"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
January/February 2013
Edition Date: 
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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The October 2012 article “Finding the Right Home for FMCT Talks” contained incorrect information on the size of France’s military fissile material stockpile and its rank among countries that have declared moratoriums on production of such material. France has a military stockpile of 32 metric tons, which makes it the second smallest among the four countries’ stockpiles, behind the United Kingdom’s.

No Chemical Weapons Use by Anyone: An Interview With OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

Ahmet Üzümcü took office as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on July 25, 2010. Immediately prior to that appointment, he served as the permanent representative of Turkey to the UN Office at Geneva. His previous career included two postings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Üzümcü spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone on December 19 from his office in The Hague. A large part of the interview dealt with concerns over Syria’s reportedly large arsenal of chemical weapons, the prospect that those weapons would be used, and the OPCW’s responsibilities, capabilities, and constraints with regard to that situation. The interview also covered issues that are likely to receive considerable attention at the upcoming review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for April 8-19.

The interview was transcribed by Marcus Taylor. A condensed version appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: The CWC has now been in force for 15 years. In just a few words, could you summarize the ways in which you think the CWC regime has succeeded and the ways in which the potential of the treaty has not yet been realized?

Üzümcü: The implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention over the past 15 years has been successful, especially in the field of demilitarization. The level of destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles has reached the level of 78 percent under the verification of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW. I think this is a significant achievement, which needs to be acknowledged. It has required the allocation of a lot of resources by possessor states-parties, as well as by the organization itself.

Nevertheless, the deadline—the final extended deadline of April 29, 2012—was not met. But a decision by the conference of states-parties in November 2011 enabled the possessor states to continue the destruction activities with greater transparency and reporting.[1] So I think this decision was somehow a manifestation of the culture of cooperation and dialogue that has been developed over the past 15 years.

The decision was nearly by consensus, with one exception. I think the fact that the organization was able to take its decisions by consensus over the past 15 years with a few exceptions has been a clear demonstration of the evolving global cooperation on an important security issue, the destruction of chemical weapons, as well as the prevention of re-emergence [of chemical weapons]. This also shows to a great extent the strong political will that exists on the part of the states-parties to get rid of those chemical weapons for good and to collectively prevent their re-emergence through nonproliferation activities.

That in and of itself, I believe, is a big achievement. There are other areas in which we should do more, such as Article VI inspections, verification of the chemical industry, improvements in our on-site inspections and monitoring capabilities. I think the verification mechanism can be improved by selecting the most relevant sites to be inspected and making the inspections more consistent.

There are still discrepancies on import and export data provided by states-parties, which we try to reconcile. This requires a lot of effort. The states-parties as well as the Technical Secretariat should step up their efforts in this domain so that we can ensure a more effective nonproliferation or verification mechanism with a view to preventing the diversion—the possible diversion—of chemical activities.

On the assistance and protection activities under Article X, I think we have been focusing so far on building activities at the national level with individual states-parties. For the past one or two years, we have focused more on regional activities; from now on, we are encouraging states-parties to build regional training centers for that purpose. We are also cooperating and will cooperate with the European Union in the field of their regional centers of excellence. They will cover nuclear and biological [weapons], and we will support them in the chemical field.

I believe that it is in the interest of states-parties to develop regional capacities for emergency response because they are more effective. In case of emergencies, the time is extremely important. [Regional capacities] are actually more sustainable. Small states-parties will have no capability and no resources to support and sustain these kinds of capacities even if they are developed at a certain stage. Therefore, our aim is to build these capacities but make them sustainable in the future.

Finally, on the peaceful use of chemistry, I think the states-parties have agreed that more could be done, and this is a major incentive for a large number of states-parties that have no chemical weapons, no declarable chemical industries. They are more interested in capacity development activities or the peaceful use of chemistry, and we are offering a lot in this area. I think we also will be able to increase this type of activity in the future and to meet the expectations and needs of developing countries. This will enable us to keep them engaged in implementation of the convention.

On the national implementation part, half of states-parties still have no national legislation to enforce the convention. This is a major challenge for the future of the organization. Even if those countries have nothing to declare, I think it is in the interest of the international community and the overall membership of the OPCW to ensure global implementation of the convention because they may be used as transit countries. We have to be able to control these kinds of transfers of scheduled chemicals,[2] dubious materials, also in the context of counterterrorism efforts. Therefore, we have to actually encourage them to pass the necessary legislation, and we have been working on this. Now, we are going to follow a more tailored and specifically designed approach; but of course, any national legislation should cover key points of the convention.

So these are areas [in which] we should do more on. The review conference in April will provide an opportunity for states-parties, as well as the Technical Secretariat, to focus on achievements clearly, but also on the unfinished job for the organization, the way ahead.

ACT: Thank you. You have laid out a lot of issues here, and I’m going to try to come back to many of them. But first I want to get to a very current topic, which is the situation in Syria. Syria is one of only eight countries not part of the CWC, and many governments are concerned that the Assad regime may use its sizable arsenal or that Syria’s chemical stocks may be lost or stolen.

In your December 7 statement, you said the OPCW’s responsibilities “include the prevention of the use of chemical weapons by anyone.” What responsibilities and what authorities does the OPCW have with regard to possible use of chemical weapons by states that are not parties to the convention? How is the OPCW working to prevent the use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria?

Üzümcü: First of all, the situation in Syria, the reported existence of chemical weapons, is a stark reminder to the international community of the need of universality of the convention. There are eight countries that are not yet members or parties to the convention. I think this case clearly shows that the lack of full universality would prevent full and effective implementation of the convention and the overall objective of eliminating those weapons for good and preventing their re-emergence.

In our statement dated 7 December, we wanted to point out actually that the Chemical Weapons Convention has the overall mandate. When one looks at its preamble, it says the elimination of chemical weapons universally from the world and prevention of their use. So, it doesn’t say from states-parties or excluding states [that are] not parties. We have the overall mandate to oversee or watch the global situation in this respect.

Although we may not have the mechanisms to enforce it with regard to states not party, I think this should not prevent us from commenting on the potential security risks deriving from the existence of such weapons in one part of the world or another. When we say “by anyone,” we wanted to make clear that either opposition or government forces should not use such weapons under any circumstances. That’s the purpose of it, and it is the same for nonstate actors. So this was a very general statement, in my view, expressing our principled position on this matter.

ACT: You have noted the possibility that the UN secretary-general could request the assistance of the OPCW in investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons. What capabilities and what expertise can the OPCW bring to the table when it comes to securing and destroying chemical weapons in Syria? Do you currently have the personnel, equipment, and financial resources to respond promptly to a request?

Üzümcü: In the relationship agreement between the OPCW and the United Nations, which goes back to the year 2000, and in the Verification Annex to the CWC, there are provisions that require the OPCW to put its resources at the disposal of the UN secretary-general for the conduct of an investigation of alleged use involving a state not party. The recently concluded supplementary arrangement between the two organizations provides the modalities for the implementation of these provisions. If it happens in the case of Syria, clearly the secretary-general could ask us to do it; and if the security situation permits, we would be able [to carry this out]. We have the technical expertise to do it, to send some experts to verify whether such an allegation was valid or not.

On the destruction of chemical weapons, it depends on the different scenarios, of course. But let’s say that if we were actually asked by the Syrian government, if the Syrian government decided to join the convention, we would be able to provide some expertise. This doesn’t mean that we would actually be able to go and destroy those weapons; we don’t have the technical means in place. The destruction of chemical weapons is quite a complex operation. Billions of dollars have been spent in the past by possessor states. This would require some equipment to be put in place. But primarily, the situation has to improve, and I don’t think we can operate in a conflict zone. We depend on the UN safety and security regulations, and we should have a green light from them. The priority at the present should be to secure those weapons in order to prevent any access or use.

ACT: So if there was an allegation of use by Syria, you would be able to investigate in the countries allegedly attacked, but you would not be able to go into Syria regardless of whatever authority you have through the convention or the UN secretary-general? Or would you be able to somehow get additional authority to go into Syria? Is there a way to do that?

Üzümcü: Actually, the wording of the convention is that the UN secretary-general could request the investigation of alleged use involving a state not party, and whether we are able to go into Syria or not would totally depend on the political situation as well as the actual situation on the ground. Therefore, I cannot predict how it would unfold and whether we would be able to practically operate on the territory of Syria. So it is actually unpredictable, I would say.

ACT: What preparations are you making for eventual Syrian accession to the CWC and for OPCW on-site inspections in Syria, perhaps even before formal accession? For example, have you had any contact with the Syrian opposition, the Assad government, or other Syrian organizations?

Üzümcü: We haven’t had any contact with the Syrian opposition and, other than the letters that we sent to and received from the Syrian foreign minister, we haven’t had any contact [with the Syrian government]. Having said that, I think the Technical Secretariat has the capacity to conduct technical assistance visits or inspections once there would be legal grounds for that, either through accession or by decisions to be made by the policymaking organs of the Technical Secretariat and if the situation on the ground also permits.

Our experts are fully capable of identifying the chemical weapons and providing advice on the security, how they should be secured and so on, also what kind of methods should be applied for their eventual destruction. So in terms of technical capabilities, I think we can provide some advice and expertise, but clearly the protection and security of chemical weapons is a national responsibility for states-parties that are possessor states. The method for destruction is a national sovereign decision as well. There are some methods that are prohibited, such as dumping in the sea or burying them and so on; but apart from that, it’s a national decision to choose the destruction methods.

ACT: You mentioned your correspondence with the Syrian foreign minister. I’ve seen your letter to him. Is his letter to you public? Is it available on your website?

Üzümcü: Actually, we didn’t make public the response letter; but basically it says that Syria will not use chemical weapons, if it has any, under any circumstances. It also says one should focus on the potential use of such weapons by the opposition groups and has allegations about other states in the region and elsewhere.

ACT: Okay. I wanted to move on to some of the questions dealing with the review conference and the regime as a whole. In his statement to the recent OPCW conference of states-parties, U.S. Ambassador Robert Mikulak [the U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW] said about the upcoming review conference, “Contrary to past experience, we should not be satisfied with an agreed document that no one will look at again until the next Review Conference in five years.”

What are you, Ambassador Nassima Baghli [who chairs the open-ended working group that is preparing for the 2013 review conference and drafting the final document], and the states-parties doing to produce a more relevant final document and a successful review conference?

Üzümcü: I know that Ambassador Baghli is working on a draft document to be submitted for the consideration of states-parties at the open-ended working group. It is not yet available, but her objective is to present a concise and to-the-point draft text reflecting the views of different countries. I hope that the conference will ultimately produce some practical results because that is important.

As I said earlier, this review conference is particularly important because it’s going to be held at a critical juncture for the organization, and therefore it has to give some guidance for future orientation to both the Technical Secretariat and the states-parties. Therefore, I hope that this will be something substantive, and, as I said, a clear guidance.

ACT: To give an example—when you talk about how it will be practical and be substantive, in what areas do you think it will actually lay out some new policy or give some specific charge to the states-parties and the Technical Secretariat?

Üzümcü: I mentioned earlier that 78 percent of the weapons stocks were destroyed, and until the destruction is complete, it will remain a priority to the OPCW. We expect that close to 99 percent of those weapons will be destroyed by the time of the following review conference in 2018. Therefore, I believe that, for the next five years following the April conference, there will be a transitional period during which we should use the opportunity to adapt the organization.

This means the adaptation of the Technical Secretariat, but also the other organs. For instance, there is the discussion about the improvement of the Executive Council proceedings, methodologies, and so on, which I hope will be done in the coming months. But the adaptation pertains to the Technical Secretariat structure, too.

In terms of deliverables, I think we should go beyond the verification of destruction. I mentioned earlier the improvement of the verification mechanism under Article VI of the convention. There are other areas, for instance, chemical safety and security. On chemical safety and security, this organization has been conducting some new activities over the past three years; and this is an area where we can deepen our activities in collaboration with fellow institutions, such as the chemical industry, chemical industry associations, as well as others.

Another area is to improve our capacity-building activities. In the advisory panel report prepared by the panel chair, Rolf Ekéus, one and a half years ago, there is a mention of the future of the organization [and its potential role as] a repository of knowledge and expertise in the field of chemical weapons. Now I think that is a quite good determination because I don’t think any other organization—many states-parties will not be able to maintain such expertise because it will not be a priority anymore.

Nevertheless, there still will be risks of the use of toxic chemicals by nonstate actors or the discovery of old and abandoned chemical weapons. [Also there are] some countries that are not members at the moment but may become members and posses chemical weapons. Such expertise will be required in the future, and this is the only organization that can do it. Therefore, I think the Technical Secretariat should be able to maintain such expertise in the future.

There are challenges. We have a tenure policy that limits the term of the staff members, and I don’t know whether the states-parties will consider to remove it, but this is one of the challenges. Then we will have to develop, I believe, some kind of training capacity by the organization. There are some projects that we have in mind and we want to submit to the consideration of states-parties during this transitional phase, showing that we are prepared to meet the challenges in the future once the destruction will be complete, hopefully by 2017, 2018—or nearly complete, I should say.

ACT: Now let’s go to some specific issues. You alluded earlier to the question of the April 29, 2012, deadline and the fact that Russia and the United States did not meet that deadline. As you said, the 2011 decision did not declare those countries to be in violation of the treaty, but requires them to regularly submit detailed plans for their ongoing destruction activities and imposes reporting, transparency, and monitoring requirements for the ongoing destruction work. So, are those requirements being fully implemented?

