"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
December 2012
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
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Looking Back: Norman Cousins and the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963

Lawrence S. Wittner

The year 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the first treaty to limit nuclear weapons testing. Observances of this anniversary undoubtedly and deservedly will focus on the roles of President John Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who pressed for and signed the accord. Yet, Norman Cousins, a private citizen, also played a critical role in bringing the treaty to fruition.[1]

In late 1962, the world was reeling from the near-catastrophic Cuban missile crisis. The crisis, in October of that year, gave new impetus to efforts to ban nuclear testing, which had been a topic of international discussions since the early 1950s. On August 5, 1963, Kennedy and Khrushchev signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear tests in the atmosphere, under water, and in outer space. The treaty, which was the world’s first formal nuclear arms control agreement, entered into force on October 10, 1963.

Cousins and Disarmament

Cousins is perhaps most famous as the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature, later renamed Saturday Review, a major magazine of the arts and public affairs. He also became a leading advocate for world peace and nuclear disarmament.

Cousins was disturbed by the catastrophic destruction wrought by World War II, but it was the atomic bombing of Japan, in August 1945, that transformed his life. Immediately after learning of the annihilation of Hiroshima, he sat down and wrote a lengthy editorial, soon published as a book, entitled “Modern Man Is Obsolete.” In it, he argued that given the advent of nuclear weapons, human survival could be secured only through the creation of world government.

Much of his early anti-nuclear work focused on aiding the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima. One example was his initiation of the Hiroshima Maidens project, which brought 25 young Japanese women disfigured by the atomic bombing to New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1955 for plastic and reconstructive surgery. Cousins and his wife legally adopted one of them.

In the mid-1950s, as the development of the hydrogen bomb led to growing controversy over nuclear weapons testing, Cousins began his efforts to end nuclear weapons explosions. During the 1956 U.S. presidential campaign, he helped convince former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, to make the halting of nuclear testing a key issue in his campaign. Cousins also worked on the issue with medical missionary Albert Schweitzer and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement’s campaign to bring the nuclear arms race under control.

Cousins’ best-known disarmament venture, however, emerged when he helped establish a major nuclear disarmament organization: the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. In 1957, the new organization, which became known as SANE, made its debut with an advertisement, written by Cousins, in The New York Times and other newspapers. The ad, calling for the immediate suspension of nuclear testing by all countries and signed by 48 prominent Americans, declared that stopping nuclear tests would halt radioactive contamination and provide “a place to begin on the larger question of armaments control.”[2] Comparable “ban the bomb” organizations sprang up around the world, assailing nuclear testing and demanding nuclear disarmament.

The Road to the Treaty

The growing public concern about nuclear testing that SANE and its brethren helped to generate was a key factor behind the U.S.-British-Soviet agreement on a nuclear testing moratorium that began in October 1958. The moratorium collapsed at the end of August 1961, when the Soviet Union, followed quickly by the United States and the United Kingdom, resumed testing, and the three nuclear powers continued their efforts to negotiate a test ban treaty without much success. As a result, testing continued to inspire intense public controversy, with SANE and its co-chair Cousins playing a leading role.

In this context, Cousins stepped forward in an effort to break the great-power deadlock over a test ban treaty. Asked by Pope John XXIII to speak with Khrushchev in order to improve relations between the Vatican and the Kremlin, the SANE leader arranged to meet with Kennedy in November 1962 before his departure. During their discussion, Cousins inquired if the president wanted him to use the visit to transmit a peace and disarmament message to the Soviet premier. In response, Kennedy urged Cousins to convince Khrushchev that his administration sought peaceful relations with the Soviet Union and that a test ban treaty would provide an important route toward this goal.

Accordingly, Cousins met alone with Khrushchev that December for an intense exchange that lasted more than three hours. Khrushchev expressed his desire to meet Kennedy “more than halfway” in the quest for peace, adding that they should move “right away…to conclude a treaty outlawing testing of nuclear weapons.”[3] Five days later, Khrushchev dispatched a lengthy letter to Kennedy devoted entirely to the test ban issue, with proposals that left Kennedy exhilarated. This was the first direct communication between the Soviet and U.S. leaders since the Cuban missile crisis, two months earlier.

Despite this promising start, U.S.-Soviet test ban negotiations became bogged down in early 1963 in a sharp dispute over the number of on-site inspections. Khrushchev, under the impression that the Kennedy administration was willing to accept two to four inspections per year to monitor a test ban treaty, had gone to the rest of the Soviet leadership and secured agreement to two to three inspections. Then, when Kennedy responded by demanding a higher number, the Soviet leader felt betrayed and angered.

U.S. government officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, once more turned to Cousins and emphasized his importance as an intermediary with Khrushchev. On March 12, Kennedy held an 80-minute private meeting with Cousins at the White House, in which he urged the SANE leader to meet again with Khrushchev and stress that the U.S. government genuinely wanted a test ban treaty. Following up, Kennedy telephoned Cousins the day before he left for his new mission to the Soviet Union and made the same point.

That April, conferring with Khrushchev at the Soviet leader’s country retreat, Cousins found him angry and suspicious of the U.S. government, especially over the issue of the number of inspections. Nevertheless, Cousins marshaled all his persuasive powers to restore the momentum for a test ban. Finally, at the end of their six-hour conversation, Khrushchev relented and stated that he accepted Kennedy’s explanation that the U.S.-Soviet dispute over inspections was “an honest misunderstanding.” He said, however, that “the next move” was up to Kennedy.[4]

Returning to the United States, Cousins met with Kennedy and pressed him to adopt “a breathtaking new approach toward the Russian people, calling for an end” to the Cold War.[5] In a follow-up message, he proposed “the most important single speech” of Kennedy’s presidency, a speech that would “create a whole new context for the pursuit of peace.”[6] Enthusiastic about the idea, Kennedy had Cousins discuss the speech with Theodore Sorensen, Kennedy’s special counsel and major speechwriter, who drew on a draft by Cousins and prepared it for delivery.

On June 10, 1963, speaking at American University in Washington, Kennedy focused on what he called “the most important topic on earth: world peace.” In the nuclear age, he said, “total war makes no sense” and peace had become imperative. “A fresh start,” he argued, should be made on “a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests.” He reported that he had ordered a halt to U.S. atmospheric testing and had arranged for the beginning of high-level treaty negotiations in Moscow. “Confident and unafraid,” Kennedy concluded, “we labor on—not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.”[7]

That speech proved the catalyst. On July 25, 1963, the negotiators in Moscow signed an agreement for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing: the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

In the United States, Kennedy publicly lauded the treaty for ending “the atmospheric tests which have so alarmed mankind”[8] and formed a Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban, masterminded by Cousins, to promote its approval by the U.S. Senate. In this capacity, Cousins met with congressional leaders, White House officials, and Kennedy to plan and direct the public campaign for ratification. Much of Cousins’ work along these lines took place behind the scenes, although he did debate administration nemesis Edward Teller several times on television. Thanks to the Citizens Committee’s efforts, to administration lobbying, and to the breadth and depth of anti-nuclear sentiment in the United States, the Senate approved the treaty on September 24, 1963, by a vote of 80-19.

Although Kennedy and Khrushchev certainly deserve considerable credit for their willingness to back the treaty, the remarkable role of Cousins in fostering it should not be forgotten. He had helped to launch the crucial worldwide movement, mobilizing prominent individuals such as Stevenson, Schweitzer, and Nehru; creating and encouraging organizations such as SANE;[9] and arousing worldwide public opposition to nuclear tests. Furthermore, he became a key figure in the diplomatic maneuvering that led directly to the U.S.-Soviet agreement on an atmospheric nuclear test ban.

Helping to Make History

Glenn Seaborg, who chaired the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971 and played an important part in the administration’s test ban discussions, recalled that Cousins’ April 1963 meeting with Khrushchev “helped to make history.”[10] So too did Cousins’ instigation of the American University address. According to Kennedy White House aide Arthur Schlesinger Jr., “[L]eft to itself, the Department of State would not…ever have proposed an American University speech.”[11]

Kennedy certainly recognized Cousins’ importance in the long and successful effort to secure a nuclear test ban. Not only did the president call on Cousins for extraordinary tasks―things usually left to seasoned diplomats―but, as a further sign of his gratitude, eventually presented Cousins with one of the original signed copies of the treaty.

Cousins’ importance in securing this treaty should serve as a reminder that although diplomats are crucial to the negotiation of treaties, citizen activism also can play a significant role in initiating them and bringing them to fruition. Admittedly, Cousins was a very influential individual, with access to the mass media and to top government leaders. Nevertheless, his influence was magnified by the role he played as a respected leader of a social movement, in this case, the burgeoning nuclear disarmament movement.

Cousins hoped to end nuclear weapons testing and thereby not only reduce nuclear fallout, but also begin the process of disarmament and the creation of a more peaceful world. The Limited Test Ban Treaty, however, allowed testing to continue underground. It was not until the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996 that most countries around the globe agreed to end nuclear testing entirely. The United States has signed the CTBT but not ratified it, as the U.S. Senate rejected ratification of the treaty in 1999.

That treaty, a part of President Barack Obama’s arms control and disarmament agenda, might well be brought back to the Senate for another try during Obama’s second term. If it secures Senate approval, that would surely be an appropriate follow-up to the determined efforts of Norman Cousins and all the other individuals, within government and elsewhere, who worked for a safer, saner world.

Lawrence S. Wittner, a professor emeritus of history at the State University of New York at Albany, is author of a three-volume history of the international disarmament movement. His latest book is Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual (2012).


1. This article is adapted from material that appears in three of the author’s books. See One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement to 1953 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993); Resisting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 1954-1970 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).

