Login/Logout

*
*  

"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
May 2013
Edition Date: 
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Cover Image: 

Books of Note

Confronting the Bomb: Pakistani and Indian Scientists Speak Out

Pervez Hoodbhoy, ed., Oxford University Press, 2013, 392 pp.

Alexandra Schmitt

The essays collected by Pervez Hoodbhoy in Confronting the Bomb delve into the challenges of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and power programs. Authors from India and Pakistan “reject nuclear patriotism” and cover a wide variety of topics, including histories of both countries’ programs and technical developments in safety standards, and provide recommendations for future policy. Hoodbhoy, who is a nuclear physicist and social activist, also wrote or co-wrote many chapters of the book. In his chapter on the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, he explores the concerns unique to Pakistan’s program: threats from outside the military, such as terrorists; threats from inside the military, such as fundamentalists; or a collaborative hostile effort between these internal and external forces. Emphasizing the unique dangers in Pakistan and its lack of control over extremist elements of the military, Hoodbhoy paints a worrying picture of nuclear weapons security in Pakistan. His bottom line is that, despite these concerns, there is no way for international powers to try to ensure the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; thus an inherently dangerous situation remains with no tenable solution in sight. Another chapter by Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian speculates on the future of a nuclear South Asia, concluding that “a continuing India-Pakistan arms race, episodic crises and the nuclear shadow will ensure that South Asia as a whole will remain unstable.” They predict that the nuclear struggle between India and Pakistan will last beyond 2060 and that power dynamics will remain in flux as China and the United States compete for strategic and economic influence in the region.

 


 

Phantom Menace or Looming Danger? A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats

Kathleen M. Vogel, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2013, 384 pp.

Serena Kelleher-Vergantini

The judgments produced in U.S. biological weapons assessments have a double component, Kathleen M. Vogel, a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University, says in this book. On one side, they are influenced by biology and biotechnology concepts, which she calls “technological frames.” On the other, they are influenced by “analytic practices,” which refer to the daily work life of analysts. In Vogel’s model, the combination of these frames and practices involves material and social factors. Material factors include pathogens, intelligence reports, databases, and equipment. An example of social factors is the way analysts interact and talk to one another. According to Vogel, current practices in analysis of biological threats have overemphasized technological factors at the expense of social ones, which can shape conclusions about threats. To stress the importance of social factors, Vogel cites the case of a biological weapons facility in the Soviet Union at which scientists had to create a new management and organizational structure to develop their most potent anthrax weapon because simply drawing on available biological materials and equipment was not sufficient. On the basis of her case studies, she makes the point that “social engineering” factors—analytic practices such as know-how, laboratory disciplines, and organizational management—are often forgotten in analyzing the production of biological weapons. The book suggests a new “strategic sociotechnical approach” for assessing biological threats, which takes into account social and technical issues.

 

Special Report: UN General Assembly Adopts Arms Trade Treaty In Overwhelming Vote

Jeff Abramson

UN member states on April 2 overwhelmingly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a pact that, for the first time, mandates a common set of global standards for trade in a wide range of conventional arms.

The treaty, which has its origins in efforts by civil society and Nobel laureate efforts in the 1990s and was the subject of a UN resolution in 2006, requires all states-parties to establish regulations governing the transfer of major conventional arms and small arms and light weapons, as well as the export of ammunition and weapons parts and components.

The General Assembly vote of 154-3, with 23 abstentions, came just days after a diplomatic conference failed to agree on a text. (See ACT, April 2013.) By the rules of that conference, which met at the United Nations during March 18-28, agreement required consensus among all participating states.

Arms trade experts and diplomats involved in the talks said they expect the treaty to tip the scales in favor of human rights and human security considerations when states consider arms sales in the future. As more states, sign, ratify, and implement the ATT, current loopholes that enable illicit and irresponsible arms sales will begin to close, the diplomats said.

The treaty “will make a difference over time in contributing to the humanitarian objectives that were the original motivation” for the negotiations, said Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, at a public forum at the Stimson Center in Washington on April 5. “It will make a difference in reducing the supply of weapons to the worst people in the world, to those who are fueling conflict in Africa and elsewhere.”

The treaty achieves “a balance between the interests of importing and exporting states,” said Countryman, who was the lead U.S. negotiator of the treaty. “Most importantly,” he said, it creates obligations for those countries, as well as for “transit states.”

Critical to the success of the treaty, say long-time arms trade observers, are the prompt entry into force of the pact, the decisions by states about how to implement and apply key provisions, and the way the treaty will affect the behavior of certain major weapons suppliers and buyers even if they do not immediately accede to it.

On the day of its adoption by the General Assembly, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called passage of the ATT a “victory for the world’s people” and a demonstration of “the great things that can be achieved when governments and civil society work together through the United Nations.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States was “pleased” that the General Assembly had approved “a strong, effective, and implementable” ATT that can “strengthen global security.”

The United States, which was among the 12 original sponsors of the General Assembly resolution to adopt the treaty, joined with Western arms exporters and other European countries, as well as most African, Latin, and Pacific states, in approving the treaty. The same three states that blocked consensus at the UN diplomatic conference on March 28—Iran, North Korea, and Syria—voted against the accord.

China, India, and Russia were among the abstentions. Some confusion about the final vote count remains because some states asked to change their vote after the official count was recorded. A UN official told Arms Control Today on April 21 that Angola indicated its desire to vote yes rather than abstain and Cape Verde wished to vote yes rather than be marked absent. Those changes would make the final vote 156-3-22.

Toward Entry Into Force

The treaty now will be opened for signature on June 3 and will enter into force 90 days after the 50th state deposits its instruments of ratification. Paul Beijer, Sweden’s ambassador to the treaty talks, said in an April 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today that, in his personal view, “[W]e should be able to reach fifty within a couple of years—three at most.”

The draft version of the treaty that emerged from the failed July 2012 UN conference and served as a starting point for this year’s conference would have required ratification by 65 states before entry into force. (See ACT, September 2012.) Many states and civil society advocates argued that the threshold for entry into force should be as low as 30 ratifications, as is the case for the Convention on Cluster Munitions. That treaty was opened for signature in December 2008 and reached 30 ratifications 15 months later. (See ACT, September 2010.) In his e-mail, Beijer said Sweden “insisted on a relatively high number” of ratifications so that the treaty’s principles would have “a certain standing—even without the great powers’ participation.” He said that a requirement of 50 ratifications “strikes a pretty reasonable balance.”

