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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
April 2013
Edition Date: 
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Cover Image: 

Study Sees Cyber Risk for U.S. Arsenal

Timothy Farnsworth

U.S. nuclear weapons systems may be vulnerable to highly sophisticated cyberattacks, and the Pentagon should take steps to ensure they could survive such a threat, a Defense Department advisory group said in a recent study.

The January study by a Defense Science Board (DSB) task force, which was made public at the end of February, also said the United States should continue to invest in its nuclear arsenal in order to deter a catastrophic cyberattack against its critical infrastructure by other countries.

The study, which was commissioned in 2011 by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn to study the resilience of Pentagon systems to cyberattacks and make recommendations to the defense secretary, said the department has not kept up with “cyber adversary tactics and capabilities” and therefore is “not prepared” to defend against a sophisticated cyberattack.

The threat is “serious, with potential consequences similar in some ways to nuclear threat of the Cold War,” the report said, adding that it will take years for the Pentagon to build an “effective response” to the threat.

Asked at a March 12 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about the study’s conclusions, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said he is “very concerned with the potential of a cyber-related attack on our nuclear command and control and on the weapons systems themselves.” STRATCOM needs to undertake a comprehensive review, he said.

Kehler said there have been ongoing reviews of U.S. nuclear command and control systems and nuclear weapons platforms and that he is confident that they “do not have a significant vulnerability” that would prevent STRATCOM from performing its mission or “disconnect the president from the [nuclear] forces.” Kehler also said that many of the nuclear command and control systems are “point-to-point hardwired” and not connected to the larger network, making it very difficult for an adversary to penetrate them.

In his written testimony for the same hearing, Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of U.S. Cyber Command, addressed another aspect of the vulnerability question, saying he is confident that foreign leaders believe that a major cyberattack on the United States would be traced back to them and would “elicit a prompt and proportionate response.”

Alexander said he would not rule out the possibility “that some future regime or…actor could misjudge the impact and certainty of our resolve.” He said he had “some confidence” in Washington’s ability to “deter major state-on-state attacks in cyberspace” but that the United States is not deterring “low-level harassment of private and public sites, property, and data.”

According to the U.S. intelligence community’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” released March 12, there is a “remote chance” that the next two years will see a major cyberattack against U.S. critical infrastructure, producing “long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage.” The assessment went on to say that countries with advanced cyberattack capabilities, such as Russia and China, “are unlikely to launch such a devastating attack” outside a “military conflict or crisis.”

Nuclear Deterrence in Cyberspace

In its report, the DSB task force said the threat that the United States would respond by using offensive cyber-, conventional, and, as a last resort, nuclear weapons was the only way to ensure that adversaries refrain from launching sophisticated cyberattacks. The report recommended that the Defense Department invest in offensive cyber and conventional capabilities, including conventional prompt global strike capabilities, which utilize ballistic missiles that have conventional warheads; penetrating bombers; and submarines with long-range cruise missiles. That way, policymakers and commanders have a range of viable responses rather than being restricted to a “nuclear-only option,” the report said.

Some cyber experts say a nuclear response to a cyberattack would not be proportional and therefore would not meet one of the basic requirements for a response under international law of armed conflict. James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a March 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today that he believes that cyberdeterrence does not work, in part because of “the limited destructive capacity” of cyberweapons and the “absence of existential or serious harm from their use.”

With regard to the DSB task force’s recommendation, Lewis said that some people are “desperate to find some way to resuscitate” the debate over cyberdeterrence that took place in policy circles a few years ago, “including rattling the nuclear saber.”

U.S. Nuclear Policy

The 2010 “Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] Report,” which sets out the roles and missions of U.S. nuclear weapons, does not make any specific mention of the use of nuclear weapons to deter cyberattacks by other countries.

The NPR report says that “[t]he fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.”

In a March 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Barry Blechman, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, said that the DSB report’s recommendation on nuclear retaliation to cyberattack “flies in the face” of a decades-long trend toward “narrowing the role of nuclear weapons” in U.S. policy.

According to the NPR report, any state that used chemical or biological weapons to attack the United States or its allies would face “a devastating conventional military response.” Blechman said he saw no reason why the threat of U.S. retaliation with conventional weapons or cyberweapons would not be sufficient to deter cyberattacks.

In making its case for holding open the option of a nuclear response to a cyberattack, the DSB task force cited a passage in the NPR report saying that the United States “would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States and its allies and partners.” A catastrophic cyberattack would meet this threshold, the report said.

U.S. nuclear weapons systems may be vulnerable to highly sophisticated cyberattacks, and the Pentagon should take steps to ensure they could survive such a threat, a Defense Department advisory group said in a recent study.

Arms Trade Treaty Moves to UN Assembly

Daryl G. Kimball

UN member states hammered out a new, compromise arms trade treaty (ATT) text after two intense weeks of final negotiations in New York March 18-28, but Iran, North Korea, and Syria blocked its adoption on the final day of the conference, leading a group of more than 90 countries, including the United States, to move the treaty to the General Assembly for approval.

Diplomats from states supporting the treaty said they expect the treaty to receive overwhelming support from the assembly. Approval at the conference would have required consensus.

In comments to reporters during a conference call late March 28, Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and the head of the U.S. delegation to the conference, said his country “regrets that it was not possible today to reach consensus at this conference on an arms trade treaty.”

He said the treaty text is “meaningful” and “implementable” while “affirm[ing] the legitimacy of the international trade in conventional arms” and “not touch[ing] in any way upon the constitutional rights of American citizens” to possess firearms.

“We look forward” to the treaty being adopted by the UN General Assembly “in the very near future,” Countryman said.

Under discussion for more than six years, the treaty would, for the first time, establish common international standards that must be met before states authorize transfers of conventional weapons in eight major categories and exports of ammunition and weapons parts and components. The pact also requires regular, annual reporting on all arms transfers.

The treaty would require states to assess the potential for the transfer to be used to commit or facilitate “serious violations” of international humanitarian law and international human rights law or to commit or facilitate terrorism or organized crime. The states also must take into account the risk of serious acts of gender-based violence or acts of violence against women and children. If there is “an overriding risk of any of these negative consequences,” states would be required not to authorize the export.