Üzümcü: Yes, they are. The decision taken at the [2011 conference of states-parties] is being implemented. By this decision, the possessor states-parties are expected to complete the destruction in the shortest time possible without setting a new deadline. So they submitted their destruction plans, which were approved by the policymaking organs of the organization, and they in fact are complying with the reporting requirements and other obligations. I, as the director-general, have been tasked to report regularly to the Executive Council meetings, as well as the conference of states-parties, and to provide my own evaluation of the progress made and whether the states-parties concerned have made necessary efforts to accelerate the destruction process or not. So this process is very much under way.

ACT: In your view, has the issue of the 2012 deadline been settled, or will it be a contentious issue at the upcoming review conference and beyond?

Üzümcü: Actually, I think, from a legal perspective, it is settled. But I believe that the states-parties will observe the situation, the progress, and will continue to urge the states-parties concerned, the possessor states, to try to accelerate the destruction process, because from their point of view, some genuine efforts should be seen by them and demonstrated by the possessor states. The decision itself clearly states what efforts should be made.

I know that the United States is making some efforts to accelerate the process, as well as the Russian Federation. There are technical challenges and other difficulties, but their responsibility, in my view, is to demonstrate they are making those efforts.

ACT: The third state-party that did not meet the April 2012 deadline was Libya. What is happening now to get Libya’s stockpile destruction program restarted, and when might OPCW inspectors return to Libya?

Üzümcü: Our inspectors have been to Libya three times since the crisis there was over, and they were able to inspect the storage site, and they were able to inspect the newly found, the previously undeclared weapons. And I’ve been to Tripoli myself. We expect the Libyans to resume the destruction of the bulk sulfur mustard—half of which was destroyed earlier, before the crisis erupted [in early 2011]—some time early [in 2013] and under the verification of the OPCW inspectors. The equipment is functioning, and the issue is how to ensure the security of our inspectors and that the accommodation premises will be ready. They are being prepared for that. I think this is feasible and [the destruction of the bulk sulfur mustard] could be completed in a space of two months maximum.

I was talking about the bulk of sulfur mustard in large containers. As to the newly found weapons that consist of artillery shells and a few aerial bombs filled with sulfur mustard, it will take a little longer because they will need some new equipment to destroy them and explode them in a detonation chamber, which they need to procure with the support of some states-parties as well as the Technical Secretariat. It may take a little more than a year to deploy it and to start destruction, but what I should stress is that the Libyan authorities are very cooperative, very transparent, and willing to go ahead with the elimination of those weapons.

ACT: So the inspectors have been just to check the declarations, but they will actually be on the ground on a permanent basis early [in 2013] so that this can resume. Is that correct?

Üzümcü: Yes, the destruction of bulk sulfur mustard could resume because, as I said earlier, the equipment that was broken in February 2011 is now repaired and functional. Provided that we have the necessary security measures in place and the UN has given a green light for our inspectors to travel to this part of Libya, I think that the destruction could resume anytime soon. The inspectors will have to verify the destruction during the whole process.

ACT: Okay, let’s go back to an issue that you had mentioned before about industry verification and related issues and the question of the future of the OPCW. You said that the focus of the OPCW will have to shift from destruction to preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons. How can the current industry verification regime be adapted so that it can meet this challenge? In particular, what has been achieved so far in increasing the OPCW’s ability to monitor the so-called other chemical production facilities, and what more needs to be done?

Üzümcü: I think the overall balance, which was struck during the negotiations of the convention, will be upset not due to the failure of the implementation, but rather due to its success, in the coming years. The initial balance was between the elimination of chemical weapons and the industrial verification on the one hand and the rest of the activities emanating from the convention on the other. Now, since the destruction activities will be completed, let’s say in a few years’ time, then there will be a need to strike a new balance.

And the new balance, I believe, can be actually achieved between the verification, under Article VI mainly, which would aim at preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons on the one hand, and the rest of activities on the other. Therefore, this will give us an opportunity to reinforce this verification mechanism. I don’t think the numbers and caps for each state-party could be changed. There is a cap of 20 inspections per year for other chemical production facilities, or Schedule 3 facilities, and this cap will be in place. On the other hand, we could improve the efficiency or effectiveness of those inspections, the selection methodology, and their conduct and also improve the declaration system. We have made some progress in this respect on declarations—more accurate, more timely declarations, as well as on the evaluations so far.

But I think we should do more [not only] by educating and training the states-parties about doing this declaration in a more proper, more accurate way, but also in our own capacity to evaluate them. So I think there is still work to be done in order to improve this verification mechanism in collaboration with the chemical industry. The chemical industry is our main partner in this domain, and they are willing to cooperate further with us. The [Ekéus] advisory panel report recommended that we should establish a joint working group with the chemical industry. We are working on that and, following the review conference, we want to somehow informally, but still by establishing a mechanism, have a permanent, regular dialogue and cooperation with the chemical industry on this and other relevant issues.

Another related issue is scientific and technological development. There are several new discoveries and inventions, which may have some implications for the verification mechanism of the convention. And we have a Scientific Advisory Board, and they have been working on the convergence between biology and chemistry for some time, on sampling analysis and other issues. So that is an area that needs to be taken into account by states-parties. And the Scientific Advisory Board provided its input to the review conference very recently, as well as [the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry], which jointly organized with the OPCW a workshop providing its own inputs into the process. I think it is on their website as well as ours. So the technological scientific development system is something that we should clearly bear in mind.

Another area in which we were not that active is education and outreach. We have realized that we cannot achieve the goals of the convention only through verification mechanisms and prevention, or nonproliferation, activities. We need to raise awareness among the relevant communities, the scientific communities as well as the relevant educational institutions. So we are in the process of collaborating with some partners to produce some educational materials, e-learning modules, so that we can reach out to universities, even high schools. Soon we will invite some chemistry teachers from high schools so that we can inform them about the goals of the convention and disseminate the necessary information to raise awareness and also to raise awareness among the chemical industry as well as the scientific community about the risks, which might be associated with handling the dual-use chemical material.

ACT: The primary goal of the CWC has been a “world free of chemical weapons.” What is the OPCW doing to bring in the remaining eight countries [Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria] into the treaty regime to reach this goal of universality that you mentioned earlier

Üzümcü: Universality, I think, is one of the key objectives of the OPCW. It has been so for many years. I think having a membership of 188 countries is a big achievement, but it is not enough; and as I said, Syria is a reminder of that. Recently, the UN secretary-general and I have written letters to the heads of state and government of those eight countries that are outside of the realm of the convention.

We have been approaching those countries for several years. It is likely that three countries—Angola, South Sudan, and Myanmar—may join the convention some time during 2013, hopefully. We have been sending some delegations to Myanmar; the second one will go in early February. We have proposed similar assistance to South Sudan, which is a new independent state, and to Angola. We see that there shouldn’t be any problem for them to join the convention. So we understand that it has not been a matter of priority so far, but they have shown some interest, and we encourage them to do it as early as possible.

As for the remaining three countries in the Middle East, including Syria, we were hopeful that this WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-free-zone conference would be held before the end of [2012]. Now it is postponed.[3] We know that it is going to be the beginning of a process, and we hope that this process will pave the way for universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Our position has been that CWC membership should not be linked to any other processes and it should be addressed on its own merits. We think that the possession of chemical weapons should be repudiated by any country, irrespective of any other process. We know that the countries in the Middle East relate this issue to regional security concerns, as well as the nuclear issue, and we hope that the hurdles will be removed during the process of [establishing] a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

ACT: What about the other noninspected geographic areas, such as Taiwan and the Palestinian territories? What is the situation there?

Üzümcü: Taiwan and the Palestinian territories are noninspected, yes. Actually, the Taiwanese issue is more complex, and the policy of the OPCW was not to recognize Taiwan as an independent state. As agreed, we follow UN practices of “one China” in this regard. We think opportunities should be explored to achieve greater transparency in this respect, but I don’t know yet how. As for Palestine, I don’t know whether the recent voting in the [UN] General Assembly [making the Palestinian Authority a nonmember observer state] will have an impact or not. This is something that we are not able to actually express any view at this stage.

ACT: One of the issues on which there was no progress at the last review conference was how to treat the development of new types of incapacitating chemical agents. Several states-parties were urging a more focused and structured review of whether nonlethal agents of warfare are covered by the CWC’s general-purpose criterion. Do you expect that issue to come up at the review conference, and what kind of decision could the review conference make to clarify possible ambiguities on the scope of the convention?

Üzümcü: This issue had been discussed in the previous review conferences, but without any conclusion; and in the preparations of the upcoming conference, there have been some activities, especially at the open-ended working [group] level. [There were] also some side events during the conference of states-parties in November. One state-party, Switzerland, has organized a side event on incapacitating agents, as well as the [International Committee of the Red Cross]. Some think tanks are raising this issue. I cannot predict how it’s going to unfold, but clearly this issue will be discussed. I don’t know whether there will be a decision on this or not. As the Technical Secretariat, we of course will follow a neutral line. I think some parties wish to ensure transparency with regard to [incapacitating chemical agents]. We will see how the positions develop by that time.

ACT: Okay, one more and then we can wrap up. When you were a candidate for director-general, you emphasized the importance of transparency, outreach, and involvement of civil society. What have you done to strengthen this area, and what challenges remain? You mentioned earlier the scientific and educational outreach, but maybe you could say a little bit more about transparency and interactions with civil society and so on.

Üzümcü: On transparency, what I have emphasized was strengthening the public diplomacy because of the need to publicize further the achievements of the organization, which clearly has been a good example of effective multilateralism. We should publicize further this success story so that we can raise the confidence of our publics in the multilateral diplomacy and the international organizations that have been dealing with security issues for years now. So this sets a good example and could be emulated by other processes. So this was the purpose of my point, and we undertook some initiatives in this regard. We have improved our website, and I think now those who are interested are able to have access to a greater part of our documents through our website. We also are improving the search mechanism and so on so that the retrieval of documents can be better. And we organized some meetings with think tank representatives last June. We collected their views, and we are in the process of implementing some practical measures to facilitate their contacts with the organization.

We have been in touch with several scientific communities. I mentioned also the chemical industry, and we are in the process of producing e-learning modules, which are going to be usable soon; some of them already are complete. Depending on the resources that could be available to us, we will do more. We have organized a series of 15th anniversary meetings, including one in New York on the margins of the General Assembly in October. We encourage states-parties to come and pay visits to our organization, and they are doing it more and more.

I believe also unfortunately, due to the situation in Syria, that the OPCW has attracted some interest also. But what we want to do irrespective of what happens in Syria is really to try to reach out more to younger generations. We are also using the social media networks, so we are on Facebook and others. We will try to do more to try to be better known.

ACT: Okay, do you have any final comments you would like to make or touch on anything that I did not ask you about?

Üzümcü: The OPCW Technical Secretariat is a rather small organization, composed of less than 500 people coming from 80-plus nations. But this is a good group of colleagues, staff who are very professional and have loyally served this organization for years. I think their commitment, dedication should be acknowledged, and I believe they will continue to do an excellent job in the future. As director-general, I’m committed also to working with them and to assuring a smooth transition for the organization in the coming years. The support of all states-parties will be crucial for the success of this process.

ACT: Thank you very much.




[1] See Daniel Horner, “Accord Reached on CWC’s 2012 Deadline,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2012.

[2] The CWC requires states-parties to declare chemical industry facilities that produce or use chemicals of concern to the convention. These chemicals are grouped into “schedules” based on the risk they pose of violating the convention’s conditions. Schedule 1 chemicals and precursors pose a “high risk” and are rarely used for peaceful purposes. States-parties may not retain these chemicals except in small quantities for research, medical, pharmaceutical, or defensive use. Many Schedule 1 chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons. Schedule 2 chemicals are toxic chemicals that pose a “significant risk” and are precursors to the production of Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 chemicals. These chemicals are not produced in large quantities for commercial or other peaceful purposes. Schedule 3 chemicals are usually produced in large quantities for purposes not prohibited by the CWC, but still pose a risk to the convention. Some of these chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons.

[3] At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, the parties to that treaty agreed to hold a conference in 2012 on establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The conference had been tentatively scheduled to take place in December in Helsinki, but the key countries involved in organizing the meeting announced in November that the meeting was being postponed. They did not set a new date. See Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner, “Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed,Arms Control Today, December 2012.

Üzümcü spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone on December 19 from his office in The Hague. A large part of the interview dealt with concerns over Syria’s reportedly large arsenal of chemical weapons, the prospect that those weapons would be used, and the OPCW’s responsibilities, capabilities, and constraints with regard to that situation. The interview also covered issues that are likely to receive considerable attention at the upcoming review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for April 8-19.

Looking Back: Iraq: Disarmament Without Resolution

Paul Kerr

Ten years ago, the world was confronted by a country whose suspected nuclear weapons program was causing acute concern. The international community expended considerable time and effort on inducing Iraq to comply with UN-mandated measures designed to provide assurance that Baghdad was not developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

During the summer of 2002, Iraq and the United Nations discussed possible terms for resuming inspections and monitoring of Iraqi weapons programs. On September 16, Iraq agreed to re-admit UN inspectors into the country and subsequently began discussions with the UN on practical inspection details. The United States and United Kingdom, however, pushed the UN Security Council to adopt a new resolution governing Iraq’s disarmament, arguing that the existing resolutions did not provide the inspectors with adequate authority. On November 8, the council adopted Resolution 1441, which required the Iraqi government to complete a series of disarmament requirements contained in previous council resolutions, the first of which was adopted in 1991 following the Persian Gulf War.