2. “We Are Facing a Danger Unlike Any Danger That Has Ever Existed,” The New York Times, November 15, 1957.

3. Norman Cousins, The Improbable Triumvirate: John F. Kennedy, Pope John, Nikita Khrushchev (New York: W.W. Norton, 1972), pp. 53-54.

4. Ibid., p. 101.

5. Ibid., p. 116.

6. Cousins to Kennedy, April 30, 1963, “Nuclear Test Ban” Folder, Box 36, Theodore Sorensen papers, John F. Kennedy Library, Boston.

7. “Commencement Address at American University in Washington, June 10, 1963,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 1964), pp. 460-464.

8. “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, July 26, 1963,” Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1964), p. 602.

9. SANE merged with the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign in 1987 to form Peace Action.

10. Glenn T. Seaborg, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Test Ban (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981), p. 207.

11. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), p. 909.

The year 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the first treaty to limit nuclear weapons testing. Observances of this anniversary undoubtedly and deservedly will focus on the roles of President John Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who pressed for and signed the accord. Yet, Norman Cousins, a private citizen, also played a critical role in bringing the treaty to fruition.

Accelerating Threat, Stalled Strategy: A Call to Action on Biological Weapons

Katharine Diamond and Robert P. Kadlec

Four years ago, President-elect Barack Obama told the country that “conventional thinking has failed to keep up with new nuclear, chemical, and biological threats.”[1] Upon taking office, he immediately began working toward ambitious nuclear disarmament goals, making his first major foreign address a vow to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”[2]

Speaking before a packed public square in Prague, Obama told the world that “there is no end to what the consequences might be—for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.… One terrorist with one nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction.”[3] His words were clear, his argument was compelling, and his administration’s actions since then have been consistent.

The past four years have been markedly different with regard to efforts to address the risks from biological weapons. Although it occasionally has repeated the rhetoric acknowledging the severity of the threat, the Obama administration has not shown the same willingness to counter it aggressively. Since entering office, Obama has personally remained quiet on the subject of biological weapons. In a pattern that has repeated itself across Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the issue has been entirely eclipsed by the focus on nuclear proliferation. Although a number of structural and cultural factors keep it just below the radar of the country’s top policymakers, there are urgent reasons why the second Obama administration should reconsider the current course and pursue a proactive approach to countering the threat of biological weapons.

During his first presidential campaign, Obama spoke clearly and forcefully about the need to address biological weapons. “Just as we must guard against the spread of nuclear terrorism, it’s time for a comprehensive effort” to address bioterrorism he told voters in July 2008. “And we know that the successful deployment of a biological weapon—whether it is sprayed into our cities or spread through our food supply—could kill tens of thousands of Americans and deal a crushing blow to our economy.”[4]

As the science and technical components behind biological weapons become ever more accessible to states, groups, and even individuals, it is crucial to have a strategy that keeps pace with the evolving risk. Experts, including current and former Obama administration officials, have sounded alarms that biological weapons pose a serious threat to the country, perhaps even greater than the one from nuclear weapons.[5]

In light of these concerns, U.S. strategy should move beyond responsive policymaking to become forward-thinking and clearly directed from the top. Encouragingly, the Obama administration has shown a willingness to lead on major issues, even when that means going against history. The Prague speech was a dramatic and inspiring departure from the nuclear status quo. Obama now must find the motivation and demonstrate the leadership to tackle the threat from biological weapons similarly and to advance bold ideas into the global debate about the risks these weapons pose.

Muted Beginning

Reinforcing the stakes that Obama recognized when running for office, the National Security Council issued its strategy document on biological weapons in November 2009, the first national strategy document to come out of the Obama administration. It starkly characterizes the impact of an attack on the United States.

The effective dissemination of a lethal biological agent within an unprotected population could place at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The unmitigated consequences of such an event could overwhelm our public health capabilities, potentially causing an untold number of deaths. The economic cost could exceed one trillion dollars for each such incident. In addition, there could be significant societal and political consequences that would derive from the incident’s direct impact on our way of life and the public’s trust in government.[6]

Given these risks, the strategy document explicitly declares that “we must reduce the risk that misuse of the life sciences could result in the deliberate or inadvertent release of biological material in a manner that sickens or kills people, animals, or plants, or renders unusable critical resources.”[7] It outlines a threefold prevention-based approach for minimizing the threats posed by natural and manmade biological agents: improve global access to the life sciences to combat infectious disease regardless of its cause, establish and reinforce norms against the misuse of the life sciences, and institute a suite of coordinated activities that collectively will help identify, inhibit, or interdict those who seek to misuse the life sciences.[8]

The strategy was unveiled with no fanfare nearly a full year into Obama’s term by an undersecretary speaking to a roomful of diplomats in a nondescript conference room in Geneva, a sharp contrast to the administration’s nuclear vision and strategy unveiled on the world stage before tens of thousands in Prague just 75 days into his administration. That difference, although seemingly superficial, speaks volumes about the administration’s efforts to counter biological threats, efforts that, time and again, have fallen short of addressing the danger at hand.

A key part of the strategy is its call for “detailed guidelines” to manage the risks involved in publicizing or otherwise sharing “dual-use information of concern.”[9] The need for such guidelines and the failure thus far to develop them became apparent last winter as the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity struggled with whether the publication of two prominent studies on the H5N1 virus, both funded by the National Institutes of Health, would result in the dissemination of potentially dangerous information on how to increase the virus’ potential transmissibility. Last December, the advisory board at first recommended that Science and Nature, the journals that were to publish the studies, censor portions on the methods used to modify the virus to enhance transmissibility. This March, however, the board reversed itself and supported publishing the studies without modification.

The confusion, compounded by the fact that these studies had had government support and funding from their start, highlighted the fact that “almost at every step the system isn’t working very well for these projects,” according to one expert.[10] “The most pressing question,” according to Nature’s in-depth report on the decision, “is why the research wasn’t flagged up earlier for scrutiny. The answer: the policy simply wasn’t in place.”[11]

The episode reflects a persistent criticism of the strategy—that its key elements, including fostering risk awareness among the scientific community, “are conceptually flawed or too weak to make much of a difference,” according to the late biological arms control expert Jonathan Tucker.[12] Senators Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the chairman of a 2008 panel on weapons of mass destruction, add support to Tucker’s claim. The two led a separate bipartisan review of U.S. biodefense measures that, in October 2011, found that regardless of what documents are coming out of the White House, the policies being effectively implemented are few and far between.[13]

Incrementalist Strategy

The Obama administration is hardly the first to be stymied by the risks posed by biological weapons. Since 1969, when the United States first struck out in an attempt to end the development and use of these weapons, one administration after another has floundered in the face of the unique policy challenges that they pose for arms control regimes. That year, President Richard Nixon unilaterally renounced biological weapons and terminated the country’s offensive biological warfare program.

His strategy had three elements: deter the use of biological weapons with nuclear weapons, commit to a global ban on the weapons, and develop robust biodefenses to hedge against the risk of noncompliance and surprise. In a telling sign, the third element was never implemented. The ban would never include verification provisions, turning Nixon’s bold new framework into little more than a nuclear umbrella and a treaty with no teeth.

Three years later, the international community agreed to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the first arms control treaty to ban an entire class of weapons. Despite the Cold War, the world’s superpowers agreed to ban the production and development of biological weapons while preserving the right to pursue biodefenses. The treaty, first heralded for its vision, was quickly mired in practical realities: When the same technologies can be used in peaceful life science research and in biological weapons development (the dual-use dilemma), how can the international community differentiate between the two in order to uphold the BWC? Lacking any organizational capacity supporting the treaty, much less any enforcement mechanism, how can the BWC detect violations and verify compliance?[14]

With these questions lingering over the single biggest step forward in efforts to counter the spread and use of biological weapons, progress quickly stalled. Interest within the U.S. policy community diminished as well, as other security crises came to eclipse the importance of these weapons over the next several decades.

Throughout the 1990s, occasional developments sparked renewed interest in biological weapons: the recognition that the Soviet Union (before its dissolution), Iraq (before the 1991 Persian Gulf War), and various radical terrorist and apocalyptic organizations had developed or expressed interest in acquiring a biological weapons capability. Once the initial shock of those events faded, however, so too did the impetus to counter the threat. Meanwhile, the means to develop biological weapons have become more widely available. In 1969, biological weapons were limited to superpowers; by the late 1980s, any state could potentially acquire them; and since the late 1990s, terrorist groups and individual extremists have made attempts to obtain them.

The October 2001 anthrax attacks, which appear to be the work of a single scientist, mark the latest event to spur lawmakers and strategists into action. Coming so soon after the September 11 attacks, the anthrax incidents prompted a slew of presidential directives, studies, and legislation meant to bring U.S. biological weapons policy into the 21st century, largely through greater preparedness and response capabilities.

Interestingly, even as Congress has been perceived as increasingly polarized in the post-September 11 era, measures to improve biodefense and biosecurity have remained above the partisan fray, with some of the most important pieces of legislation enjoying broad bipartisan support in the House and Senate. In 2006, for example, Senators Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) came together to co-sponsor the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which established a policy to develop medical countermeasures and boost the Department of Health and Human Services’ emergency response capabilities. Even during the harsh partisan fights today, the House and Senate have passed their own versions of the reauthorization of that legislation and are negotiating to resolve differences between the two versions.

A Stalled Treaty

In December 2009, when U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher announced the administration’s biological weapons strategy in Geneva, she put particular emphasis on the BWC, which she said was “the premier forum for dealing with biological threats” and the very basis of the administration’s strategy.[15] She told her audience that the United States wanted to “reinvigorate” the BWC, and the treaty’s 2011 review conference—a once-every-five-years session where states evaluate treaty compliance in the preceding five years, assess ways to improve implementation, and respond to changes in the fields of biological and life sciences—offered an opportunity to do just that.