The treaty also would prohibit transfers of arms or exports of ammunition or weapons parts and components if the state “has knowledge” that the transfer would be used in the commission of “genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians, or other war crimes.”

That prohibition, if in force today, would bar the ongoing supply of weapons and of parts and components to the Assad regime in Syria, according to several Western diplomats at the conference.

The treaty also requires that all states establish effective regulations on the export of ammunition and weapons parts and components. Advocates of this provision said such exports often allow conflicts to continue long after the original arms transfers have occurred. Several states including the United States had opposed the inclusion of ammunition in the treaty during the July 2012 negotiations on the pact. (See ACT, September 2012.)

Consensus Blocked

Building on the draft treaty text from last year’s unsuccessful July negotiating round, the president of the March conference, Peter Woolcott of Australia, choreographed the complex negotiations that produced three revised versions of the treaty text over the course of the two weeks.

On March 27, he presented his third and final version for approval. After 24 hours and further high-level lobbying among key capitals, Woolcott reconvened the conference with the hope of securing the adoption of the treaty. In a packed conference room, Woolcott asked if there were any clarifying statements before he proceeded to the adoption of the treaty text. The representatives from Iran, North Korea, and Syria asked to speak.

Mohammad Khazaee, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, said that “while the rights of arms-exporting states [are] well preserved in this text, the right of importing states to acquire and import arms for their security needs is subject to the discretionary judgment and subjective assessment of the exporting states.”

As a result, transfer of conventional weapons under this treaty would be “highly susceptible to politicization, manipulation, and discrimination,” Khazaee said.

The North Korean representative said the “draft is not well balanced. Some interests have been reflected more than others and some have been ignored.” He said North Korea would block consensus.

Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said that “our national concerns were not taken into consideration” in part because the treaty does not expressly prohibit arms transfers to subnational groups. He said the treaty “can’t be accepted by my country.”

Russia’s envoy also expressed his country’s displeasure that the treaty text did not explicitly prohibit arms transfers to subnational groups and have provisions barring re-export. He said he would take the treaty back to Moscow for further study.

The objections from these states were not surprising to many diplomats and observers given that Iran and North Korea are currently under UN arms embargoes, while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs weapons, ammunition, and spare parts from Russia and Iran to resist the two-year-long civil uprising in his country.

India, which had sought but failed to include a provision that would have prevented an ATT from applying “to contractual obligations under defense cooperation agreements,” also expressed strong objections to the text. India is one of the world’s largest arms purchasers.

Sujata Mehta, the head of the Indian delegation, said her country “cannot accept that the treaty be used as an instrument in the hands of exporting states to take unilateral force majeure measures against importing states-parties without consequences.”

To the General Assembly

With consensus agreement on the treaty blocked by three states, the Kenyan representative took the floor to read a joint statement endorsing the text on behalf of a group of treaty supporters that also included Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Kenyan delegate said that once the meeting closed, a letter would be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon requesting that he bring the treaty text to the General Assembly for adoption. As of midnight on March 28, 90 countries had joined the effort. The ATT resolution was to be introduced and voted on April 2.

Leaders of human rights and development organizations that have been campaigning for passage of an ATT for years hailed the outcome of the conference.

“We applaud the Obama administration for standing on the right side of history and joining with other countries to call for a vote on the treaty at the General Assembly,” said Raymond Offenheiser of Oxfam America in a March 28 statement. “The world must not rest until it is adopted,” he said.

If adopted by the General Assembly, the pact would be opened for signature in early June and would require the signature and ratification of at least 50 states to enter into force.

UN member states hammered out a new, compromise arms trade treaty (ATT) text after two intense weeks of final negotiations in New York March 18-28, but Iran, North Korea, and Syria blocked its adoption on the final day of the conference, leading a group of more than 90 countries, including the United States, to move the treaty to the General Assembly for approval.

Rethink Plans to Loosen U.S. Controls on Arms Exports

Brittany Benowitz and Barry Kellman

In an effort to promote exports, Obama administration officials have proposed that the Department of Commerce assume responsibility for reviewing licenses to export certain military equipment and services now regulated by the Department of State. The goal of the initiative, as described by the State Department, is to take advantage of the flexibility inherent in the Commerce Department’s system to ease the export of less-sensitive equipment.

This may be advisable for certain low-risk equipment, such as spare parts for nonlethal equipment. The administration, however, also is considering whether to relax controls for lethal equipment, such as small arms and related ammunition, that may not directly threaten a U.S. military advantage but may contribute to atrocities. This approach ill serves the United States because it weakens oversight of small arms that, in the hands of tyrants or terrorists, can threaten U.S. interests.

Last year, the United States authorized the export of small arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including to countries with extremely poor human right records and militants linked to al Qaeda, such as Nigeria. Exported weapons often change hands undetected; one in seven arms exports is destined for or end up with “unfavorable” users.[1] A 2003 study found that 49 percent of the 76 unfavorable determinations involved firearms and ammunition.[2]

In light of the human rights implications of weapons transfers, the administration should reconsider the proposal to shift licensing authority to the more lenient Commerce Department system for any items that could be used to commit atrocities or violate human rights. The State Department’s more-rigorous oversight is more likely to prevent the illicit transfer of small arms and other equipment and services to individuals and governments that would misuse them. Indeed, the administration should ensure that the State Department does not approve the export of such equipment and services to countries with a consistent track record of committing atrocities.

Proposed Reforms

The Obama administration has proposed wide-ranging reforms of the export control regime, the centerpiece of which is the movement of a large number of items from the list of equipment controlled by the State Department, the U.S. Munitions List, to the list controlled by the Commerce Department, the Commerce Control List. Although the administration must notify Congress of such proposed shifts in licensing authority, it does not need congressional permission to implement the proposed reforms.

Over the last few years, the administration has reviewed several categories of equipment and proposed regulations that would transfer control of export approval for certain equipment to the Commerce Department. It plans to finalize the review process this year.

A full review of these proposals is outside the scope of this article. Instead, the discussion below will focus on the statutory distinctions between the departments’ oversight regimes that cannot be changed by regulations, including those that make the State Department’s oversight regime inherently stronger.