These events took place against a backdrop of indications from U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, that Washington might use military force against Iraq to end what they portrayed as the threat posed by Baghdad’s nonconventional weapons.

Despite Baghdad’s subsequent cooperation with UN weapons inspectors, who found no evidence of ongoing prohibited weapons programs, the United States led an invasion of Iraq in March 2003 without council approval. The world subsequently learned that Baghdad had destroyed its nonconventional weapons and related programs following the 1991 war.

Thus, the UN disarmed Iraq, but did not prevent a war. A partial explanation for that result lies in three elements of the Security Council process: the erosion of international support for sanctions, the mismatch between the resolutions’ goals and mandates, and the circumvention of the council process by the United States and the United Kingdom. These factors warrant consideration by the international community as it continues to debate the proper course of action regarding nuclear programs of concern.


Following the 1991 war, the Security Council adopted a series of resolutions, beginning with Resolution 687, that required Iraq to declare its programs for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges exceeding 150 kilometers, and to destroy the weapons and related materials under UN monitoring (see box, page 46). The resolutions also required Baghdad to accept an ongoing UN monitoring regime to prevent Iraqi reconstitution of its prohibited weapons programs.

The story of Iraq’s interference with the inspectors during the 1990s has been told in detail elsewhere.[1] In brief, Iraq interfered with the inspections by, for example, lying to UN inspectors about its WMD programs and destroying weapons and related materials without proper UN supervision. Baghdad decided to cooperate with inspectors in 1995, but never fulfilled all the requirements of the Security Council resolutions.

Iraq continued to exhibit inconsistent cooperation with the inspectors, whom the UN withdrew in December 1998 shortly before the United States and the United Kingdom conducted air strikes on suspected Iraqi weapons facilities. For several years afterward, the council struggled unsuccessfully to induce Baghdad to accept renewed weapons inspections. Iraq finally agreed to admit inspectors in response to Resolution 1441.

The November 2002 resolution gave Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” under relevant council resolutions. The resolution required Baghdad to give the inspectors, whom the resolution provided with enhanced authority, a “currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects” of the country’s WMD programs and to grant the inspectors “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all” locations and personnel.[2]

By mid-March 2003, the inspectors had not yet completed their task, and Iraq had not fully complied with the requirements of Resolution 1441. Yet, Baghdad had admitted UN inspectors and allowed them to operate freely, albeit after some initial resistance; provided them with information on its past WMD programs; and begun destroying its al Samoud-2 missiles. Moreover, the inspection leaders told the Security Council shortly before the invasion that they needed only a short time to complete their tasks. Nevertheless, on March 19, 2003, the United States led an invasion of Iraq.

Sanctions Fatigue

A September 2004 report from the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the U.S.-led task force charged with coordinating the search for Iraqi nonconventional weapons, as well as a 2006 CIA report, makes clear that the combination of sanctions and inspections imposed by the Security Council beginning in 1990 and 1991, respectively, prevented Iraq from reconstituting its programs to develop such weapons.[3] “The compounding economic, military, and infrastructure damage caused by sanctions—not to mention their effect on internal opinion in Iraq—focused Saddam [Hussein] by the mid-90s on the need to lift sanctions before any thought of resuming WMD development could be entertained,” the ISG report said.

Until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, however, Security Council and worldwide public support for the sanctions was eroding, partly because of concerns about the sanctions’ impact on Iraqi civilians. Moreover, some governments were circumventing council-imposed prohibitions on the sale of Iraqi oil, and Baghdad was importing weapons-related materials. Iraq was pursuing what the ISG report described as a strategy to “outlast the containment policy of the United States imposed through the UN sanctions.”[4]

Indeed, the Bush administration was sufficiently concerned that it, along with the United Kingdom, began a campaign in the spring of 2001 to persuade the Security Council to expand the range of goods that Iraq could import.[5] The erosion of sanctions contributed to some observers’ claims that the international community could not contain Hussein’s suspected weapons ambitions.

Ends-Means Mismatch

Iraq initially defied the disarmament requirements of Resolution 687. Shortly after the inspections began in 1991, Hussein chose to withhold information about the country’s WMD programs. Later that year, Iraq destroyed illicit weapons and related materials outside the inspectors’ presence in an effort to maintain the capacity to develop chemical and nuclear weapons in the future.[6] These unilateral destruction efforts were inconsistent with Resolution 687 and greatly complicated the council’s ability to determine that Iraq had actually destroyed the weapons.

In 1995, Iraq decided to “cease efforts” to retain nonconventional weapons and comply with the inspections, according to the 2006 CIA report.[7] After these 1995 efforts were met with “added UN scrutiny and mistrust,” however, Hussein’s regime believed that “inspections were politically motivated and would not lead to the end of sanctions,” said the CIA report, which added that Iraq viewed concerns about nonconventional weapons as a “pretense to bring about regime change.” Consequently, Baghdad turned to “illicit economic efforts to end its isolation, eliminate sanctions,” and protect civilian infrastructure that also could be used in illicit weapons production. These actions “increased suspicions that Iraq continued to hide” nonconventional weapons, according to the report.

These suspicions, coupled with Iraq’s failure to allow the inspectors to verify the destruction of its nonconventional weapons, Baghdad’s subsequent ejection of the inspectors, and its approximately four-year refusal to re-admit them, created an information vacuum that understandably was filled by suspicion. In some quarters, this suspicion evolved into firm convictions that Iraq still had active WMD programs in 2002.

The failure of the UN-formulated incentive structure—the end of sanctions in return for verified disarmament and follow-on monitoring—contributed to this outcome because Iraqi disarmament did not equate with Iraqi compliance and because the Security Council did not effectively adapt to Iraq’s partial compliance and the changed status of the country’s illicit weapons programs.[8]

Security Council Resolutions on Iraq

The following list summarizes the relevant UN Security Council resolutions adopted following the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless” of its chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers, and related components, research programs, and facilities. Required Iraq to refrain from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons or weapons-grade nuclear material.

Established the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify that Iraq complied with these requirements and called for placing all weapons-grade nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) control “for custody and removal” with UNSCOM assistance.

Required the UN secretary-general, with the cooperation of UNSCOM and the IAEA, to develop plans for the “future ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq’s compliance” with the ban on nonconventional weapons and certain missiles.

Maintained the economic embargo against Iraq established by Resolution 661 in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Specified that the Security Council would lift the embargo when the council agreed that Iraq had met all its disarmament obligations.

Approved the plans for ongoing monitoring and verification developed by UNSCOM and the IAEA and submitted by the UN secretary-general to the Security Council, as required by Resolution 687.

Created a program allowing Iraq to sell up to $2 billion of oil every 180 days, a limit that the Security Council later removed. Authorized the United Nations to hold proceeds from these sales in an escrow account. Specified that the funds were reserved for buying supplies “essential” for civilian needs.

Authorized the creation of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to replace UNSCOM and verify that Iraq had fulfilled its disarmament obligations under Resolution 687.

Allowed Iraq to import most civilian goods through a streamlined review process, although sanctions on military items remained in effect. Tasked UNMOVIC and the IAEA with reviewing proposed contracts with Iraq and sending any items on a new “goods review list,” which included items with potential military applications, to a UN committee for additional scrutiny. Items not on the list were to be approved promptly.


Circumventing the Security Council

The adoption of Resolution 1441 and Iraq’s subsequent decision to admit UN inspectors provided an opportunity to resolve reasonable concerns about Iraq’s suspected WMD programs. It now is known that Hussein ordered his military to comply with the inspections.[9] Indeed, as noted above, Iraq had mostly complied with the resolution’s provisions by the time of the U.S.-led invasion. Moreover, the inspection leaders reported to the Security Council in March 2003 that their teams had found no biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons in Iraq and that resolving the “remaining disarmament tasks” would take only “months.”[10] That month, some Security Council members, such as France, proposed measures for improving the inspections process in lieu of military action.

It has long been clear that the Bush administration planned to invade Iraq regardless of whether Baghdad complied with Resolution 1441’s disarmament requirements.[11] Indeed, Washington’s disdain for the Security Council process was evident before UN inspectors even entered Iraq.[12] For example, a White House spokesman claimed on November 18, 2002, that Iraq had violated the resolution by shooting at U.S. planes that were enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq.[13] Although the resolution prohibited Baghdad from taking “hostile acts” against any UN member state “taking action to uphold any [Security] Council resolution,” the zones had never been authorized by the council. Even the British government said the zones were not supported by the resolutions.[14]

Moreover, U.S. officials claimed, inaccurately, that U.S. intelligence contradicted the inspectors’ findings. For example, Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing unnamed intelligence sources, stated on March 5, 2003, before the invasion, that Iraq was evading UN inspections by moving banned chemical and biological materials. He dismissed Iraq’s destruction of its al Samoud missiles, asserting that Baghdad had ordered “the continued [covert] production” of such missiles. Notably, the United States withheld intelligence from the inspectors.[15]

Lastly, at least some Bush administration officials wished to overthrow Iraq’s government. The administration had a “menu of arguments” for invading Iraq, such as removing the regime in order to end the government’s human rights violations and to “score a geopolitical victory,” Richard Haass, the Department of State’s policy planning director at the time of the invasion, said during a television interview on September 5, 2003.[16] Iraqi compliance with Resolution 1441 presumably would not have satisfied these goals because Hussein would have remained in power.

Concluding Observations

The Security Council failed in its mission to eliminate Iraq’s illicit weapons programs peacefully. The resolutions did not convince Hussein’s government that it would be rewarded for compliance, and the sanctions were losing their ability to compel such compliance. In addition, the council did not adapt its compliance mechanism to the uncertainty created by Baghdad’s unilateral weapons destruction, which, although ill considered and illegal, did eliminate Iraq’s illicit weapons. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe that the Security Council could have devised a method for resolving this situation, had the United States and United Kingdom allowed the process to continue.

One lesson that can be drawn from the Iraq experience is that UN-mandated sanctions and inspections can effectively manage international concerns about illicit nonconventional weapons programs, but the durability and effectiveness of these tools depend on a variety of factors, including the support of council members, cooperation by the target country, and an incentive structure that properly aligns means and ends.

The Iraq experience also suggests that Security Council resolutions may have a better chance of succeeding if they can adapt to changed circumstances. Maintaining flexibility may be necessary in order to resolve satisfactorily whatever WMD issues may be of concern, especially if the target government has satisfied some or all of the resolution’s goals, even while failing to follow the mandated procedures.

As the international community continues to employ and refine sanctions and inspections to help address the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, it is worth noting that Iraq is the only other case in which the Security Council has placed sanctions on a country for reasons relating to proliferation of nonconventional weapons. One also could consider the major powers’ relationships with India and Pakistan following those governments’ 1998 nuclear tests. The Security Council responded to those tests by adopting Resolution 1172, which imposed no sanctions but required India and Pakistan to end their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Although both governments have continued those programs, the United States and other governments have not imposed sanctions for more than a relatively brief period and overall have maintained and increased ties with them. Governments, such as those of Iran and North Korea, have surely considered all three of these cases. Perhaps they have learned that noncompliance, rather than its opposite, may yield favorable results.



Paul Kerr has been a nonproliferation analyst at the Congressional Research Service since 2007. He previously was a research analyst for five years at the Arms Control Association.




1. See, for example, “Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections,” Arms Control Today, October 2002.

2. UN Security Council, S/RES/1441, November 8, 2002.

3. Directorate of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception,” Iraq WMD Retrospective Series, January 5, 2006, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20120905/CIA-Iraq.pdf; Charles Duelfer “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” September 30, 2004, https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-reports-1/iraq_wmd_2004/index.html.

4. For an explanation of these events, see ibid. See also Alex Wagner, “UN Security Council Overhauls Iraqi Sanctions Regime,” Arms Control Today, June 2002.

5. These changes were codified in Security Council Resolution 1382, adopted in November 2001.

6. Duelfer, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI”; CIA, “Misreading Intentions.”

7. CIA, “Misreading Intentions.”

8. Security Council Resolution 1284, adopted in late 1999, may have further obscured the process. The resolution stated that, following Iraq’s compliance with “key remaining disarmament tasks,” the council would “suspend” sanctions for 120-day periods, renewable by the council. UN Security Council, S/RES/1284, December 17, 1999.

9. Iraqi military leaders “were instructed at a meeting in December 2002 to ‘cooperate completely’ with the inspectors, believing full cooperation was Iraq’s best hope for sanctions relief in the face of U.S. provocation.” Duelfer, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI.”

10. Hans Blix, “Oral Introduction of the 12th Quarterly Report of UNMOVIC,” March 7, 2003, http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/SC7asdelivered.htm; Mohamed ElBaradei, “The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: An Update,” March 7, 2003, http://www.un.org/News/dh/iraq/elbaradei-7mar03.pdf

11. For example, the British Secret Intelligence Service chief noted in July 2002 after meeting with U.S. officials in Washington that the Bush administration intended to overthrow Hussein based on the justification that the regime had illicit weapons programs and had supported terrorism. See Memorandum to David Manning from Matthew Rycroft, Iraq: Prime Minister’s Meeting, 23 July, July 23, 2002, http://downingstreetmemo.com/memotext.html

12. The inspectors arrived in Iraq on November 25, 2002.

13. Along with France and the United Kingdom, the United States established the no-fly zones over the northern and southern thirds of Iraq after the 1991 war.