Although U.S. support for the final treaty text was important to its adoption by the UN General Assembly, the timeline for U.S. signature remains unclear. During a March 28 conference call with reporters, Countryman said the U.S. government would conduct a careful review, which “takes, even for a treaty simpler than this one, usually a few months.”

Signature, which requires action only by the president, would commit the United States not to act counter to the treaty’s object and purpose. That step would create pressure on other major arms supplier states, including Russia and China, to follow suit, observers say.

In statements about the treaty, U.S. officials have been careful to stress its consistency with current U.S. law and practice. Kerry said that “nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution.” In encouraging careful review of the treaty, Countryman, in his April 5 remarks, reiterated what he said was his personal belief that there is “no change in legislation or policy or procedures that the United States needs to make as a result of this treaty.”

Many U.S. civil society organizations welcomed the adoption of the treaty and encouraged quick action by President Barack Obama. The influential U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had not been active during ATT negotiations, added its support in an April 11 letter to Kerry. Bishop Richard Pates, chair of the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, urged the administration “to expedite a thorough review” of the pact so that Obama can sign it “in early June.”

Ratification, which would require the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, “is a separate decision and potentially a long way off,” Countryman said in his April 5 comments. He said a number of other important treaties “have been in the queue much longer than this one,” citing in particular the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Winning the two-thirds majority required for Senate approval will require changing the minds of a number of senators. Thirty-six senators, led by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), joined a nonbinding sense of Congress resolution that the president should not sign the ATT and the Senate should not approve it because the treaty “risks infringing on freedoms protected by the Second Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. The nonbinding resolution, introduced before treaty negotiations were completed, echoes claims about the treaty made by the National Rifle Association and Heritage Foundation that have been rejected by the Obama administration and the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would conduct the first review of the treaty should it be sent to the Senate, applauded the General Assembly vote in an April 3 statement. He promised “a vigorous and fair review” if the treaty were submitted to the Senate and commended the U.S. negotiating team for “crafting what appears to be a strong, effective and implementable treaty” that “applies only to international trade in arms and reaffirms the sovereign right of any State to regulate arms within its territory.”

Arming Syria, Subnational Groups

The ongoing conflict in Syria and issues of arming Syrian government forces and rebel groups served as a backdrop to the ATT negotiations.

Before the conference, the United Kingdom and France made clear that they would like to amend or remove the European Union’s embargo on arms exports to Syrian government and rebel forces in order to give EU countries the ability to arm rebel groups in a conflict during which tens of thousands of people have died.

Russia continues to defend the Syrian regime, although it joined an April 11 statement by the foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries declaring that “[t]he humanitarian situation in Syria is deplorable and continues to worsen,” and has worked to prevent the UN Security Council from adopting an arms embargo on the country. Russia, Syria, and a number of other countries called for the ATT to prohibit arms transfers to subnational armed groups.

Given the interest of states in retaining the option of arming resistance groups and the U.S. interest in providing arms to Taiwan despite China’s claim of sovereignty over the territory, it is not surprising that the ATT contains no provisions banning arms transfers to subnational groups.

Yet, the treaty does establish criteria for defining responsible arms trade. Article 6 requires a state not to authorize the transfer of conventional weapons or of their ammunition and parts and components if the transfer violates UN Security Council arms embargoes. That article also prohibits authorizations when the state has “the knowledge” that the arms 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 protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a Party.” Many states and experts read this article as prohibiting transfers to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (See ACT, April 2013.)

In Article 7, the treaty requires states to assess the potential that the arms exported would “contribute to or undermine peace and security” or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, acts of terrorism, or transnational organized crime. If an “overriding risk” of “negative consequences” remains after the state considers measures to mitigate the risk of these violations, the treaty requires that a state “shall not authorize the export.” The treaty does not provide guidance on determining what threshold the risks must meet to be considered “overriding.”

Article 7 also requires states to consider whether the weapons in these transfers would be used in serious acts of gender-based violence or violence against women and children. Separate articles call on states to take measures to prevent diversion of weapons, which had been a risk assessment criterion in earlier treaty drafts and was reformulated in the adopted text.

States indicated that the treaty’s criteria would be applied to decisions to arm Syrian opposition fighters or similar groups in other countries. Asked directly about the treaty’s impact on potential arms transfers to Syrian rebels, Countryman said April 5 that Articles 6 and 7 would “require a careful study by a national government on making that decision.”

Jo Adamson, the United Kingdom’s lead negotiator, said in an April 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today that the ATT “creates global standards, which will be applied nationally.” Her country analyzes arms export requests “case by case” and applies “a number of criteria to the decision-making process,” she said. The new treaty “will not change that but will build on that approach.”

Room for Improvement

Numerous states had called for a broader range of weapons and ammunition to be included in the treaty’s scope, more criteria to be included in arms transfer risk assessments, and an explicit requirement for public reporting. Instead, in many places, the ATT provides a baseline of required activities and “encourage[s]” states to do more, leading to the possibility that the encouraged activities would become treaty practice as states join and implement the accord, according to diplomats.

Under the ATT, states will be required to establish national control lists that “cover not less than” the so-called 7+1 formula, the seven categories of major offensive weapons under the UN Register of Conventional Arms plus small arms and light weapons, as that term is “used in relevant UN instruments.” That language was included because there are widely accepted descriptions of small arms and light weapons other than the one in the UN Register.

States also will be required to establish a national control system for the export of ammunition fired by those weapons and parts and components that enable their assembly. These definitions, although encompassing armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers, will not necessarily include military support or training vehicles or grenades that are thrown rather than being rocket propelled. In addition, some treaty provisions are not applied to ammunition and parts and components, such as those requiring reporting or measures to prevent diversion.

A group of governmental experts is scheduled to meet this year to review and possibly change the UN Register to explicitly include armed drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, within the convention. (See ACT, November 2010.) A U.S. State Department official said April 23 that the United States proposed such an expansion in the 2009 meeting of experts, where it was not adopted, and continues to support it now. Because the register will provide the baseline definition of the treaty’s major weapons, inclusion of armed drones in the register would in turn expand the ATT’s scope.