Small Arms and Human Rights

Export control policy has a simply stated objective: protecting the United States from the security risks associated with technology transfer. Exports are to be encouraged, but some technologies could contribute to an adversary’s capability to threaten U.S. national security now or in the future. Much of U.S. export control policy focuses, therefore, on technologies for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; delivery systems for such weapons; and other specialized technologies, such as lasers, satellites, and cybersystems.

Exports of less-sophisticated military equipment, including semiautomatic and automatic weapons, are controlled for altogether different reasons. These small arms are plentiful and cannot seriously be considered sensitive technology. Illicit traffic in firearms and small weapons does not threaten a technological edge of the United States.

Such exports are controlled because a significant amount of violence that actually occurs, including against U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, is inflicted by small arms. By one estimate, 1,000 people are killed every day around the world by terrorists, insurgents, and criminal gangs using such weapons.[3] Thus, controlling small arms exports is uniquely concerned with diminishing the role of firearms and related small weapons in inflaming global conflict, tyranny, terrorism, and crime.

Various items and services that may not threaten a U.S. military advantage may be used to engage in atrocities, repression, or other forms of mass violence. For example, surveillance technology or training in security operations, both of which historically have been subject to State Department licensing requirements, have been used by oppressive governments to undermine calls for democratic reforms. Export by the United States of such sensitive equipment to oppressive regimes can inflame anti-U.S. sentiment. As the Department of Defense stated in the 2010 “Quadrennial Defense Review Report,” well-trained and -equipped defense forces that are not accountable to the rule of law can be “counterproductive” to U.S. interests.[4] Yet, administration officials have already relaxed restrictions on certain military training and considered easing restrictions on exports of some small arms, including semiautomatic firearms and related munitions.

Protecting Human Rights

Congress has crafted an elaborate statutory regime to prevent the export of U.S. weapons that would threaten U.S. interests. That regime includes restrictions on the export of defense items and services to individuals engaged in human rights abuses. Items having “substantial military utility” are subject to special controls[5] by law, including registration requirements, rigorous licensing requirements, re-export restrictions, end-use monitoring, reporting requirements to Congress, and criminal penalties and disbarment from federal contracts for violators.

Administration officials have asserted authority to transfer jurisdiction over exports of military equipment, including items such as semiautomatic firearms that clearly have substantial military utility, to the Commerce Department. Such a transfer of jurisdiction would mean that the export of such items would no longer be subject to the special controls established for significant military equipment, thus creating a greater risk of illicit transfers.

Several questions warrant closer review: Will items that are placed under the authority of the Commerce Department still be subject to the national security and human rights provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, and if so, how will officials know which items are covered? Will the loss of special controls for the export of military equipment placed under the control of the Commerce Department undermine efforts to prevent arms trafficking? How can the U.S. government best ensure effective review of items once they have been exported? Does the Commerce Department have the requisite expertise and statutory authority to ensure effective detection and prosecution of violators?

At a minimum, the impacts of the proposed transfer of export control authority on the United States’ ability to suppress global traffic in atrocity-enabling arms must be thoroughly assessed, including the potential financial implications of hiring more Commerce Department oversight officials to deal with the increased workload. Yet, evidence of such careful assessment is scant. According to U.S. government auditors, “U.S. agencies have not fully assessed the potential impact that export control reform of control lists might pose for the resource needs of the range of compliance activities agencies undertake, as suggested by federal internal control standards and executive branch requirements.”[6] This question is especially important because some State Department enforcement officials are funded through registration fees collected from those engaged in exporting items regulated by that department. The shift of items to Commerce Department control could therefore lead to a reduction in fees used to fund existing enforcement activity.

In other words, the question that should be central to how the United States controls arms exports has not yet been officially answered. Transferring export control oversight over such articles and services from the State Department to the Commerce Department could jeopardize this system’s capacity to stanch the illicit trade in arms. Because the State Department is best positioned to lead U.S. policy against the global traffic in small arms, central authority to judge export applications for significant military equipment should remain with the State Department.

Human Rights and Arms Exports

The statutory regime governing the export of arms is closely linked with federal laws that regulate the provision of security assistance, including the export of defense articles, to foreign governments. The Foreign Assistance Act contains specific restrictions on the export of defense articles[7] to governments that support terrorism, violate internationally recognized human rights norms, or interfere with humanitarian operations.[8]

It is unclear whether these restrictions will apply to the export of items placed under Commerce Department control. The State Department maintains a list of defense articles as part of its export control process. In order to transfer licensing authority for these items to the Commerce Department, the Obama administration must remove these items from the State Department list. Once the transfer is complete, officials will face the difficult task of determining whether, for example, a semiautomatic rifle is a defense article for the purpose of the Foreign Assistance Act, given that it is no longer considered such for the purpose of the export regime. A large number of items may ultimately be placed under Commerce Department control, thus complicating the process for determining which statutory regime applies to which item.

Therefore, the administration’s expansive reading of its authority to transfer export control authority over certain items to the Commerce Department may undermine key human rights and national security provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act. At the least, the shift of export authority to the Commerce Department will create ambiguity concerning which items continue to be covered by that law. At worst, the shift would allow the export of significant military equipment without regard to the legal protections created to prevent such transfers to human rights violators.

Past experience suggests that Washington’s ability to predict which governments will remain in power and can be trusted to use U.S. weaponry solely for legitimate defense purposes is mixed at best. Countries that consistently receive poor marks for human rights practices from the State Department continue to receive significant arms exports. Friendly governments are subject to sudden changes. In light of such risks, it may be advisable to ensure that small arms that fuel regional instability, insurgencies, and human rights violations remain subject to the special controls of the State Department’s oversight regime.

The State Department is better situated to ensure that arms exports do not undermine respect for human rights. The bureau charged with enforcing relevant provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act is in the State Department. Other bureaus in the department have the requisite expertise to evaluate the potential impact of arms exports on the development or lack thereof of the rule of law in recipient countries. Absent a clear advantage to transferring control of exports of such inherently risky equipment to a department primarily charged with promoting business opportunities, such oversight responsibilities should remain at the State Department.

