"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
May 2013
Edition Date: 
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Cover Image: 

Key Senator Questions Plans for B61 Bomb

Marcus Taylor and Tom Z. Collina

A key senator is challenging the scope and cost of the Obama administration’s plan to extend the life of B61 nuclear bombs as the administration is seeking a significant increase for the program for fiscal year 2014.

At an April 24 hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she had been briefed on a plan to upgrade the B61 that would cost $1.5 billion. By contrast, the Obama administration’s current approach to the B61 life extension program (LEP) may cost up to $10 billion, she said. The program has been delayed until March 2020, and costs have increased by $200 million due to the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, she said.

Feinstein said that the $1.5 billion plan, one of a number of alternatives considered and rejected by the administration, would be cheaper because it would replace just three parts of each bomb. “The current scope is now much more ambitious, replacing hundreds of components,” she said.

Feinstein made the comments during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which she chairs. That subcommittee funds the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is responsible for nuclear weapons maintenance.

Under the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, funding for the B61 LEP would rise from $369 million in fiscal year 2013 to $537 million in 2014, an increase of 45 percent. Currently, the United States deploys about 180 nonstrategic B61s in Europe as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangement. Strategic versions of the bomb are stored in the United States for use on long-range bombers.

At the hearing, Donald Cook, NNSA deputy administrator for defense programs, responded to Feinstein by saying that the cheaper plan she mentioned was rejected because it would cost more in the long run. Although it would delay the need for an LEP by 10 years, “we would then need a life extension program that would be more expensive,” he said. The current plan is “the lowest-cost life extension program that meets the military needs,” Cook said.

The B61 LEP has attracted attention because its costs are increasing and a number of NATO members, such as Germany, are calling for the bombs to be removed from Europe. In addition, President Barack Obama is seeking a new agreement with Russia to limit the number of tactical, or short-range, weapons such as the B61s on the territory of NATO member countries. Some in Congress have raised the concern that, by the time the B61 LEP is complete a decade from now, the bombs may no longer be deployed in Europe. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Congress is looking for ways to trim costs because the funding levels that the administration requested are significantly above the targets set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, under which sequestration came into effect March 1. If Congress does not modify the sequestration law, cuts will have to be made to the administration’s budget request before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

Higher Weapons Funding Sought

The total funding for LEPs, which extend the operable life of nuclear bombs and warheads, would increase by 79 percent over the fiscal year 2013 appropriation under the administration’s fiscal year 2014 request, submitted to Congress on April 10.

Program funding for the B61, the W76 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead, and a common replacement for the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and W88 SLBM warheads would rise from $567 million in the 2013 appropriation to $1.0 billion in fiscal year 2014. The requested funding jump is a result of increased requests for the B61 and W76 LEPs, combined with the start of the W78/88 LEP.

Overall, the semiautonomous NNSA is slated to receive $7.9 billion to maintain the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile, an increase of 4 percent over the $7.6 billion that Congress appropriated for that portion of the NNSA’s work in fiscal year 2013. This amount would have to be cut by about $780 million under sequestration. Funding for NNSA weapons activities is projected to rise to $9.3 billion by fiscal year 2018, according to future-year projections in the fiscal year 2014 budget documents. The NNSA also manages nuclear nonproliferation efforts (see).

The budget request includes funding for the Uranium Processing Facility, which would receive $326 million in fiscal year 2014, 4 percent less than in 2013. The facility, to be built at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, is to produce uranium components known as “secondaries,” a key part of modern thermonuclear warheads. The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, which had been planned for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to conduct plutonium research, was delayed last year by at least five years.

Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense, testified before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on April 17 that the administration’s current approach to meeting the need for plutonium “pits”—the key nuclear component of the first, or primary, stage of nuclear warheads—“includes a resourced plan to utilize pit reuse in ongoing LEPs” while increasing U.S. manufacturing capacity to 10 pits per year by 2019, 20 pits per year by 2020, and 30 pits per year by 2021. “Pit reuse” means using the same pit again rather than manufacturing a new one during the LEP process.

Weber is the staff director for the Nuclear Weapons Council, through which the Defense and Energy departments coordinate management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

Delivery Systems

The Pentagon’s budget request for nuclear weapons delivery systems also received a boost in funding. Overall, the Defense Department’s request for fiscal year 2014 is $527 billion, $900 million less than the 2013 appropriation, and exceeds the sequestration spending caps by about $52 billion.

The Pentagon is planning to replace the sea-based and air-based legs of the nuclear triad of delivery systems and is exploring whether to replace land-based missiles as well. In the budget request, research and development for the Long-Range Strike Bomber would receive a boost of 30 percent from the fiscal year 2013 appropriation to $379 million. The Pentagon plans to spend $8.8 billion on this program from fiscal years 2014 to 2018, according to the future-year projections. The bomber, which the Air Force began developing last year, is expected to enter into service in the mid-2020s.

The budget also requests $1.1 billion to develop a new ballistic missile submarine, the SSBN(X), to replace the current Ohio-class submarine. This is an increase of $515 million, or 91 percent, over the 2013 appropriation, which had been reduced when the Navy announced a two-year delay in the program. The current Ohio-class submarines are expected to remain in service until the late 2030s, with the SSBN(X) entering into service around 2030.

The Pentagon’s budget request also calls for $9.4 million to fund research on the next-generation ICBM, known as Ground Based Strategic Deterrence. At the April 17 hearing, Air Force Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said that an analysis of alternatives would be completed and submitted to Congress in fiscal year 2014.

Missile Defense Reduction

In contrast to nuclear delivery systems and nuclear warheads, funding for missile defense programs would decrease from the fiscal year 2013 appropriation. Under the fiscal year 2014 request, overall funding for those programs would drop by 5 percent, from $9.7 billion to $9.2 billion. The cut is in part a result of a reordering of the Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) priorities, which make up $7.7 billion of the funds requested for missile defense.

On March 15, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the cancellation of the fourth phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, including development of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIB interceptor. (See ACT, April 2013.) The budget request includes no funding for the SM-3 IIB program.

Hagel also announced plans to deploy 14 additional ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska. The fiscal year 2014 budget includes a $130 million increase for the system, which is located at Fort Greely and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

In addition to the cancellation of the SM-3 IIB program, the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget would ax the Precision Tracking Space System, a network of space-based sensors intended to detect ballistic missiles; the Medium Extended Air Defense System, a joint project with Italy and Germany; and research on directed-energy weapons. The budget also would cut funding for the Sea-Based X-Band Radar, a mobile, floating radar station designed to detect ballistic missiles, by 74 percent from the fiscal year 2013 appropriation to $45 million.