In his e-mail, Beijer, who acted as the facilitator on scope issues during the March conference, expressed optimism that states would implement “a higher standard than the 7+1 minimum.” He pointed to Article 5.3, under which states are “encouraged” to apply the treaty to “the broadest range of conventional arms.” He added that states developing new export control systems will want to use existing lists that already are broader than the 7+1 standard, rather than create entirely new ones. He cited as an example the lists coming from the Wassenaar Arrangement, a voluntary group of 41 countries that develops nationally implemented lists of munitions and dual-use goods. He also suggested the possibility that states simply would share updates at conferences of states-parties and then make changes on a national basis, rather than formal changes to treaty structures.

Dell Higgie, New Zealand’s lead negotiator and ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), also suggested that nonbinding measures would be available to keep the treaty up to date. In an April 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, she suggested that conferences of states-parties could pass resolutions calling for the parties to “act as though new weapons or technologies were indeed included.”

In an April 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Paul van den IJssel, the Dutch lead negotiator and the facilitator on record-keeping and reporting at the March conference, pointed to the conference of states-parties as important to further developing transparency under the ATT.

The ATT requires that states make an initial report to the treaty secretariat on measures to implement the treaty and annual reports of authorized or actual exports and imports on treaty-covered weapons, but not on transfers of ammunition or parts and components. According to the treaty, the secretariat is to make these reports available to the other parties.

The ATT makes no specific provision for public reporting. But in the April 15 e-mail, van den IJssel expressed his personal views that the treaty’s reporting requirement, in spite of its limitations, will still improve transparency because “many states do not report at all so far.” Van den IJsell, who is the Dutch ambassador to the CD, wrote that “there was too much resistance to making reporting explicitly public” during the treaty conference, but expressed “hope that over time the resistance against making reports public will diminish.” That has been the path of the UN Register, which does not require public reporting, but for which such reporting has become the norm.

The adopted treaty text provides another path for change by allowing for amendment by a three-quarters majority starting six years after the treaty enters into force. Earlier drafts allowed for amendment only by consensus. Nevertheless, Beijer and Higgie cautioned against the likelihood of the treaty improving through amendments, in part because of the paucity of examples of successful amendments to treaties.

Reconsidering Consensus

The last time a major arms control agreement failed to reach consensus in its drafting conference yet succeeded in garnering General Assembly approval was 1996, when the president of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) moved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the assembly for adoption. Since then, the requirement for consensus essentially has prevented the CD from even adopting an agenda. Some feared that application of consensus to the ATT negotiations, even though conducted outside the CD and its disarmament mandate, would lead to a similar stalemate. The success of the ATT in overcoming the inability to achieve consensus could provide a precedent for future UN-sponsored agreements, although some diplomats said they did not expect changes in the CD.

On March 28, near the end of the diplomatic conference, Mexico introduced a resolution to simply adopt the treaty “without a vote, in the understanding that there is no definition of what consensus is in the United Nations.” Although consensus often allows for a single state to withhold approval, Mexico has long insisted that consensus is not defined as unanimity. Mexico’s resolution immediately garnered the support of a small number of states, including Costa Rica and Japan, two of the seven original co-authors of the 2006 resolution that started the ATT process within the United Nations. Peter Woolcott of Australia, who chaired the March conference, cut off discussion of the resolution after Russia intervened; he ultimately declared that the existing support for the treaty did not constitute consensus.

The decision to move forward at that point without consensus marked an apparent shift in the position of the United States, which had demanded a consensus approach in 2009. Washington later took advantage of the requirement for consensus to be the first state, later joined by others, to prevent the adoption of the treaty text on the final day of the July 2012 ATT conference. (See ACT, September 2012.)

During the March 28 conference call, Countryman said championing the move to a vote showed no inconsistency with supporting consensus. Consensus will remain important to the United States in “defense of our interests,” he said, but added that the option of a vote in the General Assembly meant that “a strong treaty that has the overwhelming support of the world can’t, in the end, be blocked by a few who fundamentally disagree with the purpose of the treaty.”

In their e-mails, Higgie and van den IJssel, while agreeing that the ATT negotiations should not have been bound by strict consensus requirements, said that they did not expect the CD’s unanimity-based definition of consensus to change. Van den IJssel said consensus “has too many advocates on different sides of the aisle.”

Higgie echoed that sentiment, saying that “many states—and of a variety of backgrounds, not just the biggest guys—like the comfort of having in effect a ‘veto’ and I haven’t seen anything to suggest from the ATT [process] that this has changed, or will change.”

Daniel Prins, secretary-general of the March conference and chief of the conventional arms branch at the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, suggested that the ATT experience may strengthen the hands of majority-decision advocates. In an April 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said that if there is another case in which “a very small minority will use the consensus rule to block a broadly carried disarmament agreement, then it will only strengthen the position of those who say that future disarmament negotiations need to be held on the basis of majority decision making.”

China’s decision on whether to join the treaty could be telling for the future of consensus and impact of the ATT. In explaining its decision to abstain from the April 2 UN General Assembly vote on the ATT, China stressed the importance of not setting a precedent that undermines the consensus approach.

According to data released in March by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), China is—for the first time since the end of the Cold War—one of the top five major arms suppliers, replacing the United Kingdom on the list for such trade for the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. Beijing also is one of the top five arms importers.

China, along with Russia and India, was one of the major players in the arms trade that abstained in the April 2 vote on the ATT. According to the SIPRI data, Russia is one of the top five arms suppliers, and India is the largest arms importer. All other top-five arms suppliers—France, Germany, and the United States—and all other top-five arms importers—Pakistan, Singapore, and South Korea—voted for the accord. So too did emerging regional arms players Brazil and South Africa.

When asked whether they were concerned about the Chinese, Indian, and Russian abstentions, Adamson and Beijer recommended caution in drawing conclusions. Adamson wrote that “we should read very carefully what China, India and Russia each had to say in their final statements.” Arguing that the three countries “said that they would carefully study” the treaty text, she said she thought it was possible to have a discussion with all the abstainers about their objections.

“We very much hope that all countries will join the ATT,” she said, “and we should be inclusive in our future engagement.” She added, “The vote on the ATT has given us the potential to forge a new global community.”

