood to be the Musudan first publicly appeared in an October 2010 military parade in Pyongyang, but experts believe those missiles to have been mock-ups. North Korea has not tested the Musudan.

Reactor and Enrichment Progress

North Korea also appears to have made progress constructing an experimental light-water nuclear reactor first revealed last year, according to expert satellite imagery analysis and a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement. A Nov. 14 analysis by former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector Robert Kelley and Mehdi Sarram on the U.S.-Korea Institute Web site 38 North said that “significant progress has been made in building the reactor over the past year.” The assessment concluded, however, that operations were unlikely to begin for another two to three years.

The satellite imagery analysis appeared to offer some evidence for a Nov. 30 North Korean Foreign Ministry statement quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency as saying that the light-water reactor (LWR) construction and Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment program are “progressing apace.”

South Korea and the United States have demanded that North Korea suspend both activities prior to the resumption of multilateral talks to demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization. Pyongyang has insisted that the talks begin first.

North Korea first publicly revealed that it was constructing an LWR, ostensibly to produce electricity, in November 2010. According its Nov. 30 Foreign Ministry statement, Pyongyang decided to build such a reactor because it had not received one as “promised” by other countries.

As part of a 1994 U.S.-North Korean denuclearization deal, Pyongyang was to receive two LWRs, but that agreement fell apart before much progress was made building them. Pyongyang has frequently raised the issue of receiving such reactors as part of negotiations on its nuclear weapons program.

Unlike North Korea’s five-megawatt research reactor, the LWR is not well suited to producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. However, the process used to produce fuel for the reactor, which involves enriching uranium, can be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons.

For several years, Pyongyang denied U.S. accusations that it was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program, first admitting that it had done so after abandoning multilateral nuclear talks in April 2009. It revealed an enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex at the same time that it disclosed its LWR construction, but it is widely believed to have other enrichment plants elsewhere.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Dies

After holding power for 17 years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died Dec. 17 “from a great mental and physical strain,” North Korean state media reported Dec. 19. He is to be succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be about 28 years old. Preparations for the succession process appeared to begin in 2008 when the elder Kim suffered a stroke. The North Korean media highlighted the successor role that his son now is to play, with a Dec. 20 Korean Central News Agency report stating that “the Korean people now pledge themselves to remain true to the leadership of General Kim Jong Un.” Both North and South Korea raised their military alert level following news of Kim’s death.—PETER CRAIL

 

Five Republican members of Congress raised concerns in November that North Korea is developing a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a capability that might allow it to protect its long-range missiles from being destroyed before they are used. However, some nongovernmental experts said such a system was very likely beyond North Korea’s current technical reach.

Congress Sanctions Iran Central Bank

Peter Crail

President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law legislation to impose sanctions on firms doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, a move intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to sell oil abroad.

Congress adopted the legislation in spite of concerns expressed by the Obama administration that sanctions might alienate allies and disrupt oil markets, slowing the global economic recovery.

Iran’s oil sales amount to more than half of its income. Because of international sanctions on much of Iran’s banking sector, it must rely on its central bank for the financing of oil purchases, making sanctions against the bank in effect a prohibition on other countries importing Iranian oil. In recent months, Congress has been increasing pressure on the administration to sanction the bank. (See ACT, November 2011.)

The new law blocks companies and financial institutions from accessing the U.S. financial system if they are found to be engaged in a “significant financial transaction” with the bank, but includes a six-month grace period for sanctions applied to oil purchases from Iran. It gives the president the option of waiving the sanctions if there is insufficient oil in the global market to make up for losses resulting from the sanctions or if countries have demonstrated that they have “significantly reduced” their reliance on Iranian oil.

The sanctions are largely based on an amendment proposed by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which was the bill that Obama signed on Dec. 31.

During a Dec. 1 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the proposed sanctions, administration officials warned that the legislation under consideration by Congress could backfire. “There is absolutely a risk that in fact the price of oil would go up, which would mean that Iran would in fact have more money to fuel its nuclear ambitions, not less,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the panel.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner also sent a Dec. 1 letter to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) opposing the measure. He warned that countries “are more likely to resent our actions and resist following our lead—a consequence that would serve the Iranians more than it harms them.” Instead, he urged “properly targeted” sanctions aimed at the bank.

U.S. allies have been discussing ways to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil. The 27-nation European Union considered a British- and French-proposed embargo on Iranian oil in December, but could not reach consensus on the matter largely due to objections by Greece, whose economy is in dire fiscal straits and relies on Iran for roughly 14 percent of its oil.

Menendez said during the Dec. 1 hearing he was “extremely disappointed” with the administration’s opposition to the measure. He noted that administration officials had previously expressed support for his efforts to adjust the sanctions to address their concerns.

“The original amendment had no waivers whatsoever,” he said, “Maybe we should have allowed that to stand.”

That same day the Senate voted unanimously for the amendment.

A House-Senate conference committee agreed Dec. 13 on language to reconcile the Senate amendment with a House provision contained in a bill applying a wide range of sanctions on Iran.

“The conference report includes four modifications to the Senate language, but preserves the scope and implementation timeline of the Senate provision,” according to a Dec. 13 press release by the House and Senate armed service committees.

The House adopted the sanctions on the central bank as a stand-alone measure Dec. 14 while the Senate adopted the defense authorization bill, which included the central bank sanctions amendment, Dec. 15.

President Barack Obama on Dec. 31 signed into law legislation to impose sanctions on firms doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, a move intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to sell oil abroad.

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