The Obama administration is seeking funding increases for its plan to extend the life of B61 bombs, as well as other nuclear force modernization projects, but a key senator is raising questions.

U.S., S. Korea Find 2-Year Fix for Pact

Daniel Horner

South Korea and the United States announced last month that they have agreed to extend for two years their current agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, an acknowledgment that they could not resolve contentious issues dealing with South Korea’s commercial nuclear fuel-cycle plans in time to adopt a successor agreement before the current pact expires.

The 1974 accord was set to expire next March, but because of the requirements for congressional review under U.S. law, the two sides would have had to sign a new agreement around the middle of this year to make sure U.S. lawmakers completed the review in time to prevent a lapse.

The separate but similar announcements of the extension by South Korea and the United States on April 24 came two weeks before South Korean President Park Geun-hye is to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Some observers had said the two sides would not want to have a divisive issue between them as they are working to demonstrate unity in the face of recent provocative actions and statements by North Korea (see). The issue pits U.S. efforts to limit the spread of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies against South Korea’s position that it should be treated not like new nuclear power states, but like Japan, which has a long-established nuclear program and has built a commercial-scale spent fuel reprocessing facility.

The U.S. statement, a press release issued by the State Department, said Seoul and Washington had made “significant progress” in the talks, but it cited “complex technical issues that will take some additional time and effort to resolve.” The two governments are “seek[ing] to work together to address common challenges, including those related to spent nuclear fuel management and reliable supplies of nuclear fuel,” the statement said.

A central issue in the negotiations is pyroprocessing, a spent fuel treatment process that South Korea is developing. The South Koreans say it is more proliferation resistant than conventional spent fuel reprocessing because, in pyroprocessing, the plutonium separated from the spent fuel is mixed with other elements. The United States has said that “pyroprocessing is reprocessing.” (See ACT, April 2011.)

Seoul also has said it needs to develop a domestic capacity to enrich uranium to ensure fuel supplies for its nuclear power program. The United States says the international nuclear fuel market, reinforced by a system of fuel supply assurances, could serve that purpose.

South Korea, an emerging supplier of reactors, also argues that the ability to enrich uranium would make it more competitive with other vendors that have that capability. Many analysts, however, say that the ability to supply fuel as part of a package to potential reactor customers is not likely to be a major factor in the buying decisions.

The current U.S.-South Korean cooperation agreement came into force, four years before passage of the U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Act (NNPA). The 1978 NNPA amended the 1954 Atomic Energy Act to require that cooperation agreements include more-rigorous nonproliferation provisions, such as a requirement for U.S. consent before nuclear trading partners can enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel involving U.S.-origin material.

Under the NNPA, the congressional review process differs according to whether a nuclear cooperation agreement contains these provisions. If it meets the NNPA standards, Congress does not need to vote to approve the pact. The president submits the agreement to Congress and if lawmakers do not vote against it within 90 legislative days, it can enter into force. The new U.S.-South Korean agreement that is being negotiated would have to meet the NNPA requirements and therefore would fall into this category of review.

On the other hand, if an agreement does not meet the NNPA standards, it cannot enter into force unless Congress passes legislation approving it. Fred McGoldrick, a consultant and former State Department official whose responsibilities included negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements, and Duyeon Kim of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation wrote in a recent paper for the Korea Economic Institute of America that the extension of the U.S.-South Korean pact would be such an agreement.

In an April 25 interview, a Republican congressional staffer said he read the law the same way. The State Department announcement did not provide information on that point, saying only that the administration would “begin immediately to consult with Congress” on the extension.

In their paper, McGoldrick and Kim expressed some concerns about the congressional approval for an extension. “It is proving increasingly difficult to pass important issues through Congress,” the authors wrote, questioning whether the House and Senate would schedule a vote “on a timely basis.” Another potential pitfall, they said, is that Congress might try to add nonproliferation conditions that would be unacceptable to the Obama administration or the South Korean government.

As the Obama administration negotiates nuclear cooperation agreements with current and potential nuclear trading partners, Congress has devoted increased attention in the past few years to the question of what nonproliferation requirements, particularly with regard to enrichment and reprocessing, the cooperation agreements will include. But the congressional staffer indicated that he did not expect the interim extension of the U.S.-South Korean agreement to be controversial.

In its statement, the South Korean government said it would work to move “promptly” on the “domestic procedures” for the agreement extension, according to an unofficial translation. U.S.-based Korea analysts said it was not completely clear what procedures the National Assembly would use to consider the extension. The South Korean embassy in Washington did not respond by press time to a request for information on that point.

Unable to resolve the issues blocking a new agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, South Korea and the United States announced plans to extend the current pact for two years.

NNSA Nonproliferation Budget Is Cut

Daniel Horner

The Energy Department’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts would receive $2.1 billion under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, a drop of $161 million from fiscal year 2012.

The largest proposed cut is in International Material Protection Cooperation, which would receive $370 million, a decline of $206 million from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation. Fissile Materials Disposition would fall by almost as much, $183 million, to $503 million (see). The Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure nuclear and radiological material at civilian sites around the world and reduce the amounts of those materials, would receive $424 million in 2014, a cut of $79 million from 2012.

Because the fiscal year 2013 funding levels for nonproliferation programs were not firmly set, the detailed Energy Department documents use the fiscal year 2012 appropriation as the basis for comparison with the fiscal year 2014 request. The documents, which were released last month, provide estimates for the programs’ funding for 2013.

The nonproliferation programs are part of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which also is responsible for nuclear weapons production. Funding for NNSA activities in that area would rise to $7.9 billion in 2014, up $310 million from 2013 (see).

The contrast in the figures for the weapons and nonproliferation budgets would have been greater if the NNSA were not proposing to transfer two programs with a combined 2014 budget request of more than $250 million from the weapons side to nonproliferation. In its detailed budget justification document, the NNSA said that shifting Nuclear Counterterrorism and Incident Response ($181 million) and Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation ($75 million) would place “all NNSA funding for reducing global nuclear dangers in one appropriation.”

NNSA officials say many of the funding reductions are in programs that are being successfully completed and therefore phased out. In a conference call with reporters April 10, the day the budget was released, Andrew Bieniawski, NNSA assistant deputy administrator for global threat reduction, said the proposed reduction in GTRI funding “really reflects a success” and the administration’s “front-load[ing]” of the program in earlier years to meet the four-year goal that President Barack Obama set in 2009 for securing nuclear material around the world.

But at an April 24 hearing of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which she chairs, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the reductions in the nonproliferation budget request “unwarranted and drastic.”