14. Memorandum to Prime Minister Tony Blair from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “Iraq: Legal Background,” March 8, 2002. http://downingstreetmemo.com/iraqlegalbacktext.html

15. The CIA acknowledged this in a letter to Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.). Letter from Stanley M. Moskowitz to Senator Carl Levin, January 20, 2004, http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2004_cr/cia012004.pdf

16. See http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/1820.

Ten years ago, the world was confronted by a country whose suspected nuclear weapons program was causing acute concern. The international community expended considerable time and effort on inducing Iraq to comply with UN-mandated measures designed to provide assurance that Baghdad was not developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Time to Stop Reprocessing in Japan

Masako Toki and Miles Pomper

Japan began operations at its first commercial nuclear power plant in 1966. For more than four decades, Tokyo never veered from its goals of increasing nuclear energy’s share of electricity generation and developing a self-sufficient plutonium-based nuclear fuel cycle.

The March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex, the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, forced Japan’s government and citizens to reconsider the country’s long-held nuclear policy. Under public pressure, the government advanced a key strategy document calling for phasing out nuclear power, although Tokyo has hesitated to endorse its recommendations formally amid opposition from industry, some local communities, and foreign allies—including the United States, France, and the United Kingdom—that have a stake in Japan’s nuclear policy.

An inadequately discussed aspect of the new policy and the most important from a nonproliferation point of view is Japan’s refusal, even amid a potential nuclear energy phaseout, to abandon its controversial program for reprocessing spent fuel to separate plutonium. Japan is the only nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) non-nuclear-weapon state that possesses full-scale nuclear fuel facilities, including spent fuel reprocessing facilities. Despite Japan’s otherwise admirable nonproliferation record, Tokyo’s reprocessing program has long been a source of concern for Japan’s neighbors and for governmental and nongovernmental nonproliferation advocates around the world because it provides Japan with the ability to produce material that is usable in nuclear weapons. Those concerns have only grown, as other Asian nuclear energy powers, particularly South Korea, point to Japan’s program—and U.S. support for it—as a justification for moving forward with their own reprocessing efforts.

The possibilities for changing this policy have been further clouded by Japanese’s parliamentary elections on December 16. In the first national election since the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a landslide victory in the lower house of Japan’s National Diet over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The majority of the Japanese public continues to support the phaseout backed by the previous DPJ government, but the LDP won the election because of dissatisfaction with DPJ performance on other issues, particularly economic concerns.

The LDP, which ruled Japan for nearly half a century until 2009, advocates a more conservative approach to a potential nuclear phaseout than the DPJ or most other Japanese parties. During its time in power, the LDP also promoted Japan’s closed fuel-cycle policy, in which spent fuel from light-water reactors (LWRs) is reprocessed to yield plutonium that could be used in making new fuel. However, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito, supports the phaseout of nuclear power as soon as possible, shutdown of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, and a review of Japan’s fuel cycle policy, including a transition from reprocessing to direct disposal of spent fuel.

Although it is certain that the trend in Japan will be to de-emphasize the role of nuclear power in electricity generation, it is unclear at this stage how fast or far the Japanese government will move forward with phasing out nuclear power. The LDP-led government will likely slow the DPJ policy. Before the December elections in the lower house, in which most of the political parties that supported the phaseout of nuclear energy lost seats, the LDP proposed spending up to 10 years to decide the best long-term energy mix for the country, but endorsed a reduction in Japan’s dependence on nuclear power.

The LDP and New Komeito have reached a compromise agreement under which Japan will reduce reliance on nuclear energy as much as possible. Yet, Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, favors continuing to build new, more advanced nuclear reactors, different from the earlier generation of reactors that included the ones at Fukushima Daiichi. In addition, the new minister of economy, technology, and industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, has said that completely abandoning the goal of a closed nuclear fuel cycle is not an option.

Yet even reviving short-term use of nuclear power will depend on overcoming opposition from local and provincial authorities one at a time. LDP nuclear policies have already drawn criticism from opposition parties, the media, and the public.

Regardless of the pace of the phaseout, the direction is clear. The new government should take advantage of the changed post-Fukushima nuclear energy environment to put a stop to the country’s costly and unnecessary reprocessing program.

Japan’s Reprocessing Policy

At the inception of its nuclear program, Japan decided on a closed fuel cycle. As a resource-poor and rapidly industrializing country, Japan’s intent was to avoid potential uranium shortages as it turned to nuclear energy to mitigate its strong dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Originally, Japan was planning to use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide—in fast breeder reactors, which can “breed” more plutonium than they consume. When the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) issued its first long-term plan in 1956, it stated that using fast breeder reactors would be the best option for Japan’s nuclear energy policy. Since then, Japan has attempted to develop commercially viable breeder reactors with the goal of making the country virtually independent in nuclear fuel. Research and development (R&D) work indicated, however, that the reactors would not prove economical, given abundant low-cost uranium.

Moreover, Monju has been plagued with problems. In 1995 it experienced a sodium leak and fire, which idled the reactor for more than a decade. In 2010 there was another accident, and the reactor has been shut since then.

These setbacks failed to slow the momentum toward the closed nuclear fuel cycle given Tokyo’s massive investments in the relevant facilities. These included construction of Monju, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant—owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), whose majority shareholder is the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC)—in Aomori prefecture, and reprocessing and MOX fuel technology R&D at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency at Tokai in Ibaraki prefecture.

Given the problems with breeder-reactor commercialization, the government in 1997 adopted a secondary “pluthermal” option of burning MOX fuel in ordinary LWRs.[1] Before the Fukushima accident, Japan planned to use the pluthermal cycle in the short term and commercialize breeder reactors in the long term. The FEPC, a coalition of private electric utilities, had planned with government encouragement to implement the pluthermal cycle in 16 to 18 power reactors by 2015. Meanwhile, the anticipated commercialization date for breeder reactors had been pushed back to 2050.[2]

Japan has adhered to its policy so far despite domestic and international concerns that it was accumulating separated plutonium that could be used to build nuclear weapons as well as provide fuel for nuclear power plants. By the end of 2011, Japan possessed 44.3 metric tons of separated plutonium—9.3 metric tons within the country and 35 metric tons at reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom.[3] Under current contracts, the reprocessors are to return the overseas plutonium to Japan in the form of MOX fuel. Given that International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards assume that only eight kilograms of plutonium are needed for a nuclear weapon, that is enough for thousands of weapons. Japan has the fourth-largest stockpile of civilian plutonium, after the United Kingdom, France, and Russia—all nuclear-weapon states.

Yet, Japan still plans to open the massive and massively expensive Rokkasho reprocessing plant despite years of delays, investments of almost $20 billion, and an ever-diminishing policy rationale. The Rokkasho plant, which has been in the testing phase since 2006, originally was scheduled to become operational in November 2008. Complications during test operations have caused the JNFL to postpone this date 19 times, resulting in a new estimated operational date of October 2013.[4] If the reprocessing plant were to become commercially operational, it would separate and stockpile up to eight metric tons of plutonium annually, enough material for as many as 1,000 nuclear weapons. In April 2012, the JNFL restarted construction of a MOX fuel fabrication plant next to the reprocessing facility.

Policy Review

East Asian Views on Reprocessing

In addition to Japan, several East Asian states possess advanced nuclear infrastructures and have explored reprocessing options. China and South Korea are pursuing commercial reprocessing capabilities, while Taiwan is forgoing the technology due to U.S. influence. Regional security dynamics and economic feasibility strongly influence these governments’ views.

China has extensive experience with reprocessing technology and is pursuing a commercial-scale facility. Beijing began reprocessing for its nuclear weapons program in the late 1960s, first at the Jiuquan Atomic Energy Complex and later at the Guangyuan facility.[1] China has since decommissioned both facilities and converted them to civilian use.[2] In the 1980s, Beijing chose a closed fuel-cycle strategy and began examining commercial reprocessing.[3] In 2007 the China National Nuclear Corporation and Areva signed an agreement to assess the feasibility of a reprocessing plant, with a target operational date of 2025.[4]

South Korea, citing concerns over storage space for spent nuclear fuel, has invested heavily in research on pyroprocessing technology. Approximately 10 percent of the employees at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute are involved in work supporting research for the technology, which dissolves spent fuel in molten salt and then electrochemically separates the fuel’s elements.[5] Under the 1974 U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation agreement, U.S. prior consent is required before U.S.-origin nuclear material is “altered in form or content,” in effect preventing reprocessing.[6] With that agreement expiring in 2014, Seoul is seeking a revised agreement allowing pyroprocessing. U.S. officials are concerned about the potential effect of such an agreement on the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which prohibits North and South Korea from possessing reprocessing facilities.

Taiwan maintains a policy of using nuclear power for peaceful purposes without enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel, a legacy of U.S. efforts to shut down Taiwanese nuclear weapons activities in the 1970s.[7] Since that time, the United States has been party to a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan, a trilateral safeguards agreement with Taiwan and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a bilateral safeguards agreement. The current U.S.-Taiwanese agreement gives the United States prior consent rights over the alteration of nuclear material, in effect preventing reprocessing.[8] That agreement is set to expire in 2014, but U.S. leverage over Taiwan’s security arrangements likely ensures that the new agreement will not permit reprocessing.—JONATHAN RAY

Jonathan Ray is a graduate research assistant at the East Asia Nonproliferation Program of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.



1. David Wright and Lisbeth Gronlund, “Estimating China’s Production of Plutonium for Weapons,” Science and Global Security, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2003): 65-66.

2. Mark Hibbs, “China Said to Be Preparing for Decommissioning Defense Plants,” NuclearFuel, May 17, 1999.

3. Hui Zhang, “Rethinking Chinese Policy on Commercial Reprocessing” (presentation at the 18th Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference, Busan, South Korea, March 18-23, 2012).

4. “China’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, November 2012, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63b_china_nuclearfuelcycle.html.

5. Frank von Hippel, “South Korean Reprocessing: An Unnecessary Threat to the Nonproliferation Regime,” Arms Control Today, March 2010.

6. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the Republic of Korea and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy,” 1974, art. 7(f).

7. William Burr, “The Taiwanese Nuclear Case: Lessons for Today,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 9, 2007, http://www.carnegieendowment.org/2007/08/09/taiwanese-nuclear-case-lessons-for-today/6cq.

8. Mark Hibbs, “Taiwan and the ‘Gold Standard,’” Arms Control Wonk, July 23, 2012, http://hibbs.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/941/taiwan-and-the-gold-standard.

The nuclear energy policy review launched by Tokyo in the wake of the Fukushima accident and released in September should have provided an opportunity and a further incentive to rethink Japan’s closed fuel-cycle policy, but largely failed to do so.

Last September 14, the Energy and Environment Council (EEC)[5] issued the long-awaited “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment” with input from several governmental agencies including the JAEC, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. In a deviation from the traditionally closed world of Japanese nuclear policy, the strategy documents considered public opinion.[6]

Based on recommendations from the JAEC, the EEC laid out three scenarios for the future of Japan’s energy policy, indicating different relative shares of electricity production that nuclear energy could provide in 2030.[7] All three scenarios aim to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear energy below the 30 percent share it contributed before the Fukushima accident and far below the 40 percent share that Tokyo originally envisioned for 2017. The first scenario drops nuclear power to 0 percent of electricity generation, the second to 15 percent, and the third to 20 to 25 percent. The JAEC recommendations called for clearly linking these proposed energy use scenarios to spent fuel options. The first scenario envisioned direct disposal and burial underground for all spent fuel; scenarios two and three would use reprocessing and direct disposal.

The EEC held extensive public hearings on the three options, inviting written public comments between July 2 and August 12. It also held public hearings in July and August in 11 cities, with each hearing attended by approximately 100 to 200 people.[8] Notably, the government conducted “deliberative polling,” which incorporated focus groups and polling of respondents in an effort to reflect public opinion in the new energy policy.[9]

These initiatives to involve the general public in the decision-making process for the nuclear share of the energy supply were laudable, but the EEC options provided to the public did not include the strong linkage to spent fuel options that the JAEC recommended.[10] Asking the public to weigh in on the proportion of nuclear energy to be used but obscuring how those choices would be reflected in fuel cycle policy undermined the transparency the government ostensibly was attempting to create.