Detecting Dangerous Exports

The State Department’s oversight system entails a series of mechanisms designed to ensure oversight of the vast array of entities engaged in arms exports. U.S. arms manufacturers and exporters, as well as brokers who negotiate weapons transfers to or from U.S. entities, must be registered with the State Department and must provide substantial information on their activities. During export license review, attention is paid to “unfamiliar foreign parties, unusual routing, overseas destinations with a history of illicit activity or weak export/customs controls, commodities not known to be in the inventory of the host country’s armed forces, and other indicators of concern.”[9]

According to law enforcement officials, this registration and licensing process helps early identification of suspicious transactions and creates an evidentiary trail that has been critical to the denial of potentially dangerous arms exports and successful prosecutions of arms traffickers. For example, investigators uncovered efforts by a United Technologies subsidiary to help China build a new attack helicopter when the company made voluntary disclosures about the transactions, likely in an effort to prevent its disbarment from federal contracts for failure to report an improper transfer.[10]

This is not to say that State Department authority over arms exports operates flawlessly. For example, an exemption from State Department licensing reportedly contributed to the illicit transfer of armored vehicles to Iran.[11] Yet, the State Department’s oversight regime provides a much stronger base on which to make improvements than that offered by the Commerce Department’s inherently weaker system.

Preventing Illicit Retransfers

Preventing legally exported arms from finding their way to the illicit market and to use in grave crimes is a serious policy challenge. The Obama administration has strengthened tactics to detect and deter unauthorized retransfers and diversion of legally exported arms. This policy reflects support for the developing international norm that all countries should adopt policies to curtail arms trafficking. Unfortunately, the administration’s proposed changes in oversight could directly undermine this effort.

The foundation of a policy against arms trafficking is a tracking system that begins with export licensing and extends to verification of foreign recipients of the items exported to it. From this tracking system, the State Department prepares reports to Congress about U.S. participation in the international arms market. Such reports would no longer be statutorily required for arms over which the Commerce Department has export control authority.

Moreover, the Commerce Department does not necessarily have the same close relationship as the State Department with foreign law enforcers with whom U.S. officials cooperate in conducting postexport investigations. U.S. officials often cooperate with well-trained and well-equipped foreign law enforcers. These efforts all operate under agreements that enable civil and criminal investigations within their jurisdiction. Yet, the lack of proper laws and law enforcement training in foreign countries is a perpetual problem. To address it, the State Department offers technical and financial assistance in the areas of law enforcement, export control assistance, and stockpile management.[12]

To combat illicit arms trafficking, it makes sense that the department that has licensing authority over arms exports can knowledgeably and rapidly make inquiries about prospective applicants’ criminal activities. The critical functions of analyzing data and detecting criminal linkages with regard to arms exports must be as robust and focused as possible. Whether the existing export control system, with authority vested in the State Department, can be shifted to the Commerce Department without reducing its effectiveness for prosecuting weapons traffickers is a policy question that Congress must carefully assess.

Although the Commerce Department could draw on State Department expertise in these matters, the Commerce Department’s avowed focus is “to protect the domestic economy from the excessive drain of scarce materials and to reduce the serious inflationary impact of foreign demand” for certain goods and to “further significantly the foreign policy of the United States and to fulfill its international responsibilities.”[13] Protecting against diversion of sensitive arms technologies that could threaten vital U.S. interests—which is part of the Commerce Department’s current mission—calls for a different set of skills than preventing diversion of arms that stoke regional instability and human rights calamities. Small arms trafficking can generate a distinctive evidence trail, pointing not to premier U.S. laboratories from which sensitive information might have been stolen but to criminals that are involved in the illicit trafficking of drugs, money, art, and human beings.

Preventing such international trafficking crimes is a core State Department responsibility. Therefore, transferring arms export control authority over high-risk equipment away from the department with expertise in monitoring broader trafficking networks could allow arms to flow undetected into the international market and more easily reach governments and individuals with ties to terrorism or human rights abuses.

Prosecuting Arms Traffickers

One of the biggest untold stories in global peace and security in the past few years has been the successful prosecution of international arms traffickers. Viktor Bout and Monzer al Kassar are only two of the more high-profile lords of war to find their bloody careers ending in federal prison. Significantly, many of these recent prosecutions of arms traffickers have included charges for violations of the State Department’s statutory regime, the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which criminalizes the unlicensed import or export of defense articles.[14]

Bringing a criminal prosecution against a weapons trafficker under the AECA offers some important advantages. The prosecutor must demonstrate only “that the defendant voluntarily and intentionally violated a known legal duty not to export the proscribed articles.”[15] An act is illegal if it is committed with the knowledge that it was prohibited by law and with the purpose of disobeying or disregarding the law.[16]

The government is not required to prove that the defendant had specific knowledge of the licensing requirements under the AECA, nor must prosecutors establish a specific intent to affect world peace and the security and foreign policy of the United States because “the illegal exportation of arms could well have consequences far beyond what the defendant contemplated or understood.”[17]

If export control authority over arms is transferred to the Commerce Department, then criminal prosecutions of traffickers will have to proceed under the regulations that authorize that department to oversee exports. It remains unclear whether the Commerce Department’s regulatory regime reaches the middlemen that broker these illegal transactions.

The AECA, which currently authorizes the State Department to regulate arms exports, was amended to specifically address the problem of weapons brokers,[18] who play a substantial role in facilitating and stoking the global market. Reaching their activities has been an important policy priority and has led to successful prosecutions.[19]

There is no comparable extension of authority over brokers under Commerce Department regulations. There is broader language that extends criminal liability to anyone who “aids or abets in the commission of a violation.”[20] The recent expansion of the Commerce Department’s regulatory authority to specifically impose responsibility on corporations or other legal entities that enable or assist in export control violations may help reduce this problem.[21]

More broadly, it is imperative that prosecution of illicit arms traffickers not be weakened by the proposed transfer of export control authority. Although President Barack Obama’s objective of simplifying the licensing process is laudable, it is far more important to ensure that the United States can effectively prosecute the agents and colleagues of arms traffickers who violate the country’s export control laws.

The Solution

In light of these concerns about the Commerce Department’s authority and expertise to oversee the export of arms, no equipment or service with substantial military utility should be made subject to that department’s control. The administration could still transfer to the Commerce Department control of the export of a great deal of equipment that does not contribute to human rights atrocities.

The administration should review its criteria for assessing the risk associated with arms exports that may have deleterious effects on international stability and human rights. Any reforms needed to expedite the licensing process should be accomplished through amendments to State Department regulations. The administration should conduct a high-level review of criteria used to determine whether a country has engaged in a consistent pattern of human rights abuses and therefore is ineligible to receive defense articles under existing law.