The administration proposed boosting funding of another major nonproliferation effort, the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program, to $529 million, an increase of $20 million from 2012. The largest hike in that program was in Cooperative Biological Engagement, which supports construction of pathogen repositories and research into disease-related threats around the world. Its 2014 funding would be $306 million, while the 2012 appropriation was $230 million. Proliferation Prevention, whose activities include training and equipping border security staff in the Middle East, would receive $74 million, an increase from 2012 funding of $63 million but a sizable drop from the estimated 2013 funding level of $118 million.

The requested 2014 funding level for Global Nuclear Security, whose responsibilities include supporting work in Russia on nuclear weapons storage sites, is $87 million. That is a reduction from $151 million in 2012 but an increase from the estimated 2013 funding level of $72 million.

In the State Department, the administration 2014 request for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR) is $616 million, a drop of $95 million from 2012. In spite of the overall cut in NADR, the U.S. voluntary contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency would rise from the $86 million appropriated in 2012 to $88 million under the 2014 request. The U.S. assessed contribution to the agency, a requested $110 million for fiscal year 2014, comes from a separate part of the State Department budget.

Under the 2014 request, the U.S. contribution to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization would be $32 million. The contribution was $40.5 million under the 2012 appropriation.

The Energy Department’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts would receive $2.1 billion under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, a drop of $161 million from fiscal year 2012.

Assessing the Nuclear Cop

Reviewed by Andrew K. Semmel

Detect, Dismantle, and Disarm: IAEA Verification, 1992-2005
By Christine Wing and Fiona Simpson
United States Institute of Peace Press,
2013, 184 pp.

When the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into force in 1970, it included a provision designating the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as its verification arm. When the IAEA was created in 1957, its principal purpose was to promote the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes. Over the years, however, its role has changed.

Today, its more-visible function is to provide the international community with assurances that countries using nuclear science and nuclear materials are not using them to pursue weapons programs. Because of its expanded role in verification, largely through on-site inspections, the IAEA has joined the NPT as one of the two key anchors of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Over time and particularly after 1991, the IAEA has sought to strengthen its safeguards, or verification, function. The agency failed to detect Iraq’s advanced nuclear weapons program until the United Nations gave the agency special powers in Iraq in the wake of Baghdad’s defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The revelation of the Iraqi program prompted the IAEA to ask its member states for a more general enhancement of its verification authority by adopting an additional protocol, based on the 1997 Model Additional Protocol, to the standard comprehensive safeguards agreement that they reach with the IAEA. These protocols are intended to strengthen the IAEA’s authority to inspect nuclear facilities, detect illegal activities, and account for the use of nuclear materials. This was a positive step that, like most quantum leaps in strengthening the international nuclear regime, came in the aftermath of a catalytic event.

Yet, any fair analysis of the effectiveness of the IAEA and the international community in detecting safeguards violations must acknowledge that the IAEA, like all international organizations, operates in an international system that is dominated by states. Furthermore, like most international organizations, the IAEA lacks the authority to compel violators to comply with their international commitments. In other words, the IAEA can be only as effective as its member states allow it to be. Fifteen years after the agency asked its member states to adopt an additional protocol, one-third of them have failed to do so. Effective verification remains a work in progress.

What then is the overall record? How successful have the IAEA and the international community been in sounding the alarm when countries seek to conceal their nuclear programs from the agency and other countries? How effective have the IAEA and the international community been in reversing secret, incipient or advanced nuclear weapons programs once detected? What helps to explain success or failure in detection, dismantlement, and disarmament? These are important questions that have not been meticulously studied and for which observers provide differing answers.

Fortunately, Christine Wing (a board member of the Arms Control Association) and Fiona Simpson have written a deeply researched, highly readable study of the IAEA’s role in detecting and dismantling the nuclear weapons programs of four countries—Iraq, North Korea, South Africa (each in the 1990s), and Libya (largely 2003-2004)—all in the post-Cold War period. As indicated above, the international community and the IAEA had not discovered a secret nuclear program prior to 1991 or developed the means and tools for verifying that a suspect program had been effectively terminated or dismantled. Starting with Iraq in 1991, the IAEA and members of the international community broke new ground in a hurry, created new precedents, devised new verification tools, and accumulated valuable experience in international verification.

Using comparative case studies, the authors of this important book provide a detailed autopsy of all four nuclear programs and describe how lessons learned from one country might be applied to another. With that dissection of the four case studies, they identify a set of verification lessons that may have relevance to two contemporary cases, Iran and Syria, that are not part of this short volume and continue to defy international resolution.

Not surprisingly, the authors conclude that successful verification depends heavily on several factors. Among these factors are the clarity and extent of each country’s commitment to cooperating with international inspectors to reach an agreement on verification. More specifically, cooperation and success in detecting violations of safeguards agreements correlate with the extent to which a country perceives it is in its interest to cooperate with the IAEA, other interested parties, or both.

Thus, South Africa invited the IAEA to verify that it had dismantled its nuclear weapons program and eliminated its nuclear weapons just as the postapartheid government believed nuclear transparency was a price to pay for re-establishing normal relations with the rest of the world. Regime change in Pretoria led to a change in national priorities that did not include nuclear weapons.

Secret talks between Libyan authorities and their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom helped set the stage for Libya’s public renunciation of weapons of mass destruction. Despite some turf battles between the IAEA and both the United States and United Kingdom, the key determinant underlying the successful dismantlement of Libya’s nuclear program was Libya’s willingness to terminate its program.

In contrast, Iraq and North Korea sought to hide their nuclear weapon programs from the outside world; resisted international sanctions, including those imposed by the UN Security Council; and made international inspections and inspectors unwelcome. Over time, draconian international sanctions were imposed on both countries.

IAEA inspections in Iraq began in May 1991 with an explicit mandate to verify the accuracy of the declarations of its nuclear materials that Iraq had made to the IAEA under its safeguards agreement with the agency. The IAEA, which the Security Council empowered with special authorities to determine the accuracy of Iraq’s declaration of its use of nuclear materials, demonstrated flexibility and innovation in carrying out its mandate. The IAEA inspections in postwar Iraq marked the first time the agency undertook the task of accounting for all nuclear materials in a member state suspected of a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA conducted 14 inspections, used swipe and area-wide environmental sampling for the first time, employed intelligence information from member states for site selection, realized more fully the benefits of unannounced inspections, and made use of global positioning satellite imagery to assist its work. The IAEA and its member states realized that verifying the accuracy of a state’s nuclear materials declaration was insufficient and that determining the accuracy and the completeness of a country’s declaration was necessary to assure the international community that the country was complying with its safeguards obligations.