This was particularly important because the public outreach showed that the majority of respondents strongly supported a phaseout of nuclear energy by 2030. (In spite of that, the strategy ultimately extended the timetable for the phaseout to the end of the 2030s.)[11] The strategy would accomplish these goals by strictly limiting nuclear power plants to a 40-year operating lifetime, requiring that the newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority determine whether reactors can restart operations safely and forgoing additional construction of nuclear power plants.[12]

Yet, the Japanese government largely decided to continue its current nuclear fuel-cycle policy, including reprocessing projects. Behind this decision were strong pressures from the governments in the communities that house nuclear fuel-cycle facilities. Prior to the issuance of the strategy, Rokkasho’s village assembly called for removal of the spent fuel from the area if Tokyo abandoned its reprocessing plans. The statement was sent to ministers in charge of nuclear policy, the governor of Aomori, and the mayor of Rokkasho village.[13]

The Aomori prefectural government also has been considering refusing to accept highly radioactive waste scheduled to be returned from overseas and vitrified at the Rokkasho reprocessing facility for disposal if Tokyo turns away from reprocessing.[14] The decision to continue reprocessing reportedly was derived mainly from the pressures from Aomori prefecture and Rokkasho village. To mitigate the concerns of the Aomori prefectural government and its local communities, the strategy highlighted the central government’s intention to make progress toward identifying the final disposal sites in consultation with relevant local governments in order to avoid the indefinite storage of the spent fuel at the Rokkasho facility. It also included a commitment to move fuel from reactors to offsite storage facilities pending reprocessing or final disposition.

Another important factor in the Japanese government’s decision to continue reprocessing was the financial concerns of the troubled utilities that operate Japan’s nuclear plants. Due to Japan’s long-held policy of reprocessing 100 percent of its spent fuel, these utilities have considered spent fuel as an asset because it contains plutonium, which has been viewed as a useful energy resource. If the government abandons its reprocessing policy, however, these companies’ balance sheets will have to treat the spent fuel as a liability, possibly threatening some of them with bankruptcy unless the government provides them with financial compensation.

The strategy called for the government to continue discussions with the local communities that host the reprocessing facilities and with the international community. The strategy also included five priorities related to nuclear energy: (1) beginning research on direct disposal; (2) terminating operation of the Monju reactor, intended to be the first of many such reactors to burn plutonium fuel more efficiently, after a certain period of international cooperation on R&D of fast breeder reactors; (3) promoting R&D of spent fuel processing technology and advanced burner reactors to reduce the radioactivity of nuclear waste; (4) shifting responsibility from the private sector to the government for the disposition of spent fuel; and (5) launching a discussion forum to deal with issues related to direct disposal of nuclear spent fuel, including interim storage and final disposal sites.[15]

These issues have not been seriously discussed in Tokyo until now because they did not accord with Japan’s long-standing 100 percent reprocessing policy. The shift appears to be an effort to make Japan’s spent fuel management policy flexible and to mitigate concerns of reprocessing advocates and direct-disposal advocates.

New Strategy Questioned

The strategy document soon ran into strong opposition from the business sector, the communities where nuclear facilities are major employers, and the United States. The United States is not only Japan’s key security protector, but also its essential commercial partner in nuclear energy, given the marriages between General Electric and Hitachi and between Toshiba and Westinghouse. Moreover, based on the U.S.-Japanese nuclear cooperation agreement, Japan is the only NPT non-nuclear-weapon state that the United States has permitted to reprocess “U.S.-origin” fuel. In Japan’s case, this constitutes essentially all of its fuel because the term applies to any fuel irradiated in reactors with U.S. technology.[16]

After the release of the strategy document, U.S. officials expressed concern that continuing reprocessing while decreasing the use of nuclear energy would increase the quantity of separated plutonium, clashing with an important U.S. policy goal. Indeed, only a few months earlier, President Barack Obama, in a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, had stated that the “smallest amount of plutonium—about the size of an apple—could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis. We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”[17]

The U.S.-Japanese agreement, which entered into force in 1988, is due for renewal in 2018 and has a mechanism that will lead to renewal without further intervention by either party. The agreement stipulates, however, that either country could initiate consultations on amending the agreement or replacing it with a new agreement.[18] Given the U.S. concern over Japan’s potential accumulation of separated plutonium under the new strategy, it is conceivable that the United States may object to renewing the current blanket permission for spent fuel reprocessing.[19]

Two Japanese officials—Seiji Maehara, DPJ policy chief, and Akihisa Nagashima, special adviser to the prime minister for foreign and defense policy—briefed senior U.S. officials on the new nuclear energy policy shortly before it was announced. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and other officials reportedly urged Japan to keep the amount of separated plutonium to a minimum.[20] The U.S. government expressed its concern that Japan’s new policy would undermine the basis of the current U.S.-Japanese cooperation agreement because the new policy implies that Japan continues to accumulate separated plutonium without consuming it.[21]

The United States requested that Japan be flexible in implementing the new energy strategy and not adopt the details specified in the new strategy as a cabinet decision.[22] Five days after the EEC issued this strategy, the cabinet issued a statement saying that the Japanese government will “tak[e] into account” the strategy document “while having discussions in a responsible manner with related local governments, the international community and others, and obtaining understanding of the Japanese public, by constantly reviewing and reexamining policies with flexibility.”[23] According to several media reports, U.S. pressure led Tokyo not to formalize the policy but instead leave it as a nonbinding measure.

No Market for MOX Fuel

Even without a phaseout, separated plutonium in Japan is accumulating faster than it is being used. With no short-term prospect for commercialization of a fast breeder reactor, permanent disposal and the pluthermal fuel cycle are the only ways to eliminate separated plutonium. Under Japan’s pre-Fukushima plans, a pluthermal cycle using MOX fuel would have consumed roughly six to nine metric tons of plutonium each year, requiring a period of at least five to seven years to dispose of the material once converted into MOX fuel. Yet, not only is Japan just beginning construction of a MOX fuel fabrication facility at Rokkasho, it has no operating reactors slated to burn the fuel.

Japan is backing away from the use of MOX fuel as a result of the temporary shutdown of nearly all of Japan’s nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident and some particular safety concerns that arose after MOX fuel was used at unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. One worry is that because MOX fuel is more radioactive than low-enriched uranium fuel used in other reactors, an accident involving MOX fuel would be more severe.

By the end of 2010, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had approved the use of MOX fuel in 11 reactors, including Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 and J-Power’s Oma reactor.[24] Oma, currently under construction, will be able to utilize a full MOX fuel core. To date, thermal reactors that have used MOX fuel have used it in only one-third of the core.

Since the Fukushima accident, most Japanese nuclear power plants have not been operating. In fact, units 3 and 4 of Kansai Electric Power Company’s Ohi nuclear power station are the only two power reactors currently operating in the country. Neither of these units is licensed to use MOX fuel. Both were restarted last July after passing government-run “stress tests” and amid massive protests against the restart and nuclear power. Between May and July, there were no nuclear power plants in operation in Japan.

Kansai’s Takahama Unit 3 had used MOX fuel before the earthquake, and Unit 4 was slated to use MOX fuel after its regular inspection in July 2011. Kansai decided to use conventional uranium for the Unit 4 once it is restarted.

Meanwhile, Hokkaido Electric Power Company, which had planned to use MOX fuel in Tomari Unit 3, one of the two plants that were shut down last, decided to suspend that plan. Among the plants that were scheduled to use MOX fuel, most are planning to use conventional uranium fuel when they restart, given concerns that use of MOX fuel would cause a further delay in winning approval from local governments to restart operations.

Moreover, one of the major companies promoting the utilization of MOX fuel was Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant and is now essentially bankrupt. Therefore, it is uncertain when the pluthermal cycle will restart. Furthermore, this July, the newly established Japanese regulatory authority is scheduled to issue its new safety standards, which will be tighter than the existing standards. Thus it is unlikely that any power companies will restart reactors before then even with conventional uranium fuel and even less likely with MOX fuel.

With no clear prospect of using MOX fuel, there is no justification to continue reprocessing spent fuel. This simply accumulates more separated plutonium, which clearly contradicts Japan’s stated policy of avoiding surplus plutonium.


A fair degree of uncertainty surrounds Japan’s future nuclear energy plans even after the recent parliamentary election. Nonetheless, it is clear that the scale of nuclear energy use will not support the fuel cycle policy that Japan had pursued for half a century. The new Japanese government should seize the opportunity to change the policy.

In particular, it makes little sense to plan to add to Japan’s massive stockpile of plutonium when there is no market for the MOX fuel that would be produced from that stockpile. Separating additional plutonium only contributes to suspicions in neighboring countries that the plant has more to do with Japanese nuclear weapons ambitions than Japanese fuel needs and thus encourages these countries to take matching steps (see box, page 25). The spread of reprocessing technology in the region will aggravate the already volatile security situation in East Asia and could lead to a proliferation chain reaction.

Japan’s neighbors and rivals already regard Japan as a virtual nuclear-weapon state. South Korea, which currently is negotiating a new nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, is insisting that Seoul should be granted the same right as Tokyo to reprocess its spent fuel. North Korea has openly declared its possession of nuclear weapons and carried out tests of nuclear explosives made with plutonium from reprocessed spent fuel.

In addition, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, at a joint press conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone in 2009, called for Iran to implement the Japanese nuclear model.[25]

The new Japanese government should immediately announce a moratorium on operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility until it determines a long-term spent fuel policy. If the United Kingdom, as anticipated, joins France in planning to burn its separated plutonium in domestic reactors, Japan should seek to negotiate an agreement with those countries to have them burn Japanese plutonium holdings on their territory.[26] Indeed, a British governmental document supports this idea if Japan is willing to bear the cost.[27]

Domestically, Japan should either vitrify its current holdings of separated plutonium together with high-level waste or transmute separated plutonium into a more stable and safer form for direct disposal using new technology, possibly with a new type of burner reactor. The Monju reactor is likely to be shut down after a certain period of R&D, but if Tokyo pursues the option of using fast-neutron reactors to reduce radioactive waste by burning actinides for waste management, the Monju reactor might be turned into such a burner reactor.

After the end of the Cold War, the international community started paying more attention to a growing accumulation of plutonium originating from civilian and military nuclear programs. Since then, the Japanese government has tried to demonstrate that the country’s accumulated plutonium is strictly limited to peaceful purposes and that it is adhering to the principle of “no surplus plutonium.”[28] With the aim of enhancing transparency, in 1991 the JAEC decided to declare annually Japan’s plutonium stockpile by location.[29] Furthermore, in 2003, in order to strengthen the principle of avoiding growing plutonium surpluses, the JAEC issued a new guideline for plutonium management. Under that guideline, Japanese electric utilities are expected to publish a plutonium usage plan annually, before they separate plutonium from spent fuel.[30]

Nevertheless, the amount of plutonium continues to increase, generating serious concerns inside and outside the country. This proves that the principle of avoiding surplus plutonium is insufficient. Therefore, civil society and nongovernmental organizations have urged the government to take concrete initiatives to reduce the plutonium stockpile. The U.S.-Japan Nuclear Security Working Group, which was established in November 2010, could decide to address the issues related to excess plutonium in a practical way as the renewal date for the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement approaches.

A Japanese government decision to suspend reprocessing would have benefits far beyond the country’s shores. One effect would be on nuclear security. As Obama’s remarks in South Korea made clear, stockpiles of separated plutonium provide an all-too-attractive target for terrorists.

Furthermore, ending the program would contribute to global and regional stability. Several other countries, such as Iran and South Korea, are considering their own reprocessing plans and routinely point to Japan’s program and U.S. acceptance of it as justification for their own efforts. A Japanese decision to forgo reprocessing would deprive those countries of a major argument for developing their nuclear fuel cycles, including reprocessing capabilities, and may substantively affect their decisions on that issue. With tensions soaring between Japan and neighbors such as China, Tokyo’s excess plutonium and advanced nuclear fuel-cycle capability provide a latent nuclear weapons capability that further destabilizes the region’s volatile security environment.

It is past time for Japan to end a costly, wasteful, and counterproductive nuclear fuel-cycle policy that undermines global and regional security.



Masako Toki is a research associate and project manager of the Nonproliferation Education Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Miles Pomper is a senior research associate at the center.




1. The term “pluthermal” refers to the use of plutonium in typical commercial light-water reactors, which fission slower, “thermal” neutrons rather than the fast neutrons fissioned by fast reactors.

2. Japan’s Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy, adopted in October 2005 by the Cabinet, reiterated its commitment to further promoting the nuclear fuel cycle. It also highlighted Japan’s goal of commercializing practical fast-breeder-reactor fuel cycles. See http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/tyoki/taikou/kettei/eng_ver.pdf.

3. International Panel on Fissile Materials, “Japan’s 2011 Civilian Plutonium Declaration,” October 3, 2012, http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2012/10/japans_2011_civilian_plut.html.

4. “Rokkasho N-Fuel Plant Completion Delayed,” Jiji Press, September 20, 2012, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120919004612.htm.

5. The Energy and Environment Council (EEC), which was established to provide recommendations on Japan’s energy future, is part of the National Policy Unit (NPU), a command center created by the DPJ government when it took power in 2009. The NPU, which is directly under the prime minister, coordinates interagency policy and seeks to maintain political control over Japan’s powerful bureaucracy. For more information on the NPU and EEC, see http://www.npu.go.jp/en/whatnpu/.

6. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment,” September 14, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/en/policy/policy06/pdf/20121004/121004_en2.pdf.

7. The timetable was extended by a decade in the final version of the document.

8. “Enerugii Kankyou no Sentakushi ni Kansuru Kokumintekigiron no susumekatani tsuite (dainihou)” [On How to Conduct National Debates Regarding Options of Energy and Environment, Version 2], Enerugii Kankyou Kaigi Jimukyoku [Energy and Environment Council Secretariat], August 20, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120820/20120820.pdf.

9. Japanese NPU, “Options for Energy and the Environment: The Energy and Environment Council Decision,” June 29, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120720/20120720_en.pdf.