Before placing the export of any items under Commerce Department control, the administration should assess how transferring control of arms exports will affect the efficacy of law enforcement. The Commerce Department should not have export authority over any significant military equipment unless the department’s statutory authority is reauthorized and expanded to include brokers and to ensure that relevant provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act continue to apply to exports of military equipment that is under the department’s control.

Conclusion

Illicit traffic in arms undermines regional stability, accelerates rampant human rights violations, and inflames global violence. The United States is dedicated to combating illegal arms trafficking and to prosecuting offenders to the fullest reach of its jurisdiction. It is imperative to determine whether the Obama administration’s plan to transfer authority over exports of low-sensitivity but potentially high-risk military equipment from the State Department to the Commerce Department will help or hinder U.S. efforts to combat illicit arms trafficking.

In the end, arms export licensing decisions should be assigned to officials with the greatest expertise and strongest authority for detecting and analyzing information on suspicious arms exports, for investigating and deterring unauthorized retransfers, and for enabling effective prosecution of apprehended traffickers. No proposal for export control reform should replace a statutory regime specifically designed for this purpose with a regulatory regime that does not contain the same oversight provisions. Congress should carefully review the proposed transfer to the Commerce Department of authority over exports of significant military equipment and services.

 


Brittany Benowitz is chief counsel of the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights. She previously served as defense adviser to Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). Barry Kellman is a professor of international law and director of the International Weapons Control Center at the DePaul University College of Law. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

 

 


 

ENDNOTES

1. Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Defense Trade: Arms Export Control System in the Post-9/11 Environment,” GAO-05-234, February 2005, p. 45.

2. Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Department of State, “End-Use Monitoring of Defense Articles and Defense Services: Commercial Exports,” n.d., p. 2, http://pmddtc.state.gov/reports/documents/End_Use_FY2003.pdf.

3. “UN Fails to Reach Agreement on Global Arms Treaty” Associated Press, July 27, 2012 (quoting British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg).

4. Department of Defense, “Quadrennial Defense Review Report,” February 2011, p. 74.

5. U.S. Code 22 (1996), § 2794(9)(A).

6. GAO, “Export Controls: U.S. Agencies Need to Assess Control List Reform’s Impact on Compliance Activities,” GAO-12-613, April 2012, p. 24.

7. See, for example, U.S. Code 22 (1961), § 2304.

8. American Bar Association Center for Human Rights, “White Paper on Proposals to Relax Export Controls for Significant Military Equipment,” January 17, 2013, p. 8, http://www.americanbar.org/groups/human_rights.html.

9. Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Department of State, “End-Use Monitoring of Defense Articles and Defense Services: Commercial Exports FY 2009,” n.d., p. 3, http://pmddtc.state.gov/reports/documents/End_Use_FY2009%282%29.pdf. See generally GAO, “Export Controls: Proposed Reforms Create Opportunities to Address Enforcement Challenges,” GAO-12-246, March 2012.

10. Office of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, “United Technologies Subsidiary Pleads Guilty to Criminal Charges for Helping China Develop New Attack Helicopter,” June 28, 2012, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/June/12-nsd-824.html.

11. GAO, “Defense Trade: Lessons to Be Learned From the Country Export Exemption,” GAO-02-63, March 2002, p. 21.

12. See generally Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Department of State, “Background Paper: The U.S. Approach to Combating the Spread of Small Arms,” June 2001.

13. Code of Federal Regulations, title 15, sec. 770.1(a)(1)-(2), cited in United States v. Geissler, 731 F. Supp. 93, 94 (E.D.N.Y. 1990).

14. U.S. Code 22 (1976) § 2778. The Arms Export Control Act provides that “no defense articles or defense services designated by the President under subsection (a)(1) of this section may be exported or imported without a license for such export or import, issued in accordance with this chapter and regulations issued under this chapter.”

15. United States v. Murphy, 852 F.2d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 1988).

16. Ibid.

17. United States v. Carter, 550 F. Supp. 2d 148, 151-152 (Maine 2008).

18. Brokering activities are defined as “the financing, transportation, freight forwarding, or taking of any other action that facilitates the manufacture, export, or import of a defense article or defense service.” Arms Export Control Act, § 2778(b)(1)(A)(ii)(II).

19. See, for example, United States v. Nadirashvili, 655 F.3d 114 (2d Cir. 2011).

20. U.S. prosecutors have other potential avenues to prosecute international weapons brokers, including the “aiding and abetting” statute. See U.S. Code 18 (1948), § 2. See generally Adam Harris Kurland, “To ‘Aid, Abet, Counsel, Command, Induce, or Procure the Commission of an Offense’: A Critique of Federal Aiding and Abetting Principles,” South Carolina Law Review, Vol. 57, No. 85 (2005).

21. Export Administration Renewal Act of 2011, H.R. 2122, 112th Cong., 1st sess., § 101(a) (amendment to the Export Administration Act appendix at U.S. Code 50 [1979], App. 2410).

The Obama administration is planning to shift licensing authority for certain military exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department. This misguided plan could weaken oversight of small arms that, in the hands of tyrants or terrorists, can threaten U.S. interests.

The Global Partnership on WMD: A Work in Progress

Alan Heyes

The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction has recorded an impressive array of achievements since its inception at the 2002 summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries. In 2011, in Deauville, France, G-8 leaders agreed to extend the mandate of the Global Partnership for an indeterminate time but with a specific focus on reducing the global threat from nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological weapons materials and expertise.

In 2012, under the chairmanship of the United States, the partnership took important steps to maintain the momentum of the initiative.[1] Nevertheless, this multilateral undertaking faces a number of challenges as it moves from a program largely focused on Russia to one with a global reach at a time when funding for threat reduction is declining and some partner countries still see a need to continue to support work in Russia.

There is a range of views among partnership countries on the approach that the group should take in the next decade. The description below of these views draws on interviews with senior officials during a recent evaluation of the program. According to the officials, two of the top priorities should be development of a portfolio of concrete projects that existing and potential new partners see value in supporting and continuation of efforts to convince existing and potential new partners of the benefits of participation. The partnership’s handling of these issues will be a crucial element of the United Kingdom’s 2013 chairmanship.