When the IAEA was unable to verify the correctness of North Korea’s initial declaration in 1992, the stage was set for long-term hostility to international scrutiny that has lasted until today. Because North Korea now has conducted three nuclear weapons tests, any future verification agreement would have to include dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program and disarmament. Because the nuclear weapons program is one of North Korea’s few levers it has to extract concessions from the international community, it seems unlikely that Pyongyang would allow international inspectors to return at all or with a broad mandate.

Wing and Simpson argue that when multiple key actors get involved, there is a greater likelihood that the complexity of goals and voices will hamper effective verification and dismantlement. Here, the authors make a less convincing case. The South African and Libyan examples involved far fewer actors than did the Iraqi and North Korean cases, thereby making the verification process less cumbersome. Yet, it seems that the number of actors in each of the four cases was largely a result of the particular country’s willingness to cooperate and its calculations of the potential benefits from international inspections. At the very least, there appears to be mutual causation at work: the more a country resists external verification, the more other actors are motivated to intervene; the more outside actors get involved, the more complicated the process of verification becomes.

Finally, the authors examine the role of the IAEA in the four countries, and their analysis is interesting and instructive. They suggest a typology that portrays the IAEA in one of four different roles in the process of detection, dismantlement, and disarmament: as a sole actor (South Africa), as the most influential actor among a set of actors (North Korea at the outset but not later), as a partner with other international organizations (Iraq), and as a marginal actor in a process driven mostly by interested states (Libya). This typology seems sensible, but four countries and four different IAEA roles do not make for useful generalizations about the IAEA other than that each suspected case of noncompliance spawns its own requirements and places a premium on flexibility and learning. Collectively, the cases make the point that, in spite of the long-standing need to combat nuclear proliferation, the international tools and mechanics for doing so still are being tested and still are in their early stages of development.

The authors rightly ask, “Are the existing institutional bases and the treaties that underlie them adequate to the task of verifying nonproliferation when a state wants to hide its nuclear activities?” Although they have steadily improved over the years, international nuclear governance and the tools to detect violations of legally binding or voluntary nuclear commitments have not kept pace with international requirements. As more countries develop new civilian nuclear programs and as existing programs expand, the verification demands on the IAEA will continue to grow.

A country that is fully determined to develop a nuclear weapons program, whether inside or outside the NPT and the IAEA, can do so, although at considerable political and economic costs under the prevailing system of safeguards and international pressures. Today, Iran, North Korea, and even Syria exploit weaknesses in the nuclear nonproliferation regime and are willing to suffer international opprobrium and the negative effects of coercive diplomacy that may include a range of economic and political sanctions.

The IAEA, which is the sole international organization vested with responsibility to monitor and report on member states’ compliance with their safeguards obligations, faces a number of obstacles to carrying out that responsibility. Implicit in Wing and Simpson’s study is the acknowledgement that the IAEA not only is short on funding and authority, but also must operate with an increasingly politicized Board of Governors.

In addition, the IAEA lacks enforcement authority to make meaningful any international response to its technical judgment that a country is in noncompliance. It must rely on enforcement decisions by the UN Security Council. In the process of making a decision on what to do about a country’s noncompliance, the locus of decision-making moves from the technical reports of IAEA inspectors to the IAEA Secretariat to the Board Governors to the UN Security Council. The process grows increasingly political at each stage, and ensuring a country’s compliance with its international obligations becomes less predictable.

One important virtue of Wing and Simpson’s book is that it describes and analyzes the four tough proliferation cases in ways that are readily understandable to the lay public as well as to seasoned scholars and policy practitioners. It also shows how the IAEA must play its role as a technical international actor while being responsive to the politics and goals of the national actors on which it must rely for financial and political support.

The authors could have strengthened their book with some additional analysis of the international inspection system and its weaknesses, which are so evident with the current impasses on Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Nonetheless, Detect, Dismantle, and Disarm is a valuable contribution to the international community’s knowledge of how the IAEA safeguards system works, making clear its strengths and weaknesses.


Andrew K. Semmel is president of AKS Consulting, whose clients include the International Atomic Energy Agency. He also is executive director of the Partnership for a Secure America. From 2003 to 2007, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


In Detect, Dismantle. and Disarm: IAEA Verification, 1992-2005, Christine Wing and Fiona Simpson have written a deeply researched, highly readable study that makes clear the strengths and weaknesses of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reviewer Andrew Semmel says.

Iran’s Nuclear Program and the Sanctions Siege

Ali Vaez

The latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) in the Kazakh city of Almaty yielded no results. The two sides remained poles apart.

Iran demanded that the world powers recognize what it views at its “inalienable” right to enrich uranium on its soil and that they lift all unilateral sanctions in return for suspending its midlevel uranium-enrichment activities.1 The P5+1, under the terms of a revised proposal known as “stop, ship, and shut,” reportedly asked Iran to stop its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, continuing enrichment only to the lower levels required for reactor fuel; neutralize its existing stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium by converting it into fuel rods or shipping it out; and disable its underground Fordow facility. In return, Tehran would receive partial sanctions relief on trade in gold and on the sale of petrochemical products.

Each side deemed the other’s proposal and demands unrealistic and unbalanced. A senior U.S. official called the meeting “neither a breakdown, nor a breakthrough.”2 The reality is that there is still too much inflexibility and mistrust on both sides, which remain locked in a cycle of mutual escalation, crystallized in the race of sanctions against centrifuges. Neither side is willing to forgo assets acquired at great cost—enrichment for Iran and consensus on sanctions for the West. Both the sanctions regime and the nuclear program have become so extensive and multilayered that they now restrict the two sides’ ability to respond to positive actions with the requisite nimbleness.

Many policymakers and pundits have offered detailed technical proposals for curbing Iran’s nuclear activities. Absent from the debate, however, has been a clear understanding of the sanctions and options for their gradual rollback.

The Sanctions Regime

Since it was established in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been subjected to a steady stream of sanctions, motivated by its nuclear activities, human rights record, and intervention in regional affairs.3 Over the years, the depth and breadth of the sanctions have increased dramatically, often gradually but at times by leaps and bounds. The current sanctions regime has been shaped by multiple actors with various policy goals.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions, first imposed in the 1980s, eventually transformed into what is now a broad, international regime. The first wave (1979 to 1995) originated as a U.S. response to the embassy hostage crisis, Tehran’s more broadly anti-U.S. policies, and its support for violent groups. The second wave (1995 to 2006), also unilaterally imposed by Washington, sought to weaken the Iranian regime by targeting its oil and gas industry and denying it access to dangerous nuclear and missile technology. The United States aimed to expand the reach of the unilateral measures through extraterritorial application of third-party sanctions compelling U.S. allies to adopt a unified stand or face U.S. sanctions. The third wave (2006 to 2010) encompassed multilateral and UN punitive measures spurred by concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The failure of these previous rounds of sanctions to resolve the standoff over the nuclear program gave rise to a flood of harsh unilateral and multilateral sanctions (2010 to present).