What the Arms Trade Treaty Would Do

The Arms Trade Treaty requires all states-parties to adopt basic regulations and approval processes for the flow of weapons across international borders, establishes common international standards that must be met before arms exports are authorized, and requires annual reporting of imports and exports to a treaty secretariat. In particular, the treaty

    • requires that states “establish and maintain a national control system, including a national control list” and “designate competent national authorities in order to have an effective and transparent national control system regulating the transfer of conventional arms”;

    • prohibits arms transfer authorizations to states if the transfer would violate “obligations under measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular arms embargoes” or under other “relevant international obligations” or if the state “has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items 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 protected as such, or other war crimes”;

    • requires states to assess the potential that the arms exported would “contribute to or undermine peace and security” or could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, acts of terrorism, or transnational organized crime; to consider measures to mitigate the risk of these violations; and, if there still remains an “overriding risk” of “negative consequences,” to “not authorize the export”;

    • applies under Article 2(1) to all conventional arms within the seven categories of the UN Register of Conventional Arms (battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers) and small arms and light weapons;

    • requires that states “establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition/munitions fired, launched or delivered by” the conventional arms listed in Article 2(1) and “parts and components…that provide the capability to assemble” the conventional arms listed in that article;

    • requires each state to “take the appropriate measures, pursuant to its national laws, to regulate brokering taking place under its jurisdiction” of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1);

    • requires each state to “take measures to prevent…diversion” of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1);

    • requires each state to submit annually to the treaty secretariat a report of the preceding year’s “authorized or actual export and imports of conventional arms covered under Article 2(1)” and allows states to exclude “commercially sensitive or national security information”; and

  • enters into force 90 days after the 50th state ratifies the treaty.

Jeff Abramson, an independent arms trade analyst, is former director of the secretariat at Control Arms, an international coalition that pressed for a strong and comprehensive arms trade treaty during the negotiations. From 2009 to 2011, he was deputy director of the Arms Control Association.

UN member states on April 2 adopted the Arms Trade Treaty, a pact that, for the first time, mandates a common set of global standards for transfers of conventional arms. Now the focus turns to bringing the treaty into force.

North Korea Sets Conditions for Talks

Kelsey Davenport

North Korea spelled out its conditions for resuming negotiations over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but U.S. officials say that they are unacceptable and reiterated that Pyongyang must make clear its commitment to denuclearization in order to resume talks.

North Korea’s National Defence Commission said in an April 18 statement that before the talks can restart, the UN Security Council must lift sanctions placed on Pyongyang for its past nuclear and ballistic missile activities. Additionally, the United States must withdraw all “nuclear war means” from the vicinity of South Korea, and Washington must stop joint military exercises with Seoul because “dialogues and war games can never go together,” the defense commission said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Pyongyang’s terms “unacceptable” as a basis for negotiations. Kerry said on April 18 that he was prepared to look at the announcement as a “beginning gambit,” but that Washington needs to see “clear evidence” that Pyongyang is willing to live up to its international obligations to resume negotiations.

North Korea’s announcement of preconditions came after several weeks of escalating rhetoric from Pyongyang in response to joint military exercises by the United States and South Korea.

Multilateral negotiations between North Korea and China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, known as the six-party talks, began in 2003. In 2005 the parties reached an agreement under which Pyongyang said it would abandon and dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for possible future assistance on a peaceful nuclear energy program.

In April 2009, however, Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from the 2005 accord and the six-party talks. (See ACT, May 2009.) The announcement came in response to a UN Security Council statement on expanding sanctions against North Korea for attempting to launch a satellite. A prior council resolution banned North Korean satellite launches because satellite launch vehicles use technology directly applicable to ballistic missile development.

During a trip to South Korea last month, Kerry reiterated the U.S. position on negotiations, saying on April 12 that Pyongyang must be willing to make it clear that it will “move to denuclearization as part of the talks.”

The April 18 statement from the North Korean defense commission said that denuclearization of “the Korean Peninsula” remains “the unshakable will” of North Korea.

New Nuclear Strategy

In an April 16 interview, Leon Sigal, a Korea expert with the Social Science Research Council, said that North Korea will not return to negotiations under conditions that require it to abandon and dismantle its nuclear program. Referring to a March 31 statement on a new policy laid out by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Sigal said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons might now be more important to the regime.

Evidence of N. Korean Nuclear Test Grows

Monitoring stations in Japan and Russia detected radioactive gases that likely came from North Korea’s declared Feb. 12 nuclear test, the organization tasked with detecting nuclear explosions announced April 23.

Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), said in a speech in Geneva that the timing of the detection “coincides very well” with the Feb. 12 event.

The CTBTO maintains a worldwide monitoring system to detect nuclear explosions. Of the system’s 337 planned stations, 275 are currently operating. The system monitors seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, and radionuclide activity to detect nuclear explosions. The CTBTO detected seismic activity consistent with a nuclear explosion in the area of North Korea on Feb. 12. (See ACT, March 2013.) The detection of radioactive gases is the “ultimate proof” of a nuclear explosion, according to the organization.

A separate April 23 statement issued by the organization said that the CTBTO was in the process of “eliminating other possible sources” of nuclear activity that could have released the gases.

A monitoring station in Canada detected radioactive gases from North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006, two weeks after the explosion occurred. The monitoring system did not detect any gases after the second test in May 2009, but the organization said seismic activity was indicative of an explosion.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

    According to the statement, published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim is planning to emphasize building up North Korean nuclear forces along with economic development. Sigal said this could indicate that Pyongyang will spend less money maintaining its aging conventional forces and increase its reliance on nuclear deterrence for national security.

    Sigal said Pyongyang’s commitment to this new policy is unclear and should be tested in negotiations. He suggested, however, that North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons for economic aid or seek international recognition as a nuclear-weapon state. Pyongyang will retain its nuclear weapons as long as it perceives a “hostile policy” from the United States and South Korea, he said.

    Sigal suggested that the United States should rethink its position to focus negotiations on impeding the development and expansion of North Korea’s nuclear program. A process that prevents Pyongyang from testing further nuclear devices or ballistic missiles is more likely to be successful and would prevent North Korea’s nuclear arsenal from growing, he said.