The conference was billed beforehand as a turning point in determining how to address some of the longest-lasting issues hampering the BWC’s implementation, namely, how to effectively monitor and verify compliance with the treaty. Given the challenge at hand, Tucker argued that, “to a considerable extent,” the review conference’s success would “depend on constructive leadership from the United States after several years of paralysis and drift.”[16]

The United States sent a strong signal to the international community by sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first secretary of state to attend a BWC review conference.[17] The Obama administration’s support of the conference was, for participants, a welcome departure from the Bush administration’s perceived antagonistic approach to its first review conference. At that 2001 conference, the administration withdrew its support for an elaborate compliance protocol, leaving the direction for future negotiations uncertain.

In spite of its welcome gestures and Clinton’s presence, the United States fell short of offering a new vision for how the BWC could remain relevant or become more effective in the 21st century. While calling for “bolster[ing] international confidence that all countries are living up to [their] obligations” under the BWC, Clinton told the conference that “it is not possible, in our opinion, to create a verification regime that will achieve this goal.”[18] Instead, she called for new reporting requirements, more transparency, and more dialogue.

Although the Obama administration is correct in assessing the practical limitations of any potential BWC verification protocol, Clinton’s recommendations are hardly enough to fill the gap left by taking verification off the table. Ultimately, the strategy the United States laid out offered little hope and no substance for moving the global biological weapons agenda forward in a way that addresses the hurdles that have limited its progress in the past, even as key officials continue to laud the BWC for the role it plays in sustaining the nonproliferation norm.

Different Approaches

For any number of reasons, international and domestic efforts to address the risk from biological weapons have stagnated since the boom days of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Those reasons help explain why, even as the Obama administration is able to pursue a paradigm-shifting nuclear strategy, its biological weapons strategy remains stalled.

Although the overlap between the technologies and materials used in nuclear power and weapons development can stymie experts, this issue of dual use is even greater for biological weapons. Unlike nuclear weapons, which can be made from only a very limited number of elements, there are dozens of potential biological weapons agents that are ubiquitous in nature. Additionally, processes to cultivate pathogens for malicious purposes are significantly cheaper and require less time and effort than nuclear weapons production, and they largely mirror the processes used to manufacture beneficial vaccines and medicines. Countries cannot simply “lock up” pathogens as they can in the case of special nuclear materials. Moreover, biological weapons development does not produce the telltale signatures that are critical for monitoring nuclear developments.[19]

Further, new scientific discoveries and technologies are creating a new discipline in the life sciences: synthetic biology. As this field becomes more mature and available, there is an increasing risk that new or novel pathogens may be created that could circumvent traditional medical preventive approaches or treatment.

The UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) demonstrated how difficult it can be for even the most well-informed, technologically able inspectors to verify the true intent behind dual-use technologies. UNSCOM was “the most intrusive arms control regime ever devised,”[20] but its inspectors were still limited in what they were able to learn about Iraq’s biological weapons activities. In a notable example, the testimony of Hussein Kamel, one of Saddam’s sons-in-law who defected, was required before UNSCOM had confirmation that a particular facility had been built solely for the purpose of producing biological weapons, even though inspectors had visited the site numerous times.[21]

These critical differences between nuclear and biological weapons underscore the importance of having trained, knowledgeable biodefense experts as part of any comprehensive policy effort. Yet, nuclear weapons specialists, policymakers, and strategists far outnumber those working on biological weapons, even at crucial senior levels. Tucker went so far as to say that a main reason for the Obama administration’s successes in nuclear weapons policy and stagnation in biological weapons policy is that “the senior arms control officials in the Obama administration are all nuclear experts with little knowledge of biological and chemical weapons issues.”[22]

This shortfall in expertise matters, especially given the influence that just one person can have on strategy. When the Bush administration took office, it dismissed the senior biodefense adviser to President Bill Clinton—arguably the first president since Nixon to focus on biodefense—until the anthrax attacks convinced the Bush administration that such a position was necessary after all. When the Obama administration came into office, however, it once again eliminated this senior advisory position.

Now, in place of a single person coordinating all biodefense work in multiple departments and agencies, there are three senior-level White House officials whose large portfolios include biodefense among many other issues. The change has left the administration in a sort of catch-22. Admiral Kenneth Bernard, the former biodefense adviser to Clinton and Bush, told The New York Times that “the only way that you can get all of those people in the room is to call them into the White House, and to have a coordinating group under a single person.”[23] Yet, in the absence of any single person in charge of the portfolio, it seems unlikely that there will be the kind of coordination necessary to give biostrategy and its implementation the prominence and focus they require to be successful.[24]

A Call to Action

Obama entered office with an ambitious agenda to tackle the threat of unconventional weapons in the 21st century. Although his administration’s biological weapons strategy was grounded in good intentions, its implementation has fallen short of the whole-of-government approach it recommended. Moreover, in spite of lauding the BWC, it reaffirmed the Bush administration’s position on verification while offering no clear alternative of how best to ensure compliance. In his second term, Obama must take measures to strengthen domestic biosecurity and biodefense and to revitalize international cooperation on the ongoing challenges facing the BWC.

First, it is essential that Obama establish, both in words and deeds, that the risk from biological weapons is commensurate with the threat from nuclear weapons. Obama could offer no clearer signal than establishing a senior biodefense adviser within the White House to ensure overall leadership for a whole-of-government approach across the health, security, diplomacy, and life sciences communities. Such an effort simply cannot succeed without a prominent representative at the top overseeing the wide range of biodefense and biosecurity efforts being undertaken by any number of departments, agencies, and offices. The adviser will need to take stock of current efforts to determine which ones are ineffective, duplicative, or outdated and must play a central coordinating role for ongoing and future work to counter biological threats. An advocate in the White House could build the kind of issue awareness, commitment, and focus that puts policy at the cutting edge. More broadly, the creation of this position could help bring the risk of biological weapons out of the shadow of nuclear policy, focusing increased attention on what has become a rapidly evolving threat.

The Obama administration also will need to strengthen its scientific capacity to tackle the biological threat. Government alone cannot do this; it simply is not equipped to stay at the scientific forefront of the field on its own considering how quickly the landscape of biological risk is changing. Every few months, there is a “bio-Sputnik,” a dramatic advance that leaves the policy community scrambling. Just this year, U.S. and Dutch scientists published groundbreaking research on the how to make the deadly H5N1 virus more transmissible; the Human Microbe Biome Consortium announced that its researchers had mapped microbial DNA; and scientists in Silicon Valley brought down the cost of mapping the human genome to its lowest level ever by using widely available commercial technologies.

To adapt to that rapid pace, the government must do more to promote a public-private partnership with the life sciences community to build a culture of responsibility. Much of the focus so far has been on keeping dangerous pathogens locked up in secure facilities. Security is an important element but is not by itself sufficient. The approach must ensure ethical, safe practices in this rapidly expanding field. More and better cooperation with academia and industry would not only help prevent misuse, but also could help contribute to U.S. defenses against possible biological attacks. Denying an adversary the intended effect of biological weapons use remains an important priority in any comprehensive approach. Advances in human immunology and in the development and manufacture of medical countermeasures, such as more-effective vaccines and broad-spectrum antibiotics, now permit enhanced defenses that were impossible even as recently as the 1990s.

There is a wealth of successful and unsuccessful experience on which to draw as the next administration works to bolster public-private cooperation. Since 2001, the Department of Health and Human Services has worked with industry to stockpile enough smallpox vaccine to protect the entire country in case of an attack. The effort has greatly reduced the risk of smallpox. With further cooperation, the threats posed by anthrax, plague, tularemia, and viral hemorrhagic fevers could be mitigated as well. Unfortunately, attempts to engage private industry in developing new medical countermeasures often have been limited by economic realities: The profit margins are slim, and contracting with the government is not easy. Importantly, those hurdles have not proven universal. The government was able to build the necessary partnerships with the commercial pharmaceutical industry to develop medical countermeasures and build the capacity for manufacturing vaccines for pandemic influenza in response to the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.

Clearly, more could and should be done to improve cooperation and consultation on biological threats across industry, academia, and government. The new administration should therefore ensure that the president’s science adviser is someone from the life sciences community, to act as a bridge between private knowledge and public interest. He or she must work with industry and academia and do so in a manner that is sufficiently clear and transparent to minimize conflict-of-interest concerns. Effectively bridging the confidence gap will be essential but difficult, given the growing divide that has spread between government and the life sciences field over the past several decades, with private industry closely guarding its scientific prowess and the government fumbling in past attempts to engage academia and industry.

Finally, in addition to strengthening its hand at home, the United States must pursue international cooperation under the BWC more aggressively. In an interconnected world, a pathogen can cross borders and bring an international dimension to a formerly domestic problem in an instant. Encouragingly, through the biological security component of the historic Cooperative Threat Reduction program that Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) launched two decades ago, the Obama administration has emphasized working with countries to improve their ability to manage and secure their pathogen collections and to detect, diagnose, and report disease outbreaks.

The Obama administration should continue this kind of partnership, but it should not let such bilateral efforts eclipse the importance of continued progress through the BWC. The United States simply must do more to strengthen the treaty. For too long, numerous administrations have failed to show leadership in tackling the persistent challenges facing BWC implementation.

Such challenges persist because they are incredibly complex to resolve, especially within the current framework that brings states-parties together for binding negotiations only once every five years. The BWC intersessional process—annual meetings of country representatives that lack binding authority and have limited mandates—has shown promise in keeping the BWC relevant to 21st-century threats.