The end result is a comprehensive set of punitive steps targeting virtually every important sector of Iran’s economy. In principle, these measures are tethered to multiple policy objectives—nonproliferation, terrorism prevention, and human rights—yet, in the main, they are aimed at confronting Iran with a straightforward choice: comply with international demands on its nuclear program or suffer harsh economic consequences.

The sanctions are everywhere: in the financial arena, barring habitual commercial relations; in the oil sector, choking off Tehran’s principal source of currency; and in the insurance sector, thwarting Iran’s ability to transport goods. Without doubt, they are crippling the Iranian economy. Yet, it is much less clear that they are succeeding in their broader policy goals. By at least one important criterion, the intensity of Western concern over Iran’s nuclear progress, they plainly are not.

The Impact of Sanctions

For several reasons, the effects of sanctions are as complex as the nature of the sanctions regime itself. First, not all actors and sectors have felt the consequences equally or precisely as intended. Second, as sanctions evolve and expand, Tehran learns to adapt and adjust. Third and most importantly, the scarcity of information and the difficulty in disaggregating the consequences of sanctions from the self-inflicted wounds of Iranian mismanagement and structural problems pose a challenge to anyone seeking to produce a reliable assessment.

The multiplicity of the sanctions objectives means that it is impossible to have a single measure of success. To the extent some sanctions were designed to affect Iran’s human rights practices, the record is rather bleak, and there has not been any notable success in curbing Tehran’s support for state and nonstate allies conducting violent actions in the region.

In other areas, in particular the nuclear and missile programs, the assessment arguably is more mixed. Over the past three decades, Tehran has made significant progress in developing an indigenous nuclear and missile capability. Still, it continues to depend on outside suppliers for procurement of key material and critical components.4 Thus, although most components in its gas centrifuges are built indigenously, sanctions almost certainly have contributed to slowing down the pace of production, notably at its main uranium-enrichment facility in Natanz. Enhanced export controls likewise have impeded Iran’s acquisition of dual-use material and equipment, such as maraging steel, carbon fiber, vacuum pumps, and measuring equipment. A similar procurement predicament has retarded efforts to mass-produce centrifuges that are more advanced than the outdated IR-1 machines and has delayed construction of the heavy-water reactor in Arak.5

The sanctions’ effects are similarly evident in the realm of medium- and long-range ballistic missile production. Solid-fueled systems in particular require foreign materials, such as aluminum and tungsten powder as well as oxidizer salts. Disruption in the supply of these items compels use of substandard substitutes. The lengthy delay in flight-testing the two-stage, 2,000 kilometer-range, solid-fueled Sajjil-2 missile, on hold since its last flight in February 2011, arguably is an illustration.6 Despite such substantial setbacks, both the nuclear and missile programs have grown. Western concerns have grown in parallel.

Iran’s energy sector has been one of the main targets of the sanctions. The country’s oil exports dropped from an average of 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to fewer than 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2012.7 After long denying the impact of sanctions, Iranian officials ultimately acknowledged they had caused a 40 percent decrease in oil sales and a 45 percent decrease in repatriating oil revenues.8 Furthermore, financial sanctions have cut Iran’s access to its oil revenue, thus depriving Tehran of financial resources necessary to prop up its own currency. The country’s national currency, the rial, suffered two precipitous plunges, in January and October 2012, losing nearly 80 percent of its value against the dollar.9 Strong currency fluctuations simultaneously destabilized the business sector. According to the Iranian parliament’s research center, between October 2011 and October 2012, industrial production fell 40 percent and unemployment grew by 36 percent, while the price of consumer and primary goods rose by 87 and 112 percent, respectively.10

alternate text
Click image to enlarge.

Despite unquestionable hardship, the Iranian government, which is the most important economic actor and sole dispenser of petrodollars, has myriad tools to avoid an economic meltdown. In this sense, its efforts have focused far more on adjusting the Iranian economy to the reality of sanctions than on seeking their removal. Likewise, whatever lobbying has occurred from key constituencies, such as the private sector and state-affiliated businesses, has been aimed at convincing the regime to amend its economic policies as opposed to its nuclear ones. Accordingly, the government introduced a system of tiered exchange rates; opened an official exchange center for licensed importers; turned to bartering with trading partners; and resorted to conducting transactions through hawala, an alternative remittance system. Although criticism of the government’s implementation of such policies has been rife, markets eventually stabilized to some extent as 2012 drew to a close.

Sanctions also led Iran to reorient its trading patterns toward Asia, including more-immediate neighbors that, in the words of a European official, “can afford to neither provoke Washington’s wrath nor antagonize Tehran.” Trade with China soared from nearly $3 billion in 2002 to more than $44 billion in 2011; trade relations with India also experienced a boom. Billions of dollars of Iranian products flow into Iraq and Afghanistan. Re-exported U.S. and European goods continue to find their way into Iranian markets via Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. A shared experience with sanctions has drawn Iran, North Korea, and Syria more closely together.

Officially, Western policymakers argue that the economic penalties are finely tuned, “smart” sanctions aimed at the political elite rather than ordinary citizens. Yet, as sanctions gradually snowballed and broad-based punishments gradually superseded more “targeted” ones, their impact likewise broadened, affecting nearly all aspects of life, inflicting long-lasting social harm and fueling popular criticism of Western policy. At the same time, in the West, the measure of success is increasingly becoming the sanctions’ comprehensiveness, harshness, and ability to wreak havoc on the economy.

As often is the case with sanctions, members of the elite with greatest access to the regime and state privileges are best positioned to survive and even thrive in the new environment. The multiple exchange rates and the distribution of subsidy stipends provide segments of the ruling apparatus with potent patronage tools to purchase loyalty and protect core constituencies. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and state-affiliated enterprises generally have benefited most by virtue of privileged access to favorable currency rates. By contrast, the more vulnerable category of citizens without such connections to the regime has been least capable of circumventing their effects, finding substitute sources of prohibited goods or capitalizing on scarcity to boost profits.