    As an example of such a process, he cited the February 2012 Leap Day agreement between North Korea and the United States. Under that accord, North Korea agreed to refrain from nuclear and missile testing in exchange for aid from the United States. The deal broke down in April 2012 after Pyongyang attempted to launch a satellite. (See ACT, April 2012.)

    Since the Leap Day agreement fell through, Pyongyang successfully launched a satellite into orbit last December and tested a nuclear device Feb. 13. The UN Security Council unanimously expanded the sanctions against North Korea after each incident. (See ACT, January/February and March 2013.)

    Reactor Restart

    Recent actions by North Korea also appear to support its policy of expanding its nuclear arsenal. On April 2, Pyongyang announced its intention to restart the heavy-water reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility that produced the plutonium that North Korea later separated to use in nuclear weapons.

    The reactor was shut down in July 2007 and dismantled later that year as part of the 2005 action plan concluded during the six-party talks. The International Atomic Energy Agency verified the shutdown.

    An April 2 KCNA article quoted a spokesman for the North Korean General Department of Atomic Energy as saying that restarting the reactor would solve the critical tasks of “expanding and reinforcing nuclear forces” and resolve development constraints caused by the “strained electricity supply.”

    Mark Fitzpatrick, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in an April 17 e-mail that it is difficult to determine how long it may take North Korea to restart the reactor. The reactor could be “too old and defective” to operate or may require “extensive renovation” after six years of lying dormant, he said.

    Fitzpatrick, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said North Korea already could have begun preparing fresh fuel for the reactor. In that case, replacing the cooling system, which could take about three months, would determine the time frame for restarting operations, he said. North Korea blew up the original cooling tower in June 2008 as part of its commitment to dismantle its nuclear program.

    North Korea is estimated to possess enough separated plutonium for four to eight warheads. Pyongyang could have additional uranium-based warheads, but it is unclear how much weapons-grade uranium, if any, North Korea has produced.

    Also at the Yongbyon complex, North Korea is constructing a light-water reactor. Although such reactors are not typically used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, they can be configured for that purpose. (See ACT, October 2012.)

    Missile Threat

    North Korea’s ability to deliver its nuclear weapons using ballistic missiles remains unclear. U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast April 16 on NBC that the United States does not believe that North Korea has the capacity to fit a warhead onto a missile, although Washington must deal with “every contingency.”

    Obama’s remarks qualified a conclusion reached by the Defense Intelligence Agency in March, which said in a written report that it had “moderate confidence” that North Korea could miniaturize a warhead to fit onto a ballistic missile. This statement, made public April 11 by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, was mistakenly labeled as declassified, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during an April 18 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. Clapper said only that it is unknown if North Korea actually has the ability to “make a weapon that will work” for use on missiles.

    Although North Korea has tested and deployed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the status of its longer-range systems is unclear. Pyongyang’s Musudan missile, which is estimated to be able to carry a 500-kilogram warhead approximately 3,000 kilometers, has not been tested. Experts say the road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea unveiled in April 2012 are mock-ups, rather than actual missiles.

    North Korea announced its conditions for resuming negotiations over its nuclear program. U.S. officials called the terms unacceptable.

    Four New States Join BWC

    Alexandra Schmitt

    Four new states have acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) since January 2013, bringing the total number of states-parties to 170.

    Cameroon joined the treaty in January, followed by Nauru and Guyana in March and Malawi on April 2. All became states-parties to the treaty after depositing instruments of accession or ratification with the United States, which serves as a depository government along with Russia and the United Kingdom.

    Sixteen states, including Israel, have neither signed nor ratified the treaty; 10 states, including Egypt and Syria, have signed but not ratified the treaty. Many states have called for universal adherence to the treaty, notably during the 2011 BWC review conference. At that meeting, the parties called on all states to “promote universalization of the Convention through bilateral contacts with states not party” and “through regional and multilateral fora and activities.”

    In an April 8 press release, the U.S. State Department said the four new accessions “advance the BWC—one of the pillars of the global architecture against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—and its universality.”

    Four new states have acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) since January 2013, bringing the total number of states-parties to 170.

    Countries to Discuss Space Code in Kiev

    Timothy Farnsworth

    In an effort to garner wider international support for its proposed international code of conduct for outer space activities, the European Union announced last month that it plans to hold a series of consultations on the current draft.

    Jacek Bylica, principal adviser and special envoy for nonproliferation and disarmament in the European External Action Service, said in an April 2 speech in Geneva that the first of these consultations will be held May 16-17 in Kiev. In an April 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Bylica said the consultations will be co-hosted with the Ukrainian State Space Agency and open to all UN member states that wish to participate.

    A code of conduct would establish guidelines for responsible behavior in space that would reduce the risk of debris-generating events and increase transparency in space operations in order to avoid collisions.

    The objective of the planned consultations is “to discuss the key issues and concepts within the code” in hopes of reaching consensus among countries who would like to sign on to the code, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy, said at a March 29 event on U.S. space diplomacy.

    In his e-mail, Bylica said, “As with any common rules of behaviour, the greater the support for the Code will be, the greater the benefits from it” to all space-faring countries.

    The current draft of the code was released last June at a multilateral governmental experts meeting in Vienna. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) Rose said the language of that document provides “a useful foundation and constructive starting point” for discussions. He said he expected that these discussions would produce another draft of the code. Further consultations will follow until a “critical mass” of “key nations” agrees to the text, he said.

    The meeting this month will be the first since the one last June. A diplomatic meeting had been scheduled for October 2012 to take advantage of diplomats’ presence in New York for UN meetings, but was postponed. Some countries argued that the close timing gave the impression that the code was part of the UN process, which the EU and United States sought to avoid. (See ACT, November 2012.)

    The EU first proposed an international code of conduct for space in 2008. (See ACT, January/February 2009.)

    In an effort to garner wider international support for its proposed international code of conduct for outer space activities, the European Union announced last month that it plans to hold a series of consultations on the current draft.

    Nuclear Powers Urge Progress on FMCT

    Tom Z. Collina

    The five countries that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes as nuclear-weapon states last month “expressed their shared disappointment” that the Conference on Disarmament (CD) has not agreed to negotiate an international ban on the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons and “reiterated their support for the immediate start of negotiations” in the CD.

    In the April 19 statement, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States “expressed the hope” that a group of governmental experts that has been charged with finding ways to advance negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) “will help spur negotiations” in the CD.