Whether there should be a permanent BWC treaty organization is part of that future agenda. The establishment of a fully funded and staffed organization tasked with actively carrying out the requirements of the BWC and with maintaining its influence in a changing world could be an important adjunct. A permanent Biological Weapons Convention Organization could evaluate practical, technical, and scientific lessons already learned—for example, by UNSCOM in Iraq, the trilateral process that addressed the former Soviet Union’s offensive biological weapons program, and the United States’ own experience evaluating on-site inspection measures with private industry—to develop best practices for potential compliance and inspection measures.

It may seem that more bureaucracy is hardly the bold, game-changing leadership that the situation requires. The simple reality of biological weapons is that Obama cannot call for an end to biological threats the same way he called for an end to nuclear weapons. No one can outlaw or lock up pathogens; it is impossible to end their proliferation because their proliferation is a fact of nature. Addressing the risks that they pose is the only course. Providing clear leadership at home, harnessing the power of the life sciences community, and reinvigorating the international community will do just that.



Katharine Diamond is a program assistant with the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Robert P. Kadlec is managing director of East West Protection, LLC, a consulting firm that advises communities and countries on issues related to the threat of weapons of mass destruction and natural pandemics. He served as special assistant for homeland security and senior director for biological and chemical defense policy under President George W. Bush and as the Office of the Secretary of Defense representative to the Biological Weapons Convention under President Bill Clinton.




1. “Arms Control Today 2008 Presidential Q&A: President-Elect Barack Obama,” Arms Control Today, December 2008.

2. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Barack Obama [As Delivered],” April 5, 2009.

3. Ibid.

4. Katharine Jose, “Obama Adds ‘Cyber Security’ to National Defense Plan,” New York Observer, July 16, 2008.

5. Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, World at Risk (New York: Vintage Books, 2008), p. xv; Ellen Tauscher, Address to the annual meeting of the states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention, December 9, 2009, http://www.state.gov/t/us/133335.htm (hereinafter Tauscher BWC address); Conor Friedersdorf, “It’s Biological Weapons That Keep James Steinberg Up at Night,” Atlantic, July 1, 2012.

6. National Security Council (NSC), “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats,” November 2009, p. 1.

7. Ibid., p. 31.

8. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “President Obama Releases National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats,” December 9, 2009.

9. NSC, “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats,” p. 13.

10. Brendan Maher, “Bird-Flu Research: The Biosecurity Oversight,” Nature, May 23, 2012 (quoting David Fidler of the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University-Bloomington).

11. Ibid.

12. Jonathan B. Tucker, “Is Washington Prepared to Lead at the BWC Review Conference?” Arms Control Today, January/February 2011.

13. Bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center, “Bio-Response Report Card,” October 2011, http://www.wmdcenter.org/?page_id=183.

14. At their review conference in December 2006, the parties to the BWC established an Implementation Support Unit (ISU) to provide organizational support to member states. The ISU is tasked with providing administrative support, bolstering confidence-building measures (an integral part of strengthening cooperation and compliance with the treaty in the absence of official monitoring and verification provisions), assisting in national implementation, and expanding treaty membership. To carry out those sizable tasks, the ISU has a staff of three and is dependent on funding from countries that are parties to the treaty.

15. Tauscher BWC address.

16. Tucker, “Is Washington Prepared to Lead at the BWC Review Conference?”

17. Amanda Moodie, “Lucky Number Seven? The 2011 Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, December 23, 2011, http://cns.miis.edu/stories/111223_bwc_revcon_2011.htm.

18. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Remarks at the Seventh Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Review Conference, December 7, 2011, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178409.htm.

19. Advances in uranium-enrichment technologies have complicated detection of covert nuclear proliferation, but the problem still arguably is more severe in the case of biological weapons.

20. Gregory Koblentz, Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2009), pp. 53-105.

21. Ibid.

22. Tucker, “Is Washington Prepared to Lead at the BWC Review Conference?”

23. Wil S. Hylton, “How Ready Are We for Bioterrorism?” New York Times Magazine, October 26, 2011.

24. Ibid.


Four years ago, President-elect Barack Obama told the country that “conventional thinking has failed to keep up with new nuclear, chemical, and biological threats.” Upon taking office, he immediately began working toward ambitious nuclear disarmament goals, making his first major foreign address a vow to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Nuclear Arms Control Opportunities: An Agenda for Obama’s Second Term

Steven Pifer and Michael O’Hanlon

With his re-election secured, where should President Barack Obama head on matters of nuclear arms control? Some would now consider it a back-burner issue, with his big Prague speech on the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament (see box) already given and a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) secured in his first term.

In fact, arms control provides an opportunity to achieve multiple important goals: further reducing nuclear arsenals and enhancing U.S. security, reinvigorating the U.S.-Russian relationship, stabilizing some aspects of broader U.S.-Chinese interaction, and saving money in a cash-strapped defense budget. Also, it may give a shot in the arm to global nonproliferation norms that, although unlikely to directly sway leaders in Tehran or Pyongyang, could better position the United States to mobilize pressure on those countries and to exert leverage on other proliferators in the coming months and years.

For these reasons, the Obama administration should pursue a New START II that would cut deployed strategic weapons from the New START level of 1,550 warheads apiece to 1,000. This would be a sublimit embedded in an aggregate limit of 2,000 to 2,500 total nuclear warheads each, which would also limit tactical and reserve warheads. This level strikes a balance between making meaningful cuts and avoiding overly dramatic measures that cannot be fully verified yet. Such an accord would lead to the development of monitoring provisions in the U.S.-Russian context that later could be applied to other treaties mandating deeper cuts and including additional countries.

It is too soon to set a fixed path to “nuclear zero,” and attempting to do so in Obama’s second term would be counterproductive. Yet, this is an opportune moment to bring nonstrategic systems into the formal bilateral process as a first step toward exploring the viability of more-robust cutbacks down the road.

As for the other countries that have nuclear weapons, there are steps they can take in the near term. These steps, which would not be part of a formal treaty with Russia and the United States, would include greater transparency regarding their nuclear weapons capabilities and political pledges not to increase their arsenals in coming years or at least not to let them grow very much.

Ideally, these political pledges would be complemented by an agreement by the four most important countries that have not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—China, India, Pakistan, and the United States—to support the treaty. Another valuable addition would be some type of fissile material cutoff accord. That would admittedly be an ambitious agenda. Obama’s second-term goals should include the CTBT and a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT), but not be dependent or centered on them.

Lower Warhead Ceilings

A New START II should limit each side to no more than 2,000 to 2,500 nuclear warheads of all types combined. In other words, it would cover deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical, active and reserve—everything except those in the dismantlement queue, which would be handled separately. Within this overall pact, there would be a sublimit to reduce deployed strategic warheads to no more than 1,000.

In such an agreement, the United States could accept a limit of 500 for deployed strategic delivery vehicles and 575 to 600 for the combined total of deployed and nondeployed launchers and heavy bombers. Although a prohibition on new heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) would be desirable, it would require negotiating capital that U.S. negotiators could better apply elsewhere. Moreover, an agreement along the lines suggested here might lead Moscow to conclude that a new heavy ICBM made no sense in terms of strategic stability or cost because the Russians would not need to replace all their aging systems that will have to be retired soon in order to maintain the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads.

Counting rules should be modified in such an accord to make the actual number of allowed weapons approximate more closely the treaty-limited number. New START treats bomber warhead loadings very leniently. Bombers may continue to merit preferential treatment, but as overall limits are reduced, it is more difficult to justify counting each deployed nuclear-capable heavy bomber as only one weapon. (This was the main “loophole” in New START, which otherwise counts actual warhead loadings.) The number should be increased to three or four at least.

Such an agreement as a follow-on to New START would leave the United States with a nuclear deterrent that would be safe, secure, effective, and capable of deterring any potential adversary from a major attack on the United States, its allies, or its forces. Negotiating this agreement would take time, likely two to three years, but it would position the United States to demonstrate at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference the seriousness of its commitment to nuclear reductions and could set the stage for a U.S.-Russian push for more-direct involvement in the nuclear arms reductions process by other nuclear-weapon states.

Moving toward New START II soon would have major advantages for Russia and the United States in the defense budgeting realm. The United States already is beginning to ramp up plans and expenditures as it considers replacing all three legs of the strategic nuclear triad in the next one to two decades. New START II would mean that the United States could build fewer new weapons systems as it modernized its strategic deterrent.

Like the United States, Russia has incentives to avoid the need for expensive recapitalization, as much of its nuclear arsenal moves even more quickly toward retirement. Indeed, this financial incentive is one of the main reasons to believe Moscow may in fact be attracted to another round of arms control, as long as the resulting agreement allows Russia to sustain a major lead over any country other than the United States.

A ceiling of 2,000 to 2,500 warheads per nuclear superpower strikes the right balance in this regard. It would allow enough weapons to maintain the status of Russia and the United States as the only two superpowers, far ahead of the rest of the field. No lower outcome would presently be acceptable to either country. Yet, it also would represent a big reduction by both sides.

Limiting tactical and nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads is an idea whose time has come. This would constitute a big change in a New START II and would represent a historic achievement if feasible. Unfortunately, it also would pose major verification challenges. The U.S. intelligence community has confidence in its ability to monitor the New START limit on deployed strategic warheads because those warheads sit on ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), which are large. Tactical and nondeployed warheads are small, typically weighing only several hundred kilograms or less, and have radioactive signatures of limited range. The two sides therefore should consider a requirement that all such weapons must be maintained at declared storage facilities that would be subject to inspection.