There are other unintended implications. The more comprehensive the sanctions, the likelier they are to harm average citizens. Reports of widespread shortages, notably of specialized medicine, abound despite all the West’s efforts to exempt humanitarian goods.11 These shortages can be attributed only partly to the Iranian government’s inefficiency. Sanctions, particularly those as comprehensive and far-reaching as the ones presently in effect, inevitably have both a snowballing and chilling effect. Foreign businesses, fearing they might unknowingly cross a line into impermissible activities, prefer to shy away even from authorized deals. Transaction costs related to food and medicine have escalated, while Iranians’ access to foreign currency has diminished. In turn, the target of public wrath is now shifting from a regime viewed as incompetent to an outside world seen as uncaring.

Iran’s economic predicament, whether caused by sanctions or merely aggravated by them, risks creating a deleterious social climate that is unlikely to be in the longer-term interests of the West or the Iranian people. Crime rates and corruption have been rising. Smuggling is booming as clandestine networks replace commercial ones. Indeed, smuggling networks are becoming an integral part of the shadow economy that reportedly accounts for 21 percent of gross domestic product.12

This does not necessarily harm the regime. On the contrary, it has facilitated a symbiosis between state-affiliated organizations such as the Revolutionary Guard and transnational smuggling networks. Over time, organized crime networks likely will become more sophisticated, enabling them to survive even after sanctions have been lifted.

A Vicious Cycle

Despite the considerable toll that sanctions have exacted on Iran’s economy, they have failed to achieve their proclaimed core objective of influencing Iranian behavior with regard to its nuclear program. This result is unsurprising, as critical differences exist between how policymakers in Washington and Brussels and in Tehran view and interpret the sanctions regime.

The West views the sanctions as an instrument of coercive diplomacy, primarily designed to pressure Tehran into curtailing its nuclear activities and abandoning any military pursuit in that field. Iran sees them and the nuclear issue as a whole as a thinly disguised pretext to undermine the regime.

For many in the Iranian leadership, current hardships have an air of déjà vu—indeed, an air of something not nearly as bad as what previously has been seen. The country has experienced two oil embargoes in its modern history. The British-led boycott of Iranian oil between 1951 and 1953, after Iran nationalized its oil industry, proved highly effective, yet Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh did not budge.13 The U.S. embargo on Iranian oil imposed in the wake of the 1979 hostage crisis likewise failed to meet its objective, as U.S. diplomats remained in captivity for 444 days.14

Iran also has dealt with two foreign currency crises in the recent past. Oil revenues dropped from $21 billion in 1983 to $6 billion in 1987, at a time when the country was engaged in a full-fledged war with Iraq. A decade later, amid the Asian financial crisis, oil income fell once more, from $19 billion in 1996 to $10 billion in 1998.15 The situation today, despite shrinking resources and rising prices, is nowhere near the deprivation experienced during the 1980s, when the drain of war had caused widespread shortages and frequent blackouts.

In response, officials from the United States and the European Union occasionally argue that the more recent round of sanctions is unprecedented in scope and thus should be given enough time to take effect. They see the accumulated impact of punitive measures, not the effect of their periodic intensification, as the force that eventually might compel the regime to alter its stance in fundamental ways. Yet, the Iranian leadership offers a mirror image, persuaded that time is on its side and that the sanctions regime eventually will start hemorrhaging.

To this end, Iran is preparing itself for a potentially prolonged confrontation. At the core of its strategy is its so-called economy of resistance, which equates survival with victory. From this perspective, the victory of dissuading its foreign foes from toppling it and of establishing the fact of regime endurance is well worth suffering the costs of sanctions.

Iran and the West may be sitting at the same table, but one side is playing chess, while the other is playing checkers. The outcome at times appears akin to a vicious cycle. In an effort to pressure Iran, the West tightens its sanctions. For the reasons described above and in order to prove it will not capitulate to threats, Tehran does not respond according to the West’s plan. This prompts ever-tightening sanctions whose success is measured less by their proclaimed political goal of curbing Iranian nuclear activities than by their sheer quantity and their visible and measurable economic consequences. Finally, as the West seeks to increase its leverage not only through sanctions, but also through acts of sabotage,16 Tehran arguably feels it must do the same. It has few options: accelerating its nuclear program or resorting to its own forms of sabotage. Although some Iranian officials have recently hinted at the possibility of Iran enriching uranium to a level above 20 percent,17 analysts view the recent cyberattack against Saudi Arabia’s most important oil company as a possible warning shot from Tehran that it could resort to different tactics should the economic warfare against it intensify.18

The Way Out

Ultimately, sanctions as a tool of coercive diplomacy are effective only in proportion to the prospects of relieving them in exchange for policy shifts. The measure of efficacy lies in what can be obtained when they are removed, not what happens when they are imposed.

Therein lies the dilemma. Although Western policymakers have made it clear that more sanctions will be imposed if Iran continues on its current nuclear path, there is no clear road map for lifting the sanctions in return for Iranian concessions. Although long reluctant to acknowledge the impact of sanctions or project any eagerness to see them lifted, Iranian officials increasingly are identifying such a step as a condition for any accord.19 Yet, that is far easier said than done. Sanctions have become so extensive and so intricately woven that it will be difficult to offer significant, concrete relief short of a major turnaround in key aspects of Tehran’s domestic and foreign policies. In particular, reaching the threshold for removing U.S. sanctions is difficult to imagine.

Practical considerations also stand in the way. Even assuming Iranian willingness to compromise, the standard for lifting U.S. sanctions is high. The president can modify or revoke an executive order, but most of the sanctions measures have been codified by Congress, thereby limiting his room to maneuver. He can exercise his waiver authority or order greater flexibility in enforcing the penalties, but such short-term and easily reversible steps are unlikely to prompt meaningful Iranian concessions.

Furthermore, not all U.S. sanctions are tied to the nuclear issue; many relate to other elements of Iran’s foreign or domestic policies (figure 1). As a result, without a fundamental reorientation of Iran’s approach, which is highly improbable at this stage, a significant relaxation in sanctions is not in the cards. This is true of sanctions related to human rights violations; designations of persons for involvement in terrorism or pursuit of weapons of mass destruction; the state of emergency regarding relations with Tehran, in place since the 1979 hostage crisis; and Iran’s placement on the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

The ambitious goals set out in the unilateral and multilateral sanctions regimes thus appear in conflict with the more limited yet pressing goal of addressing the nuclear issue.20 The situation is compounded by sometimes discordant views between the U.S. executive and legislative branches, with the latter seemingly less interested in or less convinced of the feasibility of a diplomatic resolution, more eager to impose sanctions, and less mindful of the views of Washington’s allies. Currently, in Washington’s highly politicized climate, Congress is unlikely to show the president much deference in this regard. That leaves the option of a time-limited suspension or waiver, which in turn is likely to prompt time-limited and reversible Iranian reciprocal steps at best. The immediate objective should be a gradual, incremental approach that sets a more constructive process in motion, puts more time on the clock, and allows each side to retain sufficient leverage to guard against the possibility that the other will renege.