10. “Gov’t Energy Council Sets 3 Options for Energy and Anti-Global Warming Policy,” The Mainichi, June 30, 2012.

11. Kokka Senryaku Tantou Daijin, “Senryaku Sakutei ni Mukete- Kokuminteki Giron ga Sashishimesumono” [Minister of State for National Policy, Toward Establishment of the New Strategy: What National Debates Indicate], September 4, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/policy/policy09/pdf/20120904/shiryo1-1.pdf.

12. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.” With regard to the ban on reactor construction, the DPJ made an exemption to allow construction to restart on three reactors that were being built when the Fukushima accident occurred: J-Power’s Oma reactor in Aomori prefecture, Chugoku Electric Power Company’s Shimane Nuclear Power Plant Unit 3, and Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Higashidori Nuclear Power Plant Unit 1 in Aomori.

13. Rokkasho Village Assembly, “Statement of Position for Maintaining Firmly of Reprocessing Route of Spent Fuel,” September 7, 2012, http://www.rokkasho.jp.e.av.hp.transer.com/index.cfm/11,491,32,134,html.

14. Vitrification involves mixing plutonium or nuclear waste with sand or other material to make a glass-like form. In this state, the nuclear waste or plutonium is immobilized and not likely to harm the enviornment or public health. “Japan to Allow N-Reactor Construction in Progress to Continue,” Jiji Press, September 15, 2012.

15. Japanese EEC, “Innovative Strategy for Energy and the Environment.”

16. Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Nuclear Cooperation With Other Countries: A Primer,” CRS Report for Congress, RS22937, June 19, 2012.

17. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Obama at Hankuk University,” March 26, 2012.

18. “Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy,” November 4, 1987, http://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/inlinefiles/Japan_123.pdf.

19. Tetsuya Endo, “Mankiga Chikazuku Nichibei Genshiryokukyoutei no Kongo” [The Future of the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Agreement of Which the Renewal Date Approaches], Japan Institute of International Affairs, September 19, 2012, http://www.jiia.or.jp/column/201209/19-endo.html.

20. “U.S. Urges Japan to Keep Plutonium Minimum on Proliferation Fears,” Japan Economic Newswire, October 3, 2012.

21. “Tamaru Pu Saishori Yuragu” [Reprocessing Policy Wavers Due to Accumulating Plutonium], Yomiuri Online, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/e-japan/aomori/feature/aomori1349793384574_02/news/20121011-OYT8T01682.htm.

22. Ibid.

23. “Future Policies for Energy and the Environment Cabinet Decision,” September 19, 2012, http://www.npu.go.jp/en/policy/policy06/pdf/20121004/121004_en1.pdf.

24. The following 11 reactors have been licensed to use MOX fuel as part of the pluthermal program: Tomari-3, Onagawa-3, Fukushima I-3, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa-3, Hamaoka-3, Takahama-3 and 4, Shimane-2, Ikata-3, Genkai-3, and Oma.

25. A. Savyon and Y. Mansharof, “The Japanese Nuclear Model Applies to Us Too,” Iran Almanac, May 5, 2009, http://www.iranalmanac.com/news/lastnews.php?newsid=10327&date=2009-05-08.

26. With the aim of developing a constructive proposal on spent fuel management, like-minded members of the DPJ established a study group. The group’s first recommendation, in February 2012, was to defer indefinitely the Rokkasho plant’s startup. For more information on the proposal, see http://nuclear-backend.jp/teigen/120207teigen.pdf. Apart from that, the secretary of the study group, Toshiro Ishii, proposed that 17 metric tons of plutonium extracted by the United Kingdom from Japanese spent fuel and stored in the United Kingdom be sold to or accepted by that country. He pointed to a December 2011 British policy document that called for eliminating that country’s separated civilian stocks by burning MOX fuel in civilian reactors and said that the British government concluded that overseas owners of plutonium stored in the United Kingdom “could, subject to commercial terms that are acceptable” to the British government, “have their plutonium managed in line with this policy.” See UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stocks,” December 1, 2011, http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/Consultations/plutonium-stocks/3694-govt-resp-mgmt-of-uk-plutonium-stocks.pdf.

27. UK DECC, “Management of the UK’s Plutonium Stock.”

28. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Communication Received From Certain Member States Concerning Their Policies Regarding the Management of Plutonium,” INFCIRC/549/Add. 1, March 31, 1998.

29. Tadahiro Katsuta and Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Japan’s Spent Fuel and Plutonium Management Challenges,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, September 2006, http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr02.pdf.

30. Tatsujiro Suzuki, “Current and Future Prospects of Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Policies: Issues and Challenges” (presentation at the Royal Society workshop titled “Building Proliferation Resistance Into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” London, June 10-11, 2010), http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/about/kettei/100610.pdf.

Japan began operations at its first commercial nuclear power plant in 1966. For more than four decades, Tokyo never veered from its goals of increasing nuclear energy’s share of electricity generation and developing a self-sufficient plutonium-based nuclear fuel cycle.


Back to the Drawing Board: The Need for Sound Science in U.S. Missile Defense

Philip E. Coyle

Clarification made online on February 13, 2013.

The technical core of the U.S. missile defense program is in tatters. Two heavyweight studies in the past 16 months have raised fundamental questions about the science underlying the program.

U.S. missile defense policy has long been controversial. The current U.S. approach has drawn criticism from some who say it is excessive and others who say it is insufficient. The findings of the two studies, however, transcend questions of policy and ideology because they show that the scientific basis for the program is weak. After decades of trying and at least $250 billion spent, the program is in many ways back to square one. This state of affairs has major implications for U.S. national security policy, defense spending, and U.S. relations with Russia, NATO, and allies in the Middle East and Asia.

The more recent of the two studies is “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” which was written by a committee under the aegis of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and released last September.[1] Thirty-two months in the making, the NAS committee’s 260-page treatise focuses on the intractability of the problem of creating effective boost-phase missile defense—which involves intercepting a missile shortly after launch while its rocket motors are firing—as well as on the difficulties the United States has been having with missile defense in general. In the course of describing the obstacles to boost-phase missile defenses, the report is critical of some elements of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system currently deployed at Fort Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and of the European Phased Adaptive Approach being developed for deployment in Europe over the next decade. The purpose of the Alaska- and California-based GMD system ostensibly is to defend the U.S. homeland from intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attack from Iran or North Korea, whereas the purpose of the phased adaptive approach ostensibly is to defend Europe from missile attack by Iran, but the Europe-based system also would include capabilities that would help defend the U.S. homeland from Iranian missile attack.

The NAS panel report, together with an equally important study written by a Defense Science Board (DSB) task force and released in September 2011,[2] leads to the conclusion that both the GMD system and the phased adaptive approach currently lack the basic elements for a viable architecture and, as a result, lack a viable concept of operations.

Both studies also discourage further spending on boost-phase missile defense, notwithstanding nearly 30 years of investment.

Boost-Phase Defense

The NAS committee report is all that decision leaders in Congress and in the Department of Defense should need to stop chasing impracticable boost-phase missile defense projects. The report put it succinctly: The department “should not invest any more money or resources in systems for boost-phase missile defense. Boost-phase missile defense is not practical or cost-effective under real-world conditions for the foreseeable future.”[3]

In agreement with the DSB task force report, the NAS panel’s study explains that all boost-phase intercept systems “suffer from severe reach-versus-time-available constraints.”[4] This means that the defense can run out of time before the enemy missiles are too far away to catch. Although both reports point out that boost-phase technology or its cousin, early-intercept, might be helpful in a crisis under certain circumstances, those situations should not cause policymakers to miss the central point that the time available for boost-phase missile defense can be too short for success.

The NAS panel echoes the conclusions of a 2004 study by the American Physical Society (APS)[5] and the findings of many other experts for years. Nevertheless, the U.S. policy process has kept alive the boost-phase concept and early intercept (intercept before the target reaches apogee).

For example, in a glossy August 2011 handout, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said it would achieve early-intercept capability against medium-range ballistic missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and ICBMs “from today’s regional threats by 2020 or sonner.”[6] One month later, however, the DSB task force concluded in its report that early-intercept capability is not itself “a useful objective for missile defense in general or for any particular missile defense system.”[7] The task force told the MDA that it was focusing on the wrong thing—early-intercept capability—and losing sight of the basic parameters that determine success or failure in missile defense.

It is remarkable that a Pentagon agency with an annual budget of $10 billion could go so wrong, promising an achievement within a few years that the task force described as “not realistically achievable under the most optimistic set of deployment, sensor capability, and missile technology assumptions.” The Pentagon’s own scientists had to point out how far the MDA had strayed from the basic physics of its systems; the NAS committee has now made the same point.

Midcourse Defense

The first meeting of the NAS panel was held in January 2010; the 15th and last meeting was in July 2011. Yet, because of a review by the MDA, the report was not released for another 14 months, a period almost as long as the time it took the panel to prepare the report.

Last April 30, while the MDA was carrying out its review of the panel report, the committee co-chairmen, L. David Montague and Walter B. Slocombe, provided a shortened version of the report in a letter to Reps. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.[8]

At a hearing of the subcommittee on March 6, when she already had learned the conclusions of the report, Sanchez asked Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, the director of the MDA, about the reliability and discrimination capabilities of U.S. missile defenses. O’Reilly pointed to the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS) as the solution.

Yet the NAS panel’s study, already under review at the MDA, had described the PTSS as “a solution looking for a problem”[9] and recommended to Congress that it be canceled because it “is too far away from the threat to provide useful discrimination data, does not avoid the need for overhead persistent infrared cueing and is very expensive.”[10] Presumably, O’Reilly knew that the study had concluded that the PTSS should be terminated, but he made no mention of that.

Only seven weeks later, in its April 30 letter summarizing its report, the NAS committee was even more blunt, saying that it “finds no valid justification” for pursuing development of the PTSS and “recommends terminating all effort on it.”[11]

Other technical approaches have been proposed for the task of warning the missile defense system interceptors about incoming enemy missiles. One example is the Airborne Infrared (ABIR) system, which is composed of drones, each with a suite of sensors looking up to spot enemy missiles. The DSB task force said the ABIR concept, “although potentially promising as a component that would fit in well with a variety of missile defense architectures and regional situations, is in early development and not ready for inclusion in near-term plans for [phased adaptive approach] architectures.”[12]

The task force pointed out that the technical challenges for the ABIR system “include achieving highly accurate angular accuracy for the sensor as well as packaging (e.g. form factor) to employ on an operational (unmanned) air platform.”[13] This means that the physical orientation of the sensors onboard an unmanned aerial vehicle must be highly precise while tracking the target in flight despite the motion of the platform carrying those sensors. That may explain why the House and Senate appropriations committees zeroed out the ABIR system in their respective versions of fiscal year 2013 funding bills.

Another important missile defense system is the SPY-1 air and missile defense radar carried on all Navy ships equipped with the Aegis system. Four different versions of the SPY-1 are currently deployed on Navy ships. According to the DSB task force report, however, “The current Aegis shipboard radar is inadequate to support the objective needs” of the European Phased Adaptive Approach mission.[14]

Calling attention to the need for better missile defense radars on land and sea, the DSB added that, “[f]or this reason, the TPY-2 land-based radars and the future Navy ship-based Air and Missile Defense Radar…upgrade become critical components of the European defense scenarios.”[15]

The NAS committee supported the DSB task force’s view on the limitations of the SPY-1 radar in a press conference held on September 11, 2012, when Montague explained that the SPY-1 radar was not sufficiently powerful for missile tracking in the European deployment.[16]

Cancellation of Final Phase

The NAS committee recommended canceling the fourth phase of the phased adaptive approach. This phase, scheduled to be deployed in the 2020 time frame, is to be the last and the most technologically advanced, with enhanced capability to defend against potentially longer-range ballistic missiles from Iran, including ICBMs that could reach the United States. This phase, however, is also the most difficult and may not be achievable by 2020 or even much later.

New Expenses for Missile Defense

The recommendations of reports by a National Academy of Sciences committee and a Defense Science Board task force would add large but unknown costs to U.S. missile defense programs. The approaches that the studies recommend would require the consideration of whether new defense spending is sensible on at least the following:

  • A new East Coast missile defense site, perhaps at Fort Drum, New York, or in Maine. As at Fort Greely, Alaska, this new site would require silos from which interceptors could be launched; the supporting infrastructure of command, control, and communications systems; and physical protection.
  • A possible fourth site near Grand Forks, North Dakota.
  • New, smaller two-stage interceptors for the East Coast site that are faster than the existing three-stage, ground-based interceptor (GBI) missiles at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Fort Greely.
  • More of those new interceptors to replace the existing GBI missiles at Fort Greely and Vandenberg, and construction of silos in a new missile field at Fort Greely.
  • Development of a new exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV)—the part of the interceptor system that would seek out and destroy the incoming missiles—carried on the nose of the interceptor, with far better sensors for tracking and hitting the target. Such an EKV would be more capable and likely heavier than the existing EKV on the existing GBI missiles.
  • The development of a new X-band radar system, roughly twice as big as the existing AN/TPY-2 radar and mounted on a turntable. These modifications would allow it to see further and in more than one direction.
  • Deployment of this new radar at five locations, namely, Fylingdales, United Kingdom; Thule, Greenland; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Clear, Alaska.
  • Permanent deployment of the Sea-Based X-Band Radar at Adak, Alaska, with technical improvements so that the radar can withstand the high winds at Adak.
  • Development of new, more powerful radars to replace the SPY-1 radars on Navy Aegis ships.
  • Development of an Airborne Infrared Surveillance system, not to be confused with the Airborne Infrared (ABIR) system. Although such a surveillance system would be flown on drones like the ABIR system, it would need to provide better targeting information than would be available from the ABIR system as currently defined or from satellites or radar alone.
  • Development of a space satellite system that is some combination of the Space-Based Infrared System and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System to replace the aging Defense Support Program satellites.