Even if they adopt this approach, monitoring warheads themselves will be a work in progress, requiring constant learning and improvement. It is feasible for the United States to accept a lower degree of confidence for monitoring limits on nonstrategic and nondeployed strategic nuclear weapons in the context of this overall agreement because the U.S. and Russian arsenals would remain enormous compared to the requirements of deterrence or the nuclear inventories of any third countries. Were one side to have 200 to 300 undeclared nonstrategic or nondeployed strategic nuclear warheads, that would be hugely damaging to arms control and bilateral political relations, but it would not significantly affect a nuclear balance in which each side had 2,000 to 2,500 total nuclear weapons.

If the rest of the terms could be worked out satisfactorily, the United States should be prepared, in consultation with NATO, to accept what would be an almost certain Russian demand for a provision requiring that all nuclear weapons be based on national territory. That would require removal of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons from Europe, a condition the United States should be willing to accept in conjunction with very significant Russian reductions.

In deciding its arms control policy on nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the U.S. government must be mindful that the need for close consultation with NATO and Asian allies continues and that the reasons that U.S. nuclear weapons remain deployed in Europe have far more to do with assuring allies than with deterring outside aggression. A strong process of consultation, as occurred in the NATO Special Consultative Group during the negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear forces in the 1980s and the discussions with allies in the run-up to the completion of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), can strengthen alliance cohesion and confidence, thus bolstering the U.S. negotiating approach with Moscow.

Finally, as New START II talks began, it would make sense for both sides to accelerate implementation of New START limits. In particular, the United States should accelerate implementation of the deployed strategic warhead limit. (As of September 2012, the Russians already were below 1,550.) This would demonstrate good faith without prejudging the result of New START II negotiations while supporting efforts to cut U.S. defense spending. Acceleration of reductions to reach the New START limits surely would be consistent with the Obama administration’s forthcoming nuclear guidance decisions, which will flow from the NPR implementation study, because New START force levels are consistent with the administration’s assessment of what constitutes adequate deterrence.

Dealing With Missile Defense

Offensive arms control cannot occur in a vacuum. Any willingness Moscow might have to reduce its numerical advantage in tactical warheads for a chance to cut back on expensive strategic modernization and get U.S. nuclear weapons removed from NATO territory would likely dissipate unless the two sides reached an improved understanding on missile defense.

That does not mean the United States should forgo programs it needs for its own security. Following the example of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his successful effort early in the Obama administration to come up with a new architecture for European missile defense that had greater technical capabilities while causing fewer problems with Russia, the United States might now craft a new and better approach without sacrificing needed capability.

A cooperative NATO-Russian arrangement for territorial missile defense of Europe is in the U.S. interest. Access to early-warning data from the Russian-owned or -operated radars at Armavir in southern Russia and Gabala in Azerbaijan would usefully augment the data from NATO sensors, in part by providing earlier radar warning and tracking of ballistic missile launches from Iran. A cooperative missile defense thus would offer a better defense of Europe than NATO alone could provide.

Obama’s Arms Control Goals

In a speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, President Barack Obama laid out his administration’s nuclear weapons policy. As illustrated by the excerpts below, the speech included near- and long-term goals.

First, the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies…. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal.

To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year…. And this will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

[T]o cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.

[T]ogether we will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.

Iran has yet to build a nuclear weapon. My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue. But in that dialogue we will present a clear choice.

As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.

[F]inally, we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon.

[T]oday I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.

Source: White House Office of the Press Secretary

Moreover, by engaging in missile defense cooperation, the two sides could defuse a difficult issue that now appears likely to undermine the broader U.S.-Russian and NATO-Russian relationships. At a time when the West needs Moscow’s help on issues such as providing key supply lines to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and pressuring Iran to abandon its program aimed at putting Tehran in position to have a nuclear weapon, Washington should look for ways to minimize problems on the agenda with Russia. Finally, genuine NATO-Russian missile defense cooperation holds the potential to alter Cold War stereotypes about the alliance that linger in Russia.

A legally binding U.S.-Russian agreement limiting missile defense is politically unattainable; under current circumstances, the Senate would not consent to its ratification. Therefore, Obama should instead provide a political commitment not to direct U.S. missile defenses against Russian strategic forces, along the lines of the recent NATO assurances to Russia, and should offer to regularize and maximize transparency regarding U.S. missile defense programs and plans. This would include jointly staffed NATO-Russian missile defense centers, annual notifications of the numbers of key missile defense elements—such as missile interceptors (broken down by type and block), launchers, associated radars, and ships equipped with missile interceptors—currently deployed and projected to be deployed for each year over the next 10 years, and the opportunity for Russian experts to observe flight tests of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors.

NATO might offer to limit the cooperative arrangement time, say, for a period of four years. That would allow the Russians to “test drive” the arrangement and see if the enhanced transparency that would come from day-to-day missile defense cooperation eased their concerns. If not, they could walk away, and NATO would acknowledge that possibility up front. The timing of that kind of interim arrangement should not be a problem. In his November 2011 statement on missile defense, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev indicated that Moscow had six to eight years before U.S.-NATO missile defenses posed a threat.[1]

NATO should revise its current position, which suggests that cooperation would lead to no change in NATO missile defense plans, and make clear that it would fully consider Russian proposals for a cooperative missile defense. This increased receptiveness would include considering Russian proposals that might alter NATO plans, provided that the proposals did not degrade the ability of NATO missile defenses to protect NATO members. Washington should state that the term “adaptive” in its European Phased Adaptive Approach envisages the possibility that development and deployment of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor, which gives Moscow the greatest concern because of its projected capabilities against ICBMs, might be slowed if it appeared that the Iranians were not progressing toward an ICBM capability.

These ideas build on what Washington and NATO already have said, but go further by offering greater transparency and greater flexibility—in particular, the possible deferment of deployment of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor in Europe—than does the current position.

Multilateralizing the Process

To have true historic significance, stabilize the U.S.-Chinese military relationship in the nuclear realm, and create the possibility of further bilateral and multilateral arms accords (perhaps on a road to eventual elimination of nuclear weapons, perhaps not), Obama’s second-term arms control agenda should seek to draw in the other nuclear powers, declared and undeclared. A broader, more informal multilateral effort should be juxtaposed with the formal bilateral process aimed at concluding New START II. Such a process could build on the ongoing discussions among the five NPT nuclear-weapon states on those countries’ disarmament obligations under the treaty.

At present, France is believed to have almost 300 warheads, a level that is lower than in the past, mostly deployed on ballistic missile submarines. China has an estimated 240 nuclear warheads, with about 55 to 65 deployable on long-range missiles able to reach the United States. Its arsenal has been essentially steady in size for three decades, although China is moving toward a more mobile and survivable force. The United Kingdom has perhaps 225 warheads (like France, a lower number than in the past), all on SLBMs. London is reducing its number further. India is believed to have 80 to 100 warheads and Pakistan 90 to 110, and both countries are seeking to put some of those warheads on medium-range missiles. India recently tested the Agni-5 missile, capable in theory of reaching eastern Chinese cities. Israel’s arsenal reportedly is between 100 and 200 warheads. North Korea has perhaps six to eight.[2]

Some would argue that it is unfair of Russia and the United States to have more nuclear warheads than other countries and that any path to zero must include as an interim step a requirement for those two countries to relinquish their nuclear superiority and come down to the level of the other nuclear-armed states. That is unrealistic.

Creating a process by which superpower drawdowns create uncertainty as to who holds the nuclear trump cards in any crisis could well create the possibility of more crises and more-dangerous crises. It makes little sense to radically revise the existing global nuclear architecture, which, at least in great-power terms, appears relatively stable and stabilizing. At the same time, it is too soon to ask other countries to join in arms reduction efforts formally when the holdings of each of the nuclear superpowers still exceed those of any other state by a factor of well more than 10.

The medium nuclear powers—China, France, and the United Kingdom—should make political commitments not to increase their current nuclear warhead holdings and to provide greater transparency regarding their nuclear arsenals. Ideally, they should take this step in association with the next U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty. India and Pakistan should be encouraged to take the same step.

Because these would all be unilateral statements, they would not imply any formal recognition of new nuclear-weapon states by the rest of the international community. If needed, however, this first step could be undertaken without India and Pakistan (or Israel or North Korea). There would be a certain logic and perhaps greater simplicity in negotiations in beginning with the five official NPT nuclear-weapon states.

Nuclear Testing

The multilateral nuclear arms control agenda need not and should not end there. CTBT implementation and some serious movement toward a fissile material cutoff would very usefully complement the core arms control agenda laid out above, further stabilize nuclear arms relationships besides the one between Russia and the United States, and shore up the international consensus against proliferation, which is so important in gaining leverage to mobilize third countries to pressure proliferators.

When the CTBT came before the U.S. Senate in 1999, it fell 18 votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary for advice and consent. The outcome of that effort was a net negative, and it is better not to try a second vote than to fail so miserably again. The substantive case for CTBT, however, has only strengthened in the last 13 years.

The status quo policy on nuclear weapons testing amounts to an open-ended moratorium on U.S. testing, juxtaposed with similar moratoriums observed by the other NPT nuclear-weapon states, although not necessarily by India, Pakistan, or North Korea. The degree of consensus behind this de facto policy has only grown with time, even as bomb designers with experience in actual warhead design and testing retire from the weapons laboratories in droves. Only North Korea has tested in this century, and it has paid a rather high price for doing so.

It would be optimal that the CTBT enter into force to lock in the international norm against testing and thereby make it much more difficult for other countries to develop or modernize their arsenals without paying a major price for their decision. Testing is not needed to ensure the viability of today’s U.S. nuclear arsenal or a future U.S. arsenal. It cannot be justified on the basis of its importance in developing new and improved types of warheads because the case for new capabilities is weak. In addition, U.S. nuclear verification capabilities have detected the Indian, Pakistani, and North Korean nuclear tests—even the small, relatively unsuccessful ones—in the last 15 years and would be able to do so with high confidence for tests from those or other countries in the future. Verification capabilities are not airtight or perfect, but their limitations are not reason to oppose a test ban treaty, as any nuclear tests that these capabilities could not detect would be very unlikely to have military significance.