    Pakistan has blocked the start of talks for more than a decade, and some countries have called for the FMCT talks to take place outside the CD.

    The five nuclear-weapon states, sometimes known as the P5 because they also are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, issued the statement after an April 18-19 meeting in Geneva to review their progress toward fulfilling the commitments made at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. They previously had met in London in 2009, in Paris in 2011, and Washington last year. They said they plan to hold a fifth conference next year.

    The April meeting came just ahead of the April 22-May 3 preparatory committee meeting in Geneva for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. NPT review conferences are held every five years, with three preparatory meetings in between.

    According to their April 19 press statement, the five countries discussed the importance of convening a conference on creating a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction, calling for the conference to take place “in the nearest future.” An agreement to hold such a conference was a key part of the final document from the NPT review conference three years ago.

    That document specified that the meeting was supposed to take place last year, which did not happen. In announcing the postponement, the conveners—Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general—did not set a new date. (See ACT, December 2012.)

    The Arab League had discussed boycotting the preparatory committee meeting if a date had not been set for the conference on the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone, but the group ultimately did not do so. Egypt, however, announced April 29 that it would withdraw from the Geneva meeting to protest the lack of progress on the conference.

    In the April 19 statement, the five nuclear-weapon states also “reaffirmed their readiness to sign the Protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone as soon as possible.” When ratified, the treaty’s protocol would prohibit the five states from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against treaty parties and from transporting nuclear weapons through the zone. According to the statement, the parties also discussed the importance of holding consultations with the parties to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia.

    The five countries that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes as nuclear-weapon states last month “expressed their shared disappointment” that...

    Missile Defense Talks Resume

    Tom Z. Collina

    In response to the Obama administration’s March decision to cancel plans for long-range missile interceptors in Europe, Russian officials have agreed to join the United States in senior-level talks on missile defense in late April, the Defense Department has confirmed.

    The meeting would be the first significant effort to restart missile defense cooperation talks since they broke down almost two years ago, possibly opening a door to U.S.-Russian negotiations on additional nuclear arsenal reductions beyond the levels established by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

    Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller will lead the bilateral discussions in Brussels on April 30, Antonov told reporters in Moscow on April 16 and a Pentagon spokesman confirmed in an April 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today. The meeting was announced after U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow on April 15.

    Antonov said that, in Brussels, the U.S. officials “are expected to elaborate on the changes in the U.S. plans in the area of missile defense, namely their giving up the fourth phase of deploying the missile defense system in Europe.”

    Despite tense relations over missile defense, human rights, and other issues, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama are scheduled to meet twice this year, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized countries in Northern Ireland in June and in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September for what is being billed as a “bilateral summit.”

    Missile defense talks broke down in 2011 over Russian concerns that the fourth phase of the U.S. European Phased Adaptive Approach, which included plans for deploying Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB long-range interceptors in Poland by 2022, would threaten Moscow’s strategic nuclear missiles. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced March 15 that the United States would “restructure” the SM-3 IIB program and shift resources toward fielding 14 additional ground-based interceptors by 2017 at Fort Greely in Alaska to address recent provocations from North Korea. That would bring the total number of long-range interceptors in Alaska and California to 44. (See ACT, April 2013.)

    Speaking at a conference in Warsaw on April 18, Frank Rose, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, clarified Hagel’s remarks by saying that the SM-3 IIB “will no longer be developed or procured.” The Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2014, submitted to Congress on April 10, has no funding for the SM-3 IIB program (see).

    Even so, Russia continues to say that the U.S. shift on missile defense does not go far enough. After meeting in Brussels on April 23 with NATO foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow is studying U.S. proposals on missile defense cooperation and is “ready for dialogue but cooperation could be only equitable, with clear-cut guarantees.” Russia has been demanding “firm legal guarantees” that the U.S. interceptors to be fielded in Europe would not be used to shoot down Russian strategic missiles. The United States has repeatedly declined to give such guarantees.

    Donilon and Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, discussed missile defense and the prospects for additional arms reductions with Putin and senior Russian officials April 15.

    Donilon gave Putin a letter from Obama, according to both governments. Putin aide Yuri Ushakov told the Interfax news agency April 15 that the letter “covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals.” He added that the Putin-Donilon conversation “had a rather positive nature, same as the messages sent by the Obama administration.”

    In another sign that Russia may be adjusting its stance on missile defense, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said April 16 in a speech at the Russian Embassy in London that U.S. missile defense plans do not pose a threat to Moscow’s strategic nuclear weapons, RIA Novosti reported. “We have solved the issue of penetrating the U.S. missile shield and it poses no military threat to the country,” said Rogozin, who has been critical of U.S. missile defense plans in the past.

    In the wake of national security adviser Tom Donilon’s visit to Moscow, the United States and Russia plan to resume talks on missile defense cooperation after a two-year break.

    P5+1 Package Seeks Transparency in Iran

    Kelsey Davenport

    The proposal six world powers brought to the April 5-6 talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program contains transparency measures, including provisions that would require Iran to give inspectors increased access to facilities and provide information to address allegations of possible activities related to making a nuclear bomb, according to a former Iranian nuclear negotiator and two Western diplomats.

    In an April 17 e-mail, Seyed Hossein Mousavian said that the proposal presented by the six countries known as the P5+1 would require Iran to address International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands for transparency. The inclusion of these transparency elements in the P5+1 proposal has not previously been reported. Two officials from P5+1 countries who are familiar with the negotiations confirmed the accuracy of Mousavian’s description.

    In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium in the future under “very strict conditions” and IAEA inspections if it responded to international concerns regarding weapons activities and “irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.”

    The State Department did not respond by press time to a request for comment on whether the provisions in the proposal would meet the conditions for uranium enrichment laid out by Clinton in her 2011 testimony or if further transparency measures would be required.

    The proposal by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States would give the IAEA access to certain Iranian facilities so that its inspectors could obtain information to address questions about possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program.

    The IAEA laid out its concerns about Iranian nuclear activities with military dimensions in a November 2011 report. Iran and the IAEA have been negotiating an agreement to allow the agency to investigate these allegations in talks separate from the P5+1 process. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

    Iran and the IAEA have met nine times, but have failed to make any progress negotiating a document that outlines the scope and sequence of the agency’s investigations, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said March 4. They will meet again May 15, the IAEA said April 23.