The currently defined version of the fourth phase “is not necessary for theater defense and is at best less than optimal for homeland defense,” the committee said in its report. If the first three phases are fully implemented, the additional interceptor capability of the fourth phase “is not required for European (or other theater) defense,” the panel added.[17]

Canceling the fourth phase might help Russia and the United States reach an accommodation over U.S. missile defenses in Europe. The cancellation would eliminate the need for a high-speed interceptor, the Standard Missile-3 Block IIB. Under current plans, that interceptor would be deployed in 2021 in Poland, where it could threaten Russia’s ICBM fleet. According to the NAS committee, such an interceptor would be able to intercept Russian ICBMs launched from bases in southwestern Russia at targets in the eastern United States.[18] For this reason, the fourth phase has been the most contentious part of the phased adaptive approach from the point of view of Russian military and political leaders.

The committee’s recommendation to deploy interceptors at a new East Coast site effectively moves the fourth-phase interceptors out of Europe and replaces them with interceptors on U.S. soil. This would broaden the “battle space,” providing earlier opportunities for intercepts and for multiple attempts at intercepts, but requires the development of a new, faster booster with better target discrimination capabilities than the existing GMD interceptors now deployed in Alaska and California. A new East Coast site would cost billions of dollars more when President Barack Obama and Congress are trying to reduce federal spending, and it presumes that a solution can be found to the age-old problem of distinguishing actual targets from debris, decoys, or countermeasures. “Moreover,” the panel notes, “it finesses the issue of large interceptors close to Russian territory.”[19]

Debris and Decoys

With respect to the need to deal with decoys and countermeasures, the NAS committee wrote that “[t]here is no effective ballistic missile area defense that does not require dealing with midcourse discrimination (or shooting at all potential threat objects!).”[20] “Moreover,” the panel wrote in its April 30 letter to Congress, “early intercept, even if achievable from a forward-based interceptor system, cannot obviate the need for midcourse discrimination, because countermeasures and payload deployment can be achieved very rapidly (as historical experience shows) after threat booster burnout.”[21]

The DSB task force made a similar point about the need to discriminate real targets from debris and decoys: “If the defense should find itself in a situation where it is shooting at missile junk or decoys, the impact on the regional interceptor inventory would be dramatic and devastating.”[22]

Because of the inability to discriminate real targets from debris, decoys, or both and because of the poor record of successful intercepts in tests, especially by the GMD system, the reports from the NAS committee and the DSB task force recommend a “shoot-look-shoot” strategy. This means shooting several times at the same object and looking at it between shots to see if it has been destroyed.

Congressional testimony on this matter by Defense Department officials has been reluctant but clear: the system might have to shoot at each object four or five times to have a reasonable chance of killing that object.[23] If the enemy launches 20, 30, or 50 missiles in a salvo, that could consume hundreds of interceptors.

In battle, those repeated tries would take time. The NAS committee report includes a “Typical Mission Timeline” for a hypothetical four-shot, shoot-look-shoot scenario for intercepting a missile fired from the Middle East at the United States.[24] The first shot is an interceptor launched from Poland cued by an X-band radar in Azerbaijan. Russia has not agreed to a radar at that location, but perhaps Russia and the United States can reach an agreement on missile defense making that possible. That first shot occurs 190 seconds into the flight of the enemy missile.

A second shot from Poland takes place at 526 seconds, cued by a radar at the Fylingdales site in the United Kingdom. A third shot takes place at 772 seconds with an interceptor launched from a notional East Coast site in Caribou, Maine, again cued by the radar at Fylingdales. After each of the first three shots, the radar at Fylingdales performs a kill assessment. At 1,411 seconds, a fourth interceptor is launched from Caribou, once again cued from Fylingdales. At 1,692 seconds, a radar at Cape Cod performs the last kill assessment; and 358 seconds later, the enemy missile hits its target, if the enemy missile has not already been intercepted.

East Coast Site

This scenario demonstrates why the NAS panel recommended a new East Coast missile defense site in northern Maine or perhaps at Fort Drum, New York. According to the report, an East Coast site would provide time for more intercept attempts and for those attempts to occur sooner than would be possible from Fort Greely alone. In theory, successive shots from the East Coast site or Fort Greely would improve the odds.

The NAS committee also suggested a fourth site, perhaps near Grand Forks, North Dakota.[25] This fourth site is reminiscent of the old Safeguard missile defense system, which was developed in the late 1960s and briefly deployed near Grand Forks, with nuclear warheads on 100 interceptors. On October 2, 1975, Congress voted to shut down the Safeguard system after it had been fully operational for only one day because of concerns about the reliability of the system and its cost.[26]

Regardless of whether the new East Coast interceptors would be deployed at two, three, or four sites, the NAS committee’s proposal presumes that technology may be developed to permit the discrimination of real targets from debris, decoys, or both, something the NAS committee and the DSB task force say is essential but not currently in the cards.

The House Armed Services Committee quickly adopted the idea of an East Coast site. In its version of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the committee called for the site to be operational no later than December 31, 2015. The full House included this provision when it adopted the defense authorization bill, but the Senate did not.

The Defense Department has been clear that there is no requirement for a third site. In a letter to the congressional defense authorizers, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote that the House provision “is premature because the administration has not identified a requirement for a third U.S.-based missile defense site, nor assessed the feasibility or cost in a cost-constrained environment.”[27]

The House-Senate conference report on the defense authorization bill called for a study of at least three possible additional missile defense locations in the United States, with at least two of them on the East Coast. The report eliminated the House requirement for deployment by 2015. It also required that the MDA prepare an environmental impact statement for each site and a contingency plan to deploy such a site.

Added Costs

The budget implications of the NAS committee report are enormous and come at a time when defense spending is already under great pressure. Neither the Defense Department nor the Congressional Budget Office has released estimates of how much these additional elements would cost. They certainly would require annual expenditures of billions of dollars; beyond that, one can only extrapolate from the cost of similar systems that have already cost billions (see box, page 10).

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pursuing two new regional missile defense systems, one in the Middle East and another in Asia. The costs of these systems also have not yet been determined.

The basic architectures of the phased adaptive approach and the GMD system are in doubt because so many of the parts do not work, do not exist, or are not achievable for the foreseeable future. Clearly, a major review and reconsideration is required of all elements of both arrangements. In particular, without a scientifically credible path to effective target discrimination, these projects lack the necessary foundation for a successful missile defense system.

Making sense of all this, sorting through which options might be promising enough to justify further spending and which should be terminated, will be a major challenge for the MDA because the NAS committee and the DSB task force do not agree on what should be done next. The task force study focuses on Europe and on having fast, dependable interceptors; long-range sensors; low-latency (quick-response) communications; and threat discrimination capability. The task force would deploy missile defense assets relatively close to the country possessing the missiles, at which the assets would be aimed as planned under the phased adaptive approach, and does not recommend a new East Coast site, let alone a fourth site near Grand Forks or a new GMD interceptor. It also does not recommend canceling the fourth phase of the phased adaptive approach.

The NAS committee focuses as well on fast, dependable interceptors; long-range sensors; low-latency communications; and threat discrimination capability, but deploys the recommended new interceptors at sites in the continental United States, not in Europe. It limits the scope of the phased adaptive approach.

Neither study comes to a clear conclusion about what should be done with ballistic missile defense sensors in space, and neither one explains how to achieve effective threat discrimination. (Neither study was chartered to conduct such analyses.) A serious study of target discrimination would be a worthwhile project for the NAS and the DSB.

Considering all this, the NAS committee probably should have chosen a different title, as “making sense of missile defense” requires answers to vital questions that were left unanswered, most notably how to achieve effective threat discrimination. The report provides insights, however, into the challenges for missile defense and explains them more clearly than has any document in the public domain since the 2004 APS study.

Expertise Needed at the MDA

The need to constitute a team of scientists with strong research and development capability at the MDA comes through as a top priority in the NAS committee report. The committee explains that the MDA simply could not provide briefings or papers that showed that the agency understood the issues involved and how to make the best scientific and technical choices.

The report said, “Discriminating between actual warheads and lightweight countermeasures has been a contentious issue for [ground-based] midcourse defense for more than 40 years.”[28] From the information that the MDA provided, “the committee learned very little that would help resolve the discrimination issue in the presence of sophisticated countermeasures. In fact, the committee had to seek out people who had put together the experiments” such as the Midcourse Space Experiment and the High-Altitude Observatory 2 “and who had understood and analyzed the data gathered. Their funding was terminated several years ago, ostensibly for budget reasons, and their expertise was lost.” Furthermore, when the committee asked the MDA to provide real signature data from all flight tests, the MDA “did not appear to know where to find them.”[29] Thus, the MDA no longer seems to have the expertise it needs to sort through the many difficult technical challenges that it faces, nor even a record of whom to ask for help.

Summarizing its frustration, the NAS panel concluded that the MDA “has given up trying and has terminated most of the optical signature analysis of flight data taken over the last 40 years. In the committee’s view, this is a serious mistake.”[30]

Without a strong, in-house scientific team, the MDA will not have adequate expertise to decide which path to follow. Private industry will help, but industry also has lost much of the scientific expertise it once had, and the MDA needs to have its own sustained and independent expertise.

As happened with the 2004 APS study, which was too soon forgotten, time has a way of eroding the public policy implications of a scientific study. To scientists, the basic physics is immutable. The public policy arena, however, has a way of discounting scientific findings over time as if to say that the underlying physics is somehow out of date, as if Sir Isaac Newton, watching that apple fall, was wrong about gravity.

In the public policy arena, the fact that someone believes that something such as boost-phase missile defense is viable under real-world conditions, even though for all practical purposes it is not, can be enough to keep it going. Hope and persistence are powerful forces in politics.

If the MDA pursues scientific dead ends and fails to give priority to target discrimination, the United States will continue to have missile defenses that are expensive pipe dreams, cobbled together from components that do not work together in a “system of systems,” failing to satisfy the intended mission.

Philip E. Coyle served from 2010 to 2011 as associate director for national security and international affairs in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. From 1994 to 2001, he served as director of operational test and evaluation in the Department of Defense. He worked for 33 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on a variety of high-technology programs. He currently is a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


1. Committee on an Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives, National Research Council, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” National Academy of Sciences, 2012, http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13189 (hereinafter NAS committee report). The version of the report released at a September 11 press conference was in prepublication form. The citations in this article are to the final version.

2. Defense Science Board (DSB), “Task Force Report on Science and Technology Issues of Early Intercept Ballistic Missile Defense Feasibility,” September 2011, http://handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA552472 (hereinafter DSB task force report).

3. NAS committee report, p. 15.

4. Ibid.

5. David K. Barton et al., “Report of the American Physical Society Study Group on Boost-Phase Systems for National Missile Defense: Scientific and Technical Issues,” Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 76, No. 3 (October 4, 2004), http://rmp.aps.org/pdf/RMP/v76/i3/pS1_1.

6. Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Department of Defense, “Missile Defense Agency Program Update,” 11-MDA-6310, August 2011, p. 11, http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/The_Missile_Defense_Program.pdf. Medium-range missiles are generally considered to have a range of between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers. Intermediate-range missiles have a range of about 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers. Intercontinental-range missiles have a range of more than 5,500 kilometers.

7. DSB task force report, p. 33.

8. Letter to Representatives Michael R. Turner and Loretta Sanchez, House Armed Services Committee, from L. David Montague and Walter B. Slocombe, Committee on an Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives, April 30, 2012 (hereinafter NAS committee letter).

9. NAS committee report, p. 119.

10. NAS committee letter. “Overhead persistent cueing” refers to the need for a platform or set of platforms that operate around the clock and provide high-quality information on the launch and trajectory of the enemy target to the interceptor.

11. Ibid.

12. DSB task force report, p. 26.

13. Ibid., pp. 26-27.

14. Ibid., p. 26.

15. Ibid.

16. “The National Research Council Holds a Teleconference on Missile Defense Report,” CQ Transcriptions, September 11, 2012 (copy on file with author). Montague explained:

What the DSB said was the SPY-1 radar is not capable enough to do—support missile intercepts in—in European deployment, which we agree with. SPY-1 is not used for that purpose in the European deployment, a subject that apparently has escaped some people’s read here. The SPY-1 radar is used only for two things. One is to communicate with the interceptor, because the X-band radar is used for, what we call and what the MDA calls, engage on remote. That means all the data tracking data and information that is used to launch an interceptor is—comes from the X-band radar. All the SPY-1 in—in Aegis Ashore does is communicate back and forth with the interceptor.

17. NAS committee letter.

18. NAS committee report, p. 159.

19. Ibid., p. 127.

20. NAS committee letter.

21. Ibid.

22. DSB task force report, p. 27.

23. See Edward Aldridge Jr., Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, March 20, 2003, http://www.archive.org/stream/hearingsonnation2004unit/hearingsonnation2004unit_djvu.txt; Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, Statement before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, April 30, 2008, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-110hhrg48813/html/CHRG-110hhrg48813.htm.