Moreover, the United States has learned more from nuclear testing than any other country, having conducted as many tests as the rest of the world combined. Why would the Senate not want to lock in the U.S. advantage and prevent others from closing the gap?

Fissile Material Production

The world remains awash in plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU), with enough in military and civilian stockpiles for 100,000 bombs. The world’s major powers are not presently making more fissile material for weapons purposes. That would seem to argue for an FMCT. Yet, because of the opposition of Pakistan, which, along with India, is increasing its stocks of fissile material, it has not been possible to pursue a cutoff treaty. It is time to look for a way around that roadblock.

Most forms of a possible FMCT would apply specifically to fissile material intended for weapons, but this classic version of an FMCT is not the only possibility. Having a huge loophole that would allow fissile material to be produced for some purposes even as it was banned for others would make the treaty less effective than it might be and greatly complicate the verification challenge. Thus, a second option would be a global ban on all production of fissile materials, including all forms of separated plutonium and HEU.

Just as it is possible to imagine a more sweeping FMCT, it is possible to imagine one that is narrower. To circumvent Pakistan’s obstruction of the process at the Conference on Disarmament, a bilateral U.S.-Russian treaty that prevented further production of HEU and plutonium for weapons purposes by those two countries would make sense by itself. It would help codify what already is a reality—neither country produces such materials today—while legitimating and practicing certain verification techniques. It might later be broadened to include more countries and non-weapons-related stocks of plutonium and HEU. Some would argue that this bilateral version of the treaty would be of minimal immediate benefit. That is true, but it would move things in the right direction and would require little effort to establish.[3]

A fourth concept worth considering would be a global moratorium on the production of fissile materials, rather than a formal treaty. This approach would retain the option of reconsidering the policy at some specified future date, perhaps one to two decades. It would have the advantage of not prejudging decisions about future naval reactors and the future economics of reactors burning plutonium as a fuel. It could also take the pressure off decision-makers who, given the complexity of the subject, might not realistically feel comfortable anytime soon committing to a permanent accord banning the production of all HEU and separated plutonium.


This article has highlighted the prospect of enhancing U.S. and global security by a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement, a cooperative NATO-Russian missile defense arrangement, initial steps to multilateralize the nuclear arms reduction process, progress toward bringing the CTBT into force, and first steps at ending the production of fissile materials for weapons. Yet even if Washington cannot move at the same pace in each of these areas, a major new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty makes sense. It would capture all nuclear weapons, including nonstrategic ones, for the first time. It would cut the U.S. and Russian arsenals by some 50 percent. It should be accompanied by efforts to persuade other states with nuclear weapons to agree not to expand their arsenals.

Such a treaty offers majors advantages. It would make the United States and the world safer. It would save money. It would increase U.S. leverage in mobilizing pressure against nuclear proliferators in the years ahead while taking an important step to reduce the prospects of a worsening U.S.-Chinese strategic rivalry. It would help move the world a step closer to nuclear zero without rushing to such an outcome or, counterproductively, trying to determine the feasibility of that goal prematurely. There is a nuclear arms control opportunity for Obama, the United States, Russia, and the world. They should seize it.

Steven Pifer is director of the Brookings Arms Control Initiative. Michael O’Hanlon is director of research for the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. They are the authors of The Opportunity: Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Arms (2012), from which this article is adapted.


1. Dmitry Medvedev, Statement regarding NATO’s missile defense system in Europe, November 23, 2011, http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/3115.

2. International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Global Fissile Material Report 2011,” January 2012, pp. 4-7, http://fissilematerials.org/library/gfmr11.pdf; Daryl Kimball and Tom Collina, “Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, November 2012, http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat; Heather Timmons and Jim Yardley, “Signs of an Asian Arms Buildup in India’s Missile Test,” The New York Times, April 20, 2012.

3. David Cortright and Raimo Vayrynen, Towards Nuclear Zero (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2010), pp. 131-132.


With his re-election secured, where should President Barack Obama head on matters of nuclear arms control? Some would now consider it a back-burner issue, with his big Prague speech on the long-term goal of nuclear disarmament already given and a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) secured in his first term.

ATT Conference Set for March

Daryl G. Kimball

The UN General Assembly last month overwhelmingly approved a resolution mandating a March 2013 conference to negotiate an arms trade treaty (ATT).

The resolution, which was co-sponsored by 105 states, affirmed that the text of the treaty that was put forward on July 26, near the end of a four-week conference that had sought to produce an agreed ATT text, will serve as the basis for further talks. The resolution also called on the UN secretary-general to identify a president for the March 18-28 conference.

The July conference came close to reaching consensus on the text, but fell just short as some states, including the United States, said they needed more time to address remaining concerns. (See ACT, September 2012.) The proposed ATT requires that all states put in place national regulations on international arms transfers, establish common international standards for approving the transfers, and mandate regular reporting on them.

The ATT resolution was approved Nov. 7 by a margin of 157-0, with 18 abstentions. Four of the world’s five largest arms suppliers—China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—voted in favor, while Russia abstained. Diplomatic sources say Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, has been tapped to be president-designate of the March conference.

UK Arms Dealer Sentenced for Smuggling

Marcus Taylor

A British arms dealer was sentenced to jail Oct. 26 for arms smuggling and tax fraud, the United Kingdom’s tax agency said in a press statement.

Gary Hyde was found guilty of arranging the illegal shipment of 40,000 AK-47s, 30,000 rifles, 10,000 Makarov nine-millimeter pistols, and 32 million rounds of ammunition from China directly to Nigeria some time between March 2006 and December 2007, according to the tax agency, which brought the charges against him. He coordinated the purchase and shipment of the weapons through his company in the United Kingdom, the agency said.

According to the agency’s statement, his conviction stemmed from his failure to acquire a license for the arms transfer, which violated a 2003 British law. Additionally, the statement said, Hyde hid his $1 million commission from the deal in an offshore bank account in Liechtenstein, which resulted in a conviction for concealing criminal property.

The tax agency said in the statement that it established Hyde’s involvement in the transaction through e-mail records and by using his cellphone’s GPS data to establish that he was in the United Kingdom when he negotiated the deal, thereby making him subject to British arms export law.

In response to the verdict, Hyde’s lawyer, Stephen Solley, said, “The idea Mr. Hyde sat down and made a decision to breach this law…knowing full well the consequences” is “ludicrous.” He added, “There’s nothing wrong with arms dealing,” describing the deal as taking place between two countries.

In January, the original charges against Hyde were dropped by the presiding judge in the case because the 2003 law was replaced by a new version in 2009. But the case was taken up again by the Court of Appeals, which, in handing down the Oct. 26 verdict, ruled that Hyde was responsible for following the law that was in force at the time of the transaction.

Hyde is currently facing separate charges in the United States, where he stands accused of illegally exporting to the United States 5,000 Chinese-made AK-47 drum magazines capable of holding 75 rounds each, in violation of U.S. arms import laws. U.S. court documents accuse Hyde and his co-defendant Karl Kleber of fraudulently altering the markings on the drums to indicate that they were manufactured in Bulgaria.

According to news accounts, Hyde is the former owner of two British firearms companies, York Guns and Jago Ltd.

A British arms dealer was sentenced to jail Oct. 26 for arms smuggling and tax fraud, the United Kingdom’s tax agency said in a press statement.

Myanmar Vows to Upgrade IAEA Safeguards

Daryl G. Kimball

Myanmar will take steps to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to the country’s nuclear facilities, the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein said in a statement Nov. 19, the day of President Barack Obama’s arrival in the Southeast Asian country.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, will sign an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement and will “give effect to the modified standardized text of the Small Quantities Protocol,” the statement said. The move could put to rest lingering suspicions that Myanmar’s military junta had pursued a nuclear weapons program with assistance from North Korea and could open the door to further rapprochement with the international community.

An additional protocol expands the IAEA’s ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or undeclared, to investigate questions about or inconsistencies in a state’s nuclear declarations. It also requires states to provide an “expanded declaration.” The IAEA Board of Governors still must approve Myanmar’s additional protocol.

Myanmar has a comprehensive safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA, but it also has adopted a small quantities protocol, which holds in abeyance much of the agency’s inspection authority as long as a state’s nuclear material holdings do not exceed certain thresholds. (See ACT, July 2010.) In September 2005, the IAEA Board of Governors approved modifications to such protocols to correct what the board believed was “a weakness of the safeguards system.” Myanmar now has pledged to recognize the modified version.

The announcement on the two protocols comes after democratic reforms in Myanmar and significant pressure from Washington to address a range of human rights and governance issues. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in December 2011 that improved U.S. relations with Myanmar would be possible only “if the entire government respects the international consensus against the spread of nuclear weapons.”

A State Department report released in August says U.S. concerns expressed in last year’s report regarding Myanmar’s “interest in pursuing a nuclear program, including the possibility of cooperation with North Korea, were partially allayed.” (See ACT, October 2012.)

The Myanmar announcement on the additional protocol follows the Oct. 23 approval by the government of Iraq of an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement. That country’s secret pursuit of nuclear weapons in the late 1980s was the principal impetus for creating the Model Additional Protocol in 1997.

As of Oct. 24, 139 countries had signed an additional protocol, and 119 had brought it into force, according to an IAEA tally.

Myanmar will take steps to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to the country’s nuclear facilities, the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein said in a statement Nov. 19, the day of President Barack Obama’s arrival in the Southeast Asian country.