    Mousavian and the two officials said the transparency measures for Iran in the P5+1 proposal also include committing to an additional protocol, which supplements the basic IAEA safeguards agreement with a country and gives agency inspectors increased access to facilities, and to the modified version of the subsidiary arrangement to Iran’s safeguards agreement known as Code 3.1, which requires notification to the IAEA of any planned nuclear facilities at the time the country makes the decision to build them. Iran agreed to a modified Code 3.1 provision in its subsidiary arrangement in 2003 and negotiated an additional protocol with the IAEA the same year, but has not completed ratification of the protocol, despite having voluntarily implemented it for a period between 2004 and 2006.

    The package offered by the six countries during negotiations in 2012 was updated before talks in February in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The April 5-6 meeting was the second high-level meeting between Iran and the P5+1 to take place this year, after negotiations resumed in February following an eight-month hiatus. (See ACT, March 2013.)

    Other provisions in the new proposal require Iran to stop producing 20 percent-enriched uranium, but would allow Iran to keep part of its stockpile of that material to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor. Iran may also be allowed to produce enriched uranium at its Fordow facility in the future, Mousavian and the two officials said. The previous P5+1 proposal from the 2012 talks required Iran to shut the Fordow enrichment plant permanently and ship its entire stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium out of the country. (See ACT, July/August 2012.)

    Because of worries within the P5+1 that Tehran is moving toward a nuclear weapons capability, the stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent is a primary concern. Starting from material enriched to that level—rather than reactor-grade material, which typically is enriched to 3.5 percent—would make it much easier for Iran to reach weapons-grade uranium-enrichment levels if it chose to do so. Iran says it requires the 20 percent material to make fuel plates for its research reactor, which produces medical isotopes.

    In return, Iran would receive some sanctions relief, according to press reports from the February Almaty talks. The P5+1 would offer to relax sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals with Iran and petrochemical sales. Additionally, the P5+1 would modernize and provide fuel for the research reactor, provide Iran with medical isotopes and with spare parts for aircraft, and cooperate with Tehran’s acquisition of a light-water reactor to produce medical isotopes.

    Mousavian characterized the P5+1 proposal as “extremely unbalanced” because it did not include any “substantive sanctions relief” or recognition of Iran’s “right to enrich” uranium under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which he identified as the two key demands for Iran.

    EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks for the P5+1, said April 6 that although the negotiations were detailed and substantive, they reflected the wide gap between the substantive positions of each side.

    No date was set for the next meeting, but Ashton said she would remain in contact with her Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili.

    In an April 11 statement, Ali Bagheri, undersecretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the delay in setting a date to resume negotiations was due to the need of the P5+1 delegates need to consult with other officials in their respective governments. Bagheri said there were “serious disagreements” among the representatives.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at an April 8 press briefing that the P5+1 was “very united.”

    It is unclear if negotiations will resume before Iran’s presidential election on June 14. Mousavian said that sanctions relief and recognition of enrichment rights will remain Iran’s key concerns regardless of who is elected but that “a moderate figure with international respect and loyal to the [Supreme] Leader would be instrumental for a broader deal” with the United States on issues beyond Tehran’s nuclear program.

    The proposal that six world powers brought to negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program contains transparency elements that would require Tehran to address allegations of possible activities related to making a nuclear bomb, sources said.

    U.S. Revisits Plutonium Disposition Plan

    Daniel Horner

    The United States is planning to slow down construction of the facility that is the centerpiece of its effort to get rid of plutonium withdrawn from its nuclear weapons program and is considering pursuing “an alternative plutonium disposition strategy,” the Obama administration said last month in documents supporting its fiscal year 2014 budget request.

    Under an agreement that Russia and the United States signed in 2000, each country is obliged to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium. A U.S. facility now under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is designed to turn the plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel—so called because it is a mix of plutonium and uranium oxides—for use in U.S. nuclear power reactors.

    The MOX project and its counterpart in Russia, which also would turn surplus plutonium into reactor fuel but would irradiate it in a different kind of reactor, have long been controversial in nonproliferation circles. Some nonproliferation specialists support it, saying the program is a good example of U.S.-Russian cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and security issues. Turning the plutonium into reactor fuel and irradiating it in a reactor will alleviate concerns about securing the material against thieves or terrorists, particularly in Russia, they say.

    Others have opposed the effort on nonproliferation grounds, saying that putting plutonium into civilian programs actually increases the risks that it will fall into the wrong hands. It also undermines U.S. efforts to discourage other countries from pursuing civilian nuclear programs that use plutonium, these critics say.

    The United States “remains very firmly committed” to the 2000 agreement, acting NNSA Administrator Neile Miller emphasized during a conference call with reporters on April 10, the day the budget request was released. But because of current budget constraints, she said, the administration wants to take a fresh look at whether construction of the MOX fuel facility “continues to be the best option at best value to accomplish the commitments under that agreement with the Russians or whether there is another option we ought to be thinking about pursuing.”

    The fiscal year 2014 budget request proposes spending $320 million for construction of the MOX fuel facility, a drop from the $435 million that Congress appropriated for that purpose for fiscal year 2012, according to the detailed budget justification document for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency of the Energy Department whose responsibilities include nuclear nonproliferation. The fiscal year 2013 appropriation has not been firmly set.

    The request for operations and maintenance activities supporting the MOX program is $158 million, compared to the $206 million appropriated for fiscal year 2012.

    Under NNSA’s latest estimate, the total cost of the MOX fuel facility construction project rose from $4.8 billion to $7.7 billion and the starting date for MOX fuel fabrication slipped from 2016 to 2019. The 2019 figure represents the estimate before the planned slowdown.

    The project previously had suffered a number of other cost increases and schedule slippages. It has cost $3.7 billion since work began in 1999, according to the NNSA.

    In the budget document, the projected annual request for fiscal years 2015-2018 for the NNSA’s Office of Fissile Materials Disposition is between $220 million and $250 million, with the bulk of those amounts to be spent on plutonium disposition operations and maintenance. The budget line for construction of the MOX fuel plant has zeroes for the four fiscal years starting with 2015.

    Those figures, however, should be considered “placeholder” numbers, Andrew Bieniawski, NNSA assistant deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said during the press call.