24. NAS committee report, pp. 164-165 (table 5-3).

25. “The committee’s evolved GMD interceptor’s proposed design would use a smaller two-stage interceptor with a total burn time less than a third that of the existing [ground-based interceptor] carrying a larger[,] more capable [kill vehicle]. It would also require adding a third missile field site in the U.S. Northeast and a fourth site in the U.S. North Central states together with additional X-band radars to protect the eastern United States and Canada against Iranian threats.” Ibid., pp. 252-253.

26. For a history of U.S. missile defense systems, including the Safeguard system, see Richard Dean Burns, The Missile Defense Systems of George W. Bush: A Critical Assessment (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2010), pp. 20-30.

27. Letter to Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, House Armed Services Committee, from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, December 11, 2012, http://media.bloomberg.com/bb/avfile/rWfyBvrA3G1U.

28. NAS committee report, p. 131.

29. Ibid. The 1996 Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) was a highly successful demonstration of infrared and visible sensor technology in space to identify and track ballistic missiles during the midcourse of their flight trajectory. The High Altitude Observatory 2 (HALO-2) is a modified Gulfstream jet equipped with a variety of ultraviolet, infrared, and visible sensors to observe missile defense flight-intercept tests and collect information about the phenomenology of ballistic missiles in flight. The technology from the MSX and HALO-2 is of interest for improved target discrimination.

30. Ibid.




Clarification: The January/February 2013 article “Back to the Drawing Board: The Need for Sound Science in U.S. Missile Defense” implied that the report on missile defense by a National Academy of Sciences committee warned against the deployment of Standard Missile-3 Block IIB interceptors in Poland because of the capability of those missiles to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from southwestern Russia. In the passage that the article cited, the committee report was referring to the potential deployment of the proposed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense-Evolved interceptor.

The technical core of the U.S. missile defense program is in tatters. Two heavyweight studies in the past 16 months have raised fundamental questions about the science underlying the program.


Prospects for Iran-IAEA Deal Fluctuate

Kelsey Davenport

The outlook now “is not bright” for promptly finalizing an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to allow the agency to begin investigating key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Jan. 11.

Amano’s comments in Tokyo, which were reported by Reuters, are the latest in a series of agency officials’ up-and-down assessments of prospects for the agreement, which is intended to address IAEA concerns about the Iranian program, including possible weapons-related activities,

On Dec. 14, a day after a meeting with Iranian officials in Tehran, IAEA Deputy Director-General of Safeguards Herman Nackaerts told reporters in Vienna that he expected to “finalize the structured approach” at the next meeting and begin “implementing the plan shortly after that.” Nackaerts, the agency’s top safeguards official, said the parties had agreed to meet again on Jan. 16.

Over the past year, the IAEA and Tehran have been negotiating a framework agreement to resolve the agency’s concerns over Iran’s possible weapons-related activities. In an annex to a November 2011 IAEA report, the agency outlined its evidence of activities related to Iranian development of nuclear weapons, including experiments with high explosives, detonator development, and fitting a warhead onto a missile. (See ACT, December 2011.)

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.

In a Dec. 14 statement, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh confirmed his country’s participation in the Jan. 16 meeting, but did not say if he expected a deal to be finalized at that time. He said that “good progress” was made during the Dec. 13 meeting.

The new momentum in the talks came a week after Amano said that the agency had “intensified dialogue” with Iran over the past year but that “no concrete progress” had been made.

In Dec. 6 remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Amano said that the agency is committed to continuing negotiations but that talks with Iran should not continue endlessly “without producing any concrete result.”

Until Tehran responds to the IAEA’s outstanding concerns about possible weapons-related activities, the agency is still not in a position to declare that all of Iran’s nuclear materials are being used for peaceful purposes, he said.

Deal Uncertain

This is not the first time that IAEA officials have announced that they had nearly concluded their negotiations with Iran.

On May 22, after a meeting in Tehran on the structured-approach document, Amano said that a deal was “quite close.” (See ACT, June 2012.) Subsequent meetings in June and August, however, did not result in an agreement.

Olli Heinonen, a former IAEA deputy director-general for safeguards, said that it “remains to be seen” why the hopes for a deal “have not materialized.” In a Dec. 17 interview, he said that the “creation of hope” that an agreement is within reach could be an Iranian negotiating tactic to “buy time for the P5+1 talks, to build enriched-uranium stocks and capabilities, or to do both.”

The P5+1 talks are a parallel set of negotiations between Iran and six countries (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Tehran’s nuclear program. Those talks, which are expected to resume in January, have been on hold since June (see box).

Talks With P5+1 Not Finalized, Iran Says

Iran and six world powers are discussing the time and venue for resuming negotiations on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator told reporters during a Jan. 2 trip to India.

Saeed Jalili said Tehran “accepted that these talks should be held in January.” The European Union “offered dates and a venue,” but has not heard back from Iran, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Jan. 4. Ashton is the lead negotiator for the six countries—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—in the talks with Iran.

Negotiations between Iran and the six countries, known as P5+1, were halted in June after three rounds of talks in as many months failed to make concrete progress on a resolution. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

Amid the discussions of resuming negotiations, new EU sanctions, which EU foreign ministers had approved at an Oct. 15 meeting, went into effect Dec. 22. The new measures expand on previous sanctions, in part by further restricting EU countries’ financial transactions with Iranian banks and imports of natural gas. (See ACT, November 2012.)

The United States adopted new sanctions Jan. 2, when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013. An amendment by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) expands on existing sanctions, targeting international companies doing business with Iran’s shipping sector. The legislation also imposes sanctions on the sale of certain commodities, such as graphite, aluminum, and steel, that are used in shipbuilding but also can be used to develop Iran’s nuclear program. The sanctions must be put in place by July 1.

A U.S. measure set to go into effect Feb. 6 further limits Iran’s ability to repatriate payments from its oil exports. The provision, which is part of legislation that was signed into law Aug. 10, requires that non-Iranian banks facilitating payments for Iranian oil hold the funds and use them only for bilateral trade between Iran and the country in which the bank is located. If a non-Iranian bank allows the payments to go to an Iranian bank or transfers them to another country, it could face U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury Department also added seven companies and five individuals to its list of sanctioned entities for providing Iran with goods or services related to Tehran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. This designation prohibits transactions between any of the sanctioned individuals or companies with the United States and freezes their assets held under U.S. jurisdiction. The list of individuals included the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi. The organization was added to the list in 2005.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Heinonen added that progress on the IAEA talks with Tehran is “tied with the progress of the P5+1 talks with Iran.” He said that the IAEA’s work would advance if there were “real progress” in P5+1 talks.

Concerns About Parchin

In his Dec. 6 comments, Amano reiterated the IAEA’s interest in obtaining access to Parchin, an Iranian military installation where some of the alleged weapons-related activities may have taken place. Iran has denied the IAEA access to the site; satellite imagery of Parchin indicates activity that Amano described as “quite intensive” and that he said could “severely” undermine the agency’s “capacity to verify” what occurred at the site. Amano said that the activities observed by the agency included the demolition of buildings, the removal of soil and fences, and an abundant use of water. According to experts, Iran could be attempting to use water to wash away traces of explosives.

Despite these activities, access to Parchin would still give the agency a “better understanding” of Iran’s past work at the site, Amano said.

In his Dec. 6 remarks, he said that the IAEA delegation traveling to Tehran for the Dec. 13 meeting would visit the Parchin site “if possible.” On Dec. 14, Nackaerts said that the IAEA had not been given access to the site so far.

In the interview, Heinonen said that access to the site would help the agency establish if Iran’s activities are a “normal reconstruction effort” or “actual sanitation” designed to obscure evidence of weapons-related work.

The outlook now “is not bright” for promptly finalizing an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran to allow the agency to begin investigating key aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said Jan. 11.

Mine Policy Review Near End, U.S. Says

Daryl G. Kimball

The Obama administration is nearing the end of its ongoing, three-year-long review of its landmine policy and expects to announce the results in 2013, a U.S. official said Dec. 6.

In a prepared statement in Geneva delivered during the annual meeting of states-parties to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Steven Costner, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said the United States “expect[s] to be able to announce a decision soon.” At a briefing later on Dec. 6, he specified that the decision would be announced before the parties’ 2013 meeting, scheduled to take place at the end of the year.

Part of the decision is whether Washington will join the convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of landmines. The United States, which has stockpiled approximately 10 million anti-personnel landmines, is one of a group of 36 countries, as well as the only NATO member, that has not yet joined the treaty. Since it entered into force in 1997, the treaty has mandated the destruction of tens of millions of anti-personnel mines and advanced programs to rehabilitate mine victims and survivors.

When he was a U.S. senator from Illinois, President Barack Obama was supportive of restricting procurement of victim-activated landmines. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama told Arms Control Today that he would “regain [U.S.] leadership” by “honoring U.S. commitments to seek alternatives to landmines.”


The Obama administration is nearing the end of its ongoing, three-year-long review of its landmine policy and expects to announce the results in 2013, a U.S. official said Dec. 6.

Law Cuts U.S. Ties to Russian Arms Firm

Marcus Taylor

The Defense Department cannot purchase weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, under a provision of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

The ban lasts for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Congress passed the authorization legislation in December, and President Barack Obama signed it into law Jan. 2.

The provision, which was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), came in response to continued Russian arms sales to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Since the start of the conflict in that country in early 2011, Moscow has sold Damascus more than $1 billion in arms, including heavy weapons that have been used against civilians, according to a March letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from a bipartisan group of 17 senators. (See ACT, April 2012.) The letter urged Panetta to end Pentagon business dealings with the Russian arms company.

Rosoboronexport has a contract with the Pentagon to provide Mi-17 helicopters to security forces in Afghanistan in preparation for U.S. withdrawal from the country in 2014. That contract is not affected by the new provision because the Defense Department paid for it with funds from fiscal year 2012. The Russian firm was also in negotiations to provide ammunition to U.S. armed forces.

In a Dec. 21 statement following Senate passage of the defense authorization act, DeLauro said it was “unacceptable” to use taxpayer dollars to buy helicopters “from a Russian state arms dealer that is also enabling President Bashar al-Assad[’s] regime to continue to commit mass atrocities against his own people.”

A Defense Department spokesman said in a Jan. 10 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the Pentagon “needs to utilize some Russian technologies to continue its efforts to enable” Afghan security forces and is “exploring” the impact of the new provision on those efforts.

The Defense Department cannot purchase weapons from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-owned arms export agency, under a provision of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

NATO Divided Over Arms Control Panel

Oliver Meier

Continuing a long-standing stalemate, NATO foreign ministers at a Dec. 4-5 meeting in Brussels were not able to agree on a mandate for a new arms control committee, according to diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.

The main point of contention is the proposed duration of the new committee, which would include all 28 NATO countries, the diplomats said.

Participants in a NATO summit in Chicago last May had expressed a common interest in forming the panel, but could not agree on its overall mission. French officials insist that committee members work toward the achievement of a specific goal, namely, engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. In contrast, German officials have been pushing for a permanent committee that would allow its members to discuss a broader set of issues. (See ACT, June 2012.)

In the Deterrence and Defense Posture Review report issued on May 20, the allies had agreed to take on the task of “developing detailed proposals on and increasing mutual understanding of NATO’s and Russia’s non-strategic nuclear force postures in Europe.” At the Chicago summit, the allies had assigned the new committee the task of developing a package of confidence-building proposals on tactical nuclear weapons, which would then be discussed with Russia.

Continuing a long-standing stalemate, NATO foreign ministers at a Dec. 4-5 meeting in Brussels were not able to agree on a mandate for a new arms control committee, according to diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.

‘Cliff’ Bill Removes Arms Control Hurdle

Tom Z. Collina

A little-noticed section in the bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff” alters language in another recently enacted law that would have prevented the United States from reducing the size of its strategic arsenal. The Obama administration had objected to the original language, arguing that it represented an unconstitutional constraint on presidential authority.

The fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act had required the president to certify that Russia is “in compliance with its arms control obligations with the United States” before the United States reduces the number of its strategic delivery systems. The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) requires such reductions.

In the Jan. 2 statement that Obama issued as he signed the defense bill into law, he called the language “deeply problematic,” saying it would “impede the fulfillment of future U.S. obligations agreed to” in New START and “hinder the Executive [Branch]’s ability to determine an appropriate nuclear force structure.”

According to congressional aides, State Department staff raised concerns at the last minute about the language because the United States has been unable to certify that Russia is in compliance with some of its obligations under several arms control treaties, in particular, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. However, the State Department has certified that Moscow is in compliance with its strategic arms control commitments, such as the ones made in New START. (See ACT, September 2012.)

Obama signed the defense bill after congressional leaders agreed to include a fix in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which partially averted the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

That bill changes two words in the defense authorization act’s certification requirement. The president now must certify “whether” Russia is in compliance with its “strategic” arms control commitments, not “that” Russia is in compliance with all its arms control commitments.

A little-noticed section in the bill to avoid the “fiscal cliff” alters language in another recently enacted law that would have prevented the United States from reducing the size of its strategic arsenal. The Obama administration had objected to the original language, arguing that it represented an unconstitutional constraint on presidential authority.


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