UN First Committee Seeks FMCT Progress

Marcus Taylor

Following the failure of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to agree on a program of work necessary to make substantive progress toward a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and other issues, the UN General Assembly First Committee passed three resolutions that try to break the gridlock in the CD through the creation of other, complementary bodies.

The statements and resolutions tabled by several UN member states made clear their wavering confidence in the CD and its ability to fulfill its mandate.

The CD concluded its third and final session of the year in September without reaching consensus on a program of work. As it has in the past, Pakistan blocked the start of negotiations on an FMCT, citing the need to address existing fissile stockpiles as well as new production.

In his report to the First Committee, CD Secretary-General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan said that nothing can “mask the stagnation in what should serve the international community as its single standing multilateral disarmament negotiating forum.”

Group of Governmental Experts

In response, the First Committee approved a resolution (A/C.1/67/L.41/Rev/1) put forward by Canada on an FMCT. The resolution, which was approved by a vote of 148-1 with 20 abstentions, requests that the UN secretary-general produce a report in 2013 on how to move forward on FMCT negotiations based on input from member states. It also calls on the secretary-general to establish a group of governmental experts, comprising 25 member states, to discuss how to advance negotiations on an FMCT.

These meetings would occur for two weeks each in 2014 and 2015 and would end immediately in the event that the CD is able to pass a comprehensive program of work. The experts group is to submit a final report with a list of recommendations on how to advance FMCT negotiations and what technical aspects to include in the treaty.

Some member states, including China and Iran, expressed concern that the experts group would tarnish the legitimacy of the CD as the only recognized international forum for disarmament negotiations. Pakistan, the only state to vote against the resolution, said in its Nov. 5 explanation of its vote that the group “adds no value to the substance of the envisaged treaty” and would “undermine the CD, the sole multilateral negotiating forum.”

Several of the 20 countries that abstained voiced the same concern. Some states also expressed concern about moving the discussions from the 65-member CD to a forum of only 25 states.

Open-Ended Working Group

By a vote of 134-4 with 34 abstentions, the First Committee approved another resolution (A/C.1/67/L.46) that would attempt to foster progress on an FMCT by drafting a report with proposals on how the CD can break its deadlock. That resolution calls for the creation of an open-ended working group to convene in Geneva in 2013. According to a Nov. 1 statement by Mexico, one of the resolution’s three sponsors, the group will “develop proposals” on how to move disarmament negotiations forward.

The resolution’s sponsors emphasized that the group is not a negotiating forum itself. It is designed to collect ideas from member states on how to make progress in the CD, without actually negotiating any specific aspects of a treaty.

Open-ended working groups are open to all member states. Groups of governmental experts have a limited number of member state participants that are selected by the UN secretary-general. Both kinds of groups are tasked with submitting a final report to their committee of origin.

Proponents of the open-ended group on an FMCT maintain that it represents a way to move forward on disarmament issues in light of the obstructionist tactics that some states currently are using in the CD. Austria, another of the resolution’s co-sponsors, cited “the strong presence of vested interests and misuses of procedural rules” in the CD as an impediment to progress in the body.

Four of the five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes as nuclear-weapon states—France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—opposed the resolution; China abstained. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States released a joint statement saying that forming an open-ended group is unwise because of the potential damage to the legitimacy of the CD and because of the cost of convening additional meetings at a time when most UN member states are facing budgetary crises.

The joint statement also argued that organizing a new process “may jeopardize” the consensus achieved at the 2010 NPT Review Conference and “the momentum” for the next review conference, which is in 2015. They said the 64-point action plan that was part of the 2010 conference’s final document “offers the best way of taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations along with related issues.”

The five recognized nuclear-weapon states have met with other nuclear-armed states in so-called P5-plus talks to discuss how to break the stalemate in the CD, but they have consistently expressed their intent to negotiate an FMCT in the CD. (See ACT, October 2011.)

High-Level Meeting

In a third attempt to sidestep the impasse in the CD, the First Committee approved a resolution (A/C.1/67/L.19) that would convene a one-day event to be held Sept. 26, 2013. The meeting would bring together high-level representatives of UN member states during the General Assembly session to discuss ways to make progress on nuclear disarmament.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 165-0, with France, Israel, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States abstaining. The United Kingdom and the United States said Nov. 9 that they did not support the resolution because the conference will not address disarmament and nonproliferation equally.

Key UN Nuclear Disarmament Resolutions

The UN General Assembly First Committee adopted several resolutions on nuclear disarmament beyond those dealing with the impasse at the Conference on Disarmament. Below is a selective list of those resolutions.

Urges all Middle Eastern states to take the “practical and urgent steps” necessary to begin negotiations on a nuclear-weapon-free zone and calls for states in the region to place their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Adopted without a vote.

Emphasizes the importance of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk to regional security and global nonproliferation norms and calls on nuclear-weapon states to complete negotiations with the treaty’s signatories, sign the treaty, and ratify it. Adopted by a vote of 131-3 with five abstentions. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States opposed the resolution.

States that high alert levels in nuclear forces threaten international security and increase the risk of unintentional use of nuclear weapons and therefore calls on nuclear-weapon states to reduce alert levels, with the goal of eventually removing all nuclear weapons from high-alert status. Adopted by a vote of 145-4 with five abstentions. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States opposed the resolution.

Urges states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty “without delay” and to maintain the current nuclear testing moratoriums until the entry into force of the treaty. Also notes the progress that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization has made on its verification network and encourages the completion of the network. Adopted by a vote of 166-1 with three abstentions. North Korea opposed the resolution.

Notes the entry into force of the four treaties establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones located in the Southern Hemisphere and “adjacent areas” (a reference to international waters), calls on nuclear-weapon states to sign the treaties, and calls for a Southern Hemisphere completely free of nuclear weapons. Adopted by a vote of 165-4 with two abstentions. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States opposed the resolution.

Calls on the nuclear-weapon states to negotiate and sign a legally binding convention renouncing the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon state and calls for the continuation of negotiations on such a treaty in the Conference on Disarmament. Adopted by a vote of 133-0 with 57 abstentions.—MARCUS TAYLOR

Following the failure of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to agree on a program of work necessary to make substantive progress toward a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and other issues, the UN General Assembly First Committee passed three resolutions that try to break the gridlock in the CD through the creation of other, complementary bodies.

Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed

Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner

A conference scheduled for December on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is being postponed, the conveners said late last month in separate statements that suggested disagreement among them on when the conference could take place and why it was postponed.

At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of a 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The decision to hold the conference was critical to the NPT parties’ agreement on their meeting’s final document. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The meeting on the WMD-free zone later was scheduled for this December in Helsinki, with Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava as conference facilitator.

The U.S. statement on the postponement, issued Nov. 23 by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said that the United States remains committed to convening the conference, but gave no timeline for a rescheduled meeting. In a Nov. 27 interview, a State Department official said that the United States would like to see it held “as soon as possible” but that timing is not the reason for the postponement.

The obstacle is disagreement among states in the region on the broad, underlying “core issues,” such as the agenda and “modalities” of the conference, he said. To move forward, the states must “engage each other” to reach an agreement on these “fundamental differences,” he said. Nuland’s statement also cited “present conditions in the Middle East” as a reason for postponement.

Statements issued Nov. 24 by the United Kingdom and Russia, however, both called for the conference to be held in 2013, with Russia specifying that a new date no later than April should be “fixed right now.” In his statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was looking for the conference to take place “at the earliest opportunity in 2013.”

Russia also said in its statement that the “organizational modalities and substance” of the conference are at an “advanced stage.” The statement indicated that the meeting was postponed because not all of the states in the region had agreed to participate. “[S]everal extra months would be enough for proper preparation,” the statement said.

Acknowledging the differences between the U.S. and Russian statements, the U.S. official said, “I don’t share [the Russians’] optimism.”

In a Nov. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian diplomat said his government had “insisted [on] fulfilling the mandate” from 2010 to hold the conference in 2012. “Other conveners had the same understanding” and worked to achieve that goal, he said. But under the current circumstances, “[a]lthough our position remains unchanged, we feel that the conference may be postponed upon request from regional countries,” he said.

Officials and analysts from many countries have said that attendance by Iran and Israel is crucial for the conference.

Israel has not publicly committed to attending the meeting. Iran announced on Nov. 6 that it would participate, but it is unclear if the decision to postpone the meeting already had been made at that point.

Some observers have speculated that Iran might have made the announcement knowing that the meeting would not be held so that it could lay blame for the postponement on Israel. The State Department official described the Iranian announcement as a “calculated decision.”

He said the decision on whether to delay the conference was an “evolving discussion,” and that, in late October and early November, it started becoming clear that the meeting could not take place in December. Laajava consulted states in the region while these discussions were ongoing, the official said.

In an Oct. 8 statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Arab League said that all its members would attend the planned December conference. (See ACT, November 2012.)

Delay Called Unsurprising

The news of the conference postponement was first reported Nov. 10 by the Associated Press.

In a Nov. 12 interview with Arms Control Today, an Egyptian diplomat said he was not surprised by the decision. Although he acknowledged that current conflicts within the region would make convening a conference difficult, the parties cannot “hold out for a perfect environment” in the Middle East, he said.

He said that domestic difficulties are preventing Egypt from taking actions to “push for the conference.” This has had an effect on political will in the region, given Egypt’s central role in leading the Arab League’s efforts on the zone’s creation in the past, he said. Similar domestic concerns are preoccupying other states in the Arab League and preventing them from devoting resources to pushing for a meeting, although they all support creating a WMD-free zone, he said.

After the conveners announced that the conference would be postponed, Laajava issued a statement expressing regret that the conference would not be taking place in 2012 and calling for “multilateral consultations” to be held as soon as possible to continue efforts to “prepare the ground” for a future meeting.

Regional Responses

Statements issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Arab League after the conveners announced the postponement pointed to Israel as the cause for the delay.