The challenge is to come up with a P5+1 package of meaningful but realistic sanctions relief to match a parallel Iranian package of meaningful but realistic nuclear concessions. Meaningful sanctions relief, from an Iranian standpoint, would include reversal of some measures that have significantly affected its economic well-being; “realistic” signifies that the sanctions can be lifted, waived, or suspended in spite of legal and political constraints in the sanctioning entities.

On the other side, Iran’s nuclear concessions should provide some reassurance to the P5+1 that Tehran will not “break out” by withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to dash toward the development of nuclear weapons. Such concessions could meet the “meaningful” criterion even if they fall slightly short of the demands that the P5+1 currently is making.

To break the deadlock, the two sides should take the following steps:

• Establish a means of ongoing, expert-level contact. Given the level of technical complexity of the issues that the two sides need to address, expert-level meetings will be required to reach any agreement. Iran and the P5+1 might establish a Vienna- or Istanbul-based contact group aimed at regular interaction that does not produce intense media coverage.

• Address all dimensions of the urgent issue of 20 percent uranium enrichment first. Iran should be prepared to suspend its 20 percent enrichment for a period of 180 days and convert its entire stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to fuel rods. This would effectively restrict operations at Fordow, which is now used solely for the purpose of enrichment to a level of 20 percent,21 and address the most urgent proliferation concern. As such, it merits a reciprocal step of commensurate value. Simultaneously, the P5+1 would provide medical isotopes to Iran, refrain from adopting any new sanctions, suspend unilateral sanctions on the sale and transfer of precious metals such as gold and semifinished metals such as steel, or waive sanctions that block Iran’s access to its revenues from oil sales to its remaining customers for the same period of 180 days. It is unrealistic to expect Iran to shut down its Fordow enrichment facility. Still, Iran should agree to maintain the status quo, thereby refraining from installing any advanced centrifuges, an issue of considerable concern to the West and Israel. Iran should use the Fordow center exclusively for research and development and should upgrade the provisions regarding Fordow in its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to allow in-house resident inspectors or installation of live-stream remote camera surveillance. In return, the United States and the EU could suspend their sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical sector or halt pressure on Iran’s remaining oil customers to reduce their purchases of Iranian petroleum significantly.

• Devise a road map for a longer-term agreement. Reciprocal concessions for an accord could include Iran’s agreement not to surpass a mutually acceptable quantity of stockpiled uranium enriched to 5 percent, with any amount in excess to be converted into fuel rods. In return, the P5+1 would provide Tehran with modern and safe nuclear fuel manufacturing technology, while rolling back restrictions affecting Iran’s financial system. As part of a second phase, Iran should ratify and implement an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, thus strengthening and broadening the IAEA’s ability to carry out inspections in the country; implement the modified version of Code 3.1 of its safeguards subsidiary arrangement, which details specifically how a country’s safeguards agreement is to be applied, thus agreeing to inform the IAEA of any new nuclear facilities as soon as Iran decides to construct them; and establish an enhanced safeguards monitoring system for its nuclear facilities. In return, the United States and the EU would remove or suspend oil sanctions, allowing Iran to increase its petroleum exports. This step would require substantial coordination between Washington and Brussels, as well as with oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, which likely would need to reduce production to make space for Iranian crude oil.

To further facilitate progress, both sides should clarify the broad principles governing the endgame. The P5+1 should recognize in principle Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes on its soil, while Iran should acknowledge legitimate international concerns about its nuclear program and agree to steer clear of acquiring a short-term breakout capability.

In parallel, Iran and the IAEA should agree on a structured framework to resolve the agency’s 13 outstanding questions regarding possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. The P5+1 and Iran should agree on a formula that links incremental lifting of other nuclear-related sanctions with resolution of specific issues between Iran and the IAEA. Once Tehran has answered questions to the IAEA’s satisfaction, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council should sponsor and press for a new resolution in the council removing existing UN sanctions on Iran and returning the matter to the IAEA.

Regardless of the precise sequence of negotiated steps, time is of the essence. Before further escalation pushes the two sides into a confrontation that is likely to be catastrophic for both of them, they should begin the long and tortuous process of rolling back the multilayered sanctions and nuclear program. The diplomatic effort for untying this Gordian knot should be as rigorous and comprehensive as each side’s coercive efforts have been to date.


Ali Vaez is a senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. Formerly, he headed the Iran Project at the Federation of American Scientists, focusing on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. This article is based on the International Crisis Group report “Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions.”



1. Scott Peterson, “Deep Rifts Exposed in Latest Round of Iran Nuclear Talks,” The Christian Science Monitor, April 7, 2013.

2. Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Jonathan Tirone, “Iran Nuclear Talks Fail With No Resumption Date Given,” Bloomberg, April 7, 2013.

3. For a thorough review of the sanctions regime, see Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions,” CRS Report for Congress, RS20871, March 21, 2013.

4. UN Security Council, “Note by the President of the Security Council,” S/2012/395, June 12, 2012, annex (“Final Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1929”).

5. Simon Henderson and Olli Heinonen, “Nuclear Iran: Technical Issues Overshadowing Negotiations,” PolicyWatch, No. 1993 (October 23, 2012); International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2013/6, February 21, 2013.

6. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Iran Sanctions Halt Long-Range Ballistic-Missile Development,” IISS Strategic Comments, Vol. 18, No. 22 (July 2012).

7. Trevor Houser, “Iran Sanctions: The Year in Review,” Rhodium Group, February 11, 2013, http://rhg.com/notes/iran-sanctions-the-year-in-review.

8. “Iranian Oil Revenues ‘Drop 45%’ Because of Sanctions,” BBC, January 7, 2012.

9. Jahangir Amuzegar, “Iran: The Rial Saga,” Middle East Economic Survey, August 6, 2012, http://www.mees.com/en/articles/5584-iran-the-rial-saga.

10. “Parliament: 40 Percent Drop in Production and 36 Percent Decrease in Employment in Iran,” Entekhab.ir, December 25, 2012, http://bit.ly/11iPS5M (in Persian).

11. Siamak Namazi, “Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran,” Viewpoints, No. 20 (February 2013).

12. “The Shadow Economy’s 21 Percent Share,” Donya-e-eqtesad, September 6, 2012, http://www.donya-e-eqtesad.com/[email protected]=316517 (in Persian).