Background

The September 11 terrorist attacks significantly exacerbated international concerns over the vulnerability of nuclear, biological, chemical, and radiological materials and expertise and the potential for their acquisition by terrorist groups seeking to launch mass-casualty attacks. At the 2002 G-8 summit at Kananaskis, Canada, the group’s leaders launched the Global Partnership, a 10-year initiative to address the threat posed by these materials and associated know-how.[2] Following the summit, more than 20 countries and the European Union[3] agreed to pledge some $20 billion to a 10-year effort to address the security and environmental threats these largely Cold War materials presented, with half of this funding coming from the United States. The initial focus of the program was the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons stocks and the dismantlement of 192 decommissioned nuclear submarines and their associated nuclear materials. The program also included substantial projects related to the disposal of fissile materials and the sustainable employment of former weapons scientists.

Although the policy framework to which the partnership members agreed at Kananaskis embraced a very broad range of activities, including nuclear disarmament, chemical weapons destruction, nuclear safety, and security of nuclear and radiological materials, it ended up focused on a fairly narrow set of objectives, with projects located in Russia and addressing specific Russian priorities. Very significant progress has been made in these areas, with the 192 decommissioned submarines dismantled and almost all of Russia’s 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons stocks expected to be destroyed in the next few years. The efforts of partnership countries also enhanced the security and safety of large quantities of nuclear and radiological material across the former Soviet Union.

A number of partnership countries also successfully provided funding and technical assistance to former Soviet countries for the retraining of roughly 90,000 former weapons scientists and the development of new business opportunities in communities where weapons production facilities formerly were the main employer. These are no mean achievements, given the very poor economic climate that existed in these communities by 2002 following the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade earlier.

Nevertheless, a 2011 evaluation of the Global Partnership led by the author argued that it had focused excessively on projects in Russia that were of marginal relevance to the most pressing security and proliferation concerns, which were global in scope.[4] A number of countries, particularly the United States, carried out a wide range of threat reduction projects in regions other than the former Soviet Union, but much of the funding available to the partnership went to projects in Russia.

After 10 years of pursuing a successful portfolio of projects focused largely but not exclusively on the former Soviet Union and spending around $22 billion,[5] the Global Partnership now is very much in a transitional phase. Its work in Russia and the other former Soviet states is seen as nearly completed by most partners, and there is strong desire by the current members of the partnership to use its framework to serve as a catalyst for encouraging others to support specific projects outside Russia and thus leverage further resources for global threat reduction.

In the partnership’s first decade, its efforts focused on a comparatively small number of large, high-cost projects that have been relatively easy to evaluate and have operated within a set legal and cultural structure. The next phase will involve a much larger portfolio of smaller, lower-cost projects, characterized in part by a wider range of legal and cultural frameworks. This transition represents a major challenge and will require an effective coordination mechanism. Many partner countries do not have the program management structure or technical expertise to support projects directly and therefore will need to piggyback on larger programs led by others. This approach was a very successful feature of a number of nuclear and chemical weapons destruction projects in Russia. The lessons learned in their management should prove invaluable in the next stage of the partnership’s work globally.

A number of countries that share a border with Russia, such as Norway and Sweden, still intend to continue supporting nuclear projects there for political and environmental reasons while supporting work further afield too. Global Partnership members certainly recognize the importance of working closely together to coordinate efforts to address regional threats from nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological materials. Because many partnership countries did not have the experience of implementing projects in the former Soviet Union, they might not have the necessary confidence to consider operating in a truly global context, even in partnership with other like-minded countries.

Officials involved with the partnership said they have seen some major achievements since 2002, particularly with regard to submarine dismantlement and chemical weapons destruction in Russia.[6] Most countries want to retain the partnership’s framework for wider threat reduction work for the coming decade. In spite of numerous rounds of meetings last year, however, the partner countries have yet to decide the precise nature of that work and the best way to coordinate its various elements.

Although the partnership remains an excellent forum for sharing lessons learned and coordinating and encouraging collaboration among the member countries, many of its projects have taken time to implement because of the need to reach agreement on the technical and legal aspects with the host country government, various state agencies, and contractors. Many threat reduction projects are complex and require careful construction to ensure their successful completion and their sustained success. Funding constraints for threat reduction work over the next few years underscore the importance of completing the analysis of key priorities for the post-2012 work program.

Post-2012 Opportunities

All the officials interviewed for this article said they believe that the Global Partnership plays a very positive role in enhancing coordination among its members on threat reduction activities. Many felt that the very fact that nonproliferation issues are addressed within several established international frameworks makes the partnership relevant as a forum to enhance coordination and collaboration among partnership countries and between the countries and international organizations.

A number of officials commented that the partnership could help prepare new UN Security Council resolutions in this area. They said they valued the 2012 decision to involve all partnership countries in all discussions rather than holding only one meeting a year in which all countries participated. Most interviewees said that it takes a considerable amount of time to implement and establish new projects and programs and that it was unrealistic to expect a rapid transition to a fully fledged and detailed program of global activities.

Because the partnership is an international group that makes decisions by consensus, it takes time to reconcile different approaches to threat reduction and different views on priorities. Some countries geographically close to Russia, such as Norway and Sweden, take the view that they will need to continue assisting Russia with its nuclear projects in northwestern Russia, while other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have now ended their substantial program of work there.

As one senior official from a G-8 country commented, in purist terms, there are no partnership projects. National and international organizations lead the projects, which are declared to the partnership members and so, to a degree, are coordinated within the partnership framework. The partnership tries to match these projects with funders and, where appropriate, technical expertise.

A few officials felt that the partnership was still trying to find a role for itself at the end of its first decade. Although they were able to articulate its value as a coordinating body, they expressed concern about how it could be made attractive to a wider membership without a clear vision of the benefits, especially as many countries already participate in key international threat reduction organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

One official even said the partnership was in a bit of an identity crisis and was “in danger of becoming just an advocacy group rather than a coordination body.” Another official questioned the value of creating new subgroups[7] aiming to address a number of threat reduction issues “when they are already in the remit of and suitably covered by well-established international bodies.” Although these might be seen as isolated comments from a few individuals, they do indicate the need to do a better job of communicating the undoubted, considerable benefits of the partnership and the challenges it faces. Yet, a number officials from international organizations welcomed a closer working relationship with the partnership.