On Nov. 25, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Egypt “refuses the announced excuses” for the postponement of the December meeting. The statement referred to the “non-constructive attitudes” toward the conference by a state that is not an NPT party. Israel is the only country in the region that is not a party to that treaty.

In a Nov. 25 statement, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said the group rejects “any attempts” to postpone the conference and that Israel is the only country in the region that has not expressed “willingness to participate” in the December meeting.

But an Israeli official said in a Nov. 11 interview that other countries in the region expressed concern about convening the conference in December. The official said it was determined “some time ago” that Israel would “likely not attend” a meeting if it were held in December because of current conditions in the region, but that the Israeli government supports the goals of the zone.

The Egyptian statement said postponing the conference is a “breach of the decision” at the 2010 NPT Review Conference to hold the conference in 2012 and that the decision would have “negative consequences on the review process.”

The State Department official said that if the conference is not held before next April’s NPT preparatory committee meeting, it will be a “big issue” and an even bigger one if the event has not taken place by the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

A conference scheduled for December on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is being postponed, the conveners said late last month in separate statements that suggested disagreement among them on when the conference could take place and why it was postponed.

Post-2014 Nuclear Security Mulled

Daniel Horner and Kelsey Davenport

Nuclear security summits held in 2010 and this year have achieved a great deal by focusing world leaders’ attention on the issue of securing nuclear materials, but there are ways to preserve much of that focus once the series of summits ends, a senior U.S. nuclear policy official said last month.

Speaking Nov. 5 in Arlington, Va., Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the National Security Council, said a main U.S. goal is to “leave behind a strengthened web of treaties, institutions, norms, and practices that will reliably secure nuclear materials.” She emphasized the roles of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and of national regulatory bodies.

The first nuclear security summit, which sprang from a commitment President Barack Obama made in his April 2009 Prague speech on nuclear weapons policy, took place in Washington in April 2010. The second one was in Seoul last March.

Officials from the United States and other countries have made it clear that the biennial summits will not continue indefinitely and have raised the possibility that the next summit, scheduled for 2014 in the Netherlands, will be the last. (See ACT, November 2011.)

In comments earlier this year on the question of how long the summits would continue, Holgate said the benefits of “leader engagement” would have to be weighed against the possibility of “leader fatigue.”

In her Nov. 5 remarks, Holgate said one of the main U.S. goals for the summits has been “the personal engagement of leaders on an issue where they owe their citizens their highest commitment.” In describing the Seoul summit, she said the leaders were “focused, on-point, and highlighting tangible progress over platitudes and generalities.”

Asked how to maintain high-level attention to nuclear security after the summits end, Holgate said one step is to “raise the capability and the profile and the durability” of existing institutions.

She pointed to a conference that the IAEA is planning to hold in Vienna, where the agency is based, next July 1-5 on nuclear security. Holgate said there is talk of holding the meeting every three years and having one day of the week-long event include ministerial-level participants. “We’ll certainly use our voice in Vienna to promote that,” she said.

According to the IAEA’s meeting announcement, one purpose of the conference will be to help the agency prepare its next Nuclear Security Plan, which would cover the years 2014-2017. The target audience includes “senior government officials” and other “high[-]level participants from all of the areas and agencies involved in making policy for and managing nuclear security,” the announcement said.

In a Nov. 14 interview, a Vienna-based diplomat said planning for the July meeting is in the relatively early stages and that issues such as the exact level of the participation are “still to be determined.”

Stronger IAEA Role

Andrew Semmel, a deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation under President George W. Bush, said in a Nov. 19 interview that the IAEA could play a major role in establishing a global framework for nuclear security. He said the 2014 summit could “set into motion” a process toward agreement on such a framework, which would set security standards, outline monitoring mechanisms, and provide states with the assistance needed to implement the framework’s provisions.

Semmel, now an independent consultant whose clients include the IAEA, said the agency is the “logical mechanism” to implement this framework agreement, which he said should lead to a legally binding treaty.

U.S. officials have said they do not think the effort to strengthen nuclear security around the world requires additional legal instruments.

Semmel, who also was a panelist at the Nov. 5 meeting, acknowledged in the interview that getting the “buy-in” from states for moving toward binding standards would be difficult, and he identified steps short of a treaty that could be taken at the 2014 summit to strengthen the IAEA. Specifically, he said that the IAEA needs “more authority and resources.”

The nuclear security system would be enhanced if the IAEA had a mandate for peer reviews that required states to fix any reported deficiencies, he said. The lack of such a mandate is the “single biggest obstacle” impeding the IAEA’s ability to strengthen nuclear security, he said. Under the current system, states request various services, including peer reviews or assistance from the IAEA, but are not obligated to follow through on the agency’s recommendations.

Semmel also said that the 2014 summit should encourage states to budget more resources “without earmarks” for the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund, which is mostly funded by voluntary contributions.

The idea of shifting responsibility for nuclear security from the summit process to the IAEA also has drawn support from other quarters. In a Nov. 16 interview, an official from an Arab country that participated in the Washington and Seoul meetings expressed concern that continuing the summit process would lead to the development of nuclear security standards that impede “access to nuclear technology.” The process should be handed over to the IAEA after the 2014 summit because the agency has “more universal representation,” he said.

The Vienna-based diplomat said that although there has been “some discussion” of giving the IAEA major responsibility for sustaining global efforts on nuclear security, the agency is “a long way from any formal decisions” on that topic.

The Arab official said his country would like to see a greater emphasis at the 2014 summit on securing high-intensity radiological sources. Too narrow a focus on fissile material makes the summit “less relevant” to many participating states, he said. Radiological source security was added to the agenda for the 2012 summit, but participating officials have said it did not receive much attention in Seoul.

Other Institutions

In addition to the IAEA, Holgate cited the United Nations and Interpol, through its Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Unit, as other organizations that could help maintain a global focus on nuclear security. Those three organizations, as well as the European Union, sent representatives to the Seoul summit. Holgate also highlighted the role of “informal institutions” such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

Another key part of keeping nuclear security as a high priority is the work of national regulatory agencies, she said. Holgate pointed to a planned Dec. 4-6 conference in Rockville, Md., on nuclear security for regulators from around the world, as part of the U.S. effort to raise the profile of that aspect of the issue. She noted that John Brennan, Obama’s chief aide on homeland security and counterterrorism, is scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers.

Brennan’s participation is “intended to signal the level of seriousness” that the United States is putting into an event that otherwise could be seen as “kind of a parochial, trade-level, or lower-level engagement,” she said. IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano also is scheduled to deliver a keynote address to the conference.

“If we can find another country to host a second and a third and a fourth of those regulatory conferences, I think that will contribute strongly to the implementation and durability of security around the world,” Holgate said.

Nuclear security summits held in 2010 and this year have achieved a great deal by focusing world leaders’ attention on the issue of securing nuclear materials, but there are ways to preserve much of that focus once the series of summits ends, a senior U.S. nuclear policy official said last month.

Illicit N. Korean Exports Reported

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea may have sold proliferation-sensitive materials to Myanmar and Syria in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, news organizations reported in November.

UN Security Council resolutions from 2006 and 2009 prohibit Pyongyang from making weapons-related exports, including arms sales and transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Nov. 24 that, on Aug. 22, Japan had seized a shipment of aluminum alloy bars that could be used in the manufacture of centrifuges or missiles. The shipment was destined for Myanmar, also known as Burma. Markings on the cargo led Japanese inspectors to conclude that the shipment originated in North Korea, although the voyage during which it was stopped originated in China.

In a Nov. 25 statement to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar newspaper, a spokesman for Myanmar President Thein Sein denied knowledge of a deal with North Korea for the seized materials. The statement said that Myanmar would respect UN Security Council resolutions and had “no nuclear ambitions.”

Separately, South Korea testified Oct. 24 to a UN committee that oversees sanctions on North Korea that inspectors last May had confiscated from a ship en route to Syria 445 graphite cylinders that could be used for ballistic missiles, according to a Nov. 14 Reuters report citing unnamed diplomats. The diplomats also said that a North Korean trading company had arranged for the shipment of graphite, which was declared as lead piping, on a Chinese registered ship, according to the article.

At a Nov. 15 press briefing, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said the ministry “could not confirm” the reports of this incident.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 14 press briefing that it “noted the report” in the media about the ship being detained and the nature of the cargo. He said that China “opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their launch vehicles” and “strictly abides” by relevant UN Security Council resolutions. China would “handle behavior that violates” the resolutions and its own laws regulating export behavior, he said.

The UN sanctions committee met Oct. 24 to discuss recommendations from an expert panel for improving implementation of sanctions against North Korea. The panel concluded in a June 14 report that North Korea continues “actively to defy” UN measures and has developed “elaborate techniques to evade” sanctions. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

According to the Reuters article, the panel also indicated at its Oct. 24 meeting that it is continuing to investigate North Korea’s acquisition of transport erector launchers and the role that a Chinese company played in facilitating the acquisition.

During an April 15 parade celebrating the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang unveiled what appeared to be road-mobile ballistic missiles mounted on transport erector launchers with eight axles. (Analysts have said some of the missiles may have been mock-ups.)The panel report concluded that North Korea had not previously demonstrated a capacity to build a vehicle with such “advanced features,” but did not indicate where North Korea may have acquired the vehicles. When the report was released, experts following North Korea’s missile program said they believed that the transport erector launchers originated in China.

According to the Reuters article, an official told the panel that a Chinese company sold six eight-axle vehicles to North Korea for logging. The panel report described the transport erector launchers from the parade as eight-axle vehicles.

North Korea may have sold proliferation-sensitive materials to Myanmar and Syria in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, news organizations reported in November.


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