13. Christopher de Bellaigue, Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup (New York: Harper, 2012).

14. Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh, “The Self-Limiting Success of Iran Sanctions,” International Affairs, Vol. 87, No. 6 (November 2011), pp. 1297-1312.

15. See http://www.cbi.ir/simplelist/4454.aspx.

16. Four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in the past three years. Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an expert on quantum mechanics, was killed in January 2010 by a bomb attached to his car. On November 28, 2010, Majid Shahriari, an expert on making the nuclear fuel needed for the Tehran Research Reactor, was killed with a similar device. On the same day, nuclear laser expert Fereydoun Abbasi was injured by a similar bomb. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad subsequently named Abbasi as vice president of Iran and head of its atomic energy agency. On July 23, 2011, Darioush Rezaei, a nuclear scientist, was shot and killed by a motorcycle-riding assassin. On January 12, 2012, a motorbike assassin with a magnetic bomb killed the Natanz enrichment facility’s deputy head of procurement, Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, in Tehran. David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics With Iran,” The New York Times, November 6, 2011. It is also well known that the United States and Israel cooperated in waging cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear installations. See William J. Broad, John Markoff, and David E. Sanger, “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay,” The New York Times, January 16, 2011.

17. “Iran May Need Highly Enriched Uranium in Future, Official Says,” Reuters, April 16, 2013.

18. Nicole Perlroth, “In Cyberattack on Saudi Firm, U.S. Sees Iran Firing Back,” The New York Times, October 23, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/business/global/cyberattack-on-saudi-oil-firm-disquiets-us.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

19. For instance, Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri, recently said that Iran’s goal in future talks is a lifting of the sanctions, which from his perspective could happen gradually. See “Iran Negotiator: Sanctions Can End ‘Step By Step,’” Associated Press, April 12, 2013.

20. International Crisis Group (ICG), “The P5+1, Iran and the Perils of Nuclear Brinkmanship,” Middle East Briefing, No. 34 (June 15, 2012); ICG, “Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions,” Middle East Report, No. 138 (February 25, 2013).

21. In late 2011, probably in anticipation of reaching a deal on uranium enrichment to the 20 percent level, Iran modified its responses provided on the IAEA Design Information Questionnaire for the Fordow facility from exclusive production of 20 percent-enriched uranium to enrichment at the 20 percent and 5 percent levels. This change likely was designed to keep the facility open in the event Iran were to stop enrichment at higher levels. See IAEA Board of Governors, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Report by the Director General,” GOV/2011/65, November 8, 2011.


Despite the considerable toll that sanctions have exacted on Iran’s economy, they have failed to achieve their proclaimed core objective of influencing Iranian behavior with regard to its nuclear program.


Toward Deeper Nuclear Cuts

Daryl G. Kimball

Last year in South Korea, President Barack Obama declared that “[t]he massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today’s threats, including nuclear terrorism.” He noted that his administration is reviewing U.S. nuclear strategy but that we can “already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Nevertheless, the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) Implementation Study has not been finalized. U.S. and Russian negotiators have not begun talks on pursuing further reductions of their arsenals, which comprise 90 percent of global nuclear stockpiles.

Now, with the 2012 election behind him, it is time for Obama to jump-start action toward significantly deeper U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions.

To begin, he should finalize the NPR study and announce that the United States has adopted a saner, “nuclear deterrence only” strategy that eliminates outdated targeting assumptions from the Cold War that call for “prevailing” in a nuclear war.

The review should call on the Pentagon to remove a significant number of U.S. weapons from prompt-launch status, a condition that Obama said in 2008 is “a dangerous relic of the Cold War” and “increase[s] the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation.”

When he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June, Obama should announce that he is prepared to begin formal talks on a follow-on agreement to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). Such a treaty should lead not only to deeper reductions in deployed strategic arsenals, but also to verifiable cuts of the two countries' nondeployed warheads and new accounting measures and confidence-building measures relating to tactical nuclear weapons, which should include the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

With the recent cancellation of U.S. plans to station more-advanced missile interceptors in Europe, which Russia had cited as a potential threat to its strategic missile forces, Putin should be motivated to engage in nuclear arms reduction talks.

Because such negotiations will be complex and time consuming, however, Obama should declare that the United States is prepared to accelerate strategic reductions and cut U.S. deployments below New START levels, as Russia has already done. New START limits each country to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads on 700 missiles and bombers by 2018, but there is no reason to wait that long.

Even at New START levels, the number of U.S. and Russian warheads and the costly triad of missiles, submarines, and long-range bombers that carry them will far exceed what is necessary to deter nuclear attack from any current or future adversary.

Given that no country other than the United States and Russia deploys more than 300 nuclear weapons, Washington and Moscow can and should implement significant reductions to a level of just a few hundred deployed strategic warheads each. This should be done by formal treaty if possible, or if not, it should be pursued through reciprocal, parallel actions.

As the 2007 Arms Control Association report “What Are Nuclear Weapons For?” by physicist Sidney Drell and former negotiator James Goodby suggests, the United States can deter any potential aggressor by moving to a smaller force of 500 deployed and 500 nondeployed strategic warheads on a much smaller, mainly submarine-based triad. A 2012 Global Zero study whose authors include former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright and former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), now secretary of defense, argues for a U.S. force of 450 deployed and 450 nondeployed strategic nuclear weapons.

Even at these numbers, the destructive potential of these weapons poses a grave and unnecessary threat to global security. An analysis conducted in 2002 by Physicians for Social Responsibility shows that a Russian attack involving only 300 thermonuclear warheads hitting U.S. urban areas would kill 77 million Americans from blast effects and firestorms in the first half hour. A U.S. attack of similar size would have the same devastating impact on Russia.

Even a “limited” nuclear exchange would destroy national communications and transportation networks, public health and sanitation systems, and food distribution systems. In the months following this initial assault, tens of millions more would die from starvation, exposure, radiation poisoning, and infectious disease.

Each of the strategic missile submarines in the U.S. or Russian fleet is capable of triggering such a global disaster. The United States has 14 strategic nuclear-armed subs.

As a group of more than 70 countries recently said in a joint statement in Geneva, “The catastrophic effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident, miscalculation or design, cannot be adequately addressed. All efforts must be exerted to eliminate this threat.”

In order to move closer to “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” that he called for in Prague in 2009, Obama will need to act with far greater urgency and conviction.

Last year in South Korea, President Barack Obama declared that “[t]he massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today’s threats, including nuclear terrorism.” He noted that his administration is reviewing U.S. nuclear strategy but that we can “already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.”


Subscribe to RSS - May 2013