Although strongly supporting a global approach, many emphasized that the limited resources available placed greater importance on the coordinating role of the partnership. A third official felt that it would prove difficult to pledge specific amounts of money for the next 10 years as Canada and the United States had done and as many of the partnership countries had done for the first decade, rather than making contributions on a voluntary or case-by-case basis. He said that having unilateral financial commitments could be counterproductive if the partnership wanted to attract additional partners, as some potential members might be deterred from joining if they thought they had to pledge specific amounts. A fourth official—who, like the others, is from a G-8 country—said the current stringent economic circumstances make it difficult for some partner countries to share additional resources with international organizations.

A good example here is the voluntary contributions being made to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund by a number of partner countries on top of their annual assessed contributions to the IAEA budget. Although most interviewees said the partnership should not be constrained in terms of the location of its activities, a few thought it should consider establishing some boundaries for its work, given the constraints on funding. Although a number of officials emphasized the importance of further clarifying the benefits of participation, one interviewee summed up the comments of many by highlighting the importance of having a “clear, coherent development plan.”

A few interviewees expressed disappointment that the partnership had not attracted more new members over the past few years, but most recognized that this takes time and that increased efforts had been made in 2012 under U.S. leadership. The U.S. and Canadian efforts made in 2012 are likely to lead to a number of new members, such as Mexico, participating in future projects.

A few interviewees recognized that it will be a complicated and time-consuming task to convince countries with more pressing social, economic, and environmental problems to participate, especially when they have limited resources to do so and see enhancing global security as being of little relevance to their current and long-term interests. Some officials responsible for implementing threat reduction programs said the partnership did not influence their own country’s work at all but that it was useful to find out what other countries were doing and, in particular, were planning to do in order to avoid duplication of effort.

This sentiment neatly reinforces the value of the partnership as an important coordinating framework. Indeed, most of those interviewed clearly value the partnership as a coordinating body because many of these officials also participate in various roles associated with international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the IAEA, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the World Health Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

These comments highlight the dichotomy in which the partnership finds itself at present. Although most participants believe it has been and is a very successful multilateral initiative bringing much-needed coordination to threat reduction, the road map for using the framework to address global threats has yet to be fully developed and implemented. Progress in involving new partners has been disappointing to some participating governments despite increased effort during the last year.

Despite the impatience of some, it takes a good deal of time to establish a robust and sustaining new framework for threat reduction work, especially one that has a global reach and is trying to move away from a 10-year focus on Russia. It should not be forgotten that some partner countries took three to four years to establish their programs for projects in Russia. Convincing new members of the benefits of joining takes time, especially when a fully formed project portfolio has yet to be realized and the potential new partners already are members of many of the international organizations that work on threat reduction.

This year, the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to build on the comprehensive discussion and analysis conducted by the United States in 2012 to oversee the establishment of new subgroups on chemical security and nuclear and radiological materials security. These subgroups are vital parts of the new partnership framework because they will be used to help identify project priorities and then oversee implementation of projects on the ground.

The United Kingdom must continue to communicate effectively the agreed objectives of the partnership and the benefits and achievements of its threat reduction work. It must ensure that the partnership takes advantage of opportunities to work productively with the 1540 Committee, a UN body established to assist states in implementing Security Council Resolution 1540 regarding the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).[8]

As a key part of its strategy for its chairmanship, British officials said they aimed to use the partnership to complete the analysis of priorities and match available financial and technical resources to projects that can be implemented on the ground. A number of officials emphasized the importance of the partnership in identifying concrete projects in which their countries could participate so as to make a visible statement of the new direction of the partnership. Some of these projects may be collaborative projects involving several partners, while others may require only technical assistance or funding from one partner.

The British officials indicated that the United Kingdom will follow the U.S. example of involving all partnership countries in all discussions and will continue work designed to demonstrate to potential new partners the value of their participation. A good example would be raising awareness of the importance of a robust nuclear security regime in states considering new nuclear power generation. Partner countries have a significant expertise in nuclear security; promoting best practices though future partnership training and education programs is an activity that would fit very comfortably under the partnership’s new mandate. The growing number of nuclear security training and education centers being established around the world offer considerable potential for use by the partnership to promote its expertise on nuclear security.[9]

A few partnership countries, such as the United States and Canada, as well as the European Union, which is member of the partnership in its own right, already have sizable threat reduction programs that have been established unilaterally and were working globally well before 2002. The big challenges for the partnership as it enters its second decade will be to demonstrate that its projects can strengthen the security of WMD materials and associated expertise, improve the coordination of these separate programs, and leverage further resources for threat reduction by catalyzing support for specific partnership projects with additional funding and expertise from partners who do not maintain individual programs. Maintaining the momentum created in 2012 will require considerable effort directed at persuading all existing partners to continue to support projects to meet agreed priorities and persuading new partners to join and contribute funding and technical expertise.

Conclusion

The interviews indicate a strong consensus among officials involved in implementing the Global Partnership that it is a hugely important coordinating framework that will remain essential as it moves to address global threats under the budget constraints facing all partners. The concerns about funding expressed by some, although understandable, do not fully take into account the change in nature and scope of future projects or the possibility that requiring unilateral financial commitments could put off new members.

The combination of a pragmatic approach, such as the one to which the partners agreed in Deauville, and a portfolio of high-quality, well-considered projects with clear objectives is much more likely to attract concrete support over the long term. Many projects are likely to have a strong training and educational focus and to be less costly than the multimillion-dollar projects that characterized the earlier work in Russia on submarine dismantlement and chemical weapons destruction. Many projects, including those supporting 1540 Committee priorities, will require access to expertise as much as direct funding. In 2012 the partnership made good progress in terms of expanding its pool of expertise by establishing closer ties with international threat reduction organizations and improving its internal coordination. No one doubts there is still a great deal to do, but the commitment of G-8 leaders to maintaining the partnership provides some confidence that the next decade should see continued effective coordination of global threat reduction work.

The key issue that remains to be addressed this year is identifying a new portfolio of projects, with the partnership acting as a catalyst for encouraging existing partnership countries and potential new ones to support specific projects and thus leverage further resources for global threat reduction. This is a major challenge that can be met, given the decision G-8 leaders already have made to extend the partnership.