    Rumors about a serious blow to the MOX fuel fabrication project had been circulating for weeks, and some observers had said that even if the project were not canceled outright, a dramatic funding cut or slowdown in the schedule would be, as one former NNSA official, “tantamount to killing it.” That is because uncertainty about the future of the project would cause workers to leave for more-certain work elsewhere, he said. During the April 10 call, Miller acknowledged that there would be a “workforce impact,” but said that continuing the project still was an option under serious consideration.

    With regard to the effect on the Russian program, Miller said that Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman had spoken with his Russian counterpart the previous day about the current U.S. plans for the program. Since then, the two countries’ lead negotiators on plutonium disposition, Michael Guhin of the United States and Vladimir Kuchinov of Russia, met in Washington on April 25.

    The main message that U.S. officials are conveying to the Russians is that the United States has decided to review how it gets rid of plutonium, not whether it does, a U.S. official said in an interview last month. The United States had previously planned to dispose some of its less-pure excess plutonium through nonreactor options, most notably by one of several methods of mixing the plutonium with high-level waste that ultimately would go to a geological repository.

    Russia historically has opposed U.S. adoption of that approach for plutonium taken from pits and other relatively pure stocks, arguing that the plutonium could be recovered more easily than if it had been irradiated in a reactor. The U.S. official said that the United States had not agreed with that argument but that initial Russian responses to news of the U.S. review involved “no prejudgment and no rehashing” of previous disagreements.

    He also noted that although the current version of the 2000 agreement specifies reactor disposition, it allows in Article III for “any other methods that may be agreed by the Parties in writing.”

    In an April 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Vladimir Rybachenkov, a former Russian diplomat now with the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow, said if the U.S. program “is only slowed down[,] this will not have a serious impact on the Russian one.” He cautioned, however, that a “real problem may pop up” if the United States decides to switch to plutonium vitrification, one of the methods of mixing plutonium with high-level waste.

    He said he “strongly” believes that the United States “will take into consideration Russia’s position,” as the 2000 agreement might break down otherwise. He said he believes that both countries “attach great political importance” to the successful implementation of the disposition agreement and “will do their best to reach this goal.”

    The Obama administration is planning to slow down—and perhaps eventually stop—construction of the facility that is the centerpiece of the U.S. effort...

    U.S. Cites Evidence of Syrian Sarin Use

    Kelsey Davenport

    The U.S. intelligence community has determined with “varying degrees of confidence” that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against its own people, the White House said last month.

    The April 25 letter, sent to Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that the nerve agent sarin may have been used “on a small scale” in Syria but that the United States cannot confirm “how exposure occurred and under what conditions” because the “chain of custody” for the evidence, which included “physiological samples,” is “not clear.” More evidence is needed to provide “some degree of certainty” to inform U.S. decision-making, said the letter, which was signed by Miguel Rodriguez, President Barack Obama’s director of legislative affairs.

    Last summer, Obama said that the use or movement of chemical weapons in Syria is a “redline” for the United States and there would be “enormous consequences” in the event of either action. (See ACT, September 2012.)

    A White House official reaffirmed this redline in a April 25 press briefing, but in an apparent reference to erroneous intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons program prior to 2003, said that the United States has learned from its “recent experience that intelligence assessments are not alone sufficient” and “credible and corroborated facts” are necessary to determine if chemical weapons were used. If such a determination is made, “all options are on the table” for a U.S. response, the official said.

    Obama said in April 26 remarks that the United States will work with the international community to obtain “strong evidence” of chemical weapons use, which he said would change the calculus of how Washington approaches Syria.

    Because Syria is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which requires member states to declare and destroy their chemical weapons, the exact size and composition of its program is unknown. However, according to the U.S. intelligence community’s most recent “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” Syria possesses a “large, complex, and geographically dispersed” chemical weapons program, which includes a stockpile of chemical warfare agents, such as sarin, sulfur mustard, and VX, that can be delivered by “missiles, aerial bombs, and possibly artillery rockets.”

    The April 25 letter said that the administration believes that the Assad regime “maintains custody” of Syria’s chemical weapons and that any use of chemical agents “very likely” would have been by the regime.

    The U.S. statement follows similar allegations made by France, Israel, Qatar, and the United Kingdom. In an April 26 interview with the BBC, British Prime Minister David Cameron said there is increasing evidence that chemical weapons have been used, likely by government forces. Three days earlier, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence research and analysis division, said that, “to the best of our understanding,” there was lethal use of chemical weapons in Syria.

    UN Action

    In the April 25 letter, the Obama administration said it would push for a comprehensive UN investigation to evaluate the evidence of chemical weapons use.

    After allegations that chemical weapons were used near Aleppo on March 19, Assad requested that the United Nations investigate the claims. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the UN would investigate in conjunction with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees implementation of the CWC, and the World Health Organization. (See ACT, April 2013.)

    The team planned to begin investigations in Syria early last month, but in an April 17 statement, Ban said that Syria has not allowed investigators into the country due to a disagreement over the scope of the UN inquiry. Syria wants the UN investigation restricted to the March 19 incident, which it blames on the rebels, whereas Ban said the mission must be to investigate “all the allegations” made by member states.

    Paul Walker, a former senior adviser for the House Armed Services Committee, told Arms Control Today in an April 25 e-mail that the first step is to allow UN inspectors to visit all the sites they requested to see, meet possible victims of the alleged attacks, and review the medical reports from the injured and dead. He said any samples taken should be “strictly controlled and analyzed by OPCW licensed labs.” Laboratories on the territories of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council could also be used “in order to bring in the Russians and Chinese,” said Walker, who now is director of security and sustainability at Global Green USA.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a April 25 statement that, on the basis of the intelligence assessment, the redlines “have been crossed” and action must be taken to prevent large-scale use of chemical weapons. She said the UN Security Council should take “strong and meaningful action to end” the conflict in Syria.

    If new accusations are referred to the Security Council, Russia, a main ally of Syria, will be the “big elephant” in the room because Moscow will feel it is being outmaneuvered by Ban, the United States, and Israel, said Walker, who is a board member of the Arms Control Association.

    The U.S. intelligence community has tentatively concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, but is seeking further evidence.

    Pages

    Subscribe to RSS - May 2013