 


Alan Heyes, a specialist in nuclear security issues, is a senior visiting research fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Until the end of September 2008, he was a program director for the United Kingdom’s Global Threat Reduction Programme, managing projects in the former Soviet Union dealing with nuclear nonproliferation, security, and safety.

 

 


 

ENDNOTES

1. Kelsey Davenport, “Global Partnership Revamped in 2012,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2013.

2. Government of Canada, “Statement by G8 Leaders,” December 3, 2008, http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/g8/summit-sommet/2002/global_partnership-partenariat_mondial.aspx?lang=eng.

3. Countries and organizations that have contributed funding to Global Partnership projects since 2002 are Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The European Union and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, have also contributed funding to partnership projects. The EU is a partner of the Global Partnership in its own right as a member of the Group of Eight. The EU’s substantial threat reduction programs form part of the “Instrument of Stability.” See European Parliament and European Council, Regulation No. 1717/2006 establishing the Instrument of Stability, Official Journal of the European Union, L 327/1, November 24, 2006. The EU also has supported a wide range of threat reduction work through a number of separate council actions, notably with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). See IAEA and the EU, “IAEA-EU Joint Action: Partnership in Improving Nuclear Security,” December 2011, http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/NuclearSecurity/nseu1211.pdf. For a full list of the partnership projects funded by each member country, see Global Partnership Working Group, “Consolidated Report Data 2011: Annex,” n.d., http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/183039.pdf.

4. Alan Heyes, Wyn Q. Bowen, and Hugh Chalmers, “The Global Partnership Against WMD: Success and Shortcomings of G8 Threat Reduction Since 9/11,” Whitehall Paper, No. 76 (2011).

5. “Controlling Proliferation: An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman,” Arms Control Today, May 2012.

6. The research for this article included interviews with some 30 officials from governments and international organizations involved with the Global Partnership who agreed to provide their comments on the basis of anonymity.

7. The Global Partnership is establishing a number of subgroups to help improve coordination and establish new projects. These include subgroups on biosecurity, nuclear training and education centers, chemical security, and nuclear and radiological security. The biosecurity subgroup has already identified two important biosecurity projects, which are expected to attract funding from a number of partnership countries.

8. For the text of the resolution, see Security Council, S/RES/1540, April 28, 2004. For information on the 1540 Committee, see http://www.un.org/en/sc/1540/.

9. Alan Heyes, “An Assessment of the Nuclear Security Centres of Excellence,” Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief, May 2012, http://www.stanleyfoundation.org/publications/pab/AlanHeyesPAB512.pdf.

As the global coalition against weapons of mass destruction enters its second decade, it faces a number of challenges. But recent steps to shift its focus to smaller projects outside the former Soviet Union and to bolster its efforts to recruit new members have positioned it well to meet those challenges.

Time to Move Forward on the Test Ban Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

A ban on nuclear testing has long been and continues to be a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy. Four years ago on April 5, President Barack Obama said in Prague, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

Obama has consistently expressed support for U.S. reconsideration and ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which prohibits all nuclear test explosions anywhere.

Unfortunately, the administration has not yet launched the kind of effort necessary to achieve this long-sought and still vital nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation objective. Now is the time for the president to begin that effort.

U.S. ratification is essential to close the door on nuclear testing. Action by Washington would likely trigger reconsideration and ratification of the treaty by China, India, and Pakistan, which also must ratify the CTBT before the treaty can formally enter into force.

Gaining the necessary 67 Senate votes in support of ratification of the CTBT remains difficult, but is within reach. “As we look towards ratification of this treaty,” acting U.S. Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said in a March 20 speech, “we acknowledge that the process will not be easy.” Nothing in Washington ever is.

But since the Senate’s brief debate on and rejection of the CTBT 13 years ago, the arguments raised by treaty opponents have been addressed; and a wide range of national security leaders, including former skeptics, now support the treaty.

On March 8, George Shultz, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, said, “Yes, I clearly think we should ratify that treaty. A senator might have been right to vote against it when it was first put forward and right to vote for it now.”

The technical and strategic case for the CTBT is stronger than ever. Today, the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program is more successful and better funded than ever before. Even with mandatory cutbacks in U.S. federal spending, the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories will continue to have approximately 10 percent more funding for maintaining and extending the service lives of existing U.S. nuclear warhead types than they did prior to 2009.

The combination of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System and U.S. national monitoring capabilities, along with tens of thousands of civilian seismic monitoring stations, ensures that no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of military utility would escape detection.

With the CTBT in force, established nuclear-weapon states, including China, would not be able to proof-test new nuclear warhead designs; newer nuclear-armed nations, including North Korea, would find it far more difficult to build more-advanced warhead types; and emerging nuclear states, such as Iran, would encounter greater obstacles in fielding a reliable arsenal. With the option of short-notice, on-site inspections, states could better detect and deter testing.

Last year, Siegfried Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, underscored that “it is critical to erect as many barriers as possible to the resumption of testing. Ratification of the CTBT and its entry into force is the most important such barrier.”

The latest North Korean nuclear test explosion makes it all the more important that the major nuclear-armed states, particularly the United States and China, reinforce the global taboo against testing by completing the ratification process themselves.

U.S. and Chinese ratification of the treaty also is an essential part of strengthening the credibility of their commitments in the action plan adopted at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, which calls for early entry into force of the CTBT. Delay and dithering will diminish Washington’s ability to forestall future nuclear arms competition, particularly in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Korean peninsula.

A closer, serious look by senators should make it clear that a global, verifiable test ban treaty has been and continues to be in the United States’ interest. But it will take presidential leadership and a high-level, sustained effort, like the campaign that led to Senate approval of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2010 and the effort to win approval for the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, to win the necessary support for the CTBT.

Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1963, President John Kennedy pressed hard for a test ban accord on the grounds that it would “prevent diffusion of nuclear weapons.” Today, U.S. leadership on the CTBT is still a vital way to head off proliferation risks and bolster international security in the years ahead. It is past time to move on the CTBT.

A ban on nuclear testing has long been and continues to be a key part of a comprehensive, effective U.S. nuclear risk reduction strategy. Four years ago on April 5, President Barack Obama said in Prague, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.”

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